U.S. Grant History Chats

Welcome to the U.S. Grant History Chat! In the below videos, Park Ranger Nick Sacco interviews a range of scholars who study and write about Ulysses S. Grant and the Civil War era. These short, informal interviews provide valuable insights on a range of topics and highlight some of the strongest scholarship in the field of Civil War studies. This page will be updated with new interviews in the future. Stay tuned!
 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- All right there. Hello everybody. This is Nick Sacco with Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri and today is pretty exciting. This is gonna be the first of a series of chats with historians over the next few weeks. We're calling it the U.S. Grant History Chat. And our first guest today is historian David Silkenat. He is a Professor of History at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Dr. Silkenat wrote a book recently entitled "Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War." So with Ulysses S. Grant being involved in a number of surrenders during the American Civil War, it only seemed appropriate to have Dr. Silkenat join us today for this interview. So thank you for being with us here today and just to kind of kick things off, it's rather interesting that you're teaching the American Civil War in Scotland. So I think our viewers would love to kind of hear about what that's like teaching in Scotland and what kind of sparked your interest in the Civil War in the first place?

- Well, thank you very much, Nick. It's really great pleasure to be here. So as you can probably tell from my accent, even though I teach in Scotland and I've been teaching here for seven years now, I'm not Scottish. I'm from New York City originally.

- Okay.

- And teaching here has really been amazing. There's actually a huge amount of interest in the American Civil War in the UK generally and in Scotland. We have a huge number of students who were interested in studying it, both the undergraduate and graduate level. We actually have some Civil War sites connected to Edinburgh. We've got the Scottish American Civil War Memorial here not far from me which is an enormous statue of Abraham Lincoln. So you can come to Scotland and see that. We also have a somewhat smaller Confederate monument too. So we've got all kinds, Frederick Douglas lived just around the corner from me for a couple of years. So we've got actually some Civil War connections you know, even thousands of miles away from the U.S. So you asked about sort of how I got interested in the Civil War. I think it sort of happened by accident like it is for most people, but there's sort of two moments that really in my life that drove me to the Civil War. One, I went on a class trip when I was in eighth grade and I was from New York City, went down to the Shenandoah Valley, I think we ended up going to Antietam. And this was about the same time that the Ken Burns documentary had come out and Glory had come out. And so that was just a really sort of pivotal time in my life sort of thinking about it in retrospect. And I guess the other moment is I went to Duke University as an undergrad. Not far from where we lived is Bennett Place, which is one of the, thinking about the book I'm talking about today, Bennett Place is the site of one of the big surrenders at the end of the Civil War and I became fascinated by that site and what it meant then and what it has meant over the past 150 years.

- Fantastic, yeah, that's a, I think very common story with a lot of us. And I remember it took me a little longer to get into the Civil War, but when I was a kid, I mean Glory was just one of those movies that really stuck out and really sparked my interest in history more generally. So kind of a similar story there as well. Absolutely. So in reading "Raising the White Flag", I thought your introduction really did a nice job of summarizing some of your larger arguments in the book. And, you know, in the introduction that one out of every four soldiers in the Civil War surrendered at some point during the war. It's just an astounding number of soldiers who were part of a surrender in some way. And so that sort of sparks this question about what made the nature of surrender during the Civil War so unique with such a high number of soldiers participating in surrender?

- Well, and not only so many soldiers surrendering but they're surrendering so often, right? So this is a war that starts off the way we usually conventionally describe it. It starts off with a surrendered Fort Sumter. It ends with a series of surrenders, the Appomattox Court House and Bennett place, and a few other places. And in between there's lots of sort of the pivotal moments of the war are defined by surrender, whether it's, you know, in Grant's case in Fort Donelson and in Vicksburg, but in dozens of other, they're surrendering a lot. And so one of the things I've tried to sort of figure out in the book was why was it that surrender was so common? Why is it that, you know, that there seems to be more surrenders in the American Civil War really than any other war in human history that at least that I've been able to find. If somebody has a counterexample, please let me know. I've been trying to find one. And there's a couple of reasons why surrender is so common in the Civil War. One is I think from the very beginning there's a common understanding by both Union and Confederate officers and soldiers about when's the right time to surrender. What happens when a surrender happens. The language of surrender becomes very familiar to soldiers on both sides. And they understand when you're supposed to surrender, when you're not. And there was a conception that one could surrender honorably. That really runs throughout the entire war. So if you think about Major Anderson, Major Robert Anderson when he surrenders at Fort Sumter, he is greeted when he and his men go to New York City, immediately thereafter and he is greeted as a hero. They are treated as heroes. They have an enormous parade and rally for them in the city. If we think about the end of the war when Lee surrenders, his standing among the soldiers only increases. And there's a couple of cases when people surrender prematurely. But the standard basically was that if you were fired upon, if you realize that continuing to fight would only lead to the unnecessary loss of life, then it was appropriate that you surrender in those cases. And I think this sort of shared understanding of what surrender would look like and a common understanding that if you surrendered, you'd be well treated by your enemy. Now there's some exceptions to this, but in most cases, people who surrendered are well treated in the Civil War. So if you think about what happened to Lee's men when he surrenders, we think about Johnson's. I mean, all the other people who will surrender at the end of the war. They're all allowed to go home. We think about in Fort Sumter, they're all allowed to leave. You know, there's obviously some exceptions to this but for the most part, people surrender because they think that surrendering is a much better alternative than fighting in a battle they're going to die in especially die unnecessarily. And the fourth sort of thing that makes the surrender, I think interesting in the Civil War is the ways in which I think like everything else in the Civil War, it's shaped by race, right? The race really is a fundamental framework for how people understood surrender. And from what I've been talking about thus far, it usually applies for white soldiers. For African-American soldiers though, a very different rubric applies. As soon as the Union army introduces black soldiers, the Confederacy says, we do not consider them legitimate soldiers, and if we capture them, we're not going to treat them the same as we would treat white soldiers. We're going to return them to a state of slavery is the sort of official Confederate policy. In practice, the Confederate policies if they capture black soldiers, they're going to be executed. Which means that for certain categories of soldiers and similar kinds of things apply to southern unionists and gorillas who were also sort of seen as being illegitimate soldiers by the enemy. African-American soldiers recognize they cannot surrender on the battlefield and consequentially say, if we can't surrender, we're not gonna let Confederates surrender to us, right? We're gonna play by the same rules. And so it's really one of those interesting places to look at how race informs the ways in which soldiers are going to fight in different ways.

- Very interesting. Absolutely. So there's a lot of this that's kind of bound up in the notion of honor and fighting honorably but then knowing when to stop, but then we can kind of see through the racial dimension that there are limits to that notion of honor as well it sounds like.

- Oh, to be sure. I mean, I think the Civil War soldiers really thought of themselves as fighting in a civilized war. We had to have a conception of what war was supposed to look like. A set of rules of war was supposed to be fought according to and obviously the Civil War was enormously bloody and brutal in all kinds of ways. But it could have been a lot more bloody and more brutal than it was. You know, if we think about, you know, the Civil War is the bloodiest war in American history with three quarters of a million Americans dying, one could imagine alternative war in which surrender is taken off the table and these one quarter of soldiers who surrender, you know have to fight to the death. The war looks even bloodier, you know, imagine what Fort Donelson would have looked like if they hadn't surrendered or Vicksburg would have looked like if they hadn't surrendered or Appomattox Court House would have looked, you know, these all would have been well over a million deaths. I mean, it's hard to sort of estimate what that would have looked like but it would have been a very different war than what we had.

- Absolutely. And you could definitely see with Appomattox, you know, if Lee refused to surrender at Appomattox, who knows how much longer the war would have, that particular war with the army in Northern Virginia would have lasted.

- Well, I mean I think Lee's army was in extraordinarily bad shape, right? And so what that battle would have looked like, it would not have looked good for Lee's army. They would not have been able to walk away from that. And the fact that they were all able to receive their paroles, go home, return to civilian life, I think is really sort of astonishing. I think we, people don't take enough time to think about what that means and what the consequences of that were for not only those men but for what the post-war world looked like.

- Absolutely, absolutely. And then finally, with our last question here kind of going back to Grant specifically, I'm very interested in the case of Fort Donelson 'cause with Grant, he gains really international fame with the notion of unconditional surrender but with Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner, at least in his perspective, he's expecting to be able to negotiate terms with Grant, and he's sort of taken aback when Grant demands unconditional surrender. So maybe if you can kind of speak to maybe that moment and then the way that Grant and unconditional surrender maybe shape future surrenders later on in the war.

- Sure. So one of the things to think about with Fort Donelson, there's a bunch of things that factor into this. One is there are actually a lot of Confederates who are surrendering at about the same time. So actually just like a week earlier, there've been a major surrender on Roanoke Island in North Carolina, part of the Burnside invasion. And there's, I think a couple of things that are going on in Grant's mind. He never explains this. You know, if you look at his memoirs, he doesn't say why he demands unconditional surrender. And obviously he gets this nickname, unconditional surrender Grant, which fits with his initials but I'm not sure he actually deserves it because the other two major surrenders he's involved with are not unconditional. He negotiates terms. And that was the default, right? And all, most nearly all Civil War surrenders, the premise is the two commanding officers are sitting down to negotiate a way not to fight. And usually, one of them is in a vastly superior position to the other and that's why they're having that negotiation. But they at least, they walk through the motions of doing it as equals and unconditional surrender is seen as sort of in a front to that kind of mode of doing things. So why does Grant do this? Well I think the reason why Grant demanded unconditional surrender at Fort Donelson is because of the sort of the situation of the Fort on the river. Lots of Confederates are fleeing during the moment in which, you know, Buckner offers to surrender and then Grant writes back that he demands unconditional surrender. There are Confederates who are fleeing. Buckner was actually the third highest ranking officer when the siege begins, right? So he's got John B. Floyd who ranks higher than him. Gideon Pillow ranks higher than him. Buckner is the most military experienced of the three, but both of those men outranked him and both of them fled the fort before the surrender happens along with several thousand Confederate soldiers. I think part of what Grant was worried about was that if he went through the process of negotiation, there would be nobody left in the fort to surrender when the fort actually surrendered. If we think about, you know, Fort Henry which had surrendered just a week earlier, there's basically nobody in that fort when the fort surrenders, right? And so I think what Grant wants to do was to actually have a garrison there that's surrenders rather than having an empty fort which would be somewhat useless. So that's my thinking through why he demands unconditional surrender then. But I think it's, you know, thinking about the nickname, you know, Grant saw surrender as a way to avoid fighting when fighting didn't need to happen. And I think one of the things that people don't fully recognize about Grant, they sort of think of him as a great general and a great warrior and all these kinds of things, I think the thing that made him really the best general was he found ways to avoid war when he could. You know, and if you think about Vicksburg, he found a way to not fight a battle there and at Appomattox Court House, he found a way to not fight a battle there. And I think those are actually the moments of genius for him and the moments where he demonstrated his greatest humanity. Right? So if we think about what happened at Appomattox Court House, you know he demonstrates a great deal of deference to Lee. He demonstrates a great deal of kindness to Confederate soldiers. There's a point there which his soldiers are celebrating and he tells them not to. He says, look, these are our countrymen. We need to recognize them and not shame them in this moment. Interesting thing about Buckner though. Buckner ends up surrendering when as the two guys who are ranked higher than him decided they don't want to do it. That's actually the first of two times that Buckner ends up surrendering. The second time is at the very end of the war. He is working for Edmund Kirby Smith who was sort of at the, one of the last Confederate surrender. Kirby Smith is trying to relocate his headquarters. He puts Buckner in charge for a brief moment. And it's during that brief moment that Kirby Smith's army dissipated, he decides that they need to surrender. So on two occasions, Buckner ends up taking responsibility for surrendering when his superior officers didn't want to do it. We need to serve some credit for that too.

- Yeah, it sounds like Buckner kind of got the short straw a couple of times there during the war. Well that's really fantastic and fascinating. And thank you again, Dr. Silkenat joining us today, talking about surrender during the Civil War and Grant's role with it. Again, the book is, "Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War" published with University of North Carolina Press. And is there any way that we could, any videos or any other way we can learn more about you? Do you have a website or anything like that?

- Well, so you can follow me on Twitter, I'm at @DavidSilkenat. I also have a podcast if you want to hear more of my voice on a regular basis. I do a podcast and my colleague Frank Cogliano who is a Thomas Jefferson specialist. It's called The Whiskey Rebellion.

- Okay.

- Partially because we live in Scotland and what happened with whiskey. But we have a weekly podcast where we talk about American history and politics and try to sort of make sense of the present using the past. So yeah, lots of ways to keep up with me.

- Fantastic. All right. Thank you, Dr. Silkenat. We'll see you soon and thank you very much. Have a great day.

- Thank you very much. It was my great pleasure.

- Thank you.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
16 minutes, 12 seconds

Professor David Silkenat of the University of Edinburgh (Scotland) joined Park Ranger Nick Sacco to discuss process of surrender during the Civil War, particularly General Ulysses S. Grant's role in the surrendering of numerous Confederate armies throughout the war. Dr. Silkenat is the author of "Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the Civil War" (University of North Carolina Press).

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- All right. Hello everybody. This is Nick Sacco at Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. And it is my distinct pleasure today to be speaking with Emmanuel Dabney, Who's a park ranger at Petersburg National Battlefield in Virginia. This is episode two of our US Grant History Chat. So, to kind of kick things off of the Emmanuel here, I think it'd be really interesting to learn more about the operation at Petersburg National Battlefield and perhaps more specifically, you all take care of a Grant's Headquarters at City Point was really neat structure that is on the Battlefield there. So, you tell us a little bit about what you do at Petersburg, Emmanuel and maybe a little bit about Grant's Headquarters as well?

- Sure. So thanks so much for asking me to participate. Our park Petersburg National Military Park when it was first established came about in 1926. So we're, getting long in the tooth now, but came later than some of the other national parks that are large landscapes that people are familiar with. We are a series of battlefields, and I always say if I ever get the chance to rename the park, I'm going to call it Petersburg National Battlefields with an s is we protect sites that cover nine and a half months of military action. The Senate around the city of Petersburg and the control of that city, whether it would remain in Confederate hands, a defended by Robert Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, and whether it would fall to the federal forces under the overall command of Lieutenant General Ulysses S Grant. For many years, the park did not have possession of the site in which Grant had his headquarters and supply depot during the Petersburg campaign. But in the late 1970s, the Eppes family who owned the land that Grant's Headquarters tent, and then later his cabin had been on sold their home and acreage around that house to the National Park Service. So, what had happened kind of in between the war and in between the late 1970s had happened kind of quickly in the summer of 1865 grants headquarters cabin that he had lived in during the winter of 1864 and 1865, had been moved from City Point Hopewell, Virginia to Philadelphia and put in Fairmount Park. This had been orchestrated by the President of the US Christian Commission, George Stewart, and all of the furnishings, as well as the building have been taken apart and shipped and reconstructed there in Philadelphia is this sort of gift to the city. It remained there with no real understanding by anyone in the late 19th, the early 20th century, about how to protect said building. And it didn't take long for it to become victim, to souvenir hunting, vandalism, rot and decay. In 1981, the National Park Service engaged with Fairmount Park and the City of Philadelphia officials about what to do with Grant's Cabin. And they agree that they would willingly sort of let it come back to Virginia. And after an archeological investigation, research investigation through documents, as well as photographs, the cabin was reconstructed in 1983 on its original location.

- Interesting. So Grant's Cabin in Virginia, kind of had the same experience as his log cabin here in Saint Louis, where he built this log cabin when he lived in St. Louis before the Civil War, it got moved around several times. Relic hunters took a lot of different artifacts and items and even parts of the cabin itself and then it was reconstructed later on. So, kind of an interesting parallel with what's going on in Virginia and in his log cabin here in St. Louis. And with the Petersburg Battlefield, you mentioned several battlefields. So I'm thinking of places like the Battle of the Crater is like one of the battles that you talk about as well, in addition to the siege.

- Yes. We have a range of military operations that began sort of June 9th, 1864, then a break of a few days and kicked off in earnest on June 15th, in what grant thought would be a quick assault on Petersburg because Lee's army was not there at the time. Confederate General P Beauregard had a small force of men defending Petersburg on that day, but a variety of things occurred that ended up lasting several more days. And by the afternoon of June 18th, Lee's Army was now joined with Beauregard forces in defending Petersburg. And over this nine and a half month military action, there was a series of battles. Certainly the one that people know us, I think the best for is the Battle of the Crater in July of 1864, but that's the beginning, still eight months of combat to go on. And so we certainly encourage our visitors to visit whatever elements of the battlefields that interest them. But to know that this is a long sustained campaign that had not been kind of seen before in the Eastern Theater. And, we're in a fortunate position right now that hopefully in coming years, as we got a new legislative boundary, we'll be able to add some new lands to the park boundary, and folks will be able to actually walk on those battlefields that we previously had been able to talk about from afar, but not actually walk the ground.

