tv Allen Guelzo Robert E. Lee - A Life CSPAN August 18, 2022 8:42pm-10:05pm EDT
guide for c-span.org/history. >> welcome to the virtual series, i'm the vice president of programs and public relations, it is my leisure to welcome you all tonight special guests, allen. newest book, our elite a life, a copies of biography someone a lot of us think we might know but it's an interesting side of the book. if you haven't yet purchased your copy, it was published yesterday, congratulations, allen from we are excited to have you after publication day. it's online, we offer shipping in-store pickup to help support our mission here.
i want to introduce tonight speaker and turn over to him to give you an orientation and introduction to his work. alvin also affect counsel at princeton university, author of several books about the civil war that's an understatement. early 19th century, american history recipient is only comprise military history and many other honors and he lives in pennsylvania. allen, welcome and thank you so much for being here this evening. >> thank you very much for hosting this program and monique for acting as our wonderful technical support hello to all of my friends in atlanta, a city i've known and enjoyed more than 35 years. many wonderful visit. i'm delighted to be appearing with the atlanta history center once again. i'm sure there are a number of members of the civil war
roundtable which i spoke to as recently as seven years ago about the battle of gettysburg. now let me turn to robert ely. mary chest first met robert edward just before the work at the white springs in western virginia where he brought his wife who was plagued by rheumatoid arthritis. they came to the springs archly to benefit from the hot springs there, few things i could give a release from the study much about terrible disease. mary chest that, one of the most famous diary keepers of the confederacy, a man riding a beautiful horse joined us wearing a hat somehow a military look to it she said he sat his
horse gracefully and he was so distinguished at all points that i very much regret not catching a name mary chest was intrigued by this man. who was he? where did he come from? it was explained to her he was robert edward lee. everything about him was so fine looking at the war which came to her mind was perfection. she said there was no thought to be found even a few hundred for one and get, mary chest was not entirely enchanted robert e lee or at least not nearly as much as some others work. she wrote her diary, i like leap better.
what she meant, robert e lee's old brother, sidney smith lee. why? because robert was a mystery. i know smith well she wrote in her diary but anybody say they know his brother? i doubt it. so old and quiet grand. that surprisingly was the judgment that many people who met robert ely came to. both during and before the american civil war came here to the mark when she talked about lee and perfection and she realized because perfection was one of robert e lee's abiding goals in life not because he was supernaturally less with ability that perfection was within easy
reach but because he demanded so much of it from himself and others. in other words, there was a great deal more to this man and people hot. not all of it could be easily reckoned with. in those last days before the civil war cast its shadow over the nation from robert e lee was on the surface at least, an american soldier. he was the son of a revolutionary work hero, white horse harry lee from a protégé of george washington the man who delivered that famous eulogy from washington, first in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen white horse harry lee. robert lee's mother was a patina carter the carter's were the
first among the first families of virginia. robert lee himself embarked on a military career entering west point in 1825 and he did so marvelously well and was commissioned in 1829, elite corps of engineers for he undertook a series of coastal engineering projects that range from georgia to new york city, the st. louis firm he earned his most impressive military bouquets serving superintendent of west point. 1857 to 1861, he was lieutenant
colonel of the second calvary and for a brief period, he was the colonel of the first u.s. capitol. then the outbreak of the civil war, he was offered themed command of the united states forces dealing with secessionist states. at that moment, he turned his back on more than 30 years of service command, first the virginia state forces bent rentable confederate army, the army of northern virginia. almost nothing in those proceeding 30 years has the slightest hint of the decision he made the army to forswear his oath to defend the united states he first took upon commissioning in 1829. to refuse what what have been the pinnacle of his military career.
