South African Military History Society

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David Scholtz spoke for a few minutes about the day trip he was sponsoring to the annual Boer 'n Brit day at Val which takes place on Saturday 10th March; lists were available for members to add their names after the lecture.

The Chairman, Jan-Willem Hoorweg, then read the CV of the curtain raiser speaker, deputy Chairman Hamish Peterson, whose lecture was entitled "Pharsalus - Caesar vs Pompey, 48 BC".

Hamish Paterson then asked all present to stand for a moment's silence in honour of Hilde Hoorweg, who had passed away in December, and was remembered with fondness for her friendliness, cheerfulness and support of firstly her husband and later her son on the committee.

In his inimitable style Hamish started with an overview of the problems which beset the Roman Empire from the end of the Punic and Macedonian wars (148BC) to the eventual civil war which ended the Republic. He touched on the Gracchi brothers (123BC) and Marius' attempts (107BC) to curtail the greed of mainly the senatorial class, whose vast estates - worked by slave labour - deprived Rome of 'qualified' soldiers and deprived returning Roman soldiers of land in their retirement.

He glossed over the messy political vs military power struggle, singling out Senator Cato for particular criticism. Actions against Crassus, Pompey and Caesar, promoted by Cato, were to lead to the first triumvirate in 59BC. After Crassus' death (53BC) Cato tried to prosecute Caesar for actions taken while the latter was Consul in 55BC.

In 49BC the Senate ordered Caesar to lay down his command. Cato sabotaged compromise negotiations but action against Caesar was vetoed by tribunes, whose lives were then threatened so they fled to join Caesar. The Senate declared martial law.

In January 49BC Caesar crossed the Rubicon; within the week Pompey left Rome. Caesar overran Italy from north to south by 9 March; on 17th Pompey left Brundisium for Greece.

Then Caesar took a side trip to sort out Massilia (Marseilles) and Spain!

When he returned to Greece in January 48BC he besieged Dyrrachium but withdrew in July leaving Pompey an underwhelming victor.

Hamish detailed the legionaries' equipment: they carried a gladius - a stabbing sword - plus a pilum - a long throwing spear, with a shield made of three layers of laminated wood with an iron rim. The shield boss could also be used to attack.

August saw the opposing forces encamped in a shallow valley: Pharsalus. Pompey commanded a much larger force, especially cavalry, so he instructed his legionaries to receive the charge at the halts, intending his cavalry to overrun Caesar's cavalry and hit Caesar's legionaries in the flank and rear.

Caesar detached 6 cohorts from his third line with orders to retain their pila and thrust at the cavalrymen's faces because the latter were mainly young aristocrats who "would not want their pretty faces scarred."

Caesar's men advanced: the centurions reorganized their men to advance in orderly fashion and charge once within range. The impact pushed Pompey's men back a short way. Pompey's cavalry then attacked, drove off Caesar's, and became a disorganized mob.

Caesar's fourth line then attacked. Stationary cavalry with no stirrups were at a disadvantage against more stable infantry and Pompey's cavalry were routed. Caesar's cavalry rode down Pompey's light infantry with the six cohorts hitting Pompey's flank. Caesar then committed his third line.

Pompey's army collapsed and he fled, later to be assassinated in Egypt. Caesar went on to rule the Roman Empire before his assassination in 44BC.

Answering a question from the audience about the excessive difference in the number of casualties, Hamish explained that once the soldiers turned their backs they were totally at the mercy of the opposition.

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Jan-Willem Hoorweg read the CV of our main speaker, George Shaw, who had addressed us previously. This time his subject was "West Point and the American Civil War".

George's presentation was lavishly illustrated. The main thrust of the talk was to show the overwhelming West Point involvement in the conduct of the American civil war. This was highlighted by quoting from the Smithsonian records as, "West Pointers commanded both sides in 55 of the war's 60 major battles, and one side in the other five."

He introduced twelve prominent West Pont graduates who had commanded vast armies in the field: Lee, Grant, Sherman and Jackson (Civil War); Pershing (WWI); MacArthur, Eisenhower, Patton and Bradley (WWII); Westmoreland (Vietnam); Schwarzkopf (Iraq) and Petraeus (Afghanistan).

An interesting aspect was a brief overview of West Point as an institution. George showed a series of slides including the chapel (containing the biggest church organ in the world) the 4,500 seat academy auditorium, football stadium, museum, dining hall entrance and the Jewish synagogue. There were also slides of the cadets in their full regalia marching on the parade ground.

