tv Human Side of Civil War Leadership CSPAN August 16, 2017 9:46am-10:58am EDT
viewer reaction to this rare solar eclipse. live coverage on monday starting at 7:00 a.m. eastern. listen live on the free cspan radio app. now author ralph peters on the human side of sefl wveral c war leaders. he looks at the impact of personalities, impacts and families on their leadership abilities. this was part of a day long seminar hosted in farmville, virginia. it's just over an hour. our next speaker is ralph peters. mr. peters is an author of civil war novels, a number of which
are for sale at the lobby. a tittle like the dammed at petersburg and prior to that he previously wrote six civil war mysteries covering the first two years of the war. pete peters an enlisted man and officer. he has written numerous works on strategy. he currently lives in warrenton. please welcome peters.
>> good morning, ladies and gentlemen. you know, you really should be outside on this beautiful day. it is amazing february weather. i'm glad you're here. first i have to get a commercial in not for my books but for one of the most important institutions, the national parks service. in these tu bu lant times the national park service already does more with less our national parks have an enormous backlog of maintenance that has to be done. their budget, in washington it's basically a lobbyist tip. when you speak to your representatives, local or
national, stick up for the national park service. they do great work and they have given us the opportunity to be here today. with that i will tell you -- i will talk about leadership. the human side of leadership in the civil war but i'm also starting with a bit and switch. there's something else i want to talk about to lead into that. that's context. there's so many marvellous civil war history and seminars and experts who were very generous with their time and wonderfully generous with me. what i find lacking is the greater human dimensions. we con sen strait on the campaigns and specific balts we some times forget or lose the feel or never have the feel of the complexity of their age. first of all, they didn't think of themselves as living in old
times. these people who fought the civil war have experienced perhaps the greatest technological revolution in all of human history, much more important than the revolution we all are focused on in our own lives today. and let me explain that a bit. these generations that fight the civil war have seen incredible revolutionary developments. they seem quaint to us now. let me talk about just a few of them that pushed them to the cusp of the modern era. the united states begins the war in 1861 as the old country and it ends the war in 1865 as a brand new country in multiple respects. but first of all, throughout human history, how fast could we
travel? we could travel at the speed of the human foot, maybe horse back or the back of a mule. later on by coach. if we had to go to sea to travel from europe to america, you depended on wind power. it could take six weeks, eight week weeks. four or five weeks was astonishingly good. suddenly in 1838 two ships race from england to manhattan harbor, the serious and the great western. and under steam power they have made it in about a week and a half. it opens a new age. the world does get smaller. by the civil war, steam powered vessels are going back and forth all the time. there's a world of commerce exploding. in the mid 1850s, steam powered u.s. naval ships have opened
japan under commodore perry. it's an age of globalization. perhaps even more important than the increased mobility at sea and woof course with the railroads -- you all understand the vital importance of railroads in the civil war and how that collapses distance. we row militanmanticize coach t it was hot and dusty. by the end of the civil war, if you're in the union occupation forces in northern alabama and you need a shipment of horses from western new york state, you can get them in a matter of days if everything's running smoothly. it's astonishing. again, the information revolution of the time, we were
the second nation on this earth to have universal or aspire to universal childhood education. the first was frederick the great's prussia in the 18th century. this leads to the age of the explosion of newspapers, an information explosion that's a really extraordinary and impressive. today we hear a great deal about fake news. brothers and sisters, fake news has always been with us. if you read the battle reports and campaign reports published during our civil war, it's just phenomenal. really? honestly the south did win that war? it's just -- human beings are human beings. the internet has certainly led
to a degradation in manners. no one could ever post anything on the internet without their real name. let me go back to the 19th century, the telegraph. suddenly with the telegraph i can communicate over thousands of miles in near realtime, as fast as it takes to type in the message and write it down by hand at the other end and then maybe run it across town a lawyer's office or a hotel. it's phenomenal. before the civil war there's a trans-atlantic -- london and new york can communicate by telegraph. but the cable breaks, as many of you know, it's not active during the civil war itself. when men go to war, not just officers but privates can leave
images behind. before -- how did you record how your loved ones looked? maybe you had a crude country painter come by and do something crude. but suddenly it's a democratization of memory. you have cheap means of communicating over thousands of miles. the cost of a trans-atlantic journey goes down, speed increases. newspapers are everywhere. society is suddenly literate. in 1861 at least four states in new england have literacy rates -- male adult literacy rates above 99%. the south doesn't. north carolina had around 72%. why does that matter? because the modern age is very much about education. you can be a brilliant,
