tv Allen Guelzo Robert E. Lee - A Life CSPAN December 24, 2021 4:16pm-5:37pm EST
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>> well, i am the vice president of the programs in public relations and my absolute pleasure to welcome my special guest allen guelzo and allen guelzo will be discussing is new book with "robert e. lee - a life" the biography. [inaudible]. lots of interesting insight in the book and a copy just published yesterday, and is going to have you allen guelzo and. [inaudible]. and is online at and shipping and in-store pickup to help support is here and quickly introduced tonight speaker and i will turn in odium tv and orientation an introduction to his work, a scholar at the
council of humanities at princeton university, the author of several books about the civil war, and century american history at the lincoln sweet and local history and other honors and also in pennsylvania. allen guelzo, welcome and thank you so much for being here. >> thank you very much clear for hosting this program and monique for acting as our wonderful technical support and hello to you in atlanta i've enjoyed their from w many more than 30 years many many wonderful years and am delighted to be appearing at the atlanta history center once again and madame, number of members of the civil war able and as just a few years ago about the battle of gettysburg. penelope turned to robert e. lee.
first met him just before the war at springs and in west virginia where he brought his wife who was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis and came to the springs to benefit from her bathing in the hot springs there, one of the few things he could give her really from this steady march of that terrible disease. of course one of the most famous of the confederacy, they knew that a beautiful horse, man writing beautiful arthritis, and somehow a military look to him and he established the horse gracefully and he was so distinguished at all points, that i very much regretted not capturing it in and she was
intrigued by this man. what he come from pretty well it was explained to her that you mean that was robert e. lee and she said i don't know anything about him, it was so fine looking at that the thing that came to her mind was perfection, shee said there was no fault to be found. even a few hundred for one. and mary chest that was not entirely enchanted with robert e. lee released not as much as a mother were added she said that i d like simply better when she met his that robert e. lee's older brother, smith lee, an officer in the u.s. navy and why, because robert was a
mystery and heshe said i know smith lee well but can anybody say they know his brother. and he looks so cold and quiet and grand. will the surprisingly was a judgment of the many people that robert e. lee came to, both during and before the american civil war and she really give the mark when she talked about lee and perfection and then she realized because perfection, is the abiding goals in life not because he was so supernaturally blessed with the ability that was it and within his easy reach but because he demanded so much of it from himself and from others. and in many ways, when people
caught this on the surface and it was to be reckoned with. in this last balmy days before the civil war cast its shadow over the nation, robert e. lee on the surface was immoral of american soldier and he was the son of a war hero, apparently, the protégé of george h washingn it and then delivered the famous you look for washington and for the countrymen. and it robert e. lee's mother was a virginia carter in the corners, the carter's were the first among family and robert e. lee himself and military career by injuring this point in 1925, they did so marvelously well he was commissioned upon graduation
1829, and the corps of engineers, where he undertook a series of coastal engineering projects that lay from georgia to new york city to the st. louis area and he learned his most impressive military bouquets of scott in the next hundred base can work of the scots she paid the dramatic campaign from the coast and crews to mexico city in 1947, and from there, robert e. lee served as super in tenant's west point in 1851, military currently writes to him and then through his under brief time, the first u.s. calvaryry and th, the outbreak of the civil war, he is offered a field commanded
of the united states forces. and at thatt moment, he turned his back for more 30 years of service and commanded in a virginia state and then in the confederate field army, the army of northern virginia. almost nothing those preceding 30 years, every decision he made to be in the army, to swear his oath toea defend the united stas and in 1829, the pinnacle of real-time career predict and then mary chestnut discovered the nothing characterizes robert e. lee as the ? are and why why
did he dodi what he did and why was he the man he was. and the answer 90s is the one, that big decision about refusing demanding of the federal forces was that he was in virginia and it virginia succeeded from him his wife would follow to virginia in the confederacy but where was he, then robert e. lee was born in virginia in 1907, he had grown up in alexandria, which was then head of the district of columbia, alexandria and virginia with a fully be preceded to the commonwealth of virginia 1930, long after lee. [inaudible]. and then he went into other places, georgia st. louis baltimore and new york city
every year. as father, harry, had been politically a federalist and - politically and he and mary one of the former families of virginia but also of arlington and arlington in the potomac facing the national capitol ♪ ♪ virginia and his in-laws were . [inaudible]. and the state law was afterwords but you could not ignore 1961, two factors first, harry lee, and father and he left his family for the west indies when robert was only six years old.
