Skip to main content

tv   Allen Guelzo Robert E. Lee - A Life  CSPAN  November 28, 2021 6:35am-8:01am EST

6:35 am
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
6:36 am
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
6:37 am
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
6:38 am
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.
6:39 am
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
6:40 am
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
6:41 am
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
6:42 am
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
6:43 am
and took command first of the virginia state forces, and then of the principle confederate field army, army of northern 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
6:44 am
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
6:45 am
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
6:46 am
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
6:47 am
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
6:48 am
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
6:49 am
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
6:50 am
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
6:51 am
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
6:52 am
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
6:53 am
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
6:54 am
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
6:55 am
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
6:56 am
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.
6:57 am
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.
6:58 am
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
6:59 am
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
7:00 am
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 in the 1640s and 1650s.around thomas lee is the lead who built stratford hall, the place where robert was born. in stratford hall they built a small empire for the leaves on the northern neck of the virginia.
7:01 am
he was from a lesserfamily, that's why they call it a cadet class a family . henry wasn't nothing ambitious. he was intelligent. he was skillful. he was brave almost to the point of recklessness. he went to winston college, he's a princeton alarm so i get at least in that claim harry lee as part of the princeton heritage but he had no sooner graduated from princeton been the revolutionary war breaks out. he volunteers for service. he takes command of a company of courses that grows into a legion of infantry. he serves under washington and washington is duly impressed by harry lee. when washington is to organize the campaign for the revolution of the south he turns to his great friends nathaniel greene and with green he sends harry and the story of the revolution of the south is a story written by n nathaniel greene and it was harry lee's help.
7:02 am
after the revolution he started to become light horse harry. at first it looks like everything is swimming. he marries matilda lee. matilda is a cousin of his and it's matilda who is the air of stratford hall which is how white horse harry who comes to be in control of stratford hall. yet wild horse harry had a real gift for watching things financially . every possible asset he could put into real estate investments that simply corkscrewed downwards. when matilda lee dies she leaves him with two children, one son and lucy. henry iv, that's a story in its own right. but light horse harry remarries and turner and he burns through every bit of
7:03 am
cash and carter brings to the marriage. so much so that he winds up in debtor's prison g. not only that but he gets involved in political and inflammatory political problems that cause him to be e beaten within an inch of his life in baltimore . after that he simply leaves. he leaves behind politics and leaves behind his creditors and takes off for the west indies and in the process he leaves behind his second family and carter lee and that includes five children. two older brothersof robert and two sisters . white horse harry red heads off to the west indies and leaves his family to be taken care of by all their carter relatives and robert is six years old when this happens. he never sees his father again. there is something that the psychologist can tell you about the trauma.
7:04 am
there's hardly any kind of pain worse than the loss of a parent before the beginning of adolescence. and that is what robert experiences and what makes it in a sense even more cruel is that all through his life, he's constantly introduced as robert e lee the son oflight horse harry lee . people never dreaming what they're conjuring up in roberts mind . robert by contrast robert on one occasion before 1861 ever refers to his father as his correspondence and that's in his application letter to west point. beyond that he never talks about himself as the son of light horse harry. never visits his father's grave on the georgia coast. not until the end of 1861 when finally robert lee is coming into his own. he's becoming his own man so to speak. and it's only then that he is
7:05 am
to come to terms with the influence and the impact of light horse harry of his life . it's a traumatic affair and it's out of that trauma that you see growing these passions in robert e lee that i've itemized before with independence, for security, for perfection and those three passions are not always compatible. some can yearn for independence and find out that that doesn't give you much security or you can find security and find out it doesn't give you much in the way of independence . it really makes all three work together. curiously enough so after the civil war when he becomes the president of washington college and lexington virginia. and finally then in the last five years of his life is able to bring all three of those into harmony, not significantly that is the on moment when he writes a memoir of his father.
