Skip to main content

tv   Life and Career of Godfrey Weitzel  CSPAN  May 30, 2015 1:59pm-3:06pm EDT

1:59 pm
>> you are watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming of american history every week and on c-span 3. follow us on twitter for information on our schedule about going -- of upcoming programs and to keep up with the latest history news. next on american history tv, author william quatmin on union major general godfrey whitesell -- weitzel.
2:00 pm
he discusses his involvement in the fall of richmond in 1865. the museum of the confederacy hosted this event. [applause] mr. quatman: mr. quatman: a thank you for joining me. it is a visiting story the story that very few civil war buffs know. i've given this talk all over the country and people are surprised, they have not heard of him before. over the next hour i will tell you why he was chosen to enter richmond 150 years ago today. you may remember his name when you walk out of here. the book is actually on sale upstairs in the gift shop. i will be doing a book signing upstairs. if you have a copy of the book there is time to get one.
2:01 pm
richmond was captured april 3, 1865. what an understatement that is to capture the historic event that happened 150 years ago today. i got interested in this project 12 years ago when i was going through my grandfather's family archive and memoirs and came across this entry. my father's uncle was a general in the civil war. my grandfather was born in the united states in ohio. his parents were immigrants. his parents died at a young age when george was 18 months old. he was adopted and the family name was changed. i'm a blood wetiitzel. -- i'm a blood weitzel.
2:02 pm
we have weitzel's in the confederate white house. we have some weitzels here today. probably more than in 150 years. welcome. this is major general godfrey weitzel. died at age 49 years old. he was born in germany, a small town on the french-german border. like many german immigrants, they to cincinnati, ohio to a neighborhood the called over the rhine. it reminded them of the rhine river valley, full of steamships and steeples. today if you go there it looks like it did 150 years ago. still preserved. the neighborhood is still home to german restaurants.
2:03 pm
you can picture what it looks like back in the day. his father's name was ludwig. the name was changed to a more american sounding name, lewis. he owned a grocery store in the over the rhine neighborhood. gottsfried, the german name, and the younger son the father louis, became active in politics and cincinnati. he was a democrat and was very influential in the neighborhood. he actually became a member of the school board, so he achieved some status. his son was a bright young boy.
2:04 pm
he was tall for his age, and in the cincinnati school district he attended high school and was top of his class and all classes his senior year. he caught the attention of some of the leaders of the german community there, and they said "this young boy needs the best education we can get him," but as a grocer, the father could not afford a good college for him, so the plan was to get him admitted to west point. west point was a reeducation and -- a free education and the best education a young boy could receive. with the help of some congressman from ohio, germans that were influential, the application process started to get gottfried to west point. i want to step back a bit and mention lewis. the brothers were inseparable. in doing research recently, i stumbled onto a photograph of gottfried's younger brother.
2:05 pm
i was able to identify him in many pictures of godfrey on the battlefield. you see him with general butler. right behind him is his younger brother. at fort harrison, you see godfrey, who was 6-foot-4, by the way, his younger brother sitting beside him. at petersburg after the war, when godfrey was relocated from richmond to petersburg, we see lewis off to the right. i've studied this picture a hundred times. the much larger photograph with the officers standing in formal poses except the young guy on on the right, slouching down on the ground. i wondered why this guy was slouching, and it was not until a few weeks ago i spread out this photograph and realized he was holding a dog.
2:06 pm
after the fall of richmond and bombardment of petersburg, you wonder what this puppy might have heard and encountered on the battlefield. the youngest cadet, godfrey is accepted to west point. he was born november 1, 1835. he is 14 years old when he is accepted to west point. the problem is you have to be 16 to get in to west point, so they they fibbed a bit about his age. at this point, he changes his name to godfrey, and his father, louis weitzel, signs the letter to send his son to west point. godfrey says goodbye to his family, takes a steamship and from there probably caught a stagecoach and maybe a train to new york city. at new york city, he would have caught another steamer of the hudson river to west point, this curve in the river where they formed the military academy high
2:07 pm
on the banks of the hudson river. fascinating culture up there. probably cannons being tired -- fired off. godfrey shows up, this young 15-year-old from cincinnati, the youngest cadet all the years he was on campus. you get a feel for what was it looks like. godfreid may be in the crowd here somewhere. i don't know, but i like to think that he is. they were hazed by the upperclassman. the photograph shows one of the upperclassman cadets training them in formation. this was drawn by one of godfrey godfreid's classmates. class of 1855 had a young man who was not much of a student, but he was a great artist, and his name was james mcneill whistler.