in the shadow that the white horse harry cast over the lee name is really roberts to redeem and hence that broad streak in fhis behavior and he also where to be free of his father's reputation in many ways, here is dennis and he wanted to be his own man and one since his marriage did to mary was having him stakeout a room for himself but he also learned this for security, his father had denied him. so most of his content present west point left the army as soon as they have received if the taxpayer provided a college degree and would resign and private engineering practice with some other profession, lee stays with the army as the one
certain profession and paycheck and he can count on in a huge factor in his pursuit of independence, and perfection, is arlington. he wanted as much to protect arlington from his family, as it was for virginia and he shows up and chose to resign as commissioner and refuse the of commanded then there is another factor, in a decision ready and it was his expectation pretty but there would be no more after all. we are looking from the present backwards. in 1861, only after the secession of the southern states, even after this is still by no means clear that the
crisis would only result in a civil war. they could've simply resigned to his army commission and stayed neutral or he could accept the invitation to take command of virginia and claim the role of mediator between virginia and thus achieved a peacemaking and his father had never enjoyed war. but of course it did not turn out that way and by many many others, lee found the secession crisis galloping away and in the end, step-by-step he found himself by 1862, as the commander of the army of northern virginia. any play that role and other
rules with the advice but he failed and did not necessarily surprise, pretty o on his way to the courthouse, he frankly admitted it that he had always the war, that it would turn out the weight they thought that to avoid it but at least, is conduct which oh how he could rise, even above defeat and then, he would keep his perfection intact and today, more questions evolve around parts of robert e lee in the himself that poses a different story or problem and the statute in richmond and the elite statue to enter that have been removed in new orleans and charlottesville and dallas and other places and on one hand, i frankly admit that i am a
pennsylvanian and that is all that i have noted in effect, my earliest education and in a subject is such a note and is in the civil war came as a boy and my grandmother's knee, and grandmother who herself was a schoolgirl at the time t of the last century, welcoming the school and the union army of the republic and the jackets and with a then called declaration day to instruct my grandmother and her fellow students and the meaning of the civil war by saying not what those others were talking about when they talk about loss because. and as such a yankee, why he put up statues of people who
committed treason and adult for that board around uselessly or wildly had the same problem with people who wave the confederate flag and these people including property lee, who raised their hand against the nation at that sort and oath to uphold and defend and i took that oath, my father took that oath and my son took that oath and this does not help that the fact that lee and the other confederates, was wraparound like it or not, a defense of human slavery and human trafficking. why should the artifacts about should be anyplace but the museum so if somebody wanted to those erecting a statute, i
think i would say this politely as i could, they got lost. but that is of the whole story not at all, it dates from the 1890s and i am sure it had white supremacy but it also had of the messages, the south which had lost part of the civil war, his impact on the survivors, was worse than the great depression 10 percent of the military aid in the population, are the confederacy died inra the war. that is literally decimation in american culture, we worship success, if you're successful, that means you good and if you
lose, supposed to mean that your bad. in this vince lombardi, winning is not only an important thing, it isg the only thing and we embrace that in the american culture. he symbolized the possibility the face defeat, symbolize the possibility that the very winners, the bernie made offs and the ivan - in the jeffrey epstein's, they are not necessarily the good and the people wind up paying for those these are not necessarily bad. that message was rocked in there as well and we regret losing that in one more factor, the
statute of robert e. lee, changeless and strange because monuments made of grass, iran's our physical and material they don't grow and we wonder which we might change and what, i mean, by changes this, the monuments like the statute in richmond or charlottesville and other places, they stay as memorials and some have white supremacy messages, they are not attested there to remind people what the confederacy was in overtime though, as generations past, statutes change, they began as memorials but the past may be turning into monuments. the statue and other members of a chapter in which moves
history, or generations past and the monument declines are still there and is a marker. ayand they say oh yeah, that is robert e. lee, some history due date and they become literally markers for negotiating trash in downtown az this happened to other memorials and markers pretty pretty in california and on her part, it's monument to the daughter party, yes, those n they were passed down on them. [inaudible]. and in order to survive, monuments of the donner party there i i believe it is it's on the picnic area, and they say this in incitement to cannibalism, nobody says that, they might've said that in the
1840s the party was still alive for at least some of it but over time, it simply becomes a marker in the same thing is true of the monument million state, western pennsylvania region of washington county, when is a statute to the whiskey rebellion, the whiskey rebellion it was about cannibalism, it was about treason. it was in the 1790s, some people might've objectedps and said why would you do a monument with people committing treason it printed him in overtime, begins as a memorial, and then monuments and then over more time the monuments is a marker pen today, we have this monuments on this memorial, this marker and nobody is terribly
upset about treason and more likely it is upset about whiskey not about treason and then, there is the monument. as a historian, i'm reluctant to see the monuments and memorials and markers destroyed, their part of our historical memory and you cannot expect us and teach system them and still fall intoto the substance of those memories at least not very easily and on the other hand, democracy and richmond or other places, and monument you wish to move have no legitimate reason for setting on the back of the decision in hannigan oh four is that the decisions were made it reasonably and the part of the process and not by impulse.