7:06 am
>> we will come back to the third act if you will following the civil war but he gets older than a lot of other figures in the civil th war and has a big impact on high education in this country so going back to before the war specifically you have reasons worries and yearning for independence, kind of leads him in an army career which doesn't always give you that independence or theability , he's constantly writing about how he's making ends meet and also like he's running out of money but it's weird because in some ways the salary is low on other ways he's a lotmore financially stable than many others during that time . of a cognitive distance hehas going on there . but inone of the things that i wanted to ask about is the
7:07 am
cognitive dissonance and we have several audience questions about it as well and i'm going to paraphrase several is robert e lee's relationship with slavery . so robert e lee lives in a slaveholding state in virginia. his wife's family in particular arlington on many enslaved people. arlington itself benefited from the enslaved labor. and at the same time, he's a voracious public private correspondence. write thousands of letters. she also ties that disapproval because it's bad for white people really this crazy rationalization happening there and despite his expression of disapproval , his family was supported in large part by enslaved labor so can you talk a little bit about lee's thinking around
7:08 am
slavery and how he drove to those rationalizations and conclusions ? >> lee grows up so to speak with slavery. his parents owned slaves. his mother owned slaves when they were living in alexandria even though there were reduced circumstances. there were at least six slaves in the lee household in alexandria. when and carter dies in 29, part of her estate is the disposition of the slavesin that estate . some slaves are appointed towards her two daughters. in this case and marshall lee . i'm sorry, and kim lally. she becomes an lee marshall and her sistermildred lee . but one slave family is
7:09 am
willed to robert, or at least in the terms of the disposition of the state winds up being an enslaved family that robert owns. it is as it turns out the only slave family he ever owns in his own name. that doesn't mean he didn't benefit from slavery as a system. simply by being a white southerner there were benefits in terms of the system and in arlington when he marries into the cusp of his property at arlington there's two other customers properties along the river and all told there's something like 190 slaves who are part of those properties. robert lee benefits from that. when he marries into that he and ifit's . he has a valley who is one of the slaves. his wife has a slave who will wait on her and theywill assist with the children . they go on vacation the slaves go with them.
7:10 am
so lee certainly benefits from the slave system even if m. he doesn't himself have personal title to large numbers of slaves which he doesn't. but the kindest thing is he says nothing about slavery foryears and years , not until the 1850s when slavery is becoming a crisis issue in american politics. and it's interesting that he talks about it at all because lee had learned early in his political or military career not to talk about politics. soldiers who talked about politics or got mixed up in politics usually suffered for it. he saw that happen in the case of his first mentor, charles gratian. he saw what happened to winfield scott at the conclusion of the mexican war and tries to stay as far away from politics as possible and get slavery by the 1850s is impinging much of his attention he finally starts writing about it in letters to his wife and what does he say? he says slavery is a moral
7:11 am
evil. it is an evil that should be condemned in any civil society. you read that and you think well, it's about time. then you read on and he immediately as you pointed out to claire, he immediately qualifies that qualifies it in two ways. first of all he says this is more of a problem for white people that it is for black people . because you're wondering how is that, and he said all right, it's more of a problem with the white people that it is for black people. slavery is benefiting black people because it's helping them to assimilate into civilization. this is a fairly common argument made by people in defending slavery. in the 1850s in the slaveholding south, but also ldthere's another argument. he says i don't have a solution for slavery. we have to let god work this out in his own time . it took 2000 years lee says for christianity's civilized
7:12 am
to civilized world. it may take that long to get rid of slavery. he doesn't have a time bracket on it and you look at that and say what he has given away with one hand he's taken back with the other. but he had two things in mind even as he says it. one is even what he's saying there is not a lot different. from what many southerners are saying. in virginia, and kentucky these were areas where slavery was inexorably being drained out of the economic life of those states . it was being drained because slavery was much more a problem in the southwest in the mississippi river valley. many southerners including winnie sumner when they talk about slavery as his father-in-law does as a nature that has eaten out the vitals of the south. and yet having said that he immediately turn around and say there's nothing we can do about it.
7:13 am
it's here, it's legal. what are we going to do about it. we look at those rationalizations and say come on . if there are two thingsin mind , lee didn't have a point. about slavery being the problem for whitepeople . as you might think a racial point of an economic point. because slavery of course is bound up with slave labor, how could free labor hopeto compete with slave labor . so that is in fact making an economic point even if it is racially unenlightened which it is. the other thing that has to be borne in mind here is that lee is looking at the situation where he may not have a whole lot of control of the situation. he after all doesn't owned slaves. and what's more any southerner who starts to take steps about emancipating slaves is immediately going to find himself cornered by other white southerners who will threaten him.
