Do We Still Care About the Civil War: Mike Movius

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The cover story of the newest issue of Civil War Times asks, “Do we still care about the Civil War?” ECW is pleased to partner with Civil War Times to extend the conversation here on the blog. Today, we’re pleased to welcome a guest post from Mike Movius of the Civil War Roundtable Congress.

After working with Civil War Round Tables (CWRT) over the past four plus years while leading the CWRT Congress, I am both frustrated and heartened. By our estimation, over seventy CWRTs have disappeared from the landscape in the past 6 or 7 years. They have disbanded for a number of reasons, including the aging and disappearance of membership, ineffective marketing, no discernible community presence, members who feel their occasional attendance is adequate, and the resistance of key leaders to embrace change. Combined, those factors have sealed their progression into obscurity.

However, there are other CWRTs around the country that are wildly successful, such as the 1,270 member Brunswick CWRT in Southport, North Carolina. When I visited them in February 2019, they had over 670 in attendance, having registered 10-20 new members. Imagine hundreds of Civil War enthusiasts attending a meeting to listen to a local historian, participate in a 50-50 drawing, buying history books, making donations for cookies and coffee and thoroughly enjoy themselves as they talked about their lives and interest in the Civil War.

Aside from the monster in Southport, the variety in the types, programs and activities of CWRTs is absolutely astounding.

  • There are CWRTs like Old Baldy CWRT that have developed a culture wherein they are an integral part of their communities by sponsoring well-attended themed events aside from their monthly meetings. They are reversing a decline in membership.
  • There are CWRTs like Bull Run CWRT that have taken on important projects designed to enhance the understanding of the Civil War, their community’s place in that struggle, and emphasize the relationship of Civil War history to today’s society.
  • There are CWRTs like Quincy Gilmore CWRT that have elected to rely on word-of-mouth marketing about their organization. Although they have experienced a decline in membership since the Sesquicentennial, they continue to hold monthly meetings to discuss Civil War-related topics.
  • There are CWRTs like Columbus Barracks CWRT that have no governance structure, do not charge member dues, and have no elected leadership positions. But they have thrived in that loosely defined environment for decades.
  • There are CWRTs like Hawaii CWRT that are remotely located that have developed innovative ways to bring published historians to their meetings without incurring the high cost of transportation.
  • There are CWRTs like Scottsdale CWRT that have developed a genealogy committee to assist their members write the story of their ancestors who participated in the Civil War, publish those stories on their website, and emphasize the importance of ancestral contributions at every meeting.
  • There are CWRTs like Bella Vista (Arkansas) CWRT that are in the beginning stages of organization and development. By developing a significant partnership with a local museum, recruiting a contingent of 30 enthusiasts and not being burdened by past ineffective processes, they have a bright future.

And, yet the challenges for every CWRT remain. Many point to inadequate history education in public schools and generations of Americans disinterested in their history. Equally threatening is an active and vocal minority seeking to rectify American history by defacing and destroying Civil War monuments and statuary. Their aggressive tactics tend to keep people who might otherwise be inclined to study the Civil War away from controversy.

The CWRT Congress was established to assist CWRTs to be sustainable and to provide answers to the organizational and leadership issues that confront CWRTs. At our third annual Congress event held at the Missouri Civil War Museum on Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, the enthusiasm to succeed were palpable. Leaders from twenty-four different CWRTs and a variety of museums, education, historical and preservation organizations gathered to learn best practices, share their successes, and network with one another.

In addition to great speakers, a fun trivia contest and inspired post-Congress tours, three challenges were made:

1) Encourage active involvement in American history education supporting libraries, historical and genealogical societies, and celebrating CWRT members who do so;

2) Study and plan field trips to neighboring CWRTs, museums and historical sites and participate in their activities; and

3) Expand the CWRT mission statement to include emancipation, reconstruction and civil rights such that Civil War study is relevant to people of color.

