At one time there were hundreds of Civil War Round Table (CWRT) organizations around the world. They began as dinner clubs with a dress code, an evening meal and a speaker who generated questions, deep interest and further study. Most were “men only” organizations that operated by word of mouth. At their zenith, a wonderful organizer, Jerry Russell started CWRT Associates and began to hold Congress events designed to motivate round table leaders to understand the importance of preserving battlefield land for future generations.
But times haven changed. Many objected to the nature of “the good old boys” round tables. Others no longer cared for the expense of dinner meetings. And, still others thought the suit and tie requirements were passé. Those that couldn’t influence change through board action left the organization while others formed more diverse clubs.
And yet, the organizational model remained unchanged with a few leaders conducting the business of the CWRT by lining up lecturers, preparing monthly newsletters and telling their friends about upcoming meetings. But more change was in the wind as fewer prospective members learned about CWRTs and their programs, clubs became increasingly inwardly focused and members grew older and left the organization. As a result, round tables have been closing their doors as fewer and fewer people seemed fascinated by this great American struggle.
In fact, during the past six years or so sixty-four CWRTs have disappeared from the social landscape. They have failed for a variety of reasons: inadequate or no real marketing, an aging membership, an attitude of rigidity, a failure to embrace change, no succession planning, etc. It wasn’t that they wanted to fail, many didn’t realize that they were at-risk of failure when something could have prevented it. All this occurred with a backdrop of the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, the forced removal of Civil War monuments and statuary and bomb threats in Gettysburg.
Are these trends reversible? Some believe that it can be reversed. Among those are the staff the newly reformed CWRT Congress. In 2016, after reading about Jerry Russell’s CWRT Associates, Mike Movius, the newly elected president of the Puget Sound CWRT sought out others to help him understand organizational success from Wally Rueckel, Matt Borowick, Dr. John Bamberl, Jay Jorgensen and Mike Powell. They quickly learned they wanted to expand their understanding of the success phenomena and share it with others. The new mantra of this Congress became preservation of CWRTs.
Partnering with the Bull Run CWRT, they held their first CWRT Congress in Centreville, Virginia in August 2017. Attendees learned about how best to organize and govern, lead and market their organizations, develop proven fundraising strategies and employ social media to their best advantage. They were also treated to several tours of historic battlefields in the area. It became a format for learning, networking and fun.
To date, the CWRT Congress has been held at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 2018 and the Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis in 2019. Watch for the 2020 CWRT Congress in Philadelphia on their website: www.cwrtcongress.org and their Facebook page www.facebook.com/cwrtcongress as their plans unfold.