tv Allen Guelzo Robert E. Lee - A Life CSPAN November 27, 2021 6:35pm-8:01pm EST
>> so that is where today you see the larger over that which was not yet constructed at this moment. >> and there the final shot ofarming ton national cemetery much of what we see today with many white headstone marking grave of the fallen. >> capitol lit up at night. >> i think it is important to pause for a moment and think about the meaning that the unknown soldier had at this time. it was about world war i yes but it was also thought to be a memorial that could connect all of the different american conflicts that can stretch beyond world war i and really honor all of those who serve in our nation's armed forces that really continues very strongly until today. >> you're watching american history tv, exploring our nation's past. >> welcome to atlanta history centers virtual author talk
series my name is claire haley i'm the vice president of programs, and public relations here nor the history center, absolute pleasure to welcome you all an audience to welcome tonight special guest gelzo discussing robert e. lee a comprehensive biography of the figure that a lot of us think we might know but my incredible new and interesting insight in the book. as i said earlier if you haven't purchased your copy it was just published yesterday so congratulations alan we're excited to have you day after publication day you can purchase aou copy from atlanta history center museum store, it is online, we offer shipping and instore pickup and support our mission here at the history center and quickly introduce tonight speakers earn turn it over to him. to give you an orientation and introduction to his work. a senior research scholar at the counsel of humanities at princeton university he's author of several books about the civil
war but understatement there. and american history, he's been recipient tome lincoln prize the times, giewgen and many other honors he a was in pennsylvania. welcome and thank you so much for beingng here this evening. >> thank you very much claire for hosting this program and mo'nique for acting as our wonderful technical support. and hello to all of our friend in atlanta which was a city of known and enjoyed for more than 35 years. h many -- many wonderful visits. and i'm delighted to be appearing with the atlanta history center once again. and i'm sure there are number of members ofre the civil war round table which i've spoken to as roongtly recently sen years about battle of gettysburg but now let me turn to robert e. lee. mary chestnut first met robert
edward lee just before the war. at the white sol fur springs in western virginia where lee brought his wife who was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis they came to the white sulfur springs to benefit from her baight in hot springs one of the few thing that could give her relief from steady march of that terrible disease. mary chestnut -- , of course, one of the most famous diary keepers of the confederacy remembered that a man riding beautiful horse joined us wearing hat with somehow a military look to it. as he said, he sat his horse gracefully and he was so distinguished that all points that i very much regretted not catching the name. mary chestnut was intrigued by this man who was he? where did he come from?
well, it was explained to her he was robert edward lee. chestnut -- everything about him she said so fine looking that the word which came to her mind was perfection. she said there was no fault to be found even if you hunted for one. and yet -- mary chestnut was not entirely enchanted with robert e. lee or at least not nearly as much as some others were. she wrote in her diary, i like lee better but she meant was -- robert ement lee older brother sidney smith lee and author in the u.s. navy. and why well because robert was a mystery. i know smith lee well chestnut wrote in her diary but can
anybody say they know his brother? i doubt it. he looks so cold and quiet and grand. now that surprisingly was the judgment that many people who have met robert e. lee came to both during and before the american civil war chestnut came nearer to the mark when she talked about lee and perfection and she might have realized because perfection was one of robert e. lee's abiding goals in life. not because he was some supernaturally blessed with ability that perfection was within his easy reach. but because he demanded so much of it from himself and from others. there was in other words, a great deal more to this man than people caught on the surface. and not all of it could be
easily reckoned with. in those last balmy days before civil waref cast its shadow over the nation, robert e. lee was on the surface at least -- the model s of an american soldier. he was the son of a revolutionary war hero. white horse harry lee the protege of george washington and man who delivered that famous eulogy from washington first in war first in peace first in hearts of his countrymen. yes that came from white horse harry lee robert leemore was a virginia carteree and the carte, carters were first among first families of virginia. robert lee himself had embarked on a military career by entering west point in 1825. and he did so marvelously well and it was commissioned upon graduation in 1829 into the
elite core of engineers. where he undertook series of coastal engining projects that range from georgia to new york city, to st. louis weather front. he earned his most impressive military bouquets, however, serving under winfield scott in mexican war. acting as scott's chief aid in the dramatic campaign from the coast at cruise to mexico city in 1847. from there, robert lee served as superintendent of west point and from age 57 to 61 he was the lieutenant colonel of the second cavalry and brief period he was the colonel of the first u.s. cavalry and then with the outbreak of the civil war he was offered fieldld command of the united states forces in dealing with the successionist states
and from that moment, he turned his back. on more than 30 years of service and took command first of the virginia state forces, and then of the principle confederate field army, army of northern virginia.my almost nothing in those proceeding 30 years did the slightest hint of the decision he made to leave the army to swear his oath to defend the united states which he first upon commissioning in 1829 so refused what would have been the pinnacle of his military career. so his chestnut discovered, nothing sore characterizes robet e. lee as the question mark. why? why did he do what he did? why was he the man that he was?
