War raged through the American landscape 150 years ago, like no time before or since.
“1862 was a full year of campaigning and fighting,” said Christopher Kolakowski, a Civil War expert and one of the featured speakers in the Capital District Civil War Round Table’s 2012 conference entitled, ‘1862 — A Year of Battles.’ “Some of the bloodiest battles of the war took place that year, and the North went into the summer thinking they might have it won, and the Confederates came close to winning it all in the fall. It was a very dynamic year, and a great crisis in American history.”
This year’s conference is being held at Siena College and will run from 5 p.m. Friday through 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Kolakowski, a former University at Albany grad student and currently Director of the Gen. George Patton Museum in Fort Knox, Kent., will offer an overall view of what was happening in 1862 to kickoff the conference Friday night at 8 at Siena’s Massary Commons.
‘1862 — The Year of Battles’
WHAT: The Capital District Civil War Round Table’s annual conference
WHERE: Siena College, Loudonville
WHEN: 5 p.m. Friday through 3:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $45 for Friday only; $105 for Friday and Saturday: and $120 for Friday through Sunday. Other options are available.
MORE INFO: Visit www.AlbanyCivilWar.org or 459-4209
“I’m going to tie a few things together, and remind people just how close the North came to losing the war in 1862,” said Kolakowski, who was also Chief Curator of the National Army Reserve Museum in Fort McPherson, Ga., and Director of the Perryville Enhancement Project in Perryville, Kent. “From January through December there was fighting, there were surges and then counteroffensives. The South had Britain and France looking at the war, thinking they should mediate an end to it, and that really created a lot of despair in the North.”
Kolakowski grew up in Fredericksburg, Va., which along with Shiloh, Antietam, Second Manassas, Perryville and Stones River were among the major battles during the war in 1862. He received a B.A. in History and Mass Communications from Emory & Henry College in Emory, Va., and then moved to the Capital Region to earn his masters in Public History from UAlbany in 2004. During that time he joined the Capital District Civil War Round Table and also spent time working at the Saratoga National Historic Park and Battlefield. As Director of the Patton Museum, Kolakowski is a civilian in the employ of the U.S. Army.
“We use history to teach leadership, and we train officers and cadets to become U.S. Army leaders,” said Kolakowski. “A lot of what I do deals with military history, so I’m still able to drive to Perryville as part of the training and discuss the battle there on our staff rides.”
The museum itself is open to the public, and both soldier in training and the average U.S. citizen can learn all they want to know about Patton, an important military figure in U.S. history who died in a car accident in 1945 just after World War II ended.
“We have the greatest assemblage of Patton artifacts in the world, starting with his baby picture and childhood toys all the way to the Cadillac that he was fatally injured in in 1945,” said Patton. “We also have the history of the ROTC and the story of various Army leaders. We try to show how leadership really can make a difference, sometimes in both the positive and negative sense.”
Patton was born in 1885 just outside of Los Angeles, Calif. His grandfather was a Virginian who fought for the Confederates during the Civil War, leaving one to wonder just where Patton’s loyalties would have been.
“That’s a good question, and he did identify very strongly with his southern roots,” said Kolakowski. “But he never lived in Virginia, and I think he viewed himself as a Californian, so he would have sided with his state, which remained in the North. But for Patton and other generals during World War II, like [Douglas] MacArthur, the Civil War is real and immediate to them. MacArthur was the son of a Civil War veteran, Patton remembers talking to Confederate general John Singleton Moseby, so it wasn’t some distant long-ago war for them.”
Lots of diaries
And still today, Americans’ fascination with the war continues.
“It’s the first war where most of the enlisted men were educated,” said Kolakowski, who wrote ‘The Civil War at Perryville: Battle for the Bluegrass,’ in 2009. “Before that most of the accounts were by officers. But by the Civil War you have all these enlisted men keeping diaries and writing home to their families. There’s so much documentation of the war it’s amazing. It’s also important to us because it was fought right here, not in some distant country, and for the first time we have photography documenting what went on.”