Skip to main content

tv   The Civil War Harold Holzer on Civil War Objects  CSPAN  August 14, 2020 8:42am-9:29am EDT

8:42 am
8:43 am
8:44 am
8:45 am
8:46 am
8:47 am
8:48 am
8:49 am
8:50 am
8:51 am
8:52 am
8:53 am
8:54 am
8:55 am
8:56 am
8:57 am
8:58 am
8:59 am
they said mr. president, what do you think, and he said, well, it reminds me of the story of the young woman who put on her stockings and she looked up and said, i think there's something in it. i don't know if they got this,
9:00 am
you know, there's something in it, but they went to work immediately. >> they took that to be a yes. >> yeah, that's a go, but it's a good thing because the confederates are, you know, building this ship, so they rushed back to new york with a model, and they get to work on the actual ship. >> the image that sort of shows the launch of the monitor? >> yeah. >> and it's, you know, i feel a certain kinship to the monitor because it was built in my mother's ancestral home of green point. there's still an erickson park there, my mother went to the monitor school when she was in 1921, it's still there. built in the 1890s, so it's very much their town, but there was a big shed where ships were made,
9:01 am
and it all converted today and night, 24/7 production of this ship with a very crew of workers, by the way, some of them thought they were being drafted and conscripted, even though there was no draft. they got this amazing thing done, and here you see them sliding it down into the east river from green point, from which it went all the way to the brooklyn navy yard, and that's where they put the fancy, you know, table. and it was a magnificent ship, by the way. even though it was dubbed a cheese box on raft by skeptics, it was not small. it's like 170 feet long. a scale model was built about 10 years ago at the norfolk shipyards by navy trainees. it was big. they built the deck by a party space. it's a big vessel. they have lots of teachers inside that made it rather
9:02 am
palatial. >> let's see the image of the continental works which was in green point, brooklyn. >> right. >> this is sort of a picturesque image. >> that's grand. yeah, there's another monitor, maybe not this monitor, but they went into production of monitors, although they called the first one the monitor, it was really a class of ship, and you see the revolving turret on top, the smokestack in the back. >> well, what inspired that name, the monitor? and, you know, how long did it take to launch the vessel? >> so it really was done in three months. it was fast, and it left in the nick of time. it was towed to virginia, by the way, in bad weather. it almost capsized, so erickson had the idea of calling it monitor because he said it would
9:03 am
be a monitor against the southern leadership that wants to destroy the union. it reminds me of when the governor, the first governor cuomo used to greet audiences by saying i looked up the definition of governor, the second definition is something that gets in the way of machines and slows them down, so it's kind of an extra definition, monitor as a, you know, like a hall monitor who stops you from doing bad deeds. >> so, well, before you mentioned that it was towed to virginia, but before it could arrive there, the confederate ironclad, a wooden boat that was clad in iron, as opposed to to purpose built in this way, it was the virginia, which was also known as the meramec, was proven to be very formidable herself, doing, you know, damage on the
9:04 am
union, which is very interesting, and of course that makes the whole incident that much more dramatic. >> well, it steamed into hampton roads, virginia and it was laughed at by the union fleet, which was in the harbor there, and what happened next was the deadliest and costliest day in american naval history up until pearl harbor when all the ships were destroyed by the japanese. in this case, the original meramec had a long battering ram at the end. so it rammed the cumberland and the cumberland sank immediately with great loss of life. and then it lobbed shells at another ship, the uss congress caught on fire and more lives were lost, and it chased as slow as the virginia and meramec was, it chased this petrified captain
9:05 am
of the minnesota to shore and the ship ran aground and tilted, and then the tide changed so the virginia retreated back toward norfolk, but the navy had no doubt that the next morning the meramec would reemerge from around the bend and come at what was left of the union navy, and then lo and behold, around dawn, this smaller, low lying vessel appears on the horizon, enters the harbor, and what happens next is the monitor engaging the meramec in the most famous naval duel in american history. >> here's a beautiful depiction of that incident, the most dramatic and unforgettable, the naval duel of the civil war and. >> you see the difference. one is like a big stack, but with all the shells fired that day, no damage was done to the meramec, really. some damage was done to the turret, and one explosion
9:06 am
blinded the captain who was looking through a slit in the turret, and he was out for the duration. the other thing that happened is this turret was struck early, and guess what, it stopped revolving. actually, it didn't stop revolving, i beg your pardon, it lost control, it kept revolving. the only times it could get off a shot is when it turned all the way around and someone would shoot. it was agonizeingly hot in that ship at that point, over 100 degrees and dangerous, but this changed warfare and marine painting as well. >> nobody died, and both sides claimed victory, so why does this so called battle of hampton roads have such an inspirational quality to it. every 7th grader knows about the
9:07 am
