tv The Civil War Reflections on Civil War History CSPAN May 12, 2021 1:44am-2:55am EDT
question is about the first primary source that you encountered in the civil war manuscript source i'm curious if you can recall with was the first one you put into your hands. and he manuscripts for us. what do you think? i can remember first. boy, i think but it would have been it might have been. an alexander hamilton stevens letter that i a collection i was looking at. in the 1970s when i was working on my dissertation topic that i never finished and i went to the manhattanville college of the sacred heart. in in new york, which had a collection of alexander h stevens papers for some reason and that i think that was my first researching stop and that was probably the first thing that i looked at. about first civil war.
first civil war boy i i looked at some miscellaneous letters that people had at the university of texas in austin my major professor barnes lathrop had a few examples of primary documents. those would have been the very first ones the first serious ones the first time i really immersed myself in civil war manuscripts with this southern historical collection. in chapel hill in 1980 when you're working on ramser when i was working on ramser, yeah. so i'm going to have quick follow-up up before but ashley jump in here. in the in the book you mentioned. our conversation with your mentor the barnes lather and he responded to i think it was in query that you had that you thought your dissertation your argument was going to go into new direction and it was maybe bothering you or you were surprised and they threw up said to you. listen you just need to look at the sources judge the sources
and work from that. so could you talk to us a little bit about your approach and those words of wisdom that barnes lathrop gave you well if it was a little saltier than that i had had a good i wanted to write an article and thought i had a very good idea for the article and then i started to look around it evidence and found out that my very good idea was just wrong. and i went and kind of whined to him about it and he said and i can quote him because it's vividly said -- gallagher. just go over the evidence leads and you'll be all right. and those words have never left me and that is i mean, that's my approach to being a historian. you can have all kinds of good ideas before you start something once you start looking at at evidence. the only thing that is incumbent upon us to do in my view is play it straight with the evidence and if the preponderance of evidence says x even though you're original idea was why you have to say x because that's where the evidence took you and if you really do go where the
evidence takes you i think you generally will be. all right, even if people disagree with you if the evidence is on your side over the long haul you'll probably be just fine. i'm not asking you to throw a historian under the bus here, but i am curious but what you mean when somebody doesn't play it straight with the evidence. can you give us an example? i mean if you okay, so go back to my notion that i have a really good idea and i want to argue this and then i look at 100 pieces of evidence and 23 of them support the good idea i had and 77 of them don't. then my argument has to be where the 77 are in my view not i can still quote the 23 and be quoting actual sources. anybody can go check them and see that i've quoted them accurately and there they are but what they don't know. is that three quarters of the things i looked out didn't sustain my argument. i just decided not to quote the three quarters of the things that didn't sustain my argument and excellent example of this
would be i think in in i'll go back back to my lbj library days. um, bob cairo who's written? he's been working on lyndon johnson for 30 year 40 years almost now and and his books i think are well worth reading. but initially he had a very firm idea of what he wanted to do with johnson, i think and it was very negative. even he would just teach cherry picked evidence now, lots of people do that. it's not just bob terrell, but he was a he was a good example and i in early in a couple of early graduate seminars that i taught i would use him as an example of how not to deal with evidence. and so i mean they're different ways to go at it. you can either use evidence the way lawyers do which is to exactly cherry pick evidence and only use the things alan nolan and i used to talk about this my dear friend alan nolan and your friend alan. alan was a lawyer in a very good one and he would he would have
an argument in mind and then he would go find the evidence that supported it and and ignore a lot of other and i used to laugh with alan and say you're a perfect example of how lawyers use evidence and how historians shouldn't use evidence. and alan would say that's that's not what i do. and i said well, of course, it's what you do you and i talk about this at every step. it's exactly what it's not what i do. there's not in any way, but it's exactly what allen did and not only alan used hearsay time and time again evidence is evidence evidence is evidence even though of course from questionable sources, but again, the book lee considered it to me that you know a book that was so important and so pivotal and i was in graduate school and the late 80s is a book already that certainly doesn't have the attention of people as it once did but yes sir an important book and but a book is arguments. i most entirely disagree with but it still is a book worthy are that focus right and part of that book is wrong and and he it appeared in my civil war america
series that unc press and alan and i i read every chapter of that multiple times and we would have good natured about them and and i mean parts of it to hold up parts of it. don't i guess weakest on the military things and strongest on non-military things, but i mean the real problem with lee considers. it's about lee and lee is kind of i mean, it's i don't think that that's just the literatures moved on from them. so gary that kind of brings me back to your chapter in which you wrote about your early inspiration from potter's impending crisis and his approach to history and how you i think rightly vehemently disagree with kind of back reading history seeing inevitability where there isn't inevitability ignoring contingency, you know the tendency to to read the present into the past. can you speak to a little bit more to the audience about how potter has influenced both the nature of how you approach
historical content evident, but also the way that you you write the style of your your writing i think potter is one of the david david potter is one of the giants in in the history of american historians. he didn't live very long you only live to be 60 years old which is which is too bad the book that really got me on to the point you're talking about. it was about lincoln and his and the republican party in secession crisis and he made powerful argument about how you shouldn't start at the end of that story, which is there's firing on fort sumter war comes and all of this happens. you need to read forward in the evidence to understand that there isn't really inevitability at work there. i just i mean a little light went on in my brain when i read that and he and he he talks about all the contingent things that were going on during the secession winter of 1860 61 in that book. it's a book that still well well worth reading. no, even though it's 80 years old now or nearly 80 years old
the other thing by potter that really impressed me as a graduate. so i love the impending crisis, which it was finished posthumously by by dawn farenbacher, but it's his essay on on nationalism the historians use of nationalism and vice versa, which is an awful but a great essay. it was also something that really impressed me and and telling arguing about a number of things one being that it's there almost never just cleared dichotomies in history that people have a range of influences. that act upon them as they decide what to do and we need to be aware of these complex groups of influences and attitudes that they have but he also talked about how historians have a tendency. to treat people they don't like in the past differently than people they do like in the past and the issue he was talking about their specifically was the idea of confederate nationalism.