7:14 am
now, what's interesting is this area in 1857 lee's father-in-law died. the lee is a mess. but part of the will provides for the emancipation of the cusp of slaves within five years. robert e lee is the executor of the will. and he undertakes the process of emancipating the cost of slaves, a process which concludes on schedule in december 1862. two things to notice about this. one is by december 1862 robert e lee is robert e lee. he's not just the son-in-law of george washington hospice. if robert e lee had gone into any virginia confederate court and said look, i don't want to go through with this. i shouldn't have to go through with this. i seriously doubt whether any virginia confederate would have stopped him . if he wanted to do due
7:15 am
process who was going to stand in the path of generally? the other interesting thing is that lee persists in moving forward with this emancipation. and not in a cusp of slaves but emancipating them one slave family that he did in his own name he is not obliged by the state to emancipate. but in the beginning of 1863, robert e lee is flavorless. and what's more he's badgering jefferson davis. he's saying the confederacy must emancipate its slaves. because otherwise where never going to have any kind of standing in the eyes of the rest of the world. by the spring of 1865 he's advocating the emancipation of an important of slaves for the confederate army. on both terms is easy to say that well, he was doing this
7:16 am
out of pragmatic reasons, not because he felt any kind of moral urgency and i'm sure there was a pragmatic motive at work in lee'sthinking . but at the same time he didn't have to. there was no compulsion for him to step forward anddo that and yet he does . does this mean that robert e lee has suddenly become racially enlightened ? number after the war is over, he makes no effort to promote reconstruction. he has no interest whatsoever in seeing black people have the vote. in seeing an occupied office. to the contrary is very political. so don't mistake what lee does for some kind of enlightenment that he has experienced. but at the same time don't appreciate it either. his he's part of the problem, and that is the complexities, the contradictions.
7:17 am
all slaves like mary chestnut discover, always? . that if anything is the symbol of robert e lee. >> let's get into one of the good?'s, i have several good questions from the audience . there wondering if we can talk about the, he talked about his prewar experience and getting into the civil war but let's take a pause in that moment how that could have gone differently. when he decides to resign his army commission and when reading this book i didn't understand the question under which that happened where he comes fromthe office . some sumner. he doesn't accept the command of the confederate army but in reality there are a lot of steps. so one question is do we have any insight for lee in his own words and himself about his thought process during this time and did he consult with anyone about his monumental decisions to leave
7:18 am
the u.s. army because as you say he had been hunting for a promotion for years. the army was an absolute snail's pace at that time. in what have been what he was excited for and yet he gives it up so can you talk about how he came to that, what his thinking was. >> he never lays out in a complete and comprehensive session the process by which he takes all of these steps and i think that represents e the fact that lee himself did not know what he was taking as his next step. he's feeling his way. he comes into criticism but mostpeople were feeling their way through that process . we look back at this seems to be simple straightforward and inevitable. there's going to be set session, there's going to be civil war . number by no means it was as obvious as that and it's not
7:19 am
that obvious for lee either . first of all , he lee had to resign from the army. he believed he did because otherwise if he turned down the offer of command of the federal forces, turning that down was tantamount to refusing anorder . and he would have been faced with a demand for resignation under any circumstances. so he decides not to take dethat command. then he resides. at that point he could have and any evidence is that he expected to be neutral. andhe was not the only southern officer who did that . there were a group of southern officers who resign their commissions but don't do anything else. they simply stay neutral through the war. you'rewondering how can one remain neutral through a war like the civil war ? there were many people who concluded they did not want to involve their hands in
7:20 am
what would be a bloodied contest among fellow americans. so for a variety of reasons they would back off and they would remainneutral. that's the first step lee takes . he then n persuaded to take another step and that is to go to and from and hetakes that step after consulting with francis lee in alexandria . lee had about 81st cousins. that's what the network of lee connections work. many of them, if lee had thrown a book in down the street in alexandriahe would have hit a letter relative . lee consults with caches frank says lee who is approximately his age and you look at photographs of caches francis lee is almost a replica of robert lee they are so similar. they consult together and caches francis lee is convinced robert e lee first of all is going to remain neutral and secondly is going
7:21 am
to promote reconciliation and peace. we think how can there be peace, there's going to be a civil war . for all the evidence of his lee expects by taking command of the virginia forces he can restore virginia from throwing its lot incompletely with the confederacy and going to war with the united states. for the first month of command all his orders are stand with the defensive. when thomas jonathan jackson who is not yet stonewall jackson, when thomas jonathan jackson takes his troops across the potomac river to occupy the maryland heights, he orders them back. because he says we should not provoke anything. lee's expectation was we are going to work this out. we've had this disruption, we've had the secession but after the hotheads have regained some coolness we're all going to get together and
7:22 am
there'sgoing to be reconstruction . thus that's the first time the word reconstruction gets used but we're going to work this out. that doesn't happen. it's all gallops away from lee. at richmond he's writing about maybe i should resign. maybe i should give this up and try to go back to being neutral. well, by that point it was much too late. federal forces had occupied arlington and you might say the die is cast but lee is surprisingly reluctant confederate. and that once one other point in mary chestnut's diary, people are talking to her coming to her and saying we can't trust robert e lee. robert lee is not with us c. robert lee will be triedas a traitor to the confederacy .
