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Volume 36, No. 2 – February 2023

The President’s Message:

I look forward to seeing everyone at the February meeting.  Our living history programs are unique and well received.  Be sure to attend.  All family members, friends, and Valentine sweethearts are invited.

Please pay your dues.  Thank you to everyone who has paid.

Gerridine LaRovere

February 8, 2023 Program:

Halos or Horns

A play in one act about a Planter, Traitor, Lawyer, or Spy

We will let the audience be the judge.

The Round Table Players will present this living history play at the February 8, 2023 meeting.  This production will chronicle the life of a Confederate officer and politician who may or may not have stolen over one million dollars from the Confederate treasury.  Was he working for the Confederacy while being a United States cabinet member?  As a member of General Pemberton’s staff how did evade being a prisoner of war at the Siege of Vicksburg?  How did he live a luxurious life style when his largest plantation was burned to the ground?  These and other fascinating questions will be answered by our resident actors William McEachern and Gerridine LaRovere.  Join us for a fun and fact-filled evening of intrigue, embezzlement, fraud, bank robbery, spying, and other vile and despicable acts. 

January 11, 2023 Program:

Russia’s Intriguing Role in America’s Civil War

RobertFor the 20th time, Robert Macomber treated our Round Table to a great presentation.  Although most of us are quite familiar with Robert, for our new members he is the author of the “Honor” series of historical novels.  These books, and there are 16 of them at last count, tell the story of the late 19th and early 20th century via the fictional character of Peter Wake, USN.

Robert has been the recipient of the Patrick D. Smith Literary Award, the American Library Association’s W.Y. Boyd Literary Award, a Gold and Silver Medal winner in Popular Fiction from the Florida Book Awards, and a host of other accolades spanning over two decades.  He has earned rare experiences like being Distinguished Lecturer at NATO HQs [Belgium], and, for ten years, was invited into the Distinguished Military Author Series, Center for Army Analysis [Ft. Belvoir]. Robert was named Florida Author of the Year in 2020 by the FL Writers Association, and is a captivating storyteller helping spread a love for history! 

From New York to Alaska and California, who would imagine that the Russian Empire was involved in the U.S. Civil War?  In the 19th century Russia was (and still is) a vast country stretching from the Baltic Sea on the west to British Canada on the east.  There is, however, a problem for the Czar in St. Petersburg.  The Russian Empire has no warm water ports.  For a country building a large navy, this is unacceptable.  Driven by the belief that a powerful navy makes your country a respected “great power,” Imperial Russia tried to expand the empire to include such a port.Save

The direction they chose to contest was eastern Europe into the Black Sea and central Asia south to the Indian Ocean.  The century-long adversarial efforts of Imperial Russia and Imperial Britain for domination of Central Asia was called "The Great Game."  British concern about the Russian influence on Afghanistan led to the First Anglo-Afghan War (from 1838 to 1842).  This led to the cartoon from Punch showing Afghanistan between the Russian bear and the British lion.  Note, the cartoon was from the second war in 1878.

The push into the Black Sea at first went well for Russia.  In 1853, Russian expansion led to the destruction of the Ottoman fleet in Turkey.  Just as it looked like the Czar would get access to the Mediterranean Sea and therefore the oceans of the world, fearing an Ottoman collapse, the British and the French had their fleets enter the Black Sea in January 1854.  The Crimean War was on.  These great powers fought to a stalemate.  Bob noted the disastrous loss the British absorbed at the Battle of Balaklava Sevastopol with the famous British charge of the Light Brigade.  The significance of this war was not so much who won or lost, but for the modern weapons that were on display and the fact that ten years later in 1863, when Poland rebelled from the Russian Empire and Britain and France supported her, the Russian Navy needed to get away from Mother Russia least they were defeated in detail by the Royal Navy. 

