Skip to main content

tv   Ulysses S. Grant Robert E. Lee and Leadership  CSPAN  August 16, 2017 5:16pm-6:20pm EDT

5:16 pm
app. c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979 c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. up next, a civil war historian comparing the upbringings and leadership skills of ulis sees grant and robert e lee. >> thank you, patrick. our last speaker of the morning here. mr. davis is from independence, missouri. in the afternoon is william c.
5:17 pm
jack davis. and mr. davis is from independence, missouri. has a bachelor, masters degree from sonoma state university. and many of you may know him as long-time editor of "civil war times illustrated" back in, i guess, the 1970s and 1980s when it was really the only popular civil war magazine. its heyday. the best years that it was in existence. it still is, obviously. but he's the author, editor of 60 books relating to primarily to civil war, but also 19th century history, southern u.s. history. think about that for a minute. 60 books. among those, just a few, his i think first book was a history of the new market campaign, which i still think is a model small battle history, forty years after it was written. i think it's one of the best small battle histories that have ever been written on the civil war battle. biography of john c. breckenridge. general history of the confederate war. book on the end of the war in florida and other locations, cornered with him about the
5:18 pm
escape of southern cabinet members down through florida. he is the editor of a recent series on the civil war in virginia, a separate volume for each year. he was the editor of the now it's i guess 20 years old, but the newer photographic history of the civil war, which i believe was image of war. which is a great supplement to the older history. mr. davis also was the on camera senior consultant and commentator for 52 episodes of civil war journal which many of you remember which was on a and e and history channel for a number of years. and he's involved in many other production activities for television. in 2013 mr. davis retired after 13 years as the professor of history and executive director of the civil war center for civil war studies at virginia tech.
5:19 pm
he is the only four-time winner of the jefferson davis award given for length works and confederate and civil war history. and there were copies of his newest book. hopefully they haven't been -- well, maybe hopefully they will have been sold out correct. and hopefully he's working on some new books for us. and mr. davis' talk today is grant lee and leadership, which is based on one of his more recent books. so please welcome mr. davis. [applause] good morning. it's great to be back here again. i'm delighted to see all of you here. i congratulate ralph peters for taking care of the first couple
5:20 pm
of minutes of the talk that i was going to do, because i now don't have to say that my favorite branch of the united states government is the national park service, which i almost always do if i get the chance. they give us more bang for the buck than any other branch of government, and it's a wonderful, dedicated corps of people working there. and it's been a great pleasure for me for 45 years to have known so many of them and to work with so many of them. it's really something to be proud of, with the possible exception of england, i don't know of any nation in the world that has anything to compare with it. it's just wonderful what they do. and bringing you people together for an event like this is part of that, i think. thanks also to ralph peters. i'm going to rewrite my talk while i'm giving it, because he
5:21 pm
addressed so many interesting things. and i'm going to talk about grant and lee and leadership and what characterized them, but i'm going to give you some of the background of their lives. first, the sort of thing that informs the way people like these made decisions. grant and lee as people. i think you find some surprises when you learn something about them. first, did you know that u.s. s grant grew up in the wealthiest household in his county in ohio? grant was the son of rural western privilege. his house had books in it. his house had a piano. lee, as you've always heard, grew up in somewhat stranger circumstances, but maybe not quite as poor as has often been implied. his number did inherit a number of slaves which she hired out usually at $50 a year. she inherited a lot of shares in banks and railroads. and unlike shares today, those
5:22 pm
actually paid dividends. her income when lee was a boy ran between 2- and $4,000 a year, which in that era put her in the top 10% of earners in america. so they weren't living in genteel poverty, but she was very careful with her money. there was a famous story that they would have a debate in the family one day over what meat they would buy for the next day's dinner. they could afford a lot more than just one meat at a time, but his mother was obsessed with -- she know something about poverty. if you were married to light horse perry lee, you knew about poverty and you knew about debt and you knew about shame and humiliation. so she was always a pinch penny and interestingly enough lee will always be a pinch penny. it was a continuing bone of contention between lee and his
5:23 pm
wife over her spending. he teased one of his sons about her spending. he said the most dangerous thing that can happen is when she finds a bargain because it will usually cost twice what the asking price. so he didn't grow up poor, but he grew up very, very conscious of money. their childhoods are very, very different. lee's is quite constrained and i think ralph was right on the money when he pointed out that lee from probably his earliest moments of awareness is conscious of the load that he and his brothers bear as the sons of lighthorse harry lee and eventually spend all of his life trying to overcome that, trying to turn around the reputation of his branch of the lee family. he scarcely, scarcely knew his father.
