tv Allen Guelzo Robert E. Lee - A Life CSPAN November 10, 2021 8:00am-9:30am EST
guide for c-span.org/history. >> welcome to the virtual series, i'm the vice president of programs and public relations, it is my leisure to welcome you all tonight special guests, allen. newest book, our elite a life, a copies of biography someone a lot of us think we might know but it's an interesting side of the book. if you haven't yet purchased your copy, it was published yesterday, congratulations, allen from we are excited to have you after publication day. it's online, we offer shipping in-store pickup to help support our mission here. i want to introduce tonight speaker and turn over to him to
give you an orientation and introduction to his work. alvin also affect counsel at princeton university, author of several books about the civil war that's an understatement. early 19th century, american history recipient is only comprise military history and many other honors and he lives in pennsylvania. allen, welcome and thank you so much for being here this evening. >> thank you very much for hosting this program and monique for acting as our wonderful technical support hello to all of my friends in atlanta, a city i've known and enjoyed more than 35 years. many wonderful visit. i'm delighted to be appearing with the atlanta history center once again. i'm sure there are a number of members of the civil war roundtable which i spoke to as recently as seven years ago about the battle of gettysburg.
now let me turn to robert ely. mary chest first met robert edward just before the work at the white springs in western virginia where he brought his wife who was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis. they came to the springs archly to benefit from the hot springs there, few things i could give a release from the study much about terrible disease. mary chest that, one of the most famous diary keepers of the confederacy, a man riding a beautiful horse joined us wearing a hat somehow a military look to it she said he sat his horse gracefully and he was so
distinguished at all points that i very much regret not catching a name mary chest was intrigued by this man. who was he? where did he come from? it was explained to her he was robert edward lee. everything about him was so fine looking at the war which came to her mind was perfection. she said there was no thought to be found even a few hundred for one and get, mary chest was not entirely enchanted robert e lee or at least not nearly as much as some others work. she wrote her diary, i like leap better. what she meant, robert e lee's old brother, sidney smith lee.
why? because robert was a mystery. i know smith well she wrote in her diary but anybody say they know his brother? i doubt it. so old and quiet grand. that surprisingly was the judgment that many people who met robert ely came to. both during and before the american civil war came here to the mark when she talked about lee and perfection and she realized because perfection was one of robert e lee's abiding goals in life not because he was supernaturally less with ability that perfection was within easy reach but because he demanded so much of it from himself and
others. in other words, there was a great deal more to this man and people hot. not all of it could be easily reckoned with. in those last days before the civil war cast its shadow over the nation from robert e lee was on the surface at least, an american soldier. he was the son of a revolutionary work hero, white horse harry lee from a protégé of george washington the man who delivered that famous eulogy from washington, first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen white horse harry lee. robert lee's mother was a patina carter the carter's were the first among the first families of virginia. robert lee himself embarked on a military career entering west
point in 1825 and he did so marvelously well and was commissioned in 1829, elite corps of engineers for he undertook a series of coastal engineering projects that range from georgia to new york city, the st. louis firm he earned his most impressive military bouquets serving superintendent of west point. 1857 to 1861, he was lieutenant colonel of the second calvary and for a brief period, he was the colonel of the first u.s. capitol.
then the outbreak of the civil war, he was offered themed command of the united states forces dealing with secessionist states. at that moment, he turned his back on more than 30 years of service command, first the virginia state forces bent rentable confederate army, the army of northern virginia. almost nothing in those proceeding 30 years has the slightest hint of the decision he made the army to forswear his oath to defend the united states he first took upon commissioning in 1829. to refuse what what have been the pinnacle of his military career. as mary chest discovered, nothing so characterizes robert
e lee as the question. why? why did he do what he did, why was he the man he was? 's general answer in 1861 that big decision about refusing command of the federal forces was that he was in virginia and when virginia was different, he was obliged to follow virginia into the confederacy. one was he? hello robert e lee was born onto northern neck of virginia in 1807, he had grown up in alexandria, which was then part of the district of columbia. alexandria and northern virginia would only be retro seated in virginia in the 1830s long after left. most of his life thereafter they
lived in other places. in georgia, st. louis, baltimore and new york city as an engineer. his father had been politically a federalist. though married into one of the foremost families of virginia, the cost of arlington, arlington overlooked facing the national capitol, not virginia. his in-laws allies the nation first of state loyalty "afterwards". we could not more in 18612 factors. first, harry lee for all of his revolutionary fame had been our clock husband and father and
left family when robert was only six years old. the shadow harry cast over the lee name was one of robert struggles to redeem the broad street of perfectionism in his behavior. robert also yearned to briefly of his father's reputation and otherwise. he wanted independence and wanted to be his own man and one sense his marriage was an attempt to stake out a room for himself but he also yearned for security. the security his father denied him so while most of lee's contemporaries left the army as soon as i received their taxpayer provided college degree
decently resigned and go into private engineering practice other professions, stays with him as the one certain profession could count on. a huge factor in this pursuit of independence, security and perfection was arlington. it was as much to protect arlington for his family as it was for virginia but he chose to resign as permission and refused the offer command. but that isn't the only factor. the other factor in his decision was his expectation that they would be no war after all. as it is for us to appreciate this because we are looking from the present backwards, in april 1861, even after the secession
of the southern states, even after the firing in fort sumter, it was still by no means clear that the crisis would only result in a civil war. we could have simply resigned his army commission and stayed neutral or he could accept the invitation extended to him to take command of virginia and play the role of mediator between virginia and beginning. and thus achieve peacemaking, fame greater than his father ever enjoyed in war but of course it did not turn out that way. many others, we found the secession crisis galloping away from him and in the end, step-by-step incrementally, he found himself by 1862 as the