7:23 am
you take from that, that's in 1861. in february 1865 when lee is proposing that recruitment of slaves, the fire breathing newspaper the charleston mercury says we knew robert e lee wasnever with us . we knew he was always a federalist at heart. we can't trust robert e lee. that's 1865 in the charleston mercury. we have a particular profile and many people are e not entirely sure about robert edward lee. they love the fact that he won battles. many people scratchedtheir heads about him politically speaking . robert e lee himself often as you noted invited many contradictions. he say one thing and then turn around and do something evenly contradictory. so i just have a question i
7:24 am
think there's some questions in the q&a . it's a combined army conditions , he eventually is put in charge of the army of virginia. he's experienced this fabulous success against the federal army before it really protects the federal army gets their act together. lee in the beginning is very when it comes to military conflict we can't ring when this through strength alone but the only chance is if we do something that will encourage them to back off from the war. so that is what lee, where he always is in his ineck of the woods but he's always been to go getting rebuffed. but eventually gets into a fateful battle there which we will talk about in the second but seeing his contradictions there's one moment in the book that jumped out to me where he was criticizing the
7:25 am
failure of the union army. t what he sees as inappropriate t behavior. and things like civilians, that kind of behavior. and yet he and nobles the egregious conduct of his own army where they are capturing black men and selling them into enslavement in virginia. and when i read that i was thinking about how does that happen? how did he not come to know or was ignoring and he also had this every offhand approach to combat where he would put his general tell him where to go and then let them figure out how to get done but extends to how he ran his army in terms of conduct for and you talk a little about those contradictions and how something like that could happen. class he saw his task as a general is being able to primarily the direction to
7:26 am
armies and to campaigns. and in terms of his strategic insight he was one of the most perceptive if not the most perceptive among the southern military and political leaders because as you say he sees very early on that the south does not have the resources to go along heavy weights about, they can't go 15 rounds. there's just not enough e substance there. if the confederacy will win its independence is going to have to score a surprise not in the first or second round and the only way to do that is to carry a war through the potomac into pennsylvania. where you're able to cost so much political disruption and this may be in northern populace and northern politicians to come disenchanted with the lincoln administration and compel the lincoln administration to open peace negotiations. lee sees that more clearly than almost any other person in a confederate leadership
7:27 am
and he pursues that 2 times. he would have pursued it a third in 1864 ulysses s grant had not beaten him to the punch whilewatching the overland campaign . beyond that lee does not see himself as a day-to-day manager. he is willing to put a lot of responsibility into the hands of his chief lieutenants and when he has chief lieutenants that are up to the job people like stonewall jackson and like james long street then he's able to preside over a series of successes. at other times though when jackson is dead, when wall street is seriously wounded in the wilderness lee has to take charge himself of the tactical level and it's clear he's notocomfortable doing that. he can do it but he's not comfortable doing it . in terms of setting out the moral parameters of his army a that even further removed .
7:28 am
his vision of himself as a commander is he is responsible for putting those on at the very top. and everything else is the responsibility of people at the other levels of command and the chain of command. so if officers are running down and capturing free black people in pennsylvania, and try tying them up and sending them off to be settled in the richmond slavemarkets, it's not hisresponsibility . not the way he sees it . that's something that occurs on an entirely different level where he does not exercise command responsibility. so you might say what robert e lee does is looks at things and then he looks away. and many of these difficulties that we see today we say there is a contradiction . how can we say this, do this on the one hand and yet tolerate this on the other. in his mind it was not a contradiction.