5:24 pm
his father disappeared when lee was, i've forgotten now, about seven years old. he never saw him again. and i think it's very significant that during the war when lee is in command down in south carolina, he will go visit his father's grave. as you heard, his father was coming back from self-imposed exile to avoid debtors prison and died on the way and is buried in -- near savannah, georgia. so lee went to visit his father's grave and he wrote a letter, two letters back, in fact, one to his wife and one to his son describing it. and essentially -- this is how he described it. went to i think it was then nathaniel green plantation. saw father's grave. there's a beautiful grove of orange trees all around it. the hibiscus bloom wonderfully. one sentence about his father. he was writing about visiting the grave of a stranger.
5:25 pm
and i think this will follow him all of his life. grant has his own cross to bear in the parental department. his father jesse grant was a jackass, bombastic, boastful, egotistical, annoying, but he's the wealthiest man in town and he knows it. and keep rubbing everybody else's face in it. he's really a boob. he and his own son never really get along all that well. so grant has a different parental cross to bear, and that is to get past being the son of this bunctiuos character who spends much of his time or some of his time doing his best to tear down his son's ego, his own sense of self-worth. jesse grant will be his son's worst critic in childhood and will continue doing that well into the war. it's so revealing that after the
5:26 pm
surrender of pemberton and vicksburg, one of the first letters grant will write is to his father, and it says essentially dad, i took vicksburg and you can see in it it's buried within the formal letter is this plea, have i done well, daddy? and his father would be a cross around his neck all his life. but there were trade-offs. grant had an enormous amount of freedom as a child. jesse may been a jacks', but he didn't scold. they didn't discipline their children. they gave them enormous freedom, a kind of freedom that those of us with children today i'm happy to say that's no longer my concern mine are grown and gone, would never think of today. there were no boundaries to speak of. list as he was called would take off and travel around the county. he could take one of his
5:27 pm
father's horses ride anywhere he wanted to from about the age of seven or eight. it's a cliche about grant, but it's true. he's something of a horse whisperer. he has this unusual connection with horses and handle almost any barnyard animal, but especially horses. he's allowed to go off into the country. in time his father will be sending out to make goods deliveries or to make goods purchases for the grant stores. plural, more than one grant store. and it's not a leather tannery by the way. they sell leather goods that have been tanned by others, to the point that by the time he's about 15 years old grant has by himself with a team of horses traveled from georgetown, ohio maysville, kentucky, louisville, kentucky, lexington, kentucky, cincinnati, pittsburg, detroit, chicago.
5:28 pm
if any of you study geography in school and remember it, you can tell he's getting farther and farther away from home and he's only a kid. by himself. my calculation is that by the time he left for west point when he was 17, he had by himself with a wagon and team traveled over 1,500 miles. how many of you would trust any 17-year-old you know to travel 1,500 miles by himself? with no supervision. what it did for grant was to open up the world to him. he developed then and never lost a fascination with travel, of seeing what's beyond the hill, seeing new things, meeting new people. in that same period of his life, in his teen years, by my best guess i'd say robert e. lee probably never traveled more than a hundred miles from home. he stayed fixed in northern
5:29 pm
virginia. the lees didn't travel except for his father and that was of course to escape debt. lee was never worldly. he had no interest to speak of in the affairs of the rest of the world or really even went what on beyond the confines of virginia, because that had been his world. when the war was over, i'm sure most of you know, of course, grant becomes president. when he leaves the white house, he will take off on a two-year-long tour of the world in which he nearly bankrupted himself. and he loved every moment of it. so that we have photos of him in egypt, in china, in japan. he'll be the first jimmy carter of a sort because as an ex-president he will broker a peace between japan and china over a local dispute. believe it or not there is still today just outside, in kyoto a monument to u.s. grant that was put up in the 1890s for the peace he made.