anna has been said that ignorance and apples and rage are the unfortunate necessities that we have lived with in the democracy. and they who say, are wrong and perhaps, how we deal with markets, all historical monuments and historical hmemoranda it will be the mease and seriously we take an hour democracy. will clear, that is enough forn me for now and 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 this area. >> absolutely and thank you for that introduction and i thought we would start going back and
take us up to the present day talking about the monuments. back to the beginning of your book can talk a little bit more to robert e e. lee eary life and is civil or service and how the developed and if you have a question from to allenmi guelzo and again posted in the q&a or we can get to those as soon as we can we typically have really enthusiastic audiences, that is wonderful and if we don't get to your question, we apologize in advance. all neglected beginning, in your book, and the relationship did he have toel his father knew it was a revolutionary war person but with his missionary for, and
with his family and so can you talk about robert e. lee's relationship to his father and also to his father's absence. >> harry lee or henry lee the third, was in the from what we can call the cadet branch of the family, the lease of pennsylvania and what differences that may come the major dominant strain of the lee family, was around thomas lee and descended from richard lee, the first amendment, some time that can sometimes he is called richard the regret is 1640s and 1650s and thomas lee is built stratford hall, the place where robert was born.
and they built a small empire of the lease in virginia. and that's why i call this the kind that branch of the family. they were ambitione, and ambitis intelligent skillful and brave all of this to the point of recklessness went to prison college as a princeton alum so is in that respect claiming it harry lee as part of the princeton heritagein of any graduated from princeton and then at that war breaks out in the volunteers for service indicate and takes command of the company and it goes into a mixed region of infantry and he saves washington and washington is deeply impressed by harry lee and then washington has to get the campaign for himself and he turns to his great friends, nathaniel green it and later
harry and the story the revolutionary, primitive story written by the family green and hill. and it was after that became part in a first it looks like everything is fine. in a cousin of his, is the heir of stratford hall which is how harry comes to be a man of stratford hall. yet he had a real gift for watching things financially. any possible facet even into real estate investments is simply corkscrew rude downwards and when henry lee dries, she's left with two children, one son and lucy.
henry the fourth, will that is a story in sunlight. any marianne carter and he burns through every bit of cash that and carter brings to marriage so much so that he lines up in prison pretty he gets involved in political problems and cause him to live his life in baltimoe and after that, he simply leaves and behind politics and behind his creditors and he takes up to the west indies in the process he leaves behind it is like a family, within carter the and that included five children two older brothers robert and two sisters. he went off to the west indies and he leaves his family to be taken care of by all of their car her relatives and robert is
six years old when this happens and he never sees his father again. this is something the psychologist can tell you about is highly independent pain and the loss of a parent before the beginning of adolescence. and that is what robert experiences and innocence is more cruel is it all through his life is constantly introduced as robert ed, the son of harry lee, people never dreaming for their conjuring up in robert's mind and robert by contrast, on one occasion, he refers to his father in his correspondence and asked, his application letter td that, he never talks about his father.
and he goes to his father's grave on the georgia coast but not until 1861, when finally robert e. lee is coming into his own and becoming his own man so to speak and it is only than any come to terms with the influence and the impact of white horse harry and his life. and out of his trauma, you see his passions robert e lee that i have itemized before for independence and security and for perfection. these passions are not always compatible pretty disney for independence and to find out there's no security or maybe het have the independence and it mas all three work together, curiously enough until after the civil war and he becomes the president washington college in virginia.