- Very cool. Yeah. We'll have to see what happens with that legislation. Now, I followed your work for a couple of years now online, and I know you've been working on a number of research projects. So for example, you mentioned the Eppes family, I know you've been doing some research on the enslaved people that were owned by the Eppes family. And I know you've been doing some research on the Freedmen's Bureau, the sort of the social organization under the control of the US army during the reconstruction era. So maybe you kind of speak to us a little bit about your research projects and some of your findings.

- Sure. So when I got to Petersburg, which this month I will, it's just amazing. I started 19 years ago as a seasonal employee, still in high school. And, I'm sort of out in the park as I had been even as a child, I grew up around here, I was sort of confronted with something that just didn't make sense. We had this plantation site that there was visible structures for and then there was ample evidence about what happened at that site, through the antebellum war time in post-war owners diaries, that span about 40 years. And yet the only mention really of enslaved people that he owned, or at least he claimed ownership over.

- Sure.

- It was a brief line on our site brochure, which I don't know when that was created, but my guess is sometime around 1981 or 1982. And I just started diving into these diaries because here was this evidence sort of waiting to be mined for more information. And over time, thanks to the developments of the internet. I have been excited and motivated and stayed up late at night and got up early in the morning, go to work, keep digging to find out more about these people. And so Richard Eppes, no one would say that he himself was famous, but he was a very wealthy in locally, in his community. He was well-known. And with that wealth came his inheritance and subsequent purchasing in those enslaved families, having more children to by the summer of 1860, he had 122 enslave people on his plantations and an excess of 3000 acres of land. The park today only owns about 21 acres at City Point. So just a fragment of what was his, nevertheless, the records tell us about all this stuff that's happening both within the household, outside of the household and through work from the works progress administration who interviewed at least one of the formerly enslaved men on episodes plantation right up through modern researchers. And then my own research, I've been able to document at least 10 men who escaped in 1862.

- Wow. Wow

- And joined the US Navy, which was not a discussion point prior to this. And it was kind of hard to figure out the internet opened up that door to that at least two others served, well, one left the Navy and joined the Army, but another one independently just joined the Army in US Colored Troop regimens and sort of, ironic twist of fate for them, they had left this area in 1862 and the regiments are stationed in the area in 1864, 1865. But so it's been exciting through pension research. We've been able to capture these people's stories, the complexity of their stories, other formerly enslaved people who testify on behalf of these men or their widows, which I think opens up this narrative for so long that because so many black people were illiterate prior to the war and during the war and for many years after the war, that we can't know this story and work from many researchers show that's not true, there if you use the pensions, you can get the story. And in that sort of what I have been engaged in doing, in fact, just this morning, I found one of the formerly enslaved men who became Navy person during the war I found his widow had been unable to secure a pension, but there was that evidence about their marriage and about their relationship with other formerly enslaved people that had been owned by the Eppes family. And many of these people though they left the plantation in 1862, they were intermarried with one another. And so they reconstructed their households and freedom down in Hampton Roads area of Virginia and lived next door to each other within a couple of streets from one another, and for the rest of their lives.

- Wow. Wow. So there's, I think this is a wonderful example of a battlefield like Petersburg really going beyond maybe the tactics or strategies or what Grant Lee's Army were doing to really bring out sort of the human element of the battlefield and looking at enslaved people sort of utilizing their own agency to fight for freedom. And in the case of some of these men joining the US Military. So, I think it's really wonderful that research that you're doing and it'll be great for the site moving forward to be able to share more of those stories when people come to see the site. So I think that's great. And then finally, just to kind of wrap things up here with our last question, as you well know, the park recently got involved more deeply with the story of the reconstruction era with the establishment of reconstruction era National Historical Park, what a mouthful, but the new site in Buford, South Carolina. And so I'm curious about your thoughts on the National Park Service, telling the story of reconstruction, what happened in America after the Civil War? What direction do you see that playing out? What do you hope to see out of the park services, interpretive efforts moving forward?

- Well, I definitely am excited for reconstruction era as a new site in the park service. I wish we could create multiple reconstruction areas, whether they be managed by the National Park Service or state park system, is this era, this period, which is of course, much debate about when it started and when it ended. But this period of time definitely is worthy of understanding in different communities, how things played out. And, but I think that, one of the things that is sort of interesting, and it has been interesting to me even before reconstruction era was established, was this notion that the National Park Service didn't have reconstruction sites or places to talk about this. And, sort of my first reaction was always, we got Andrew Johnson's home. And when you think more deeply it's these National Cemeteries come about as a result of war and reconstruction how our people as a whole, the nation as a whole one to make sense out of all of this bloodshed. And what does that mean for former Confederate soldiers bodies? How will the nation deal with those? 'Cause the body is they're still there and communities obviously dealt with them. And in some fairly similar ways, look through Caroline Janney's book on the Ladies' Memorial Associations. But, I think what has been the problem is that our traditional Civil War battlefield sites have struggled with how to balance what they feel like we were mandated to tell these stories about military tactics and battles in generals to what does it mean? And, so we were missing course context and consequences. And we finally now, got the green light to do this, in the early 2000. And it's taken some time for people I think, to know how to do it. And I think it's okay for people to still feel like they need some more information, but it's out there. It may take some efforts to go to the research repository, to talk to people in your community, because a lot of things have been segregated amongst people because black people in my own family have had a very different experience in the 1860s through the 1960s and sort of 100 years of large national strife on the issues of both, race and gender as well as the meaning of this cataclysmic war. And I am excited in that I see most sites are doing more topics, more conversations, looking at the different versions of reconstruction that wars with native American tribes out West, we're not some sort of something to separate from reconstruction. It's just a different version of reconstruction then dealing with sharecropping in the South.

- Yeah. Fully, fully agreed. There's a lot of different directions and there's really stories of reconstruction, not just in the South, but in the North, in the West I mean really everywhere. So it's an exciting time to see more of an interest being taken in reconstruction. And hopefully some of the efforts of the park service will sort of translate over into schools as well, and sort of integrating the school curriculum with what the national parks are doing too. So, there's a lot to be excited about. So I really want to thank Emmanuel for being with us today. Really enjoyed hearing your perspective and yeah, so you you'll be at Petersburg and hopefully when we reopen folks out there can come and check you out in Virginia. And thank you so much Emmanuel.

- Thank you. Have a great day.

- Okay. You too.

- Thanks.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
18 minutes, 22 seconds

Episode 2 of the U.S. Grant History Chat sees Ranger Nick interviewing Park Ranger Emmanuel Dabney at Petersburg National Battlefield to discuss Ulysses S. Grant, the Siege of Petersburg, and the Reconstruction Era.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- All right, hello everybody this is Nick Sacco at Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis Missouri. And this is episode three of the US Grant History Chat. And today joining me is professor Travis Crum. He is a Bigelow fellow and lecturer in law at the University of Chicago Law School. And later this summer he'll be joining the faculty at Washington University St. Louis. He'll be a little bit closer to the park starting this summer. And professor Crum, he specializes in the 15th Amendment and we are in the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment right now. So a very timely and relevant topic. And I guess just to kinda kick things off for us here, Travis, you can tell us a little bit about your interest in the 15th Amendment. What kind of sparked the historical interest in this topic?

- Thanks Nick for having me on to interview with you and I'm really looking forward to moving to St. Louis this summer. So let's spark my interest in the 15th Amendment. I guess there's two things. The kind of broader thing is that I've always been interested in issues of democratization and political theory. And the reconstruction period is one of our nation's attempts to better live up to our ideals. And there was a very brief period of time in the mid to late 19th century where the U.S was a multiracial democracy before Jim Crow was established. And so that kinda historical aspect of things caught my eye. More immediately the reason I delved into the 15th Amendment actually relates to my last work on the Voting Rights Act. And there was a provision of the Voting Rights Act that allows you to put States and counties under federal supervision if they violate the 14th or 15th Amendments. And when I was doing research for that it occurred to me that there was very little case law on what the 15th Amendment means. The Supreme Court has never decided whether a racist or intentional discrimination is needed to show a violation of the 15th Amendment. The Supreme Court has never decided whether or not a vote dilution or why the ordinary person on the street would call Gerrymandering is prohibited by the 15th Amendment. So there's all these open doctrinal questions when it comes to that amendment to the constitution. And when I dug into the history, there was a lot of history that and yet to be written about 15 amendment. It's oftentimes treated as an afterthought in the legal history as a reconstruction. They focus along the 13th amendment, a lot of ink has been spilled talking about the 14th amendment, But the 15th Amendment is kind of viewed as an inevitability. And I hope my research shows that that wasn't necessarily the case during reconstruction. And I'm trying to shine a new light on that amendment given the 150th anniversary that you mentioned.

- Yeah definitely and just to clarify for folks who are watching. So the 15th Amendment, sometimes it's kind of incorrectly described as granting the right to vote African Americans, but in reality, it was really about just banning racial discrimination. So in some places that, through the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867 you had African Americans in the South who were already voting. And so the 15th Amendment basically just removes racial discrimination as a barrier for voting. And in reading your article, what I found very interesting is that a lot of political thinkers in the 19th century, they made this distinction between civil rights and political rights. And today we kind of combine both of those concepts together and we would think of something like voting as a part of civil rights but that wasn't necessarily the case in the 19th century. Maybe you kind of expand upon that a little bit.

- Yeah, absolutely Nick. You're right that today the term civil rights is much more capacious and that term was used during reconstruction. So during reconstruction civil rights was a narrower category. There were referring to things like the right to Sue in DC the right to own property, the right to sign a contract, the right to be treated equally under the criminal law. Political rights, and that's how they were referred to back then they weren't referred to as voting rights. Political rights were the right to vote the right to hold office the right to sit on a jury. So it was kind of a bundle of rights. And the reason why the reconstruction generation distinguished between civil and political rights I think is two fold. One, is that these rights in many ways are different from one another. And that civil rights tend to be more atomistic. It tends to be, you signing a contract with your neighbor or me needing to own property and have a deed on file with the government. But political rights and the right to vote necessitates some sort of coalition building. It's more of an aggregate right. And so, that distinction was something to reconstruction framers, thought about. But the other and someone more insidious reason is that the difference between civil and political rights was a unifying a hierarchy and doling out political power in a very real way. And so the reconstruction generation did not view citizenship as synonymous with the right to vote the way that we do today. And the classic example here are relates not necessarily to African-Americans, but to women. White women were often cited as the example of people who are citizens, who could sign contracts, who could own property but they were not given the right to vote during reconstruction. And so that sort of distinction was in the minds of the reconstruction framers as they were drafting the 14th amendment which they viewed as primarily concerning civil rights. And later on when they drafted the 15th Amendment which was concerned with political rights.

- Right, so the view of voting, in some cases it could be viewed as more of a privilege than a right. And so you have certain groups of people who are citizens through the 14th Amendment, but not necessarily eligible voters to participate in elections as well. So yeah, that definitely makes sense. And another aspect of your scholarship that stuck out was the what you described as the article five debate and essentially in determining the nature of Black voting rights in America would this be done through congressional legislation? Would it be done through a constitutional amendment? So I'd love to hear about the article five debate as well.

- Thanks Nick, So the article five debate that you're talking about or you're referencing is something that I explicate in my new Northwestern University law review article the surplus 15th Amendment. And so to understand this debate, I think it's helpful to kind of go back in time and understand the political context of 1868, 1869. So in 1868, president Grant wins election and he does so in an electoral college landside but he only wins the popular vote by 300,000. And at the time that was largely attributed to the 500,000 African-American men who have been enfranchised by the first Reconstruction Act. And moreover, Grant won every Southern State but two where clan related violence stopped Blacks from going to the polls. And so Grant and the Republican Party really owe their political fortunes to African-American men coming out and supporting the Republican Party. And so in early 1869, when the radical Republicans came to Congress, you had a divided nation. You had a nation where 17 States had racially discriminatory laws on the books. And those States were mostly in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and the West Coast. By contrast in 17 States the former Confederacy or Congress had enfranchised Blacks some States in the Midwest and five of the six new England States African-American men could vote. And so there was a debate about how best to achieve nationwide Black male suffrage. And the radical Republicans like Senator Charles Sumner and representative George Boutwell. They thought that the newly ratified 14th Amendment gave Congress authority to pass the statute. And they advocated first passing a statute that would have been franchised blacks nationwide but also passing an amendment. And they thought that the newly enfranchised Black men in border States like Maryland and Missouri in Delaware and in swing States like Connecticut and New York would help push the 15th Amendment over the three fourths requirement for advocation under article five. Now moderate Republicans put a stop to this plan and they did so for two reasons. One is constitutional. Throughout the debate over the 14th Amendment ratification from 1866 to 1868, moderate Republicans insisted that the 14th Amendment did not confer suffrage. It did not go so far as to enfranchise Black men in border States and elsewhere where they were currently barred from the polls. And so they thought that that commitments throughout the debate limited the 14th amendment scope. And then secondly, and relatedly, they thought that there would be a political cost from going back on that promise. They worried that the newly enfranchised Black voters would be outnumbered by White voters who would turn to the Democratic Party and be upset about this change of political affairs. And so this debate, the moderate Republicans eventually won and given the small number of Democrats in Congress at the time, the moderate Republicans were able to essentially scuttle Voting Rights act of 1869 and push for a 15th Amendment. And from a constitutional law perspective it needs to meet is really important because it's the first post ratification debate about what the 14th Amendment means. And it also tells us that we should treat the 15th Amendment as an independent constitutional provision that gave new rights to Black male voters and gave new authority to Congress to remedy racial discrimination in voting.

- Yeah, and what's interesting is that with the the 14th Amendment there, very interesting about whether or not, it sort of left an opening for potential future legislation to be passed. And by going the route of the constitutional amendment with the 15th Amendment, perhaps supporters of the 15th Amendment thought that in the long run that would be the more stable and harder barrier to overcome and the constitutional amendment is just simply overturning a law with the next session of Congress or what have you. But in the end, the 15th Amendment still kinda got thrown to the side anyway, even though it was a constitutional amendment.

- No, I just sort of pick up when you're on point I mean, the decision to non make it a statute to not pass it but the rights Act of 1869 Two examples kinda come to mind. One, is that Congress would later pass a civil rights act of 1875 that prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations. Things like railroads, things like hotels. And in 1883 of the Supreme Court struck down that law under the 14th Amendment saying that it targeted private action as opposed to state or governmental action. And so it's possible that something like that could have happened to a VRA in the reconstruction era. And then your point about Congress repealing these laws something like that did occur in the 1890s during the sort of early days of Jim Crow, Congress repealed many of the enforcement acts, not all, but many of the enforcement acts that had been passed during reconstruction to protect the right to vote. And so something like that could have happened if we did not have the 15th Amendment embedded in try and into the constitution.

- Sure, absolutely that's very interesting. And then just to kinda wrap up our conversation here another central argument of your scholarship is that the courts today or in more recent history in trying to define who's an eligible voter and sort of the parameters of fair elections and fair voting, oftentimes they ironically go to the 14th Amendment but then less often they go to the 15th Amendment although the 15th is primarily focused on voting. So if you just kind of break that down for us. And why in your view the federal courts may be not giving as much attention to the 15th Amendment as they should.

- Yeah so I think on that front, there's two reasons and there is somewhat path dependent. One is to kinda go back to the point that you made earlier that the 15th member was forgotten during Jim Crow. And during that period the 14th amendment started to be interpreted to protect the right to vote. Much like we do today, when we use the term civil rights to include the right to vote. The 14th Amendment beginning in the 1920s but really accelerating in the 1960s, 1970s was interpreted capaciously to encompass the right to vote. And the most famous example of these cases or this broader interpretation of 14th Amendment is the one person one vote line in cases. And so in the 1960s you had what we would call rotten boroughs. You had places that would have 1000, 2000 voters controlling a state legislative district and next door in a city you would have 50,000 voters and they would each get one member of the state house delegates. And so when the Supreme Court started striking down there was discharged. It relied on the 14th Amendment as the constitutional hook to do that. And that kinda reshaped how we think about the 14th amendment. But the other is a little bit more recent and that's the Voting Rights Act. And so ever since the Voting Rights Act was amended in 1982 to make it clear that it applied to Gerrymandering, and to discriminatory effects claims, the VRA or the Voting Rights Act has been the primary engine of voting rights litigation as opposed to the 14th or 15th Amendments. Because it's a lot easier to prove a statutory claim than a constitutional claim. To prove that someone is infringing on the right to vote because of race under the constitution, you need to show discriminatory intent. Whereas under the Voting Rights Act is just a discriminatory effect showing. And so let me illustrate that with a very simple example. Imagine you have a city that is 25% African-American, and you have 10 city council seats. Now it might be for groundswell African-American should have two legislative seats or three legislative seats but if they had only one legislative seat that would be a very easy claim to bring under the Voting Rights Act because they're only getting one tenth of the seats on that legislature. By contrast in order to bring a claim under the 14th Amendment, you have to show that that city council plan was enacted or maintained with a racist or discriminatory intent. And that requires a good deal of discovery is very fact intensive and courts and judges are very reluctant to say that politicians are doing things for racist reasons. And so the discriminatory effects standard allows you to avoid the sidestep a lot of those problems and protect the right to vote in a much more straightforward way.