5:30 pm
it's still there today. he loved the world. lee never got over that sort of fixation on localism. they both have their prejudices, but they kind of reflect their childhoods and their experiences. grant pretty much loves everybody. he was indifferent to slavery. there's not a word from him about the institution of slavery for or against until toward the end of the war. he did briefly own one slave that was a gift who when he was broke he emancipated rather than selling it to get money that he needed. and it was a slave that had been in his wife's family anyhow. but he gets along with virtually everybody else because he's not just interested in the world. he's interested in its peoples. you can see a very open, very open mind there. lee pretty much doesn't like
5:31 pm
anybody except white virginians. much has been made out of this famous letter he wrote in 1858 in which he castigates slavery. but he then goes on to say, which people forget to quote, that slavery is a bigger miss fortune for white men than it is for the slaves because the white men have to take care of the slaves. his experience with his family because they had never been planners, was that they hired out the few slaves he had and he inherited about a half a dozen. they caused trouble. they lied. they stole. they run away and you had to spend money, money that you were pinching pennies on to send somebody after them, to bring them back. so he did not like slavery, at least a southern wig. essentially they don't like slavery, but they don't know what to do about it. but he's no friend of the slave. he's not keen on freed blacks, he also doesn't like mexicans, indians. he's not real keen on catholics. he's pretty open-minded about
5:32 pm
jews and actually will go out of his way to when he's command of the army of northern virginia to make some allowances for jewish holidays as long as they don't conflict with actions in the field. so again, you see kind of two different minds in operations. two different world views. of two men who are very different, who yet share a lot of things in common. and i think it's important to try to emphasize that in saying some things about one that you haven't heard before, that doesn't mean that i or anyone else am anti-lee or anti-grant. we simply need to level the playing field so we're looking at them with the blinders off and trying to give as fair an approximation as we can of who they are. let me play a little game with
5:33 pm
you. i'll give you a couple of scenarios. we will speak of generals a and b. you notice that the letters cannot possibly relate directly either to grant or lee. general a expects the enemy to advance but doesn't expect it just yet. he's taken by surprise when he leaves avenues of approach unguarded. he reacts to that surprise by being pushed back and fighting defensively at first, but then he consolidates his position, then he takes the offensive and he dries the foe from the field. who does that describe, grant or lee? both. that's grant at shiloh. that's lee at chantsville. scenario two struck hard on his flank and pushed back, general b into we actively reasons the enemy must have weakened the other end of his line. so general b counterattacks and wins the battle. which one is it?
5:34 pm
both. grant on february 15th, 1862 at ft. donaldson. and lee at spotsylvania. third and last, general b divides his army in front of the enemy and sends a major portion of it on a wide movement around the enemy flank and rear to strike a decisive blow? which is it? both. lee at second manassas, grant at iuka in vicksburg. the myth is that lee is a virtually undefeated genius only overpowered by superior numbers and resources while grant is of course a plodding butcher who won only by overhauling power. yet in fact in many respects their skills and their general ship approach the identical. there's no question lee had genius, and his was hardly a hopeless task. and grant did have great
5:35 pm
advantages. for a start, actually early in the war grant had more experience. we tend to forget, he was already a national hero in the north after donaldson and then again after shiloh at a time when lee was being virtually forgotten in the south because of a campaign in western virginia that did not come out well. only after he took active command of the army of what he termed the army of northern virginia in the summer of '62 does the robert e. lee that we know begin to emerge. grant had more men, was better equipped and supplied and was backed by seemingly unlimited resources. but counter that with the fact that lee fought on home ground. he had the advantage of interior lines. he knew the ground or had people with him who knew it, and he and his army had the vital support of the local people. and lee had another tremendous advantage, and he's almost
5:36 pm
unique in this in the confederate army, and that is that he had the unwavering support of president jefferson davis. and in fact, a wonderful working relationship with him, which nobody else had with davis. grant on the other hand never even met lincoln until early 1864. and lincoln had actually been wary of grant for a some time until he was finally convinced that this the uniquest greatest military here row would not challenge for the republican nomination in 1864 because grant was being court by opponents to lincoln in his own party. lee knew davis much better than grant would ever know lincoln. grant also faced a constant peril of political infighting in his rear. first the jealousy of henry, then don carlos, john mcclernen was the worst of all, but there was also men of the stripe
5:37 pm
steven hurtbet, nathaniel banks and grant's one-time field officer william stark rosecrans. they and their allies and almost all of them, among other things, allied themselves with newspaper men. communications and information and the creation of impressions versus the actual expression of fact, it's nothing new as ralph told you in his talk. and it's very evident there. these men constantly fed the press stories to hurt grant. like the charges of drunkenness, and i might deal with that later on. lee never has to contend with that. he has no one working against him behind his lines except possibly longstreet, who was more interested in getting an independent command of his own than he was in undercutting lee. from 1861 onward lee will report directly, face-to-face to jefferson davis. grant, through his career will report first to john c. fremont,
5:38 pm
then henry halleck, briefly to george mcclellan and then to halleck again. talk about a losing hand at cards. there's four deuces. grant will start the army -- start the war with an army in which virtually every division commander in 1862 was a political general from illinois. talk about poison. mcclellan, hurlburt, prentiss, w.h.l. wallace, only sherman among his division commanders was a professional. later grant had to command and control the likes of banks, benjamin f. butler and france segal. lee had no none professional or political generals in his army's upper echelon until the death of jeb stewart and his replacement by wade hampton and later of course by john b. gordon. end of the second corps in the
5:39 pm
final days. grant has to operate entirely in enemy country, maintaining long and increasingly longer lines of communication subject to degradations of bipartisans. lee campaigned almost exclusively on home ground except for gettysburg. in short, lee has got some substantial and significant advantages to help offset grant's superiority of numbers and materiel. that they could offset those things is amply demonstrated with what lee did to mcclellan, polk, burnside, hooker. there's another losing hand. had any of those officers been in command in virginia in the spring of 1864, is there any reason to suppose they would have done any better against lee than they had before? so what if? but it's a tantalizing one. there are strong differences in
5:40 pm
their personal pluses and minuses. in 1864 when they first meet in the field, lee is 57, which right now doesn't sound too old to me. his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health were in decline. you heard, he suffered from heart ailments, which he treated, by the way, mostly with quinine, which in many cases just aggravated the problem, but no one knew that. he's tired. he complains of not having energy. he complains that he can't concentrate, that he has trouble seeing. the war has exhausted him. mentally he is older than his years. he did indeed marry mary custis, the daughter of george washington custis, a woman who at best is difficult. it's always impossible now and it's unwise, i should say, to
5:41 pm
try to put somebody who is long dead on the couch and psych analyze them, but mary custis lee shows a lot of the behavior that you see in people who are today diagnosed as being bipolar. way up one day, way down the next, erratic particular behavior. there's the famous incident in which she got out of bed one morning and i guess she had had a bad hair day, didn't look good, so she cut all her hair off. when lee was a younger officer in the u.s. army, they prepared to go to one of the social events that would take place on post. he would be dressed to the nines immaculately in his uniform, and she'd show up wearing the 19th century equivalent of jeans and a tank top. she had no sense or no concept, i guess, of what was appropriate for occasions. lee and all of the children will dance around mary increasingly during their lives to try to keep her on an even keel.