well lee's general answer in 1861 for that big decision about refusing command of the federal forces that was hee was a virginian. and when virginia succeeded from union he was obliged to follow virginia into the confederacy. but was he? although robert e. lee was born on the northern neck of virginia in 1807, he had grown up in alexandria which was then part of the district of columbia. alexandria and northern virginia would only be retroseeded to commonwealth of virginia long after lee had left. most of his life thereafter had been lived in other places in georgia -- st. louis, in baltimore, and new york city. as an engineer, his father white
horse harry had been politically a federalist, and suffered politically, and, f though, lee married into one of the foremost families of virginia, the arlington, arlington overlooked the potomac fashion fashion national capitol, not virginia and in-laws were valorized nation first and state loyalties afterwards. but lee could not ignore, however, in 1861 for two factors. first, white horse harry lee for all of his revolutionary fame had been a hard luck husband and father. andd left his family for the wet indies when robert was only six years old. the shadow that light horse
harry cast over the lee name was one that robert struggled to redeem hence that broad streak of perfectionism and his behavior but also yearned to be free of his father's rep taking in other ways he wanted independence he wanted to be his own man and once sense his marriage to mary was an attempt to stake out a realm for himself. but he also yearned for security. the security his father had denied him. so while most of lee's contemporary at west pongt left the army as soon as they had received their taxpayer provided college degree. and could decently resign and go into private engineerings practice or some other profession lee stays with the army as the one certain
profession and paycheck he could count on. the huge factor in this pursuit of independence, security, and perfection wasin arlington. it was as much to protect arlington for his family as it was for virginia. that he chose to resign his commission and refuse the offer ofs command. isn't the only factor. the factor in lee's decision was his expectation. that there o would be no more afterall. hard as it is for us to appreciate this, because we're looking from the present backwards in p 1861 even after succession of the southern states even after the firing and fort sumter it is still by no means clear that crisis would only result in a civil war.
leeiv could have simply resigned his army commission and stayed neutral. or he could accept the invitation extend to him to take command of virginia forces and play the role of mediator between virginia and the union. and thus achieve peace making a fame greater than his father had ever enjoyed in war. but, of course, it did not turn out that way. many, many others lee found the succession crisis galloping away from him and in the end step by step incrementally he found himself by 1862 as the commander of the army of northern virginia. he played that role as perfectly as he had tried to play every other role in life.
that he failed -- did not necessarily surprise him only way to the courthouse frankly admitted that he had always expected that the war would turn out the way they showed it would. but at least his conduct would show how he could rise even above defeat in the end. he would keep his perfection entangt. today, more questions revolve around statutes of robert e. lee than lee himself and that poses a different sort of problem. six and seven around statue in richmond and others in new orleans charlottesville and dallas and other places. on the one hand, i frankly admit i'm a yankee from yankee land
i'm a pennsylvanian and that's all that i've known, and, in fact, my earliest educationing in any subject touching on civil war came as a boy at my grandmother's knee a grandmother who herself is a schoolgirl back at the turn of the last century welcoming to her classroom and george climber school old veterans of the union army grand army to republic and that little blue cap on the blue jackets coming inep on what they then called decoration day to instruct my grandmother and her fellow students in the real meaning of the civil war. by which they meant not was thosee rebels were talking about when they talked about the lost cause. as such a yankee, i have some difficulty fathoming why we put up statues to people who committed treason and i used the
throw it around uselessly or wildly. i have the same problem with people who waive confederate flag. these people including robert e. lee who raise their hand against theer nation they had sworn an oath to uphold and defend. i thook oath. my father took that oath. my son took that oath. and this is not helped by fact that cause that lee and other confederates fought for -- washe wrapped around like it or not a defense of human slavery and human trafficking. why should the artifact of that have been any place for the museum? so if someone wanted to propose erecting statute to robert e. lee today i would probably tell them as politely as could to get
lost. but this is the whole story. not the whole story at all. the monument in richmond dates from the 1890s. i ensure it had a message then about white supremacy. but it also had other messages. the south was a region which had lost a crippling civil war it is impact on the survivors was worst than the great depression. and lasted for a practical purposes until 1950s. 10% of the military aid male population of the confederacy died in the war. that's literally culture if you're successful that's supposed to mean you're good. if you lose, it is supposed to mean you're bad. remember the old victim
attributed to vince lombardi that winnings is not only an important thing. it is the only thing. we embrace that in american culture. robert e. lee symbolizes something different. he symbolized the possibility of dignity in the face of defeat. he symbolized the ability that winners the bernie madoff michael and ivan, jeffrey epsteins, the winners are not necessarily the good and the people who wind up paying for those deeds are not necessarily bad. that message was wrapped up in the statues too and we may regret losing that in a dog eat dog world. there's one more parnght. monuments like statue change.