commander of the army of northern virginia. he played that role quickly as he tried to play every other role in life that he failed elected not necessarily surprise him, on the way to the courthouse, he admitted he'd always expected the war would turn out the way they showed it with. at least his conduct would show how he could rise even above defeat. in the end, he would keep his perfection intact. today more questions revolve around statues of robert e lee finley himself and opposes a different sort of problem. severance, the stature enrichment and the other leaks doctors removed a new orleans,
charlottesville dallas and other places. on the one hand, i admit i am i thank you from matt. i am a pennsylvanian and that's all i've known in my earliest education in any subject that you have a civil war came as a boy at my grandmother's, a grandmother herself as a schoolgirl at the turn of the last century. welcome to her classroom all veterans of the union army grand army of the republican, coming in on what they then pulp decoration day to my grandmother and her fellow students in the real meaning of the civil war by which they met not what the rebels were talking about when they talk about the lost cause. as such are yankee, i have
difficulty fadiman why we put up statues people who committed treason. i use the word advisedly, i don't thought around uselessly or wildly. i have the same problem with people who wave the confederate flag. these were people, including robert e lee raised her hand against the nation safe sworn an oath to uphold and defend. i took the oath, my father took the oath, my son took that oath. this is not helped by the fact that because we are the confederates worked for was wrapped around like it or not, a defense of human slavery and human trafficking. why should the artifact affect ever been in any place for
museum? if someone wanted to erect a statue, robert e lee today, i promptly tell them as politely as i could to get lost but this story, not the whole story at all. the monument enrichment dates from the 1890s, i'm sure it had a message about white supremacy but it also had other messages. the south was a region which lost crippling civil war. its impact on the survivor's was worse than the great depression. and lasted into the 1950s. 10% of the military aid male population of the confederacy died in the war. that's literally estimation. american culture we worship
success. if you are successful, that's supposed to mean you are good. if you lose, it's supposed to mean you are back. remember tiffany in body fat winning is not only an important thing, it's the only thing. we embrace that in american culture. robert e lee symbolizes something different. he symbolized the possibility of dignity in the face of defeat. the winners, the michael filkins, ivan postfix, jeffrey epstein's. the winners are not necessarily look good. if the people who wind up paying for those are not necessarily bad. that message was wrapped up in the least and we may regret
losing that in a dog eat dog world. there's one more factor. monuments like the statue change. i know that sounds strange because monuments made of bran or bronze or physical material and they don't grow and they don't eat and we wonder what will be changed. what i know i change his monuments like stature enrichment or other places, you put up memorials and here is the white supremacy messages got attached. the sectors were there to remind people what the confederacy was. over time as generations past, statues change. they begin as foils and as generations past, they decline into monuments.
the statue became a remembrance of the chapter in richmond history. more generations past and the monument declines further simply a marker. they look up and say hi to robert e lee, some history dude. in fact, for become almost literally markers for negotiating traffic in downtown richmond. we see this and what has happened and other monuments and memorial markers. in california and donna park is a monument to the party, yes, there are folks when the winter collapsed down on them from resort to cannibalism in order to survive. a monument to the party, believe it or not, it borders on a picnic area but nobody looks at the monument and says that's an
incitement to cannibalism. maybe they might have set it when it was put up, they might have said that in the 1840s when the donner party was still alive or at least some of it but over time, it simply becomes a marker the same is true of the monument in my own state, western pennsylvania region of washington county, extension two the whiskey rebellion. whiskey rebellion was not about cannibalism and strictly speaking, it wasn't even about whiskey but it was about treason. as a monument in the whiskey rebellion, that took place in the 1790s perhaps when that statute was put up, people might have objected and said why are we putting up a monument for people who committed treason? but over time, begins as a memorial descends into a monument and more time for monument descends to a marker
and today in washington county, look at this monument, this marker to the whiskey rebellion, nobody feels upset about treason, more likely people are upset about whiskey and treason. yet, there is the monument. as a historian, i am always reluctant to see monuments and memorials and markers destroyed. as a professional reluctance that way. our historical memory and you can't expect pieces of still hold onto the substance of the memories, at least not easily. on the other hand, i'm a citizen of a democracy and the citizens of richmond or other places determine as a monument they wish to remove, i have no legitimate reason for sending on the path of that decision. but i can hope for the is the
decisions made reasonably. the product of a process and not by impulse or ignorance or rage. it has been said ignorance and impulse and rage are the unfortunate necessities we live with. i hear the voices that say that are wrong. perhaps how we deal with our monuments, all the historical monuments historical memorandum perhaps how we deal with them will be the major series that we take our history and our democracy. that's an for me for now, i understand we have a number of questions from the audience think it's time to turn to the curiosity of the audience and
let that had its share here. >> absolutely, thank you for the introduction. i thought we could start going back, took us back to the present day talking about the moment we have a monuments, i thought when we go back to the beginning of your book digging a little more through robert e lee's earlier life in civil war service and got to audience questions as we go. if you have a question for allen, submit it to the q&a and we will make sure to get to as many as we can. we have really enthusiastic audience which is wonderful but if we are not able to get to your question, we apologize in advance. allen, i wanted to go back to the beginning. you layout in your book in your opinion, like robert lee, understanding the relationship he had with his father, you
mentioned revolutionary war but also post revolutionary war cleared in a lot of ways and his family, lay out a little bit for us, talk about his relationship with his father and his father's absence. >> to be technical, harry lee or henry lee the first third, a leaf from the cadet branch of the family. he was from the leaves of lisa peña. what difference does that make? the major dominant strain of the family, the lee family around thomas lee and descended from richard lee, the first immigrant but sometimes called richard the immigrant.
