tv Allen Guelzo Robert E. Lee - A Life CSPAN November 10, 2021 2:27pm-3:49pm EST
news his term, tyler became president, this image on the the right is a romantic image of tyler receiving news of harrison's passing and his elevation to the presidency. watch this program and thousands more online at c-span.org/history. >> welcome to atlanta history, and any maim is haley and i'm here for the history center. it is my pleasure to welcome you all in the audience and tonight's special guest allen guelzo. he's discuss his newest book, robert e lee, a biography of the figure that a lot of us think we might know but might uncover new and interesting insight in the book. as i said earlier, if you haven't purchased your copy, it was just published yesterday to congratulations, allen, we're excited to have you day after publication day. you could purchase a copy from atlanta history centers museum
store and it is online and we offer shipping and in tore pickup and it supports her mission here at the history center. i want to introduce tonight's speaker an turn it over to him. to give you an orientation and introduction to his work. allen guelzo is a senior research scholar at the council of humanities at princeton university and author of several books about civil war and early 19th century american history. his been the recipient of the guggenheim prize many times and many other honors and he lives in pennsylvania. allen, welcome and thank you so much for being here this evening. >> well thank you very much, clair, for hosting this program and monique for acing as our wonderful technical support. and hello to all of my friends in atlanta, which is a city i've flown and enjoyed for more than 35 years. many, many wonderful visits. and i'm delighted to be appearing with the atlanta history center once again.
and i'm sure that there are a number of members of the civil war round table which i've spoken to as recently as just seven years ago about the battle of gettysburg. now let must turn to robert e. lee. mary chestnut first met robert edward lee just before the war at the white salter springs in western virginia where he brought his wife who was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis and they came to the sulphur springs to benefit from her bathing in the hot springs there. there is one of the few things that could give her relief from the steady march of that terrible disease. mary chestnut is of course one of the most famous diary keepers of the confederacy. remembered that a man riding a beautiful horse joined us
wearing a hat with somehow a military look to it and she said, he sat his horse gracefully and he was so distinguished at all points that i very much regretted pushing the name. mary chestnut was intrigued by this man. who was he? where did he come from? well, it was explained to her he was robert edward lee. chestnut marvelled. everything about him, she said, was so fine looking that the word which came unbidden to her mind was perfection. she said there was no fault to be found even if you hunted for one. and yet mary chestnut was not entirely enchanted with robert e. lee. or not as much as some others were. she wrote in her diary, i like
smith lee better. what she meant was robert e lee's older brother, sydney smith lee, an officer in the u.s. navy. and why? well, because robert was a mystery. i know smith lee well, chestnut wrote in her diary. but can anybody say that they know his brother? i doubt it. he looks so cold and quiet and grand. now that surprisingly was the judgment that many people who met robert e lee came to. now both during and before the american civil war, when chestnut came nearer to the mark when she talked about lee and perfection than she might have realized. because perfection was one of robert e lee's abiding goals in life. not because he was so
supernaturally blessed with ability that perfection was within his easy reach. but because he demanded so much of it from himself and from others. there was in other words a great deal more to this man than people caught on the surface. and not all of it could be easily reckoned with. in those last balmy days before the civil war cast its shadow over the nation, robert e. lee was on the surface at least the model of an american soldier. he was the son of a revolutionary war hero, harry lee, the protege of georgia washington and delivered that famous eulogy for washington, first in war, first in peace, first in the country. robert lee's mother was a
virginia carter and the carters, the carters were the first among the first families of virginia. robert lee himself had embarked on a military career by entering west point in 1825 and did he so marvelously well. he was committed upon graduation in 1829 into the elite corp of engineers. where he undertook a series of coastal engineering projects that ranged from georgia to new york city, to the st. louis water front. he earned his most impressive military bouquets, however, serving under winfield scott in the mexican war, acting as the chief aide in the dramatic campaign from the coast at vera cruz to mexico city in 1847 frxt there robert leigh served as superintendent of west point. and from 1857 to 1861, he was
the lieutenant colonel of the second cavalry and for a brief period he was the colonel of the first u.s. cavalry. and then when the outrank of the civil war, he was offered field command of the united states forces in dealing with the succession states. and at that moment, he turns his back on more than 30 years of service and at command first of the virginia state forces, and then of the principal confederate field army, the army of northern virginia. almost nothing in those preceding 30 years did the slightest hint of the decision he made to leave the army, to foreswear his oath to defend the united states, which he first took upon commissioning in 1829. to refuse what would have been
the pinnacle of his military career. so as mary chestnut discovered, nothing so characterized robert e lee as the question mark. why? why did he do what he did? why was he the man that he was? well lee's general answer in 1861 for that big decision about refusing command of the federal forces was that he was a virginian and when virginia seceded from the union he was obliged to follow virginia into the confederacy. but was he? although robert e. lee was born on the northern neck of virginia in 1807, he had grown up in alexandria, which was then part of district of columbia.