now that sounds strange because monokwr50u789s made of granite or bronze are physical and material and they don't grow and they don't eat and we want what do you mean by change? what i mean by change is this, what monuments like richmond or charlottesville or other places when you put up -- this say memorials -- and it is where white supremacy message got attached. statues were there to remind people of what the confederacy was. over time, though, as generations passed, statutes changed they begin as memorials. but as generations pass, they decline into monuments. lee's statue became a remembrance of a chapter in richmond's history. more generations passed, and the
monument declines still further into being simply a marker. people look up as they pass and they say oh yeah that's robert e. lee sol history dude. in fact, they become all literally markers for negotiating traffic in downtown richmond. you see this in what happened to memorial and other markers. out on west coast in california, in dawner park is a monument to dawner party. yes, those phones who when the winter clapped down on them resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. there's a monument of the dawner party there believe it or not it borders on a -- on a picnic area. but nobody looks at the dawner monument and says awe -- that's an insightment to cannibalism might have said it when it was put up and in 1840s c when the dawner party was still alive or at least some
of it. but overtime, it simply become a marker. same thing is true of the monument in my own state in western pennsylvania region of washington county where there's a statute to a rebellion and it was not about cannibalism and speaking it wasn't even about whiskey but it was about treason. but there's a monument there to whiskey rebellion and a place in the 1790s. but perhaps when that statue was put up some might have octobered saying why putting up a monument to people who committed treason. but overtime that begins as memorial desengsdz into monument and more time the monument desengdz into a marker and today a washington county we look at this monument, this memorial, this marker to the whiskey rebellion nobody feels terribly upset aboutel treason. more likely people are upset
about whiskey not about treason and yetsk there's the monument. as historian i'm reluctant to see monument and memorials and markers destroyed a certain professional reluctance and historical memory and you can't expect to pieces of that and still hold on to the substance of those memories at least not very easily. on the other hand, i'm citizen of the democracy. and if the citizens of richmond or otherhe places determine that there's a monument they wish to remove, i have no legitimate reason for standing in the path of that decision. what i can hope for, though, is that decisions made reasonably as the product of a process. and not by impulse or ignorance or rage.
it has been said that ignorance and impulse and rage are the unfortunatee necessities that e live with in a democracy. i hope the voices that say that are wrong. and perhaps how we deal with our monuments not just these but all historical monument and historical memoranda and it will be the measure of how seriously we take with our history and our democracy. well that's enough from me for now. i understand we have a number of questions coming in from the audience and i think it is time to turn to the curiosity of the audience and let that have its share here. >> absolutely. thank you for that introduction, alan. i thought we could start going back, you know, you took us up to the present day talking about current moments that we're
having with monuments. i thought why don't question go back to the beginning of your book. and dig in a little bit more to robert e. lee's early life and then a little bit into his civil war service, and we will start to goif to audience questions as we go so if you have a question for alan, please put those in the q and a and be sure to get to as much of those as we can ando earlier we typically have enthusiastic audiences which is wonderful. but if we're not able to get to your question we apologize in advance. so alan, i wanted to go back to the if beginning. and you lay out in your book that in your opinion one can't audience the man like robert e. lee without first understand the relationship that he has to his father.. he mentioned revolutionary war hero but also didn't have -- very successful post revolutionary war and deserted
his family so i want you to lay out a little bit for us -- talk about lee's relationship to his father and then what became his relationship to his father's absence. >> ..... henry lee the first thia leaf from the cadet branch of the family. he was from the leaves of lisa peña. what difference does that make? the major dominant strain of the family, the lee family around thomas lee and descended from richard lee, the first immigrant but sometimes called richard the immigrant. in the 1640s and 50s, thomas lee is the lee who built stratford hall, the place where robert was born. >> it really was from a lesser
part of that family that's why call it a cadet branch but it was nothing but ambitious and intelligent and skillful and brave almost to the point of so i get at least in that respect as part of the princetonag heritage. when the volunteers for service takes command that grows into a mixed legion answers under washington and washington is deeply impressed and what washington has to reorganize the campaign for the revolution in the south he turns to his great friend and
then the story of the revolution the v south is written by nathaniel greene with harry lees help. it was after the revolution that my started to come apart. at first and is the air of stratford hall which comes to be the man in control of stratford hall. but yet white horse harry had a gift to botch things financially. every possible asset with real estate investments that would corkscrew downwards. with one son and lucy.
