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tv   The Civil War Harold Holzer on Civil War Objects  CSPAN  August 21, 2020 2:21pm-3:06pm EDT

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c-span3, every saturday at 8:00 p.m. eastern. lectures in history is also available as a podcast. find it where you listen to podcasts. next on the civil war, historian harold holzer and valerie paley talk about artifacts featured in their joint publication, the civil war in 50 objects. in this program, they discuss objects and images related to ulysses grant. >> good evening. and welcome. tonight's topic is modern major generals. i want to remind everyone that tonight's program is being recorded will last approximately 45 minutes. this includes 15 minutes for questions and answers. please submit your questions via the q&a function on your zoom
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screen at any time during the talk. we will respond to as many as possible during the final part of the program. and now, modern major generals. some of our viewers have commented on our approach to the civil war and using 50 objects that while the multilayered social and political history seen through objects takes in the totality of the context of the war, it doesn't really consider the military history or the sequence of the battle. harold, what do you think about that? >> it's a fair enough comment, of course. the objects that we're discussing are all in some way related to new york history. so it relates to the soldiers who served, the leaders who helped or hindered the union war effort, the relics that they brought back from battle. i think along the way here, over these last seven weeks, we've touched on battles. those who experienced them and certainly the battle for new
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york city because early on we dealt with the draft riots which almost [ inaudible ]. >> indeed. indeed. so we're doing okay, i think. >> i think we're -- it's a fair comment. >> i agree. and i thought we might as well air it. but tonight's program features two objects. james reed lamdon's portrait and a coin by benjamin butler. so first up is the lamden portrait of grant. grant arrives in washington to receive his promotion to lieutenant general and this interestingly enough is the first -- he is the first since george washington to achieve that rank. >> right. >> but he -- which is interesting in and of itself, he
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raises eyebrows when he tries to register at the willard hotel. why? >> he gets to the willard, having been to washington quite seldom and he asks for a room. he's with his little boy, by the way. and the desk clerk gives them a desk clerk kind of work. and says we have no room. he implores them and they say, well, we have a room up in the attic and so he says he'll take it. and he takes the ledger and he wrote, u.s. grant and son and twilled it around. and the desk clerk looked at it. if he had a monocle it would have popped out of his eye. oh, my gosh, general grant. we have a wonderful suite for you. and i believe they gave him the suite that lincoln stayed in on
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the second floor. suddenly he was treated like royalty. but it goes to show you what a simple bearing he had and how he presented himself even on the eve of the moment when he's going to become ranked alongside washington in the hierarchy. >> and he was scuffy and unkempt and he was so aversed to pretension that this was in many ways you say the foundation of an irresistible public image. how so? >> well, he had been proceeded in command by general winfield scott. he was 70 years old. looked sort of ridiculous. a feathered tri corn hot.
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grant dressed in a field uniform which was usually dusty. he chomped on cigars. he never had to buy another cigar. he was unpretenuous. his unpretensionness helped him live down two negatives and one were rumors about his extensive drinking which was true to a degree. he did binge drink and when he was unoccupied, he drank. and he had an aide who watched out for his not getting hold of
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a bottle. and then he was also at this point in washington living down an act -- kind of the most overt act of semitism that any commander had promulgated at that point. he cleared them of the old jews because he was annoyed by jewish traders who began to trade in his camp. >> interesting. but he first catapulted to national intention in 1862. how did the press characterize the man? >> suddenly u.s. grant, he late
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in life monogram became unconditional surrender grant and the union was starving for victory. he became a celebrity overnight, but the media could not keep up with his celebrity. here we see an early image of grant. it is an imagine of grant. it happens not to be ulysses grant. and since grant had a longer beard at that point, they got this out to the weekly newspapers and this was the image of grant that people first saw. he's wearing a feathered hat. very long beard. >> but he was so obscure they didn't know this wasn't the right grant. >> and it was soon replaced by the real grant. >> well, here is the real grant.