alexandria and northern virginia would be retro seeded into the 1830s, long after lee had left. most of his life there after had been lived in other places. in georgia, in st. louis, in baltimore, and new york city. as an engineer. his father, light horse harry, had been politically a federalist and had suffered for it politically. and though lee married into one of the foremost families of virginia, the costas of arlington, arlington overlooked the potomac, facing the national capital, not virginia. and his if-laws were wigs who had the nation first and state loyalties afterwards. but lee could not ignore however in 1861 were two factors.
first, light horse harry lee, for all of his revolutionary fame, had been a hard luck husband and father. and left his family for the west indies when robert was only 6 years old. the shadow that light horse harry cast over the lee name was one that robert struggled to redeem. hence that broad streak of perfectionism in his behavior. robert also yearned to breathe free of his father's reputation in other ways. one in independent and his own man and his marriage to mary custas was a way to stake out realm for himself. but he also yearned for security. the security his father had denied him. so while most of lee's
contemporaries at west point left the army as soon as they had received their taxpayer provided college degree and could go into private engineering practice or some other profession, lee stays with the army. as the one certain profession and paycheck that he could counts on. the 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 his commission and refuse the offer of command. but that is not the only factor. the other factor in lee's decision was his expectation that there would be no war after all. hard as it is for us to
appreciate this, because we're looking from the present backwards, in april of 1861, even after the secession of the southern states, even after the firing at ft. sumpter, it was still by no means clear that the crisis would ome result in a civil war. many could have simply resigned his army commission and stayed neutral. or he could accept the invitation extended to him to take command of virginia forces and play the role of mediator between virginia and the union. and thus achieve by peace making a fame greater than his father had ever enjoyed in war. but of course it did not turn out that way. many, many others, lee found the
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 as perfectly as he had tried to play every other role in life. that he failed did not necessarily surprise him. on the way to appomattox courthouse, frankly admitted that he always expected that the war would turn out the way appomattox would and at least his cond ukt will will show how he could rise even above defeat. in the end he would keep his perfection in tact. today more questions resolve around robert e. lee than lee himself and that poses a different sort of problem.
i'm at sixes and sevens, about the removal of the lee statute in richmond and the other lee statutes removed in new orleans, charlottesville and dallas and other places. on the one hand, i frankly admit, i am a yankee from yankee land. i am a pennsylvanian and that is all that i've known and in fact my earliest education in any subject touching on the civil war came as a boy at my grandmother's name, a grandmother who herself was a school girl back at the turn of the last century, welcome into her classroom and the georgia climber school, old veterans of the union army, grand army of the republic and their little blue caps and blue jackets, coming in on what they then called decoration day to instruction my grandmother and her fellow students in the real meaning of the civil war by
which they meant not what those rebels were talking about when they talked about the lost cause. as such a yankee, i have some difficulty fathoming they put up statues to people who committed treason. and i think the word advisedly, i don't throw it around uselessly or wildly. i have the same problem with people who wave the confederate flag. these were people including robert e. lee, who raised their hand again the nation they had sworn an oath to uphold and defend. i took that oath. my father took that oath. my son took that oath. and it is not helped by the fact that the cause that lee and the other confederates fought for was wrapped around, like it or
not, a defense of human slavery and human trafficking. why should the artifacts of that have ever been in place but a museum. so if someone wanted to propose erecting a statute to robert e. lee today, i would tell them as politely as i could to get lost. but that is not the whole story. not the whole story at all. the lee monument in richmond dates from the 1890s. i'm sure it had a message then about white supremacy but it also had other messages. the south was a region which had lost a crippling civil war. it's impact on survivors was worst than the great depression. and lasted for all practical purposes until the 1950s. 10% of the military age male
population of the confederacy died in the war. that is literally des imation. in american culture, we worship success, if you're successful, that is supposed to mean your good. if you lose, that is supposed to mean you're bad. remember the old dictum attributed to vince lombardi, that winning is not only an important thing, it is the only thing. we embrace that in american culture. robert e. lee symbolizes something different. he symbolized the possible of dignity in the face of defeat. he symbolized the possibility that the winners, the burnie madoff, the michael milkens, the i'von bosque and the jeffrey epsteins, the winners are not necessarily the good an the people who wind up paying for