henry the fourth is a story in its own right but white horse harry remarries and he burns through every bit of cash that and carter brings to the marriage so much that he ends up in debtor's prison. not only that he gets involved in political and inflammatory problems that caused him to be beaten within an inch of his life in baltimore. after that he simply leaves. he leaves behind politics and his creditors and takes off in the west indies. >> and that includes five children. including two sisters. and then basically he leaves his family to be and he is six
years old when he what happens and he never sees his father again. there is something that c the psychologist can tell you about the trauma that influence. there's hardly any pain worse that is what robert experiences and what it makes it in a sense even more cruel is author his life is constantly introduced as robert e. lee the son of white horse harry lee. people don't know if they are conjuring up that robert by on one location was corresponded and asked in his application letter to west point and beyond that never talks about himself as white horse harry never visits his
father's grade not until the end of 1861 when robert lee is coming into his own and becoming his own man so to speak. and then to come to terms with the influence and the impact of white horse harry on his life. it is a traumatic affair and out of that trauma that you see growing those passions of robert e. lee that i have itemized for independence insecurity and perfection. and those are not always compatible. someone can urine for independence and find out that doesn't give you much security you can obtain security and realize it doesn't give you much in the way of independence and never makes all three n work together curious enough until after the c civil war when he becomes the president of washington college in faraway lexington
virginia and then he's able to bring all three of those into harmony. that is the moment where he writes a memoir of his father. >> welcome back. which fell shorter but a lot of other major figures during the civil war to make an impact on higher education on this country so going back to before the war specifically the yearning for independence that would lead them into an army career choice doesn't give the independence or stability the constantly writing how he's worried about making and meet which is weird because in some ways is a lot
more financially stable and others during that time period with that cognitive cognitive dissonance but one of the things i was to ask about and with several audience questions as well is robert e-lee's relationship with slavery. he was in the slaveholding stay in virginia and his wife's family in particular and arlington itself benefited from that and at the same time he will thousands of letters. and with that disapproval of the institution of slavery. and is bad for white people. and with his expression of
disapproval was supported in large part so can you talk a little about what you're thinking around slavery and those conclusions? >> so with slavery his dad owned slaves as mother on slaves even living in alexandria with those severely reduced circumstances in the lee household in alexandria. so when he dies in 1829 part of her s estate is the disposition of the slaves. and to her two daughters in marshall lee i said marshall because she marries a marshall
she becomes and the marshall. and one slave family is will to robert to make disposition of the estate winds up being a slave family that robert owens. so the only slave family he only ever owns in his own name but that doesn't mean he did not benefit from slavery. and then to be part of that system and even more so in arlington with the main testis property at arlington and those others at the monkey river. and all told there is 190 slaves who are a part of those properties. robert lee benefits from that. and benefits from their work and their labor and is one of the custis slaves, his wife
has slaves. and they will assist with the children and go on vacation in the slaves go with them. so lee certainly benefits from the slave system even if he doesn't himself have personal title to large numbers of slaves which he doesn't. he says nothing c for years and years not until the 18 fifties when slavery is becoming a crisis issue in american politics but it's interesting that he talks about it at all. because we had learned in his military career not to talk about politics. soldiers who talk about politics are got mixed up in politics usually suffered. and happened in the first of the mentor and with winfield scott. and yet slavery by the 18
fifties and then to start writing about it in a letter to his wife and he comes out to say slavery is a moral evil it should be condemned in any civil society. and then you think it's about time. and then you read on and asim you pointed out, claire, he immediately qualifies that in qualifies that in two ways and first of all this is more of a problem for white people than black people because you are wondering how is that? but it's more of a problem for white people than black people and slavery is benefiting black people because itiv helps them to assimilate to civilization. this is a fairly common argument made by people defending slavery in the 18 fifties and the slaveholding south. have a solution we just have
to let god work this out in his own time and that christianity is civilized the world. it may takeet that long to get rid of slavery. there is no time bracket what he is given away with one hand he has taken away with the other. so it's not a whole lot different from many in the upper south say that in virginia and kentucky in these areas where to be drained out of the economic life of those states. it was ingrained because slavery was much more profitable the southwest and mississippi river valley.
always like mary chestnut discovered and abo ?-question-mark. that is the symbol of robert e. lee. >> let's get into another ?-question-mark one —- question sessions oh two talk about the prewarto experience in that moment when things could have gonere differently. and then i didn't realize the aggression under which that happened then that command of the confederate army.
and then from his own words and himself and if he could fall with anyone of that tmonumental decision. that the absolute snails pace at that time when have been what you are striving for. >> and in a comprehensive fashion. and the process by which he takes all of the steps and that he did not know what he was taking as his next step. and most people were feeling the right to that crisis as we look back on this that seems to be simple and straightforward and
inevitable. it would be secession and the civil war and that is it. and by no means is as obvious. and is not that obvious for me either. first of all he didn't have to resign for the army but he believed he did because otherwise if he turned down that offer of the federal forces turning that down was tantamount to refusing in order. and one of them face with the demand of resignation under any circumstances so he decides not to take that command and then he resigns. at that point he could have and expected to be neutral. there were a member number of other officers but they don't do anything else. they simply stay neutral through the war.