wonderful infantry soldier in the army of northern virginia or the union army and be illiterate. but you can't be a supply sergeant and be illiterate. you can't be a first sergeant and be illiterate. there's so many things you need it for. one of the many ways the north won the civil war was with forms filled out in triplicate. it is fashionable to mock bureaucracy but mass armies are bureaucratic organizations. and any tour of the petersburg campaign or the pethat doesn't sitting point really misses a fundamental reason why the north won. and the north -- there's no city
in the entire south that can compete with boston, philadelphia or new york. manhattan already has a population of 810,000 people in 1860. and many of the farsighted southern leaders, urbane men of the world like wayne hampton, knew that war was a losing proposition. i'm getting ahead of myself because before i go to the human side of leadership, these revolution, one of information, travel, distances collapsing. it's an entirely new mindset. oh by the way, other things happened that we wouldn't regard as such a big deal but were. in the mid 1850s mrs. demerrest in new york invents the paper pattern for dress making. and it's a revolution to american women, because suddenly
you can buy these precut paper patterns. and a woman in minnesota, in rural minnesota, can order a pattern and let her think she's dressing in the latest styles from paris or london. those paper patterns are with us today. you still buy them. my mother-in-law is brilliant at it. she's a great seamstress and uses them. you have a revolution in even clothing. brooks brothers in lower manhattan is there, lord & taylor is there. other department stores are coming up. anybody here know where the word shoddy comes from? it was a new form of saving money by instead of wasting time sewing, you glued clothing together.
the union ordered 3,000 overcoats from brooks brothers and brooks brothers delivered them and when it rained, they fell apart. and that's why shoddy is such a pejorative term today. the coats didn't survive but obviously brooks bre s brothers. it's not just our country that's going through a revolution. the north is going through an industrial revolution and economics. it's a counter revolution. it's a desperate effort to make time standstill. but time stunt stand still. the economic structures of the south just don't work anymore in the modern age. in the south, again, the farsighted men and even men who'd become bitter southern partisans, robert e. lee, they know the institution of slavery
is doomed. they don't know how to get out of i.t. wade hampton's family has 2,000 slaves. wade hampton doesn't like slavery. he knows it's over. but the bank holds his paper. he's actually broke except for the slaves. his father is considered the richest man in the south. he was on paper but not really. there are all these turbulent dilemmas. meanwhile, the entire world is changing. london, the center of civil investigati -- civilization at that point, london begins the 1 s ths the 1 grimy london of charles dickens. but the end it's the modern world, urban renovation. people figure out oh yeah,
cholera is caused by infected water. we have this unfair picture of civil war doctors as brutal butchers. they weren't. in the beginning of the war, of course you hire some doctors who weren't very good and they get fired. the germ theory of disease is already being discussed among the better educated doctors. it's come up in budapest hungary a decade and a half before the war. the doctor realized during a fever that if after dissecting a corpse to find out what killed her, he washed his hands with lye soap before he went up and delivered a baby, the mother and child were more likely to survive. civil war doctors do their best. there's still some who poo poo the idea of germ theory, but the
younger ones accept it. why are they amputating all those limbs? because we don't have antibiotics. it's not just the speed required on the battlefield but it shattered bones. you can't put shattered bones back together. you're going to have terrible infections and the patient is probably going to die. cutting off limbs is about saving lives. aspirin hasn't yet been invented. in frontier, you all see those old john ford movies about the cavalry and the west. and there's always the drunken irish sergeant. drunkenness was a severe problem in the frontier army. it wasn't just because of the
boredom. because their teeth hurt. these guys had really bad teeth. tooth aches really really hurt. if you have a mouthful of rotting teeth, whiskey is helpful. europe is going under these literal revolutions in some case, rebellion against russia, russian occupation, 1863. a russian czar frees the serfs. lands in sicily and defeated 20,000 well armed regulars of the kingdom of sicily and accelerates the road to italian unification. germany is continuing its march toward unification. these men perceive their world as modern, just as we perceive ours as modern.
understand when i write these books, which they're technically fiction. they're very historically accurate. i prefer to call them dramatized history. i'm trying to get into the heads of men and women who fought or supported those who fought. it's important not just to see them in uniform. but what else were they like? what did they read? we have this picture of sto stonewall jackson as this fierce presbyterian. he was that, but he also loved shak shak sha shakespeare and milton. in the evening his first and then his second wife would read shakespeare to him. he was a sensitive man. before the war when he went on his tour of europe, he went to one single battlefield.