monitor in the meramec, and studies american history, why is it, then, that this became so mythic in our historical imagination? >> first of all, it was observed by so many people on shore. this was not far from the shoreline. second, we had the artistic happenstance of the good guys and of course the good guys are the ones who do the drawings and the paintings, meaning the north. the good guys spewed white smoke, and the bad guys spewed black smoke, which made it seem more ominous. one was a relic, one was new technology. but i think the real reason is that this here was the end of the era we were joking about a few minutes ago with a reference to errol flynn movies. this was the end of the era of the wooden warship and it's rs
9:08 am
roman th roman, this was the dehumanization of war as war shifted from men to the machines, and there was a sense after this that the better machines would win the war. >> let's see an image of the men and the machine. what was lincoln's reaction to this achievement, and was he still as drawn to the new technology as he had been initially? >> by the way, i'm struck by how toy like the boat looks in that drawing on the bottom. so after the war, after the battle, it gets a little warmer in virginia, and they put up this amazing canvas tent to shield the turret from the sun, and but that's the turret. you see all the rivets in it. this turret was recovered years later from the bottom of the sea. and it's being restored now in
9:09 am
newport news at the monitor center as it's called. but i think the most extraordinary thing about this post battle depiction is if you look to the left of the porthole in the picture, in the photograph, you see the indentations, the pockmarks that reflect the confederate shells hitting that turret as it revolved slowly around without any constraints, without any monitor, right, to go into battle. regarding lincoln, he was always interested in technology. remember, he is the only american president to hold a patent for an invention, and what was the invention? it was a boat. it was a boat that would lift itself above shoals in shallow waters to be able to navigate the muddy streams of illinois.
9:10 am
it was never manufactured, but he did devise it in some of his idle hours, and the actual model of that is in the national archives, so he loved ships even though he was a land lover, and he always liked technology, and during the civil war, some people said his office would sometimes look like a gun store filled with weapons so, you know, he encouraged the creation of armour, gaddling guns, both for spying and meteorological balloons. one of his letters came from the inventor of a double barrel curved gun, and he said this will be designed for cross eyed soldiers so they can shoot both sides of the river at the same time. these letters actually exist, and at a more deadly level, because lincoln believed this, he said breath alone kills no
9:11 am
rebels. he encouraged the production of niter, which is kind of a primitive form of napalm, to use in wartime. he was all about winning and using technologies. he used to walk around the white house grounds and fire new things. a big booster of military technology as deadly as it became. >> if we could just see that image of the monitor one more time, the half model, just this is the technological achievement. >> and donated in 1862. that's pretty remarkable. donated right around the time the monitor and the meramec engaged in one on one combat. >> yeah, it was great awareness of its historical importance even then. so i think we're about ready for our q and a portion of the evening, and our first question
9:12 am
is do we know of any examples of crucial messages that were interrupted by that cipher key? >> well, we think, that's a good question, we think that the cipher was used to convey messages at the battle of shiloh for one. the battle of shiloh was probably should have been a confederate route that ended the career of grant, before it really matured. there was a surprise attack for which the union was unprepared, and a total route, somehow the union rallied and held back a total route on that first day. and lived to fight another day. grant famously turned to sherman and said get them tomorrow. and they did. so i would think, you know, remember, the messages are maintain the secrecy of battlefield instructions but they don't ensure that they're
9:13 am
the right instructions, so it's still left to the human brain and tactical and strategic skill to win a battle and grant, no doubt, had his own codes and his own vision to guide him back. >> next question, was the wreck of the monitor ever recovered and if so, where is it displayed? >> we got into a little of that. so the ship was followed by many monitors, but the original was pretty famous, but it was never tremendously sea worthy. it should have stayed very close to shore. instead it was dispatched to cape hatteras, which is a famous graveyard for naval vessels, and on new year's day, 1862, so just nine months after it became the most famous ship in the union navy, it sank off cape hatteras, and there it remained for 145
9:14 am
years until the national oceanic, and aeronautic, whatever the last word is, organization, i think, located it, and it was recovered, well, parts of it were recovered. the hull had disintegrated, although the shape was easily discernible to divers, they brought up the dahlgren gun. they brought up the turret, it is an amazing achievement, and they brought up lanterns and coins and dinner ware, and spoons and all kinds of akuchmentes. all of them are at the mariners museum, the new monitor center in new port news, and the dahlgren gun and the turret sit in this saline tank outdoors. you can walk up a plank to see it, and there slowly, these bubbles and oxygenation, and
9:15 am
five more years yoou'll be able to see the actual turret. you can already see some of the dents from the shellings. >> how exciting. that's great. here's a question actually that came up when i was rereading the essay. wasn't it renamed the virginia, and do northerners prefer to call it the meramec? how did that nomenclature work out? >> if you look, most of them say merrimack, let's call it virginia after the state, but the name never caught on.