those deeds are not necessarily bad. that message was wrapped up in the lee statues too. and we may regret losing that in a dog eat dog world. there is one more factor. monuments, statues change. now that sounds strange because monuments that are made of granite or bronze are physical and material and they don't grow and they don't eat and we wonder what you mean by change. what i mean by change is this -- when monuments like the lee statue in richmond or charlottesville or other places, when they're put up, they serve as memorials and here is where the white supremacy message has got attached. the statues were there to remind people of what the confederacy was. over time, though, as
generations pass, statues change. they begin at memorials, but as generations pass, they decline into monuments. the lee statue became a remembrance of a chapter in richmond's history. more generation pass and still further things are being simply a marker. people look up as they pass and they say, oh, yeah, that is robert e lee. some history dude. in fact, me become almost literally markers for negotiating traffic in downtown richmond. you see this in what has happened to other monuments an memorials and markers. out on the west coast in california, in donor park, there is a monument to the donor party. those folks who in the winter clapped down on them, resorted to cannibalism in order to
survive. it is a monument to the donor party and it boards on a picnic area. but nobody looks at the donor monument and said, oh, that is an incitement to cannibalism. they might is said it when it was put up, in the 1840s when the donor party was alive or at least some of it. but over time, it simply becomes a marker. the same thing is true of the monument in my own state in western pennsylvania region of washington county where there is a statue to the whiskey rebellion. whiskery rebellion was not about cannibalism and strictly speaking it wasn't even about whiskey but it was about treason. so there is a monument there to the whiskey rebellion. that took place in the 1790s. perhaps when that statue was put up some people might have objected and said why are we
putting up a monument to people that created a museum and then the monument descends into a marker and today in washington county we look at this monument, this memorial, this markers to whiskey rebellion, nobody feels terribly upset about treason, more likely people are upset about whiskey than about treason. and yet, there is the monument. as a historian, i am always reluctant to see monuments and memorials and markers destroyed, there is a certain professional reluctance that way. that part of our historical memory and you can't expect to jettison pieces of that and still hold on to the substance of those memories, at least not very easily. on the other hand, i'm a citizen of the democracy and if the citizens of richmond or other
places determine that the monument they wish to remove, i have no legitimate reason for standing in the path of that decision. what i could hope for, though, is that the decision is made reasonably. as the product of a process. and not by impulse or ignorance or rage. it has been said that ignorance and impulse and range are the unfortunate necessities that we live with in a democracy. i hope the voices that say that are wrong. and perhaps how we deal with our monuments, not just lee's but all historical monuments and historical memoranda, perhaps it will be the measure of how seriously we take both our history and our democracy. well, clair, that is enough for me from now. i understand we have a number of
book that your opinion, one can't understand a man like robert e. lee without first understanding the relationship that he had to his father who was, as you mentioned, a revolutionary war hero, but also didn't have a successful post-revolutionary war career in a lot of ways and ended up deserting his family. lay it out for us and talk about lee's relationship to his father and what quickly became his relationship in his father's absence. >> harry lee was a lee from what we can call the cadet branch of the lee family. he was from the lees of leesylvania. what difference does that make?
the major dominance around thomas lee and descended from richard lee. thomas lee is the lee who built stratford hall. they built a small empire for the lees on the northern neck of virginia. henry lee was from a lesser part of that family. that's why i call it a cadet branch of the family. he was intelligent. he was skillful. he was brave. almost to the point of recklessness. he went to princetoen college. he's a prince ton alum. he had no sooner graduated from princeton than the revolutionary war breaks out. he volunteers for service. he takes command of a company.
that grows into a mixed legion of horse and infantry. he serves under washington and washington is deeply impressed by harry lee. he turns to his great friend and with green, he sends light horse harry. the story is very much a story that's written by nathaniel green. light horse harry had a real gift for botching things
financially. every possible asset he put into real estate investments that simply corkscrew downward. she leaves him with two children. henry the fourth is a story in its own right. he burns through every bit of cash that ann carter brings, so much so he winds up in debtors prison. not only that but he gets involved in political and inflammatory political problems that cause him to be eaten within an inch of his light in baltimore. after that he simply leaves. he leaves behind politics. he leaves behind his creditors. he takes off to the west indes.