he wrote this originally in the mid-1960s early 1960s and then it was reprinted. but he said there's a tent that if you argue that there was confederate nationalism people get upset because they don't like to ascribe to a slay and overtly slaveholding republic. true nationalism and so it's just an essay that has lots of stuff in it. he's extremely careful extremely precise with language potter was also could write married history very well as the impending crisis shows. so i just think he's someone well, i don't think anybody should be able to get out of graduate school in us history without being exposed to potter in in some way. probably in graduate school seminars for the most part. they only assign things that have been published in the last five so i know yeah. yeah. well, i had an interesting discussion with a group of graduate students. it's been a little more than a year ago. now we were talking about about the institution of slavery and
they they had never heard of kenneth stamp. they had never heard. they didn't have no idea who gene generaci is that needless to say they had never heard of american negro slavery or life and labor in the old south. they'd never heard of stanley office never heard of them. and how you can pretend to be studying slavery and have no idea. of how the field has evolved is is mind-boggling to me if it wasn't published after about 2005 it doesn't exist. anyway, yeah. no, it's it certainly a serious problem in the training of graduate students. serious problem is there's no doubt. i'm going to go back to potter real quickly and about nationalism and then come back to the enduring civil war. you have a few pieces in here that advance the argument that you made in confederate confederate war and other places about confederate nationalism. so, can you just to get give us in a nutshell your take on this
issue of confederate nationalism and and how we should sort of understand it within the framework of the word. so well, i think first of all, i do believe there was a strong sense of confederate nationalism and national sentiment a sense of being part of a slave holding nation among confederates doesn't mean there was no annie government salmon in the confederacy, of course there there was a lot of people unhappy with what the government was doing and lots of ways the poll question that i would like to have been able to give to white people in the confederacy at any point in the war was would you rather be in the confederacy run by jefferson davis and people you don't like or would you rather be under the control of abraham lincoln and his government which of those two things would you prefer and i think the overwhelming response would have been well, i i hate jefferson davis. i don't like what they're doing. i don't like conscription. i don't like impressment but under the lincoln government.
are you kidding me? they're going to destroy the whole social system that we have in the confederacy. so i do think there was confederate. national sentiment and i think it flowed naturally from a sense from an identity as white southerners before the war. they're already was a sense of of communal identity before the civil war and i think that sense of being a white southerner. easily became a sense of being a confederate because a lot of the same things went into those two attitudes. i don't think that's a big leap for people and a good example of that is is robert e lee. he's often talked about. oh, he's just a virginian. he's a virginian. he's a virginian. well, he's a virginian or is the american. well, he had a us identity had a virginia identity. he also thought of himself as a white southerner, and he didn't like attacks on the white south. he didn't he loathed abolitionists. he thought agitators in the north were trying to undermine the social institutions of the
south and lee becomes an ardent confederate. i don't think it's a stretch but both his virginia identity and his white southern identity were perfectly compatible with a confederate identity. i think i don't think state identities went away just as they didn't in the united states, but i do think there's a real sense of being confederates and i think part of the proof of that. is it lasted for decades after the civil war this argument that the confederacy only became a nation after the war i think is is let's just say i don't think it stands up or makes sense. i mean, it's a continuation. they couldn't keep what they really wanted, but they could still engage in all kinds of retrospective longings and and a cheering for what they had lost they had really liked. okay. good. so and then on the other side, of course you wrote the union war and you speak, you know at length in the enduring civil
war. i'm sorry the winner or there were winners too. yeah, you speak at length about how often the the idea of union is misunderstood in the present or at least not understood in the same way as 19th century americans and certainly soldiers fighting for the north understood union and the powerful hold that that word and that that idea held upon people and that the you know, the current occupation with with race and racial justice can kind of subsume this very powerful more powerful, i guess in your estimation idea that that bonded people from the north together. so could you give kind of a nutshell again backstory about what the word and the idea of union really means because when i talk about this with students and we read in fact a chapter from the union war they tend to get it maybe a quarter to a half of the way there but again, they
have difficulties really reckoning with just how powerful a hold that concept had. i don't think most americans have absolutely no concept. what union meant and not i'm not a slight concept none. they don't have any idea. about what it means and what a hold it had on mid 19th century americans who it's linked exactly to the sense of exceptionalism that americans had in the mid-19th century. they looked at their republic and they were right in arguing that it was exceptional in western world of the mid-19th century. it's a place where because of the work of the founders and the american revolution. it's a place where citizens had a say in their own government because they could vote we're talking about white men here. it is the mid 19th century. you have a voice in your own government and you have the possibility of rising economically. those are two things they argue that set the united states apart from everywhere else. and they believed that if you could destroy that union just
because you didn't like who was elected president in 1860 as in their view the slave holding oligarchs were doing then it meant the work of the founders had failed and that every drop of bloodshed in the revolution had been wasted and and that the forces of aristocracy oligarthy. that's the word they used the most is is oligarchs and all of our key. and monarchy would triumph they look to europe they knew that the revolutions of the late 1840s had failed in europe. they thought europe was going backward not forward in terms of small d-democracy. and so they thought a very great deal was at at stake. not only for americans. but also and here's where lincoln's last best. hope of earth comes in but also for the western world, which is the world they cared about if the confederate succeeded it would prove. to the oligarchs of europe. the people aren't capable of self-government. they can't even disagree during a presidential election without pulling the nation apart.