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we have an image of him. the next slide. and which is interesting. he had a camp artist in his midst. tell us a little bit about this famous portrait. >> this is a very causal photograph of grant in the field and i will add that this is a pretty rare one in the collection. grant was photographed more than any american of his time. frederick douglass may be a close competitor and lincoln third. but grant always had photographers around him and posed for candid photographs which were hard to accomplish in the field. and this unassuming man, at least that's his public persona, also had a camp artist following him like artists who had followed george washington. the artist was a very-well
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trained painter who followed him to chatanooga and it was shipped back to washington where it was displayed in the u.s. capitol obliging abraham lincoln to have a look at it. it was believed that -- lincoln would be disrespecting him not to go look at it. he had photographers, camp artists and he managed to maintain the homespun image very much like, guess who, abraham lincoln. >> these photos served a purpose as far as his supporters were concerned, perhaps to put him in the public eye politically. did images really have that sort
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of power to do such a thing? >> yeah. think how successful abraham lincoln was as a presidential candidate when images of him as a rail splitter began circulating in 1860. i think they had a huge effect. you couldn't find them on the internet because there was no electricity and you couldn't find them in magazines or newspapers. they were sought after. they were hung on walls, put in family albums. and the grant victories early in the war and lincoln's seemingly inability to maintain control of the civil government in the wake of the emancipation proclamation encouraged a lot of grant's admirers to propose that he replace grant on the republican ticket in 1864 or to be the democratic nominee, since grant was not known to have any
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politics. he didn't even vote in the 1860 presidential election. he was put forth as a potential candidate and -- by the way, lincoln would not entertain the idea of promoting him to lieutenant general until he had back-door assurances that grant had no such plans. and grant wrote to the chairman of the dnc and said i have no political ambitions in either party and that was enough to satisfy lincoln. but the image has almost advanced him as a candidate well before grant was ready. >> interesting. so back to grant makes it to washington to receive his third star. and lincoln threw him a party at the white house. but the torrent of guests had trouble finding him in the crowd. the slightly built hero didn't know that he was slightly built. what did he do at this party?
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>> so first of all he met abraham lincoln who was easy to see in a crowd. he was 6'4" when average men were about 5'4" or 5'5". grant climbed up on a setee and everyone rushed forth. this was not calculated to please the first lady who had spent a fortune in federal money to redecorate the white house. and took a dislike to grant and his wife. but this scene was immortalized by another painting at typical white house. and, by the way, this redeposition was the -- this reception was the first time he had met ulysses s. grant.
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and in a more private scene, lincoln gave him his promotion. >> more and more images proliferated of grant in the final year of the war and he, as you said, found time to pose for photographs and, you know -- in the fields, sometime in the studio. sometimes we saw him in softer, domestic scenes later on, like this one of his family. so this is -- it makes him look a lot softer and more like a home body, i guess. and -- but more typically, we see portraits of him in uniform like this. after the war, every northern hospital, union league club,
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veterans organization commissioned the grant portrait painting for its walls. and one of the best you say is our first object this evening which is the james reed lamden portrait of u.s. grant. what is so special about the painting? >> i hope everyone sees its relation to the photograph we just had up. he was a portrait painter. he had done john marshal, other celebrities, and studied under thomas sully. he was about to do lincoln. and like many capable portraiters, he flourished to have grant portraits for clubs and homes and veterans organizations and this is one of those portraits -- i love it because it's so -- again, it
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really reflects grant's kind of causal self-confidence. hand in pocket, wearing the uniform, but, you know, calmly in command, as all of the portraits showed him. and, by the way, speaking of politics, you mentioned 1868 as the date this painting was completed. and there's a political story too because that's the year grant himself, three years after lincoln's death, with andrew johnson no longer viable to run for a term in his own right, he had gotten through impeachment barely. grant is the obvious choice. so he's a candidate. and these are the paintings that served as his posters. and note these campaign posters do not take them out of military uniform. they are there to remind people that he is the hero of the war, that he won the contest for the
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union. i think in a way there's a pattern to the way americans deal politically with war heroes. winfield scott ran as well. zachary taylor who grant modeled himself after, he knew him in the mexican war, won the presidential election. grant won a presidential election. and look at 1952. dwight eisenhower, another general who had gone to peacetime but is remembered as a war hero was recruited by both of the republicans. so there's a pattern there. >> interesting.