sto stonewall jackson went to look at churches and art. that's not how we think of him. one of his greatest officers henry kid douglas was a tough, somewhat arrogant, brave, talented young man. handsome as could be, really studly lady killer. his secret vice was reading what we today call bodice rippers, romantic novels written for women. when kid douglas would have a chance to raid a library in a plantation house, he wouldn't go for shakespeare or milton. he would go for the latest equivalent of danielle steele. on the subject of leadership, judge not lest ye be judged. it's so easy for us to look at those ice cold black and gray symbols on a white page and the
arrows advance and retreat and say, why on earth did general x or colonel y do something that stupid? well, the short answer is he didn't know it was going to be stupid. he may not have slept for three days. mead doesn't sleep for three days before the battle of gettysburg. these men are tired. they're worn. they're often sick. robert e. lee has been suffering from rheumatism, angina, severe dysentery. at one point he has to be taken around the battlefield in a carriage. then he collapses for a time and can't make key decisions. an example i want to use -- by the way it's not just illness. but also they don't have good maps. when george mead arrives at d
denny'sburey denn denneysbu denneysburg, that's the first time he sees a map of the area. the army of the potomac had no maps of southern pennsylvania. they didn't expect to fight there. when mead takes command three days before it's like he's given command of a defeated team and told to win the super bowl three days later and fights a nearly flawless battle for which he doesn't get fair credit. he suddenly sees a map of adams county, pennsylvania. even the confederates don't have fully accurate maps. they're relying on guides. and military operations run on knowledge of terrain, the enmy, the weath the weather, the terrain. one of the greatest advantages stonewall jackson has in the
valley is jed hoskiss, a brilliant map maker. his maps are a work of art, but they don't always have complete information. in the heat of battle when you can't see because of smoke and you're trying to judge by the sound and echo of cannons and all you see are the men streaming back and you've got to make decisions right now on incomplete information. well, sometimes you make the right ones, sometimes you make the bad ones. nobody in the civil war, no commander north or south ever went out in the morning and said, i'm going to do everything i can to lose today. when you have tired, sick, exhausted men who have been wounded several times, bearing grave responsibility, sometimes they hesitate. sometimes they freeze, they
panic or they rush headlong forward. they are human beings. and oh by the way, they and their soldiers are constantly getting letters from home, especially in the south, saying i can't do this. i can't work the fields anymore. there's nothing to eat. the kids are sick. they're dying. and then there are the human tragedies. james longstreet, three of his children die in a scarlet fever epidemic early in the war. he's so distraught that he can't even go to their funerals. he sits in a darkened parlor while the funerals are going on. the personal losses -- wade hampton is plagued by grave personal losses. but these men rise above the losses. what's astonishing isn't that they make some bad decisions. what's astonishing is how tenacious, how persistent, how morally courageous they were and
going even beyond it. i want to talk about a few case studies. francis channing barlow who seizes high bridge for the union forces and enables mead's army to get across with grant sup superintending. there's one monument to barlow on the civil war battlefield at ge gettysbu gettysburg. it's a monument from the worst day of the war, a day he really screwed up. overall he's a brutal tough fighter. he's a case study in leadership. i want to give you a background about the human side of him.
his family is an old new england family. his father is a minister who marysryingies a stunning beauty wife. at some point he goes whacky. his sermons get crazy, he disappears. his wife is left with three boys and what do i do now? by hook or crook, with all of her new england family connections, they survive in genteel poverty for a few years. he grew up in this wild artsy era. the commune fails because somebody has to do the dishes.
the idea is work in the morning. in the afternoons we'll dance and enact plays and write poetry. his gorgeous mother comes steaming into this granola fed environment, to use a modern term. and guys being guys, they are drawn to mrs. barlow. before you know it, the other women band together and she's given her walking papers. she still manages by hook and crook to get things through. the family connections matter. throughout the civil war there are all these mafias. there's a boston mafia. the philadelphia mafia. george mcclellan and later many others. obviously hancock just outside of philadelphia. you have the ohio political mafia and you have the virginia mafia, which really dominates not just the army of virginia but the eastern war.
these guys stick together. to give you an idea of how tightly meshed these families are, francis channing barlow goes to harvard. he's brilliant. he's the valedictorian of the class of 1855. he tutors someone who's not so bright, a younger guy. that's robert gold shaw of the 54th massachusetts. now, what the movie "glory" doesn't bring out is robert shaw doesn't want the job of leading the african-american troops. his mother who is a rapid abolitionist forces him to take the command basically. later on barlow, when he's really sick, suddenly -- i'm sorry. barlow has married a woman ten years his senior.