5:42 pm
i'm not saying she was insane. we can't say she was bipolar or manic depressive, but we can say she was a difficult personality, and that preyed on lee's mind. you see it in his letters, especially in the later years. by 1860 he feels he's a failure as a father, he's been a failure as a husband. he even feels like he's a failure as a man. when he finally in 1860 gets to go back and take over his command after those years he had to spend bailing out the arlington mansion from his debts he wrote specially how glad he was to be back in the field when he was at home he felt like a stranger, didn't belong in the house, like he's just in everybody's way. he's not really a happy man. he has seemingly no enthusiasm. he will write about the deaths of friends as a good event. one famous instance of a young officer who just got married and he would write to his wife, mary, about how that young
5:43 pm
officer within weeks of marriage took sick and died and lee said what a magnificent release. he will not have to go through all the hell and tribulations that constitutes a marriage. and he writes this to his wife. he will express pleasure of a sort at the death of a child. that child can go straight to heaven and does not have to go through the endless turmoil and anguish that is life on earth. this is not a real warm, fuzzy view of life as it is. within him you find a resignation and a vague sort of pessimism. spiritually he is probably what is called a providentialist. man is helpless. all we can do is sit here and be the pin balls in a pinball game
5:44 pm
that god runs and get battered around until finally we get the good fortune to die and go to heaven. man cannot change his status on earth. man has no real influence on what happens on earth. it's kind of depressing, but there's a reverse side to the coin. if everything is only what god wills, if man really can't influence anything unless that's what god wants, if you're the commander of an outnumbered army, that can be liberating. i'm not taking the risk. if we fail, it's not my fault. it's because god didn't mean us to fail. and look at the other commander, grant, in 1864 is 42. he's in the best health of his life. he's 15 years younger. he's married to a woman who is visibly kind of an inspiration
5:45 pm
for twin beds. she is no day at the beach. she's got a cocked eye that runs off to the side. she's a bit overweight. even if the eyes were both focused, she's still no beauty. but grant just adored her. like lee he'd kind of married up because his father-in-law was not that keen on julia dent marrying a soldier. but grant was always happiest when she was with him. she was his touchstone. when she's not with him, all he can write about is how much he wants her with him again, which is why grant will as often as possible have julia with him with the army during the war and sometimes his children as well. he simply loves the ground she walks on. it's been argued and i think a case can be made for it that later on of course when he's president grants may have been the happiest marriage the white house has ever seen. we've seen some pretty funny
5:46 pm
ones in recent times, but maybe with the exception of harry and bess truman, this was just an inordinately happy man in his personal life. he is also above all else an incurable optimist, to the point of being impractical. but he always expects everything to turn out right. he's the original pan gloss. in this best of all possible worlds, everything will work outed for the best. though he also believes that a man can make his own luck, a man can influence what happens on earth. he places no reliance on the almighty. indeed, if you want to write the shortest book on record, write a book about grant's religion. all we know is that if he ever went to church, which was occasional, he went to a methodist church. but he almost completely silent on all things metaphysical. but he always expects to
5:47 pm
succeed, even after he has just failed. that's not an end in itself. it's just a little delay on the ultimate road to victory. after every victory of the war, he will say confederates are going to have to give up. i expect the war to end in a few weeks now. it never did until '65. but he never lost that optimism. he will deal with conflict directly and decisively. he will relieve senior officers of command and tell them directly to their faces why he does it. he will have senior officers arrested. lee always so controlled, always so conscious that he's a lee and of this persona that he's created and of the necessity to stay within that persona, lee always avoids confrontation. if he has an officer who is disappointed him and there are ones, john b. mcgruder comes to mind, daniel harvey hill, the
5:48 pm
man who croaked, as lee said at one point, he gets richmond to transfer them somewhere else. he doesn't do it himself. he gets richmond to do it. now, think about about it. that gets rid of his problem, but it just makes those officers somebody else's problem. so he hasn't really achieved a solution for the confederacy. he's achieved a solution for himself. as i said, grant is too optimistic sometimes. sometimes he doesn't prepare carefully or take proper account of enemy potential. yet there are many similarities, and they're very significant, i think, when it comes to the ways men in positions like this are going to manage vitally important commands. neither one of them has much use for counsels of war. they will solicit the opinions of their subordinates and operations and they listen in a subordinate that proposes an idea, but at the end of the day
5:49 pm