>> and those that simply concluded they did not want to improve their hands what would really be ability contest among fellow americans. and then to remain neutral that is the first step. and then persuaded to take another step in that is to go to richmond and he takes that step after consulting with his cousinxa caches we he had 81st cousins so if we had thrown a brick down the street it would have had a relative. we consults with caches francis lee to is approximately his age it is almost a replica of robert e. lee it is so similar.
they consult together and caches francis lee comes away convinced that robert e. lee to remain neutral and then to promote reconciliation and peace. we think at that point how can there be peace? there would be a civil war. doll that evidences that we expect by taking command and from throwing with the confederacy in going to war with the united states and in the command ofar the virginia forces it is on the defensive that when jackson who is not onyet stonewall jackson takes his troops across the potomac river to off keep i that maryland heights across frome harpers ferry and then we will
work this out there is a disruption in secession. after the hotheads had regained some coolness were all going to get together there is a reconstruction is the word reconstructionus gets used and then everything will be peaceful again and me will work it out and that doesn't happen but then he's actually saying maybe i should resign. and just try to go back to being neutral. federal forces had already occupied arlington and the die was cast. >> it was surprisingly reluctant confederate. >> and reports to say you
can't trust robert e. lee he will be tried as a traitor to the confederacy so take it from that it is 1861 in february 1865 proposing the emancipation of slaves that charleston mercury of all the fire breathing and fire eater newspaper says we knew robert e. lee was never with us we knew he was always a federalist at heart we cannot trust robert e. lee. we had a particular profile and many people are not entirely sure about robert edward lee. they love that he won battles but they scratch their heads politically speaking. >> and he himself in is one
thing and then turns around to do something that contradicts it. so there are some questions in the q&a along with audience members and is appointed ahead of the virginia army and put in charge of northern virginia to experience fabulous successes against the federalist army before they get theirir act together then to be straightforward about with military conflict we cannot win this through strength alone but the only chance is if we do something that is what leads and to pennsylvania and wanted to eventually into a faithful battle but in his
contradiction there is one moment where it jumps out to me where he was criticizing the behavior of the union army when he seese the appropriate behavior on that type of behavior but yet he ignores the egregious conduct while in pennsylvania were actually capturing black men and selling them into virginia and then to ignore that approach and then to figure out but does that extend in terms of conduct and with those
contradictions and how does something like that happened? >> and then to prayer merely gives strategic direction to armies and campaigns and with that strategic insight he is one of the most perceptive. and then as used the he sees very early on that the south does not have the resources to go along heavyweight bout you cannot go 15 rounds there is not enough substance but the confederacy when independence it has a surprise knock out in the first or second round the only way to do that is to carry the war north of the potomac into pennsylvania we were able to cause so much political disruption and dismay that at the northern populace and politicians become disenchanted with the lincoln administration to
compel them to open peace negotiations. and more than any other person the confederate leadership. but if not beaten to the punch by watching the overland campaign in 1964. he does not see himself as a day to day manager putting that responsibility into the chief lieutenants and when he has chief lieutenant set her up to the job people like stonewall jeff jackson and can preside over significant successes. but at other times when jocks —- jackson is dead and long street is will one —- injured
he has to take charge himself and it's clear he's not comfortable doing that he can be he's not comfortable. in terms of the moral parameters, his vision as a commander is he is responsible for what goes on at the very top his responsibility at the ever other levels of command and at the chain of command if officers are running down capturing black people in pennsylvania and then sending them off to the safe markets that is not his responsibility not a cc at that's an entirely different level where he designs exercise responsibility. so you may say what robert e. lee does is he looks at things and then looksdi away.
and these difficulties that we see today here is a contradiction. how can we say this or do this on the one hand and yet tolerate this on the other? in his mind is not a contradiction. and this is officers and soldiers behaved in a certain way he would not look at it. it would simply not be a subject that he would concern himself with that is for the subordinates to take care of. said that is intriguing because it is so adamant of the union troops. >> and the conduct is something that would help him push further and further away from but then those that they object to but finds offensive. is not the union soldiers that are misbehaving i'm sorry they
will misbehave that is the nature of that site. but the director for that misbehavior comes from the very top. and it might be a case with the virginia countryside but what he can't understand is the general in charge of the union forces not only tolerating it but sanctioning it and directing it that the findings profoundly offensive and why he issues the response as he does. >> we are starting to get close to the end of our time but there are so many that the audiences so you have time to get in to those tactical and
>> what figured into that really seminal moment in the warsome. >> youou know, a lot of people, claire, ask this question. understand at the angle looking out towards seminary ridge expect virginia monument, and they say what could he have been thinking? you're going to send soldiers across thaten open area? they're a going to get slaughtered. and, of course, what was result? the result was defeat. so people hi what could lee have possibly been thinking. maybe there wases something that was barring his thinking, health problems that affected the decision making process. well, it is true, he experienced health problems during the war, serious ones. he was probably most senior of the major commanding figures of the civil war. he is much older than grant, much older than mcclellan, midwest older, in fact, than most generals.