in the 1640s and 50s, thomas lee is the lee who built stratford hall, the place where robert was born. they built a small empire for the leaves on the northern coverage enough. henry lee was from a western part of family, that's why i call cadet branch of the family. harry quest if nothing else, ambitious. intelligent, he was skillful, he was brave almost to the place of recklessness. he went to princeton college, i get harry lee as part of the princeton heritage but he no sooner graduated from princeton in the revolutionary war breaks out. he volunteers service and takes command of a company of course that grows into a mixed lesion of infantry and serves under washington and washington is deeply impressed by harry lee. when washington has to
reorganize the campaign for the revolutionary, he turns to his great friend, nathaniel and with green, he says harry. the story of the revolutionary is very much a story written by nathaniel green and white house harry please help. it was after the revolution life started to come apart. at first, it looks like everything is swimming. he marries matilda lee, she's a cousin of his and matilda lee is the mayor of stratford hall which is how white house harry comes to be the man in control. yet white house harry had a real gift for botching things financially. every possible asset for a few real estate investments that simply cork screwed downwards. when matilda week dies, she
leaves him with two children, one son and lucy. henry the fourth, that's a story in its own right but white house harry remarries and carter. he burns through every bit of cash and carter brings in so much so that he winds up in debtor's prison. not only that but he gets involved in political, inflammatory political problems that cause him life in baltimore. after that, he simply leaves. he leaves behind politics, he leaves behind his predators and takes off to the west indies and leaves behind his second family was and carter lee and that included five children. younger brothers of robert and two sisters. he heads off to the west indies
and leaves his family to be taken care off by their carter relatives. robert is six years old when this happens and never sees his father again. there's something for psychologist can tell you about the trauma, there's hardly any kind of pain worse philosophy. the beginning of that's what robert expenses and in a sense even more cruel all through life constantly introduced as robert e lee the son of harry lee, people dreaming what they are conjuring up in his mind. robert on one occasion before 1861 never refers to his product and pass in his application
letter to west point. beyond that, he never talks about his self, he never visits his father's grave. not until the end of 1861 when robert lee is coming into his own, become his own man so to speak. it's only been he comes to terms with the influence and impact of white house harry his life. it's a traumatic affair and out of that legacy growing passions in robert e lee itemized before for independence, security, for perfection and of those three passions are not only always compatible. some yarn for independence and find out it doesn't give you much security or you can obtain security and find out it doesn't give you much independence. it never really makes all three
together. not until after the civil war when he becomes the president of washington college in virginia. i mean the last five years of his life, he's able to bring all three of them into harmony. not significantly from affect the moment he writes a memoir of his product. >> a third act if you will, following civil war, older than a lot of other major figures, a really big impact on higher education in this country going back before the war specifically, you have yearning for independence, it leads into an army career which doesn't always give you that independence or stability, possibly writing about how he's worried about making ends meet or feels he's running out of
money but it weird because a soldier scholar, but he's a lot more financially stable than many others during that time. the cognitive dissonance he has going on back but one of the things i wanted to ask about was the cognitive dissonance, we have audience questions about this so i will paraphrase several. is robert e lee's relationship with slavery. robert e lee lives in a slaveholding state in virginia, his wife, family and arlington many enslaved people arlington self benefited from back in at the same time voracious private conversations, thousands of letters. makes references to institutions and slavery but then he has disapproval because of that for
white people, which is really rationalization happening there despite his expression and approval his family were supported in large part by slavery so can you talk about the thinking around slavery and how true rationalizations and conclusions? >> leave grows up so to speak with slavery. his parents owned slaves, his mother owned slaves when they were living in alexandria even though they were severely reduced, still at least six slaves in the lee household in alexandria. when can we carter dies in 1829, part of her estate is the disposition opera slaves not estate. some slaves are pointed toward her two daughters, in this case,
and marshall week -- i'm sorry, and can make -- i set marshall because she marries a lark marshall, she becomes amply marshall and her sister mildred lee. one slave family is welcome to robert or at least in terms of the estate, winds up being a slave family robber owns. as it turns out though, the only slave family he ever owned in his own name. that doesn't mean he didn't benefit from slavery as a system. simply by being right there were but if it's being part of the slave system was. even more, he marries into the custis, the main property at arlington but also to other custis properties among the river. all told, something like 190 slaves part of the properties. robert lee benefits when he
marries and to it from their work and labor, he has a valet who is one of the slaves, his wife has slaves who will wait on her and they assist with the children and they go on vacation, the slaves go with. lee benefits from the slave system even if he doesn't himself has personal title to large numbers of slaves, which he doesn't. the curious thing is, for years and years, not until the 1850s when slavery becomes a crisis at issue in american politics. it's interesting he talks about it at all because we learned early in his political career, military career not to talk about politics. soldiers who talk about politics got mixed up in politics usually suffer for it. he saw it happen in the case of his first mentor, charles, he saw what happened to winfield