2:08 pm
17-year-old cadet and in the same class as weitzel. people discovered what a great artist this young cadet was, and he ended up doing the graduation booklet cover for the seniors that year. my favorite is a four-part series whistler did showing a two-hour haze of the cadets on guard duty. the first half hour followed by the second half-hour, all of finally the fourth half-hour. [laughter] mr. quatman: whistler had a problem with conduct an received a lot of demerits. he knew to expose in, and those a science exam where he could in a wide silicon as a gas instead of an element. many years later, after he was expelled from west point, he said if silicon was a gas, he would have been a major general
2:09 pm
one day. we all know the painting of his mother, whistler's mother. the secretary of war at this time was jefferson davis, oddly enough. as secretary of war, he was in charge of the military. not a military position, but a civilian administrative decision. the years that weitzel was at west point, jefferson davis was secretary of war. the superintendent was robert e lee. the lee family would host cap connect at their home on sunday afternoon and entertain the boys and try to teach them some manners. from time to time, mrs. lee would invite some of the girls from the community to entertain some of the boys. some of the memoirs say how awkward it was between the young
2:10 pm
cadets and the young girls, but lee took note of the young cadets who were doing well in school and took note of this tall boy, godfreid weitzel. godfreid was one of the top students in his class all four years. this is the grade from his junior year. the number one position was held by cyrus comstock from massachusetts. godfreid weitzel was in third place by the end of their junior year. comstock was 20 when he entered west point. official records say weitzel was 16, but we know he was 15. even though he was five years younger, he was nipping at the heels of cyrus comstock. weitzel had only 60 merits for the entire year his junior year, pretty remarkable feat at west point -- weitzel had six demerits. you can see below him, ebenezer had 100 demerits. you were a member of what they call the century club. if you had 200, you were expelled from the academy. by senior year, weitzel was still one of the top cadets, and comstock still had the top position.
2:11 pm
number one in almost every class. weitzel graduated number two in their class, still with one demerit less than comstock. robert e lee also graduated number two in his class. top cadets got the best assignments out of west point. it was an engineering school and the engineers were assembled in what is called the corps of engineers. today, we hear about the army corps of engineers and think of them or civil projects, but this is when army corps consisted of engineer graduates from west point. weitzel plus first assignment out of west point was to new orleans -- weitzel's first assignment out of west point was to new orleans. he was assigned to work under major pgt beauregard. beauregard was busy at work in new orleans on several projects and needed a young assistant, so
2:12 pm
this right, young, german native from cincinnati shows up in new orleans. he takes a steamship from his family home down the mississippi river to new orleans and shows up in a city very different than the one he has been in before. keep in mind, he grew up in the north and probably did not see many black people growing up here and probably none at west point other than the servants, so it's a very different city. beauregard's fast at work on the customhouse on canal street. if you have been to new orleans, the customhouse is a massive structure taking up an entire city block. weitzel helped beauregard on finishing up the customhouse project. the other project that maybe is more important to our story is to know for about 40 miles down the mississippi river that guarded the approach to new orleans from the gulf of mexico.
2:13 pm
one was fort jackson on the west side. the other was fort saint philip on the east side. the mississippi river takes an s-curve. any ship would have to slow down to take that turn, so they perched two forts on either side of that curve so they could pummel any ships with cannon fire on the way up. weitzel spent four years here, 40 miles away from new orleans for most of his time. he draws every day, every doorway, every wall and writes a letter to cyrus comstock saying he is bored to tears. he's done nothing but draw every day in triplicate every single detail of these forts. when he has downtime, he goes to the bayous and hunts ducks which he enjoyed doing. those four years, learning every inch of these two forts and learning the back by use of fort saint philip became the most
2:14 pm
important thing to launch his career in the military. weitzel gets another letter saying, "your assignment to new orleans is over, and you are assigned as an assistant professor to west point," so in august 1859, he takes a steamer up to west point. he meets a young girl, german girl, 17 years old, the daughter of the owner of a beer house and coffeehouse in cincinnati. luisa and godfrey married. two days after his 24th birthday. the couple spends their honeymoon briefly and makes their way up to best point where he is assigned as assistant professor. thanksgiving day, three weeks to the day of their wedding, luisa is fixing thanksgiving dinner
2:15 pm
for her young husband, the assistant professor, and a spark pops out of the fireplace and catches her hoop skirt on fire. luisa is engulfed in flames. a a and dies within an hour and a her husband's arms. godfrey has to send a telegram home to her parents that their only daughter has perished at west point. he is so distraught with grief as you can imagine, that he is given a year off to mourn by the superintendent of the academy, and godfrey goes to europe for a year. he studies german engineering projects and takes time to mourn and get his head back in the game, as it were. the year he is gone is very important here in the states. november 1859, from louisa's funeral to november 1860 is pivotal because what is going on here is the election. abraham lincoln is running for president against three southerners.