he's older than wellington and napoleon. and there'sld some argument that could be made to say perhaps he ought to have been in more of a rear h echelon position than try to take active command in the field. he suffers a series of heart attacks during the civil war. the first of these hangs, in fact, occurs in the spring of 1863 before the campaign. but he bounces back from that heart attack. there's no real evidence during the gettysburg campaign that he was experiencing health distress that in any way affected his decision making. andec i would take a step furthr and say that his decision making with pick kept's charge is -- pickets' charge is quite sound. for the peeves two days of the battle of gettysburg, lee's army had pounded the army of the to tpotomac. fiveor of infantry corps have bn
wrecked by lee's army. they were next to useless in terms of combat readiness. the only things that are really left are are the 12th corps and tthe 6th corps. 6th corps he needs, general mead needs as his reserve, it's needed to hold the hill. what does that leave? it leaves two decisions -- acquisitions of the 2nd corps holding cemetery ridge. so what's holding back door to the union position? really not effectively, not much more than 3500 men. whereas lee has an entire, fresh, unsullied division, three big brigades of virginians who can be supported by another division of troops that had already been in action. yes, james longstreet after war -- and i emphasize after war -- insisted that he had
disagreed vehemently and told lee this was the wrong thing to do. i rather strongly suspect that much of longstreet's protests that way got elaborated and embroidered as time went by after war, especially after lee's death. i have the the very strong suspicion that longstreet, whatever reservations he expressed at that time, didn't express severe enough reservations to cause lee to have any doubt. but ultimately, rationale that justifies what lee did can be seen by looking at what you can call thet cognate wars of the te american civil wariments -- war. if you look to the crimean war at the the great battle, exactly the the same kind of headlong, straightforward attack against russian positions that are
entrenched with artillery and scores a tremendous victory. same thing happens with napoleon the iiid. in 1859. any free thing that people could have learned from military example in the 1850s would have suggested that lee is doing exactly the right thing. the proof is in the pudding. it almost worked. the con fed rate forces came within an ace of breaking through that federal line. and if they had, claire, what was there behind that a line to keep them from going on? next to nothing. it was a close-run thing there that the afternoon at gettysburg. the phrase wellington used about waterloo, but it's also true about gettysburg. it came very, very close to success. it was not a rash decision, it was n the not an unprincipled ad thoughtless decision. it almost worked.
and i have to say this bluntly, i at least for one am -- [laughter] grateful that it did not, becauseul the consequence of th, if lee had been successful at gettysburg, oh, my goodness. the army of the potomac having been beaten on so many fields, sog many times could very likely have gone to pieces. lee could have had a full and open field in front of him. there would have been the demand for peace negotiations. alexander stevens, the vice president of the confederacy, was on a single boat in the chesapeake bay waiting to come up to washington, and what would he have presented to abraham lincoln if he had? andve then what we have had, a divided country? a balkanized north america? noter and south -- north and south divided in 1863, do you think it would have stopped there? no. there would are have been a
northwest confederacy, a pacific confederacy, and we would have had in north american almost a repeat of what we saw in the balkans in the 1990s. and then, and then what would have been available to stop the tide of german militarism in world war i, of naziism in world war ii, of the cold war. it's not a pleasant thing to contemplate. >> not. onand something that sents the more than civil war apart from other countries' is it's pretty unusual to only have two sides in a civil war, how you're referring to it. usually quite a few more than that, so it's really hard to contemplatet' what we would be live anything today. >> you know, years later serving on the united states supreme court were two veterans of the civil war. one was white who had been a confederate veteran and the other was oliver wendell holmes
who had been a lieutenant at eighty tam. every year holmes would present white with a red rose. it was a romantic gesture. and white's response was this: my god, he said, if we had succeeded. that was the estimate of a confederate, and he was right. >> some postwar, you know, reflections, maybe get the counterfactuals that we just discussed, and you also get the rationalizations as you mentioned with longstreet. no, no, i told him. we only have a few minutes left, and there's so many great questions, but as we said earlier, we had an abbreviated post-civil war act that was much, much colder, but he nevertheless was quite an impactful figure after the war and then having kind of action after that with the monuments
and everything else that you discussed at the beginning. but can you talk a little bit about his postwar, well, during his live, his postwar sentiment? touch on his tenure at washington college, and who was robert e. lee as no longer the confederate general. >> so many surprises in the life of robert e. lee, but i think there's nothing more surprising than what occurs in the last five years of his life. when the war is over, he is indicted for treason. he's never brought to trial, but he's indicted for treason. so he's looking around for some form of employment, but he also wants to look for employment because it's going to get him as far from the prying eyes of people in washington as he can get. he's offered the job of president of washington college, but you want to talk about a dead end job. washington college was this little college in lexington, virginia, inhi the upper end of the shenandoah valley.
