Our speaker on Thursday 11 February 2010 was fellow-member Mr Stan Lambrick, who was willing to help out as speaker at short notice due to the scheduled speaker not being available as a result of a breakdown in communication between your scribe and the original speaker as advertised. Please accept our apologies for this.
Mr Lambrick is an expert on the American Civil and Indian Wars and these were the subject of his talk. He introduced his talk by explaining that Americans are keenly aware of their rich military history heritage as well as honouring their fallen. In addition, their battle sites are well preserved and, in many cases, are National Parks. There are many societies which create historical re-enactments of battles which are very popular and attract huge crowds. These re-enactments and battle sites create jobs and the funds raised are used to maintain the sites in pristine condition.
Our speaker first discussed the two-year cruise of the CSS Alabama during the American Civil War of 1862 to 1865 and the ship's links with the Cape. The Alabama was built of oak with a copper-lined bottom. She was three-masted and had a steam engine with three screws and displaced some 1 000 tons. Under full sail, she could make some 12 to 14 knots and using her two 300 horsepower engines (223,7kW), she reached 10 knots. She carried eight guns and was built by the Laird Company of Birkenhead in 1862, narrowly escaping detention by the British Government.
The guns comprised six 32-pounders and two pivot guns, one of which was a 100-pounder Blakely rifled pivot gun. A reporter from the Cape Argus, who visited the ship in Cape Town, wrote "the smallest ship with the largest guns and the greatest speed afloat".
Alabama captured or sank sixty-two ships, including two warships during her career and was the most successful commerce raider of the war. Her commander was Captain Raphael Semmes who resigned from the US Navy in 1861 to take up a commission in the Confederate Navy. He took command of the Alabama in Liverpool and commenced his raiding career in August 1862 by attacking whalers in the mid-Atlantic, destroying ten of these. His next victim was the USS Hatteras. He then moved to the West Indies, the East coast of Brazil and the west coast of the Cape Colony.
On 3 August 1864, while the Alabama was at anchor in Saldanha Bay and undergoing repairs, a party of officers went ashore to hunt game. Late in the evening while duck shooting, Lieutenant Simeon Cumming, the assistant engineer, had an accidental discharge of his firearm and shot himself in the throat and heart, dying instantly.
His was the first death on the two ships commanded by Capt Semmes during the war and he was deeply moved by this. Lieut Cummings was buried in the family graveyard on the Pienaar family's farm Klipweg with full military honours.
For 144 years, Lt Simeon Cummings was the only known Confederate serviceman to have died and been buried outside the United States. In 1994, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans arranged for the body to be exhumed and returned to his adopted state Tennessee, with full military honours, by aircraft. His tombstone remains in the Pienaar family graveyard with the addition of a plaque recording the exhumation and return to Tennessee of the mortal remains of Lt Cumming in May 1994.
Our speaker attended the re-interment ceremony in Columbia, Tennessee on 20 May 1994 and showed members a number of slides which he had taken which were very interesting. Many of those attending were dressed in period costume and/or Confederate uniform and the coffin was carried on a gun carriage of the period.
Cumming was born in 1837 in New London, Connecticut and moved with his family to New Orleans in 1849. He joined the Confederate Navy at the outbreak of hostilities despite strong opposition from his family in the North.
At the funeral, our speaker met an officer of the 101st Airborne Division which he visited at the time when they were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 1994 and spoke very warmly of the hospitality he received there.
Mr Lambrick then described his participation in a reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg as a member of the "Confederate Army", dressed fully in the well-known "Johnny Reb" (grey) uniform of the period, with a musket firing black powder (no musket balls!). He described the advance in column and in line abreast and showed us a number of slides illustrating the goings-on. Every one slept in tents, the cooking arrangements were Civil War and a good time was had by one and all with much shooting of Yankees by Confederates and vice versa! The Civil war is still very real to many Americans. The tents were two-man tents and Mr Lambrick recalled that he had no sleep the night before the battle because his tent mate snored and farted all night!
Many stories were told round the campfire and much black coffee drunk. He described the battle with the "wounded" and "dead" lying on the ground. As they were still alive, they could stop the other side from stealing their shoes and socks and weapons! It appears that a good time was had by every one.
Our speaker then moved on a few years and spoke about the Battle of Little Big Horn and showed us a number of slides taken at the re-enactment, with slides of Genl Custer on his horse and of Crow Indians with their traditional headdresses. Custer's last stand was America's Hastings or Waterloo but the battle also has uncanny resemblances to our own Isandhlwana, also an unnecessary disaster caused by the splitting of available forces. Custer divided his force of 600 men into three groups and detached others to guard the baggage. The result was inevitable when he was attacked by some 5 000 to 8 000 Indians - a defeat and massacre took place! After the usual question and answer session, Derek O'Riley thanked Stan for a very interesting talk on a subject not too well known to us here in the Cape. The customary gift was then presented.
Members who would like to read a bit more about the Alabama may be interested to learn that a new edition of the book by Drs Edna and Frank Bradlow is on sale at the SA Naval Museum Simon's Town for R120,00.
Fellow-member Maj Tony Gordon recently underwent a very successful hip-replacement operation. Everything went well and he is virtually his old self. On behalf of the Branch and its members we trust that Maj Gordon's recovery will be complete and we are looking forward to have him with us again at the next meeting.
We are always interested in increasing our membership numbers. If you know of anyone interested in Military History, bring them along to the next lecture or otherwise persuade them to join. The members' response to the membership renewal notices is encouraging and the renewals are coming in at a brisk rate. Thank you very much for your prompt response.
BANK ACCOUNT DETAILS
Please note that our bank account details have changed - the correct details are -
Nedbank Foreshore Branch: Code 198 765
Account Name: S A Military History Society
Account Number: 108 333 2058
It is only by chance that the scribe found out about the change in Branch Code. We apologise for any inconvenience it may have caused to members.
FORTHCOMING PROGRAMMES (SECOND THURSDAY of the month for the rest of the year)
THURSDAY, 11 MARCH 2010: Africa: The Current African Military/Political Situation
Our speaker will be Maj Helmoed-Römer Heitman, well-known author, local/international defence correspondent and commentator on military matters. He will give us a detailed oversight into the current security situation on the African continent. In preliminary discussions between the chairman and our speaker on preparations for his talk, he intimated that some very interesting military events that recently took place in Central Africa, will be divulged! Be sure not to miss it!
THURSDAY, 8 APRIL 2010: Subject and Speaker to Change - New Details to Follow
Our scheduled speaker, Mr Ben van den Berg unfortunately had to cancel due to an opening to have a hip-replacement operation performed on the morning of the very-same day he was due too give his talk! We want to wish him all of the very best on behalf of our Branch and members.
THURSDAY, 13 MAY 2010: Blitzkrieg!: The Invasion of France & the Lowlands - 10 May 1940
Our speaker will be our Chairman, Mr Johan van den Berg, who will give an illustrated talk on the Blitzkrieg campaign of 10 May 1940. The focus will be on the Battle for Flanders of May 1940 and the Battle of France in June 1940, as he has covered the attack on the Lowland Countries - Belgium and the Netherlands - in a previous talk. The campaign took place exactly seventy years ago, almost to the date. Our speaker will endeavour to dispel some of the more persisting and popular myths about the campaign in the course of his talk.
BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Scribe
Phone: Home: (evenings) 021-689-1639
Office: (mornings) 021-689-9771
RAY HATTINGH: Secretary