2:16 pm
there's concern in the south that if a northerner from illinois is elected president, what will that do to some of the southern traditions? mainly, what will it do to property rights and the rights to own slaves? beauregard puts his hat in the nomination to be superintendent at west point. he wants to move from new orleans to west point. he writes a letter and rights to weitzel to ask him to help him petition for the job at west point. lincoln is elected. a few facts and want to go over on the timeline here -- southerners begin to seize all the federal forts in the south except fort monroe in virginia fort sumter in south carolina,
2:17 pm
and fort pickens off the coast of california. december 20, south carolina secedes, followed by mississippi, florida, alabama, georgia. on january 23, beauregard is appointed superintendent of west point. a major from the louisiana is appointed superintendent of the west point military academy in new york. some begin to think that's a bad idea when on january 26, louisiana secedes from the union. beauregard writes that he would not have taken up arms against his country even in light of secession and less war broke out. the next day, the secretary of war is indicted for treason. he has been sending arms to the southern federal forts, and there was concern he knew they would be captured by southerners and was helping supply the south for the war broke out. how about this appointment of a louisiana major as superintendent at west point? not such a good idea. january 28, beauregard's appointment is revoked. he holds the record today for shortest tenure as superintendent -- five days.
2:18 pm
he is insulted they would revoke his superintendency, so he goes to richmond and volunteers his services to be a brigadier in the confederate army. lincoln is going to be inaugurated in washington. at west point, there's a call to gather a group of cadets to be bodyguards for the lincoln inauguration. dr. weitzel, as assistant professor, sits down with a contingent of engineers soldiers to guard lincoln at his inauguration. on march 4, 1861, as a huge crowd assembles in washington, there are bodyguards all along the parade route watching from the point of a gun or dagger or anything that might be assault on the president. is the first time godfrey gets his eyes on abraham lincoln. april 12, fort sumter
2:19 pm
first shots are fired. the war begins. we all know who fire the first shots, right? a fellow who just got his superintendency revoked. fort begins -- pickens is still under union control. engineer soldiers are assigned from washington quickly to get down to fort pickens to hold that forth for the union. weitzel knows about reinforcing forts from his times in new orleans, and fort pickens is held in union possession all through the war. up north, there's a plan to strangle the confederacy. the concept was to blockade all the port that would supply munitions and clothing to the confederacy, and the major point that needs to be blocked as the one in new orleans, the largest city in the south that controls the gulf of mexico's entrance into the mississippi river.
2:20 pm
mississippi being the backbone of the confederacy. we have officer david porter president lincoln, secretary of the navy gideon welles secretary of state william seward, general george mcclellan, secretary of war edwin stanton. they begin to talk about this need to seize new orleans. a plan that assault. predominately, they plan to assault fort saint philip and fort jackson. the problem is these are yankees from the north and they do not know those forts. someone says there's a young lieutenant in washington right now who knows everything about this two forts. so the call goes out to find weitzel and bring him right away.
2:21 pm
he shows up with these the wigs -- bigwigs of the federal government. they ask what he knows, and he asks what they need to know. he knows exactly how to take the two forts because he knows their weaknesses, so they make weitzel the chief engineer of the mission against new orleans. this twentysomething has the key to unlock the two forts, if you will. a large contingent of ships, and the fleet sales around the tip of florida to a staging area just off the coast of new orleans. weitzel tells admiral farragut how to capture the forts. the plan was that admiral porter -- flag officer porter at the time -- would bomb the forts from several miles away with mortar ships and would reduce them to rubble, and farragut would sail his fleet right past. it did not work out that way.
2:22 pm
after two days bombing the forts, they were hardly harmed at all. weitzel did a pretty good job reinforcing them. he says he has another plan. run close to the fort, and run up the river because these guns will shoot two miles away and they do not ratchet down very quickly. as you run close to the fort they will fire over you, i'll come off the backside with soldiers in long books and canoes and ladders and scale the wall and surprise the confederates as they are looking on the riverside. farragut says, "let's try it." farragut and the fleet of steamships and admiral porter, general benjamin franklin butler is assigned to command the army forces that would occupy the forts and occupied new orleans after it has been seized.
2:23 pm
the ship started up river. farragut does what weitzel says. weitzel comes around the backside with a fleet of long boats and canoes and ladders. after an hour and a half while -- battled that rages on the seaside, the soldiers scaled the backside and capture the two forts. with the two forts silenced, farragut sails his fleet up the river and anchors just off new orleans. general butler marches into the city with history to occupy the city. weitzel says we should separate headquarters from the customhouse. he knows that building pretty well, too. he's the only one in the mission that knows new orleans. him most of the men in new orleans had left. what's left behind is the women. they we have this occupation of federal soldiers. whenever a federal soldier walked down the street, he would be insulted by the women of new orleans.