as mary chest discovered, nothing so characterizes robert e lee as the question. why? why did he do what he did, why was he the man he was? 's general answer in 1861 that big decision about refusing command of the federal forces was that he was in virginia and when virginia was different, he was obliged to follow virginia into the confederacy. one was he? hello robert e lee was born onto northern neck of virginia in 1807, he had grown up in alexandria, which was then part of the district of columbia. alexandria and northern virginia would only be retro seated in
virginia in the 1830s long after left. most of his life thereafter they lived in other places. in georgia, st. louis, baltimore and new york city as an engineer. his father had been politically a federalist. though married into one of the foremost families of virginia, the cost of arlington, arlington overlooked facing the national capitol, not virginia. his in-laws allies the nation first of state loyalty "afterwards". we could not more in 18612 factors. first, harry lee for all of his
revolutionary fame had been our clock husband and father and left family when robert was only six years old. the shadow harry cast over the lee name was one of robert struggles to redeem the broad street of perfectionism in his behavior. robert also yearned to briefly of his father's reputation and otherwise. he wanted independence and wanted to be his own man and one sense his marriage was an attempt to stake out a room for himself but he also yearned for security. the security his father denied him so while most of lee's contemporaries left the army as
soon as i received their taxpayer provided college degree decently resigned and go into private engineering practice other professions, stays with him as the one certain profession could count on. a huge factor in this pursuit of independence, security and perfection was arlington. it was as much to protect arlington for his family as it was for virginia but he chose to resign as permission and refused the offer command. but that isn't the only factor. the other factor in his decision was his expectation that they would be no war after all. as it is for us to appreciate this because we are looking from
the present backwards, in april 1861, even after the secession of the southern states, even after the firing in fort sumter, it was still by no means clear that the crisis would only result in a civil war. we could have simply resigned his army commission and stayed neutral or he could accept the invitation extended to him to take command of virginia and play the role of mediator between virginia and beginning. and thus achieve peacemaking, fame greater than his father ever enjoyed in war but of course it did not turn out that way. many others, we found the secession crisis galloping away from him and in the end,
step-by-step incrementally, he found himself by 1862 as the commander of the army of northern virginia. he played that role quickly as he tried to play every other role in life that he failed elected not necessarily surprise him, on the way to the courthouse, he admitted he'd always expected the war would turn out the way they showed it with. at least his conduct would show how he could rise even above defeat. in the end, he would keep his perfection intact. today more questions revolve around statues of robert e lee finley himself and opposes a different sort of problem.
severance, the stature enrichment and the other leaks doctors removed a new orleans, charlottesville dallas and other places. on the one hand, i admit i am i thank you from matt. i am a pennsylvanian and that's all i've known in my earliest education in any subject that you have a civil war came as a boy at my grandmother's, a grandmother herself as a schoolgirl at the turn of the last century. welcome to her classroom all veterans of the union army grand army of the republican, coming in on what they then pulp decoration day to my grandmother and her fellow students in the real meaning of the civil war by which they met not what the
rebels were talking about when they talk about the lost cause. as such are yankee, i have difficulty fadiman why we put up statues people who committed treason. i use the word advisedly, i don't thought around uselessly or wildly. i have the same problem with people who wave the confederate flag. these were people, including robert e lee raised her hand against the nation safe sworn an oath to uphold and defend. i took the oath, my father took the oath, my son took that oath. this is not helped by the fact that because we are the confederates worked for was wrapped around like it or not, a defense of human slavery and human trafficking.
why should the artifact affect ever been in any place for museum? if someone wanted to erect a statue, robert e lee today, i promptly tell them as politely as i could to get lost but this story, not the whole story at all. the monument enrichment dates from the 1890s, i'm sure it had a message about white supremacy but it also had other messages. the south was a region which lost crippling civil war. its impact on the survivor's was worse than the great depression. and lasted into the 1950s. 10% of the military aid male population of the confederacy died in the war.
that's literally estimation. american culture we worship success. if you are successful, that's supposed to mean you are good. if you lose, it's supposed to mean you are back. remember tiffany in body fat winning is not only an important thing, it's the only thing. we embrace that in american culture. robert e lee symbolizes something different. he symbolized the possibility of dignity in the face of defeat. the winners, the michael filkins, ivan postfix, jeffrey epstein's. the winners are not necessarily look good. if the people who wind up paying for those are not necessarily bad.
that message was wrapped up in the least and we may regret losing that in a dog eat dog world. there's one more factor. monuments like the statue change. i know that sounds strange because monuments made of bran or bronze or physical material and they don't grow and they don't eat and we wonder what will be changed. what i know i change his monuments like stature enrichment or other places, you put up memorials and here is the white supremacy messages got attached. the sectors were there to remind people what the confederacy was. over time as generations past, statues change. they begin as foils and as
generations past, they decline into monuments. the statue became a remembrance of the chapter in richmond history. more generations past and the monument declines further simply a marker. they look up and say hi to robert e lee, some history dude. in fact, for become almost literally markers for negotiating traffic in downtown richmond. we see this and what has happened and other monuments and memorial markers. in california and donna park is a monument to the party, yes, there are folks when the winter collapsed down on them from resort to cannibalism in order to survive. a monument to the party, believe it or not, it borders on a