leaves his family to be taken care of by their carter relatives. robert is six years old when this happens. he never sees his father again. there is something the psychologist can tell you about the trauma. there's hardly any kind of pain worse than the loss of a parent before the beginning of adolescence. that's what robert experiences. all through his life he is introduced as robert e. lee, son of light horse larry lee.
that's in my application letter to west point. beyond that, he never talks about himself as the son of light horse harry. he never visits his father's grave on the georgia coast. not until the end of 186 is when finally robert lee is coming into his own. it's only then begins to turn to terms with the influence and impact of light horse harry. it's a traumatic affair. those three passions are not always compatible. find out that that doesn't give
you much security or you find out it doesn't give you much in the way of inside. lee never really makes all three work together until after the civil war when he becomes the president of washington college and far away lexington, virginia. he's able to bring all three into harmony. that's the moment when he writes a memoir of his father. >> they're older than a lot of other major figures during the civil war and had a big impact on higher education on this country. we're going back to before specifically. you have lee is yearning for independence and security at the same time. that leads him into an army
career that doesn't always give you that independence or that stability. he's writing about how he's making ends meet or running out of money. robert e. lee lived in the slave holding state in virginia. his wife's family in arlington own many enslaved people in arlington benefitted from that enslaved labor. lee and public firm higher
correspondence in letters. he ties that to disapproval because it's bad for white people. despite his expression and approval, his family was supported in large part by slave labor. can you talk about lee's think around slavery and how he drew those conclusions. >> lee grows with slavery. his parents own slave. his mother owns slaves when they were living in alexandria.
it's also two other properties on the river. there's something like 190 slave who is are part of those properties. robert lee benefits from it. his wife has slaves who will wait on her and they will assist with the children. they go on vacation. the slaves go with them. lee certainly benefits from the slave system even if he doesn't himself have personal title to large numbers of slaves, which he doesn't. he says nothing about slavery for years and years. it's interesting he talks about it at all. lee learned in his military career not to talk about politics. soldiers who talked about
politics or who got mixed up in politics usually suffered for it. slavery is inpinging so much, he finally starts writing about it in a letter to his wife. what does he say? slavery is a moral evil. it's an evil that should be condemned in any civil society. you read that and think it's about time. you read on and he immediately qualifies that. he qualifies it in two ways. he says it's more of a problem for white people than it is for black people. you're wondering how is that. he says it's more of a problem for white people than plaque
people. slavery is benefitting black people because it's helping them to assimilate to civilization. this is a fairly common argument that's made by people in defending slavery in the 1850s in the slave holding south. he also has another argument. he says i don't have a solution for slavery. we have to let god work this out in his own time. for 2,000 years for christianity civilized the world. well, it may take that long to get rid of slavery. he doesn't have a time bracket on it. you look at that and you say, what he has given away with one hand, he's taken it back with the other. there's two things in mind as he says it. one is what he's saying there is not a whole lot different from a lot many of the southerners in the upper south were saying. in virginia and kentucky, these were areas where slavery was being drained out of the economic life of those states.
it was being drained because slavery was much more profitable in the southwest and the mississippi river valley. yet having said that, they immediately turn around and say there's nothing you can do about it. we look at those rationalizations and say -- bear two things in mind. lee did have a point about slavery being a problem for white people. not as you might think, a racial point but an economic point. slavery is bound up with slave labor. how could free labor hope to
by december of 1862, robert e. lee is robert e. lee. he's not just the son-in-law of george washington. if robert e. lee had gone into any virginia confederate court and said i don't want to go through with this, i shoints have to go through it. i doubt whether any virginia court would have stopped him. if he wanted to derail the whole process, who was going to stand in the path of general lee? lee persists in moving forward. emancipates the one slaifr maem if his own name which he was not obliged by the estate to emancipate.