that's why it's important to make south carolina, which nobody liked basically to come back into the union. why not? let south carolina go who cares about south carolina because if they're allowed to go that means that the union can be centered just because somebody's not happy. with the result of a presidential election that that concept it's everywhere. i'm i was writing an sm writing an essay for civil war times. on wb duboises black reconstruction, which is a landmark book that most most people don't know about. and he gets union and he i mean he has a great section in his chapter the general strike on what motivates the white population of the loyal states and it is union and they come to emancipation because that is one of the tools they decide in the end that will help them. keep the union in place. i just think that that idea is so overwhelming in the literature that it's amazing
that anyone can pretend that it isn't there. that doesn't mean that most of the white loyal citizenry didn't eventually accept emancipation. i think they did even a lot of democrats did but not for the reasons that we would want them to and and do boys is really good on that too that there's not some great flowering of agonized sentiment in favor of of enslaved people. it's we got to get rid of slavery because it'll hurt the confederacy. it'll help us. and it'll it'll protect the union. i think anybody who is doubtful about this should just go read abraham lincoln's last. annual message to congress in december 1864 where he says very explicitly in a great fight like this there needs to be a general goal that goal is union. but he said we need the 13th amendment because that will give us one of the tools necessary to restore the union now. he's that that rhetoric is for the whole nation. he wants to keep everybody on board with the war effort. he knows that's the best way to do it. he wanted to get rid of slavery,
of course all along but he's realistic. and so i'm curious to follow up on that in terms of training graduate students, or maybe even some undergraduate students to think about these more complex reaches of the word union in a more global sense is how american saws fitting into what was going on the rest of the world in addition to reading deeply and widely in the literature, of course primary literature. would you recommend that graduate students need to to read more about the global history of the 19th century as well antebellum 19th century in order to better appreciate what else was going on in the world and how americans pictured themselves and response to what was going on or how other nations might view america and the crisis. well if they want to understand, you know in a full way why union was important, of course, they need to know something about what is going on other places because that though the other places or what americans use and
i use american. i know you're not supposed to do that anymore. but what what people in the united states would use to set themselves apart. this is that's what we don't want to be. this is what we are and what we are is different from what they are. um it is it's it's very important to have a sense about what's going on elsewhere in in the western or the western world is their framework for the most place. that's i mean, they're aware of the republicans republicans in south america and so forth, but they're looking their economic world is basically transatlantic in terms of institutions. it's trying their institutions didn't come from spain. they came from england they came from and so that is their real framework and when they compare themselves to those other nations to the european nations, they see profound fundamental differences. and one of their arguments about why union is important lincoln talked about this he would say here. we are in the midst of a great
civil war and and immigration is immigrants are still pouring into the united states. why are they doing that? why are they doing that? they're doing that because they realize what we offer that no other place offers. however bad it might be immigrants stay poor in the united states for a long time, but they're estimate. is that how we're bad? it might be in the united states. it's better than it is in donegal. or some other place in ireland or someplace in germany or so. it's that they're very aware. they're much more aware of the world than most americans now are i mean most americans now are probably couldn't put france in the right blank blocks in on a world map americans paid attention to a greater degree. i think than we do to what was going on elsewhere and they were always aware of how they fit in these other places. is there a risk of dr. gallagher of a narrative within emerges that's foundation is about union
that that the war becomes too triumphant. it is that ever concern you. you know, i hear that all the time peter, especially no. no, i'm being serious. i you know, oh that's a triumphant mary. well, it is sort of a triumphant narrative as far as i'm concerned a war a war the war that both. sustains a republic that does give people a voice in the government and does give them the possibility to rise and as away with the institution of slavery seems to me to accomplish something. the aftermath is very problematical and messy as we know very well, but we also know that absent the war slavery would have lasted a lot longer in the united states. it was thriving. it was proving it could spread into non-cash crop applications very easily and effectively and so the war i mean the this is sessionist there there. this spectacular miscalculators. i mean they think they're doing something that's going to
protect their institution. that would have lasted decades probably and they kill it in four years. there's got to be a little irony in that so i don't think i think they're i don't see anything wrong with saying that the civil war did yield some good things it absolutely did doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of dark parts to it, but it's i don't have a problem. so yeah, is it so if that's being a triumphalus by saying that the outcome of the civil war was good and the republic was better in the summer of 1865 than it had been in april of 1861. i absolutely believe that's true. it's better in the summer of 1865. than it was in april of 1861. and it was better only because they had waged a great war. you and i have given many tours together. and on that on the field, we know that. the focuses on the movements of those troops. that's what people are there for and of course we try our best.
that moment in the past and dramatic ways and compelling ways. the monumentation that surrounds us that often. we lose sight of i would say and so i lead as background to your point about that. people are not aware of how important union was to americans or to northerners. and and how can we make the battlefield? a tool in a sense to help people remember what northerners were fighting for because the preoccupation with confederate monuments it seems to me. has taken american attention even farther away. from what union soldiers did and what the monuments have to say. well, and of course on any battlefield the number of confederate monuments compared to the number of union monuments is tiny that most of the battlety of landscapes are landscapes put put in place by the winners. i have an essay in in this book about using battlefields as
classrooms and i did it my whole career. it you know as well as i you both do when you get students on a battlefield you can have them make a connection to the past and yes, you can talk about tactical things and and questions of leadership, but you can also talk about why the armies are there and what the soldiers in them thought was at stake and how what happened on the battlefields reverberated politically and in other ways. from the battlefield what i would do it would i use monuments? i'm sure you both do too when you give your tours. i use the inscriptions on monuments. i use that i use the iconography on monuments to make points about the different memory traditions. i would what i would do at gettysburg gettysburg's best place in the world to use a vast collection of outdoor sculpture to get at. the different ways people remember the same event. i would love to see a serious. tour geared specifically to monuments at gettysburg that
would let people get at how you can see reconciliation of sentiment how you can see lost cause sentiment. there's not nearly as much lost cause sentiment of course because they're only handful of confederate monuments. the state monuments are really useful for that the brigade markers in the battery markers. those don't have any kind of ideological cast. you can deal with union you and you can there even a number of the monuments even mention the emancipation proclamation and slavery so you can get at all of the major memory traditions by using the monuments on the battlefield at gettysburg, and i think it's i don't think there's any place else in the united states that lends itself so readily to that kind of tour. i know the park services resources are stretched. they're always stretched. it's it never gets the money it should get but i at some point i hope that that they will find the money to put specific signage up around the battlefield that deals with the memory of the war.