scott at the conclusion of the mexican war, he tries to stay as far away from politics as possible and get slavery by the 1850s is taking so much of his attention, he starts writing about it in a letter to his wife. what does he say? he says slavery is a moral evil. an evil that should be condemned in any civil society. he read that and you think well, it's about time. then you read on and immediately as you pointed out, he immediately qualifies that in two ways. first he says it's more of a problem for white people and black people because you are wondering how is that? but it's more of a problem for white people and black people. slavery is benefiting black people because it's helping them assimilate civilization. it's a fairly common argument made by people in defending slavery in the 1850s and the
slaveholding south but also have another argument incest i don't really have a solution for slavery, we just have to let god work this out in his own time. it took 2000 years from 2000 euros for christianity to civilize the world. it may take that long to get rid of slavery, he doesn't have a time bracket you look at that and say what he's even awake with one hand, he's taken back with the other but they have two things in mind even as he says it. one is, what he saying there is not a whole lot different than a lot of many other soldiers souts including his father, slavery as
his father-in-law does, eating out the vitals of south and get having said that, they turn around and say but there's nothing we can do about it. it's here, it's legal, what are we going to do? we look at the rationalizations and say come on. but there are two things in mind. lee did have points about slavery being a problem for white people. not as you might think, a racial part but economic. slavery is bound up with slave labor, how free labor compete with slave labor? so it is in fact making economic points even if it is racially, which of it. yet i think it has to be taken into mind, he is looking at a situation where he may not have a lot of control of the
situation. he does not own slaves. what's more, any southerner who starts to take steps about emancipating slaves, immediately will find himself cornered by other white southerners who will threaten him. what is interesting is in 1857 lee's father-in-law dies, it's a mess. part of the will provides for the emancipation of the slaves within five years. robert e lee as executive of the will and he undertakes the process of emancipating the slaves, a process which he concludes on schedule and december 1862. two things to notice about this. one is, by december 1862, robert e lee is robert e lee. he's not just the son-in-law of george washington, robert e lee
had gone to any confederate court said i don't want to go through with this, i shouldn't have to go through with this, i seriously doubt whether any bridging effect confederate court would have stopped him. if he wanted to derail the whole process, who would stand up impact of general we? the other interesting thing is that lee persists moving forward with the emancipation. not only emancipate slaves but a slave family he did in his own name which he was not obliged by the custis estate for emancipating. we can have 1863, robert e lee is slave less. what's more, he's battering jefferson davis. he sank the confederacy must emancipate us slaves because otherwise we're never going to have any time standing in the
eyes of the rest of the world but spring of 1865, he's advocating emancipation of slaves. the confederate army. on both terms, it's easy to say while he was doing this out of pragmatic reasons, not because he felt moral urgency and i'm sure there was a pragmatic motive in his thinking at the same time, he didn't have to. there is no compulsion for him to step forward and do that and get he does. does it mean robert has suddenly become racially enlightened? no. after the war is over, makes no effort to promote reconstruction. he has no interest whatsoever seeing black people and seeing them occupy, to the contrary, he is critical of reconstruction so
domestic what lee does for some kind of enlightenment experienced the same time, don't depreciate it either. as part of the problem, robert e lee and the complexities, contradictions, always like mary chestnut discovered. always the? , that is the symbol of robert e lee. >> let's get into one of the questions, i have several questions from the audience were wondering if we can talk about prewar experience and getting into the civil war, let's take a pause where things could have gone differently where he decides to resign his army commission and when i scheduled this book, i didn't realize where that happened where he comes from, summarizing commission, he accepts the
confederate army but in reality, there are steps in between so one question, we have insight from his own words and himself about thought process during that time that he consult with anyone about his monumental decisions to leave the u.s. army? as you say, promotion four years, the motion of the army's snails pace at that time. it would have been what is been striving for and yet he gives it up. could we talk about how he came to that what his thinking was? >> lee himself never lays out in a complete comprehensive session. the process by which he takes all of these steps and i think it represents the staff fact that lee didn't know what he was taking as his next step. it's not a criticism because most people were feeling their
way through the process. as i said before, we look back on it, it seems to be simple, straightforward and inevitable. there will be secession civil war and facet. no, it's no means obvious. it's not that obvious for me either. first of all, he didn't have to resign from the army. he believed he did because otherwise turned down the offer of the federal forces, turning it 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 say neutral through
the war. now you wonder perhaps how can one remain neutral through a war like the civil war? there are many people who simply concluded they did not want to remove their hands and what would really be a contest among fellow americans. a variety of reasons, it would back off or remain neutral, but the first step. he's been persuaded to take another step expects to go to richmond. he takes that step after consulting with his cousin, francis lee and alexandra. we had about 81st cousin from a fast network of leak connections. he did it in ellington alexandra, he would have hit a relative. we consult with was approximately his age.