it's a very cerebral match. a arabella barlow dies in the summer of 1864 because she's followed her husband around by being their volunteer nurse. she gets typhoid, dies while her husband is on the battlefield. he's sick as a dog. later on mom decides in the tradition of good moms everywhere that she's going to fix him up with a better wife. and she fixes him up with who? ellen shaw, nelly shaw, the sister of robert gould shaw. they know each other. it's not like the relatively anonymous mass armies of today. getting to the leadership study, leadership, it's not as easy as it sounds. it's not about drawing your sword and leading a charge or making one wise decision.
there are questions of loyalty. any soldier will tell you the first loyalty is to the mission. but what if the mission you've given makes no sense to you and it's hopeless and you know your soldiers are going to die? is there a gray area? is your next loyalty to your superior or to your soldiers? or is it divided? is your loyalty to a cause or is it to your family back home? it's just not as clear cut as we want it to be. francis channing barlow, at gettysburg he makes a mistake for the simple reason that he's been promoted too fast. less than a year before he's a regimental commander, quickly rises to brigade commander. he comes back not fully engaged. but we get to gettysburg. he's never really fought a full
division in battle. he's out north of town that first day and sees that little knoll out there, says that's a greattilleryartillery, i've got to have that. he's known, he's respected. he's brilliant. he's had dysentery most of the summer, aggravated diarrhea, deadly diarrhea in many cases, a big killer in our civil war. and he won't quit. he's not a quitter. he has eight days off for his
wife's funeral, he comes back a day early. he's crushed because he and his first wife really did have a deep love. he's got a tooth ache too. he's really sick and he's -- hancock is grooming barlow to take over the mighty second corps. hancock is badly wounded. he can't ride many days. he has trouble getting around. barlow is so ill he can't make good decisions. he starts doing things on that battlefield at second deep bottom that he would have fired one of his subordinates from doing. nelson miles, the great indian fighter, barlow is brought up behind him. nelson started the war at 20 years old. he was a sales clerk in a boston
crockery shop. he will rise to be a general officer, ultimately chief of staff of the army later on during the spanish american war. brilliant, brilliant fighter, nelly miles. nelson miles can see that barlow is falling apart and he doesn't know what to do. finally, barlow just physically collapses. after he squandered men's lives by trying to tough it out and be hard -- so he's evacuated back to a huge hospital at city point. by the way, another revolution, medevac as we call it today, if you're wounded in one of the battles around petersburg and everything's clicking for you, you can be back within 36-48 hours in a rear area base hospital at annapolis, maryland.
hospital and nelson miles is promoted to take command of the division. miles knows what he's doing, he's healthy, he's putting everything together. the day before ream station, barlow releases himself from the hospital. he's sick as a dog still. he shows back up and starts changing what nelson miles has done. he doesn't really understand hancock's mission. by the next morning he collapses again. this time he's out until virtually the end of the war. he's so sick -- to me as i read it as a lay fan of medical history, he actually had a severe -- he's the only officer given leave to go to europe. he is cured in europe, gets back just in time to get to high bridge and be present. barlow is a case study in a
talented officer who doesn't know when to quit. again, we have all those mottos and cliches like never say die. if you never say die, maybe your men die in your place. it's not clear, it's not easy. let's go to another guy, john brown gordon, classic southern gentleman, self-made. barlow, john brown gordon, nelson miles and a few others, these are men who without west point education and that liberates them. the west pointers do a marvelous job of holding things together, b building armies in the beginning of the war, but they do not understand how warfare is changing. grant does. sherman certainly figures it out. but very few others do. they're still locked into this idea of the napoleonic battle.