not what happened here. we're on the edge of the peach. orchard. okay, right. there's the clingal farm. there's yeah, that's good. but what's talk about the monuments just a side note. i received an email. from the chief of inter at antietam with a new wayside that they're putting out and it speaks to exactly what you've mentioned. it's a sign devoted to civil war memory and pictures of various monuments to captures the different expressions that does monuments convey. so i know gettysburg is in process of they've completed the signs of these are going to install new wayside there will also deal with the monuments. i don't know union monuments. i know. they're giving attention to confederate one, but the union monuments deserved that they need treatment too better monuments. don't even make sense in some ways. you have to know that there are competing memories of the war that are being played out. in these artistic expressions in
different places. you need them both. i mean half the stories i guess better than none of the story, but you really need more than that and you can do great things with the two marilyn monuments on culp seal. you can do things with the late monuments the delaware monument the maryland monument the the sonic monument in terms of reconciliation. i mean you can do so many things it gettysburg with the monuments, but they but in my view it's crucial to tie them all together and not kind of pull one thread out and say here's our memory tour. it's only one part of the memory. but yeah, no, i agree and i i am not aware of any memory tours that that are currently done now, they could be out there. certainly. i don't think the battlefield guides that they might do something in that area, but i've i'm not aware of anything like that. it's certainly is a need it is a need and they i mean just what you could do at the eternal light piece. i mean, just what you could do on that one side.
that's always one of the main places. i talk about memory gettysburg. there's just so much that you can do gettysburg in a way that you can't do it in. i don't know where i mean, there are a lot of monuments that chickamauga a lot of shiloh a lot at vicksburg quite a few hours just at antietam a couple of weeks ago but antietam and no way compares to what you could do it gettysburg. i mean, it just isn't even close. well, i know when i worked at richmond national battlefield park, of course people would come all the time and be astonished by how few monuments we had was three or four in the entire park with so many people and people would say, you know, doesn't that, you know impede upon our ability to understand, you know, history and memory and other people would say, well, it's great that there aren't any any monuments because they can, you know, give a false history or portrayal of the history at least and of course both both sides have very true history,
right that true history that everybody has in their own mind, but the true history is which of course is often just false is the ones they say are false history. i love it. what's the true if there was a we would you know, we would have the civil war book if it was that simple just by the civil war book that has the true history of the civil war and that's all you need to read. just read that book and everything is going to be okay. you'll sleep better at night everything. is going to be just fine. i mean for god's sake i mean the thing about history is it is unbelievably messy. and and the main thing that people learns to something else i talk about in a number of the essays little essays in this book if the one thing you learn is, you study and study and study is that you don't know anything and just when you think have a you have a really good handle on something you do more research and things. i almost curse and think darn. i i now i'm gonna have to change my lectures again because i thought i had that down and now i don't have it down.
are you read some new book that makes you look at something in a different way this idea of just getting the real history the true history. what is the true history? that is elusive. it really is elusive. that's just talk about what then in the book that you observe more than once. that gettysburg is not the great turning point that people often make it out to be as undoubtedly the case, but you also you go a little bit farther and you suggest that in fact, it was not the below psychologically to the confederate people as commonly accepted even amongst those who say yeah. you're right. it's not the great turning point and and so clearly that's not what you initially thought about gettysburg. how did you get there? and can you help us understand? why you feel so confident about your argument about how southerners reacted? well, i and i this is a perfect example of what we were talking about earlier.
that was the first the third day it gettysburg was the first of the military campaigns of the history military campaigns to the civil war series that i edited at chapel hill, which is groups of essays that tried to look at battles as more than just tactical and they then the 11th alabama went here in the 20th main was over here and what i assigned to myself was confederate reaction to the battle and when i took that i thought this is going to be so boring. i'm gonna read and you know, gettysburg's awful blah blah blah and then that isn't what i found. i found that there was a much more complicated reaction to gettysburg among confederate people the fact that it happened in tandem with vicksburg colored that because vicksburg was an unequivocal disaster for the confederacy. they lost an army they lost important place on the river and so forth and but gettysburg the part of the battle that got the most attention was the first day. and the first day is a huge
confederate tactical success and then it eventually of course. they realize lee retreated that's bad, but then they would always argue but he wasn't driven from the field and you and and the federals didn't pursue. it was like after antietam. it can't be an unequivocal defeat if the union army doesn't even pursue. they must be so damaged they can't pursue and so there was a very very mixed reaction to gettysburg that contrasted very strongly with the really gloomy reaction to the loss of vicksburg. and i think that the other measure of how little impact gettysburg really had is that it affected not at all lee's reputation in the confederacy and you see all these accounts. not that long after we're talking about how lee's never been defeated and he never will be anything. what it's one of the main things
quoted to prove. what a disaster gettysburg was is is they go to that you can always find something in some account that will make it sound like it was a disaster and one of the greatest confederate. gyrus, of course was their great ordinance genius and his diary has a passage where it says that after you know, it seemed we were winning the war then after vicksburg and gettysburg were tottering to our destruction. that is quoted everywhere. well if you read in gorgas's diary for another six weeks gorgas says in august lisa's army has restored all of its morale. it's made good it's losses and i think it'll probably invade the united states again. so josiah gorgas in august doesn't think gettysburg was a great turning point that meant the war was but he did have one passage where he sort of suggested that at any rate peter. i went into doing that essay thinking i was going to find a i