look at photographs of them and they look so similar. they consult together francis lee comes away convinced that robert e lee percival will remain neutral and second he's going to promote reconciliation and peace between the prickly think at that time, how can there be peace? there's going to be civil war. they didn't know the. all the evidence is expects by taking command of virginia forces began to train virginia completely with the confederacy and going to war with the united states. for the first month is in command of virginia forces, all the words he gets our day and. when thomas jonathan jackson who is not yet stonewalled jackson from when he takes his troops across the river to occupy the maryland heights across harpers ferry, he isn't back because
they shouldn't provoke anything. the expectations are going to work this out with cap this disruption and secession but after the hotheads regained some wholeness, we want to get together and there's going to be reconstruction and that's the first time reconstruction get used. the convention of the state and everything will be peaceful again and we'll work this all out. that doesn't happen. he's actually writing about maybe i should resign. maybe i should just give us up and tried to go back to being neutral. by then, it was much too late. federal forces already occupied arlington and you might say dying the past. but lee is surprisingly reluctant confederate mary
chestnut diary, she puts on people talking to her saying we can't trust robert e lee, he's not with us. robert e lee will be tried as a traitor to the confederacy. to confirm that, that's an 1861. february 1865 when lee proposes the emancipation of slaves and recruitment for the confederate army, the charleston mercury in the firebreathing of all newspapers, he says we knew robert e leak was ever with us, we knew robert e lee was always a federalist at heart. we can't trust robert e lee. test. test. test. test. test. test. test. test. test. test. test. test. we had a particular profile. many people are not entirely sure about robert edward lee. he loved that he won battles,
many people scratch their heads about him. >> robert e lee himself often as you know, had many contradictions throughout where he will say one thing and turn around and do something that seemingly contradicts it so i had a question, he resigned as army commission and head of virginia army and their armies of northern virginia and its fabulous against the federal army and they predict the federal army get the act together. in the beginning, he straightforward when it comes to military conflict, we can't win this from strength along that the only chance is if we do something to back off from the war so that is what leads him to pennsylvania and his neck of the
woods. he kept getting into a battle, which we will talk about in a second but with his contradictions, there is one moment in the book that jumps out to me where he was criticizing behavior of the union army, what he sees as appropriate behavior, looting, that kind of behavior. yet he ignores the egregious conduct of his own army while in pennsylvania who were actually capturing black men selling them into enslavement in virginia. when i read that, i was thinking about how does that happen? how did he not seem to know or was ignoring and i know combat where he let his general tell them where to go and let them figure out how but that extends
dismay that the northern populace and the northern politicians become disenchanted with the lincoln administration and compel the lincoln administration to peace negotiations. he pursues that two times and he would have he would have pursued it a third time in 1864 if ulysses s. grant had not beaten him to the punch by launching the overland campaign in 1964. beyond that he saw himself as a day-to-day manager. he was willing to assume 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 longstreet said he was able to preside over the hearings with significant success at other times though when jackson is dead and one longstreet is seriously wounded
in the wilderness he has to take charge himself on the tactical level and it's very clear that he's not comfortable doing that. he can do it but he's is not comfortable doing it. in terms of setting out the moral parameters in his army his vision of himself as a commander is he is responsible for what goes on at the very top. anything else is the responsibility people at the levels of command in the chain of command so if officers are running down and capturing free black people in pennsylvania and tying them up and sending them off to be sold in the market it's not his responsibility not the way he sees it. that's something that occurs at an entirely different level where he takes 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 that's a contradiction. how can we say this on one hand the call at this on the other? and it's a contradiction that it's not his responsibility and his officers and soldiers behave in a certain way he was not going to look at it. 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 a in treating especially since he so adamant about the conduct of the union troops. >> yes right and the conduct of those union troops was one thing to help to push him further and further away from this imagined role of the reconciler towards we have to beat these yankees. understand to he really finds
offensive not the union soldiers misbehaving because soldiers are going to misbehave. i'm sorry to the nature of the thing but what really upsets them is the directive for the misbehavior is coming from the very top and it's coming from john polk commanding the army of virginia. it might be the case that if the union soldiers were running around stealing kept chickens in killing cattle and otherwise wreaking havoc on the country side you could understand that but what he can't understand is the general in charge of the union forces not only is tolerating it but is directing it. that is what he found's profoundly offensive and it's why he gives the responses that he does. >> we are starting to get close to the end but there are so many other questions.
let's talk about and we don't have time to get into all of the decisions made during the civil war and we don't even have time to get into gettysburg and we'd have to have another program for that but we have a couple of questions from the audience about his mental and physical fitness and there are some questions about that and let's focus specifically on the day when the brigade and i'm sure a lot of people have been to gettysburg and you can go and stand on the position of blueberry hill. that brigade is really breathtaking when you're up there and longstreet comes to him and says this is great.
