Civil Discourse

I f Al Redway, 92, of Hamden had been born on February 11 or February 13, there might not be a Civil War Round Table of South Central Connecticut, a weekly gathering of Civil War history buffs in Hamden (one of many autonomous “Civil War Round Table” chapters located around the country). But he came into this world on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and a love of all things Civil War-related would follow. Today he confesses to having fourteen statues of “Honest Abe” in his dining room alone.

In 1959, when Al and his wife Betty, 86, realized that the centennial of the “War Between the States” was approaching, they held the first meeting of the group at the New Haven YMCA, attracting twenty-five attendees, Al says. The first Round Table organization got going in 1940 in Chicago, spreading to New York and later to Hartford, where Al first heard about it.

Other early meetings were held at the old SNET building in New Haven, eventually moving in 1980 to the Miller Senior Center behind Hamden’s Miller Library. In a room un-ironically filled with round tables, you can find Al and Betty and 17-year president Mary Ann Quinn there on the second Monday of each month, at 7:30 p.m., from September to December, February to June. The group’s culminating event is an annual dinner meeting, this year on Monday, June 9, at Hamden’s Laurel View Country Club, where the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates, between Lincoln and his 1858 U.S. Senate opponent Stephen Douglas, will be reenacted.

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At each meeting, Quinn presides, as presidents do, over the proceedings. Her interest in the Civil War was sparked by an adult education class, after which she found the Round Table. Al and Betty Redway are certainly thankful for that: “We don’t let Mary Ann out of our sight. She’s our glue.”

Quinn is quick to confess she has only three heroes/idols: Abraham Lincoln, Pope John Paul II and Tony Bennett. If pushed a little, she might add Al Redway to her list. Redway has visited major battlefields and museums, arranging for the group to see such places as West Point, the renovated Grant’s Tomb in New York City and the weathered Grand Army of the Republic Solitary Sentry statue in Mount Vernon, New York. Betty shares with me that, in 1959, Al was appointed to a committee by Connecticut Governor Abraham Ribicoff to talk in states like Missouri and Illinois and also to write stories about Lincoln.

Last month’s meeting featured a talk by David Koch on “Animal Mascots of the Civil War,” like horses, dogs and bears (oh my!). This month’s talk was on “Researching the Civil War Soldier” by Branford town historian Jane Peterson Bouley. Peterson has personally examined the records, mostly kept in Washington, D.C., of 250 Branford and North Branford Civil War veterans and is currently working on a 500-page tome detailing her findings, including several in-depth chapters on particular soldiers.

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April’s talk, by Bob O’Brien, is set to cover Battle Flag Day—which occurred on September 17, 1879, when surviving Union soldiers from Connecticut “carried their frayed and torn war-flags” to commemoratively deposit them in Hartford—and May’s talk is on “Imaging Lincoln,” to be given by Bob Berthelson.

Before any given talk commences, announcements are made and raffle tickets are drawn, with various Civil War books as prizes. At March’s meeting, John Quinn of West Haven brought in a giant two-book volume on the Civil War dating back to 1901, a family heirloom, and Bill and Wendy Martindale of Hamden shared research on two of Bill’s relatives, including his great-great uncle John Martindale, who, it turns out, was a general in the Union Army and accompanied Lincoln’s body as it traveled by train through the North. Bill found evidence that his relative had even helped stop Confederate soldiers from kidnapping it.

Other fascinating tidbits came up during the March meeting. For example, I learned that Van Camp’s, the Americana-stewed, still-going-strong baked bean company, went into business in 1861, and its beans were commonly eaten by Civil War soldiers.

Beside the 66 members of the Civil War Round Table of South Central Connecticut, who knew?

Civil War Round Table of South Central Connecticut
Meeting at the Miller Senior Center (behind the Miller Library), 2901 Dixwell  Avenue, Hamden (map)
7:30 p.m. each 2nd Monday of the month, Sept-Dec and Feb-June
Mary Ann Quinn, president: (203) 248-7465
Philip Vitiello, vice president: (203) 675-6536

Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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By day, Bonnie sells life insurance and financial products at her Woodbridge office. By night, she attends theater and writes reviews for the Middletown Press and her blog, which is partnered up with the New Haven Register. A reviewer for 25 years, she’s been a correspondent for the Middletown Press for the past 12. When the curtains go up, she loves being in the front row.

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