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After Action Report: July Seminar

by Craig Swain, Guest Blogger

Over the last couple of days, I had the pleasure of attending, as a guest, “Terror on the Border” hosted by Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours. I do hope you were able to catch some of the tweets and Facebook posts, but if not, let me offer a quick “catching up” in review.

Wilson College

Friday’s sessions held at Wilson College in Chambersburg, included eight speakers: Jeffry Wert, Richard Sommers, Steve Bockmiller, Ted Alexander, Mark Neely, Jr., Steve French, Daniel Carol Toomey, and Gail Stephens. That’s quite a lineup. The topics focused on activities in the summer months of 1864, though mostly narrowed to the events connected to Confederate General Jubal Early’s Raid that July and associated activities into August. The exception was Neely’s discussion of the Democratic Party’s 1864 presidential campaign. And I’d argue Neely’s topic fit in well alongside the others, reflecting the ultimate output from the military campaigns through those critical months of the war.

On Saturday we were afield for a tour. And not just a “get on the bus and we’ll drive around” tour. We did a lot of “stepping out” to see the sites. Ed Bearss, Ted Alexander, and Ranger Brian Dankmeyer were our guides as we traced the advance of Early’s Confederates from Hagerstown to Frederick and then on to the Monocacy battlefield. I offered up several photos on social media yesterday, so forgive me if these are redundant to those who followed along there:




A couple of structures on the Monocacy Battlefield which we visited caught my attention. Even during the 150th tour of Monocacy a few weeks ago, we had not visited the buildings of the Thomas Farm, as we focused more so on the actions across the field. So it was a treat to step out around the buildings. A stone building, which was recently restored, was a slave quarters next to the house:


The Thomas house itself witnessed the fighting on July 9, 1864.


What’s more, it was the setting of a very important meeting in which General U.S. Grant laid out the operations to follow in the fall of 1864. And we are coming up on the anniversary of that event.

Let me offer up in closing and overall review of the programs, some overall thoughts on the programs. I’ve attended over the years a lot of seminars and tours. I found those offered by Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours are a lot more focused than most. None of the speakers waded the audience through excessive high level overviews. Instead, we moved directly into discussions about the events in focus. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes those broad overviews are needed, and certainly welcome. But if the speaker has a finite amount of time to cover a subject, and the audience is sharp and attentive, as is the case for these seminars, we get more bang for the buck. In addition, the seminars and tours are structured to complement each other (as the speakers are constantly referring back to material covered earlier in the programs). These are blended, somewhat seamlessly, by Ted Alexander’s commentary throughout the sessions. These are “full course” meals, not “fast food” deals. So at the end of the series, the audience leaves with a full, robust appreciation of many facets of the topic.

I highly recommend these programs. Please visit the Seminars and Tours website and consider future events on their schedule. And… keep in mind the objective of the organization with these programs – battlefield preservation. It’s a win-win across the board.