You can learn more about the CWRT Congress at www.cwrtcongress.org or follow us on Facebook www.facebook.com/cwrtcongress

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11 Responses to Do We Still Care About the Civil War: Mike Movius

  1. John Davis says:

    Hey Tim, if you only want a Round Table that hates on the Confederacy, then you can eliminate about 95% of all Round Tables. You cannot talk about the Civil War and not talk about the Confederates. Good luck finding a Round Table that meets your requirements.

  2. I adore the idea of Civil War Round Tables and would love to be part of one, but the nearest group is over 5 hours away from me. There’s no way I could pull off attending the monthly meetings. I imagine there are many history buffs like myself who want to learn and share, but lack the place to express their interests. This may be another reason interest in the Civil War has seemed to decline over the years. It can also be intimidating for a younger person (like me) to go to a meeting packed with historians with more experience (if you get my meaning). I feel like a tiny fish in a tank of whales/sharks, and my opinions about history don’t matter, or may be so flawed that I’d get chewed out the moment I say something. So that could be a deterrent for younger potential CWRT members too.

    • I think if everyone understood the difference between voicing their opinion, correcting an error, and downright belittling someone for having a controversial view, the historian community would be a more welcoming place for those seeking connection and (for lack of a better term) fellowship with those who have the same thirst of knowledge about the war and all its aspects. That goes for Millennials, Gen-X, Baby-Boomers, etc. I’d just be terrified of stumbling upon that one group of “good ole boys” and get attacked for being genuine. If I could find a group that challenges (in a healthy way) and supports my studies by sharing what they’ve learned, then I’d be more than happy to drive a few hours to meet them every month.

    • John Foskett says:

      You do raise a valid concern but if were you and I have an interest in the ACW, I’d go. There are, unfortunately and as is true of all professions, historians who can be arrogant and who think they have all the answers – which they don’t. But that’s very far from true of all ACW historians. Many of them share a view that I have based on my own CWRT experience – the audiences tend to be very much of a specific demographic, including age. It would be great to have younger members/attendees from different backgrounds. These should be places to explore history and not just to line up with a certain viewpoint. And i would not assume that you’d be isolated in terms of knowledge, etc. A lot of members/attendees think they know what there is to know about certain things and learn differently from good speakers.

      • Thank you for your encouragement. I’ll have to take a second look on the map and see if there are any CWRTs closer than the one in Gainesville. I’m itching to get into a group or community that loves studying history as much as I do.

    • John Foskett says:

      Any CWRT with a functioning brain should want younger attendees and an experience which involves dialogue and learning. Otherwise they;’re just waiting for the inevitable asteroid. I’ve done some presentations and have found openness to views based on evidence which might differ from members’ assumptions about things.

  3. Allen Mesch says:

    Roundtables will continue to decline as their membership ages. The only way to maintain and grow any organization is to actively recruit new members. National organizations could provide a marketing plan that individual roundtables could use. Reaching out to teachers and students
    would help spread the word. Offer reduced membership fees to students. I do think that some organizations aren’t worried about sustainability. I believe that discussions about causes of the Civil War would be useful in recognizing issues that threaten our unity.

  4. Douglas Pauly says:

    Perhaps some info about how to start and hopefully sustain a CWRT would be helpful. Are a certain number of members required for ‘official accreditation’ to be bestowed? Who officially recognizes them?

  5. Damian Paul says:

    The Hawaii Civil War round Table has been around since May, 1994. We are a very transiate state with people coming and going. Yes, many of our members have passed over the river.

  6. Tim:

    Surely you realize that Black Flag warfare characterized the effort made by both sides to prevail. Yes, the South had its many massacres, its burning of Chambersburg and its Andersonville, but the North had some massacres too (e.g. 23 surrendered Confederates shot dead in cold blood at Resaca), its Rape of the Shenandoah, its burning of Atlanta and Columbia and its Elmira (“Hellmira” to its inmates). The Black Flag begins with the first atrocity, which initiates a cycle of violence that doesn’t end until the war does, and it is thus idle to speak of one side or the other being better or worse. Strange that I have been with the Roundtable for 20 years and have not seen or heard of one bit of corruption, a very strong word. Perhaps you should temper it with something a bit gentler.

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