finally the last five years of his life is able to bring all three into harmony and that is the moment where he writes a memoir of his father. >> we will come back to his active role following the civil war. and a lot of other major figures in the civil war and the impact on higher education in this country so going back to before the war specifically the independence and securities the same time an army career given that independence or stability writing about how he would be influenced and running out of money but is where because in some ways he's a lot more financially stable than
many others during that time and the dissonance that he has going on there. one of the things that i wanted to ask about and bringing up several audience questions of this as well is his relationship slavery, robert e. lee was in virginia and his wife's family in particular, arlington itself and benefited from the united states labor and at the same time, robert e. lee and his private correspondence, he writes thousands of letters and his disapproval of the institution of slavery, and also to disapproval because it is done for white people versus really just rationalization happening there and despite his
family and supported in large part by enslaved labor so can you talk a little bit about slavery and those inclusions. >> robert e. lee grows up so to speak in slavery, his parents are enslaved and his mother owned slaves when they were little and alexandria even thoughve they were severely reduced circumstances. they had a least six in the household and alexandria, and when - dies 1929, part of her estate is the disposition of the slaves in the united states so some slaves are pointed towards her two daughters in this case, hannah partially, i'm sorry she marries marshall and she becomes
an lee marshall and her sister mildred lee. place in terms of the estate, one is of being a slave family that robert holmes as it turns turns out, the only slave family arose, now that does not mean that he did not benefit from slavery, simply by being there but r the benefits of being part of the sleep system but even more so in arlington when he marries acosta some of the properties in arlington, and also to other acosta's properties in the river and there are like 190 slaves in total who are part of those properties and robert e. lee benefits from it from working on labor and he is about a is one of the acosta slave and his wife
has a slave who will wait on her and they will assist with the children they will go on vacation the slaves with. so he benefits from the slave system even if himself does not have personal title to the slaves which he does that. and for years and years and years he is a thing about slavery until the 50s, and becomes a crisis issue in america politics. it is interesting that he talks about it all because lee had learned early in his political career, military career, not to about politics, those who got next toff politics usually severed for it and he saw that happened in the case of his first mentor charles, and he so inhabited to woodrow scott as a clue lofgren including the mexican war when he tried to stay as far away as possible
from politics. in slavery in the 50s, sword from his attention of a source to write about it later in his life in any would say that slavery is a moral evil, should be condemned in any civil society. now you read that a new think for his time and then you read on and then as you pointed out, he immediately qualifies into two ways. first melissa, this is a moral problem for white people as much as it is for black people you wondering how is that. slavery for black people helping them through assimilate into civilization at that's a fairly common argument made by people at money to into slavery in the 1850s and itself but he also said that we just have to let
god work this out on his own for 2000 years he said the christianity has civilize the world, and the main tech that wrong and in slavery and he does not have the time bracket on it and you look at that and you say on one hand he is taken back with the other and keep this in mind even as he says it, what are you saying there, he's really not a whole lot different than a lot of us. in virginia and kentucky, areas where slavery was that of the economic life of those states and slavery was much more profitable in the southwest and so many southerners including them including slavery as his father-in-law was a vulture in
the vitals of the self and yet having said that, they said yes but there is nothing you can do about it. what are you going to do about it and you look at this and you say oh, on, and there are two things, we really do have a point about slavery being a problem for white people and not a joy thing, not the racial point. because slavery was slave rick labor how could free labor compete with slave labor so it is making a point, the other thing is that lee is looking at a situation and where they didn't have a c whole lot of control with the situation and he actually owned slaves and any
center of her wants to take steps about emancipating slaves immediately 100 self cornered by other white southerners who would threaten him. in 1857, lease father-in-law dies and it was a mess, they provided for the emancipation of acosta slaves within five years and robert leave the is is a executive of the will the energetics process emancipating the slaves in a process which he concludes on the schedule in december of 1862. by the december 1862, robert e. lee, not just the son-in-law of george washington custis, if he had gone into any virginia confederate courtney said that that i don't really want to go
through this, i should not have to godn through with this, i seriously doubt whether any virginia federal court wouldn't stop him and if he had process, he would stand in the path of general lee who would do that and the other interesting thing is that lee persists with moving forward in this emancipation and not only with the slaves but slavee family in his own name which he was not obliged by the acosta's state to emancipate. but by the end of 1863, robert e. lee is slave less and is badgering jefferson davis and he is saying the confederacy must emancipated slaves because otherwise were never going to have any kind of standing with the rest of the world. inti 1865, he's for the
confederate army emancipating the slaves and. [inaudible]. and it is easy to i say that wht he was doing was for pragmatic reasons, because he felt moral urgencies i felt that there was a pragmatic moment in his thinking and at the same time he did not have to there is no compulsion for him to step forward and to do that and yet he does. and has he suddenly became enlightened, no, because after the war is over, he makes no effort to promote reconstruction and no interest in it whatsoever and seeing black and people have, to the contrary, he's very critical of it so delta mistake what robert e. lee does for some kind of enlightenment that he is experienced. at the same time appreciated he
there, that's part of the problem of dealing with robert e. lee and the contradictions and, always like mary chestnut, discovered, it was a? in that if anything was the symbol of robert e. lee. >> and begs the question of how several questions from the audience and if we can talk about this, his experience and then let's take a point in a moment where this could have gone differently where robert e. lee decides to find his army connections. where he comes from summarizing it. [inaudible]. any dozen accepted with the iconfederate army so one questn
is, this insight poorly in his own words about his thought process during that time and it did you talk to anybody about his monumental vision because promotions for years in the army in absolute - at the time and that could have been putting been striving for and yes he goes up so he talked about what hhis thinking was. >> he never lays this out in a complete and comprehensive fashion, the process by which he takes all of the steps and i think that represents the fact that lee himself did not know what he was taking as his next step. and most were feeling their way through that crisis and again as i said before, we look back on this and seem to be simple and straightforward and inevitable
and is going to be a civil war and that is it, will know by no means is not as obvious as that and it is not that obvious for me either. he did not have to resign for the army. .. down and refusing in order. he would have been faced with the demand for resignation under any circumstances so he decides not to take the command and then he resides. at that time he could have, and all the evidence is expected to be neutral. he was not the only southern officer who did not. there were a number of other officers. he resigned their commissions but they don't do anything else. they simply s they simply stay neutral for the war. you were wondering perhaps how can one remain neutral during the civil war?