didn't find a so i wrote be and i found a lot of evidence since then that i've never changed my mind on that. i just don't think gettysburg just asked people in the north also had mixed views about gettysburg. it wasn't wildly. oh great victory great victory great victory. we took them a little while to decide that meade hadn't made the greatest victory. he should have out of this then it's not just lincoln and the letter that he never sent me although he made sure hallett. let me know what his thoughts were george templeton strong. his diary does exactly the same thing within two weeks. he thinks gettysburg's a missed opportunity. not the great turning point of the war. and you and i of course go back and forth about this and i think that what your articles in this book to they certainly complicate that confederate reaction, but i think the other question that comes out of these sources and here's where we diverge a little bit in terms of how we use sources. is that my question of the sources is why did these men
feel compelled to write or describe the battle at night is a defeat which it most certainly was but as yeah. certainly, not a loss at worst. it's kind of it. almost a tie right we disengaged and we disengage our own and here's the and i'll give you a piece of evidence that you've used and that's from stephen dotson ramseur and how you would handle something like this because it's a great challenge for all of us and i think that is the point here is this evidence can be seen in interpretive from so many different angles and ramps are with sending a letter off to his wife who seem fairly just interested in receiving letters from him, but nonetheless, he was pretty dutiful and always keeping correspondence with her and this letter that he wrote from the retreat is we know. that the army's to some degree unraveling. absolutely and gramster will grant sure admits. you played in defeat never even thought about it. well, but that's the point that how do we then explain ram sir
when he is in the midst of everything falling apart around him, but he makes the calculated decision as a writer to tell his wife that none of this has happened. but you are not follow that he's clearly disappointed. he doesn't tell her that at all to me important thing is not how does ram sir feel. i mean, that's perfectly natural that people would try to put a positive a possible gloss on something awful that happened that often happens to me. the real test is what is rams are saying three months later four months later five months later and what he's saying then is you know, we we still he doesn't give up on the confederacy because of gettysburg. he doesn't think gettysburg is the end of the road for the confederacy, and i'm not just talking about soldier letters women's diaries are great sources on these things and to track how women behind the lines view events as they get a little bit farther away from them is is very useful as as i'm concerned.
absolutely. so also getting back to the some of the issues that arise when people come to gettysburg. for the first time and they look at it pickets charge, you know the field and they say, you know, it's this madness. why would we do this this was you know suicidal some of those people might also say, you know lee was foolish in the first place to to cross the border to come up into pennsylvania. all he had to do was keep on the defensive and string out the war long enough to to, you know, kill northern support for the war effort and northern morale and certainly, you know affect the political scene back in the north, but one of the interesting things that you bring up in in your work in particularly and the enduring civil war is how important confederate morale and confederate perceptions of offensive campaigns.
those offensive campaigns directly impact the morale back at home for the confederacy. and so the fact that lee, you know came into pennsylvania, even the fact that he didn't win that he had this terrible defeat that he needed to keep pressing those offensives in some respect just to keep confederate morale up. can you talk a little bit more about that in terms of balancing infusing that the political situation and the home front, you know perception of what's going on in the battlefield with a tour for a family who would come and you know, look at that pickets charge field and say just suicide just murder it could have been avoided and it was stupid. well, it's hard to dress up the third day it gettysburg. i don't i mean i think that lee that shows lee at his aggressive worst. i think the pickup peter grew us all on the third day gettysburg. i mean the first day he in planet it went well. i think it it probably made some sense for him to try to continue the offense tactical offensive on the second day, although i'm with porter alexander here. you had a great first day hunker
down on seminary hill and let the yankees attack you how successful of yankees been in attacking the army in northern virginia over the history of the army, but lee's aggressive. i mean lee didn't go north with the idea of fighting a battle or waging a campaignery loses a third of his general officers as casualties and you know 25,000 in his man. he wanted was a logistical campaign for the most part for him. i think he anticipated probably the likelihood of some kind of battle at some point on his terms. that isn't what he got in the end, but but it isn't just a campaign going north to look for a giant fight and a giant bloodletting which is which is house how some people address it. i think i'm peter not talked about the question of what confederate people expected a great deal. and and i think he's right i argue in the confederate whether they didn't want your army should just sit there and let the yankees come after them that and not only get bad things often happen when you do that,
but they wanted a sense of smiting the enemy. i think that was more prevalent in the first couple of years of the war than it was later in the war. but but it is but but there is an expectation that if you just sit and lee really believe this he talked about it just after chancellor's bill. he said well i can sit here. if i sit here they will get there much bigger army. they will pick their place and they will come after us again and if we keep doing that it will end up as a siege if it ends up as a siege it will only end one way and he was of course absolutely right about that. that's in the end. what happened when grant came it did end up in a siege pittsburgh ended up in a siege sieges aren't good. atlanta was sort of besieged. i mean those things don't end well for the confederacy and lee believed that by my maintaining an operational initiative he could at least force the opponent to respond to what he's