The purpose behind West Point's founding way back in 1802 was first and foremost the training of officers to serve in the United States army. What might not be equally known is that West Point is a fully accredited four-year university of exceptionally high academic standing. This is evidenced by the fact that the academy has in the past earned ninety one Rhodes scholarships. The presentation's main theme was identifying all West Pointers who not only fought in the Civil War but who achieved a minimum rank of a One-Star Brigadier General.

George discovered that 359 persons fitted this definition. He then proceeded to analyse these 359 generals over forty separate categories, drafted in the form of an enormous spreadsheet. The first ten fields were boilerplate --- names, rank, states of birth, side, age etc. Fields 11 to 30 were a list of the 20 major Civil War battles in which the 359 generals participated. Fields 31 to 40 were the careers the survivors of the war followed.

From this vast source of categorized information George was able to extract summaries of the various fields, most of which were shown in separate slides. Interspersed amongst these slides were related side-issues which gave context and background. This included an 1864 photograph of Lee's private residence, Arlington House and estate, now the Arlington National Cemetery containing over 400,000 mainly military graves.

A prominent feature of the presentation was the display of photographs of every single member of the group, all 359 of them, which George claimed to have found on the Internet and which outcome he held up as being his proudest single achievement. To give significance to the point George drew attention to the fact that the Civil War ended 157 years ago when photography was still in its infancy.

He described the group in general terms as being possessed of an abundance of vanity. Most of them had written their own biographies which invariably included passages of favorable self-appraisal while casting aspersions on many of the other officers around them. They had to have been acutely aware that they were part of a momentous event that was far greater than themselves and had wished to leave legacies which included impressive and stylized photographs of themselves.

Because of the vastness of the subject matter the presentation only includes brief insights into two battles, Gettysburg (including details of Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address) and Fredericksburg. George's stated motivation was to illustrate, even if only in the briefest of manner, the horrific consequences of the war and to avoid glossing over the shocking casualty rates. Fredericksburg was covered in greater detail showing the primary battlefield as well as photographs of the town's military cemeteries and an overview of the reverence with which Americans hold their war dead.

The last phase of the presentation involved a sub-section that George labelled "Random Profiles". In his own words George had cherry-picked thirteen generals whose stories he briefly told. Including other generals dealt with earlier in the presentation, these encompass Generals Robert E Lee, Ulysses S Grant, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, Elliott Bee, Simon Bolivar Buckner, George Meade, William Tecumseh Sherman, Leonidas Polk, John B. Hood, Albert S. Johnson, Francis Nicholls, Henry M. Naglee and Adelbert Ames. One slide was also devoted to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Each of these stories which are of a completely different order contained powerful messages of strife, tragedy and accomplishment.

The presentation was not without its sense of humour: one slide showed an irreverent "Big Beard Contest"; another the trials and tribulations of General Francis Nicholls. He had lost his right arm and right leg during the war and when afterwards was running for the governorship of Louisiana had evoked his war record by appealing to the electorate to vote for "what is left of Francis Nicholls." On a later occasion when his supporters tried to put him up for a judgeship on the Louisiana Supreme Court he declined with the retort that he could never be a judge because he was too "one-sided".

George ended his presentation with two slides, one, including two photographs of the last Civil War veteran, Walter Williams, who died 19 December 1959 although his claims to this distinction have never been fully authenticated.

The other, again with a photograph, tells the story of common practice in the 1920/30 time- frame when veterans would strike up marriage deals with young lasses on the basis of which they would expect their young carers to look after them in their old age which would then qualify the survivor in due course for a Civil War Widow's Pension for the rest of their lives. In this manner Gertrude Grubb aged 18 married John Janeway of the 14th Illinois, then 81, in 1927. After his passing ten years later Gertrude received a pension for sixty six years until her death in 2003 aged 94.

Both speakers were suitably thanked by committee member David Scholtz

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KZN in Durban:



CR= curtain raiser; ML= main lecture; DDH = Darrell D Hall Memorial Lecture;

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Branch contact details

For Cape Town details contact Johan van den Berg 021-939-7923
For Eastern Cape details contact Malcolm Kinghorn 041-373-4469
For Gauteng details contact Joan Marsh 010-237-0676
For KwaZulu-Natal details contact Roy Bowman 031 564 4669

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