When planning your trip to Mobile, be sure to plan it around the third Monday of the month. Why? So you can sit in on the Mobile Civil War Roundtable meeting, of course! In a previous post on my blog, I made the error in stating that the nearest Roundtable to me happened to be 4+ hours away. Nope. I’ve got two within a short drive of my hometown. Now, my idea of “short” is less than two hours, but it’s not a bad drive down I-10. My very first Roundtable meeting was with Mobile last November and I’ve attended every one since, and plan to do so as long as work allows.
Paul Brueske, author of The Last Seige: The Mobile Campaign, Alabama 1865, is the leader of the current Mobile Civil War Roundtable and he graciously agreed to answering a few questions about the group and his plans for its future.
Q: First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
A: With the exception of two years in Michigan I have lived on the Gulf Coast my entire life. I am an enthusiastic amateur historian with a real interest in local history.
Q: What sparked your interest in the Civil War?
A: I have always liked history, particularly local history. As a child I spent a lot of time at Fort Pickens. Playing with my friends at that Civil War fort is probably where I first developed an interest. There is actually a lot of Civil War history in the Mobile & Pensacola area.
Q: How long has the Mobile Civil War Roundtable been around?
A: About two years.
Q: How long have you been associated with the group?
A: I started our Roundtable two years ago based on a suggestion from a friend.
Q: Tell us about the Roundtable. Many Roundtables conduct business differently. How does Mobile hold their meetings?
A: We host meetings the third Monday of the month. Our meetings follow a simple format: We start with dinner and a social, make a few announcements promoting upcoming local civil war events, turn it over to our guest speaker and then finish up with a book raffle.
Q: How did you find the locations for the meetings?
A: South Alabama was very accommodating to let us host meetings there. Recently we have been held our meetings at the Iron Hand Brew Pub. Plus the owner is also a history professor at South Alabama.
Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of leading a Civil War Roundtable?
A: Having good turnouts with engaged audiences.
Q: What are a few of the biggest frustrations?
A: We have a lot of members but getting them all to meetings regularly is a challenge.
Q: There have been several articles floating around the Civil War historical community about low attendance at Roundtables and potential dwindling of interest in the Civil War. What are you and the Roundtable doing to combat this scary trend?
A: Our group is only two years and is steadily growing! Social media has helped quite a bit. Having meetings at Iron Hand seems to be helpful with their great beer and food. The location makes for a more social event that our group seems to enjoy.
Actually just had an engaging dialogue with a history professor from South Alabama on this very topic. He gave me some useful suggestions on ways to attract more diversity to our group. That is the key to growth and sustainability – finding ways to engage young people.
Q: How do you find speakers for the group?
A: Group member suggestions, local history related organizations and colleges. Larry Garrett of the Pensacola Civil War Roundtable has been a good ally and we share suggestions on guest speakers.
Q: Do you ever get the chance to visit other Roundtables to learn ways to improve your own?
A: I have spoke at the Pensacola, Tennessee Valley, Twin Cities, Sarasota, and Indianapolis Roundtables. I pick up little things from them all. For example, the Indianapolis group is heavily involved with the Battlefield Trust. We try to do the same locally by supporting Fort Blakeley Park. We started using the book raffle to raise some funds.
Q: Have you considered attending one of the conferences held by the Civil War Roundtable Congress?
A: My work schedule is so busy I really have not, but would like to do so in the future.
Q: What do you think is the greatest challenges facing Civil War Roundtables today?
A: We must attract younger members. Sad to say we have already lost two active members who passed away and others that are not physically able to attend anymore.
Social media is good way to attract interest, but also offering a variety of guest speakers on topics ranging from emancipation, battles, biographies on key figures of the war. I am always on the lookout for younger people with a love of history, we have to get them involved.
Q: What are some upcoming events you and the Roundtable are excited about?
A: I am excited about all our upcoming speakers:
Mon., 3/16: Tom Root @ Iron Hand Pub; Topic – “The Peripatetic Englishman: Colonel Arthur Fremantle Travels the Southern Confederacy”
Mon., 4/6: John Weaver –
Author of “A Legacy in Brick and Stone: Coastal Defense Forts of the American Third System, 1816-1867.” @ Iron Hand Pub; “Defending Mobile Bay”
Mon., 4/20: Phillip Nassar – CSS Alabama Association (USA) @ USA Library Auditorium; Topic – “The CSS Alabama and its Recovery”
Mon., 5/18: David Smithweck – @ USA Library Auditorium; Topic – “USS Tecumseh”
Mon., 9/21 Joseph Ricci – SELU @ Iron Hand Brew Pub; Topic – “Hood’s Postwar Years”
Mon., 10/19 Dr. Mel McKiven – University of South Alabama @ Iron Hand Brew Pub; Topic – “Vicksburg, Gettysburg and Confederate Morale in the Fall of 1863.”
Mon., 11/16 Dr. Michael Robinson – University of Mobile @ Iron Hand Brew Pub, “John J. Crittenden and the Failure of Compromise in 1860-61”
We are blessed to have access to professors from South Alabama, U. of Mobile, and Spring Hill that are really great about serving as guest speakers. Plus authors and historians from places like Fort Morgan and Blakeley State Park have also been great about coming to speak to us.
Q: How can someone become a member of the Mobile Civil War Roundtable?
A: Easy, just show up to our meeting or join our Facebook group page!
You can stay in touch with all Mobile’s Roundtable events through their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1428716707246996
While swinging through Mobile, be sure not to miss the chance to meet Paul (or me!) at the next meeting!