- Fascinating, fascinating, absolutely. So there's a lot to unpack with the the potential power of the 15th Amendment and then kind of connecting that to future civil rights legislation and the Voting rights Act and what have you as well. So that's really great information and I know all of us in St. Louis will be looking forward to your arrival to work with WashU in the law department there. And once again, this is Travis Crum. Thank you so much for speaking with us today and we'll see you around here in St. Louis.

- Thanks Nick, looking forward to moving there.

- All right, thank you.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
15 minutes, 33 seconds

Travis Crum is a Law Professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He joined Park Ranger Nick Sacco to discuss his scholarship on the 15th Amendment and how it has shaped civil rights laws in the United States. Crum also discussed why Congress chose to enshrine African American voting rights with a constitutional amendment instead of a statutory law.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- Okay, hello everybody. This is Nick Sacco, Park Ranger at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, in St. Louis Missouri. And this is episode four of the US Grant History Chat. And it's my pleasure today to be speaking with Anne Tucker. Ann is a Professor of History at the University of North Georgia. And she has a book coming out through the University of Virginia Press. It's called "Newest Board of Nations European Nationalist Movements and the Making of the Confederacy." So kind of placing political thought within the Confederacy within the international context. So some really interesting stuff to sort of jump into. So thanks for being with us today Ann.

- Thanks for having me.

- Absolutely, so to kinda kick it off here, in reading the introduction to your book and the book is coming up in June, right? Later.

- That's right.

- So it'll be coming out very soon. And in the introduction, you mentioned that the 19th century, we're seeing some pretty dramatic political changes really throughout the world. Some of these minors keys and empires that had existed there are challenges to these rules, we're kind of seeing a spirit of democracy taking place in South America and Europe and other parts of the world. And we're seeing kind of these there's the rise of nationalist movements and this belief in people being able to self-determination and having the right to choose their own leaders. And so you highlight Giuseppe Garibaldi who is a revolutionary who participates in revolutions all over the world. And you mentioned that as the Civil War is kind of brewing and getting ready to break out in 1861 you have both supporters of the Union and supporters of the Confederacy who are very familiar with Giuseppe Garibaldi and they're sort of claiming his legacy for a justification of their own movement. So if you could maybe tell us just a little bit about who this guy was, who Giuseppe Garibaldi was and how could both Unionists and Confederates find justification for their causes through this one person?

- Absolutely, well, like you say, the 19th century was this age of nationalists revolutions, where, like you say these ideas of national self-determination, democracy were spreading throughout the Atlantic world and just suddenly Garibaldi really came to be a symbol of all of these ideas. So Garibaldi of course, was one of the key figures of the Italian Risorgimento or unification of Italy. He was Italian himself. He was a military general who helped lead the military campaigns of Italian unification but he had also previously fought for national independence in South America, even before he went to fight in his home country at Italy. And his career really propelled him to international celebrity, even in his own lifetime. He was the hero of two worlds. Really internationally associated with these ideas, again, of national independence, national virtue, etc. And so, because he was the symbol really of the same values that 19th century Americans valued of course, the United States was a nation based on a nationalist revolt against tyranny and favor of democracy and self-determination. So Garibaldi was this international symbol of the values that 19th century Americans held dear. And so that's what really allowed both northerners and southerners and the lead up to the Civil War and during the Civil War itself even to use Garibaldi as really a symbol of what they were trying to claim they were fighting for in the Civil War. And so when we look at the Confederates white Southerners were drawing comparisons between the Confederacy and Garibaldi's Italy as a way to try to attach Garibaldis acclaim and legitimacy to the Confederacy. So they're claiming the Confederacy is the same as Italy. It represents the same values of self-determination and democracy. And therefore, because we are like Garibaldi's Italy we are legitimate as well. Of course, the problem with that was they weren't the same. They weren't fighting for the same cause, they were fighting for the defense of slavery, for their ability to control a government to protect slavery and Garibaldi recognized this difference as well. So during the Civil War, Garibaldi comes out in favor of the North and in favor of abolition which causes problems for Confederate comparisons as I discuss in my book. So far as the North goes though this was obviously a easier path to draw that connection between Garibaldi, his nationalism, his abolitionism and the values of the United States. And that connection was clear enough that the United States actually issued an invitation to Garibaldi to come fight for the United States and the Civil War. Now, this didn't happen largely because of logistical issues with Garibaldi demanding the right to be commander in chief, which was constitutionally impossible. He also declared however he wanted the ability to free the slaves before he would come fight for the North. So the Civil War in many ways, I argue as this war over competing interpretations of these 19th century ideas of nationalism. And again, both North and South thought, if they could connect themselves to Garibaldi, that would help them prove that they had the best, most legitimate value of nationalism. Obviously this worked better for the North than for the South, however.

- Sure, sure and it's very interesting with Garibaldi cause if it's 1863 and the US government embraces the emancipation as a warring, perhaps they're catching up to Garibaldi but he was maybe a little too far ahead in 1861 by using that as sort of a term for him to, in order to join the US army and Lincoln administration is not quite there in 1861. So that's very interesting. Now, there's something else that was brought up in your introduction that you discuss is that you have white southerners who support the Confederacy, and some of them, not all of them but some of them are justifying their movement based on the concept of self-determination and the examples of other countries, such as Italy that are trying to have their own independence movements as well. But you do highlight that a lot of Europe in the end end up sort of rejecting the Confederacy. And so of course, the institution of slavery being one of the issues behind them. Maybe you can tells just a little bit as to why perhaps these nations of Europe in many cases are rejecting the Confederate succession movement.

- Sure, absolutely. Again, basically what I'm arguing is that the 19th century Atlantic world was this place on time of debate about the meaning of nationhood and legitimate expressions of nationhood. And the Confederates I look at are really making the case that they're part of this, they're part of this age of nationalist revolts and they deserve independence because they either fall in the footsteps of nations like Italy or they a more conservative strain of thoughts as they purify the nationalism seen in places in Europe that conservative slaveholding Confederates claimed was excessively liberal. So this is the argument that Confederates are making in their popular discourse, trying to justify to themselves and the rest of the world, why they're legitimate, why the Confederacy should be recognized as an independent nation. This really doesn't work outside the Confederacy however. I talk about in my book, there are a few Europeans and northerners who accept at least the idea that the Confederacy is following in the footsteps of nations abroad and fighting for national self-determination, fighting for the right of self government, etc. And certainly when we look at Europeans there are conservatives who would be quite happy to see the American Republic fail. And particularly when we look at European reaction to the Civil War before the Emancipation Proclamation as you were talking about a minute ago, a lot of Europeans really aren't quite clear on what this is all about why this Republic is tearing itself apart. And so if the South is claiming self-determination, why not? And as you noted, the Emancipation Proclamation does become a key turning point then where Europeans start going, oh this is a war about slavery. Now we understand, and this is critical to Europeans rejection of the Confederacy then because the Confederates are claiming a slave holding nation still fits within a 19th century ideas of nationalism. Most of the rest of the Atlantic world has moved to the point where it does not, they've embraced ideas of abolitionism or at least antislavery that recognize you can't have slavery and self-government, you can't have slavery and natural rights. And so the North is embracing this anti-slavery, Great Britain of course, had already moved to being a world's leader in abolition. And so once the United States is clear that they're fighting to end slavery, it becomes clear that Confederacy is fighting to defend slavery and Europeans realize those Confederate claims, they're fighting for these ideals of nationalism and self-determination, they don't hold water. They're actually fighting for slavery which we have rejected as part of this set of ideas of nationalism, basically. So now when we look at Confederate official diplomacy really the main reason why Great Britain and France don't recognize the Confederacy is they didn't want to, they were busy with other affairs, they didn't wanna get involved in the war. But when we do look at public opinion that helped lead that response, We do see that while some Europeans are fine with the Confederacy and even accept its claims most Europeans really reject Confederates claims that their interpretation is a legitimate interpretation of 19th century nationalism.

- That's really fascinating. And I love how you clarified with the Emancipation Proclamation. It better helps Europeans better understand what the fighting is all about. It's not simply a fight over territory, but it's over larger ideals of slavery, freedom, democracy and natural rights in America. So Emancipation Proclamation has these international implications what's going on in United States as well. So I love that, that's really great. And then just to wrap up our conversation here, I'm fascinated as well with the concept of Southern Unionists as well. Ulysses S. Grant probably would identify as a southerner but he did live in Missouri for a period of time. And you know, here in Missouri we're right in the heart of things, you have people who are on all sides of the political spectrum but you had many Unionists here in Missouri. And so you're looking at it more broadly, but Southern Unionists are also sort of utilizing the language of democracy and self-determination to justify the importance of maintaining the union. So if you could speak for a minute about Southern Unionist and how they use the same sort of rhetoric to justify keeping the country together, I'd love to hear about that too.

- Absolutely, yeah. When I wrote this book, I knew that I wanted to look at Southern Unionists and it really was one of my favorite findings in the book in part because it helps drive home that the international perspectives that southerners are using to understand and make cases for their nationhood, it really was wide spread. It's Confederates, it's Unionist it's Democrats, it's Wigs. That's really the whole political spectrum but the Unionists are also fun because of course they're taking this international perspective that Confederates had used to try and justify the Confederacy and they're turning it completely on its head. So what the Southern Unionists are arguing, for one thing they're arguing much like much of the North, including Lincoln did, that the United States is the last best hope of democracy and republicanism for the world. So when these Southern Unionists look at European nationalist movements, for example they realistically see a lot of failure. Italy was in many ways, the exception. So Garibaldi's Italy succeeded in gaining national independence and unity but the revolutions of 1848, for example failed. And so the Unionists are looking at that and saying democracy is on the retreat, republicanism is failing, monarchy and empire are reasserting their power. The United States is really the key republic internationally and if we fail, if we fall apart that's going to prove monarchists argument that republicanism can't work, that it's not a viable form of government. And so the Unionists are arguing that the United States has to be preserved not just for its own sake, but for the sake of all of these aspiring nations and Europe. For the sake of Hungary, for the sake of Poland, for the sake of Ireland. So they're using these international comparisons to argue that the US must be preserved. But they're also using these international comparisons and trustingly to make a case for national unity as a value period. So they're looking at Europe and pulling examples of nations that they claim have been created through unity like Italy which had just succeeded in national unification. And they're claiming unification is what has made Italy strong. It's what has allowed Italy to emerge from, you know, decades and centuries of oppression into the light of democracy again. And they're looking at Germany which had yet to begin its fully unification movement. They're looking at Poland which had been partitioned decades earlier and they're saying Germany, Poland, these are examples of divided nations. They show us that divided nations are weak and that divided nations can't protect people's rights basically. So for Southern Unionists, unity is how you get national strength and how you get protection for your rights. That's what they learned from an international context.

- Sure, absolutely. In your comments said one more thing that popped in my mind and that would be the Gettysburg address, famous speech. I'm sure you talk about it in your book, but there's a lot of discussion in the Gettysburg address about the entire world and the significance of this moment of Civil War in America and how it shaped future political developments in the world as well.

- Yeah, yeah, you know, I always say that, you know, I grew up in the South, you know, I was certainly very into Civil War history. I've memorized the Gettysburg address for fun as a child. But you know, we always hear the story of the Civil War as this brother versus brother war just kind of the ultimate domestic dispute, but things like the Gettysburg address really do show us that people at the time in the United States and the Confederacy really did conceive of this war as having much broader international implications. Again, not just Confederates, not just Southern Unionist but northerners like Lincoln also saw this as really part of this larger struggle about the meaning and expression of nationhood. What does democracy look like? Can it work? Who gets to participate in the democracy? Who has rights within a democracy? And so, yeah, I love the way that this really shows us that it was a domestic war but one with enormous international importance far beyond the borders of the United States.

- Wow, fascinating stuff. This is the sort of history I love studying. So it's been great having you on today. So Anne Tucker, your book is coming out very soon here, "Newest Board of Nations European Nationalists Movements and the Making of the Confederacy" through the University of Virginia Press. And yeah, we look forward to seeing, hopefully you have future talks and presentations about your book. So we'll definitely make sure to follow your scholarship moving forward as well. Thanks Ann.

- Well, thank you.

- All right, have a great day, thank you.

- Thanks.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
18 minutes, 3 seconds

Ranger Nick interviews Ann Tucker, Professor of History at the University of North Georgia and author of the new book "Newest Born of Nations: European Nationalist Movements and the Creation of the Confederacy" through the University of Virginia Press. Dr. Tucker discussed the influence of political movements throughout the world and how political thinkers in the American South used those movements to justify Confederate secession.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- Hello, everybody. This is Nick Sacco, Park Ranger at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri, and this is episode five of the U.S. Grant History Chat. It is my distinct pleasure to be interviewing Dr. Elizabeth Samet, who is the author of the Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. And so to kind of kick off our interview with Dr. Samet today, many of you watching might recognize her from her participation in the recent documentary on the History Channel on Ulysses S. Grant. Dr. Samet, we would love to hear a little bit about what that process was like. What was it like being on the documentary and just kind of give us some insights. We'd love to hear about that.

- Well, it was a great treat for me to be a part of that endeavor so long in the making. We filmed a while ago, and of course, when you film those interviews, you know only what you've said and you don't really have any idea of how it will fit in with the rest of the narrative. So I watched along with everyone else at the premiere, and of course that was not how anyone imagined it, that would happen during a period of crisis, but I think that the Memorial Day date was very appropriate and I think that it garnered a lot of viewers as a result of that timing. Seeing it all unfold and seeing the ways in which the film was crafted was really a great treat for me, and to be able to see, it's so hard of course to fit an entire life into six hours, so I was happy to see both his earlier life as well as the Civil War, and then of course at the end, also the presidency and the writing of the memoirs. Of course, the memoirs are so important to me. There's never enough time in these things devoted to the memoirs for my taste, but I think they did give a great flavor of how he finished them up in the cottage in Mount McGregor, New York.

- Sure, absolutely. I think what's interesting too with a lot of these documentaries, it's almost like pieces of a puzzle where you have all these different historians but then you're also adding these dramatic scenes, these sort of historical reenactments, and you got to kind of put the pieces together, and to your point, you can easily spend a six hour documentary on the memoirs alone, so it was nice to at least see a little bit of the mention of the memoirs in there. And to that point, your recently published annotated memoirs. I've had a chance to flip through them. I thought they were beautifully illustrated and your annotations, your explanations in the memoirs are very helpful for modern readers, but understandably this is a huge undertaking that you did. What kind of motivated you to start this project in the first place, and what was that process like creating this annotated edition of Grant's memoirs?

- I would say that most of the work in a concentrated fashion took place over the last several years, but I realized as I was editing that as I was working on it, that in some strange way I had been working on it for 20 years in that I first found the memoirs a long time ago in graduate school, actually. My specialty is literature, not history. I read this fascinating book and I can't even do the archeology anymore of how I got there, but instead of writing my PhD dissertation, I was reading this book and it didn't conform to any expectations that I had about what a 19th century general would sound like or write. It seemed totally self-effacing. It did not have the kinds of rhetorical flourishes and the sort of purple prose that we associate with many 19th century writings about war. One of the things initially very early on in the memoirs, in one of the first chapters, Grant writes about his experience as a student at West Point, saying that he spent most of his time actually reading novels. That charmed me immediately, of course, as someone whose specialty is literature, and he read Scott and Cooper and Washington Irving and sort of was very typical in that sense of a 19th century reader, and so it gave me a window into 19th century culture, and also at the time, I found it, I have to say difficult to trace some of the battles. I've since visited many of the sites, and so now when I read it, whenever I go to visit a site I will read that chapter in the memoirs as preparation and then to be able to see the actual site. That was of course one of his great gifts as a soldier and as a commander, was this ability to look at a map once. He just had this wonderful facility, this almost photographic memory for the terrain and the topography. I don't have that, so it was great to be able to actually visit the sites, and I think the documentary did a nice job with that as well, showing us sort of, things like that. And so I was acquainted with the memoirs for a long time and then the opportunity came to edit them, and I was just thrilled. And so that was a nice sort of coincidence really, and it was great.

- Sure, sure. I guess along these lines, a question that just popped in my mind here. Have you had a background, with your literature background, have you had any other interactions with other writings about the Civil War, say Ambrose Bierce or somebody else like that that's kind of stuck out to you as well?

- Yes, in fact, one of the things that I worked hard to do in the annotations, because of course I'm deeply indebted to all of the historians, the military historians who analyzed and annotated the memoirs, but my primary interest was in trying to situate this book and to situate Grant into a literary and a cultural context as well, and so I looked at a lot of memoirs, at a lot of non-fiction and a lot of fiction, including Bierce, also De Forest, his novel about the Civil War, Ms. Ravenel's conversion and his journals and diaries, and I think De Forest is an undervalued writer who, like Bierce, did not look at the romantic aspects of combat but looked at the grim brutality of it all. I think that that was what Grant, actually, I think that's what he figured out about war as early as his experience in the Mexican War, but it's surely shaped his attitudes toward the Civil War and to the way he wrote about it. So I try to include all kinds of memoirs from the time and also fiction, poetry, to sort of think about what this memoir means to the history of war writing.