2:24 pm
some of them were so brazen, they would spit on them. this reaches pinnacle when a woman dumped her chamber pot off her balcony in the french quarter onto a federal officer -- admiral farragut. he barges in to general butler's headquarters and says he needs to put a stop of it or he will. the butler things about a four minute and sit down at his desk to write general order number 28. let me read it to you -- as the offices of the soldiers of the united states have been subject to repeated insults from the women calling themselves ladies of new orleans, a return for the most scrupulous, non-interfering courtesy on our part -- he gives this order to the chief of staff.
2:25 pm
butler's intent was that the ladies would not want to be considered ladies of the evening and would conduct themselves in a more proper manner. butler is seen as a demon of the south at this time. word travels north into louisiana that wives and daughters have been turned into prostitutes in new orleans. butler is seen as the beast of new orleans. that was his nickname throughout the war -- beast butler. he was so hated in the south that chamber pots had his image painted in the bottom. you can still find these chamber pots in museums. i own one i got a new portland -- in new orleans in a museum last summer.
2:26 pm
they were treated with absolute civility for the remainder of the occupation. although the union only controls a pocket of louisiana, they said they needed a military governor of louisiana, so george foster shepley, a general from maine, is assigned to be the military governor of louisiana. we also need a mayor of new orleans. who should be the mayor of new orleans? general butler says godfrey weitzel. he knows most about the city and helped capture the city. godfrey, you are military mayor. he's mayor for a short time until the battle of baton rouge breaks out. while he's gone, this an interim mayor. when he comes back, he is mayor again of new orleans. if you look at the roster of mayors of new orleans, you will find numbers 21 and 23 are godfrey weitzel. ray nagin is also on the list a little further down.
2:27 pm
there's a bayou that runs up the mississippi river that runs parallel to the mississippi down into the gulf of mexico. two confederate generals that occupied the region south of the mississippi. a general is killed in baton rouge, general williams. general butler says we need a new general to fill the gap, and i need a new brigade. at age 26, he becomes at the time the youngest federal general in the union army.
2:28 pm
not only that, but what look assigns to him a group of all black soldiers called the louisiana native guard. these were freed slaves who came to general butler to fight for the north, and he put them in a regiment called the louisiana native guard and assign them to brigadier butler. he takes his men after several months of training in new orleans up the river. he engages them in several clashes and achieves his first victory. the battle of the georgia landing, 86 federal casualties 229 confederate. he is a brigadier gaining a reputation already as a pretty good officer. after the confederates are flushed out of the region, slaves begin to leave their
2:29 pm
plantation homes and begin to tag along with weitzel's brigade. he has an army on the move and now has a gathering of several hundred slaves who are following him from day to day. he's not quite sure what to do with them, so he writes a letter to general butler and says we have this phenomenon happening and he's not sure what to do with them. a cartoon was published in the paper. a little offensive, but i will show it to you. the caption is -- the man who won the elephant at the raffle. general butler says the question is -- what am i to do with the creature? in the south, they consider slaves to be property. although the fugitive slave act ordered them to return slaves to their owners, louisiana seceded, so they are no longer protected by the fugitive slave act, so he was to seize these slaves as property, and he coined the term contraband of war. for them to work as he needed to, but it was really his problem how to handle these.
2:30 pm
jefferson davis, outraged at a couple of things butler did -- what is the order against the women of new orleans, and the other is he hung a man for tearing down the u.s. flag. another woman who wore some bones as a decoration on her dress saying there were bones of a union soldier was sentenced to prison. on christmas eve, 1852, geoff davis issues in order that says benjamin butler is to be a felon deserving of capital punishment -- jeff davis. he can be immediately executed by hanging if captured, and it did not stop there. he went all to say all
2:31 pm
commissioned officers in the command of butler shall be criminals deserving of death. godfrey weitzel, who was the young mayor, then turned brigadier, now in command of slaves bearing arms is also a commissioned officer. if he's captured, butler will be hung and weitzel will be executed on the order of jefferson davis. i'm going to fast forward some of the story here to get to the fall of richmond, but the siege of fort hudson was the longest siege of the war. it took place on a bluff just baton rouge. one of these s curves in the mississippi river where the confederate had a stronghold, 70 feet high on the bluffs where any federal ship trying to pass would be pummeled with cannon fire from up above. the union realizes they have new orleans, but they got to capture vicksburg and fort hudson to really control the mississippi. weitzel's given command of the second brigade, first division occupying the far right of war hudson.