there are many people whoer simy concluded that they did not want toha be a really bloody contest among fellow americans. so they back off and they remain neutral. that's the first step that we takes. he's been persuaded to take another step and that is to go to richmond and he takes that step is consulting with his cousin cashes francis lee and alexandria. we had 80, first cousins. that's what the network of the connections were. living as he did at arlington and alexandria if we had thrown up break down the street and alexander he would have had a relative. lee consults with cashes francis
lee who is approximately his age and in fact you look at haphotographs it's almost a replica of robert e. lee. they look so similar. they consult together and he comes away from this convinced that robert e. lee first of all is going to remain neutral and secondly he's going to promote reconciliation and peace between them and we think at that point how can there be peace if it's going to be a civilir war? lee goes to richmond and all the evidence is that we expects by taking command of the virginia forces he can restrain virginia from throwing it completely and with the confederacy and going to the war with the united states. all the orders he gives are spam and offensive. when thomas jonathan jackson who is not yet stonewall jackson, when he takes his troops across the potomac river to occupy the
maryland heights across from harperss ferry lee orders him back because he said we should not provoke anything believes expectation was we are going to work this out. we have had this disruption, we have had this secession and you know what, after the hotheads have regained some coolness we are all going to get together and there's going to be a reconstruction andth that's the first time the reconstruction gets used. it's going to be a convention of the states andes their enemies will be peaceful again we will work this all out. and that doesn't happen. a month after going to richmond he's writing about maybe i should resign. maybe i should just give this up and try to go back to neutral. by that point it was much too late. the federal forces had occupied arlington and the dye had been caste. we curiously enough lee is a
surprisingly reluctant confederate and a in her diary or she reports on people who come to her and say we can't trust robert e. lee. robert e. lee is not with us. robert e. lee will be tried as a traderer -- traitor. wynne lee is imposing the emancipation of in the confederate army the charleston mercury and the other firebreathing of all firebreathing newspapers charleston mercury says we knew that properties lee was never with us. we knew that he was always a federalist at heart and we can't trust robert e. lee. this is an 1865 in the charleston mercury. they had a particular profile and many people were not
entirely sure about robert e. lee. they love the fact that he won battles that they scratched their heads about him politically speaking. >> robert e. lee himself often as you know embodied many contradictions. throughout the book you cite where he will say one thing and then turn around and do something as seemingly contradicts a it so i does havea question i think there are some questions in the q&a as well as our audience members. he resigns from the army and is appointed the head of virginia army and eventually in charge of the army in northern virginia and experiences fabulous successes against the federal army and is lee predicts the federal army -- lee from the beginning is very straightforward about if it comes to military conflict we can't win this alone. the only chance is if we do something that will encourage the north to back off from the war. that is what leads them into
pennsylvania and it's where he always -- your neck of the woods and that's where he always wanted to go. kept getting rebuffed. eventually he goes to battle fair. speaking of his contradictions there's one moment in the look where lee is criticizing the behavior of the union army and what he sees as inappropriate behavior harassment of civilians and bad behavior and yet he ignores the conduct of his own army while in pennsylvania whos were actually capturing black man and selling them into the slave unit in virginia when i read that i was thinking about how doesno that happen and how d he not seem to know andy also have those laws they there approach to, i know combat were
he would put -- his generals told him where to go and do that extend to how he ran his army or can you talk a little bit about those contradictions and how something like that happened? >> he saw his task as a general as being able to primarily give strategic direction to armies into campaigns. in terms of his strategic insight he really is one of the most receptive if not the most receptive among the southern military and political leaders because as you say pcs very early on that the south is not going to have the resources to go into a long heavy battle. they can't go 15 rounds. there's just no substance there. if the confederacy wants to witness independents it's going to have to score a knockout in the first or second round and the only way to do that is to carry war north the potomac into
pennsylvania where you are able to cause so much political disruption and dismay that the northern populace and the northern politicians become disenchanted with the administration and compelled to open peace negotiations. lee sees that more clearly than almost any person in the confederate leadership and he pursues that two times. he would have pursued it a third time in 1864 if he lee sees grant had not in fact beaten them at the punch by launching the overlaying campaigno of 186. beyond that lee does not see himself as the day-to-day manager. he is willing to put a lot of responsibility into the hands of his chief lieutenants and he has chief lieutenants who are up to the job like stonewall jackson and james wall street than he's able to preside over a series of significant successes. at other times though when
jackson is dead and when longstreet is seriously wounded we have to take charge himself on the tactical level and it's very clear that he's not comfortable doing it. he can do it. he is not comfortable doing it. in terms of setting out the moral parameters that even if more further remote. his vision of as himself as a commander is he is for what goes on at the very top. everything else is the responsibilitym people under other levels of the chain of command so if officers are running down and capturing treat black people in pennsylvania and tying them up and sending them off to be sold in the richmond slave markets that's not his responsibility. it's not the way he seest it. that's something that occurs in an entirely different level
where he is on exercise command responsibility so you might say what robert e. lee does is he looks at things and then he looks away and many of these difficulties that we see today we say well here's a contradiction. how can lee do this on the one hand and yet tolerate this on the other? in his mind it was not a contradiction. that was simply not h his responsibility and his officers and the soldiers behaved in a certain way he was not going to look at it. simply was not going to be a subject that he was going to concern himself with. that was for his subordinates to take care of. >> it's just intriguing especially since he so adamant about the conduct of thesem unin troops. >> right in the conduct of his union troops was one thing that helps to push him further and further away fromhe this role, imagined role of being reconciled towards we have to beat these yankees.