by the close of the siege of peters petersburg, the lines are almost 40 miles long. it's a preview of world war i. you're controlling things with a telegraph. that has its own pitfalls. at cold harbor, grant thinks he can stay in the rear. he never sees the battlefield at cold harbor until after the second tragic attack. john brown gordon, he's a curious guy, charming with charisma. his father tries being a preacher. that doesn't work out so well. runs the 19th century i kwif le -- equivalent of a health spa. that doesn't work out. gets into the timber and mining business in georgia. that doesn't work out so well. john brown gordon is at college,
he's a brilliant scholar. he loves the classics. he's a master of rhetoric. rhetoric matters. the ability to speak well and command a crowd, how rare that is today. but if i command the language, i command the situation. and civil war commanders, especially in the confederate army and the army of northern virginia, there's a time where there's no food left, there's no bullets left, the men are in rags and they are running on a commander's rhetoric, the ability to inspire men. john brown gordon has a great, intensely physical love affair with his wife, fanny gordon. people were as sexual then in their impulses and biology as we are now. if you don't believe me, check out the venereal disease rolls on both sides. entire hospitals dedicated to
venereal disease, which was a terrible problem for soldiers north and south. there's so much more to that. but i don't want to side track myself again. boys will be boys and thank you no penicillin available today. they're complex and they're human. one of the criticisms i've gotten for these dramatized histories where i've t-- i've hd people say, people didn't curse back then. you know, so many lives could have been saved in our civil war if the opposing commanders had just marched out in the front of the armies and had a cursing contest. men were famous for their profanity. wynn hancock, so many others -- lee doesn't even want to hear the word damn in his presence. the troops have always loved it. these guys, they're frontier soldiers out there in those dusty out post where is the
primary problems are alcohol and gonorrhea and the very rare indian fight. these are rough, tough men. and the men in the ranks are tough men. if you go back and check out closely not the letters to the sweethearts and wives but the letters written to brothers and male friends, it is astonishing home different ways you can misspell a four letter word. anyway they're human beings. john brown gordon, he's this brilliant charismatic man. he's born to be a soldier. he just takes to it, to use a cliche, like a duck to water. he's got this great love affair. he's charming and handsome. he's badly wounded and comes back. he fights well and rises up the ranks. in the shenandoah valley
campaign, you have two terrific leaders who don't get along. this is where the human side of leadership comes in. juball early he's a big crook back ugly man, he's got rheumatism he's always chewing tobacco, his beard looks like somebody emptied a baby's diaper into it. he's not an appealing guy. he doesn't have the common touch with the troops, he's grumpy. but lee knows what he's doing. lee knows that early is the best guy he's got left for that independent command. now, john brown gordon is a brilliant tactical fighter and operator. and he's thinking as an operator. early has to think strategically. he's got the last army that's going to fight in the shenandoah valley. there are no more troops.
phil sheridan beat him every time. phil sheridan beats him because phil sheridan out numbers him three to one in incredible supplies, very talented officers and great subordinates. what's really amazing is how well early does fight, how close to comes to winning. the ultimate battle at cedar creek. john brown gordon devises the attack strategy. overrunning union division after union division. they almost collapse the sixth corps. it gets to a point in middletown where early -- he loses his nerve. they're on the verge of destroying phil sheridan -- phil sheridan is on his way back from washington, his famous ride from
win chechester to the battle fo. gordon is saying you've got to push on. you've got to finish the job. gordon is right. you've got to finish the job, finish it now. early is right too. he's over extended. his men haven't slept at all. they're exhausted. they're out numbered. union lines are already stabilizing in front of him. if he loses that day, he knows he's lost lee's last detached a army. unfortunately he loses that detached army anyway because phil sheridan, who is obscene, vicious, jealous, magnificent soldier is on the battlefield. sheridan is a short, little irishman with a funny shaped head. sheridan is so funny looking that abraham lincoln made fun of
him. seriously. but he has this gift. by the way, i've met many people, you can be a big strapping 6'6" westmoreland guy and not have the gift. or be plain as a fence post and he's got the gift. gordon is as gorgeous, cavalier who's also a brilliant soldier and the soldiers love him. nobody likes early so of course there's tension between them. these tensions, early clearly feels jealous of his subordinate. stonewall jackson, if there's a subordinate he didn't try to court marital at one time or another, you'd have to remind me who that was. so human jealousy, vanity. how could i be here in southern
virginia and not talk briefly about robert e. lee? a man so incredibly misunderstood. when we mythologyize these men, when we make them perfect heros, when we take away their humanity, we do a great disservice to them. it's that they've over come their human limitation that makes them so admirable in the end. robert e. lee, we picture him as this perfect southern gentleman, scion of a grand old family. hai harry lee died in shame, trying to return from his self-imposed financially induced exile in the caribbean. he grows up in not so genteel poverty with his ill mother or and the rest of the family in a
small house in alexandria. he's taking care of his mother too. robert e. lee, like george mead, goes to west point because it's a free education. and lee, we talk about the american self-made man, there is no better example in the truest sense of self-man made man than robert e. lee in the sense that he literally makes himself over. he makes himself into the person he wants to be. and it really starts at west point where he works on his diction. his speech is not rapid, he doesn't gush. it's controlled speech. his posture is perfect. his manners will always be to the end of his life those of a perfect regency era gentleman.