2:32 pm
after a 48-day siege and several battles where weitzel's men suffered many casualties vicksburg falls. when vicksburg falls, the commanding officer of the confederacy of fort hudson realizes grant is now free to send all his troops down to fort hudson, so the white flag is flown over fort hudson, and fort hudson surrenders. general nathaniel banks uses weitzel to accept surrender of fort hudson. he says weitzel has been more influential to the campaign than anyone else. weitzel humbly declines. the next day, he is sent to flush out taylor, who had crept back into the region. he engages in a second battle there, this one not so good. general tom green meets them head on. weitzel's first defeat. he is made a division commander. his next battle again did not go
2:33 pm
well. it's the river that separates louisiana from texas. it's a confederate held position. they tell weitzel to take a contingent of gunboats and transports to sabine and capture it, which should be child's play. weitzel had 2000 federal soldiers. fort sabine was guarded by 43 confederates. a couple of lucky shots -- maybe not lucky, but skilled shots -- right in the steam rollers of the first sheet of gunboats. they explode. they are stranded in the middle of the river right where weitzel was supposed to land. he looks off in the distance and decides to abandon the mission pulls out. the battle of sabine pass is part of the confederate legacy. at this point, weitzel is
2:34 pm
assigned up to virginia where butler is in charge of the department of north carolina. he is reunited with butler, who has been reassigned from new orleans up to virginia, and pgt beauregard, who was entrenched in a position called for drury -- fort drury at an area called to drury's bluff, about eight miles from here. again, one of those s curves where the confederates set up a strong position to stop any federals who might be foolish enough to try to assault richmond. morning of may 16, 1864, weitzel and his men are in position opposite beauregard, his former mentor, and weitzel gets an idea. he captures nine miles of telegraph wire to break up
2:35 pm
communication between richmond and petersburg. he goes to general butler and says he has a wild idea. let's take the telegraph wire wrap it around stumps and trees about knee-high. in the morning, if overgaard -- beauregard tries a sneak attack, they will trip over the wires, and we will be able to surprise them. butler always like crazy ideas so he approves of it. the next morning, they hear groans and moans as the confederates are assaulting and trip over the wires. weitzel opens up a torrent of lead and many balls. he writes that we peppered them with gunfire and killed them like partridges. they piled up in heaps. although it was a confederate victory, that battle goes on weitzel's scorecard maybe as one against his former superintendent. the confederates called a dam yankee trick. he was promoted to major general
2:36 pm
at age 28, continuing his rapid escalation through the ranks of the union army. he becomes a commander. fort harrison is just outside of richmond. the ruins are still there. you can go to see them, and i would encourage you to do that if you have some downtime. on september 29, the union army captures fort harrison, a very strong position outside of richmond. he's critically injured in the battle, so another major general is needed to take over the 18th corps, and who do you suppose they picked? godfrey weitzel. he takes over the 18th core. he has only recently been made a major general, and now he is in charge of the 18th army corps. the next morning, september 30 lee realizes what a strong position this is, personally takes 10,000 troops from petersburg to richmond to try to capture fort harrison.
2:37 pm
three attempts, three surges at the fort, weitzel successfully holds his position all three times and beats his former superintendent in one battle at least at fort harrison. this is a photograph of weitzel and his staff at fort harrison. you can see he was 6'4". most of the men at the time were about 5'6", so he towered above them. he was made a full major general at age 29. all the black troops from the 10th and 18th corps are taken together to form the 25th army corps. it's the last corps formed, the only all-black corps formed during the war, and who do you suppose they chose to command it? godfrey weitzel.
2:38 pm
grant and lee are engaged in a standoff at petersburg. during the winter, grant realizes he has to keep lee penned in because in the spring, when the roads are passable, lee might try to escape and if he gets out of petersburg, it may be a long time before they can end this thing. weitzel is given command of all the union troops outside of richmond. 24th army corps, which is white, and the 25th, the all-black corps. richmond was a very fortified place, especially approaching from the north, south, and east. weitzel built three observation towers to see the trains moving in and out, try to assess when the time might be to find a weakness in richmond's guard. april 1, general grant since a
2:39 pm
telegraph saying, "i need you to keep long street pinned in. i'm afraid he will central to come down to petersburg to help reinforce lee. i need to keep him pinned in. in the morning, i need you to make an assault against long street's fortified position." long street was also a west point graduate and had constructed an impressive resume. obstructions like this were about 100 yards in front of the fort itself. any assault would have to go through these first, usually with an axe before you get there with a gun. the worst assignment in the unit army was being handed and ask -- an axe instead of a gun. behind that was the fortress itself. pointed spikes were jammed into the ground to prevent a cavalry assault or slow down any union infantry trying to approach the fort. in between these logs were landmines that would explode under five pounds of pressure.
2:40 pm
behind that is a deep ditch. then you've got the earthen wall , the rampart, behind which would be confederate sharpshooters picking off any union assault. this is the fort that grant tells weitzel to assault in the morning, not intending to capture it, but just to slow long street. you can see the ruins of these forts today outside richmond. after a full day of trying to plan this assault, wiesel knows it's a suicide mission. he gets a telegraph message from grant later that night after midnight which says, "you need not assault in the morning. unless you think you can make a breakthrough. i've got a pretty good thing going a petersburg, and within a few days, i think i will be able to send you all the troops you need." it's like a reprieve from the governor. he considered back and it doesn't have to assault that fort in the morning.