- Absolutely, that's really wonderful. It's one of the great insights of the memoirs, because it does provide that, your annotated memoirs provides that larger literary context as well, certainly. In your research, when you were working on the memoirs, what was one of the big insights or takeaways or perhaps a discovery that you made in these years of studying the memoirs, maybe one passage that you go back to all the time?

- It's a hard question, the hardest question I'm asked usually, because there are so many passages and I've spent so much time with it that there are passages I sort of carry around with me and they help explain the world to me sometimes. One of the passages is from early on in the memoirs where he's talking about the two commanders he worked with in Mexico, General Winfield Scott and General Zachary Taylor, who were really opposites in many, many ways except in the fact that they were successful commanders. Grant has this wonderful passage in the early chapters about these two generals and about how they write and talk. I found that fascinating that that's what he would concentrate on, less on how they fought, but instead how they talked and how they wrote. I really think about someone who was so conscious of the way that he spoke, the way that he communicated, and I think that that's a really interesting and perhaps understudied aspect of military culture. So that's one of the passages that sticks with me. That's the end of Chapter 10, and it's just a wonderful little portrait of these two men. The memoirs, it's full of these wonderful little portraits of different commanders, different people he encountered, and they'll just come up in a paragraph and he's able to distill someone's character in that way. The person's character that I think he finds most mysterious is that of Lee, and so the passage that I think of, that I often go back to because it has significance for Grant but I think it also has significance for us as a country and particularly now we're dealing not only as we have this discussion, not only with the pandemic but with protests and violence across the country. And I think that much of this violence is rooted in our history, and I think that part of what Grant's memoirs offers is a corrective to what's commonly called the lost cause mythology that demoted slavery as one of the causes of the Civil War and instead turned to the phrase state's rights. I think that Grant was not confused at all about the nature of the Civil War, about the issues being fought over, and I think that he would have been slightly mystified about the ways in which we have since remembered the war. So this passage where he meets with Lee at Appomattox kind of emphasizes for me the way that he understood the war and the way that he understood his role in it. If we have the time, I'm happy to read just a little bit of the chapter. It's from Chapter 67, and one of the things that makes it typical is that he always is dispelling the romance of war and he's always saying look, it's a great story, but this is what really happened. One of the myths that grew up was that of the apple tree, that there was a famous apple tree there, so he starts with that. Before stating what took place between General Lee and myself, he writes, I will give all there is of the story of the famous apple tree. Wars produce many stories of fiction, some of which are told until they are believed to be true. The War of the Rebellion was no exception to this rule, and the story of the apple tree is one of those fictions based on a slight foundation of fact. As I have said, there was an apple orchard on the side of the hill occupied by the Confederate forces. Running diagonally up the hill was a wagon road which at one point ran very near one of the trees so that the wheels of vehicles had on that side cut off the roots of the tree, leaving a little embankment. General Badcock of my staff reported to me that when he first met General Lee, he was sitting upon this embankment with his feet in the road below and his back resting against the tree. The story had no other foundation than that. Like many other stories, it would be very good if it was only true, and that's sort of typical of Grant's understated humor as well. And then it goes on to talk about his acquaintance with Lee. I had known General Lee in the old army, that's of course in the Mexican War, and did not suppose, owing to the difference in our age and rank, that he would remember me. Well, I would more naturally remember him distinctly, because he was the Chief of Staff of the Engineers of General Scott in the Mexican War. When I had left camp that morning, I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore soldier's blouse for a coat with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. Grant, of course, had this famous dislike for military uniform.

- Absolutely.

- When I went into the house, I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me and a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview. What General Lee's feelings were I do not know, as he was a man of much dignity with an impassible face. It was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come or felt sad over the result and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation, but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly and had suffered so much for a cause. Though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us. And then he goes on to describe the terms and he dispels the rumor of the sword, you know, the celebrated hand over the sword. The story ran in newspapers long after that, but he said it's the purest romance.

- Sure, absolutely. That's one of my favorite passages from the memoirs as well, because I think Grant, in his mind he's willing to acknowledge the sincerity and sort of the sacrifices that were made by these Confederate soldiers, but he's still not, he's not giving them a full break, and he's still asserting the the importance and significance of what the Union cause was all about as well. With the rise of lost cause literature in the 1880s and going on from there, we can see Grant is sort of offering a rebuttal to that interpretation of the war in this passage.

- Right, and when he was young, when he was lieutenant in the Mexican War, he was fighting in a war in which he did not believe. He's clear about that in the memoirs. I think at the time he thought less about the cause, but he had that experience. He said that was a purely political war, an unjust war, and the Civil War he believed in was a war of principle, and so you can see that I think very clearly in this depiction of what happened at the surrender.

- Absolutely, I fully agree 100%. Well, this has been really wonderful. Thank you to Dr. Elizabeth Samet for speaking today with us a little bit about her Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. I know you've written a couple of other books too along the lines of the Civil War. You can maybe tell us a little bit about that to wrap up our interview.

- Sure. One of the things that I did before this book actually was an anthology of leadership. It's not just military leadership, but it does certainly involve some Grant and a lot of Lincoln. I think there's much to be learned from reading his work as well, obviously.

- Sure, well fantastic. Thank you so much, Dr. Samet. We look forward to seeing your progress with your book here, and those who haven't seen the documentary, look out for Dr. Samet on the documentary as well. Thank you.

- Thank you, Nick, I appreciate it.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
16 minutes, 1 second

You saw her in the History Channel's "Grant" documentary, and now she's here for the U.S. Grant History Chat! Dr. Elizabeth Samet joined Ranger Nick to discuss her Annotated Edition of Ulysses S. Grant's Personal Memoirs and what sparked her interest in Grant's life.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- All right, Hello everybody. This is Nick Sacco, park ranger, at Ulysses S grant national historic site, in St. Louis, Missouri. And this is the U S grant history chat. This is episode number six, and it's my pleasure today to be speaking with Dr Conevery Valencius, who is a historian of science at Boston university. I think it's just so cool, because as a historian of science you have to really master two different disciplines which is not easy. And Dr. Valencius teaches among other courses, the civil war and reconstruction, the history of medicine, and the history of science. And so I wanted to kind of play into that expertise to have a conversation about, the practice of medicine during the civil war, logistics in the civil war, and a little bit about Grant's role in all of these things. So thank you, Dr. Valencius for being with us today. To start things off, your work examines, transformations to the practice of medicine in the United States. And I'd love to hear a little bit about, what is the state of medical science at the beginning of the civil war, and perhaps share with us some of, the insights that you've come way within your research, over the years, looking at this particular topic?

- Sure. One quick thing, is that in Boston we have a whole bunch of universities with really confusing and overlapping names.

- Sure.

- I actually went to Boston college,

- Boston college, thank you.

- Bunch of fine universities among which VU is among.

- Okay, thank you. So, in 1850, in 1860, anytime up to the beginning of the civil war, the main medical practitioner, that most people living in the United States would have encountered, would be a midwife. That would probably be the most trusted, medical practitioner. Doctors were certainly called in. They gave people medicines, they helped them in the transitions of health and of life. They were, in some ways as much status symbol as anything else. There was not, merely as much difference in efficacy and actually what worked, between what doctors would offer, and what other, you know, local healers, midwives, route doctors would offer. It wasn't nearly as much differentiation there as, the more educated physicians wanted to assert. Hospitals, leading up to the civil war, were only a place typically, for very poor people to be sick and die, often of a sexually transmitted disease related illnesses, or simply of, the ailments of very hard lives. But only hospitals most people would be familiar with, would be plagued hospitals essentially, that is quarantine institutions set up, in the midst of it, in reaction to pandemics like the one we're living in right now.

- Sure.

- Most of the time, people who entered the hospital did so out of desperation, and didn't necessarily expect to leave. All of that changed, as a result, of the experience of the United States civil war. We got hospitals that were institutions that many soldiers fighting in the civil war, particularly those fighting for the United States, had the experience of going into, an institution called the hospital, and walking, out better than they had walked in. They had the experience of encountering, an explicit and increasingly professionalized, cadre of people, mostly although not all women, who were dedicated to nursing these men. It is through the civil war that we get nursing, as a vocation, as a profession, rather than just as, something that anybody did, when you had sick family members or someone in your household to take care of. We also got differentiation of care, both on the battlefield, and different ways of addressing illness, or sort of injury, on the battlefield, in a field hospital. And then you know, in a more specialized institution removed from care, removed from the battlefield. And we got the institution of quantification, statistics, numerical analysis of what worked and what didn't, that went along with the whole development of different wards for different purposes. So, even as germ theory, in the night 1860s, was beginning to lighten everybody's intellectual world, in Europe, And for those who had access to them in scientific publications in the United States. Even if that's happening, it didn't have any impact yet, on the course of the U S civil war. Nobody understood that washing hands would save lives, in 1860, and they didn't understand it, most of them by 1865 either. But all of the institutional and logistical changes that were needed, to implement this revolution of medical care, were all happening in and through this tumultuous conflict.

- Wow. And that, I really loved that insight about hospitals as well, because, before the civil war it sounds like if you're going to a hospital, I mean, that was pretty much the end of the road for you. Whereas, with the civil war, the field in a way is becoming more professionalized, there's statistical analysis being done. And there's a possibility that if you go to a hospital, you might actually, be able to get out and still be alive, thanks to some of the transformations that are happening, during the civil war. So that's really fascinating, Absolutely. And kind of connected to this here to, you discuss a bit in your scholarship about, the logistics of medical practice, and what you described as business efficiency. And, I would love to hear a little bit more about that. because grant himself would have known about this. Having served in the Mexican American war, as a quartermaster, he's got to make sure he's getting supplies, food, and resources to his troops. And so, I would love to hear a little bit more about, sort of the relationship of logistics, and medical practice during the civil war as well.

- So, one of the things that we often Think about rightly, is the changes in medical care, because so many medical practitioners, unfortunately, got so much practice, in the internal workings of the human body. But what we also don't necessarily think behind is, how many, young men, not only got practice in wielding ornaments, right, and saddling up mules. But they also got practice in using account books, to keep track of where the blankets were, and where they were needed. They got practice understanding railroad scheduling, and who you needed to work with, and how you needed to communicate with others, in order to get the morphine, to where it was needed. And all of those seemingly mundane administrative skills, were just as important, I would argue, as the battlefield skills, in remaking the United States, after the civil war. It is those young men, you know, some of them with glasses like mine, who couldn't serve on the front,

- Right, who were getting good at enormous realms of paperwork, right. Of the bureaucracy of a massive administrative apparatus. And that, enabled the massive growth, of nationwide commercial enterprises, of train systems that ran on time, right. A huge communications infrastructure. So the soldiers and the officers who watched, as one of the forward pieces, of the union army trains, throughout the war, but especially after grant assumed command, was the mobile Telegraph wires, being laid, often with a spool of newfangled telephone Telegraph wire, that had special installation on it, from the back of a mule, right, going along with forward parties, and the pioneer crews, who were scouting ahead, and making roads, were also selecting the right trees to cut down, and then put up, in order for Telegraph wires to be attached, as the American army moved.

- Wow.

- And, every soldier seeing, that as they marched by, there were wires already draped on the bushes. And then a little while later, you know from these improvise, they understood, infrastructure, in a way that was new to them, and will enormously, impacted the course of us history after the war.

- Yeah and, if I'm understanding the argument here correctly, I think we can see a connection between, the civil war and industrialization in the country, sort of breeding this new generation of, accountants, managers statisticians, that are playing their own role after the civil war, in fostering industrial growth, and sort of managing this growth economically speaking, as well in the future too, It sounds like.

- Absolutely. So the administrative, what we would in modern sense maybe call the project management skills, right. back off, of the enormous administrative might, of the U S army, of U S armed forces, allowed for, all of what we tend to think of as the private enterprise, right. Of the gilded age.

- Wow, fantastic. That's really fascinating. And, and then finally, we talked a little bit ahead of time, and you're pretty familiar with grants personal memoirs, and i was kind of curious about your own studying of the memoirs, and what is one or multiple takeaways that you got from, studying Grant's memoirs?

- One of my favorite stories about U S grants, took place before he was famous, when he was still kind of a wash out really, when he recoded, soldiers in Illinois and been an appointed a Colonel, and, was assigned to go chase away some forces of the Missouri state guard, not very far from you, a little North of there in Florida,

- Right. Florida Missouri , it is the birthplace of the person at that point, known as Samuel Clemens, right now known to us as Mark Twain, who later was the publisher, of Grant's memoirs,

- Right

- to make that come about. So grant was assigned, to clear out these pro Confederate forces. He described in his memoir, marching with his men. And as he said, his heart Rose further and further into his throat, the more they marched. All I wished he said was to be back in Illinois. He said, the only reason I kept going, was that I did not have the heart to stop, and consider what to do. He is quaking in his boots, as he rides along. He comes to the brother Hill, where he expects to see, Harris's camp before him. And it's deserted. They have decamped, they have run. It occurred to me then, Grant writes in his memoirs, that Harris was as afraid of me, as I was of him. That was a view of the question he wrote, that had not before occurred to me, but that I never forgot after. And that is such a moving Testament. This is a 19th century American military leader, communicating to the American public, that he was terrified to lead, in his first command, and that he got over it. And, everyone who served of under him later, talked about his calm, but he did not fall into this myth of the unstoppable Bobby Lee. He said well, what are we going to do? And throughout Grant's leadership, he never failed to acknowledge, what ordinary soldiers, were feeling, and experiencing. He also, never failed to acknowledge, where he had changed, and he had learned. And that is one of the most lasting gifts I think, of his presidency, to our understandings of national leadership.

- I would fully agree. And, I love the passages that you cite there too. because they, I think they have applicability in our daily lives as well. I mean, we're all kind of scared of different situations that pop up in our lives but, sometimes you have to realize that, everybody else has their own fears too. It's not just us, personally as well. So, I love that. That's really great. And, and then finally, just to kind of wrap things up, if we have viewers that want to learn a little bit more about your scholarship, and your contributions to the history of science, where you can tell us a little bit about, some of your scholarship.

- Sure. Actually, could I plug two other people's books?

- Sure, absolutely.

- Kevin, I don't have them here, because I'm not in my off-work office, but Kevin Levine's search that the myth of the black Confederate, addresses a question a lot of people have, about the false history, being promoted, about the African-American Confederate soldiers, that didn't actually exist. And the three cornered war by Megan Kate Nelson, talks a lot about the war in the West, which might be of interest to, those of y'all interested in the Western history. And, if you want to know more about medicine in the 19th century, the yellow book, the health of the country, is something I wrote, about ideas of health, and environment, in the 19th century, American West, and the lost history of the new Maverick earthquakes. And y'all in Missouri know how to pronounce

- Yes.

- that name of new Mandarin, has, features a stirring civil war battle, the battle for Island number 10. So it's about earthquakes, but it's also about the U S civil war.

- I love it. I'm adding those to my book list. And the one book here, I have Kevin Levine's book right here actually. So that's, in my bookshelf that I would get. I would, hardly second that recommendation, and Meghan Kate Nelson's book is on my reading list as well. So thank you so much, Dr. Conevery Valencius, and at Boston college. So, thank you so much for being with us today, and we'll see you around the future. Thank you.

- Thank you. Bye bye.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
14 minutes, 17 seconds

Dr. Conevery Valencius joins Ranger Nick to discuss Civil War medicine and logistics. Dr. Valencius is a professor at Boston College and teaches, among other classes, the Civil War & Reconstruction, the History of Medicine, and the History of Science

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- Okay, hello, everybody, this is Nick Sacco, park ranger at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. And this is Episode Seven of the U.S. Grant History Chat. It's my pleasure today to be speaking with Dr. Stephen West, professor of history at Catholic University in Washington, DC. And Dr. West specializes in the Reconstruction era. In an earlier interview, I learned that you had studied with Dr. Barbara Fields and Dr. Eric Foner, some pretty heavy hitters in the Reconstruction world. And in a few years you'll be working on and we'll have a book about the 15th Amendment coming up in the future. So, with the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment coming this year in 2020, I wanted to have Dr. West, come on to the program here and tell us a little bit about the Amendment and Grants relationship with it. So thank you, Dr. West, for being with us. And to kick off the conversation, I wanted to talk a little bit about the 15th Amendment and this concept of a universal right to vote. The 15th Amendment, it reads, info or says, "The right to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any state on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude." So it states that the states and the federal government can't ban voting or a voter from registering their ballot based on their race, but it doesn't necessarily give a universal right to vote. So I'm kind of curious to hear about, was that a part of the conversation in Congress, and how did the 15th Amendment kind of end up being sort of this compromise amendment in the end?