7:29 am
that was not in his fear of responsibility and it was if his officers and soldiers age in a certain way he was not going to look at it. it simply was not going to be the subject that he was going to concern himself with. that was forhis subordinates heto take care of . >> it's intriguing especially since he was so adamant about what is the conduct of these union troops . >> and the conduct of those union troops is the one thing that helps to push and further and further away from this imagined role of being reconciled towards the have to bbs yankees. understand to those northerners he objects to so much he really finds offensive about them, not the union soldiers missed anything but orders are going to miss a. that's in the nature. what you really objects to is the directive that this behavior is coming from the very top and in 1862 is coming from john pope commanded the army ofvirginia
7:30 am
. it might be a case that if ordinary union soldiers were running around stealing chickens, killing cattle and otherwise wreaking havoc with the virginia countryside we could understand that but he can't understand the general in charge of the union forces not only tolerate it but sanctioning and directing it. that lee finds profoundly offensive. and it's why he issues the responses he does. >> we are starting to get to the end of our time ftogether somehow but there'sso many other questions . the audience is really intrigued. let's talk about, we don't have time to get into all the tactical decisions made during the civil war and we don't even really have time to get intogettysburg . but we had a couple of
7:31 am
questions on the audience about lee's mental and physical fitness for that battle. there were questions about that and let's censor on that third day. pickett has arrived and sure a lot of people in this audience have been to gettysburg. you can go and stand at the union position and really see the vast expanse that lee was expected to cover. it's prettybreathtaking when you're up there . and you were mentioning his trusted lieutenants. long shanks comes to him and says this is taken, 15,000 men could not take this position and hegets it anyway . can you talk about what was he thinking in that battle? what were his strategic decisions and what leads up to that seminal moment in the war? >> a lot of people ask this
7:32 am
question and they stand at an angle looking out towards seminary ridge and the virginia monument and say what could he have been thinking? you're going to send soldiers across the open area, they're going to getslaughtered and the result was defeat so people think what could lee have possibly been thinking ? maybe there was something in his thinking, many have suggested lee was suffering health problems and that affects the ssclarity of decision-making process. it's true the experienced health problems during the war. he was probably the most senior of the major commanding figures in the civil war. he's much older than grant, much older than mcclellan. much older in fact starkly speaking than most of the great generals . he's older than wellington and napoleon and it's there's some argument that could be made that perhaps he walked
7:33 am
within a rear exelon physician and tried to take active command . he suffers a recent heart attacks during the civil war. the first of these heart attacks in fact occurs in the spring of1863 . but he bounces back from that heart attack. there is no real evidence during the gettysburg campaign that he was experiencing health distress in any way affected his decision-making and i can take a step further and say his decision-making with pickett's charge is actually quite sound. think of it this way. for the previous two days of thebattle of gettysburg , lee's army had pounded the army of the potomac. of the seven infantry corps of the army of the potomac, five of those infantry corps had been wrecked by lee's army. you they were next to useless in terms of combat.
7:34 am
the only things that they really left were the 12 core and six corps. six core he needs as his federal needs is reserved, the 12 core is needed to hold calls the. that means it leaves two divisions of the second core falling cemetery ridge. and each one of those has already lost their game. so what's holding the back door to the union position? effectively not much more than 3500 men. whereas lee has an entire fresh unsullied division, george pickett's division. three big brigades of virginians who can be supported by another division of troops that have already been in action . yes, james long street after the war and i emphasize after the war insisted he had disagreed vehemently and coldly thiswas the wrong thing to do . i rather strongly suspect that much of wall street's
7:35 am
protests went that way got elaborated and embroidered as time went by after the war especially after lee's death. i have a very strong suspicion that long street whatever reservations he expressed at that time didn't express severe enough reservations too costly to have any doubt. but ultimately the rationale that justifies what lee did can be seen by looking at what you can call the cognate wars of the american civil war. - if you look to the crimean war, a great battle of the all the , ragland launches exactly the same kind of headlong straightforward attack against russian positions that are entrenched and with artillery and scores victory.dous same thing happens with napoleon the third at the battle of sobrino in the italian war in 1859.