you have 15,000 men could not take this position but he does it anyway and he talks about what was he thinking in that tell him what were his strategic decisions and what was that moment in the war. >> a lot of people ask this question and they are at the angle looking out towards seminary ridge and they say what could he have been thinking? even soldiers across the open area could get slaughtered and of course what was the result? the result was defeat so what could lee have possibly been thinking. people of suggested while he was suffering from health problems and that affected his decision-making process. it is true he experienced health problems during the war, serious ones. he was probably the most senior of the major commanding figures
of the civil war. he was much older than grant and much older than mcclellan and historically speaking older than most of the greats. he was older than napoleon and some say perhaps he should have been in a more -- position in command on the field. he suffers a series of heart attacks during the war. the first of the heart attacks occurs in the spring of 1863 during his pennsylvania campaign but he bounces back from that heart attack. there's no real evidence during his campaign that he was experiencing a health distress that affected his decision-making and i would take a step further and say that his decision-making was actually quite sound. think of it this way. for the previous two days of the battle of gettysburg lee's army
had pounded the army at the potomac. the seventh entry for terry kor at potomac five of those inch infantry corps had been wrecked by lee's army. they were next to useless in terms of combat readiness. the only things that were left were the 12 core in the 64 and the six core he needs it is reserved in the 12 core -- and it leads to divisions of the second core holding cemetery ridge and each one of the divisions were lost in the brigade so what's holding the backdoor? not much more than 3500 men. wynne lee has an entire fresh unsullied division that george pickett division iii tigta great -- three big for gates that can be supported by another
division of troops yes james longstreet after the war and i emphasize after the war, insist that he disagreed vehemently and told lee that this was the wrong thing to do. i suspect that much of longstreet's protests that way got elaborated and embroidered as time went by after the war, especially after lee's death. i have the very strong suspicion that longstreet, whatever reservations he expressed at that time, didn't express severe enough reservations to cause lee to have any doubt. ultimately, the rationale that justified what lee did can be seen by looking at what you can call the cognate wars of the american civil war. if you look to the crimean war,
lord raglan launches the same attack against russian positions that are entrenched and with artillery and scores a tremendous victory. same thing happens with napoleon iii in the north italian war in 1859. everything that people could have learned from military example in the 1850s would have suggested that lee is doing exactly the right thing. the proof is in the pudding. it almost worked. the confederate forces came within an ace of breaking through that federal line. if they had, claire, what was there behind that line to keep them from going on? next to nothing. it was a close run thing there that afternoon at gettysburg. the phrase wellington used by waterloo but it's also true
about gettysburg. it came very, very close to success. it was not a rash decision. it was not an unprincipled and thoughtless decision. it almost worked. i have to say this bluntly. i at least for one am grateful that it did not. because the consequence of that -- if lee had been successful at gettysburg, oh, my goodness. the army of the potomac having been beaten on so many fields so many times could very likely have gone to pieces. lee could have had a full and open field in front of him. alexander stevens, the vice president of the confederacy was on a boat in the chesapeake bay waiting to come to washington. what would he have presented to lincoln if he had? would we have had a divided country? look, if north and south divided
in 1863, do you think it would have stopped there? no. there would have been a northwest confederacy. there would have been a pacific confederacy. we would have had in north america almost a repeat of what we saw in the balkans in the 1990s. and then what would have been available to stop the tide of german militarism, of naziism, of the cold war? not a pleasant thing to contemplate. >> no. something that sets the american civil war apart from other countries is that it's pretty unusual to only have two sides in a civil war. you are referring to, it's usually more than that. it's hard to contemplate what we would be living in today. >> years later, serving on the united states supreme court were two veterans of the civil war.
one was edward white, who had been a confederate veteran in louisiana. the other was oliver wendell holmes who had been a union lieutenant. every year on the anniversary of antietam, holmes would present white with a red rose. it was a romantic gesture. white's response was this. my god, he said, if we had succeeded. that was the estimate of a confederate. and he was right. >> post-war reflections. then you get the counterfactuals and the rationalizations with longstreet in particular saying, no, no, i told him. there's so many great questions. as we said earlier, lee had an abbreviated post-civil war act. he was much, much older, had
heart attacks at that point. he nevertheless was quite an impactful figure after the war and then having a resurrection after that with the monuments and everything else you discussed at the beginning. can you talk a little bit about his post-war sentiment? touch on his tenure at washington college? who was robert e. lee when he was no longer the confederate general? >> so many surprises in the life of robert e. lee. nothing more surprising than what occurs in the last five years of his life. when the war is over, he is indicted for treason. he is never brought to trial, but he is indicted for treason. he is looking around for some form of employment. he also wants to look around for employment that's going to literally get him as far from the prying eyes of people in washington as he can get. he is offered the job of president of washington college.
you want to talk about a dead-end job. washington college in lexington, virginia, it hardly had a pulse at the end of the war. and yet, the trustees decide they're going to make an offer to lee. they send one of the trustee -- member of the board of trustees -- they have to dig into their pockets to buy a suit for him so he can look decent when he goes to visit robert e. lee. he makes the pitch to lee. he doesn't hear anything. hewrites. lee writes back and says, i've been indicted for treason. if you can handle that, i will take the job. what a shocker. robert e. lee had been the superintendent of west point. he hated the job. because he was micromanaged at every stage of the job itself. he was offered a job early on in his career teaching at west point. he turned it because because he said, the classroom is not my
thing. i am not comfortable there. now all of a sudden he is going to become the president of a college. you are thinking, this isn't going to turn out well. no. he goes to lexington. it's curious. one of his generals wrote to the trustees and said, it's great that you got lee to become president. he is going to become a great figurehead. don't give him work to do. put him on the letterhead and let him be the figurehead of the college. the trustees became the figureheads. robert e. lee ran the place. he re-ignites the curriculum from top to bottom. he starts bringing in modern subjects, mechanical engineering, journalism. not only that, but he does away with the student code of conduct. he now says to all students -- he interviews every student who comes to washington college. he says, there is no code of conduct here.