- Yeah, well, thanks for the opportunity to talk about this, and you're exactly right. So just to remind your viewers, the 15th Amendment is the third of the Reconstruction amendment. So the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, ratified in 1865, the 14th Amendment, which addresses birthright citizenship and civil rights passed by Congress in 1866, ratified in 1868. In the debates over the 14th Amendment, there are questions about whether to enfranchise black men, whether to ban racial restrictions on the suffrage then, and most Republicans in Congress are not willing to do it. And so the 14th Amendment has a section two which we hardly ever think about these days, because it's never been enforced, which doesn't require the enfranchisement of anybody, but does provide a mechanism for reducing a state's representation in the electoral college and in Congress, if they don't extend the suffrage. So this was obviously not to sort of the pleasure of radical abolitionists, Radical Republicans and abolitionists, Frederick Douglass calls section two of the 14th Amendment, "Compromising and worthless." And so the idea of enfranchising a black man, and extending the suffrage and banning racial discrimination and suffrage had been around before these debates over the 15th Amendment opened in late 1868, early 1869. And so exactly as you say, there's sort of various versions of the Amendment in circulation. The most expansive ones would assert a right to vote, would sort of guarantee that as an affirmative right, what we have and you read the text of the Amendment there, what we have is sort of a negatively phrased 15th Amendment. The States and the United States government can't ban suffrage on these certain grounds. In the course of the debates over the 15th Amendment, there are debates as well, or proposals as well, to use a negative formulation, but to ban more things. So there are proposals to ban literacy tests, education, property, intivity religion, that one version of the 15th Amendment would ban discrimination on the basis of sex. So it would have been franchised or extended the suffrage to women as well. All of those other things are trimmed out of the Amendment, over the course of the debates in Congress in early 1869. And so this is happening before Grant becomes president. But it's done to sort of get both consensus in Congress the 2/3 majority that Republicans need in each house of Congress, to get the amendment out of Congress and then to get it ratified by the 3/4 of the states that they need.

- So it's sort of a compromise measure, in the sense that to get that 2/3 majority, sort of sacrifice other elements like banning voter discrimination based on sex, so just trying to go with what's gonna to get the most appeal in Congress so eventually, the 3/4 of the states as well.

- Exactly, that's right.

- Okay, very interesting. And, along the line to talking about Grant, you're right there that it starts in Congress before Grant takes the office of the presidency. He mentioned support for ratification the 15th Amendment in his inaugural address when he takes office in 1869. But I'd love to hear a little bit more about Grant's own role in the 15th amendment and how he viewed the amendment.

- Yeah, and so, again, to remind your viewers, the president doesn't have any formal role to play in the amending of the constitution. the way that we've always amended the constitution is for Congress to propose an amendment and then for the states to ratify it. The President doesn't have to do anything. But, there's a a lot President can do, right? I mean, he's the leader of his party, he can try to bring people into line, he can bring pressure to bear on members of Congress to get their votes, he can bring pressure on governors and state legislatures. And so Grant, as you say, is inaugurated just shortly after the Amendment is passed by Congress. And so he signals in his inaugural address his support for ratification of the 15th Amendment, and he works behind the scenes to support it. And so for example, he pressures the governor of Nebraska, to call their legislature into session early to get it ratified, because he's eager to get this done. And so he's using those kind of powers, those informal powers that our president has behind the scenes.

- Interesting, interesting. And another element behind all of this here, too, is that we do see other pieces of congressional legislation like the Military Reconstruction Act that was passed in 1867, that basically mandated that the former Confederate States and franchise their black male population. And so in some ways, the 15th Amendment is in a way, it's kind of addressing the northern states. A lot of northern states put black suffrage on their state referendums or what have you. And in most cases, it failed. And in some ways, the North was sort of the last part of the country to enfranchise black males in the north. So kind of what was sort of the role of trying to get northern states on board with the 15th Amendment, if you kind of speak to how the relationship between the amendment and the northern states as well.

- Yeah, and so that's one of the issues here. And as of the end of the Civil War In 1865, there were only five states that enfranchised black men on an equal basis with white men. And so, and then there are a number of referendums as you suggested in the late 1860s. And they're almost always defeated, a couple of them passed, but they're almost all defeated. Black men in the former Confederate States, the one subject to military reconstruction had been enfranchised in 1868, effectively. And so, while we rightly think that Grant helps put the 15th amendment in the Constitution, it's also the case that black men helped put Ulysses S Grant in the White House. But the 1868 election also showed a number of challenges, there's sort of uncertainties about the kind of future fate both of blacks average in the north, but especially in the south. There's widespread election violence by the Ku Klux Klan, and other groups. Grant loses Louisiana and Georgia, two states that had been readmitted to the union because of the scale in part of terrorist violence against black voters and white Republicans as well. The 1868 presidential campaign is one of the most openly racist in American history. And, so Frank Blair from Missouri-

- St. Louis, yeah.

- Yeah, the vice presidential candidate is the most explicit about this. I mean, Frank Blair, essentially says, "Put democrats back in the White House, we will undo Reconstruction, we will withdraw military protection from the south, and the things that have been done will be undone." And so this is a signal to Republicans that if you wanna protect black voting rights in the south, you're going to need to write it into the Federal Constitution, and give the federal government enforcement powers and not merely leave it to state constitutions and the enforcement powers of the state. So that's one of the uncertainties and one of the problems. And then the other issue is, there's always been African American Republicans, radical white Republicans who supported enfranchising black men in the north as well. And so you've got this sort of confluence of circumstances that are pushing Republicans to adopting the 15th Amendment. And putting it in that guarantee, or that ban on racial discrimination in the Federal Constitution.

- Right, so the amendment process just sort of guarantees that a future Congress isn't gonna come around and just undo all of this work or a new addition ministration like a see more Blair administration exactly?

- Exactly, exactly.

- And then finally, just to wrap up our conversation here, we chat a little bit ahead of time about just the sort of the general state of scholarship on Reconstruction. And I noticed that with the 15th Amendment, I think one of the last really book length treatments of the 15th Amendment came from William Gillette, about 50 years ago in his book on the 15th Amendment. And we're seeing a lot more scholarship on reconstruction, but then a lot of us who've watched that documentary, The History Channel's documentary on Grant, there's only about 30 minutes dedicated to Grants presidency in these larger issues of Reconstruction. And I know part of your scholarship kind of focuses on the ways Reconstruction has been remembered, and how it's been interpreted over time. And we'd love to hear a little bit about your thoughts on sort of what we need to do to better understand Reconstruction in the present.

- Mm hmm, yeah.

- And so I think you're exactly right. I mean, the Grant miniseries, there were a lot of good things about it. But as somebody who focuses more on Reconstruction, like you, I couldn't help but note, what kind of short shrift Reconstruction gets there. And Grant plays a role both general in chief and then as president. So his role in reconstruction lasts longer than his role as as General in the Civil War. So I was disappointed in that. And I mean, I think there are a number of reasons for it in popular memory, there's a kind of fascination with military history that I think, we historians of Reconstruction, have a hard time competing with. I mean, that we just went through the 115th anniversary of the Civil War, we're now in the middle of the 150th anniversary of Reconstruction, but we're not seeing the same attention to it. I think part of it as well is that we're still sort of fighting against some of the pro-Southern lost cause views of Reconstruction that really took root in the dominant mind of white Americans, but also in the scholarship and in popular culture in the early 20th century. So, we think of things like "Birth of a Nation," but also "Gone with the Wind," which has been controversial recently. And so, historians, I think, are still very much sort of fighting that in the popular mind. For those who would like to celebrate or commemorate Reconstruction in a more positive way, we still have to sort of contend with the fact that, I wouldn't say it fails, I'd say it's overthrown, its defeated effectively by military force and fraud. And Grant himself, in the wake of his presidency, in the late 1870s, he's sort of trying to rethink some of these issues, as well. So as many of your viewers may know, Grant goes on a tour around the world for several years after he leaves the presidency. And out of that world tour comes a two volume book around the world with General Grant, which tells the story of his world travels, but also has interspersed with it his memories of the Civil War, and a good bit on reconstruction. When what's fascinating to me there is the memoirs are sort of rightly celebrated, Grant's memoirs, but there's almost nothing about Reconstruction in there, it effectively ends with the grand review in the spring of 1865. But in around the world, Grant reflects on reconstruction. And he says that he thinks a mistake was made with enfranchising black men, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. He's retreating in his own way from Reconstruction, but he's not abandoning it, because it's important to sort of read in context fully what he says. Grant's concern was with putting the union back together on sort of a stable and lasting basis. He had not been a Republican before the Civil War, but he talks about the goals of the Civil War and the purpose of the Civil War, the way that Republicans had talked about the threat of the so called slave power, to the sort of integrity of Republican government in the United States. And Grant in the aftermath of Reconstruction is still genuinely worried about that. He's worried that not only have white Southerners established home rule in the south, he's worried about what that means for the rights of African Americans. But he's also worried about what that means for sort of the fate of American democracy. It's unfair, he says, to give the southern states all of this extra voting power in Congress and in the Electoral College, which they've gained on the basis of a black population, whose suffrage they are increasingly denying. So he sees wrong to African Americans, he sees wrong to white Northerners, and he sees a kind of apparel to the republic, and to the sort of results of Civil War in Reconstruction. And white Southerners would dismiss this as quote unquote bloody shirt, rhetoric trying to sort of re-live or revive sectional animosities for political purposes. But Grant is, I think, a really genuine way worried about what the results of the war have been, and what happens in the United States and to the sort of Republican experiment if these rights are denied.

- Fascinating, and maybe in a way, it's sort of a warning sign of what could happen with a with an empowered white South, that is essentially disenfranchises black population, and really sort of thrown out the 15th Amendment as constitutional law. And what might happen is sort of a precursor to what will happen later on in the rise of the Jim Crow era, in a way.

- Yeah, yeah, very much, though. And, the other thing to remember, Grant is, these reminiscences of Grant's come out in a book that's published in 1879, 1880. Grant would like to be or won't say that he doesn't wanna be president again. Under the Republican convention, so I think we can sort of both take these as his sincere views, but he's also sort of pitching this to an important part of the Republican faithful in 1880. So it's both a reminiscence, if not quite as told to memoir, but also a kind of campaign document.

- Absolutely. And I tell people to when we talk about "Around the world with General Grant", he knows what he's saying there. And it was in the written record for several years before he died. So you'd have to think he was pretty reflective of how he felt about things. Because, it was out there in the world, so to speak, and Grant didn't criticize the book, so pretty reflective of where he his thinking was at that time.

- Yeah, yeah. And Grant, in that book, although he says, enfranchisement of black men had not worked out as he and the framers of the policy wanted, he's also quite clear that the bad guys in the stories that he's telling are the ex Confederates. He says, "Look, I've done everything I can do to conciliate them, I was willing to meet them halfway. They won't move, they won't do what we expect them to do, which is to accept in good faith. The results of the war is written into the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. They talk conciliation, but they don't really meet it."

- Right, and fascinating stuff. And it's a wonderful summarization of Grant's, where he's thinking at the end, after his presidency concludes. So this has been really fantastic, Dr. Stephen West, thank you so much for being with us today. If we wanna learn more about your scholarship, where can we find you?

- Well, I'm on Twitter, @StephenAWest, that's my handle. I've also got an article coming out talking about some of these issues about the sort of memory of Reconstruction in the 1880s, in "The Journal of the Civil War Era," in December of this year.

- Fantastic, well, that's great. We look forward to reading that. And thank you to Dr. Stephen West for being for being with us today, thank you.

- Yeah, my pleasure, thanks so much.

- All right.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
18 minutes, 11 seconds

Ranger Nick interviews Dr. Stephen West, Professor of History at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. Dr. West is working on a book about the 15th Amendment and the memory of Reconstruction.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- Okay, hello everybody? This is Nick Sacco park ranger at Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. And this is the U.S. Grant History chat. This is episode number eight, and today it is my distinct pleasure to be speaking with Marvin Alonzo Greer, who is an excellent historian, living historian, who also works for the Missouri Historical Society at the Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis. And so, I wanted to have Marvin on the program today because he's been very involved with living history for a long time. Several years ago, he actually portrayed, Grant's enslaved man William Jones for a living history program we did here at the park. He also helped us with a, a civil war to civil rights living history program that we did, a couple of years ago as well. So to kick things off here with Marvin, I wanted to hear a little bit about just your, what prompted you initially to get into history? What prompted you to study more, of the civil war era and particularly you're one of the best living historians I've ever seen. And I'm just really curious about that side of your career as well.

- So I've always been interested in history since I was a young child. My grandmother, was a amazing storyteller and, she and my grandfather lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and they would drive from Pittsburgh to Pasadena, California, where I lived. And they would drive us across the country, across the Southwest, stopping at different national park sites and museums throughout the country, along the Southwest then up through, along the Eastern coast, till we get to got back to Pittsburgh, they do this every summer. And a lot, my grandfather drove the entire way and my grandmother talked to us the entire way, about history and family history. And so I just became really passionate about history and then when I got to middle school, he did a civil war project, where we stood at the American Civil War. And we put on a little mock battle of Gettysburg reenactment for our school and it was scripted and afterwards we will during this kind of the prep for this mock battle, we watched glory and Gettysburg. So afterwards my mom said people probably did this as a hobby or get paid for it. You should like look into it. This is like the infancy of the internet. So a lot of groups weren't online, but I was able to find a reenacting unit in in Rhode Island. There was an African-American reenacting unit that portrayed the 54th Massachusetts, obviously famed after the movie glory. And, afterwards they put me in contact with a group that happened to be in Atlanta, where I lived at the time. And, so I got into that, I got into the reenacting sphere and as I grew and got older, I found living history, after a while, volunteering at museums and historical sites, I was introduced to Freeman Tilden's, book on interpreting your history, which is still like the gold standard even though it's over 50 years old now. But, I think that just shows the power of Tilden's work, that it stands the test of time. And so that's really how I got into the field of living history. I had my first professional museum job when I was in college. I worked at Robert C. Williams International Museum of Papermaking, which is at Georgia tech. And then I proceeded to go on to the Atlanta History Center, in Atlanta where I really cut my teeth and practice and honed my interpretive skills.

- Sure, wonderful and say how long have you been at the Soldiers Memorial?

- I, this is I'm going here's three right now at Soldier's Memorial. I was the first, kind of public basic staff person hired for Soldiers Memorial and I'm the education of visitor experience lead. So that means I'm in charge of all the interpretive programs, all public programs, just anything that's guest facing, that is what I, that's what I'm in charge of.

- Excellent, excellent and I know since you've been here in St. Louis and I'm sure much longer than that, you've done a lot of research on, United States Colored Troops Regiments during the American Civil War. And, some of our viewers here may not be too familiar with Benton Barracks which would have been where Fairground Park is in North St. Louis. And I know you've been doing some research and some public programming on Benton Barracks and I'd love to hear a little bit about your research endeavors and perhaps a few insights that you've taken away from your research on Benton Barracks.

- All right, so being, I would say being a coastal kid, being from California originally and growing up, in Atlanta-

- Sure.

- And then living in Virginia, it blinds you to what's happening in the Midwest. It's because like the Midwest has been described, it strapped a spot first fly over States-

- Why?

- But one of the I think the best it has ever happened to me is moving here to St. Louis because it's exposed me to this wide swath of history that only people locally might know about and some people even locally don't even know about. And Benton Barracks is one of those hidden jewels. Benton barracks, for those of you who do not know was one of the largest training grounds, in the country training union soldiers. And one of the largest training grounds training African-American soldiers, in the country, as well as probably the largest training ground West of the Mississippi training federal soldiers, and it trained U.S. volunteers. And by that we mean there was already a military base here in St. Louis, at Jefferson Barracks, but that's mainly trained and housed U.S. regular forces, meaning those soldiers were already enlisted in the U.S. army while Benton barracks was for volunteers, men who were, who enlisted, for the war, but that was not that they were not career military soldiers. That being said, it primarily initially housed white soldiers. It was where the first emancipation proclamation of the war was issued with General Fremont.

- All right.

- His headquarters was there, that will obviously later rescinded, Sherman was stationed there for a time, old age, the war Eagle solved, assault, came here to Benton barracks. So Benton Barracks has an amazing history. Actually it was also the staging ground for Albert Cashier, one of the first transgender soldiers of the Civil War that we know about.

- Right.