he's not a particularly religious man early in life. his wife despairs about that initially. then in the 1850s he undergoes his conversion and becomes truly devout. he's always been a member of the church. robert e. lee works diligently to be the best at everything he does. when he falls in love with mary cusstas he still hasn't gotten it. her father doesn't want her to marry robert e. lee. they're white trash. his father should have been a jailbird. but mary cusstis sticks to her guns. they get married. and later on when old man cusstis dies he leaves bad
debts. lee builds himself up to be the perfect officer, the perfect gentleman. he has never remotely faithless to his wife but he loves to flirt. he's a handsohandsome. he loves to flirt, he loves to dance. but at the end of the day he goes home with mary. she gives him a fair amount of leash at the parties because she knows he's going to behave. but the war comes. robert e. lee, who's built himself up. he's made himself this man he is and he's idolized because he starts winning. he gives the southeast great victories. by the way, to use another modern team, by the time he's lea marching on the road to gettysburg, he's drunk his own
kool-aid. by the end of the war because of his personal pride, he cannot quit. he is a brilliant tactician and a good operator. his misfortune is to face an officer ultimately who's not a very good tactician, who's a good operator but is a brilliant strategist, you -- grant. if you're a soldier, if you've studied campaigns, you realize the inherent genius of sam grant. lee, i admire him to a point. but he even writes, if we're locked into petersburg in a siege, it's a matter of time. because of his pride, he cannot quit. lee knows the war is lost but he will not give up. he hides behind the idea that,
well, only president jefferson davis can decide that. he can't be the one to make a decision. by the time the break through comes he still knows it's lost. he doesn't want to be guy who surrenders. he keeps killing his own soldiers because of his pride. now, i know that's not a popular view. i admire this man incredibly. but the war was lost and lee knew it and couldn't give up. so the bloody road from petersburg to ap pamattox is pad the corpses. we'll never know if he felt any guilty about it. he was certainly a lion and a
hero of the south. the only thing i fault him for -- i only fault him for that pride. when you come down to the issue of lead ir ship, of mi-- leader throughout history, if there's one quality -- the greek classes know it already. if there's one quality that will undo a general, a field marshal, a tribal chieftan, it's pride. that said, ladies and gentlemen, i'm proud to have had the opportunity to speak to you today. thank you very much. [ applause ]. >> i think we have time for just a couple questions. you all are perfectly willing to
tell me i'm wrong about robert e. lee. any questions? please come down to the microphone. >> i'm mike connolly, united states marine corps. you talked a little bit about the cognitive dimension in the beginning and how it increased throughout the civil war. in your mind who is the greatest to use that to your advantage? >> you just heard that terrific presentation by eric about mosby. i think it's often the younger guys that can use it. the problem with the older generals is they don't always know what they know. they know inherently the rifled musket has greater killing power. otherwise, why should i trade in the old muskets for rifle muskets? well, they can't operationalize
it. it's these young officers who can internalize change without prejudice. they weren't polluted by the old way of doing things. war has changed but they haven't. who has used the information the best? well, certainly grant uses it. i'd say to go a little bit apart from just using information, emotional intelligence is important. and one guy who really gets emotional intelligence is billy sherman. he understands how tough the south is. he understands what it will take to break the south. early in the war when he says it's going to be a long war with hundreds of thousands of men under arms, he's called a lunatic. but he saw it early on. to give you a better answer, i would need to really ponder it. the question, of course, was who
made the best use of information. early in the world the confederates do. mcclellan of course gets in trouble because he believes pink pinkerton's crazy estimates of confederate strength. information from everything from better scouting to mass desertions, when you've got the winter of '64-'65 -- contrary to myths, it wasn't a snowy winter, but it was cold. there was a lot of sleet. the army of northern virginia never starved at petersburg but they went hungry. there's a difference as any of the irish immigrants could have told you between being hungry and starving. the officers, most of them eat a decent diet if not a lavish one to the end. anyway, this hunger and despair
and the letters from home -- and the letters from home are incredibly important psychologically in gutting the army of northern virginia and other confederate armies. people are getting letters from home about children dying of hunger, loses the farm and oh by the way about friends writing to tell them about unfaithful wives and things like that. at that point on a typical night there might be 200 deserters come across the union lines. what's really strange, though, at that point there are still union deserters going to the confederate line. information becomes increasingly powerful. the union of course has balloons on the peninsula and other places where they're trying to spy. the key problem in civil war battles is actually an information problem. once you launch the attack, once the forces are engaged in close
combat, within a few hundred yards of each other, you lose control. for all the drums and bugles and flags, you can't see the flags in the smoke. you can't tell who's blowing the bugle. you're not even sure who's drumming anymore. it's absolute chaos. the one tool they needed was a tactical radio, which of course will not come into common play for three-quarters of a century. you lose information once the battle starts. little literally it's hard to see into the smoke. for regimental and brigade km t commanders in the fight, you communicate only by courier or shouts. as long as you can see the flags, that's where your regiment is.