the only thing we expect of you is that you will behave as a gentleman. doesn't that sound generous? no. you know what that meas? it means robert e. lee is the judge, student and executioner of all student behavior. he takes control of everything. you know the place where he is the best? fund-raising. whoever thought of robert e. lee as a development officer. and yet, he has this remarkable talent for shaking the apples out of the trees. especially the apples of northern trees. he gets all-time abolitionists to sponsor meetings in new york city for the support, encouragement and fund-raising of washington college. by the time lee dies in 1870, he has taken a college which was almost defunct and he has made it an educational powerhouse.
he so remakes washington college that after his death, trustees rename the place as washington and lee university. that is a tribute to the fact that the place probably would not have survived had it not been for the presidency of robert e. lee. >> we have a couple more minutes. i do want to spend a little time talking about the legacy of robert e. lee after his death. a great question from the audience here. he says, the burial place of lee and stonewall jackson, my dad was born in jackson's house when it was the county hospital. he was raised on lost cause teaching. as we are approaching this examination of the lost cause, seeing him as a person, rather than a devil to be condemned, as
we figure out who the man is, dale wants to know, how can i introduce my dad to a more modern approach to the civil war so he might be receptive? >> 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 in the same -- with the same power or even with the same message. we deal with those ourselves. we deal with complexity ourselves. that's simply in the nature of human beings. there's no such thing as a simple human being. as soon as we realize that, then we begin to understand that the people that we look at in history are not in that respect different from us. they, too, are the confluence of streams. they are part of all that they
have met. when we understand ourselves and them in this way, then we look for something different. we look for them to be human beings. we look for them to be people who struggle with contradictions. we look for people who try to do the right thing but always are not sure how to do it. sometimes they're not even sure what the right thing is to do and are trying to find the markers that will point them in that direction. we live lives of uncertainty and struggle by the best lights that we can. if that's how we live our lives, why are we surprised that we find that others in the past lived their lives that way? it's true, there are in the past -- there are monsters. there are people who have been virtually irredeembly evil. those are the exceptions.
there are not that many monsters. we can be grateful for that. the ones that have lived, the hitlers, stalin, mao, those people, while they have caused damage and suffering, at least are not as numerous as the rest of us who struggle day by day to understand what is right, what is true and how to do it. if we understand robert e. lee that way, if we will approach people that otherwise we want to put a halo around, it doesn't mean we have done damage to them, it means we have come to terms with them the same way we come to terms with ourselves as human beings. i think of those lines of william wordsworth. he said this. for i have come to look on nature not as in the hour of thoughtless youth but hearing
often times the still sad music of humanity. nor harsh, nor grating, though with ample power to rebuke. if we can hold onto that, then we will have a way not only of coming to grips with ourselves and our own contradictions but also the contradictions of those who have gone before us in the past. perhaps we won't put halos on them. but at the same time, we wouldn't put tails on their backs and forks in their hands. >> let's end on one question that really gets at where you had concluded your introduction to this talk. this is from john in the audience. he is talking specifically about coming back to the monument points. there's a spike of monument building in the nineteen teens
and 20s. john asks -- i'm going to read it. why would anyone expect today's african-americans to tolerate a memorial, monument or marker of lee who fought to continue enslavement of many of their ancestors? it's no longer a rationalization about history but also something that affects people in their everyday lives. how would you respond to that? >> i take this back to the question of what monuments are. monuments, as i said before, start out as memorials. i see this all the time in the battle of gettysburg. on that battlefield the majority of the more than 1,000 monuments and markers remember the union regiments and units that fought there. there are some peculiar union monuments.
there's a monument to the 42nd new york very close to the angle on cemetery ridge. the monument to the 42nd new york shows an indian chief and a tepee. wait a minute. did they get the wrong war? the answer is no. this was the regiment of taminy hall. you have a monument there. when that was put up, the dedication ceremonies for that preached the justice and righteousness of the union cause. the people who erected that monument were the veterans of the regiment. it was a moral cause. we embraced it. it's a memorial to our truth. that generation dies off. followed by another generation. grandchildren of those soldiers. they look at that monument and
they say, that's a monument to the 42nd new york. my grandfather fought in the 42nd new york. they don't have quite the fizz about things that the original soldiers did. they are looking at it as a monument. then their generation passes off and their grandchildren come to gettysburg. they come with a guidebook in hand. here is where the 42nd new york stood. there's the monument. that's where the 42nd stood. it's a marker. how do we deal then with monuments? i think we have to ask a series of questions. back in 2017 after charlottesville, i got together with one of my former students and we wrote an article which was published in "civil war monitor." in it we offered what we called a decision tree. what do you do about monuments?
especially monuments that talk about difficult people. what we did was we walked step by step -- all right, is this monument doing this, that and the other? if so, take it down. if not, go to the next question. we went through that decision tree. there's no automatic conclusions that come out of that decision tree. it all depends on what you are putting into it and what conclusions you are drawing. what it does though is it compels us to sit down and work our way through the complexities of the questions of what is symbolized. can we live with this? can we tolerate this? what does it mean? what does it symbolize? are the symbols multiple? when we say, for instance, that confederate monuments were put up in the jim crow era, does that mean they are monuments to jim crow? some were. you might say that there's an aspect of all of them that was.