when a decision had to be made, they sought no consensus to share the responsibility. they made their decisions themselves and they were both completely prepared to accept the consequences. both have i guess it must be inborn ability to adapt to unexpected events and to delays and to constantly reassess a situation as it appeared before them rather than as they wanted it to be. grant seemed to be able to do this almost from the outset. lee came to it a little more slowly. as when in the opening of the seven days when he simply waited for things to happen and wondered why they didn't. but by the close of the week he was learning and adapting quickly. grant maintained excellent control of his units and developed a very outstanding staff, many of whom were specialists.
5:50 pm
invested with authority to act in his stead. as you've heard before and as you all know a civil war army in a battlefield could be stretched out over miles. there's no way the army there's no way the army commander can be where he can see all of it let alone be giving direct orders and making sure they're carried out. so grant would invest his staff officers with his authority to act in his stead. so he could send a captain out to tell a corps commander what to do. and the corps commander knew he'd damn well better do it. excellent use of staff and very few generals were used. and grant would also do this especially when he's trying to get difficult officers to do something. he will station members of his staff in those generals' headquarters constantly to remind them this is what the general and chief expects you to
5:51 pm
do. lee did not do that, unfortunately. his staff are almost all very good officers. there just were never enough of them. and he didn't always use them effectively. among the staff when he wasn't around they came to refer to him as the great tycoon because he did so much himself. he had only seven permanent staff. grant had more than 20. it's not the modern general staff yet, but it's a step on the way there. both know how to delegate, and for the most part, they don't micromanage. grant arguably gave better orders, mostly written. his words were few, precise and they rarely left room for confusion. it's no wonder he later became a great writer. lee was prone to give too many verbal orders. some of that simply was the the exigencies of the situation that he found himself, but especially
5:52 pm
this was a problem where those verbal orders had to pass through a chain of command, each transmission opening the possibility of misquotation. you all remember the old game i think was called chinese whispers where the ten people line up and the first one will whisper in the ear to the next to him by the end of the line it comes out something like my sweater is too tight. verbal orders allow way too much scope for mistransmission. and this will happen to lee a lot. his instructions for the attack at chief mountain were scarcely a comprehensible mess. still his opening instructions for the opening seven days were just as confusing. both are good at anticipating supply needs. the build up at advance basis and supplies to meet troops along the way.
5:53 pm
both are very sound logisticians. both prepare carefully and if grant was a little more meticulous, keep in mind that he always had access to greater resources and of course he had once himself been a quartermaster. and as my late grandfather, who was a quartermaster in the sixth army, i guess, in the pacific on which said, the army depends on quartermasters. actually, what he said was the two most important people in the army are a quartermaster and a sergeant. that one's for you, eddie wheeler. and grant liked being a quartermaster. when it came to discipline and every army commander has got to maintain discipline, lee is actually a more stern disciplinarian. he would seek leniency in just under one-fourth of the capital cases that came to him for men who had deserted. grant would seek it in more than half of the same cases. while almost 22% of the cases lee approved ultimately resulted
5:54 pm
in the execution of a soldier. in grant's case it was slightly less at 19%. now, that doesn't mean grant was more humane. though he was somewhat more reluctant to impose summary justice, i think it mainly reflects the fact that desertion was simply never a real threat to union survival as it was a threat to confederate survival. and grant had less need of stern examples. both set model personal examples. they consciously tried to appear not to hold themselves above their men. it may have been a little easier for grant because he was cut largely from the same cloth as his soldiers. for the parturition lee, required more effort and more sacrifice. it paid off in the respect and the near adulation that his men felt for him. both are surprised by the enemy more than once. that same grandfather and
5:55 pm
mentioned thought there were two kinds of army commanders. those taken by surprise now and then, and there are those who lie. [ laughter ] stay in the military long enough and you will be taken by surprise. grant was surprised at belmont. he is surprised again by the february 15 attack at fort donalson. certainly, he's taken by surprise at shiloh. lee was surprised by hooker at chancellorsville and by grant's crossing of the james. when confronted by a surprise, or a setback, their instincts are identical. neither retreated immediately from a surprise or a defeat. instead their reaction was to ask themselves, how can i turn this setback to my advantage, which is what grant would do after holly springs and the second day at shiloh. that's the reason i'm convinced that lee stayed an extra day at antietam and gettysburg, hoping
5:56 pm
for an opportunity to turn it around. both have the instincts of raiders. these are not campaigns of conquest. he never expected to stay in maryland or pennsylvania. he was always going to go back to virginia. antietam stunned and shocked the north, and had some political effect. gettysburg disrupted mead's plans for that season and essentially wrongfooted the army of the potomac until november. it bought lee in virginia a summer. grant will do the same with greerson's raid during the vicksburg campaign. they both understand the value of what a raid, even a huge one can accomplish. neither is afraid to take a great risk.