doing rather than just sit and wait while he's much smaller army allows a much larger army the potomac to invest it in some way somewhere when it circumscribes his options, so he and he also had a very good sense and i'll stop this will be enough of this. it's already 1:15. he had a good sense of the impact of his operations on on morale in the united states and he understood i mean he read northern newspapers. i said you they already said there's newspapers. he knew that what he did. affected northern morale in important ways and putting a can the most famous and important confederate army independent pennsylvania is very bad news for the lincoln administration. that is not good news for republicans to have the biggest rebel army in the united states. he understood that that's very different than having. the army in northern virginia on the rapid anne rappahannock river line and the army the potomac picking another place and time to launch another offensive against them. and so just to quickly follow up
on that. lee's offensive than at malvern hill i guess could be criticized mutiny explicable, right? it's we've all been to malvern hill. you can pick a better what's really inexplicable there is why little jorge decided that he'd abandoned a position that would so powerful that the confederates had no chance of driving union troops off of it. that's what's inexplicable at malvern hill even more inexplicable than the confederate attacks that right. oh entirely hill he was coming back. he never really initiated the fight it sort of started on its own. i think venable might have been responsible for i mean ultimately it's certainly is lee's army, but i mean what happened in malvern hill was not i think it all similar to what happened at biggest charge where? these clearly behind it these orchestrating. yeah, i mean we're gonna get mcclellan off the hook there and i was worried peter because i then i would put up a serious resistance. and there's not much of that way
of defending. he had a smashing victory. let's retreat to harrison's landing right now. yes swap professor. all right areas along the james river and then just watch our army. just yeah as i told my students today that the one great thing that you should learn from george b mcclellan is it if you send off emails that are obnoxious to your girlfriend or to your wife or husband or boyfriend that's perfectly fine. right? but just make sure that person starts at all in the delete button right in the little waste paper basket ellen needed to get that message put him in the fireplace, right? and of course whenever we send anything, there's no way to control what the person who receives it does with it. i'm gonna make a slight defense of george mcclellan and it's all and it's a very good piece of us in the virginia magazine of history and biography by the author who wrote shook over hell. his name is alluding me dean. that's right jeans. yeah, what a piece and i know
that i think you're even cited in it dr. gallagher. he made the point that the expectations that were placed on mcclellan and the army the the potomac were of course. then since that argument to suggest, i think he's correct that we of course. imagine the possibilities that mcclellan could have achieved if he would have thought something along the lines of what us grant would have done but us grant of course would not have thought the way he did in 1862. in 1862 in 1864, right something my point is is that to think that mcclellan in 62 could have fought with unbridled aggressiveness and then the casualties of course would have been much higher that the northern people would not have stood for that nor would be lincoln administration. i believe even grant wrote in his memoirs. i had a defense of mcclellan, but he recognition that we were all learning at that early stage of the war and unfortunately from mcclellan he had washington
looking over his shoulder the entire time that's all true. and and i i think mcclellan had real talents and i think he was he he's attitude toward union were in line with with the vast majority of the loyal citizenry. he fortunate incredible bond with his soldiers, soldiers, but i i simply cannot. it doesn't you're not asking something extraordinary from a commander at antietam when the confederate defense in the sunken road collapses. he has just exactly what he pretends. he wanted to have. he has an entire core that hasn't fired its musket's basically and he does nothing. i think it's hard to explain that away and and to come back to malvern hill. i think it's hard to explain a way abandoning the field of a great victory on july 1st, 1862 and and retreating from that to me. i think mcclellan was very good at a number of things. but he wasn't good. when the moment of truth came on
a battlefield and he simply didn't but he was remarkable and a days following malvern hill. he had his own printing press and he started putting out the proclamations. no, i i course the great victory. my point being again is it's truly remarkable that he was able. to attain the loyalty of the men in the army the potomac but he did it in part by. making it clear to them that the opposition was not just the rebels, but it was forces and washington dc. oh, no, i know dark forces understood, but it was again these conspiratorial forces that were against the army and and in that way he was able i think in other reasons as well, but he would affords that bond. i want to go back to actually lee in the army northern virginia one of the things that i really enjoyed about the enduring civil war. does he have a number of chapters on historians for a variety of reasons are not read as they once were and you a
single out douglas southall freeman so i'm gonna just make an argument here and we're like for you to respond. and that is that freeman without question wrote beautifully received a pulitzer prize for rele for three volumes on these army these lieutenants. but we're just focus on these lieutenants. for all the value of that book the original research these really incisive thoughtful. analysis of various secondary generals of the a&b nonetheless one cannot read this book without feeling the corrupting influence of lost cause romanticism. why in god's name? should we be reading freeman because in the end of the day one might argue. book is tainted. by the last cause well, it's i would say that we could approach books as as adults who are able to understand. that freeman was the son of a confederate veteran and idolized
robert e lee and and was fully on board with much of the lost cause take on the civil war but nonetheless did a great deal of research understood the command of the army of northern virginia extremely well and conveyed a great deal of very useful information in in an effective narrative way in these books. it seems to me that we should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. there's still a people can still learn a great deal from these lieutenants and re lee is worse than lisa the pulitzer prize winning biography is more lost causation than lee's lieutenants. i think lee's lieutenants is better on the whole, but he absent no absolutely and in the little essay i wrote in here about freeman in the book about freeman. i say he's the lost cause aroma a hangs over lee's lieutenants, but i don't think that that means there's no value in lee's lieutenants anymore. i mean, it's many books. it's books are generally of their time.
