Probus ’83 November Zoom Meeting

Twenty plus Probus ’83 members participated in a Zoom session on the morning of Thursday 5th November. After chat amongst ourselves and some bits of business we settled to listen to a talk by David Skillen (speaking to us from sunny Belper). David is no stranger, having previously given us a much enjoyed lunchtime talk on Zeppelins in happier days before the dreaded covid-19. This time we were definitely not disappointed.

David’s subject this time was: Five Years in 50 mins. A synopsis of the American Civil War.

Tensions arose between the (mainly) northern states, led by the Republican President Abraham Lincoln from 1860, which wished to abolish slavery and seven southern states with slave dependent cotton based economies. We were led through: the building tensions, the flash points which ignited hostilities in 1861, major personalities and military commanders, major engagements and incidents and overall strategies, tactics, weaponry used and final Confederate surrender in 1865.

David, having travelled extensively around the (now beautifully preserved and presented) Civil War sites illustrated each with his own pictures and explanations, informed by having actually walked the ground (and waded through at least one river). We were even treated to etiquette tips: “Virginia” not “Merrimack” and why, on arrival in Atlanta, one should never whistle “Marching through Georgia”.

The American Civil War was described as the “first modern war”. Advances in weaponry greatly increased the casualty numbers. In particular the old smooth bore musket was highly inaccurate – hard to hit the side of a building at 70 yards. But the new rifles could hit an individual at 200 yards range. That made the old infantry, shoulders abreast, advance exceedingly dangerous. Cannon deployed against advancing infantry, instead of firing solid balls, could now use canister – catering baked bean size cases filled with shot, acting as enormous shotguns, with devastating effect. Both sides used steam powered armoured warships in action for the first time and trenches were dug for protection. A Count Zeppelin, while acting as an official observer for the Union army, made his first balloon ascent, which gave him ideas…

The outcome was never a foregone conclusion. Initially the Confederate south got the better of it, but both sides steadily learnt. The 1864 Presidential Election nearly returned a “peace” candidate, which might have resulted in America ending up as two separate countries, but a timely Union victory elected Lincoln and enabled a final Union victory. Lincoln wished to treat the defeated Confederate south gently but his assassination in April 1865 gave power to Union “hawks” whose harsh measures left a long lasting legacy of bitterness.

Finally, David fielded a series of questions from a highly appreciative audience. For those interested in learning more about the American Civil War warmly he recommended the YouTube films by Prof Gary Gallagher.