- And so there's this whole amazing history of Benton Barracks prior to African-American soldiers being recruited. That being said once the emancipation proclamation goes into effect and African-Americans will just start being recruited, throughout the country, Missouri was very hesitant to recruit African-American soldiers. But St Louis was still the staging ground for that, for some of that recruitment. The first unit to be recruited at Benton barracks and kind of raised partially raised there was the first Iowa Colored Troops, and they were later renamed the 60th United States Colored Troops for USC team. And we have an amazing letter in our collection at the Missouri Historical Society. So we definitely suggest you guys go on and look that up when you guys have a chance, but it's from a white soldier detailing an incident that took place around thanksgiving of 1863. And, he talks about, the first Iowa Colored Troops coming into the chapel and being seated alongside white soldiers. And it talks about how he and the other soldiers weather-wise holders got up and stormed out because they would refuse to be seated next to black soldiers. And so this amazing, it's amazing to hear that two groups of soldiers from two different regiment are fighting for the same cause under the same flag and for the same country that causes is it different cause, one is fighting to preserve the union and the other is fighting to preserve the union and to end slavery. So how this union was even fractured from within was something that we can understand better for understanding Benton Barracks. Benton Barracks housed, probably one of the most famous Civil War African-American soldiers from the Midwest Spottswood Rice. Spottswood Rice, served in the 67th United States Colored Troops. And unfortunately, no photograph that exists of him today, but he pinned from Benton Barracks, he pins two beautiful letters, one to his daughters, Caroline and Mary saying he's coming to rescue them. And the other two, his daughters enslaver, a woman named Kaitty Digs and he permits calls or anything, but a child of God. He tells her that, hold on to my but the longer you keep my children from me the longer you'll have to burn in hell and the quicker you'll get there. And Spottswood Rice goes on to be a preacher African-American civil war. He found numerous churches one is still standing in a functioning church in Cape Gerardo. He was an active member of the church of the African Methodist Episcopal church here in St. Louis and across the United States. And he builds churches from Missouri all the way out to Colorado and everywhere in between his wife Arry, his first wife, Arry Rice is buried here in St. Louis at Greenwood cemetery, historically Black Cemetery. Here in St. Louis, if you're interested, I would definitely say get active in these Greenwood Cemetery project they're doing a lot of great work out there. Dred Scott's wife is buried there as well. And a lot of other veterans from the Civil War in different, and various other Wars were buried there. And then just the, the history of Benton Barracks, after the African-American regiments that were raised there, I've tracked down at least of seven black regiments that were raised there. Another one or two that were at the station there at one point in time. But understanding, Benton Barracks and understanding North city and St Louis' role in abolition in the Civil War is central to understanding where we are today as individuals and it helps place St. Louis, as really one of the most pivotal places for the story of African-American domains of patient and liberation in our entire country.

- Absolutely, I fully agree 100% and the Spottswood Rice letters that you've mentioned particularly the one to the former enslaver as a great primary source to utilize in a classroom setting to really kind of get a good perspective from an formerly enslaved person viewing, sort of what the future is gonna look like in the United States so that's really cool. And there was some UFCT troops in Benton Barracks who later went on to help found Lincoln university in Jefferson city, right?

- Yes, so the 62nd and 65th, USCTS, oh, sorry, 62nd and 67th USCTS, they pulled their money together after the war. And again, these are men who initially are paid, only $7 a month as soldiers because when they initially enlisted, they were promised $13 a month and they were told, now they'd only be paid $10 a month which is labor's wages and $3 that would be deducted for uniforms and equipment. So these men are only making $7 a month of income, but yet they still pull that money together, even after equal pay and back pay is allocated to them who's been pooled their money together. They could have easily gone off and bought huge piece of property that could have been nice clothing. They could have invested in themselves, but they didn't, they wanted to pay it forward. and they did this because their unit commanders and many of the men in their unit valued education and they stressed literacy. There was a rule in the 62nd United States Colored Troops that if you were gonna be a non-commissioned officer or an NCO, you had to know how to read and write, and you had to teach others how to read and write. If you opted, if you opted not to teach others to kind of pay it forward, to teach others how to read and write, then you would be demoted in the ranks. And so this made education a huge part of those regiments. And so after the war these men pulled their resources together and well, raise a couple thousand dollars between the men and their officers and some of their white allies and free African American allies. And they found Lincoln Institute, which is now Lincoln university in Jefferson city, which still stands, it stands today. And it's the only historically black college and university we're really only in university or in the country that was founded by African-Americans Civil War veterans.

- Wow an incredible story, that's really fascinating. Thank you for sharing that. And then finally, just to wrap up our interview here, I think we have a lot of people in this moment now who are probably anxious to learn more about the civil war era, I'm not talking necessarily at that battles, but you know, the politics of the Civil War, slavery, the reconstruction era. So what are some titles that you've sort of relied on in the past and even today to help inform your scholarship and your approach to interpreting Civil War history?

- So for all, as a as a civil war public historian there is a whole, I think there's a whole host of books I could recommend from people who just kinda want to tip their toe in people who wanna dive in. So for people who just kind of wanna kind of get a little bit of background knowledge may not want to go as deep as you and I have gone back-

- Sure.

- In some of our scholarship, I would recommend faces of the civil war. I will African-American basis of the Civil War, by Ron Coddington and he details out, he has really great, he has photographs and he tells out some kind of short little biographies of different individuals from his African-American photograph collection or various collections throughout the country of detailing stories of African Americans and Civil War, and quite a few Missourians who were enslaved, who fought for their freedom and joined the union army are listed in there, including a man named Octavius McFarland. So it definitely highlight that book, "African-American Basis of the Civil War" by Ron Coddington. When it comes to reconstruction, I think that's probably one of the most important, periods of American history, I would say even more important than American Civil War. The American civil war details as kind of the military, is really a military story and sets the stage for reconstruction, reconstruction is why that stuff is why that war mattered. And so, for that, there's a book called, "Being In the Storm So Long". It's a kind of a thick book. And, but it's a really great book for, it's an older book. But also anything by, what's the man's name like he's, Eric, Foner sorry-

- Eric Foner, yeah.

- Erick Foner's book on reconstruction read that like that is the Bible when it comes to reconstruction. Eric Foner is an amazing storyteller and he has a number of books, but obvious books specifically on, I think it's called just reconstruction, is definitely is a must read. If you haven't read it, you're not living. And, that might just be me as a bit as a public historian, a history nerd. So, but I would say Eric Foner's book, as more of a kind of contemporary history, but, there's another book it's older, but again, a hold of the test of time as a lot of great primary sources, a lot of great words from the enslaved community it's called "The Slave Community". And, it lists if it really covers the wide swath of what African-American culture and life was like, under enslavement from the 18th century through the 19th century, and it details religion and music and just cooking and culture. But for primary sources, and what and kind of getting the, the words of enslaved individuals, the life and times of William Grimes, a runaway slave, although it's not Missouri specific, William Grimes was from Maryland and he liberates himself and he writes a book after he makes his way to freedom. And he is, he's living in destitute, and his words are so powerful, so powerful. I would not recommend, that book I would say I would recommend for even, for like high schoolers and middle school. There's another book that I would recommend for adults even though it's a small book. "Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl", I would not recommend that for students, maybe college students, but it's by Harriet Jacobs, thank you. And if you're looking for a woman's perspective on what the Civil War meant or sorry not what the Civil War meant, what slavery meant and what slavery was like and how enslaved women had to resist, that is an excellent book. And then a, another book by Elizabeth no, it was with Keckley by Susie King Taylor is a black woman's civil war memoirs, and she was the, she's the only African-American woman to write a civil war memoir and she details what life was like for her in enslavement as well as once she gets free and she joined, she's a nurse and a teacher for African-American regiment, the 33rd colored troops. And especially since this year we're highlighting not only the anniversaries of reconstruction, we're also highlighting the 100 anniversary of women's suffrage and so really focusing on African-American women's voices, it's very important because it's even though the suffrage more updates back to the American revolution is really getting these women of this Civil War generation that really, help mobilize and galvanize and push things forward, as well as African-American women's voices are largely left out of this narrative of women's suffrage and it should not be because they were huge movers and shakers when it came to the suffrage movement. So general truth was a long time suffragist and advocate and as well as Harriet Tubman. So understanding the American Civil War and understanding African-American perspectives is key to understanding where we are today in American history.

- Fantastic, there's really great book recommendations there and I also agree about African-American women in the suffrage movement too. Frances Ellen Watkins Harper is another really, really powerful place in these discussions too. So some really great recommendations for people to get started with and to learn more about the politics of the Civil War era. So I wanna thank Marvin Alonzo Greer for being with us today. If we wanna learn more about the Soldiers Memorial or what you're up to, how can we find you?

- Ah, excellent question. So you can, you can follow us on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook. It's @soldiersstlouis and you can find us online at morehistory.org\memorial, and we're soldier's at Memorial Military Museum we just opened again for the public on Saturday, just in time for June team. So we had a pretty nice turnout. It was, we're doing lots of social distancing there and you can do time you can sign up ahead of time or when you come in person, but we're doing a time re ticketing. So we also have every other Wednesday, the first and second sorry the first and third Wednesday of the month. We have our online digital challenge chats at noon, where where guests can still engage with us. Nick, you were our speaker last week for-

- Fine.

- I'm talking about our grant and reconstruction and what reconstruction meant. And then we have another one coming up, in next week about the 4th of July and what that means to the people in the Midwest and how that was celebrated historically. So please join us at Soldiers Memorial and we'd love to see you.

- Fantastic, okay, thank you, Marvin. Have a great day, thank you so much.

- Thank you, Nick.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
21 minutes, 56 seconds

Historian Marvin-Alonzo Greer joined Ranger Nick to discuss his work at the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum, the experiences of African American soldiers who were stationed in St. Louis during the Civil War, and his favorite books about the Civil War era.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- Hello there, this is Nick Sacco, Park Ranger at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. And you're watching episode nine of the U.S. Grant History Chat. And it's my pleasure to be speaking today with Dr. Amy Laurel Fluker, who is a professor of History at Youngstown State University in Ohio. And Dr. Fluker has a brand new book that just hit the market, it's called "Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri" So that's right up my wheelhouse and I was really excited to have Dr. Fluker on for the chat today. So to begin our conversation in reading through the introduction acknowledgments, Dr. Fluker, you mentioned that you grew up in Jefferson City, so I wanted to hear about what were some historic sites in Missouri that you saw growing up in this state and what kind of sparked your interest in the civil war in the first place?

- Yeah, I mean, it's been such a fun project, I think for that reason I've got such a long standing personal connection to this stuff. So I'm not a native Missourian but moved to the state as a young kid. And one of my earliest memories is a family trip to Fort Davidson State Historic Site and to a civil war reenactment down there. And I was young enough where I was pretty scared about what I was seeing, what was going on . But so one of my earliest student memories is, you know has to do a civil war history in Missouri. And my parents were just really wonderful about, you know taking us around to little day trips around the state, So St. Charles was always a thrill for me, Arrow Rock, Hermann places where the 19th century built environment has been so well preserved that it was like falling through a, you know, a window into time and I just loved that. And so, you know those were always my favorite places to visit and and experience history.

- Fantastic, yeah, I've been to Fort Davidson before a few times and it is a really neat site just to learn about this Confederate effort to try to make their way up to St. Louis and it was unsuccessful, but it's great that that battlefield is still being preserved and the pilot knob iron it's an area in Southeastern Missouri. And so you kinda grew up with the civil war, you studied it in college and you became a historian yourself. And so with this book, I'm very curious to hear about some of the central arguments of the book. And what specifically about Civil War commemoration in Missouri is unique you know, here in Missouri you have Confederate veterans, you have Union veterans, you have African Americans who served for the union but are remembering the war perhaps differently than their white counterparts and the union military. So want to hear a little bit about some of your conclusions and insights in the book.

- Sure. You know, one of the things I was thinking as you're asking your question is, as formative as my experience growing up in the state was to the way I thought about, you know the project and my research, it was really when I moved out of Missouri and went to graduate school in Mississippi that I had this sort of awakening, because I thought you know, on paper Missouri's civil work experiences it's so active, right? It's such an active theater of the war. And, you know, and just sort of by the numbers, Missourian should be as invested in the memory of this conflict as anybody else but that wasn't my experience. So I left Jefferson City where, you know there's no traditional soldier monuments to the civil war and moved to Oxford, Mississippi tiny postage stamp of a town where within, you know, two, three square miles, there's five civil war monuments.

- Wow.

- And so that sort of, you know what, got me noticing the difference in terms of commemoration. So, you know, get as much as that experience in Missouri was important, it was the experience leaving the state and kind of seeing what was going on elsewhere in terms of Civil War Commemoration that got me intrigued but what I sort of arrived at and what the central argument of the book is, is that civil war historians have developed this sort of framework for talking about the ways in which different Americans and the different regions remembered the civil war. So, you know, you've got the lost cause which we've been hearing a lot about, which is sort of the way white Southerners remember the war, the Union caused, the Emancipation caused. And Missourians I found really struggled to fit into any of these frameworks of civil war memory that are out there. And it's a part of the reason why I think there's sort of an absence of Civil War Commemoration in Missouri, as opposed to places again, like say Mississippi. there's no ability to build consensus among Missourians about what the civil war meant to them and what its legacy was. And of course it becomes really difficult to do practical things like, form committees and raise money for monuments when no one can agree on what the war was about and why. So, you know, my argument is that Missourians have this unique perspective on the war because it is a border state, a very complicated state. And not only is it a border state between the North and South, but it sits on this very interesting Eastern and Western divide as well. And that shapes the way Missourians thought about the war, I think in a really interesting and different way.

- Interesting, so essentially, you know Missouri is a very bitterly divided state not only is that extend through the civil war but it continues into this, that the post-war effort as well and trying to find common ground within the state. And, I think what's interesting is that, I went to Vicksburg recently and there are monuments to Missouri soldiers for both Union and Confederate. And so I found that to be kind of interesting looking at that when going through Vicksburg myself. And one thing specifically I noticed with your book too is, you, can talk about veteran homes and helping out veterans after the civil war. And I'd love to hear maybe a little bit about some of your insights when it comes to the veteran homes in Missouri.

- Yeah, I'm really... That was a really particularly fun part of the book to work on. I'm glad you mentioned Vicksburg though. I think that's really part two, the argument of the book is that, you know Missourians don't fit into these sort of standard ways of thinking about the war and its legacies. And so I found that white veterans in Missouri in particular really adopted this sort of reconciliation this attitude about civil war memory you can see that, you know at the Vicksburg National Military Park that monument there, to Union and Confederate Missourians really, really unique. And there are a couple similar monuments that have been built now, but at the time that that went up, I believe that was 1917. It was really the only one of its kind in the country, and really speaks to this unique attitude Missourians had about, you know needing to find common ground with one another. And that's reflected in the veteran homes as well. So these are kind of unique because we've got a State Confederate Home and a State Federal Soldiers' Home. So this was different than the National Union Veterans Homes that existed in various places. And the closest would have been in Leavenworth in Kansas. So we have a State Federal Soldiers' Home and a Confederate Veterans' Home. And initially these are privately funded and they're both begun by veterans associations and there women's auxiliaries, so the Women's Relief Corps in the case of the Federal home and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the case, the Confederate home. And they operate on private funding for a brief little window of time before... In 1897, they're adopted by the state government as Eleemosynary Institutions. So along with hospitals and prisons, they received state funding. And again, Missouri kind of like the monument Vicksburg, this is another reason Missouri so unique because it's at this point the only state to fund homes for both Union and Confederate veterans.

- Wow, that's really fascinating, and we can also see sort of that, a redefinition of the Missouri State Government in the sense that, this is really kind of the social safety net offering an opportunity for veterans who are really struggling to have, you know some support from originally these private organizations within the state government as well.

- Yeah. And that was really interesting part of the story. And one of the things that really shocked me about that as I was doing the research is I had this assumption that, people would be pretty willing to spend money on veterans, that this would be sort of a bipartisan issue that people could get behind. It ultimately was but it took time to convince people that providing relief to veterans wasn't in some way making them dependence or wards of the state that, that wasn't somehow diminishing actually the status of veterans.

- Right.

- So, the Missouri constitution actually has to be changed to ensure that veteran residents of these Eleemosynary Institutions can retain the right to vote for example, which would not have been true for residents of the asylums or the prisons, right? They wanna make sure that, you know they're providing veterans care, but that care remains distinct from other recipients of welfare in the state. So it's really, really interesting.

- Wow, then it really is fascinating absolutely. And just, just we're on the topic of commemoration here, was there a particular, is there a particular monument or statue or an event like a parade or something that really kind of sticks out in your mind, is sort of symbolic of Missouri?

- Yeah, the thing that I stumbled across that really fascinated me was the 1887 National G.A.R. encampment which was held in St. Louis. And I think this really spoke to again, one of the central arguments of the book which was getting at how Missourians don't fit easily into the standard narratives of the war. So the Grand Army of the Republic which is this Massive National Organization for Union Veterans they decide they're gonna host their 1887 meeting at St. Louis. And growing up in the state, I always think of St. Louis is the pocket of unionism that wasn't clear to folks in 1887, there was a lot of resistance to that, and people are saying, "that's a really weird location for us, that's a Southern state, we don't know about that". President Cleveland decides he's not gonna attend. And that casts kind of a further shadow on the event, black veterans come out and use that event as an opportunity to challenge racial discrimination within the G.A.R, not necessarily in Missouri they're actually talking about instances that happen in G.A.R post in Southern States. And the Department of the Gulf is what they call it. But, this event gets, you know sort of criticized from, you know, fellow Union is saying why are we gonna have it in Missouri? African-American veterans saying we need to pay attention to racial discrimination, you know among the ranks of Union veterans.

- Right.

- Say, Lewin's are kind of like, you know you're gonna have a good time we promise just come and give us a .

- Sure.

- And so, they do, and the event goes off without a hitch, all those, you know fears were ultimately sort of misplaced but, that event really stuck out to me because Union veterans and Missouri are constantly trying to prove to their comrades across the North that, we're just as loyal as we were loyal during the war. We're loyal now, and you really shouldn't pay attention to these guerrillas and these Confederates that live amongst us because they're such a tiny minority of our population don't reflect the spirit of our state.