picnic area but nobody looks at the monument and says that's an incitement to cannibalism. maybe they might have set it when it was put up, they might have said that in the 1840s when the donner party was still alive or at least some of it but over time, it simply becomes a marker the same is true of the monument in my own state, western pennsylvania region of washington county, extension two the whiskey rebellion. whiskey rebellion was not about cannibalism and strictly speaking, it wasn't even about whiskey but it was about treason. as a monument in the whiskey rebellion, that took place in the 1790s perhaps when that statute was put up, people might have objected and said why are we putting up a monument for people who committed treason? but over time, begins as a
memorial descends into a monument and more time for monument descends to a marker and today in washington county, look at this monument, this marker to the whiskey rebellion, nobody feels upset about treason, more likely people are upset about whiskey and treason. yet, there is the monument. as a historian, i am always reluctant to see monuments and memorials and markers destroyed. as a professional reluctance that way. our historical memory and you can't expect pieces of still hold onto the substance of the memories, at least not easily. on the other hand, i'm a citizen of a democracy and the citizens of richmond or other places determine as a monument they wish to remove, i have no
legitimate reason for sending on the path of that decision. but i can hope for the is the decisions made reasonably. the product of a process and not by impulse or ignorance or rage. it has been said ignorance and impulse and rage are the unfortunate necessities we live with. i hear the voices that say that are. perhaps how we deal with our monuments, all the historical monuments historical memorandum perhaps how we deal with them will be the major series that we take our history and our democracy. that's an for me for now, i understand we have a number of questions from the audience think it's time to turn to the
curiosity of the audience and let that had its share here. >> absolutely, thank you for the introduction. i thought we could start going back, took us back to the present day talking about the moment we have a monuments, i thought when we go back to the beginning of your book digging a little more through robert e lee's earlier life in civil war service and got to audience questions as we go. if you have a question for allen, submit it to the q&a and we will make sure to get to as many as we can. we have really enthusiastic audience which is wonderful but if we are not able to get to your question, we apologize in advance. allen, i wanted to go back to the beginning. you layout in your book in your opinion, like robert lee,
understanding the relationship he had with his father, you mentioned revolutionary war but also post revolutionary war cleared in a lot of ways and his family, lay out a little bit for us, talk about his relationship with his father and his father's absence. >> to be technical, harry lee or henry lee the first third, a leaf from the cadet branch of the family. he was from the leaves of lisa peña. what difference does that make? the major dominant strain of the family, the lee family around
thomas lee and descended from richard lee, the first immigrant but sometimes called richard the immigrant. in the 1640s and 50s, thomas lee is the lee who built stratford hall, the place where robert was born. they built a small empire for the leaves on the northern coverage enough. henry lee was from a western part of family, that's why i call cadet branch of the family. harry quest if nothing else, ambitious. intelligent, he was skillful, he was brave almost to the place of recklessness. he went to princeton college, i get harry lee as part of the princeton heritage but he no sooner graduated from princeton in the revolutionary war breaks out. he volunteers service and takes command of a company of course that grows into a mixed lesion
of infantry and serves under washington and washington is deeply impressed by harry lee. when washington has to reorganize the campaign for the revolutionary, he turns to his great friend, nathaniel and with green, he says harry. the story of the revolutionary is very much a story written by nathaniel green and white house harry please help. it was after the revolution life started to come apart. at first, it looks like everything is swimming. he marries matilda lee, she's a cousin of his and matilda lee is the mayor of stratford hall which is how white house harry comes to be the man in control. yet white house harry had a real gift for botching things financially. every possible asset for a few real estate investments that
simply cork screwed downwards. when matilda week dies, she leaves him with two children, one son and lucy. henry the fourth, that's a story in its own right but white house harry remarries and carter. he burns through every bit of cash and carter brings in so much so that he winds up in debtor's prison. not only that but he gets involved in political, inflammatory political problems that cause him life in baltimore. after that, he simply leaves. he leaves behind politics, he leaves behind his predators and takes off to the west indies and leaves behind his second family was and carter lee and that included five children.
younger brothers of robert and two sisters. he heads off to the west indies and leaves his family to be taken care off by their carter relatives. robert is six years old when this happens and never sees his father again. there's something for psychologist can tell you about the trauma, there's hardly any kind of pain worse philosophy. the beginning of that's what robert expenses and in a sense even more cruel all through life constantly introduced as robert e lee the son of harry lee, people dreaming what they are conjuring up in his mind. robert on one occasion before
1861 never refers to his product and pass in his application letter to west point. beyond that, he never talks about his self, he never visits his father's grave. not until the end of 1861 when robert lee is coming into his own, become his own man so to speak. it's only been he comes to terms with the influence and impact of white house harry his life. it's a traumatic affair and out of that legacy growing passions in robert e lee itemized before for independence, security, for perfection and of those three passions are not only always compatible. some yarn for independence and find out it doesn't give you much security or you can obtain security and find out it doesn't give you much independence.