and his certainly is there but i don't think the fact that i think if you're aware of the lost cause bias it lets you kind of filter it out as you go through and then you can take what's useful from the books. he has an amazing discussion of the military geography of virginia in those books. just amazing better than anything. i've seen anywhere else. he has it as an appendix in and he lays out the different areas and in the rivers and the railroads and the towns and i mean, it's just there's nothing else like it that i'm aware of. freeman knew a great deal and and there's a lot of it and a lot of it is still worth reading in lee's lieutenants even though the lost cause is it that is a problem, but it's it's as long in my view as long as you you know, it's a problem. then you can still pull a lot of useful material out of these lieutenants. and we had a similar discussion when we were talking with michael gora about is faulkner still relevant and important to
read and some people dismissing it entirely or being happy very about including that in the canon, but i'm just gonna be long before faulkner's is no longer top. he's he's just too he's kind of a bridge too far. i think yeah. well, it's i mean, it's to me it's a terrible it would be a tragedy to take him out of the canon just because of the huckleberry. yes. awesome. i mean huckleberry finn is is prescribed in in many. i've taught him graduate course a few years ago half the students in the graduate course had gone to schools where huckleberry finn had been taken out of the school library. sure. yeah. it's just it's a shame because it's hobbling us and i think we can read these books as adults and take them for what they are. and of course faulkner, you know having the ambivalent and at times the poor and views about about race compared to our current a contemporary views, you know people are offended by that. but in other ways he was much more moderate on racial views
than than other people of his time and certainly understanding where he came from is important, but just unpacking the complexities that was able to observe about the post-war south and the haunting kind of tempting but also haunting an important facets of the south we'd be losing a great deal if we were just writing him off because we were offended i think faulkner understood. i think he had lost to say about the south that is well worth reading. there are many students. of course who would be thrilled to have baltimore removed from the canon because he's you can't watch fallen or while you're all so watching something on television. i mean doesn't really work that way. he's he's a serious it's it's a pull to read faulkner. sure. opportunity so and speaking about what we have to keep intruder in the duster, we can't quote faulkner endlessly about how the it's not the end. it's not even the beginning of the end. it's one o clock anything's
possible. i mean, we've got to keep that at least right? okay, so dr. gallagher and reading this collection of essays publishing support times you cover so much ground and word historyography, i don't think appears at all nor should it or dealing with popular audiences audiences and that's a good thing. then when you read this, it's hard to know as a field. where do we go and you can speak about academics in terms of either questions or issues. sorry. okay. where do you think we should go? and and talk about pop, you know public history as well if you think that there's possibilities and opportunities. it could be fulfilled and they have not been you know, i'm eager to hear what you have to say about that. i have been 13. seconds, so i can't really do very much with that. it's what field the thing about the thing about the field of civil war history. is that in my view it is it's
it's like emerson's oversoul. it is infinitely expandable. it can embrace almost anything it's changed so radically in my lifetime from a field that was mainly high politics and military affairs and a little bit of diplomatic and economic history. that was basically the field. and now the field beginning in the 70s but through the 80s and 90s. it's just explaining memory didn't exist. memory studies didn't exist when i was young. it's almost nothing on gender. they're the only books on the common soldiers when i started reading about the civil war literally where belle wiley's two books. i mean by that was it you could read hard tack and coffee you could read detailed minutia of soldier life could be carlton mccarthy on confederates and you could read hard tech and coffee on federals and you could read bell wiley. that was the common soldier literature. i mean, we're in a completely different world now completely different world. people knew about mary chestnut.
i have an entire bookcase of women's accounts in my library. now, they're overwhelmingly confederate. that's one thing we could do. we have a lot more. on women in the loyal states than we have now that confederates have gotten way more attention and especially of course labeled in confederate women have gotten more attention. i mean, but we're get but but the the war in the world the war in the west the war, i mean there's it's been expanded in so many ways. i have no idea. where it will go in the future, that's one of the interesting things about it. nobody sits down and says well in 1988. no one sat down and said that the next you know, there's gonna be a big memory wave now a lot of memories that nobody said that things it unfolds organically and people need to find new things to write about always, but i think there's a danger in this too. i think. to to use walt whitman. i used walt whitman my introduction the idea that the real war will never get in the books whitman was talking
specifically about this the war that union soldiers knew, that's what he's talking about there. it's used more broadly now, i think a lot of the real war not only is in the books now. it's been in the books for a long time and to come back to our earlier point. that's why it's important to read books written a long time ago. not just books that are written now. we're going to always know more about what happened during the civil war, but we know a very great deal about what happened already and we knew it even when i was young reading about it peter when you we have three generations of people here who've come to the war and are very interested in it and for each one of us when we were young reading about it. there was a great deal that we already knew we know more now and we'll know more going forward and that's why it is it's a field it doesn't get stale. it it just doesn't it's there's always something else to do. with the civil war because the people are so interesting the issues are so important. there's so much testimony. i mean the amount of time i
mean, it's just it's just it's overwhelming although of course you mentioned in your book which i agree with. there's also a danger of being so on the hunt for something brand new and innovative that's going to dramatically shift the field and overemphasize certain topics or say that certain topics are representative or the final word, and there's nothing else to be said on that topic or you have found that the niche that no one else has unpacked ever before that is somehow most important now scholarship. so that's of course the other the other danger, which you speak to in your book and i do think that's a danger and of course that brands me instantly is a hopeless old fogie who just get what's going on. but anyway, i think they're i think that there is a danger of that. i'm not against writing about anything. i want people to write about everything. there's not a single aspect of the civil war that i would say. oh don't write about that right about everything. just when you write about it keeps some sense of proportion in terms of how you're finding spit in with the larger mosaic
of what we know sure. that's that that falls under the category of stunningly obvious things to recommend. that is again. the mosaic is pretty much in place you would say and there's just not a lot of room of maneuvering especially for i would say the kinds of books. that would change the field in a dramatic way. it's the contours are in place. and i think it's hard to really i think that kind of peter is very hard to write not to change the field in any kind of structural way. i think that's very doesn't it can't be done, but it's hard to do right? i mean whether it's the coming of the war the war itself questions and nationalism the military history aspects of it. i mean, we're left with drilling down which of course in these leaves us vulnerable to the frequent charge that we just deal in minutia. and but i'm not certain again. i don't think that's fair but i understand where it comes from