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the story line obviously continues and we remember grant as one who saved the union, in fact. but today with the fillielling monuments and statues, we recently scene a grant statue topple. do you want to comment on that? >> i've been writing a lot and speaking a lot on statues. it was toppled and defaced in golden gate park along with another statue of francis scott key. i understand the rational of those, although, i don't agree with vandalism of public statuey. grant was given the gift of an enslaved person by his father-in-law and grant did use him and did not pay him, but he did also liberate him and give
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him his freedom and no president did more for civil rights in the 19th century than ulysses s. grant. he fought for amendments, he battled the ku klux klan to a standstill before he gave up the presidency. so i think it's tragic, really, and one hopes that the understandable, pent-up rage about monumentalizing american heroes without really understanding all the nuances in their stories calms down a bit so we can look at these on a case-by-case basis. >> that brings us to our next object this evening. it's a coin designed by benjamin frankly butler. who was this guy, butler? was he a coin designer or a major general?
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>> the right is a little off the mark. he is a complicated, bizarre, controversial figure. he was a democrat in politics in massachusetts. he was a businessman. he owned a mill. very successful. he was white supremacist as late as 1860. he supported jefferson davis for president of the united states in 1960 and he didn't support steven douglas. he supported the southern democrat, john breckenridge and he ran for governor on a breckenridge ticket and lost. when the war breaks out, he's a staunch unionist that he raises a militia brigade in massachusetts and touches off controversy because he has the army buy their uniforms from his
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own mill. there's a little bit of corruption in this as -- >> why did lincoln appoint him a major general in the union army, then? >> because lincoln did not want the war to just be a war of professional, west point-troined soldiers and he did not want it to be a war of republican generals. he made a big effort to recruit democratic generals and unfortunately he appointed butler so quickly that he had a high rank in the hierarchy of the military which turned out to be a problem. >> he was a real character, though. he was very homely, as you say, practically grotesque. we have an image of him. interesting hard-knock rags to riches kind of life. he wound up in politics, a northerner who supported consecutive southern democrats. he was a provocative figure, as you say.
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but what things exactly did he do to stir up controversy? >> as you say, not the most -- not easy on the eyes, as they say today. so he goes into the service and he gets a commission and he winds up at fortress monroe in virginia. and one day an african-american comes to his -- is taken to his headquarters and he says, i'm escaped from slavery and i want the protection of the union army. this is, you know, a year and a half before emancipation. and benjamin butler thinks about it, he's a skilled lawyer, and he says, you are contraband of war. i take you, i accept you. and then more african-americans, you know, enslaved people, liberated themselves and is
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that's where the term contraband comes from, and that's the term for people who escaped slavery on their own but -- but their freedom was not guaranteed by the executive order or legislation. so butler becomes a hero in the early movement for freedom and recognition of the yearning of enslaved people for their own liberation. and he's transferred to new orleans where he makes his greatest mark, i suppose, in a negative way, takes his army all the way to new orleans. new orleans was really conquered for the union early in the war by the union fleet. butler marches himself in and declares himself the conquerer of new orleans. one thing when his soldiers are spat upon by the enraged
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prosouthern women of new orleans, the fancy ladies, he issues an infamous order that i think we have on the screen in which he says that if any women -- we should go to the next slide. >> the next slide. >> and if any women are caught treating union soldiers with disrespect, they will be regarded and held libel to be treated as a woman of the town plying her vocation. that's a nice way of saying, you will be arrested for prostitution. so the spitting stopped. but butler was a brutal occupying force all to himself. he's alleged to have made corrupt bargains with consulate offices and stolen his piece of the action. he's confiscated spoons from plantation owners so he became
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known as spoons butler. and eventually he was relieved of his command and sent away to his next controversial assignment and that's when the story picks up and explains the medal. >> but it's interesting, just before relieve new orleans, that along with the really bad stuff that he did there, the sanitary conditions improved, the yellow fever abated and he left the city wealthier than when he arrived. and that is an interesting silver lining, i guess. >> he was a good organizer and he whipped the town into shape. and against that -- a person who was caught dragging an american flag through the streets was hanged. and so creating order with brute force has its limits. so i think his occupying -- his record as an occupier will remain in dispute for generations. >> so this brings us to late