it never really makes all three together. not until after the civil war when he becomes the president of washington college in virginia. i mean the last five years of his life, he's able to bring all three of them into harmony. not significantly from affect the moment he writes a memoir of his product. >> a third act if you will, following civil war, older than a lot of other major figures, a really big impact on higher education in this country going back before the war specifically, you have yearning for independence, it leads into an army career which doesn't always give you that independence or stability, possibly writing about how he's
worried about making ends meet or feels he's running out of money but it weird because a soldier scholar, but he's a lot more financially stable than many others during that time. the cognitive dissonance he has going on back but one of the things i wanted to ask about was the cognitive dissonance, we have audience questions about this so i will paraphrase several. is robert e lee's relationship with slavery. robert e lee lives in a slaveholding state in virginia, his wife, family and arlington many enslaved people arlington self benefited from back in at the same time voracious private conversations, thousands of letters. makes references to institutions
and slavery but then he has disapproval because of that for white people, which is really rationalization happening there despite his expression and approval his family were supported in large part by slavery so can you talk about the thinking around slavery and how true rationalizations and conclusions? >> leave grows up so to speak with slavery. his parents owned slaves, his mother owned slaves when they were living in alexandria even though they were severely reduced, still at least six slaves in the lee household in alexandria. when can we carter dies in 1829, part of her estate is the disposition opera slaves not estate. some slaves are pointed toward
her two daughters, in this case, and marshall week -- i'm sorry, and can make -- i set marshall because she marries a lark marshall, she becomes amply marshall and her sister mildred lee. one slave family is welcome to robert or at least in terms of the estate, winds up being a slave family robber owns. as it turns out though, the only slave family he ever owned in his own name. that doesn't mean he didn't benefit from slavery as a system. simply by being right there were but if it's being part of the slave system was. even more, he marries into the custis, the main property at arlington but also to other custis properties among the river. all told, something like 190
slaves part of the properties. robert lee benefits when he marries and to it from their work and labor, he has a valet who is one of the slaves, his wife has slaves who will wait on her and they assist with the children and they go on vacation, the slaves go with. lee benefits from the slave system even if he doesn't himself has personal title to large numbers of slaves, which he doesn't. the curious thing is, for years and years, not until the 1850s when slavery becomes a crisis at issue in american politics. it's interesting he talks about it at all because we learned early in his political career, military career not to talk about politics. soldiers who talk about politics got mixed up in politics usually suffer for it.
he saw it happen in the case of his first mentor, charles, he saw what happened to winfield scott at the conclusion of the mexican war, he tries to stay as far away from politics as possible and get slavery by the 1850s is taking so much of his attention, he starts writing about it in a letter to his wife. what does he say? he says slavery is a moral evil. an evil that should be condemned in any civil society. he read that and you think well, it's about time. then you read on and immediately as you pointed out, he immediately qualifies that in two ways. first he says it's more of a problem for white people and black people because you are wondering how is that? but it's more of a problem for white people and black people. slavery is benefiting black people because it's helping them
assimilate civilization. it's a fairly common argument made by people in defending slavery in the 1850s and the slaveholding south but also have another argument incest i don't really have a solution for slavery, we just have to let god work this out in his own time. it took 2000 years from 2000 euros for christianity to civilize the world. it may take that long to get rid of slavery, he doesn't have a time bracket you look at that and say what he's even awake with one hand, he's taken back with the other but they have two things in mind even as he says it. one is, what he saying there is not a whole lot different than a lot of many other soldiers souts
including his father, slavery as his father-in-law does, eating out the vitals of south and get having said that, they turn around and say but there's nothing we can do about it. it's here, it's legal, what are we going to do? we look at the rationalizations and say come on. but there are two things in mind. lee did have points about slavery being a problem for white people. not as you might think, a racial part but economic. slavery is bound up with slave labor, how free labor compete with slave labor? so it is in fact making economic points even if it is racially, which of it. yet i think it has to be taken
into mind, he is looking at a situation where he may not have a lot of control of the situation. he does not own slaves. what's more, any southerner who starts to take steps about emancipating slaves, immediately will find himself cornered by other white southerners who will threaten him. what is interesting is in 1857 lee's father-in-law dies, it's a mess. part of the will provides for the emancipation of the slaves within five years. robert e lee as executive of the will and he undertakes the process of emancipating the slaves, a process which he concludes on schedule and december 1862. two things to notice about this. one is, by december 1862, robert
e lee is robert e lee. he's not just the son-in-law of george washington, robert e lee had gone to any confederate court said i don't want to go through with this, i shouldn't have to go through with this, i seriously doubt whether any bridging effect confederate court would have stopped him. if he wanted to derail the whole process, who would stand up impact of general we? the other interesting thing is that lee persists moving forward with the emancipation. not only emancipate slaves but a slave family he did in his own name which he was not obliged by the custis estate for emancipating. we can have 1863, robert e lee is slave less. what's more, he's battering jefferson davis. he sank the confederacy must
emancipate us slaves because otherwise we're never going to have any time standing in the eyes of the rest of the world but spring of 1865, he's advocating emancipation of slaves. the confederate army. on both terms, it's easy to say while he was doing this out of pragmatic reasons, not because he felt moral urgency and i'm sure there was a pragmatic motive in his thinking at the same time, he didn't have to. there is no compulsion for him to step forward and do that and get he does. does it mean robert has suddenly become racially enlightened? no. after the war is over, makes no effort to promote reconstruction. he has no interest whatsoever seeing black people and seeing them occupy, to the contrary, he
is critical of reconstruction so domestic what lee does for some kind of enlightenment experienced the same time, don't depreciate it either. as part of the problem, robert e lee and the complexities, contradictions, always like mary chestnut discovered. always the? , that is the symbol of robert e lee. >> let's get into one of the questions, i have several questions from the audience were wondering if we can talk about prewar experience and getting into the civil war, let's take a pause where things could have gone differently where he decides to resign his army commission and when i scheduled this book, i didn't realize
where that happened where he comes from, summarizing commission, he accepts the confederate army but in reality, there are steps in between so one question, we have insight from his own words and himself about thought process during that time that he consult with anyone about his monumental decisions to leave the u.s. army? as you say, promotion four years, the motion of the army's snails pace at that time. it would have been what is been striving for and yet he gives it up. could we talk about how he came to that what his thinking was? >> lee himself never lays out in a complete comprehensive session. the process by which he takes all of these steps and i think it represents the staff fact that lee didn't know what he was taking as his next step.