information comes in a lot of flavors. i'd say the south had better spies. the north had considerably better organized military intelligence. sir? >> to play devil's advocate for a moment, prideful though he was, when lee left richmond after the break through at petersburg, he came through farmville here and came over the high bridge. of course, although the retreating confederates were successful in burning four of the spans of the high bridge, they were unsuccessful in burning the lower wooden wagon bridge, apparently because it was made of greener lumber that didn't burn. >> and barlow moved fast. >> and barlow moved fast. so lee felt at the time he was unwilling to throw in the towel and he was attempting to get the railroad depos further west and go south and join up with joseph
johnson's army in north carolina. do you really think that was a pipe dream, it was impossible? or if that lower wooden bridge had been destroyed properly, could he have done it? >> he still couldn't have made -- if you look at where the southern most corps were, he couldn't have made it to joe johnson. my problem is that the soldiers in the army in northern virginia on that retreat for no longer they were fighting for robert e. lee. they loved him. lee knew by the time -- same day as high bridge, his subordinate officers, generals coming to him and saying, sir, it's not fair, we've lost, you've got to surrender. he threatened some with court m
martial, right here in farmville. lee's response is -- gently he says you realize what you've just said is a court martial offense and basically go. and lee turns his back and walks away. more than that, this is a classic example of soldiers can't break out of the old pattern. lee is thinking in the napole napoleonic terms he has studies. napoleon used the strategy of central position. that's when faced with converging enemy forces, instead of moving off or retreating, napoleon would thrust himself between them, use a small holding force to hold off one side while he destroyed the other force and turned. and lee is thinking in terms of that strategy of central position. that's what napoleon did.
i reunite with joe johnson's force. we defeat johnson, then we defeat grant. that doesn't work. the most they could have done was hold sherman at bay until grant got there. lee is a smart guy. he's an engineer. he knows the math. he knows it's lost. again, we can differ. i admire robert e. lee up until that point. i'm not trying to trash a southern icon. the north had far graver failures than the south did as far as generals go. my only point is that human beings are inherently flawed. only god is perfect. so you can admire robert e. lee up until the end. i think he made a mistake, but i think he was a prisoner of his psychological need. having grown up as a poor relation, the young officer who's fiancee's father didn't want her to marry that
degenerate spawn of the lee family. i think he was imprisoned by that need to fight to the bitter end. and god knows, god knows, we are all incredibly flawed, complex human beings. i think on the whole, obviously, robert e. lee is incredibly admirable. >> one more question. >> jim morgan. colonel -- >> please call me ralph. as soon as i retired, i learned one thing right away. the neighbors don't care if you're a private or general. they want you to cut grass. >> then ralph, related to the question of pride not just with lee, i always thought there was one point in the war before which there was a possibility. that was the election of 1864. with lincoln being reelected
it's always been my thought that the confederacy would have been perfectly justified in saying we gave it our best shot. that has something to do with pride. could you address that? >> i think you're absolutely right. with the reelection of abraham lincoln in 186 4, that's it. that means the north is going to fight to the end, no question about it. lee had written -- as he was trapped in petersburg essentially, it was a matter of time. i agree with you. i think there are signals there's one signal in the summer of 1864 at city point, this huge phenomenal logistics base and field hospital complex. it's building up and eight miles west of petersburg.
at that point, the confederate agents come in and ignite an ammunition barge and it's devastating. the blast is incredibly destructive. it throws locomotives into the air and overturns them. at that point city point was considered by some the busiest harbor in the world. it was so busy with all these goods flowing in. there are acres and acres of caissons and cannons. there's also a street of bordellos. the wealth of the north is fulling coming into play. the civil war breaks the south as an economic power. it makes the north as an industrial power even though there are massive debts to be ale al alleviated. after this incredible explosion which is supposed to shock grant and maybe convince him that he
can't win, within 24 hours the harbor is operating again. within 48 hours, it's fully operational. the wealth of the north is such in material and man power, that if you can do that -- and the army on the petersburg lines never experienced a significant shortage because of that. at that point for me, the war was over. but pride -- i mean, i can certainly understand others fighting on longer. but i really think -- i'll go back to what i said at the beginning of the presentation. the confederacy was not a le revolution. it was a counterrevolution against the rise of the modern bank note economy, the rise -- obviously you can go back to 1828 and the tariff issue. these wounds have been festering for a long time.