- Ah, interesting, interesting. And then finally, just to wrap up our interview, I guess something I'm kinda curious about is if you're working with students, why should students have the war study Missouri? What, is unique about the Missouri experience during the civil war that makes it worth studying?

- Yeah, that's a great question. I think really two answers I guess to the question. One is that I think civil war historians are getting better and better about this all the time but we tend to fall into the shorthand way of talking about the conflict, is this North versus South conflict. And it's so much more complicated than that. And again, as a border state between the North and South and as the East and West Missouri, really highlights the complicated regional dynamics of this, and highlights the fact that even within these regions you have people that are very conflicted about the war, you know, so we have Missourians to oppose secession, we have Missourians who are loyal to the Union yet defend slavery. And so by, you know, shining a light on this local story you can really see how incredibly divisive and complicated this was, especially in Missouri but across the country. The other thing that I hope people will sort of gather from the book or potentially students is that, as much as civil war monuments, particularly Confederate monuments are seen as controversial, now, in many ways, the arguments and the conversations we're having about these monuments, now Missouri's we're having them 120, 130 years ago as well. The idea that monuments represents the objective history of the war. Wasn't something that the civil war generation accepted and they were very concerned about the different interpretations of the war that these monuments might promote. And again, I think that's why we just don't see a ton of them in Missouri, because there was so much back and forth over which interpretation mattered and which should represent the state.

- Those are wonderful points and it's for another time. But even the Confederate volume in here in St. Louis was opposed by some Union veterans here in St. Louis. So that's for another time, but Dr. Amy Laurel Fluker thank you so much for being with us today. Again, the book is "Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri", published through the University of Missouri press. So we'll look forward to reading that book, and anywhere else we can find you if we wanna learn more about your working in what you're doing.

- Yeah, you can take a look at my Twitter @amyfluker. I also have a website, amylaurelfluker.com.

- Fantastic. Okay, thank you Dr. Fluker,

- Thank you.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
15 minutes, 2 seconds

Ranger Nick interviews Amy Laurel Fluker, Professor of History at Youngstown State University. Dr. Fluker discussed the Civil War in Missouri and shared some insights from her new book, "Commonwealth of Compromise: Civil War Commemoration in Missouri" (University of Missouri Press).

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- Hello everyone. This is Nick Sacco, park ranger at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri and you're watching episode ten of the U.S. Grant History Chat. And it's my distinct pleasure today to be speaking with Dr. Holly Pinheiro Jr. He is a professor of history at Augusta college in Georgia and I was really excited to have Dr. Pinheiro on today because his scholarship is really exploring the African American experience during the Civil War era. And it's not so much about United States colored troops and military experiences, but family experiences, and the importance of understanding the experiences of African American women and children, and the ways that wars shaped black families during this time. So to start off our conversation, Dr. Pinheiro, what sort of specifically sparked your interest in history and exploring the Civil War era more specifically?

- Well, first off, thank you very much for this opportunity and I'm looking forward to it. My interest, I mean, I actually think about this quite a bit. I would say it would be my uncles, when I was probably about seven years old, giving me Frederick Douglass' biography and Malcolm X's biography. And I would say being committed to me learning the history of the African American experience in a way that wasn't always discussed in middle and high school. And then the continue on of that is history was the only class that really moved me in a way to, I mean, I love my job. I get paid to ask questions and read about them. Like, I love it. I mean, cause it's like, I'm always like, ooh, I have a new question. Why is? So I think that for me is what makes history fun and exciting and engaging.

- Absolutely. Yeah. I read Frederick Douglass's, his first autobiography early on in school, very influential and talked about watching the movie Glory, was also a big inspiration for me to get into history in the first place too. Absolutely. Now some of your scholarships that I've had the chance to read, you've really stressed the importance of understanding African American women, the ways that they sort of aided the Union war effort and aided their husbands on the battlefield. Would love to hear just some of your insights into this particular topic, which has not always been explored by Civil War historians.

- So I think that for me, it's more about, my research is looking at the Northern African American experience, for those, who in many cases were free-born, in places like Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New York City, New York. There's been a lot of great scholarship on the border and Southern experiences, so whether we're talking Stephanie McCurry, Thavolia Glymph has got a new book out, you know, Silber and Catherine Clinton's "Divided Houses", which is like a classic, right? One of those you must read. And the new one by the University of Georgia Press, which I believe is the "Household War." There are so many, right? But I think I've always been curious about what is life like for African Americans, the non-elites, right? So the non-Fortens, the non-Purvises, the working class, the working poor individuals who we often recognize are very essential, right? To abolitionism, but also to just community survival. In my dissertation, which compared Philly and New York, I learned that it was African American women that were doing the mobilization for literacy and these places, they're the ones canvassing going door to door to get wider readership for The Christian Recorder, which was one of the most important African American presses that was tied to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. But also as my book and research highlights, they're the ones publishing along with the weekly Anglo African, the letters and stories of black soldiers. Which is awesome because it's a great mouthpiece, which does have its problems, but it brings to light the Black story in a different way, compared to when looking at The New York Times or other presses at that moment. I think there is a lot that can continue to be said about what does it mean for African American families who are free-born and their experiences in the 19th century. The pieces that you're highlighting, I wanted to unpack the importance of African American women in the North and the wartime mobilization, right? That Williams, Serrel, and others have noted, rightfully so, that it was black women going to the camps, whether we're talking at Rikers Island, where the 20th, the 26th, and 31st United States Colored Infantry are training. So provide them with care, right? But also in Philly, where the 3rd, 6th, 8th, and many other regiments are going to mobilize and train at Camp William Penn. They're the ones doing the canvassing for the money for the regimental flags. They're at these public events. So Alessandra Lorini, she often talks about, that they're being visible in these public spaces, and what that means. Judith Giesberg's work in others, a highlight that they're putting themselves on the line by taking public transportation to go visit these military camps to be seen. And I put quotes around that, as women, when they're always seen as women every day in their communities, right? And it's just, they're trying to force white society to recognize what they already know every second of every day. Right? And it's, it's a very complicated aspect. My, hopefully, next book, will unpack this even more about the racial politics of wartime mobilization in places like Philadelphia, because there is a privileging of white women, but there's not so much, black women have to find other ways to involve themselves and be recognized for it in these spaces.

- Yeah. And one thing that I remembered distinctly, is you talk about Congressman William Kelley from Pennsylvania and how he addressed African American women, but he had this tendency. He always referred to them as girls and not women. And it just really stuck to me is, you know, condescending, but it's also just another way to sort of highlight a wedge between the ways politicians looked at white women and their contributions and African American women.

- Yeah. Well that, and actually that piece is also part of the book. I mean, you're referring to one of the famous speeches that also Anna Dickinson was a part of and Frederick Douglas, but yeah. When Congressman Kelley steps on the stage, he takes a very different approach to everyone else. I think in some ways it's telling because he is acknowledging the importance of women's role in the wartime mobilization, right? Like, so there is that empowering aspect, but then he does go exactly a negative way by saying that their only value is through their femininity and in like their connections, but not through what they're doing as far as supporting and what they have been doing anyway with helping refugees that are coming into these cities, 'cause Charlotte Forten talks about that in her memoirs, for example. So they're part of these societies that have been helping, you know, African Americans in many ways. But, yeah, one of the interesting quotes I think is when he goes after mothers, black mothers specifically, and says something like, "Mothers, you suffered through the pangs of maternity to create a man." Right? And it's like, that line just really annoyed me on so many levels, because it's like, they are men, every second of every day, just like these are women. But he's saying that if these men don't serve, then they're cowards. So therefore, what does it say about the women? But as my book will unpack, it's like a lot of these men come home. If they do come home, right? With various disabilities, seen and unseen, that are gonna create a lot of lasting problems for these families. And one of the key points of the book, which does center around the families, is that I believe that it's important to not just focus on the Civil War, right? When we talk about the Black experience in Philadelphia. Because the book is going from 1850 up until the 1930s. Right? Talk, about to highlight that, African Americans have been in a war every second of their lives for survival against racism, right? And that the Civil War opens up a new pathway to fight this. But then at the same time also shows them that racism is going to persist anyway, within the structures of military service or the racial politics of a pension.

- Sure, sure. So you're kind of navigating that system in a new way, in a sense? Absolutely. Now, here in St. Louis, historically we had, we had Benton Barracks, which is in North St. Louis. It's a park today, but the USCT soldiers, the black soldiers that served out of St. Louis, some of them were free African Americans who came from places like Kansas and Iowa, and were stationed here in St. Louis. But, with your focus on Northern cities and Northern mobilization, love to hear a little bit about what that experience might have been like. I know one thing you mentioned in your scholarship is that free Blacks in Philadelphia, a lot of them chose not to serve in USCT regiments during the war. So I'd love to hear a little bit about that.

- Yeah, I mean, so that actually gets to the core of the book. Since I'm focusing on 178 soldiers that I can prove through the records were serving and enlisted in either the 3rd, the 6th, or the 8th USCI, United States Colored Infantry, which were mobilized and trained in Philadelphia, because I really wanted to unpack how do local African Americans, who are dealing with a city that has one of the most contentious histories of racial violence, large and small, how they understand, supported, and didn't, wartime mobilization. And also since there is a strong Black church component and communal support, there's the Institute for Colored Youth. Like there's a lot happening in Philly. Like it is without question, a very important city to focus on, but a lot of the families, or the people don't enlist, right? So the majority of people that are coming in to serve in these regiments are from either neighboring counties or states, or as maybe a future article of mine will unpack, a lot of them from international like locations. They're from Canada, they're from Cuba, they're from Jamaica, from Germany. I mean, they're from all over, which is to me, highlights that these regiments, as other scholars have already noted, they don't necessarily represent their city or state. They represent the Black experience, right? Because they're free-born, they're freed, they're American, they're everywhere. And that they for different reasons are coming to engage in this combat. I believe my second chapter actually talks about the politics of recruiting, right? So in each location, whether we're talking Boston, Massachusetts, New York City, New York, and Philadelphia, they're actually competing with each other and complaining in the press about why are all the Black Philadelphians actually going up to Boston? Why are they going to New York? Why aren't they coming here? We heard a rumor that they're in Rhode Island. And I imagined that that is also playing out when we talk about other locations, whether we're talking about the Iowa 60th, or even in the border areas. Because one of my soldiers, Benjamin Davis, and you track his family throughout this. And to that point, this is actually a study of about a thousand individuals. So even though it's 178 soldiers, it's about their families. The Davis's have a very sad story. Benjamin tried to enlist in the 54th Massachusetts. In doing so, he leaves his wife, who was pregnant with their only son. He misses the birth of Jerome. Their child. And he gets a staph infection along the way. And in the opening of the book, I highlight his widow, Mary Leaden, who basically says in 1884, what was the point? You, as the United States Army and government took away my husband for this thing, and our family has suffered. And in many ways, she's basically saying, she's asking these bigger questions that I think we need to think about is, what does it mean for a family, who have to live with the consequences of this, who are struggling every second of every day against the oppressiveness of racism, right? That's navigating through education, employment, living situations. And now you've taken away an important individual because even children are gonna, as the book talks about, some of these future soldiers, actually didn't go to school and they worked, and they were critical to their households. So once you take them away, their families are going to suffer in some horrific and lasting ways. The story's not as positive as some would like it to be, I think.

- Sure. Absolutely. And, you know, I think you're getting to some of the larger questions that historians and those of us in the parks service, like to address that, you know, we have to kind of move beyond just focusing on tactics or military strategy that has its role, but what are we fighting over? What is the purpose of this fight? And that letter from 1884, you know, look at the ways that reconstruction was sort of torn apart by that point in time. And you can see a family like the Davis's that are, you know, kind of asking what was the point of all of this?

- Right, yeah. To me it's really, the crux of the book is about these families and their persistence. Like it's easy, I think, for some people to say, well, this is a story that's just showing the tragedy and the hardships. I was like, but actuality, this is about empowerment, persistence and dedication in the demands for their sacrifices, right? Because this is obviously as the false cause, as Adam Domby points out, and all this like lost cause myth, right? But that black families remain persistent. And as the book will disclose later on, they reach, at least one of the family members reaches the First Lady. Right? And they develop a relationship through these correspondences that I had not anticipated in the records. But to me, it was like, it was such a powerful story, right? That Eleanor Roosevelt, you know, is writing this woman, a woman who says outright, I'm a poor black woman from Philadelphia. I know you have The Great Depression and you've done so much for black people. Can you help me? And Eleanor responds. Repeatedly. Right? And that to me is about, she doesn't have to do that, but she is wanting, in my argument demanding, that you, and I say you as society, do not forget what we gave. Our family.

- Sure, absolutely. This is wonderful. Thank you for sharing that with us. And, to just kind of wrap up here, the book that you're working on, it's sort of in progress still, it's tentatively titled "The Family Civil War." It will be published through the University of Georgia Press. And you were saying probably about next summer, summer of '21. So just love to hear, you know, if people want to follow your progress and maybe on social media and what you're working on. Just maybe tell us a little bit about what we can do to learn more about your projects.

- Yeah. Thank you. So I'm on Twitter. I think it's PhUsct or you can just find it through my name. I've been lucky enough to have an essay that's gonna be coming out with Adam Domby and Simon Lewis. That's gonna actually try to problematize what does it mean for African American soldiers who are serving during reconstruction from the North or liberators, and protecting the freedoms of formerly enslaved people, but in the process will lose their own freedom in a multitude of ways, which will lead to some big problems for their families. And I think that to me is what's important is that we understand the human component, the material realities for people, right? So that, what I'm hoping is that this pushes us, along with James G. Mendez, his work "A Great Sacrifice," to recognize that families matter, right. And in a very important, and in some ways, you know, moving aspects, I'd say my hope is to my next book, will most likely be looking at Philadelphia's wartime mobilization. And, you know, I've got ideas for many other projects. My hope to all hope is that this becomes a movie, right? Like I'm trying to actually write a screenplay because the stories are so compelling. And I think there's so many that I didn't get to that could be, you know, Netflix miniseries or something. So if there is anyone out there listening that wants to move forward with that, I'm all ears.

- Sure. Shoot for the stars, right?

- Exactly.

- Absolutely. Well, fantastic. Thank you, Dr. Holly Pinheiro, Jr. Thank you for being with us today. We look forward to reading your book when it comes out next year, and thank you for being on the show today.

- Thank you very much.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
17 minutes, 14 seconds

For episode 10 of the U.S. Grant History Chat, Dr. Holly A. Pinheiro, Jr., professor of history at Augusta University, discusses his scholarship on African American experiences during the Civil War Era, particularly free Northern Black families. His book "The Families' Civil War" is forthcoming with University of Georgia Press in the summer of 2021.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- All ready.

- All right. Hello everybody. This is Nick Sacco Park Ranger at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, Missouri. And you were watching episode 11 of the U.S. Grant History Chat. And you saw him on the History Channels documentary on Ulysses S. Grant. And now he's with us for the chat, my distinct pleasure to speak with Avery Lentz today. How are you doing Avery?

- I'm great, Nick. Thank you for having me.

- Thank you for being with us. And it was just really cool to have you on for the interview series. And a lot of viewers of this interview will be familiar with your participation in the Grant Documentary. So why don't we start off with that? And we'd just love to hear a little bit about that experience and what was it like being interviewed and seeing yourself on national TV?

- Well, originally it was a very surreal experience because whenever you're in that kind of position where, Oh, wow! I'm actually being approached by real producers, like a real network on major television. That's like a pretty big deal. The whole thing started very strangely enough. I still don't know who put my name in the bucket to be considered as a possible commentator for the special, obvious the Summer of 2018, I was still working at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park at the time as a Seasonal Guide. And I remember I was at the wilderness in July, the Wilderness Battlefield, and I gave a walking tour, Almost pronounced to me at the time to Caroline Janney, who I knew of her. I knew of her work, excuse me, but I didn't know what she looked like. I never really seen her in her face. So it wasn't until after the tour that she introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Caroline Janney." I was like, Oh my gosh! That was kind of a huge thing for me. But she had said it was one of the best tours she'd ever been on us. So that was very flattering to hear from a very renowned Author and Historian like yourself. And so I could only imagine that since she was also involved with the project a month later, I get an email from Radical Media who produced this documentary and they asked if I wanted to help share Grant's story. And so a little bit about me, I've been in a civil war about since the eighth grade, I took a field trip to Gettysburg. It was one of the only kids that was actually interested in what we were doing, what we were talking about. So from there I've been a Civil War Buff, but one character that emerged in my mind as probably the standout guy in the war, besides obviously guys like Abraham Lincoln and even Frederick Douglass was Ulysses S. Grant. And it was interesting because Grant is the Victor of the American civil war. He's the man who defeated Robert E. Lee and also is one of the only generals in the entire war who has three major surrenders under his belt. And I'm like, why are we not talking about this guy more? How is he not more popular among the history channels and the field and whatnot. And of course, as I dug deeper, you start seeing other Grants, so Butcher Grants, so drunk and all of these very negative connotations that surrounded him. And that just was like, "No, that there's gotta be something there." So I just kept digging over time. And when I got to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, he became my focus. Within that park we have the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefields, which is of course, part of the Overland campaign of 1864. It's going to be that campaign that Grant gets that moniker though Butcher. And so one of my projects at the park, one of my scenes on my tours was to try to take that out of the equation to show people that he's not a butcher. There is a lot more intricate details that go into these campaigns, that go into these battles and for a guy like Grant, who jackal that, it speaks to his abilities and his excellence as a commander pretty much. So I was always determined to take the people who really love Robert E. Lee and try to build that same kind of passion for a guy like Ulysses S. Grant. And I really feel that the documentary did that, always tried to have that same attitude going forward. And so when they asked me to be a part of that, when asked me to help tell his story from that perspective of the Overland campaign, I couldn't pass that up at all. So I jumped at it. I didn't know what else I could do except say, yeah, I'm not gonna turn that down, so yeah.