understand that those orders that he objects to so much what he really finds offensive abouto them is not that you union soldiers are misbehaving. look, soldiers are going to misbehave. what he objects to is the directive that the misbehaviors coming from the very top and it was coming from john pope commanding the army of virginia. it might be a case that if ordinary union soldiers were running around stealing chickens and killing cattle and otherwise wreaking havoc with the virginia countryside we could understand that. what he can't understand is the general in charge of the union forces not only tolerating it. sanctioning in direct yet. that lee finds profoundly offensive and that's why he enters the response that he does. >> we are starting to get close to the end of our time together.
there are so many questions. we don't have time to get into although the tactical and strategic decisions during the civil war and we don't have time to get inis to gettysburg. we have a couple of questions from the audience about grant's mental and physical fitness for that model. there are some questions about that and let's focus specifically on that very day when the battle was truly lost. the day he arrived and i'm sure a lot of people in this audience have been to gettysburg. you can stand at the union position on cemetery hill and see the vast expanse. it's really breathtaking when you're up there and you were mentioning his trusted
lieutenants. longstreet comes to him and says this is. 15,000 men could not take this position and he does itt anyway. can you talk about what he was thinking in that battle and what were his strategic decisions and what was that some all moment in the war? >> a lot of people asked this question. they stand at the angle looking out towards seminary ridge and the virginia monument and they say what could he have been thinking. you are going to send soldiers into an open area. they are going to get slaughtered and the result was defeat treat some people think could lee have been sanctioned? people have suggested lee was suffering from health problems and that affects his decision-making product -- process. the experience health problems during the war and serious ones. he was probably the most senior
of the major commanding figures of the civil war. he's much older than grant and much older historically speaking than most generals and older than wellington. perhaps he ought to have been in a more rational position than active command on the field. he suffers serious attacks during the civil war. the first attack occurs in the spring of 1863. he bounces back from that heart attack. there's no real evidence during the gettysburg campaign that he was experiencing health distress that anyway affected his decision-making and i would take it a step further to say that his decision-making with pickett's charge was actually
white subtle. for the previous two days of the battle of gettysburg lee's army of the seven infantry corps of the army of the potomac five of those infantry corps had been wrought by lee's army. they were next to in terms of combat readiness. the only things that are left are the 12 core, the six core, the six core heat and -- general meade needs is his reserve in the 12 core. it leads to divisions of the second core holding cemetery ridge and his provisions that have already lost the brigade. once whole -- what is holding the backcourt 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 generals who can be supported by another division of troops that it r&d been in action. james longstreet after the war and i emphasize after the war insisted that he had disagreed vehemently and told subten that this was the wrong thing to do. i rather strongly suspect that much of longstreet's protests got elaborated as time went i after the war especially after lee's death. i have a very strong suspicion that longstreet whatever reservations he expressed at that time didn't expressed severe enough reservations to cause lee to have any. ultimately the rationale that justifies what lee did can be seen by looking at what we call
the cognate wars of the civil war. if you look to the crimea war and the great battle of raglan. lord ragland launches a long straightforward attack against russian positions that are entrenched in artillery and scores a tremendous victory for the same thing happens with napoleon the third in the battle in the north italian war in 1859.os everything that people have learned t from military examples in the 18 50's would have suggested that lee is doing exactly the right thing. thee proof is in the pudding. it almost worked. the confederate forces division came within an ace of breaking through that federal line and if they had claire what was behind that line to keep them from going on? next to nothing. it was a close run thing there that afternoon he gettysburg.