5:57 pm
think of lee at second manassas, antietam, and chancellorsville. grant in the vicksburg campaign. making his men stretched each days rations to last three, and counting on the land to provide everything else. and in the crossing of the james, of course. both will make the big decision. if there is one thing that sets them apart from almost all other army commanders in that war it is that they were willing. they could take a huge risk knowing that it risked the lives of thousands and then get a good night's sleep. both will bring along and nurture promising subordinates. grant is responsible for the rise of sherman. nobody else would put up with him. he is responsible for the rise of mcpherson and sheridan and others. he works diplomatically with mead once he came east and generally preserved goodwill between them.
5:58 pm
lee brought along jed stewart, ap hill, john gordon and others. the seniority is involved to some degree in the rise of all these men. lee's approval of their progress dominated and anyone familiar with lee's handling of officers who disappointed him knows that lee, like grant, did not keep subordinates who disappointed him around for long. to his credit, lee even tried to make something out of joseph e. johnston. something useful, though he had limited confidence in the man's command ability. he put up with, as everyone did, the imperious behavior of pgt beauregard in 1864 when grant would have had both of those men relieved of their commands, if not shot. there are some failures of personal management. personnel management. grant failed with thomas. lee failed with longstreet. both subordinates were slow,
5:59 pm
plodding, resistant and guardedly insubordinate. but their positive attributes and their wide popularity made them worth the frustration that came with them. neither grant nor lee operates in a political vacuum, especially lee, who is often criticized for being virginia centric in his thinking. he is certainly to appoint, but lee is always aware with happening elsewhere in the confederacy. he may not seek to influence it, but he's interested in how it might influence what is happening in virginia. they both understood the value of popular morale, of civilian will and keeping the people behind the army. grant had cold harbor. lee had july 3rd at gettysburg. they both had made what had been called big mistakes. but don't forget have those
6:00 pm
awful assaults worked, lee would have been divided and all the trapped with his back to the chickahominy at cold harbor and lee would've been divided and gettysburg and forced to withdraw toward washington. the frontal assaults that a given their critics so much fodder over the years might in fact event on the other way had made these men even greater heroes. sometimes a very thin line divides the military geniuses from the years brags and the burnsides of the world. grant will always be criticized and still is for his high losses in 1864 against lee. from may to june they totaled or 49%. in the previous three years, a succession of union commanders lost a total of over 100,000 casualties in northern virginia
6:01 pm
and in six weeks grant tied lee down to have only one probable conclusion, and lee's casualties in that same six weeks was a proportion. grant ran a complex war on lands and rivers and over a vast territory even before being made general and chief. lee really only had eastern and northern virginia on his plate until close to the end. yet, nevertheless they were equally aware of the implications of their actions outside their realms of command. both exhibited a keen sense of the political impact of what they did. lee counted on his invasions of 1862 and '63 and early's raid on washington in '64 on influencing elections in the north and diplomatic relation abroad.