he's advocating the recruitment of slaves for the confederate army. on both terms, it's easy to say that while he was doing this out of pragmatic reasons, not because he felt any kind of moral urgency. i'm sure there was a pragmatic motive at work in lee's thinking that way. after the war is over, he makes no effort to promote construction. he has no interest in seeing
black people have vote and seeing them occupy. he's very critical of reconstruction. it's just part of the problem with dealing with robert e. lee. the complexity, the contradictions. always like mary chestnut discovered. always the question mark. that, if anything, is the symbol of robert e. lee. sgla i have several questions from the audience who are wondering if we talk about his pre-war experience and getting into the civil war. let's take a pause in that moment where lee decides to resign his army and i'll say
they resign their commissions but don't do anything else. they stay neutral during the war. for a variety of reasons. they would back off and remain neutral. that's the first step lee takes. he takes that step after consulting with his cousin. lee had about 80 first cousins. that's what the network of lee keks were.
yet stone wall johnson, when thomas jonathan jackson takes his troops across the river to occupy the maryland heights across from harpers ferry, lee orders him back because he should not provoke anything. lee's expectation is we're going to work this out. we had this disruption. we had this succession. after the hot heads have regained some coolness, we're all going to get together. there's going to be a reconstruction. by that point it was much too
they love the fact he won battles. many people scratched their head about him politically speaking. >> robert e. lee as you know embodied many contradictions. throughout the book you site where he'll say one thing and trn around and do something that's contradicts it. i just had a question. i think there's some questions in the q and a as well as some of our audience members. we can't win this from strength alone. the only chance is if we do
something that will encourage the north to back off from the war. that is what lee sent them to pennsylvania. it's where he always his neck of the woods and where he wanted to go. there's this one moment that jumped out where lee is criticizing the behavior of the union army. he ignores the conduct of his own army while in pennsylvania who were capturing black men and selling them into enslavement in virginia.
he had this approach to combat where he told them where to go and let them figure out how to get it done. does that extend to how he ran his army in terms of conduct? can you talk about those contradictions and how something like that happened. as you say, he sees very early on that the south does not have the resources to go a long heavy weight bout. you can't go 15 rounds. it's not enough substance there. it's going to have to score a surprise knock out in the first or the second round.
the only way to do that is to carry the war north of the potomac into pennsylvania where you're able to cause so much political disruption. he pursues that two times. he would have pursued it a third time in 1864. beyond that, lee does not see himself as a day-to-day manager. he is willing to put a lot of responsibility into the hands of his chief lieutenants. when he has chief lieutenants who are really up to the job, people like stonewall jackson,
like james longstreet then he's able to preside over a series of successes. other times when jackson is dead, when longstreet is seriously wounded at the wilderness, lee has to take charge himself on the tactical level. it's very clear he's not comfortable doing that. he can do it but he's not comfortable doing it. in terms of setting out the moral parameters of his army, that's even further remote. his vision of himself as a commander is responsible goes on at the very top. if officers are running down and capturing free black people in pennsylvania and tieing them up and sending them off to be sold in the richmond slave markets, that's not his responsibility. not the wap he sees it.
that's something that occurs where he does not exercise responsibility. what robert e. lee does is he looks at things and he looks away. in his mind, it was not a contradiction. that was not his fear of responsibility. >> it's intriguing. he's so adamant about look at the conduct of these troops. >> right. the conduct of those union troops was one thing that helps to push him further and further away from this role, imagined
role of being reconciler to we have to beat these yankees. understand too those orders that he objects to so much where he really finds offensive about them is not the union soldiers misbehaving. soldiers be misbehave. that's in the nature of the thing. what he really objects to is the directive for that misbehavior is coming from the very top. in 1862, it's coming from john pope. it might be case that if ordinary union soldiers on their open hook was running around, stealing chickens, killing cattle and otherwise wreaking havoc with the virginia country side. lee could understand that. what he can't understand is the general in charge of the union forces not only tolerating it but sanctioning and directing it. that, lee finds profoundly offensive. it's why he issues the responses
he does. we have so many other questions. we don't have time to get into gettysburg. let's focus specifically on that third day when the battle was truly lost. it arrived and i'm sure a lot of people in this audience have been to gettys burg. you really see the exact expanse it was expected to cover.
it'll really pretty breathtaking when up there. long street says this is crazy. 15,000 men could not take this position. he does it any way. can you talk about what was he thinking in that battle. what was his strategic decisions. what figured into that moment in the war. >> a lot of people ask this question. they are at the angle looking out towards seminary ridge and the virginia monument. they say what could he have been thinking. you're going to send soldiers across that open area and they will get slaughtered. what was the result. the result was defeat. people think what could lee have possible been thinking. maybe there was something that was in thiz thinking. people suggested lee was suffering health problems and that effects his clarity, those decision making process.