the phrase wellington used about waterloo but it's also true of gettysburg. it came very, very close to success. it was not a rash decision. it was not an unprintable -- unprincipled and decision. it almost worked and i have to say this bluntly i at least for 1:00 a.m. grateful that it did not because the consequence of that, if we had been successful at gettysburg oh my goodness the army of the potomac having been beaten on so many fields so many times could likely have gone to pieces. lee could have had a full and open field and there would have been the demand for peace negotiations. alexander stevens the vice president of the confederacy was on the signal boat in the chesapeake bay waiting to come to washington and what would he have presented to abraham lincoln?
and we would have had a divided country of balkanized north america because if north and south divided in 1863 do you think it would have stopped them? there would have been a northwest confederacy and the civic confederacy and we would have had in north america 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 chairman militarism in world war i of nazism in world war ii and of the cold war? it's t not a pleasant thing to contemplate. >> no when something that sets the american civil war apart from other countries as it's okpretty initial to only have to sides in the civil war. usually there are quite a few more than that so it's really hard to contemplate what we would be living in today.
>> years later serving on the united states supreme court were to veterans of the civil war. one of them was from louisiana louisiana -- louisiana and the other was oliver wendell holmes. every year on the anniversary of antietam homes would resent him with a red rose. it was a romantic gesture. white's responsehe was this, my god he said if we had succeeded. that was the estimate of the confederate and he was right. >> some post-war reflections and you get the counterfactual that we just discussed and you also get the rationalizations as mentioned longstreet in particular saying no. there's so many great questions. as we said earlier we had
abbreviated to civil war activism. they had heart attackshe at that point. nevertheless quite an intractable figure after the war and having a resurrection after that with monuments and everything else he discussed in the beginning. he talked about his post -- during his life his post-war sentiments and to touch on his tenure at washington college in who is robert e. lee when he was no longer confederate general? >> there are so many surprises in the life of robert e. lee. there's nothingg is surprising than what occurs in the last of his life. when the war o is over he is indicted for treason. he is never brought to trial. he's looking around for some form of employment. he wants to look for employment
is going to get them is far from the prying eyes of washington as he can get pretty suffered a job as president of washington collegee but you want to talk about a dead-end job. washington college was this little college in lexington -- lexington virginia in the upper shenandoah valley. it hardly had a pulse at the end of the war and get the trustees decide they are going to make an offer to lee and they send one of the trustee members of the boardd of trustees and they have to dig in their pockets to buy a suit for him so he can look decent when he goes to visit robert e. lee. he writes and lee writes back and says well you know i've been indicted for treason. if you cans handle that i'll tae the job. what a shocker. robert e. lee had been the superintendent of west point and he the job because it was micromanaged at every stage of the job itself. he was offered a job teaching at west point.
he turned it down because he said the classroom is not my place. i'm really not comfortable there. now all of a sudden he's the president of the college in your thinking this is going to turn out well. no, he goes to lexington and its curious one of his generals were to the trustees and said it's great that you got leaked to become president. don't give them any work to do. just put them on the letterhead and let them be the figurehead of the college. you know something the trustees became a figurehead and robert e. lee ran the place. he rewrites the curriculum from top to bottom. he basically sighed -- sidelines the old curriculum and starts bringing them modern subjects. he starts bringing in journalism and not only that. he does away with the student code of conduct. he now says to all students and
the interviews every student that comes to washington college, he says there is no code of conduct here. the only thing we expect expected you is that you will behave as a gentleman. now doesn't that sound generous? no, do you know what that means? that means robert e. lee as the judge jury and executionere of all student a hater. he takes control of everything in the college and you know where the place that he is the best? fund-raising. whoever thought of robert e. lee as a fund-raiser and yet robert e. lee has this remarkable talent for shaking the apples out of the trees especially the apples of northern trees. he gives old-time abolitionists like henry beecher to sponsor for fund-raising. by the time lee dies in 1870 he has taken a college that was
almost default and made it an educational powerhouse rivaling the university of virginia. after his death trustees renamed the place as washington and lee university and that's attribute 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 so do you want to spend just a little more a time talkig about the legacy after his death. there is a great question in the audience from dale and he says my dad was born in stonewall jackson's house. he here or ships both lee and jackson. he was raised on lost cause teachings so as we are approaching this examination of the lost cause of lee and seeing
him as a person rather than a hero to be venerated we start to see out who the man is. how can i introduce my dad to more modern approach of 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 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. it's simply in the nature of human beings. he was a simple human being and as soon as we realized that we understand the people are not in
that respect different from us. they too are a confluence of streams and a confluence of all thatar they have met and when we understand ourselves in this way then we look for something different. we look for them as human beings and look for them to be people who strugglele with contradictions. we look for people who tried to do the right thing. are not sure how to do it and sometimes i'm not even sure what the right thing is to do and we are trying to find the markers that point them in that direction. we live lives of uncertainty and struggle the best we can. if m that's how we do it in our lives why are we surprised that others in the past live their lives that way? it's true in the past there are monsters. there are people who have been virtually your review mobley evil. those tend to be the exception.