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september 1864 as he observes an all-black regiment fighting near the confederate capital of richmond. what happens? >> he's not only observing them, he's commanding them. and one-fifth of his force is made up of african-american troops, u.s. colored troops and half of them die in this assault. butler had done really badly and all of his campaigns, he didn't do well that day. he would go on to do terribly at the battle of wilmington, north carolina. he would be relieved by grant who couldn't stand him. but on this day, butler recognized this -- the heroics of african-american troops and he decided to commemorate them by having this metal struck to present to them in a kingly gesture. it was not uncommon. but it was a rarity for
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african-american troops and it may be the only one of its kind struck as a presentation piece for african-american soldiers. >> we have a slide after the war of some african-american musicians that -- if we can see the next slide, please. for a sense of the sort of dignity and decorum. but back to the butler medal. it marked a specific battle and celebrated a specific regiment. but tell us a little bit more about this extremely rare object and new york historical's copy of it. >> there were struck a few in silver and the rest in bronze, i guess for officers and, you
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know, grunts. we have one of the silver copies. you see it beautifully designed, ornate and it has a hole at the top so it can be fastened to the uniform like my other medal. but the hierarchy of the military did not like ben butler so they judged this medal to be unofficial. it was never a designated as an official token of esteem for these brave soldiers. so they always wore it on the other side of their lapel and kind of flashed it to each other. my jacket is too dark to show the flashing. but they flashed it to each other when they met at reunions. and butler is said to have worn him on the inside of his lapel as well as a token of respect. but it's really beautiful. maybe we can look at the -- >> at the other side.
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200 soldiers received these medals and what a pity that they couldn't wear them on their uniforms proudly. >> the slogan in latin is great because it means freedom will be theirs by the sword. and it's an early, early acknowledgement of african-americans' contribution in the effort to create their own freedom. yes, the emancipation proclamation created the legal framework for freedom, but the u.s. colored troops had them to fight for it in battle against those who would remain their oppressor. i just want to read one thing that bullet l that butler wrote about this medal. i had done for the negro soldiers by my own order what the government has never done for its white soldiers. i had a medal struck of the
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size, weight, quality, fabrication, and value with those which queen victoria gave to very, very proud. "i have been fully rewarded by seeing the beaming eye of many a colored comrade as he drew his medal for the innermost resources of his concealment." so they shared almost like a secret, a secret code. >> that's lovely. just a fascinating story and a fascinating man. so how wonderful we have this object to just expand on that. so that takes us to our q&a portion of the evening. and we have a question, and that is -- was general butler an abolitionist before entering the army, and was he a political appointee? >> he was not an abolitionist before entering the army.
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he was sort of pro-buchanan and thought the way to solve the nation's divisions in 1860 was to make jefferson davis, a virginia slaveholder, president of the united states, not abraham lincoln. but he clearly grew by leaps and bounds. i think we said in the book that he went from a white supremacist to a white supremacist's worst nightmare. and like many, his evolution was dictated by what he observed of african-americans and what they did on the battlefield. so ultimately, an abolitionist who put his own life on the line to procure freedom and help african-americans procure freedom for themselves. >> and was he -- political appoi appointee, we know he was -- >> he was an elected official, a
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local and state level. he had a political career after the civil war. there was even talk of his running for president after the war. of course, with those campaign posters would have looked like. that would have been a little strange. so you know, he was definitely commissioned by abraham lincoln to serve in the armed forces. but you know, he had an electoral career in politics before and after. >> next question, possibly a stumper. who was the person who took the first real circulating photo of grant? and how did the false picture that we showed get exposed? >> so it's going to definitely remain a stumper, the person who took the first photograph of grant. in the actibsence of available photographs and due to resemblance to the beef contractor, the earliest grant
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was this nongrant. and then the -- grant did have a very long beard in the early days on campaign. andly his wife came to camp, saw him there, and said, "this will never do, it's time for the barber to trim the beard," and that's when he got that rounded beard that remained his trademark for the rest of his life. the first picture -- i don't know. >> okay. but how the false picture, how was that finally exposed? my god. that isn't grant. that's the other guy -- >> there was bearded photograph that came out soon thereafter that was the real grant. and then the grant of the shorter beard became the subject of artists and photographers in '63 and '62.