2:41 pm
lee telegraphs davis on april 2 and says, "i see no prospect doing more than holding our position here until night. i'm not sure if i can do that. i'm vital preparations to be -- i advise all preparations being made to leave richmond tonight. davis holds a cabinet meeting. they decide to evacuate richmond. the federals are coming. lee's line has been broken. we know he has got to move out. the tobacco warehouse, the cotton warehouse was set on fire under orders of general yule to prevent any of the supplies falling into enemy hands. fire expands throughout the city. the armory is on fire. the ironworks explosion in the city. richmond is ablaze. the wealthy escape over the bridge to manchester.
2:42 pm
confederate soldiers make their way out of the city. davis and his cabinet take the train to danville. the burn district, we still call it here in richmond, was left with scars from the fire of that night. back in the union camp, general shepley is doing some paperwork. he begins to hear explosions just eight miles away. weitzel is going to bed in his tent. he comes to the side and against the see an orange glow above the sky. he realizes what is happening. confederates have abandoned richmond. some of the pickets have come in with prisoners they have captured, and the prisoners have report they have been left out there with the replacements because the army is pulling back from richmond. he goes in to tell godfrey wiesel, who is sunday sleep, and -- sound asleep.
2:43 pm
and the only way to wake him up is to pull him off his bunk. he shouts in his ear, "general we can take richmond in the morning." he says you must be dreaming. he sees the glow above the sky and here's the explosions in richmond. he says that you're into the ground, you can hear lee's cannons rolling off. he says get the 24th and 25th coreps ready. shepley says they are ready and waiting for orders. with that, weitzel mounts up and process begins to occupy richmond. he first since 40 massachusetts cavalrymen as an advanced team into the city at a quick gallup . stevens sees a carriage with a
2:44 pm
white flag. he stops the carriage of the mayor of richmond with a surrender note written on a piece of wallpaper. hastily written that says, "we are threatening the city of richmond. we ask your protection for the women and children and the property in richmond which is ablaze." stevens rushes into richmond. this thing he does is go to the capital building where he hoists down the confederate colors and hoists the flag, the first union colors. weitzel's were settled and ready to enter richmond. everyone wants to make history as the first union regiment or first union core into richmond. weitzel says each group will take a different road in and converge at rocket landing. the different groups all take roads and.
2:45 pm
there's a bit of a foot race on some of the regiments where two meet, and when group would rush across the field trying to beat the other into richmond. as the troops enter, the 25th corps enters first. followed by godfrey whitesell -- weitzel. explosions are heard in the city. the city is on fire. the liberated slaves come out and greet the union troops as liberators. many drawings have been made of this scene of the federals entering, and you can always find godfrey weitzel. he did not dress in full major general's attire. here he is, shown behind a band from his 25th corps playing union songs as they march in in orderly procession into the burning capital.
2:46 pm
they stop at capitol square, which is the only place that people can get a breath of fresh air. the poor people of richmond have gone there with their belongings. at capitol square, another flag is placed above the capital building by a young 18-year-old named jonathan livingston to pester who kept in his satchel the flag from new orleans that flew over the state house in new orleans. he rushes to the capital building, hoists the union flag, the stars & stripes. that is what it looked like above the capital building that day, and it still flies above the capital building today we took at the telegraph off.
2:47 pm
it's as we took possession of richmond at 8:15 this morning. telegraph goes to news services in the east, and weitzel becomes an overnight hero. they are celebrating in the streets of new york, a little -- philadelphia washington as , word spread that richmond has fallen. the papers begin to announce that richmond did ours -- is ours. what an irony that is to see freed slaves wearing the blue uniform much into the capital of the confederacy. weitzel enters the rebel capital yesterday morning. weitzel's negro troops occupy the city. general weitzel occupies his mansion in richmond. as the advanced team goes in they give word that the confederate white house has been set aside by president davis under special orders that it should be given as a residence to the union general. they don't know who it will be, but it happens to be weitzel. weitzel and shepley show up at
2:48 pm
the confederate white house, greeted by the housekeeper who says president davis left in such a haste he did not eat his meal and asks if they are hungry. they sit down in jefferson davis' dining room and eat the meal that was prepared for jefferson davis. day two. abraham lincoln knows the end is near. grant has been giving him hints. we are making good success here, i want you to come down. when he gets word at city point that richmond has fallen lincoln said he had been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is gone. i want to see richmond. the next day, he goes on a ship up river to richmond. he takes his son with him. his son, tad. it is his 12th birthday, but
2:49 pm
it's a very small contingent that arrive in richmond. lincoln arrives early. weitzel gets word the president is coming but not for several hours. they made better time than expected, and when lincoln arrives, he is greeted by slaves who see lincoln coming up river. word begins to spread, and they gathered to greet the liberator. little tad, 12 years old, always wears a miniature union uniform in the pictures you see of him. always dressed like a miniature soldier. lincoln marches through the streets for a 12 mile walk. no official greeting. lincoln has 12 bodyguards, 12 sailors admiral porter brought along with him. his 12-year-old son, admiral porter, and one bodyguard. as he walks through the streets, he is greeted again by the slaves. great praise, great emotion shown by lincoln as he enters richmond. this has been depicted by many artists.