he's much older than grant. much older than most of the great generals. there's some argument that could be made to say perhaps he would have been more in a rear echelon position than trying to take action on the field. he suffered a series of heart attacks during the civil war. first of these heart attacks occurs in the spring before the pennsylvania campaign. there's no real evidence during the campaign he was experiencing health distress that affected his decision making. i would say his digs making was
quite sound. think of it this way. for the previous two days of the battle of gettysburg, lee's army pounded. five of those had been wrecked by lee's army. they were next to useless in terms of combat readiness. what's holding the back door to the union position. really not effectively, not much more than 3500 men.
after the war insisted he had disagreed and told lee this was the wrong thing to do. i rather strongly suspect that much of long street protest that way got elaborated and embroidered after 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 justifies what lee did can be seen by looking at what you can
call the cognate wars of the american civil war. same thing happen in battalion war in 1859. it would have suggested that lee is doing exactly the right thing. the proof is in the pudding. it almost work. the confederate forces came within an ace of breaking through that federal line. if they had what was there behind that line to keep them from going on, next to nothing.
it was a close run thing there that amp. -- afternoon. it came frr close to success. it was not a rash decision. it was not an unprincipaled and thoughtless decision. it almost worked. i'm grateful that it does not. the consequence of that, if lee had been successful at gettysburg, oh, my goodness. lee could have had a full and open field in front of him. it could have been the demand for peace negotiations.
what would he have presented to abra lam lincoln. if north and south divided in 1863, do you think it would have stopped there. no. it would have been a northwest confederacy, a specific con fed ra -- confederacy and we would have had a repeat of what we saw in the 1990s. then, what would have been available to stop the tide of german militaryism, of the cold war. it's not a pleasant thing to contemplate. >> no. something that sets american civil war apart from other countries is pretty unusual to only have two sides in the civil war how you're referring to it. usually quite a few more than
that. it's really hard to contemplate what we would be living in today. >> years later serveg on the united states supreme court. we're two veterans of the civil war. 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. >> some post-war reflection. you get the rationalization, as you mentioned with longstreet.
we only have a few minutes left. as we said earlier, lee had an abbreviated post-civil war action. it's much, much older. had heart attacks at that point. it was quite an impactful figure after the war and then having kind of a reaction after that. he was no longer the confederate general. >> there's so many surprises in the life of robert e. lee. when the war is over, he's indicted for treason. he's never brought to trial but he's indicted to treason. he's looking around for some form of employment.
he's looking around that will get him as far from the prying eyes of people in washington as he can get. >> he's offered the job of president of washington college. you want to talk about a dead end job. washington college was this little college in lexington, virginia in the upper end of the shenandoah valley. it hardly had a pulse at the end of the war. yet the trustees decide they will make an offer to lee. they send one of the members. they have to dig into their pockets to buy a suts for limb so he can look decent when we goes to visit robert e. lee. he makes the pitch to lee. he doesn't hear anything. he writes and lee writes back and says, i've been indicted for treason. if you can handle that, i'll 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. now he's going to become the president of a college and thinking this isn't going to turn out well. no. he goes to lexington. one of his generals wrote to the trustees and said it's great you got lee to become president. he can be a great figure head. don't give him any work to do. put him on the letterhead. the trustees became the figure heads. robert e. lee ran the place. he rewrites the curriculum from top to bottom. he sidelines the old classical curriculum and starts bringing in modern subjects. he starts bringing in mechanical engineering. he starts bringing in journalism.
he does away with the student code of conduct. he says to all sturnts and he interviews every student who comes to washington college. he says there's 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 means. that means robert e. lee is the judge, jury and executioner of all student behavior. he takes control of everything in the college and you know the place where he's the best? fund raising. who every thought of robert e. lee as a developal officer. by the time lee dies in 1870, pe
has taken a college which is almost defunct and made it an educational power house. 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 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 want to spend time talking about the legacy of robert e. lee after his death. a great question from the audience here. he says his father from lexington, virginia. my dad was born in stone wall jackson house when it was the county hospital. he was raised sop as we're
approaching this examination of lost cause of lee or to be condemned as we start to figure out who the man is, they want to know how can i introduce my dad to more mod erp approach to the civil war that he might be receptive to. >> first of all, reflect on yourself and your own experience. all of us are the products of many times, places and things we have met. we are all of us the con influence of many strains. not all of which at the same time we're in 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 understand the people that we look at in history are not in that perspective for us. they too are the confluence of strains. they are part of all that they have met. when we understand oirss in this way then we look for something different. they are trying to find the markers that will point them in that direction. it's true there are in the past, there are monsters. there are people who have been
virtually ir redeemably evil. there's not that many monsters and we can be grateful for that. heaven knows the ones that have lived, the hitlers, the stalins. 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 will 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 some damage to them.