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and by '64 and '65, it was photographed so constantly that, again, it's hard to create a -- there's a great story about grant being photographed that shows his sort of flaw. must have exactly the way he was in battle when he was unperturbed by bullets and artillery fire. he was posing for a photograph once under a skylight which was the norm then. the studios had to be lit by sun, usually on the top floor of commercial buildings. and suddenly for no particular reason, the skylight just shattered and fell to the floor with pieces hitting him, shards, and falling all around him. i don't know how he could have known whether it was an accident or an assassination attempt, but he never broke his pose. he never left the neck immobilizer that he'd been fastened into as was the custom of the day. just continued to pose, and they
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took the picture. >> next question -- did grant realize he made a bad decision on jewish soldiers? and did he then later try to make amends to jews when he became president? >> he did realize it was a mistake, and his wife -- he was kind of rueful in his famous memoir. in her memoir, julia grant said pretty much outright it was the stupidest thing he'd ever done. did grant do penance? absolutely. first of all, he was really in trouble with jewish voters in new york in his first campaign for the presidency. and i think jewish opposition made it a very close election in new york state, closer than it should have been. when he got to washington, grant went to a friday night sabbath service at the synagogue in
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washington and sat there for hours wearing a top hat, and not understanding the all-hebrew, possibly in part german service, and appointed jews to more government posts than any previous president. so he did atone to use the jewish vernacular. and very much was accepted and celebrated by jews in washington after that. >> interesting. here's another question about grant and the anti-semitism. was he, in fact, an anti-semite earlier in his life? >> you know, i think the army and the culture, civilian culture, were both rife with anti-semitism. the military had almost a tradition of anti-semitism. and if you read the editorials
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published in the north and the south, in the early days of the civil war, there was a lot of blame attributed to jews or mercenary activities for profiteering, for making shoddy clothes -- you know, it was ramp apt a apt -- rampant in the culture. was he an anti-semite? he was a slave holder and then in the ku klux klan, he was probably anti-semitic. he had a father who was a character and always tried to make money off of his son's fame. and one of the things that triggered his notorious order expelling jews was the fact that his father turned up in his camp one day with his new business partner who happened to be jewish. and both of them were looking
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for ways to exploit the situation for profit. you know, there was money to be made in selling things to soldiers who were bereft of the things that made civilian life endurable. and grant, you know, he couldn't -- he couldn't smack his father and throw him in jail, so he -- he attacked the jews, manifested by his father's business partner. it's interesting -- american jewish leaders immediately went to abraham lincoln to protest this order. and some very famous rabbis and lincoln received them and, you know, said, we've come to father abraham, we've come to our abraham for relief. and lincoln immediately saw the justice of their complaints, and he countermanneded grant's order. but he was very careful about it. this shows how savvy lincoln was. he ordered his general in chief
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to counterman the order because he did not want to publicly rebuke a military man who had done so well. the last thing he needed was to turn grant off and make him sulk or, worse, take to drink in reaction to an affront. he handled it very -- he did reverse it. >> interesting. one more grant question, and that is what was his feeling about using black troops? >> you know, there are self schools of thought on that. i would say at the very outset, meaning march, 1863, when black recruitment is authorized, you know, other historians may disagree with me, but i don't think he was tremendously enthusiastic. maybe more than sherman but less than lincoln, stanton wanted him to be, the secretary of war. ultimately, you know, again, you have a revolution in thought when you see soldiers in action.