he had finally had a pulse at the end of the war, and yet the trustees decide they're going to make an offer lee. and they send one of the trustee, members of the board of trustees, they actually have to dig intos their pockets to buy a suit for him so he can look decent when he meets robert e. lee. initially, he doesn't hear anything. lee writes back and says, well, you know, i've been indictedded for treason. if you can handle that, i'll take the job. what a shocker. robert e. lee had been a superintendent at west point, and he hated the job because he was micromanaged at every stage of the job itself. he was offered a job early on in his career teaching at west point. he turned it down because he said the classroom is not my milieu. i'm not comfortable there. now all of a sudden he's going become the president of a college, and you're thinking, the oh, this isn't going to turn out well.
no. he goes to lexington. it's curious, one of his generalscu wrote to the trustees and said it's great that you got lee to become president. he's going to be the a great figurehead. don't give him any work to do, just put him on the letterhead and let him be the figurehead of the college. the trustees became figure happieds. robert e. lee ran the place. he rewrites the curriculum from top to bottom. he basically sidelines the old classical curriculum and starts bringing in modern subjects. he starts bringing in chemical engineering, he starts bringing in journalism. and not only that, but he does away with the student code of conduct. he now says to all students -- and he interviews every student who comes to washington college. he says there is no code of conduct here, the only thing we expect of you is that you will behave as a gentleman. now, doesn't that sound generous?
no. you know what that means? that means robert event lee is now the judge, jury and executioner of all student behavior. [laughter] he a takes control of everything on the college. and you know the place where he's the best? fundraising. whoever thought of robert e. lee asco a development officer? and yet robert e. lee has this remarkable talent for shaking apples out of the trees. and especially the apples of -- trees. he gets old time abolitionists like henry ward beecher who sponsor meetings in new york city for the support, encouragement and fund raising of washington college. by the time lee dies in 1870, he has taken a college which was almost defunct, and he has made it an educational powerhouse, rivalling the university of virginia. he so remakes washington college that after his death trustees rename the place as washington and lee university. and that is ana tribute to the
fact that the place probably would not have survived had it not been for the presidency of robert e. lee. >> we just have a couple more minutes tonight the, so i think we're going to spend just a little bitte of time talking abt the legacy of robert e. lee after his death. there's a great question from the audience here from dale, and he says his father's from lexington, virginia, the burial place of lee and stonewall jackson. my dad was born in stonewall jackson's house when it was a civil war hospital. massive civil war buff, as we're approaching this examines of the lost cause and see him as a person rather than of a hero to be venerated or a devil to be condemned as we start to figure out who the man is, how can i introduce my dad to a more modern approach to the civil war that he might be receptive to?
>> first of all, reflect on yourself and your own experience. all of us are the products of many times, places and things that we have p met. we are, all of us, the confluence of many streams. not all of which come at the same time or with the same power or even with the same message. we deal with those ourselves. we deal with complexity ourselves. that's simply in the nature of human beings. there's noo such thing as a simple human being. and as soon as we realize that, then we begin to understand that the people that we look at in history are not in that respect different from us. they too the are the confluence of streams. they are part of all that they have met. and when we understand ourselves and them in this way, then we look for something different. we look for them to be human
beings. we look for them to be people whoo struggle with contradictions. we lookst for people who try too the right thing but always are not sure how to do it. and sometimes they're not even sure what the right thing is to do and if are trying to find the markers that will point them in that direction. we live lives of uncertainty and struggle byve the best lights tt we can. why are we surprised that others in the past lived their lives that way. e it's true, in the past there e monsters, there are people who have been virtually irredeemably evil. but those tend to be on the whole the exceptions. there are not that many monsters, and we can be grateful cafor that. heavens knows the ones that have lived, the stalins, the maos,
the hitlers, those people -- while they have caused inest admissibleer amounts of damage d suffering -- are at least are not as numerous as rest of us who struggle to understand what is right, what is true and how to do it. if we will understand robert e. lee that way, if we will approach people that otherwise we want to put a halo around, ih doesn't mean that we have done some damage to them, it means that we have come to terms with them same way we come to terms with ourselves as human beings. i think of those lines of william wordsworth where he said, for i have come to look on nature not as in the hour of thoughtless youth, but hearing often times the still, sad music of humanity. nor harsh, nor grating though
with ample power to rebuke. i think if we can hold on to that, then we will have a way not only of coming to grips with ourselves and our own contradictions, but also the contradictions of those who have gone before us and in the past. and perhaps we will put halos on them, but at the same time we won't put tails on their a backs and forks in their hands. >> let's end on one question that really gets at where you have concluded your introduction to this talk, and this is from john in the audience. he's talking specifically about coming back to the monuments point, that there's a spike of monument billing in the 19- building in the 19-teens and '20scr and massive resistance to civil rights following the brown v. board of education ruling. and john asks, and i'm just going to read it verbatim the, why would anyone expect today's