2:50 pm
as he gets to the confederate white house, an orderly runs up to the virginia state house. he rushes in and says, "the president is at the white house. he has arrived early." weitzel finishes what he is doing, gets in a carriage and rushes over to the white house. as he rushes in making apologies to president lincoln, the two of them sit down to business. the story goes that lincoln asks weitzel, "who is here besides us?" weitzel says, "it's just us, mr. president." lincoln wants to look around. weitzel explains everything that has been told to him by the housekeeper. lincoln says this must've been the president's desk with the -- where he issued all his orders. imagine the irony of that -- 48 hours after jefferson davis has left, there is lincoln sitting in his easy chair at his desk. there is a request, a knock on the door, a former supreme court
2:51 pm
judge, john campbell. campbell is from alabama. he is the assistant secretary of war, and although davis and his cabinet members have left for danville, campbell stays behind. he wants a meeting with president lincoln. lincoln says he will meet with him on the condition he shall have one friend with him and he may have a friend as well. campbell chooses general joseph anderson, who runs the federal ironworks and also stayed behind. lincoln chooses godfrey weitzel as his second, his witness. there are two meetings. one takes place at the confederate white house. the other takes place the next day on the ship. at the meeting, campbell says, "mr. president, i have an idea for you -- allow the virginia legislature to come back to richmond for one meeting. they have all fled. give them safe passage. allow them to be one time, and the purpose of the meeting is to rejoin the union. if virginia rejoins the union,
2:52 pm
lee will have to lay down arms. there will be no reason to fight any longer. we will end this war with the stroke of a pen rather than the blast of a musket." lincoln concedes. he goes back to city point and into washington. the next day, the newspapers and all of virginia allow safe passage of all the virginia legislators to come back to richmond. a few begin to trickle into richmond for the meeting. before lincoln leaves, weitzel and lincoln take a ride around town. lincoln wants to see the city. on the carriage ride, weitzel asked him what he should do with regard to the conquered people. lincoln says he does not wish to tell what to do but if he were
2:53 pm
in his place, he would let them up easy. let them up easy. when lincoln gets back to washington, secretary of war stanton says this is a crazy idea allowing the rebel government to reconvene in richmond. who knows what they might come up with? he counteracts the order and denies that lincoln ever issued such an order. he spread the rumor this was weitzel's doing and lincoln never would have authorized this. the next controversy that happens is april 9, is palm sunday. in the episcopal church at that time in the confederate states they would read a prayer for jefferson davis every sunday. it's palm sunday, and the ministers come to meet with weitzel and ask what they should do tomorrow about church service? weitzel says we cannot pray for jefferson davis. how about a prayer for those in
2:54 pm
authority? yet stanton in d.c. says they have to pray for abraham lincoln. they've been praying for davis all these years. they must pray for lincoln. weitzel's remembers lincoln's advice to let them up easy. he does not order a prayer for lincoln, only one for those in authority. stanton gets word. it's the second chink in weitzel's army. -- armor. he begins to lose confidence in him as a firm leader. lincoln rights to weitzel and said he did not remember hearing prayers spoken of, but has no doubt that he acted in an honorable way. lee surrenders to grant. because of the surrender, the reconvening of the legislature is a moot point. lincoln rights to weitzel and says is there any sign of the legislature coming together on my letter?
2:55 pm
if there is no such sign, there is a moot lee has surrendered. point. virginia does not need to rejoin the union at this point. stanton has lost total confidence in weitzel. he writes to grant. april 14 was good friday. today is good friday. easter a little early this year or was late that year. general ord comes in and resumes command of the army of the james, and weitzel is directed to move his black troops to petersburg. before he leaves, however, he gets word that robert e lee has returned home. it's five days after the surrender, lee returns to his home on franklin street. thomas graves writes that he goes to the confederate home of robert e lee on franklin street.