CalebIn the late summer of 1863, the Baltic Fleet set sail for the east coast of the United States and the Pacific Fleet headed for the west coast of North America, Russian America.  The timing could not have been better for the Lincoln government.  New England had just been raided by a couple ships from the Confederate “Navy.”  It was not so grand, but it was the result of a young lieutenant serving off the coast of Brazil.  This hothead hatched a daring plan to sail a captured brig directly into the Union's home waters and wreak havoc on their shipping lanes.  Burning or capturing more than twenty merchant vessels in less than three weeks, and switching ships several times to elude capture, the southern rampage caused widespread panic in northern cities, made headlines in the major daily newspapers, and brought enormous pressure on Gideon Welles to "stop the rebel pirate."

NevskyThe Union forces saw ships like the Russian frigate Alexander Nevsky, as she sailed into New York harbor, as a gift from above.  In addition to Confederate raiders, New York City had to contend with draft riots, civilian unrest, and a lack of knowledge of where Robert E. Lee might go next in his June invasion of Pennsylvania.  The Americans believed the Russians wanted to help.  Gideon Welles wrote in his diary: “In sending them to this country there is something significant." and "God bless the Russians.”  Thus, the Russian fleet in New York was welcomed by both the Russians as a harbor of safety from the Royal Navy, and by the Americans as political and economic support of the Union.  It was time to celebrate.  Admiral Lisovski welcomed American leaders onboard the flagship.  With great pomp a delegation of American officers, some sixty strong, were piped aboard.  They were treated in grand style.

ExtremesNot to be out done, the cream of New York society gave an elaborate party for their Russian guests.  Setting type is too expensive these days to reproduce the menu here in all its long abundance the Herald stated.  However, as the World reported at the time, since “the ovation and ball is one which may leave its traces on centuries to come, we give, for the sake of history, an account of the principal edibles used, viz.: Twelve thousand oysters—10,000 poulette and 2,000 pickled. Twelve monster salmon—30 lbs. each. Twelve hundred game birds.  Two hundred and fifty turkeys.  Four hundred chickens.  One thousand pounds of tenderloin.  One hundred pyramids of pastry.  One thousand large loaves.  Three thousand five hundred bottles of wine.”

Parties were not the only order of the day.  Elaborate field trips were arranged.  Some were mundane, like the tour of naval installations in New York City.  Others were grand like the officers of the Russian fleet excursion to Niagara Falls.  Included in this trip was a young lieutenant named Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He would go on to be a great composer of such works as Scheherazade and the Flight of the Bumblebee. 

Ten months after their arrival for what was thought to be a short goodwill port call, the Russian fleet finally left New York.  The Russians collected $4,760 for the poor of the city ($76,000 in today’s money) given by the Russian officers.  In 1865, America gave the Russian the plans to the very successful Passaic-class naval monitor.  The Russian built ten of them for their navy.

AlaskaIn return, something momentous was considered.  At the aftermath of the Crimean War, Russian Tsar Alexander II began exploring the possibility of selling Alaska, which would be difficult to defend in any future war from being conquered by Russia's archrival, the United Kingdom—whose dominion was Canada.  Following the end of the American Civil War, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward entered into negotiations with Russian minister Eduard de Stoeckl for the purchase of Alaska.  Seward and Stoeckl agreed to a treaty on March 30, 1867, and the treaty was ratified by the United States Senate by a wide margin.  Both countries felt this was a good deal.  That marked the high-water mark of good relations.

ProgromBut this marriage of convenience could not last.  The political nature of the two countries was too divergent.  The United States had fought a civil war to preserve the Constitution, maintain the Union, and liberate the slaves, while Russia was fighting wars of domination of bordering independent states, and horribly persecuting their Jewish citizenry.  As the 19th century drew to a close, Americans came to view czarist Russia as an evil and oppressive state.  We believed we were on the side of the angels by defending small countries in their attempt to free themselves from the shackles of the imperialists.  We fought a war against Spain to justify that belief.  The United States had an open immigration policy.  Many of the refugees had come here to escape repressive governments like Russia.  The Jews in particular were persecuted by Russia.  The press in the eastern states described in detail the 1903 deadly anti-Jewish pogrom in Kishinev, Russia.  And thus ended the brief period of good Russian relations—forever.


Last changed: 01/28/23