african-americans to tolerate a memorial, monument or marker of lee who fought to continue enslavement of many of their ancestors? it's no longer only an academic discussion or rationalization about history, but also something that affects people in their everyday lives. how would you respond to that? >> i take this back to the whole question of what monuments are. monument, as i said before, start out as memorials. i see this all the time on the battle of gettysburg. on that battlefield the majority of the more than 1,000 monuments and markers remember the union regiments and units that fought there. and there are some, there are some peculiar union monuments. there's a monument to the 42nd of new york very close to the angle on cemetery ridge -- [laughter] that that shows an indian chief
and a tepee. you're thinking, wait a minute, they've got the wrong war? the answer is no, this was the tamany regiment raised by tammy hall and, of course, the symbol is chief tamany. people look at it and they say 42nd of new york. when that was put up, the dedication ceremonies preached the justice and righteousness of the unionon cause and of people who weree there saying, yes, that's right. we were in the right, it was a moral cause, it was marvelous and wonderful, and we embraced it.ca it's a memorial to our troops. all right. that generation dies off. another generation, they come to gettysburg, they look at that monument and they say that's a monument to the 42 the end of new york. my grandfather fought in the 42 then of new york. they don't really have quite the
fizz about things that the original soldiers did. they're looking at it as a, as a monument. and then their generation passes off, and their grandchildren come to gettysburg. and they come with a guide book in hand and say, ah, here's where the 42 enden new york stood. -- 42nd new york stood. it's a marker. how do we deal with monuments? i think we have to ask a series of questions. back in 2017 after charlottes ville, i plugged together with one of my former students who's a national park service officer, john rudy, and we wrote an article which was published in civil war monitor, and in it we offered what we called a decision tree. what do you do about monuments, especiallien monuments that talk about difficult people. and what we did was we walked stepid by step, we said, all
right, is this monument doing this, that and the other. if so, take it down. if not, go to the next question. we went through this five-step decision tree. now, there's no automatic conclusions that come out of that decision tree the. it all depends on what you're putting into it and what conclusions are drawn. what it does though is it compels to us to sit down and work our way through the complexities of the questions of what is symbolized. can we live with this? can we tolerate this? what does the it mean? what does it really symbolize? are the symbols multiple? for instance, con fed if rate monuments put up in the jim crow era, does that mean they were monuments to jim crow? some of them were. and you might say there's an aspect of all of them that was. but it was also a time when those veterans of the confederate army were dying off. theye wanted to leave some memoy of what had happened to them in their youth.
so there's also that part of it as well. and then there's the whole business about do we worship success? are the only people who deserve a monument are people that are successful and wealthy and influential and powerful? or maybe is there room for monuments for people who lose, for the people you weep over. so there's complexity the built not only into human nature, but even the monuments. our decision tree was a way of tryingci to respect the complexy and to move through it so that we honor everybody's input. and the decision may be at the end, yeah, take it down. but at least at that point it's come at the end of a process. and at the end of a process, we can all together be confident that we have thought our way through this. if we don't, then when monument is gone we will continue to fight and tear and rip at each
other. even if the monument's not there anymore, we'll keep at it. because even in the absence of the monument, the rage will be there. it's the rage that can poison democracy. reason, however, reason and the pursuit of truth, that is the health of democracy. if there is a word i would give to people tonight as a historian, that's the word i would give. >> i feel like there's no better way to end this talk tonight than that. so to everyone in the audience, thank you so much for your attendance, thank you so much for your excellent questions. i'm sorry we could not get to all of them, but rest assured many of them are answered in allen's book. so if youn't haven't yet purchased your copy, it's just a fascinating study that will take you through his life from start to finish. you'll s certainly learn somethg that you didn't know about the before. so thank you again for joining
us this evening. allen, we so appreciate your time, your willingness to join us virtually. i wish it could have been otherwise, but we'll take what we can get and just thank you again. best of luck on the rest of your tour. >> claire, thank you so much. mo'nique, thank you so much for enabling this. thanks to the whole audience, all your f wonderful questions. and ihe hope to see you all agan sometimese soon in the wonderful city of atlanta. >> this veterans day the national world war i memorial in washington, d.c. the 1918 armistice ending hostilities between germany and th allies was remembered with the playing of taps. the ceremony also marked centennial of the tomb of the unknown soldier where world war i serviceman was first laid to rest. >> today we will hear the tolling of a bell 21 times signifying the armistice the at
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