for i have come to look on flayture not as in the hour of thought lets youth but hearing the still sad music of humanity nor harsh, nor grating though with ample power. it won't be on our backs. >> let's end on one question that really gets where you have concluded your introduction to this talk. this is from john in the audience. he's talking specifically about coming back to the monument
point. there's a monument building in the 19 teens and 20s during the jim crow era and a monument building in massive resistance to civil rights following the brown versus board of education ruling. why would anyone expect today's african-americans to tolerate a memorial or marker of lee who fought to continue enslavement of many of their ancestors. it's no longer an academic discussion about history but also something that affects people in their every day life. how would you respond to that? >> i take this back to the whole question of what monuments are. monuments start out as memorials. i see this all the time in the battle of gettys burg. on that battlefield the majority
of the more than 1,000 monuments and markers remember the union regiments and units that fought there. there's some peculiar monuments. all right. you got a monument there and people look at it and they say 40 second new york. that was put up. the dedication ceremonies for that. preached the justice and right outness. we were in the right. it was a moral cause. it was marvelous and wonderful
and we embraced it. it's a memorial to our truth. that generation dies off followed by another generation. they're looking at it as a monument. they come with a guide book and say this is where the 42nd new york stood. there's the monument. it's a marker. back in 2017 after charlottesville, i clubbed together with one och my former student who is is a national
park service interpreter and we wrote an article which was published in civil war. in it we offered what we called a decision tree. what do you do about monuments especially monuments that talk about difficult people. we talked step by step and said is this doing this, that and the other. if so, take it down. if not, go to the next question. we went through that five step decision. can we tolerate this? what does it symbolize. ? are the symbols multiple. when we say that confederate monuments were put up in the jim
crow era, does that mean there were monuments to jim crow? some of them were. you might say there's an aspect of all of them that was. it was also a time when those vet raps of the confederate army were dying off. they wanted to leave some memory of what happened to them in their youth. there's also that part of it as well. then there's the whole business of do we worship success. are the only people who deserve a monument are people who are successful and wealthy and powerful or maybe the there room for monuments for people who lose, for the people you weep over. there's complexity built not only in the human nature but even into the monuments. it's trying to respect the complexity and move through it. we honor everybody's input and the decision may be at the end,
take it down. at that point it's come at the end of a process. we fight and tear and rip at each other even fp the monument is not there anymore, we'll keep at it because in the absence of the monument, the rage will be there. it's the rage that can please democracy. reason, however, reason and the pursuit of truth. that is the health of democracy. >> i feel like there's no better way to end this talk tonight. thank you for your attendance and your excellent questions.
i'm sorry we could not get to all of them. many of them are answered in alan's book. if you haven't purchased your copy, it's a fascinating study that will take you through his life from start to finish. you'll learn something you didn't know. thank you for joining us this evening. we appreciate your time. thank you and best of luck on the rest of your tour. >> thank you so much. thank you for enabling this. i hope to see you soon in the wonderful city of atlanta.
president ronald reagan talked about his work after taking off to restore the economy. his vision for u.s. soviet relations, the assassination attempt that left him seriously wounded. here is a portion of that interview. >> i was going to ask about the day you were shot at the hill. that solidiied your popularity. do you agree? >> the only unique thing about that is i walked into the
emergency room and i said i had trouble breathing. i didn't know i had been shot. i thought the secret serviceman jumped on my back and done the damage. i thought he had broken a rib. when i started to spit blood, i thought the rib punctured a lung. >> when were you first aware what happened? >> when they got my clothes peeled off of me, including cutting off a suit i was wearing for the first time. brand new suit. they found there's a wound under my arm where the bullet hit me there. i was not aware of it. what had happened is the bullet hit off the side of the car. i was coming to the car. went through the space between the door, the hinge space and caught me right here. >> watch the full interview and other presidential history programs any time at cspan.org/history. our guest today, i want to introduce our guest