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Confederate Cabinet focus of Cal U's Civil War roundtable

| Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Joe Mieczkowski

Theirs are anything but household names and most unlikely unrecognizable except to a certain few.

Robert Toombs, Christopher Memminger, Leroy P. Walker, Stephen R. Mallory, John H. Reagan, Judah P. Benjamin.

Perhaps if titles were added, as well as a potential giveaway year, 1861, it may help: Robert Toombs, Secretary of State; Christopher Memminger, Secretary of the Treasury; Leroy P. Walker, Secretary of War; Stephen R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy; John H. Reagan, Postmaster General; Judah P. Benjamin, Attorney General.

Ring a bell? Not yet?

As shots were fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., harbor to open the Civil War in April 1861,Toombs, Memminger, Walker, Mallory, Reagan, and Benjamin became the initial Cabinet members of President Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy.

On Thursday, those perhaps somewhat obscure Cabinet members will come to life as Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide Joe Mieczkowski addresses the California University of Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable with his presentation, “Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet,” the same title of one of his two books – the other, “Lincoln and his Cabinet” – published in 2011.

In his eighth year as a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg's hallowed grounds, where he brings “a passion to the story of Gettysburg and what happened,” Mieczkowski, 62, recently elected president of the approximately 150 licensed guides organization, admits to developing an appreciation of what happened at Gettysburg later in life, like so many others. But, he added, his interest in Lincoln and subsequently Davis and their respective Cabinets was essentially 38 years in the making.

Having worked for the Social Security Administration for 38 years, “the fact that I worked for the government drew me to this topic,” said Mieczkowski, originally from Reading but who now resides not far from the battlefield. “I began to compile information about Lincoln and about Davis, describing his presidency, and the personalities of his Cabinet. But in lecturing on the Civil War I realized much is available about Lincoln, but not as much about Davis and even less about his Cabinet. Politicians pull the levers of power, generals carry out those orders. In addition to working as a guide, I lecture about critical decision points of the Civil War, decisions Lincoln made which were better decisions than those made by the Confederacy, ultimately leading to the Union victory in the war. Many of the political strategies of the South went wrong.”

Further explaining his findings following years of research, Mieczkowski added, “The South made a huge political miscalculation. Rather than sell its cotton to European nations/factories to make money for the war effort, the South withheld the sale of cotton in a political strategy that backfired and led to the collapse of the Confederacy. Eventually Europeans were able to obtain cotton from other sources. This is unique in that the Confederate government was crippled from within. In addition to military issues on the battlefield, there were considerable internal dissensions in Davis' Cabinet, including the fact that Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, worked to undermine Davis.”

While biographies about Lincoln are falling from bookshelves, “There are some good biographies available about Davis,” Mieczkowski noted, “and there are far fewer books about members of his Cabinet, although they are now out of print.”

However, there is more to Mieczkowski's interest in the respective cabinets and their officers. He is also a living historian, portraying and lecturing extensively at Civil War events about Simon Cameron, wealthy Harrisburg resident, U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and Lincoln's first Secretary of War. During the Remembrance Day activities in Gettysburg on Nov. 24, Mieczkowski, in top hat and frock coat, portrayed Cameron.

When he is not conducting battlefield tours or wearing his top hat and frock coat, Mieczkowski, who graduated from Salem (W.Va.) College with a degree in human relations followed by graduate work at Penn State in public administration, conducts leadership programs for corporate managers and government executives through FEMA and for the Lincoln Leadership Institute in Gettysburg,

Mieczkowski will address roundtable enthusiasts in the university's Kara Alumni House. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., with the meeting starting at 7 p.m. Anyone interested in Civil War history is welcome to attend. For further information, email or call 724-258-3406.

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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