7:36 am
everything people could d have learned from military example in the 1850s would have suggested lee is doing exactly the right thing. the proof is in the pudding. it almost worked. the confederate forces, pickets division came within an eighth of breaking through that federal line and what was behind that line to keep them from going on? next to nothing. it was a close run thing there that afternoon at gettysburg . the phrase wellington used about waterloo but it's also true of gettysburg. came very very close to success . it was not a rash decision. it was not an unprincipled and thoughtless division. it's almost worked o. and i have to say this broadly. i at least for one am grateful it did not tbecause
7:37 am
the consequence of that. if we had been successful at gettysburg, my goodness. the army of the potomac having been beaten up so many fields so many times, could very likely go to pieces. lee could have had a full and open field. there would have been the demand for peace negotiations . alexander stevens althe vice president of the confederacy was on a single vote in the chesapeake bay waiting to come up to washington and what would he have presented to abraham lincolnif he had ? then we would have had a divided country. a balkanized north america who north and south divided in 1863 you think it would have stopped there? it would have been in northwest cyconfederacy. there would have been a civic confederacy and we would have had in north america almost a repeat of what we saw in the balkans of the 1990s.
7:38 am
and then, what would have been available to stop the tide of german militarism in world war i of not using in world war ii.of the cold war. it's not a pleasant thing to contemplate. >> and something that the american civil war set it apart from other countries is it could have two sides in the civil war. you're referring to a few more than that but it's hard to contemplate what we would be living in today. >> years later serving on the united states supreme court, one was edward white who had been a confederate veteran in louisiana and the other was oliver wendell holmes who had been a union lieutenant at antietam. every year on the anniversary homes would present him witha red rose .
7:39 am
and whites response was this. my god, he said. we had succeeded. that's was the estimate of the confederate and he was right. >> postwar you get the counterfactual's that we discussed and you also get the rationalizations that we mention from long street people. we only have a few minutes left and there's so many great questions but they had had heart attacks at that point but nevertheless it was quite an impactful figure after the war. and then having g the with rection after that the monuments and everything else that you assess at the beginning but can you talk about his postwar, during his
7:40 am
life is postwar insistence to touch on his tenure at washington college and this was robert e lee when he was no longer the confederate general. >> there are so many ur surprises in the life of robert e lee but there's nothing more surprising than what occurs in the last five in years of his life . when the war is over , he's indicted nfor treason. he's never brought to trial but he's indicted for treason . so what does he do, he's looking around for some form of employment. but he also wants to look around for employment that is going to literally get him as far from the prying eyes of people in washington as hecan 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 college in lexington and the upper end of the shenandoah valley. he had hardly had a pulse at the end of the war. and yet, the trustees decided they're going to make an offer to lee.
7:41 am
and they said one of the trustee members of the board of trustees and they have to dig into their pockets to buy a suit for him so he can look decent when he goes to visit robert e lee. he makes a lepitch to lee and doesn't hear anything he likes rights and ulee writes back and says i'm i've been indicted for treason. if you can handle that, i'll take the job. and what a shocker. robert e lee and then the superintendent at west point and he hated the job. the cause was micromanaged at every stage of the job itself . he was often offered a job early on as career teaching at west point and turned it down because he said classroom is not my mail you. i'm not comfortable. now all of a sudden he's going to become the president of the college and you're thinkingthis isn't going to turn out well . number he goes to lexington
7:42 am
and it's curious. one of his generals wrote to the trustees and said it's great that you've got lee to becomepresident, is going to becomea great figurehead . just put him on the letterhead and let him be the figurehead of the college . you know something, the trustees became figureheads robert e lee ran the place . he rewrites the curriculum from top to bottom. he gets, he basically sidelines the old classical curriculum and starts bringing in modernsubjects . starts bringingin mechanical engineering . he starts bringing in turtles and and not only that but he does away with the student code of conduct. he now says to all students, every student who comes to washington college he says there is no code of conduct here, the only thing we expected you is that you will behave as a gentleman. that now doesn't that sound generous? number you know what that means, that means robert e lee is now the judge jury and executioner of all student behavior.
7:43 am
he takes control of in everything at the college and you know the place where he's the best, fundraising. who'd ever have thought of love robert e lee as a development officer and yet robert e lee as this remarkable talent for shaking apples out of trees and especially the apples of old trees. he gets abolitionists like henry wardbeecher to sponsor meetings in new york city for the nsupport and encouragement and fundraising of washington college . by the time leedies in 1870 , he has taken a college which was almost defunct and he has made it an educational powerhouse. rivaling the university of virginia. he's so remakes washington college that after his death trustees rename the place as washington and lee university .o and that is attributed to the fact that the place probably would not have survived had it not been for the presidency of robert e lee.