but the south is fighting to stop the clock and hold onto a cherished way of life. and perhaps the greatest advantage the north has ultimately is that history is on its side. thank you so much, ladies and gentlemen. [ applause ] >> thanks, ralph. what an enlightening talk. we have one of your books left, looking for trouble. the other ones have already been picked up and we have five other books by ralph including fate in code of blue and heller richman, cane at gettysburg and the most recent one, the damned of peters burg which is in hard cover. pick up a copy. visit ralph and my question to you is, when ralph came on the
campaign two years ago he confessed he was doing this so he could get all the insight on the campaign for his next book, can you tell us about your next book that will come out in august? >> the reason i went on that battlefield walk, i usually operate independently. i do turn to historians to check my work and they've been wonderfully generous. i went on that walk because it was a national park service walk and these guys are really good and, pat, i've been on military training walks -- i've led training walks. yours was the best i've ever been on and i hope you'll do it again so many others can participate too. [ applause ] >> and your influence, your influence, directly will be seen in the next book, which comes out august 29th. with these five books, it tries to take the war from the eastern
theater from gettysburg and grant and lee and meet are there. little billy ma hone. i didn't have time to talk about him today. another natural soldier who comes into his own. all these -- bar lowe, others and to be absolutely historically accurate and i'll bore you for just a moment with this. when i'm writing, these are not made up stories. this is what the people actually did. the only thing, the dialogue is imagined, it's taken from the notes whenever possible, but i'm trying to investigate their thoughts. i call it dramaized history. i learned this -- i took the technique from a wonderful german historian and writer who was such a tough old bird that and she was already passed retirement age, she stood up to a dolph hitler and hitler was afraid of her and she went into eternal exile. i will not leave my country because of this little man and she goes off in the country and leaves through the depravation
of world war ii. she was a novelist too, but she borrowed from the german traditional and she wrote this magnificent dramatized history in which she was absolutely scrupulously historically accurate right down to what i try to be, which crop was in the field and what was the weather like that day. if you do it and bring it off because it humanizes the experience. a really good history book can tell you the details about the history book. they marched 19 miles that day in 93 degree heat. if i dramatized it well and accurately, i can make you feel what it was like to march in that wool uniform with an empty canteen in 93 degree hit and coweriers are riding back and forth kicking up dust and you can hear the sounds of battles going on. you don't want you don't know
what's going on. you still don't know what's going on and you won't until the battle's over that's what dramaization can do. the purpose of writing these -- we americans don't know our history any more. we've taken it out of the schools. when people do not know their history, they're prey to demi gods and lies. let the wonderful facts about our brave, bold liberating history speak for themselves. and when i hear -- [ applause ] >> i'll leave you with my impression of too many young people today. they're not totally ignorant of history. they've heard of the civil war and they say, tell me about it.
that's when george washington freed the jews at pearl harbor. thank you, ladies and gentlemen [ applause ] this morning the family of heather heyer the woman killed during the white nationalist protest in charlottesville, virginia, holds memorial services and the paramount theater in downtown charlottesville. we'll show you that service live on c-span3. today presidents of the largest farm and ranch associations in the u.s., canada and mexico make a joint statement in support of nafta. see our live coverage from the national press club at 1:15 p.m. eastern on c-span2 online at cspan.org and streaming on our free cspan radio app. we've been on the road meeting winners of this year's
student cam video documentary competition. at royal oak high school, in royal oak, michigan, first place winner jared clarke one a prize of $3,000 for his documentary on the rising cost of pharmaceutical drugs and the second place prize of $1,500 went to classmate mary sier for her documentary on mass incarceration. third place winner rebecca messner on gender inequality and grace know vac one an honestly mention prize of $250 for her documentary on the relationship between the police and the media. thank you to all the students who participated in our 2017 student cam video documentary competition. to watch any of the videos, go to student cam.org and student cam 2018 starts in september with the theme, the constitution and you. we're asking students to choose any provision of the u.s.
constitution and create a video illustrating why the provision is important. next, civil war historian william jack davis compares the upbrings and leadership skills of union general ulysses s grant and confedate general robert e. lee. this hour long talk was part of a day long seminar hosted by farmville, virginia and courthouse national historic park. thank you, patrick. our last speaker of the morning here and he'll be speaking in the afternoon is william c. jack davis and mr. davis is from independence, missouri. has a bachelor in sonoma state university and many of you know him as long time editor of civil war tmes illustrated back in i guess the 1970s and 1980s when
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