2:56 pm
he knocks on the door and fitzhugh lee answers the door. he's the nephew of robert e lee a brigadier general, and a classmate of godfrey weitzel. not the same class, but they were contemporaries. graves announces he is here from weitzel to tell lee to take what he needs. fitzhugh lee is touched by this that he has to walk across the room to regain his composure. lee speaks to his nephew, and the nephew comes back to the aid and says, "send general weitzel our love. tell him thank you, but we don't need the money. we would like safe passage for the lee women who need to come
2:57 pm
back to richmond." weitzel grants safe passage, and the lee women are back in the home within the day. the same day in washington, lincoln decides to go see a play. it has been a tough week for him. it's been a tough four years. as he sits in the booth watching the play, the president is assassinated by john wilkes booth. weitzel resumes his career in the corps of engineers. he dies in philadelphia, pennsylvania, of typhoid fever. he marries a second time. they have three children. two die in infancy. one daughter, irene, survives. weitzel's grave is in a modest plot in cincinnati, ohio. in spring grove cemetery. the day i went looking for it i , had a hard time finding it. it's a small slab with his name birthdate, date of his death. years later, someone etched the word general, perhaps as an
2:58 pm
afterthought. not to think the military forgot about his accomplishments. the arlington cemetery ironic as , it is, the former home of robert e the, you will find weitzel drive is one of the main roads leading to the cemetery today. at a gate on the east entrance to arlington cemetery, two columns erected. although his grave site in cincinnati is modest and humble, the army honored him in arlington cemetery. so that is right at an hour, and it's the whole story of godfrey weitzel and how he ended up leading the troops into richmond 150 years ago today. thank you very much. [applause] mr. quatman: i'd be happy to answer any questions. yes, sir. >> i'm curious -- does anyone know what happened to cyrus comstock, the guy who was first in his class?
2:59 pm
mr. quatman: comstock ended up becoming ulysses s. grant's chief engineer on his staff, and comstock and weitzel ended up being paired together at the battle of fort fisher. off the coast of wilmington, north carolina. they were two assault, christmas day of 1864 and january 15 1865. weitzel led the first in december with comstock as grant's eyes and ears to watch what was going on. the first assault was unsuccessful. the second assault was led by general terry. it was successful. comstock was voted brigadier general for that event. comstock married. he lost his wife. they ended up reconnecting at the great lakes where he was in charge of designing lighthouses and dams. today, there's a comstock prize in physics given out annually to budding young scientist.
3:00 pm
good question. good question. >> president lincoln gave his bodyguard a pass to go to richmond on april 11. have you come across -- is there any discussion about a meeting with him and whitepool? mr. quatman: i would not be so i a did, that i have not come up ross -- come across as records. >> i'd like to know the relationship between the slaves and the troops that weitzel lead. mr. quatman: his white troops wrote glowing remarks about him
3:01 pm
as a benevolent commanding officer. i have to believe he was equally benevolent to the black troops. he wrote a letter to the troops about his badge. i don't have it here with me, but they talk about wearing this with honor, that 30,000 freemen would take their place in history on the banks of the james during this final campaign. if that is any indication of the way he spoke to them, the way he wrote to them, he was a very kind leader. it is in the book, by the way. it's for sale upstairs. [laughter] i'll be happy to sign your book afterwards. i want to welcome the weitzel's here from ontario. thank you for coming. [applause] >> is a passion observer,, i
3:02 pm
think that you have carried on very well. mr. quatman: i have been told that. yes. >> it seems that the general got caught in the crosshairs of the politics between stanton and lincoln. did he ever recover from that? mr. quatman: he never really did. he was tarnished in the northern press for being drummed out of richmond for mismanagement and incompetency. he was called a float, even in cincinnati. influential judges and congressmen were asked to clear his name, especially in the germany committee.
3:03 pm
despite that, he buried the burden of the last few days where stanton denounced him as incompetent. we knew the story, that he was following lincoln's orders. >> [indiscernible] mr. quatman: about weitzel? iran a -- i ran across a point where he said grant did not blame me for what happened for the bad press. he is. it isn't butler's memoirs -- he is in butler's memoirs as well. other questions? final comments?
3:04 pm
>> thank you very much for being here. one more reminder. we do have the book upstairs and he will be signing those books. thank you all for coming today. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] >> you are watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter @c spanhistory or a schedule of upcoming programs and to keep up with the latest history news. >> 70 years ago in 1945 nazi germany surrendered to allied forces, ending world war ii in europe.
3:05 pm
a panel of veterans discuss their wartime memories. topics included harry truman, who followed franklin roosevelt into the president's office after fdr died. posted by the kansas city library, this event is about an hour. >> a catastrophe of almost unimaginable scale, world war ii left more than 60 million human beings dead, or three of every 100 people on earth. it was an event that stamped the lives of every american, especially the lives of young men and women who served in the u.s. armed forces. world war ii called for sacrifice from every social stratum and every walk of life. an entire generation answered the call bravely, even eagerly.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on