7:44 am
>> couple more minutes tonight so i want to take just a little time talking about the legacy of robert e lee after his death and it's a greatquestion from the audience here . he said from lexington virginia, the birthplace of jackson. my dad was at stonewall jackson's house and he was a massive civil war buff but he hero worship lee and jackson. he was raised on lost cause teaching so as we're approaching this examination of the lost cause , of lee as a person rather than as a hero to be venerated or to be condemned, as we start to figure out who the man is he says how can i introduce my dad to a more modern version of the civil war thathe might be more receptive to ? >> first of all reflect on yourself and your own
7:45 am
experience . all of us are the products of many times, places and things o that we have met. we are all of us the confluence of many streams. not all of which, the same time or in the same arc or even with the same message and we deal with those ourselves. we deal with complexity ourselves. that's in the nature of human beings. there's no such thing as a simple human being and as soon as we realize that we begin to understand that the people we look at in history are not in that respect different from us. they too are the confluence of streams. they are part of all that they have met. and when we understand ourselves and then in this way then we can look for something different. we look for them to be human beings. we look for them to bepeople who struggle with contradictions .
7:46 am
we look to people who tried to do the right thing but not always are sure how to do it. and sometimes are not even sure what the right thing is to do and are trying to find the markers that will put them in that direction. we lead lives of uncertainty and struggle by the best lights that we can. and to our surprise we find others in the past lived their lives that way. it's true in the past there are monsters. there are people who have been virtually irredeemably evil . but those tend to be on the whole theexceptions . there are not that many monsters and we can be grateful for that . heavens knows the ones that have, the hitler's, the stalin's, the maos, at least
7:47 am
they are not as numerous as the rest of us who struggle day by day to understand what is right ere, what is true and how to do it. if people understand robert e lee that way, if they will approach others that we want to put a halo on it doesn't mean we have done some damage to them. it means we have come to terms with them the same way we have come to terms with ourselves as human beings . i think those lines are william wordsworth where wordsworth said this. for i have come to look on nature not as in the hour of thoughtless youth but healing often times the still sad music of humanity. nor harsh nor grading though with ample power to rebuke. i think if we can hold onto that , then we will have a
7:48 am
way not only of coming to grips with ourselves and our own contradictions but also the contradictions of those that have come before us in the past and perhaps we will put halos on them but at the same time we want toput tales on their backs and forks on their hands . >> one question where you had concluded your introduction to this talk and this is from john in the audience and he's talking specifically about encoming back to the monument! . that there's a spike of monument buildings in the teens and 20s during the jim crow era at a spike of the monuments and massive resistance to civil rights following the brown versus board of education ruling and john asks why would anyone expect today's african-americans to tolerate in memorial marker of lee and continued enslavement of their ancestors?
7:49 am
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 . monuments 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 1000 monuments and markers remember the union regiments and units that fought there there are some acutely or union monuments. there's a monument to the 42nd new york very close to the angle on cemetery ridge and the monument to the 42nd new york shows an indian chief in a tv at your thinking wait a minute, did they get the wrong war and the answer is no. this was the tammany regiment
7:50 am
raised by tammany hall and of course the symbol of tammany hall is chief tammany so you've got a monument anthere and people look at it and they say 42nd new york. the dedication ceremonies for that preached the justice and righteousness of the union cause and the people who directed that monuments were the veterans of the regiments and they were there saying yes, we were in the right. it was a moral cause. it was marvelous and wonderful and we embrace it. it's a monument to our troops . followed by the grandchildren of those soldiers. they come to gettysburg and look at that monuments and say it's a monument to the 42nd new york, my grandfather built that. you know what the original soldiers did, they're looking at it as a monument. and then their generation
7:51 am
passes on and their joke grandchildren come to gettysburg and the man says here's where the 42nd new york stood. there's a monument. that's the 42nd. it's a marker. how do we deal with monuments ? we have to ask a series of questions. back in 2017 after charlottesville, i came together with one of my former students john rudy and we wrote an article published in civil war market in it we offered what we call a decision tree. what do you do about monuments especially monuments that talk about difficult people? what we did was we want step-by-step and said is this monument doing this that and the other and if so, take it down. if not go to the next question and we went through
7:52 am