they are not that many monsters and we can be grateful for that. the ones that have lived the's the stall and's those people while they have caused inestimable damage our not at least as numerous as the rest of us who struggle day by day to understand what is right what is true and how to do a pretty up we will understand robert e. lee that way and if we will approach people that we otherwise want to put a halo around it doesn't mean that we have done damage to them. it means we have come to terms with dems in the same way we have come to terms with ourselves as human beings. i think of those lines of william words worth. words worth said this, should i have come to look on nature not
is an hour of youth. hearing oftentimes is still sad music of humanity. nor harsh nor grating though with ample power to rebuke. i think they can hold onto that then we will have the way not only of coming to grips with ourselves and our own contradictions. also the contradictions of those who have gone before us in the past and perhaps we will put halos on them at the same time we won't put tales on them. >> with that and on one question that gets at where you had concluded your introduction to this talk. this is from john in the audience and he's talking specifically about coming back to the monuments point that there's a spike of monument
building in the 19th and 20th during the jim crow era and a massive resistance to civil rights following brown versus board of education and john asked and i'm saying it verbatim why would anyone expect today's african-americans to tolerate a memorial of robert e. lee who fought to continue tincitement. it's no longer a rationalization about history. also something that affects people in their everyday lives. how would you respond to that? >> i would take this back to the whole question of what monuments are. monuments as i said before started out as memorials. i see this all the time. on that battlefield the majority of the more than 1000 monumentsr toand markers remember the union regiment and units that fought
black -- fought back. there were some peculiar monuments. they are very close to the england cemetery ridge and that monument shows an indian chief and the tp. you are thinking wait a minute did they forget the war? answer is no, this was the tammany regiment raised by tammany hall and of course tammany hall is chief tammany. you have a monument there and people look at it and say -- when that was put up the dedication ceremony. the justice and rightness of the union cause in the people who are right to that monument for the veterans. they were there saying yes that's right. it was a moral cause and marvelous and wonderful and we embrace it. it's a memorial to our truth. that generation dies off
followed by the grandchildren of those soldiers. they come to gettysburg and they look that monument and they say adit's a monument to the 42nd new york my grandfather fought for the 42nd new york. they are looking at it as a monument. they there generations passes on and their grandchildren looking gettysburg with a book in hand and they say here's where the 42nd new york stood. there's the monument. it's a marker. how do we deal with monuments? i think we have asked a series of questions. back in 2017 after charlottesville i clubbed together with one of my former student who is them national park service officer and he
wrote an article published in the civil war monitor. in it he wrote an article called the decision tree. would you do with monuments especially monuments to talk about difficult people. what we did was we walked step by step until i read this this monument doing this, that any other and if so take it down and it's not good at next question. we went through the eye of step decision. there's no automatic to come out of that decision tree. all depends on what you are putting into it and what comes from it. what it does though is that compels us to sit down and work our way through the complexities of questions of what a symbol was. can we tolerate this? what does it symbolize? are the symbols multiple and when we say for instance confederate monuments were 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 were. it was also a time in the veterans of the confederate army were dying off. they wanted to leave some memory of what had happened in their youth. there's also that part of it as well. then there's the whole business of do we worship success and are the only people who deserve a monument or people who are successful wealthy influential and powerful or is there room for monuments for the people -- so there's complexity built not only of human nature. of their minds. our decision tree was to respect the complexity and to move through it so we honor everybody and the decision may be at the end take it down. at least it's come at the end of
the process and at the end of the process we have all together fought our way through this. if we don't and the monument is gone we will continue to fight and tear and rip at each other. even if the monument is not there anymore we will keep at it is even in the absence of the monument to rage will be there. the rage that affects democracy. the reason and the truth is the health or that there's a word i would give to people tonight is a historian that's the word i would give. >> i feel like there's no better way to end this talk tonight than that. whoever won the audience thank you so much free attendance and thank you so much for your excellent questions. i'm sorry we could not get to all of them.'s rest assured many of them are answered in allen's book so if
you haven't purchased your copy of "robert e. lee" it's a fascinating study that takes you from start to finish and you will certainly lose -- learn something. thank you again for joining us this evening. allen we so appreciate your time and your willingness to join us i wish it would have been otherwise. that will take a week and get in just thank you again. best of luck on the rest of europe. >> claire thank you so much and thank you monique for enabling this and thank you all so much for all of your questions and i hope to see you all again sometime soon in the wonderful city of atlanta. >> welcome. i'm cures than carter archivist at the your presents library. thank you for joining us today