it's not a criticism because most people were feeling their way through the process. as i said before, we look back on it, it seems to be simple, straightforward and inevitable. there will be secession civil war and facet. no, it's no means obvious. it's not that obvious for me either. first of all, he didn't have to resign from the army. he believed he did because otherwise turned down the offer of the federal forces, turning it down and refusing in order. he would have been faced with the demand for resignation under any circumstances so he decides not to take the command and then he resides. at that time he could have, and all the evidence is expected to be neutral.
he was not the only southern officer who did not. there were a number of other officers. he resigned their commissions but they don't do anything else. they simply say neutral through the war. now you wonder perhaps how can one remain neutral through a war like the civil war? there are many people who simply concluded they did not want to remove their hands and what would really be a contest among fellow americans. a variety of reasons, it would back off or remain neutral, but the first step. he's been persuaded to take another step expects to go to richmond. he takes that step after consulting with his cousin, francis lee and alexandra. we had about 81st cousin from a fast network of leak connections. he did it in ellington alexandra, he would have hit a relative.
we consult with was approximately his age. look at photographs of them and they look so similar. they consult together francis lee comes away convinced that robert e lee percival will remain neutral and second he's going to promote reconciliation and peace between the prickly think at that time, how can there be peace? there's going to be civil war. they didn't know the. all the evidence is expects by taking command of virginia forces began to train virginia completely with the confederacy and going to war with the united states. for the first month is in command of virginia forces, all the words he gets our day and. when thomas jonathan jackson who is not yet stonewalled jackson from when he takes his troops
across the river to occupy the maryland heights across harpers ferry, he isn't back because they shouldn't provoke anything. the expectations are going to work this out with cap this disruption and secession but after the hotheads regained some wholeness, we want to get together and there's going to be reconstruction and that's the first time reconstruction get used. the convention of the state and everything will be peaceful again and we'll work this all out. that doesn't happen. he's actually writing about maybe i should resign. maybe i should just give us up and tried to go back to being neutral. by then, it was much too late. federal forces already occupied arlington and you might say dying the past.
but lee is surprisingly reluctant confederate mary chestnut diary, she puts on people talking to her saying we can't trust robert e lee, he's not with us. robert e lee will be tried as a traitor to the confederacy. to confirm that, that's an 1861. february 1865 when lee proposes the emancipation of slaves and recruitment for the confederate army, the charleston mercury in the firebreathing of all newspapers, he says we knew robert e leak was ever with us, we knew robert e lee was always a federalist at heart. we can't trust robert e lee. in 1865, charleston mercury. we had a particular profile. many people are not entirely
sure about robert edward lee. he loved that he won battles, many people scratch their heads about him. >> robert e lee himself often as you know, had many contradictions throughout where he will say one thing and turn around and do something that seemingly contradicts it so i had a question, he resigned as army commission and head of virginia army and their armies of northern virginia and its fabulous against the federal army and they predict the federal army get the act together. in the beginning, he straightforward when it comes to military conflict, we can't win this from strength along that the only chance is if we do something to back off from the
war so that is what leads him to pennsylvania and his neck of the woods. he kept getting into a battle, which we will talk about in a second but with his contradictions, there is one moment in the book that jumps out to me where he was criticizing behavior of the union army, what he sees as appropriate behavior, looting, that kind of behavior. yet he ignores the egregious conduct of his own army while in pennsylvania who were actually capturing black men selling them into enslavement in virginia. when i read that, i was thinking about how does that happen? how did he not seem to know or was ignoring and i know combat
where they are able to cause so much political disruption in dismay that the northern populace and the northern politicians become disenchanted with the lincoln administration and compel the lincoln administration to peace negotiations. he pursues that two times and he would have he would have pursued it a third time in 1864 if ulysses s. grant had not beaten him to the punch by launching the overland campaign in 1964. beyond that he saw himself as a day-to-day manager. he was willing to assume a lot of responsibility into the hands of his chief lieutenants and he has chief lieutenants who are up to the job like stonewall jackson and james longstreet said he was able to preside over the hearings with significant success at other times though
when jackson is dead and one longstreet is seriously wounded in the wilderness he has to take charge himself on the tactical level and it's very clear that he's not comfortable doing that. he can do it but he's is not comfortable doing it. in terms of setting out the moral parameters in his army his vision of himself as a commander is he is responsible for what goes on at the very top. anything else is the responsibility people at the levels of command in the chain of command so if officers are running down and capturing free black people in pennsylvania and tying them up and sending them off to be sold in the market it's not his responsibility not the way he sees it. that's something that occurs at an entirely different level