9:16 am
purists say the css virginia, but how you can resist that alliteration, the monitor and the merrimack, it goes by both. i call it the merrimack more often than not. yes, they both claimed victory but because the virginia was so slow and heavy, when the tide went down it left. you leave the field of battle, that's losing. and then by another calculation, the monitor was able to prevent destruction to the outdated wooden fleet. it was a victory by those standards, too, even though by winning the victory, it sort of spelled the doom of the wooden navy itself. >> but back to just sort of the naming, the monitor and the merrimack, of course the alliteration is great. do northerners prefer to call it
9:17 am
the merrimack or does it just sort of sound right? >> it sounds right. i think they prefer it because it's a recovered vessel of the past that we had our way with, i guess. but civil war historians are more often say the virginia. and by the way, it eventually, it's probably the only ship in american service to be burned twice because when the union army marched near norfolk and looked about to capture the boat yard there, the confederates burned it, burned the virginia, so it could not be taken over by the union, and so it vanished yet again. >> interesting. so here's a question about the cipher again, what is revolutionary about it? it seems very simple to this person who posed the question. >> right. i think the whole notion of carrying around on one's person
9:18 am
a wheel or booklet that would allow you to transpose letters and actually change the cipher during the course of a battle or a campaign as long as both sides understood what the new code was, was pretty revolutionary, and again, there was an understood symbol of flags, flag signals and torch signals, but that couldn't easily change because what constituted a letter was a letter. morse code was morse code, so the cipher enabled you to switch out, and you could change it every week, prearrange to change it every week. make an l next week, the whole alphabet switches, i think it's pretty ingenuous and very affordable. >> off topic, did you find the three part series on grant to be
9:19 am
accurate and fair? >> that's a heavy question. so i thought it was more than fair, more than accurate in some ways. i mean, it stressed the great achievements of grant, and his amazing talent, or seeing action for relentlessness, and it made a strong case that he did not win the war just because of superior numbers and ruthlessness and willingness to take casualties but out of a master plan. what it didn't do was talk about his shortcomings and one of them that i think is always worth remembering is that in his zeal to root out spies and disloyalty and misperceptions, he banned all jews from his theater of the war in 1862 and instituted a kind of pagrum that saw jews leaving their home in search of
9:20 am
refuge and had to be counter manded with lincoln's insistence, saying let my people go back, and lincoln obliged them. they could have spent a little time on shortcomings, including drinking which was alluded to briefly in the beginning. the actor who portrayed grant was pretty good. he was good. the lincoln, not so much. >> not so much. >> too skinny, too short. had the mogul on the wrong side of his cheek in one scene. anyway. >> back to our objects, were there other nations who made ironclad ships around the same time as the monitor? >> that's a really good question. in fact, ours were not the first. the french made a few before the civil war, but they were also
9:21 am
more unwielding. and they were never permanently adopted as a design or a style. once the monitor combines both heaping most of your sailors under the water line, and having them breathe, right, precursor, solving that problem, getting them out of harm's way, and keeping a gun up above impregnablely, and also having it rotate, that was the new design of choice, and everything would follow that. there was submersibles used in the civil war. little 3 or 4 man things that were sort of human torpedos that never came back from their missions. but this was the model for modern naval submarine war, and also battleship guns that can turn around and follow the action. >> back to our siper codes, did
9:22 am
either side break the codes during the war. >> there were instances of a cipher code being broken. before the battle, the good thing about our series is i'm corrected every week if i make a miscue. i don't tell you about it, but i get lots of from the straight and narrow, so there were orders that were found rolled into a cigar before the battle of antihem, they were discovered, decoded and it didn't help mcclell mcclell mcclellan do enough. he should have known everything about the battle plan, but it was not sufficient. but yeah, codes were broken, and so again, you know, you just move the bar, as they say. >> back to, was he wrong about
