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From Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island to the Milton Maxey House -- also known as the Secession House -- in Beaufort, the Lowcountry is filled with countless Civil War-era landmarks.
That might explain why the Lowcountry Civil War Round Table, with 326 members, is one of the largest Civil War round tables in the country. The group's president, John Monkaitis, said his chapter is about 10 times the size of a normal round table.
And the large group's commitment to studying the Civil War and preserving its landmarks might be one of the reasons the local round table was recently named best in the country. The local group was named Civil War Round Table of the Year on
June 6 at a convention in Gettysburg, Pa., put on by the Civil War Preservation Trust, a national organization dedicated to preserving Civil War heritage.
"We were shocked that we won it for the first time that we applied for it," Monkaitis said. "It was nice to get it."
A history docent at the Coastal Discovery Museum, Monkaitis of Hilton Head said the purpose of the Lowcountry round table is to educate people about the Civil War era -- the period before, during and after the war -- with an emphasis on the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
The Lowcountry round table meets the second Wednesday of the month from September to May, with the exception of December, at Bluffton High School. A follow-up meeting usually is held the next day to discuss and debate the previous night's program.
Monkaitis credits the visiting speakers as well as charter members Jack and Joyce Keller, who find and host those speakers, with being the most important factor in the group's recent honor.
Since the round table was formally founded in 2000, the group has hosted several speakers, including renowned Civil War historians James "Bud" Robertson Jr., co-chairman of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech; William "Jack" Davis, professor of history and director of programs at the Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech; and Edwin Bearss, retired chief historian of the National Park Service.
The speakers discuss topics relating to the Civil War, from the plight of the Confederate women to the institution of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Monkaitis has big plans for his group in the upcoming year. He wants to add at least one tour of a Civil War-related historic landmark to the group's schedule.
The group's next planned tour will focus on Gen. William Sherman's occupation of Savannah.
Monkaitis said he also wants the group to become more active in the community, particularly by reaching out to young people. He plans to do so by establishing a scholarship for a University of South Carolina Beaufort student.
"The study of history affords us the opportunity not to make the same mistake twice," Monkaitis said. "And the heritage of America is so much more important than what I think the youth of America is being exposed to right now. ... We have almost an obligation to reach out to the community that we serve."