where he takes command responsibility so you might say what robert e. lee does is he looks at things and then he looks away and many of these difficulties that we see today we say that's a contradiction. how can we say this on one hand the call at this on the other? and it's a contradiction that it's not his responsibility and his officers and soldiers behave in a certain way he was not going to look at it. it simply was not going to be a subject that he was going to concern himself with. that was for his subordinates to take care of. >> it's a in treating especially since he so adamant about the conduct of the union troops. >> yes right and the conduct of those union troops was one thing to help to push him further and further away from this imagined role of the reconciler towards
we have to beat these yankees. understand to he really finds offensive not the union soldiers misbehaving because soldiers are going to misbehave. i'm sorry to the nature of the thing but what really upsets them is the directive for the misbehavior is coming from the very top and it's coming from john polk commanding the army of virginia. it might be the case that if the union soldiers were running around stealing kept chickens in killing cattle and otherwise wreaking havoc on the country side you could understand that but what he can't understand is the general in charge of the union forces not only is tolerating it but is directing it. that is what he found's profoundly offensive and it's why he gives the responses that he does. >> we are starting to get close
to the end but there are so many other questions. let's talk about and we don't have time to get into all of the decisions made during the civil war and we don't even have time to get into gettysburg and we'd have to have another program for that but we have a couple of questions from the audience about his mental and physical fitness and there are some questions about that and let's focus specifically on the day when the brigade and i'm sure a lot of people have been to gettysburg and you can go and stand on the position of blueberry hill. that brigade is really breathtaking when you're up there and longstreet comes to
him and says this is great. you have 15,000 men could not take this position but he does it anyway and he talks about what was he thinking in that tell him what were his strategic decisions and what was that moment in the war. >> a lot of people ask this question and they are at the angle looking out towards seminary ridge and they say what could he have been thinking? even soldiers across the open area could get slaughtered and of course what was the result? the result was defeat so what could lee have possibly been thinking. people of suggested while he was suffering from health problems and that affected his decision-making process. it is true he experienced health problems during the war, serious
ones. he was probably the most senior of the major commanding figures of the civil war. he was much older than grant and much older than mcclellan and historically speaking older than most of the greats. he was older than napoleon and some say perhaps he should have been in a more -- position in command on the field. he suffers a series of heart attacks during the war. the first of the heart attacks occurs in the spring of 1863 during his pennsylvania campaign but he bounces back from that heart attack. there's no real evidence during his campaign that he was experiencing a health distress that affected his decision-making and i would take a step further and say that his decision-making was actually quite sound.
think of it this way. for the previous two days of the battle of gettysburg lee's army had pounded the army at the potomac. the seventh entry for terry kor at potomac five of those inch infantry corps had been wrecked by lee's army. they were next to useless in terms of combat readiness. the only things that were left were the 12 core in the 64 and the six core he needs it is reserved in the 12 core -- and it leads to divisions of the second core holding cemetery ridge and each one of the divisions were lost in the brigade so what's holding the backdoor? not much more than 3500 men. wynne lee has an entire fresh unsullied division that george pickett division iii tigta
great -- three big for gates that can be supported by another division of troops yes james longstreet after the war and i emphasize after the war, insist that he disagreed vehemently and told lee that this was the wrong thing to do. i rather strongly suspect that much of longstreet ideas were and elaborated as time went by after the war especially after lee's death. i have the very strong suspicion that longstreet whatever reservations he expressed at that time he expressed severe enough reservations to cause lead to have any doubt. the rationale that justifies what we did can be seen by looking at what you could call
the wars of the american civil war. if you look to the crimea war at the great battle he launches the same kind of headlong straightforward attack against russian positions that are entrenched with artillery and come to victory in the same thing happens with napoleon the third. and the battalion war in 1859. everything we could have learned from military examples in 18 50's was suggested that lee was doing exactly the right thing. the proof is in the pudding. it almost worked to. the confederate forces pickett's division came within an ace of breaking through that federal line and if they had claire what was behind that line to keep them from going on? next to nothing. it was a close run thing at
gettysburg. it's also true about gettysburg. he came very very close to success. it was not a rash decision and it was not an unprincipled and thoughtless decision. it almost worked and i have say this bluntly i for one and grateful that it did not because the consequence of that if we had been successful at gettysburg oh my goodness the army of the potomac having been beaten on so many fields so many times could very likely have gone to pieces. lee had a full and open field in front of him. there would have been a demand for peace negotiations. alexander stevens the vice president of the confederacy was on the boat in the chesapeake day waiting to come to washington and what would he have said the abraham lincoln if
he had and we would have had a balkanized north america. if the north and the south divided do you think it would have stopped there? no. there would have been a civic confederacy and we would have had in north america almost a repeat of always on the balkans in the 1990s and then, and then what would have been available to stop the tide of chairman militarism in world war i and in world war ii of the cold war? not a thing to contemplate. >> now and something about the american civil war there were only two sides in the civil war. usually there are quite a few more than that but it's hard to contemplate what would we looking at today.