6:02 pm
although he would consistently underestimate the determination of the mass of the northern people to see the war through. grant expected almost every battle to end the war or put the union just one more fight away from victory by dissolving the morale of the southern people. he underestimated the confederate resolve just as much lee did the north's. the point i'm trying to make is that neither commanded in a vacuum. and vitally, in any war, in a free society, both men understood instinctively and respected the role of the military as subordinate to the civil authority in a democracy. mcclellan didn't, joe johnston didn't. mcarthur didn't, mcchrystal didn't. they understood. grant repeatedly declared he would carry out any order, whether he agreed with it or
6:03 pm
not. if he came up against an order that he could not in conscience obey, then he would resign. lee left no such declarations, but i think his actions speak loudly that he harbored virtually identical sentiments about duty and about subordination. and neither had any evident ego getting in his way. though they had very human blind spots. grant would never admit that he had been surprised on the first day at shiloh. he's about the only one who didn't admit it. now you all know the wonderful saying that's probably apocryphal, attributed to sherman. surprised? hell no, we were astonished. lee will never admit that grant completely baffled him for 36 hours. when he crossed the james. and let me add a bit of dimension. to the story of lee's final campaign toward appomattox. what is little known today in
6:04 pm
large part because i think a lot of the sources that we might have had went up in flames with richmond and also many of the people involved simply never spoke about it. quite right, as ralph said. lee told jubel early, if it came down to a siege it would only be a matter of time. by the fall of '64 and especially after the re-election of lincoln lee knew that the game was up. the south was not going to win. but there's a big difference between not winning and how you go about losing. by december of '64 men representing the western counties of virginia, still sitting the confederate of congress, that was now the new state of west virginia, along
6:05 pm
with some others, rmt hunter, senior senator from virginia, for instance. john a. campbell, assistant secretary of war. began meeting to discuss this very issue, essentially the game is up, how do we limit the damage? and lee is involved in those meetings. we know that because there's a couple of recollections of lee being involved. some of his correspondence shows he attended some of these meetings. it really gets going in january of 1865, when president davis brings in a new secretary of war. general john c. breckenridge who has been convinced of this for some time as well. and breckenridge and campbell essentially become the center of this group of men, this is not a conspiracy, that everything they
6:06 pm
hoped to do is going to be constitutional. they meet in breckenridge's rooms or the rooms of senator george vest of missouri, to discuss what can we do. and what comes out of this is what i like to call confederate reconstruction. they know they're going to lose. if they just keep this war going on indefinitely, it can only end one way. but as long as they have armies in the field, they still have something to bargain with. >> as long as they still have the ability to cause the union the loss of more blood and more treasure to beat them in detail, they have something to offer in return for something. what they're doing essentially is putting the war past them and looking ahead to try to make the best they can of a future in reunion. and what they come up with essentially is the hope that they can get an armistice. a cease-fire. and then negotiate. if you look at the history of armistices in modern history, once the guns are put down it's very rare that they're taken up again.
6:07 pm
think of world war i. for instance. they understand that. they know the north is worn out as well. if they can get peace, they may have some ability to bargain for maybe no mass confiscations, maybe no mass trials of confederate leaders. maybe recognition of existing governments of the various confederate states. lee is in on these discussions. takes too long to go into all of it. but of course this falls apart when richmond falls. and lee sets out toward not toward appomattox. he sets out towards lynchburg and danville. and gets as far as appomattox. the only member of the government he's meeting with during the retreat is breckenridge. who is secretary of war. but he's also the leader of this group. now the last thing he had said to them in one of their last meetings was, this has been a
6:08 pm
magnificent epic, in god's name, let it not terminate in a farce. i think that's what he and lee are discussing. we don't know because the sources are very, very thin. but it is interesting, i think that once lee and grant open the communications, the that lead to the surrender, as you know, grant sends him a note essentially saying you got to realize there's no point in continuing this. and lee will write back saying well, i don't share your views at all. but just for the fun of it, what would be your terms if i was interested? in listening to your terms, relative to the confederate states' forces under my command. he didn't say relative to the army of northern virginia. lee is general in chief of all confederate armies. all confederate soldiers are the forces under his command. it is his hint to grant, that he has something to negotiate with. we may not just make it end here. we can make it end everywhere. that isn't what happens of course, but lee and grant do a
6:09 pm
have second meeting on april 10th, on horseback between the lines. and again, lee tries to raise this idea of he's vested with authority to speak for other confederate armies as well. so i think the reason he is still fighting, still resisting on the way to appomattox, maybe it involves his ego, maybe it's too hard for the old warrior to give up. i think he's also playing for time and also still realizing that yes, men will lose their lives, but those lives lost may make the living better for southerners after the inevitable defeat. at the end of the day, what did they think of each other? interestingly, after the war, grant would say of lee that quote, he was of a slow conservative, cautious nature, without imagination or humor. always the same with great dignity. they only met four times, so he
6:10 pm
didn't know lee well, of course. unable or unwilling to see that lee's achievements justified his reputation, grant concluded that lee was, quote, a man who needed sunshine. i never really understood what that meant until i realized not long ago that one of his grant's nicknames for his wife julia was sunshine. so maybe grant knew something about lee's marriage, he figured if he had a gal like i do, he would be a happier man. grant will also say that he thought josephine johnston was the only confederate commander he had ever feared. it showed that grant could be painfully wrong as well. for his part, lee rated grant as a pedestrian commander who only succeeded because of raw numbers. the essence of the forthcoming lost cause myth. more than once lee said that the best general he faced in the war was george b. mcclellan, the union joe johnston. i mean if the war had been up to
6:11 pm
johnston and mcclellan, they would still be retreating from each other today until they sort of bumped into each other from behind somewhere near taiwan. in the end, they are completely human. neither grant nor lee ever could or would, that the other was his preeminent adversary. thank you all for listening. [ applause ] >> we got time for a couple of questions and we'll break for lunch if you want to take a microphone, your name and your question. >> yeah i have a brief question. >> i have a long answer. >> you have a long answer. my name is david kinsle, i teach up in prince william county. grant always gets that -- that slur against him that he's a butcher.