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and once he heard about the heroics of black troops at battery wagner and also the mistreatment of sort of african-american troops by confederate generals, so threatened to send black troops back into slavery, and some were not slaves to begin with, or massacred african-american soldiers after they had thrown down their arms and surrendered. lincoln was furious, grant was furious, and again, he watched black soldiers performing once he came east in 1864. and then he became their champion. >> interesting -- here's -- still on the topic of black troops. question about butler. did he form the first full black regiment? >> no, he didn't form the first. the first was the celebrated 54th massachusetts out of -- headed by robert gould shaw, the
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very young colonel who went to his death at ft. wagner and was buried in a mass grave along with his -- with his soldiers. and by the way, just to show how indiscriminate and frightening some of the rage against monuments well, the great august us st. goddens' relief stanley cup of the 54th -- sculpture of the 54th was defaced with paint i think up in massachusetts, and again, i think some people object to the hierarchy of the picture as they did to the theodore roosevelt at our museum of natural history, because shaw, the white soldier, is on efforts, and the black soldiers were on foot. he was the officer. he office horseback. the soldiers were on foot. you know, the same when grant came by his soldiers.
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anyway, just an aside. no, he didn't form the first black revenue meant. he inherited it when he became the commander of the army of the james in 1864. >> here's something that is sort of foreshadowing of our final episode. question about grant and lee. were they ever friends before or after the war? >> this caller wants me to give away one of the big punchlines of next week, our final episode. but i'll do it. so i would say this -- grants knew lee, and lee -- grant knew lee, and lint didn't know grant. how about we'll talk about it next week at appomattox. i believe his feelings were hurt. lee was a more ex-aulted figure in the war. he was a commander of men, and
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grant was in charge of supplies. it showed off his organizational skills, but he didn't become well-known to some of his comrades. >> stay tuned for next week for the answer to that question. >> the full answer. >> full answer. the next question is did gene l generals stay out of the line of fire to avoid getting killed? if so, did some generals like grant chafe at the idea of not risking their lives with their men? >> yeah, that's a great question. and since our program is called "the modern major general," it should be acknowledged that modern major generals did not get on a horse and lead men into battle. they stayed back of the lines, they got messages from their commanders, they instructed lines of men to move this way and that. if they got an ideal position to observe from a height, they
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could see waves of soldiers, you know, flowing andening themselves. but you know, the painting of grant that we talked about at the beginning of the show today shows him not with a gun, not with a rifle, but holding b binocul binoculars. it looks almost dainty. it does not look tough. that was what grant and the modern major general did. they had telescopes and binoculars to see the action. although grant, you know, performed some astonishing and breathtaking acts of bravery during -- during service. he was certainly not a coward, but the most efficient use of his time and space was to be observing the whole field. >> indeed. so we've come to the end of our time. and it just flew by. and i know everyone who is watching us will join me in
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thanking harold for sharing his time and expertise. it is always a delight to be in conversation with you, harold. >> i feel the same way. >> oh -- and we want to thank you for your interest and your questions and your support. have a good night, and see you next week. weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. in 2015, for our "american artifacts" series, we traveled about 45 minutes west of new orleans to visit whitney plantation in wallace, louisiana, to learn about the history of slavery in america. following is a conversation hosted by thomas jefferson's monticello. it focuses on how depictions of slavery in jefferson's life have changed over recent decades. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern. and enjoy "american history tv" this week and every weekend on c-span3.
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you're watching "american history tv." every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past. c-span3, created by america's cable television companies as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. up next on "the civil war," historian harold holzer and valerie paily talk about artifacts featured in their joint publication "the civil war in 50 objects." in this program they discuss items related to the end of the war, and president abraham lincoln's assassination. this conversation took place on line, and the new york historical society provided the video. >> good evening, and welcome to the eighth and final episode of "the history hour." tonight's topic is saving the union and ending the civil war


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