that five step decision tree. there's no automatic conclusions that come out of that decision tree. it all depends on what you're putting into it and what conclusions your drawing. what it does though is it compels us to sit down and work our way through the complexities of the questions of what issymbolized . can we look at this? can we tolerate this? what does itsymbolize? are the symbols multiple ? confederate monuments in the jim crow era and does that mean they are monuments to jim crow? some of them are and you might say there is an aspect of all of them but it was also a time when there were veterans of the confederate army that moved to leave some memory of what had happened to them intheir youth . so it was also that part of it as well. and then there's the whole business of the worship
7:53 am
success? are the only people who deserve a monument are people who are wealthy and successful and influential and powerful or is there room for monuments for people who lose and the people you we over. so there's complexity not only in the human nature but even in the monuments. our decision tree was a way of trying to respect the complexity and move through it so we honor everybody's input and the decision maybe at the end yes, take it down. but at least at that point it's come at the end of the process and at the end of the process we have all together been confident we have fought our way through this. if we don't then even when the monument is gone we will continue to fight and tear and rent at each other. even if the monument is not there anymore we will keep at it because even in the absence of the monument the
7:54 am
rage will be there. it's the rate that can poison democracy. reason however, reason and the pursuit of truth, that is the hope of democracy. if there is a word i would get the people tonight as a historian , that's the word i would give . >> i feel like there's no better way to end the talk than that so thank you for your attendance. thank you for your excellent questions. sorry mwe could not not get to all of them but many of them are answered and if you haven't purchased your copy of robert e lee, it's a fascinating study that will take you through a life from start to finish. you'll learn something you didn't know about the figure before so thank you for joining us this evening. we's so appreciate your time and your willingness to join us virtually but we will take
7:55 am
what we can get. thank you again aand best of luck on the rest of your tour . >> thank you so much. m monique, thank you for enabling this. thank you for all your wonderful questions and i hope to see you all again sometime soon in the wonderful city of atlanta. >> recently on american history tv ron james discussed his book the court, law and the remnants of loyalty and how harry truman set the precedent force politicizing the supreme court. >> i think it's an excellent seed that will get around our thinking about him the last few years about how america is reading the newspapers and listening to the radio and they say who even is this guy and what's happening here?
7:56 am
we're at war and it's kind of takes it to a head and it's part of what came to a head with supreme court nominees as he began to nominate case-by-case. tom clark, one of his friends , not only does tom clark make attorney general of the united states, with tom clark he was a-year-old urban i am now. tom clark is 45. clark had been an unexceptional law student and actually he was in washington by accident. they wanted to hire tom clark's older brother who was a big shot lawyer and by all accounts he was doing brilliant things tom clark's older brother says no, i'm in texas so the senator from texas says will you take him
7:57 am
and he says send him a. they gave tom clark initially something of a rotten job in the department of justice so clark might have lacked in perhaps academic ability, he certainly made up for it in work ethic and he became attorney general and became very successful in being an aggressive attorney general. important because he recognized that he was not the best man in the building. he managed the department of justice and said what's the best thing we can do to advance the administrations agenda and we expect that of our attorneys general . and certainly of the attorney general that at the time the attorney general had generated what we think of now as the solicitor general, this these impeccable
7:58 am
credentials and you know, president trump had jeff sessions in their. and president george w. bush had alberto gonzales. these great legal minds but he was effective for the time in which they served in carrying out the president's agenda and that's what i would consider with tom clark . >> all the presidency programs featured on american history tv are available to watch anytime at >> you been watching american history tv every saturday, visit the people and places that tell the american story and watch thousands of historical stories online anytime at
7:59 am you can also find us on twitter, facebook and youtube at c-span history. >> monday, the sale you've been waiting for starts this monday at c-span shop monday and tuesday and save up to 35 percent on our latest collections of goodies and more. there's something for every c-span fan or the holidays and every purchase helps support our nonprofit organizations. shop monday and tuesday at c-span >> every saturday american history tv documents america's story and on sunday book tv brings youthe latest in nonfiction books and authors . funding comes from these television companies and more . including mexico.
8:00 am
>> mexico supports c-span2 as a public service. next on book tv, georgetown university law professor sheryll cashin argues us housing policies have created a residential caste system resulting in poverty free havens and poverty dense hoods and only to increase profits. find more schedule information at or consult your program guide. now here's author and professor sheryll cashin.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on