9:23 am
anderson in fort sumpter, was there any hope of the union army relieving him if he held out? >> that's a really good question. so anderson was told by the lincoln administration that his fort would not be reinforced, it would be resupplied. he was running out of ammunition. he had no way to defend himself for much longer and the supply ships were turned back by the shellings, so he didn't get mortar. there's a great story about anderson, you know, he was allowed to leave. there were casualties because an area of the fort blew up during the flag lowering ceremony, so not during the shelling. he took the flag with him. he went on a boat, and went all the way back to new york. center of the universe even then, and he admitted that when he was on the ship to new york, he did not know whether he was going to be given a court martial or a parade. well, guess what, he was given a parade. his flag was draped over the
9:24 am
equestrian statue of george washington that sits in union square park and 100,000 people came out. and then a few days later when the 7th regiment, new york's elite regimen marched down broadway to board ships to head to virginia and fight, they passed by a jewelry company called ball black, which had pediment on which major anderson stood waving with the flag of fort sumpter, tattered, fluttering in the breeze, so it became a great symbol of resistance ultimately, and anderson went on to continuous, though not so dramatic career in the union army. >> one more question about kriptology, did it advance at all during the civil war? >> i think what you saw is what you got, as it advanced or since, i'm not sure it's
9:25 am
advanced more than the since from the basic premise of substituting letters. i mean, when radio came in, of course, messages were sent to the resistance in europe during world war ii, and the messages were being code like the church bells will ring at 4:00, which meant something completely opposite, but the underground had by then absorbed what the message, it would be a signal. but basically i think the cipher was the big advance, and remember, before that, it was one if by land and two if by sea, that was our cipher before the civil war. >> well, as always, a pleasure, and it looks like our time is up. harold, thank you for being such a compelling and gracious guest, and thank you all for watching, and listening, and for supporting new york historical
9:26 am
society. we'll see you all again next week. >> thank you, val. >> thank you. you're watching american history tv, every weekend on c-span 3, explore our nation's past. c-span3, created by american cable companies as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. weeknights this month, we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight, a look at hiroshima, nagasaki and the end of world war ii. august 9th marks 75 years since the u.s. dropped a second atomic bomb on japan, devastating the city of nag sa dasaki days afte first attack on hiroshima. we examine truman's decision to use the new weapon and the legacy of the atomic attacks. guests include richard frank,
9:27 am
author of down fall, the end of the imperial down fall, and peter kuznak, watch tonight beginning at 8 eastern. american history tv. this week and every weekend on c-span3. american history tv on c-span3, exploring the people and events that tell the american story every weekend. coming up this weekend, saturday, at 10:00 a.m. eastern on american artifacts, library of congress curator beverly b n brannonon life in the 1930s and 40s, and sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern, three films on the 1976 elections, produced by the u.s. information agency for an international audience. then at 8:00 p.m. eastern on the presidency, acceptance speeches from five presidential nominees, harry truman, stevenson, dwight
9:28 am
eisenhower, john kennedy and richard nixon, exploring the american story, watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3. up next on the civil war, matt atkinson, a gettysburg national military park ranger discusses the post war life of former confederate general robert e. lee. he talks about the efforts to support of washington college known as washington and lee university. >> what we're going to do today, ladies and gentlemen, is we are going to do robert e. lee and the post war years. and my coworker chuck teague when we were upstairs before we came down, asked if this was


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on