>> years later serving in the united states supreme court one was edward white the confederate in louisiana and the other was oliver wendell holmes at antietam. every other anniversary of antietam homes would present them with a fake rose not in a romantic gesture and his response was this, my god he said if we had succeeded. that was the estimate of the confederate and he was right. >> its reflections and the counterfactual of and longstreet in particular saying no at that point. there are so many great
questions but he was quite an passable figure after the war and having another direction after that with everything else at the beginning but can you talk a little bit about during his life his post-war sentiment his tenure at washington college and when he was no longer a confederate general? >> there are so many surprises in the life of robert e. lee but there's nothing more surprising than what occurs in the last five years of his life. when the war is over he is indicted for treason. he doesn't go to trial but is indicted for treason so he's looking around for some form of employment but he also wants the ground for employment it's going to get them is far from the
prying eyes of people in washington as he can get. he's offered the job of president of washington college and if you want to talk about a dead-end job washington college was this college in lexington virginia in the upper end of the shenandoah valley. the trustees decide they will make an offer to lee and they send one of the trustees members and they had to dig in their pockets to buy a suit or ham so he could look decent when he goes to visit robert e. lee. he doesn't hear anything in lee writes back and says well i been indicted for treason and if you can handle that i will take the job. what a shocker. robert e. lee had been a superintendent at west point and he hated the job because he was micromanaged at every stage of the job itself.
he had a job early in his career and he turned it down. he said the classroom is not my medio and he turned it down. he goes to lexington and its curious one of those generals wrote to the trustees and said it's great that you got lee to become president. he's going to be great figure and don't give them any work to do this put them on the letterhead and you know something that trustees say where burt ely ran the place. he rewrites the curriculum from top to bottom and he basically sidelines the classic curriculum and he starts bringing in modern subjects. he brings in mechanical engineering and journalism and not only that but he does away with the student code of conduct. he now says to all students in
the interviews every student who comes to washington college. he says there's no code of conduct here and the only thing we expect of you is that you will behave as a gentleman. that does not sound generous? no. that means robert e. lee is the judge jury and executioner of all student behavior. he takes control of everything in the college and you know the place where he's the best? fund-raising. cole edwards thought of robert lee as it dealt mental officer. he shakes the apple side of the trees especially the apples of northern trees. he takes abolitionists like henry beecher to sponsor meetings for the support encouragement in fund-raising for washington college. lee dies in 1870 and the college
was almost defunct and made it an educational powerhouse. he's so remakes washington college that trustees remain -- renamed the place has washington and lee university and that's a tribute to the fact that the place probably would not have survived had it not been for the presidency of robert e. lee. >> we does have a couple more minutes and i'd like to spend a little bit of time talking about a great question from the audience who says lexington virginia the place aerial places we and stonewall jackson. he hero worships lee and jackson. as we are approaching the lost
cause and seeing him as a person rather than confederate or -- we try to figure out who the man is any sense how can i introduce my dad to the more modern approach to the civil war that he might be receptive to? >> first of all reflect on yourself and your own experience all of us are the products of many times places and things that we have met. we are all of us the confluence of mainstreams. not all of it at the same time or with the same power but not even with the same message. we deal with complexity ourselves and that's simply in the nature of human beings. there's no such thing as a simple human being. as soon as they realized that then we begin to understand that the people that we look at in
history are not in that respect different from us. they too are the confluence and a part of all that they have met and when we understand ourselves and them in this way than we look at something different. we look at them to be human beings and we are looking for them to be people who struggle with contradictions. we look at people who try to do the right thing but are not sure how to do it and sometimes there had even sure what the right thing is to do and are trying to find the markers that will point them in that direction. we lead lives of uncertainty and struggle the best we can. why are we surprised that we find others in the past live their lives that way? it's true there are in the past there are monsters and there are people who have been virtually a
refutable evil but those tend to be on the whole the exceptions. there are there are not that many monsters and we can be grateful for that. heavens knows the ones that have lived for hitler's the stalin's the mouth's those people while they have caused damage and suffering at least are not as numerous as the rest of us who struggled day by day to understand what is right, what is true and how to do it. if we approach people that we wouldn't put a halo around it doesn't mean that we'd done damage it means we have come to terms with them the same way we have come to terms with ourselves as human beings. i think of the lines of william words -- words worth said. words were said this i have come to look on nature not as in that