but it was also a time when those veterans of the confederate army were dying off. they wanted to live some memory of what had happened to them in their youth. so there's that part of it as well. then there's the business about, do we worship success? are the only people who deserve a monument people who are successful and wealthy and influential and powerful? maybe is there room for monuments for people who lose, the people you weep over? there's complexity built not only into human nature but even into the monuments. our decision tree was a way of trying to respect the complexity and to move through it. we honor everybody's input. the decision may be at the end, yeah, take it down. at least at that point it has come at the end of a process. at the end of a process, we have
all together been confident we have fought our way through this. if we don't, then even when the monument is gone, we will continue to fight and tear and rip at each other. even if the monument is not there anymore. we will keep at it. because even in the absence of the monument, the rage will be there. it's the rage that can poison democracy. reason, however, reason and the pursuit of truth, that is the health of democracy. if there's a word i would give to people tonight as a historian, that's the word i would give. >> i feel like there's no better way to end the talk tonight that be that. to everyone in the audience, thank you so much for your attendance. thank you so much for your excellent questions. we could not get to all of them. rest assured, many of them are answered in his book. if you haven't yet purchased your copy, it's a fascinating
study that will take you through his life from start to finish. you will learn something that you didn't know about the figure before. thank you again for joining us this evening. we so appreciate your time, your willingness to join us virtually. i wish it could have been otherwise. we will take what we can get. thank you again. best of luck on the rest of your tour. >> claire, thank you so much. monique, thank you so much for enabling this. thanks to the whole audience. all your wonderful questions. i hope to see you all again sometime soon in the wonderful city of atlanta. weekends on c-span2 are an intellectual feast. american history tv documents america's story. book tv brings you the latest in non-fiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television comes and more. including charter communications.
broadband is a force for empowerment. that's why charter has invested billions, building infrastructure, upgrading technology, empowering opportunity in communities big and small. >> charter communications along with these television companies supports c-span2 as a public service. veterans from world war ii through the iraq war told their stories and recorded oral history interviews. here is an excerpt from one story. >> when the flag went up, we had no idea what was going on. we had no idea what was going on. we were too busy to pay any attention to what anybody else was doing. suddenly, around me -- i didn't know what was going on. i guess i had my back -- marines
jumped up and started firing their weapons into the air, screaming and yelling and that kind of stuff. i really thought everybody lost their mind for a second. i couldn't figure out what was going on. then i caught on what was going on, because they were -- i looked and there's old glory. i jumped up and started doing the same dumb thing they were doing. firing my weapon in the air and jumping and screaming. i was carrying a weapon. the pistol i carried on my hip. as soon as i got ashore, on the beach, that was -- i found a rifle. somebody had been wounded. i grabbed the rifle. i grabbed it. i jumped up and started firing
in the air and yelling and screaming like everybody else. i wonder how many marines we lost at that particular moment who saw old glory. it changed the attitude of the whole thing. did something to us. the captain, having lost a great number of his marines, called for a meeting of all officers. we had a couple officers left. he called a meeting in a great big shell crater. we all -- being a corporal with these individuals that had come ashore with me, i was elected. but we had people before this thing was over -- we had sergeants acting as cos. anybody doing anything that we could get them to do. you run out of people.
i went out to meet with the sergeants. whatever was left. we were in the shell crater. the captain is at the bottom of the hole. i can remember him being very frustrated. absolutely didn't know what to do. he was looking for ideas. how do we do this? what can we do to make progress and not get people killed? he was asking others for ideas. he looked at me and he said, somebody told me, i don't know, but somebody else told me and he looked over and said, do you think you can knock out some of those? i had no idea what i really said. some of the guys in the hole said, i will try. i guess that was a volunteer. he said, i will give you two
automatic rifles. i got strapped with the rifle on the back and started crawling. a fellow who was not part of my outfit at all, he is not doing anything, he was about a 6'1" guy, as i went by, told me to bring a pole charge. we had pole chargers fixed up. we wanted to blow it up so they couldn't use it again. he came with me. we get in the shell crater. we go to the first one. japanese had dug trenches that were 12, 15 inches deep.
hollowed out. they could crawl one to the other and escape fire. they had holes that they put drums in the ground. they would get down there and put the lid over. didn't know they existed. they would pop you and back in the hole. you don't know who shot him. you could suck the oxygen out of the drum. he is gone. we started out in the shell
crater to advance toward one of those traps, hole in the ground and a pill box that was up above a little ways. as we got to the top -- i don't know what he was thinking of or why he did it. maybe he got frustrated and mad or whatever. i'm on my belly. i'm not going to stand up. i'm crawling. he jumps up like he is going to run toward it. one of them shot him. when it hit, it hit on the side of his helmet at about this point. we had steel helmets. inside was a fiber liner. that bullet penetrated the helmet, went between the liner and the helmet and went around. when it did, the force of it took his head around like that
and threw him back in the shell crater. he was getting up ready to go someplace. i thought, he is dead. i crawled back down in the hole where he was. shook him. i couldn't see any blood. his helmet was still on. i shook him. kept yelling at him, are you all right, are you all right, are you hurt? finally, he raised up his eyeballs kind of rolled around for a little while and finally got him to focus and he said, i'm all right. he took that helmet home with him. i don't know whether he is living today or not. i bet you he has the helmet or somebody in the family has the helmet. we finally got close to the pill box. i got the guy in the hole. crawled up toward the pill box.
the closer i got, he had a namboo. he was firing. i can remember crawling toward the pill box. he is off to my right. this ditch is running this way and the pill box is over here. i'm going to try to get there. i can remember. as i crawled closer, he couldn't get me. if i went back, he would have got me. i crawled faster and closer. he only had so much.