6:12 pm
even though if you looked at robert e. lee overall in casualties. he sustained more casualties from the beginning of the war to the end of the war. and he couldn't afford to sustain those casualties. and they were both aggressive in their own way. but i mean, i wonder if, i don't want to say that same kind of slur towards either one. but do, just perspective on that aspect of the war, in terms of why we still have the tendency as students of history to to see things in that way, basically that lee as -- i think lee is a genius as commanders go. but that we don't really equally apply that criticism in terms of some of his aggressive tactics
6:13 pm
and strategy in terms of like the maryland campaign. >> well, part of it is simply the old cliche that is still somewhat true. the north won the war, but the south won the peace. and certainly south won the battle over history with this incredibly manipulated, but successful lost cause myth. and part of that is that grant was a butcher, there was no skill on the northern site. that lee was virtually set at the right hand of god. and the war was only lost because he was let down by people who became republicans, like longstreet. i think in fact you would find through most of history in contest between unequal forces, the underdog usually has to take greater risks in the hope of through surprise, ingenuity, maneuvering the odds. and lee did that. and it worked for him so much of the time. but it was very, very costly. i think we give up our myths reluctantly. and that's one of the ones that will probably never go away. >> the civil war documentary series, the late shelby foote stated that lee could actually make himself grant and think what grant was thinking.
6:14 pm
any comments on that? >> thank you. that's, i didn't see that, so i don't know. lee was very, was very able. as was grant. at looking at the situation at hand. >> any comments on grant? >> i didn't see that. i don't know. lee was very, was very able. as was grant. at looking at the situation at hand. looking what he knew of terrain and especially of roads and how you get to where you wanted to go. in america that then was largely a wilderness. we've lost a whole lot of trees since then. it was a very different landscape than it is today and it mystified a lot of people on both sides.
6:15 pm
>> i think lee and grant both could look at the variables and then say to themselves what would i do if i were in my opponent's position? this is what grant did slightly after the fact. at fort donaldson on february 15th, when he figured out what those guys were doing with the heavy attack on one side, i know what they're planning on doing now. they're going to try to break out over here, so i'll hit them here. and lee was able at that as well. whether or not he was thinking like grant, i think that's an artistic license on the part of foote. thank you all again, let's enjoy lunch. [ applause ] we also have other tastes for war, the culinary history of the blue and gray. pick that up and peruse it at lunch. see you in about an hour at
6:16 pm
1:45. more about the civil war on american history tv tonight on c-span 3. starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern, the annual gettysburg college civil war institute conference. we'll hear about the gettysburg address and president lincoln's decision-making in the civil war. c-span's coverage of the solar eclipse starts at 7:00 a.m. journal with the washington journal. our guests are shawn goldman, a nasa space scientist and jim garmin, the chief scientist at goddard. at noon eastern, we provide live views of the eclipse shadow. at 4:00 p.m., eastern, viewer reaction to this rare solar eclipse over the continental united states. live all day coverage of the solar eclipse on monday, starting at 7:00 a.m. eastern on c-span and listen live on the free c-span
6:17 pm
radio app. c-span has been on the road for the student documentary. we gathered with school officials to accept a first place prize of $3,000 for her dock meant industry on fossil fuels. and ethan accepted a second-place prize of $1500 for his document on cybersecurity. and a documentary about digital theft and hacking. st. thomas moore high school in rapid city, south dakota, is where three girls won the third place prize of $750 for a
6:18 pm
documentary on racial inequality in america. about five hours east in sioux false, caleb miller received the third place prize of $750 for his documentary on the national debt. nearby thomas a. edison middle school, a number of students won honorable mentions and $250 per group. sarah won for her documentary on the national debt. and lauren and haylee also received honorable mentions for their documentary on global warming. thank you to all the students who took part in our 2017 student cam documentary. go to
6:19 pm
student cam 2018, the constitution and you. use any provision of the u.s. constitution and create a video illustrating why the provision is important. john mosby was a confederate colonel in the civil war. he he's known for his rights behind union lines. up next on american history tv, on c-span 3, a conversation about the battalion known as mossby's rangers. from longwood university, in farmville, virginia, this is an hour. first speaker today is mr. eric buckland. mr. buckland is the author of five books about the men who rode with john mosby during the civil war. his first one is "mosby's rangers" with deal with the men of bmi, men or boys. and he's subsequently done four other books, the mosby men series which overall tell the story of 110 men with mosby.


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on