because there's been so much work done. and such good work that's been done. there doesn't seem to be a lot of wiggle room. and of course as you both point out, there are some examples in which to make that new claim that people have maybe exaggerated the significance for importance of what they're doing or i've lost side of the important things again. i will come in on appomattox here. i'd like for you dr. gallagher just to tell us again. why you feel so strongly that. we need to take note and recognize the significance of these surrendered appomattox and the confederate forces that followed suit all the way through may and then to early june of 1865. why is that so important and why are you concerned that we might lose sight of the of the significance? i think it's important because it the whole notion of a long civil war. i find somewhat problematical because i think it's possible to stretch the civil war so much
that the war itself only becomes sort of one incident in a series of incidents that in some ways hasn't i mean we see how the civil war still plays out now in some ways i think people at the time viewed appomattox as the end of the war and i think they did so for very important reasons one is it gets the main national institution off the board for the confederacy the army northern virginia has gone how many confederates thought and jefferson davis will put him over in a kind of demented group who thought that maybe there was still some chance for something to happen. almost nobody thought there was a chance for anything to happen least on the army northern virginia's gone. that's it. we had a good shot. it's over with what are some i think the war ended and some of the things that suggest that to me are that the the confederacy cease to exist. slavery ceased to exist the all a million united states soldiers who were underarms in may of 1865 80% of them were home by the end of the year. there were 11,000 of them left
the following spring these suggest to me the end of a war and and now that doesn't mean that there aren't of course long-term ramifications and it doesn't mean there's a kind of low grade of violence that continues in the former confederate states for a long time, but it's not it's not a continuation of the war by other means the scale is so vastly different. and what is possible is so vastly different. the former confederates aren't going to establish a modern nation-state built on slavery. they are going to try to find a way to perpetuate white supremacy that so that's a mightily scaled back goal there they're doing that within. and a us framework where most white people everywhere believe in white supremacy. that isn't just it's just a black people live in the former confederacy. i just think that it i think that to pretend that the war doesn't really end in the summer
of 1865 overlooks very powerful factors that suggest it did that's that's i mean, it's really no more complicated than that supports the unfortunate trope that the civil war is just a great tragedy and of course just that and then from that point some people would say did a great tragedy just between americans so it's an unintended consequence i think of those who argue that we have to continue to think of the war as a continuation after appomattox, i think but they don't realize is especially for students and for people who are civil war buffs that they then start to lose sense of what you have i think described in this book is the revolutionary consequences of this war and whether you think it's triumphant or not, the change is radical and that's fine undeniable, but you lose sense of that. try to imagine i mean, there'd be no 13th 14th or 15th amendment. without the civil that's pretty
that's and and the fact that reconstruction yields the 14th and 15th amendments has to be taken as pretty powerful. ah evidence that reconstruction wasn't some kind of complete failure. it wasn't a complete failure. and and of course there was no and anyway, we don't have time to do this that that could be subject for another talk. i mean if you understand i'm gonna come back to union with one more thing if you understand how important union is reconstruction makes a lot more sense if you understand that the vast majority of white people wanted to restore the union get rid of slavery because it was a threat to union going forward don't check check. those are done. most of them didn't say and then our third great goal is really quality for black people. no, that wasn't a third great goal for most required america and if you understand that reconstruction isn't mysterious, they're not going to pay for a long term army of occupation big enough to do anything and it's not going to do it not gonna happen. well it harkens back to
something that i heard john kosky say a long time ago, which is you know, that the iconic hand shake over the stonewall if it gets charged there. you know what you think each other do it you son of a --. i wish you more. that's what we don't have. we don't have the transcripts of what they were saying, right? which of course the first one is spontaneous and then they they reenact that you know, and excessive years and routine like three it's gone from going kind of from one end of the pendulum of being like, oh this shows everything was tied up in a neat little bow and everyone had forgotten the causes of the war. that was the old school interpretation to now people are you know disgusted by that saying that that completely obscures, you know, so many of the racial antagonisms the sectional fighting that's still going on, but as john koski, you know, i think quite nicely reminds us. it's amazing really that in such a short period of time we could go from a war that killed 2% of the american population to an episode in which the two sides are shaking hands over stonewall
despite everything else that's going on behind the scenes and the the imperfect union that was formed the fact that after a civil war that that union could exist in that relatively short period of time is remarkable and something that that we can't lose sight of in our in our disgust or disapproval of how imperfect reconstruction might might be in our current standards. it was a remarkable thing, especially when comparing it again globally to other countries who've endured civil wars that have taken much much longer. that's true. it didn't kill 2% of the white southern population killed between four and five percent of them more than any of the western more than any of the great powers in world war one. that's what we always use is the standard of slaughter it's higher than that. so it's anyway everything's more complicated. every single thing is more complicated about the civil war then we think it is. so i can actually i think there's such an important observation because and i'm on
the contrary now to mention to people that this killing ground became a ground and reconciliation and just opposed the question. that we all believe that we conciliation is needed and important. can you have reconciliation and also have social justice? and again, that's a question for everyone to think about i think in a very individual way, but it's an important one. it's a critical one and if we continue to simply reduce historical actors on both sides to really sort of one dimensional figures now every confederate it's just fighting for a slave holy republic and we have union soldiers who i guess don't really know why they're fighting we are losing so much when we are engaging our public audiences to be able to understand as actually again as you said so nicely the lasting impact and legacy of gettysburg. they go back to their union our last antico jill titus told me this that in 1913. there was a knife fight that broke up between union and
confederate veterans at the gettysburg hotel after a better veteran sits and disparaging remarks about abraham lincoln's there you have a prize united surprise exactly dr. gallagher. thank you so much dr. gallagher will not i'll see you won't be surprised by this. here's this book without the dust jacket. now what we'll be surprised by is i i've taken the dust jacket off so that it is well preserved and protected. it's going to get a plastic sheet. we have a long history in a very different memory of it. there. it is with ashley's does not have the plastic street by the way, right dr. gallagher over the years that we have been friends and that i was esteemed. he is in a calendar times where i've been a little with books and but i've made some report. my heart is soaring peter and i just think it's great. you're gonna put a mylar cover on that. well, i appreciate the invitation. thanks very all right.
good afternoon, everyone and welcome to another installment of finding the source if you're joining us for the first time. my name is ashley lusky. i'm the assistant director of the civil war institute at gettysburg college and i am delighted to have with me today dr. michelle crowell who comes to us from the library of congress. she is the civil war and reconstruction specialist in the manuscripts division at the library of congress, and she is also the current manager of the presidential papers from president polk through theodore roosevelt. is that correct? that's correct. correct. michelle has had a long and very interesting career, which i hope that she can starts