hour of thoughtlessness but hearing oftentimes the still sad music of humanity. nor harsh nor greeting but with power to rebuke. i think if we can hold onto that then we will have a way not only of coming to grips with ourselves and our own contradictions but also the contradictions of those who have gone before us in the past. we won't put halos on them but it the same kind we won't put tales on their backs and forks in their hands. >> one question that you include in your introduction to this talk from john talking specifically about this point that there's a monument holding
in the 1920s during the jim crow era and its it's holding a massive resistance to civil rights following the brown vs. board of -- leave but to continue as many of their ancestors was no longer in academic profession or rationalization about -- what affects people in their everyday lives. how would you respond to that? >> i take this back to the whole question of what monuments are. monuments as i said before start out as memorials to i see this all the time at the battle of gettysburg. on that battlefield the majority of the more than 1000 mommy and -- monuments and markers
with the union regiments that fought there and there are some peculiar union monuments. the monuments of new york close to the angle on cemetery ridge the monument of the 42nd new york shows an indian chief in the tp saying wait a minute have they got the wrong war? the answer is no this was the tammany regiment raised by tammany hall and that's chief tammany. so you have a monument bearing people look at it and say new york. the dedication ceremonies. the justice and right misses of the union cause and the people who are erected that monument where the veterans of them regimen and they were spare saying yes that's right it was a moral cause and we embrace it. it's a memorial to our troops. that generation dies off.
they look at that monument and they say it's the monument at the 42nd new york. they don't have have quite the fizz about things that the original soldiers dead. they are looking at it as a monument. then they are generation passes in their grandchildren come to gettysburg. they say here's where the 42nd new york stood, okay? there's the monument. it's a marker. i think we have to ask a series of questions. bachan 2017 after charlottesville i came together with one of my students and we wrote an article which was
published in the civil war monitor. we offered what we call the decision tree. what do you do about monuments especially monuments the talk about difficulty and what we did was we walked step i step in we send our does this monument doing this, that and the other and if so take it down if not go to the next question. there's no automatic conclusion to come out of that decision tree. it all depends on what you put into it and what conclusions you draw. what it does though is that compels us to sit down and work her way through the complexities of the questions of what is civilized. can we tolerate this and what does it really symbolize? are the symbols multiple and for instance the confederate monuments were put up in the jim crow era. is that mean they were monuments
to jim crow? some of them were and you might say there's an aspect to all of them but was also a time when there were veterans of the confederate army that were dying of and we had some memory of what happened to them in their youth. there is also that part of it as well and then there's the whole business about do we worship success and are the only people who deserve a monument at the people who are successful wealthy and employ agile and powerful? or is there room for monuments for people that you weep over? there is complexity built not only into human nature but -- the decision tree is a way of respect and the complexity so we should honor everybody's input in the decision may be at the end gatto take it down. but at least at that point it's
come at the end of a process and at the end of the process we can altogether be confident that we have fought our way through this. if we don't than even when the monument is gone we will continue to fight and tear and rip at each other. it even if the monument is not there anymore. even in the absence of the monument to rage will be there. it's the rage that can poison democracy. the reason however the reason for the pursuit of truth that's the health of democracy. if there is a word i would give to people tonight as an historian that's the word i would give. >> i feel like there's no better way to end this talk tonight than that said everyone in the audience thank you so much for your attendance and thank you for your excellent questions that i'm sorry we could not get to all of those but rest assured many of them are in the book so
if you haven't yet purchased your copy of "robert e. lee" it's a fascinating study from start to finish and you will certainly learn something that you didn't know so thank you again for joining us. allen we appreciate your willingness to join us virtually. we wish it would have been otherwise but we'll otherwise but will take away can get and thank you again and good luck with the rest of your tour. sonenclar thank you so much and thank you so much for enabling this and thanks to the whole audience and all your wonderful questions and i hope to see you all againi'm so glad to be welcu
all to virginia tech's annual civil war weekend. my name is paul quigley. i'm director of the virginia center for civil war studies. it was my job one of my jobs to split these nine talks into three different sessions one for each week and the theme the kind of sub theme i came up with for this week is manpower and horsepower, which sounds kind of weird. that was the best way i could come up with the separate these topics out, but you're gonna hear three really excellent talks on that theme tonig
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