- Sure. Well, yeah, to your point, I'm not a military expert, but just because you have more men in the field, doesn't guarantee that you're gonna have a given battle. When you look at the American revolution or the Vietnam war, for example, give superior U.S resources and men, and well, let me take that back. The British and the American revolution and the U.S.

- Got you

- Just 'cause they had superior resources, doesn't mean they're gonna win. So you gotta be something more to it, to that. And Caroline Janney, I'll second that she's a great Historian. She's got a book called "Remembering the civil war" it's in my library too. And she's an excellent Historian. So glad you mentioned her. So we see a lot of generals during the war. They had plans, grand strategies, talked a big game, but what's gonna distinguish Grant from these other generals, what are some insights and key takeaways that we can gain from Grant other than strategies, but his character that really puts them above the rest?

- Honestly, I think he nailed it. I think it's his character that puts him above the rest in terms of his perseverance. He's a general that takes a lot of hits, as many do during the civil war on both sides. I mean, it's just part of military jargon in general is the fog of war. You have to expect the unexpected. You have to deal with that. And that little detail could destroy your whole campaign. For example, Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg, Virginia, it's the rain that delay his campaign and give a Confederates time to get there first dig in. And the rest is history, but with Grants, when he's confronted with an obstacle, at every turn, it seems he will find ways creatively to overcome that obstacle and he'll learn from it. He remembers it. I think what's the most important quality that Grant has as a Commander is his ability to not only overcome those obstacles, learn from his mistakes, but it almost seems like he was ahead of the curve. He sees the bigger picture. He sees that this war is not gonna be won by single individual battles. It has he along with William T. Sherman and a lot of other generals said at the end of the war, there's gonna be a long conflict. It's not going to be short. It's not gonna be this traditional of Holy on it. One battle wins the whole war kind of conflict. I mean, he went into this thinking, yeah, this is a hard and determined enemy we're facing in our country man, and they're not gonna give up without a fight. They surely will fight for the last man if we allow them to. So we need to find a way to bring this war to a close as quickly as possible, but also make it a definitive war, to make it a definitive conclusion. And so with Grants during the Overland campaign, a lot of times on my programs at the park, I would compare that campaign to say the drive from Normandy in world war II, to the victory in Europe day, to the surrender of Germany and Eisenhower when he was planning that campaign through France to the Siegfried Line, he studied Grant, he was studying the Overland campaign, tactically and strategically, and saying, okay, what works for Grant? And how can I apply it successfully on the European Theater of world war II. And as we all know, the allies were ultimately successful and that's speaks a lot to Grant credit that he's inspiring commanders in wars yet to come. Because up until that point, Grant is one of the first generals to have command of all armies coordinating at once. He is the first in George Washington to have their anchor Lieutenant general. So he does have this ability to command multiple facets and say, okay, you're gonna target this strategic location. You're gonna target the strategic location and ultimately Grant at the side. It's the armies themselves, the Confederate armies themselves. That's gonna be our target. So he's fighting pretty much for a war of annihilation. I know that has been thrown out a lot war of attrition, but not just, I have more men, so I'm gonna throw and grind away, no. It is a sense trying to outwit and surround and destroy your enemy and try to find a way to trap them. And Grant does to Robert E. Lee that no other commander had done. And that is pretty simply frazzle him on many times over the Overland campaign. I know the popular history makes it seem like Robert E. Lee had Grant pegged at every turn. Hence why he's getting to every battlefield first sentence, why he's not giving him a clear-cut victory. But if you look at Lee and his private correspondence, and some of the accounts of his officers, Robert Lee is in a very tough spot in 1864 and '65. And he knew it right after the battle of the wilderness that he was facing a commander he had never faced before. And someone who had a drive that he had never seen before on these Eastern Theater commanders in Virginia and whatnot. So definitely Grant brings his skills and his experiences that he learned out West, that he learned in the Mexican war. And he applies them in Eastern Theater, the civil war, and ultimately it helps him become successful against Robert Lee.

- Absolutely. And I love that you brought up in trapping because the key thing here too, is as long as he can keep Lee bottled up in Virginia, you enable Sherman to do his march to the scene and make his way up. And he's got nowhere to go. So it's a long prolonged thing. It's not just one grand battle and it's teamwork with other generals and coordinating campaigns with Baltimore Army. So I think that's awesome. That's great. So let's move to Grant's presidency, the documentary, me personally, I would've liked a little more of a treatment on Grant's presidency, and you're really kinda on throughout the entirety, both before the war and the presidential years, but I'd love to hear a little bit more on your perspective and outlook on some of the unique and the general themes of Grant's presidency and the reconstruction era.

- Absolutely. I'm gonna agree with you that there, when I was viewing the whole documentary, it was my first time viewing. It's not like I had a pre-screening before anyone else. It was real time for me, like it was for you and everyone else. So I was a little disappointed that we just kinda brushed through his presidency very quickly. I think playing devil's advocate it's a whole another story. This documentary definitely seemed more aimed at his civil war experience, his civil war story, which to be fair, that's something that needed to be retold in a revised historical narrative. And I think they did that at sectionally well. But yes, I would have liked a little bit more on his presidency, but the parts that they did nail down, which I was very proud to see was his stance on the enfranchisement of recently emancipated, black Americans and the reconstruction era. He did feel very passionately about that. And a lot of people would tell you that before that document and before any of these real, amazing scholarship that have come out in the last 20 years, they'd tell you Grant doesn't care about black enfranchisement. He doesn't care about black people. That is absolutely false. I mean, it shows in actions before the war. It shows in his actions during the war. And it absolutely shows in his actions as president, not only does he label the KU Klux Klan as a domestic terrorist threat, which no president has done really that well since, I mean, we'll leave it at that. But Grant sees the Klan as a threat to the rights and the freedoms and the lives of black Americans, and he's out there to better their lives, their chances. It seems that after Johnson's presidency, Grant starts to get things moving progressively again, he said we do have those military districts in the South. We're going to make sure that black folk have the rights to vote. We're gonna make sure that they are holding public office. We're gonna make sure that they get the same privileges and rights that everyone else does, as long as we have them, as long as we have military forces down there to ensure that that happens. We can see that. And so I'm really glad that they hit that on the head as well. Plus, I mean, he solves the gold crisis during his presidency. His foreign policy is exceptional because a lot of people don't realize we were not in the best relationship with Great Britain after the war, because of their interference in our civil war. And so without us getting into another war or conflict with Great Britain again, Grant exceptionally, smooth surface by sending Hamilton Fish over there to make sure everything's smoothed over. And we're not gonna have any of these problems. And so his handling of foreign policies, his handling of the financial structures, at least in his first term as president, and his handling of social issues like black enfranchisement in the South and across the United States, it's very important. And I'm glad that they at least in the documentary was saying like people always remember his presidency for the scandals and everything, that really doesn't come until his second term as president and even still, it was a small part of his overall performance. Overall, his performance as president is pretty darn good. I think on ultimate downside to it is the fact that at the end of his second term, that's where you're gonna have radical behave. And you're gonna have kinda the end of reconstruction beckoning, where people are just tired of the army being sent to the South, just for the purposes of enfranchising blacks. And then you have the rise of the liberal Republicans, which led by former Union Generals who now are politicians. It's just a very messy time politically and socially on the second term of Grant's presidency. So like I've said, even just mentioning that, that's a whole another documentary they could probably do it if they so chose. And I think one thing I would have liked them at least to mention is Chief Red Cloud's visit to the White House. I mean, Grant was the first to invite a Native American chief to the White House to discuss foreign policy, at least they mentioned DLI Parker, they coming ahead of the Bureau of Indian affairs. And that is very important because I think one huge knock against Grant, is his handling of the Western Plains Wars and the whole Indian policy as a whole. So to kinda shed more light on that and show that he's not as discriminatory as everyone wants you to think he is against Native Americans. I think being president, when you have zero real experience in politics, you've just been climbing the ladder of command, basically. I mean, he's the general, he became secretary of war, he became president. I mean, in terms of commander in chief, in terms of rank and chain of command, he did it from his low down to a private, to as high up as the president, but he did not have that political prowess that so many others had at the time. And Poly Spy majors will know exactly what I'm talking about, but like for Grant to go into his presidency without that experience and have a very successful first term and a second term that was mad in scandal because of who he hires, but he still learns from those mistakes. And I think ultimately it's just a credence to his character once again, as president.

- Yeah. And to your point, you can do documentaries on various subtopics within too cause yeah. Grant's relationship with Native Americans and his Indian policy, it's very complex and perhaps not as successful as other efforts and just handling of Western affairs and military accomplished, but we can as for another time, for sure.

- Yeah.

- I was thinking about it though recently. And you think about the 19th century as a whole, and you can correct me if I'm wrong Avery, but I'm pretty sure that no other presidential candidate received as many votes from African-Americans is Grant did.

- No, not at all. A Grant has a huge boost in black votes because of his stance during the war. And of course of his carrying on Lincoln's message and not most importantly, Frederick Douglass himself endorsed Grant for presidency. That's a big deal. Frederick Douglass has been very critical up into that point of many political leaders, including Abraham Lincoln, very much so Abraham Lincoln. So for Frederick Douglas to endorse Grant and say this man is someone we can trust and put our faith in. That's a big deal and that's gonna get him those votes. So I think that speaks to Grant's character and it definitely should dissuade any notion that people have that Grant was a secret racist and all that. Now Fredrick Douglass doesn't endorse racist.

- And I think you can also see too, just the enforcement mechanisms in place to ensure that African-American men have the ability to go to the polls, the elections of 1868, 1872, that Grant won, those are some of the fairest elections in the 19th century. So these are all great points that you're bringing up because it highlights that a core constituency for Grant is the black road presidential years. And then finally this has been a wonderful interview and Avery I'd just love to hear about what you're doing now with history. I think our viewers would love to kinda follow your progress and your next project. So tell us a little bit about that.

- All right. Yeah. So I'm not currently employed with the National Park Service anymore, taking a little bit of a hiatus for a few years, trying some other things. And I still have my history foot in the door. I have to do something with my two degrees. So in January, 2019, last year I started a podcast, and this is the big craze right now. Everyone's doing a podcast. Everyone on their mother has a podcast, but mine I wanted to do something a little differently. So I took something I was very passionate about which is military history, especially pertaining to the American civil war. And I didn't just want it to be a dry vomiting of military and minutia and whatnot. I wanted to bring in the social political ramifications. We talk about these actions, but not in great detail. We don't go into every single grid and whatnot. We definitely are going to approach a conflict or a battle, in history and try to relate it to the bigger narrative and say, why should you care about what's going on. For example, we have today, the 70th anniversary of a United Nations forces landing at Inchon South Korea during the Korean war. So why should anyone care about that? Well, that frees up a lot of the United Nations forces that were fighting elsewhere on the Peninsula. It's heralded as a military turning point, North Korean forces are going to withdrawal and the Korean war is about to enter a new chapter with the Chinese intervention that still in coming. So that's something that we hint in those episodes, and we don't really try to go into grave detail. I know we've had a few people with feedback, come back and say, "Hey, you know, it would be nice if you guys went in deeper detail" and then there's other people who come in and say a little lighter. So it's trying to find that middle ground, but it's called Battles and Banter. 'Cause I have my friends on and we like to banter about history. We like to banter about military history and we are just trying to be humorous. I know I've become infamous for my dad jokes on the show, a lot to the point where people in the reviews were like, "Please God, no more dad jokes."

- No more dad jokes.

- So it's just something that's a lot of fun. And it also helps me network and meet other podcasters. I have plenty of other friends now we all have podcasts and we have kind of our unofficial little network of shows within this region. And so we've been trying to take this show and make it something that's more digestible to non military history aficionados, to more of the general public. I will just say we do have explicit language and we do have alcoholic content while we record. So it's NSFW, but it's nice for drives and for just your personal listening. And it's a way that people can try to approach history differently. So I was really inspired by drunk history doing this, 'cause a lot of people I know who watch that show, aren't history buffs, but they love it. So it's like, that's perfect. That's the people I want to reach with this. I want to reach a wider audience. So we're still growing and you can find us on iTunes, Spotify, Google playlist, any other major listening platform. And also we have social media, we're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I will do basically on anniversaries of battles. I'll make little info blurbs about different battles and whatnot. So today not only is the anniversary of Inchon South Korea, but it's also the 76th anniversary of the battle Peleliu, the landings that Peleliu Island, which if you've seen the Pacific HBO specific, then you are very familiar with that battle. They spent three episodes on it. It was a very bloody fight in the Pacific Theater of World War II. And so I make little info blurbs about that as well. So if you'd like to give us a listen, give us a subscription. We'd really appreciate it. If you like what you hear, you can leave us a five star review, five stars are encouraged. It helps with our view ships. So that once again is Battles and Banter podcast and is on iTunes, Spotify and Google playlist.

- Fantastic. All right, well thank you, Avery Lentz, the Battles and Banter podcast featured on the Grant documentary on the history channel. Thank you so much for being with us today. Thank you.

- Well thank you for having me, Nick. This was a pleasure.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
23 minutes, 1 second

You saw him on HISTORY's recent documentary on Ulysses S. Grant, now he's on the U.S. Grant History Chat! Historian and Interpreter Avery Lentz joined Ranger Nick to discuss Grant's generalship and presidency, and to tell us about his latest history project.

 
Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
18 minutes, 29 seconds

Ranger Nick interviewed Museum Educator Jenn Edginton to discuss the experiences of Hispanic soldiers who fought in the American Civil War. Jenn works for the Kenosha Public Museum in Wisconsin. The museum will debut a new exhibit in December 2020 about immigrant experiences during the Civil War.

 

Open Transcript

Transcript

- All right. Well, hello everybody. This is Nick Sacco, park ranger at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis Missouri. And this is episode 13 of the U.S. Grant History Chat. And today it's my honor to be speaking with Todd Arrington. Todd is the site manager at James Garfield National Historic site in Mentor, Ohio. And he's also the author of the new book, "The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880." And I wanted to speak with Todd because Grant and Garfield, their lives intersect, they're in the same Republican party in the 1870s and 1880s. And I wanted to kind of explore the presidential election of 1880 and who better than Todd Arrington to speak with about this election. So Todd, thank you so much for being with us here today.

- Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for having me. I'm looking forward to it.

- Absolutely. Well, wonderful. So let's start the scene first of all. So Ulysses Grant, he does his world tour, he finishes his presidency in 1877, goes on a two and a half year world tour. And the nominating process for the 1880 presidential election is coming around and kind of like it is today, the political parties back in the 19th century oftentimes there's conflict intention within parties. And the Republican party of 1880, we see the stalwarts on one side and the half breeds on the other side. And I'll have you kind of explain that a little bit to us. And so Grant, he doesn't necessarily say he wants the presidency, but he's also not necessarily taking himself off the ballot as well. So I'd love for you to kind of maybe set the context for what's going on with the Republican Party going into this election. And then how does James Garfield sort of emerges as the candidate for the Republicans that year?

- Yeah, sure. It's interesting in that, in my view, the 1880 election really started prior to the 1876 election. And the reason for that is that the Republican candidate in 1876, who's Republican governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio. Hayes indicated several months before election day in 1876, that he was only going to serve one term if he won the election. Really in 1876, the Republicans already know in 1880 they need another candidate. And who of course will that person be? Ulysses S. Grant to my understanding had kind of thought about whether or not to try to hang around for a third term in 1876. Ultimately decided not to do that, sort of to follow that George Washington example of two terms and then a peaceful transition of power to a successor. And then as you mentioned at the beginning, left and went on this grand world tour. Obviously there was a lot of dissension in the country in 1876 because we see Hayes and Samuel Tilden, the Democratic candidate get into this disputed election where Tilden wins the popular vote but then ultimately an electoral commission finds that that Hayes is going to become president win the electoral college with the votes of the three disputed Southern States; South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. Hayes begins his administration in early 1877, really under this sort of dark cloud of suspicion and anger from a lot of people in that they view him as an illegitimate president. He lost the popular vote and then he had to be sort of installed in office by this electoral commission. And he operates under that really for the bulk of his four years now. To his credit, he runs a pretty decent administration. He does a lot better than I think a lot of people expect considering how his presidency begins. But again, going into 1880, everybody knows he's not seeking re-election. And so the question really becomes, in 1880, who is going to run for the Republicans? And then as you mentioned Grant goes on this world tour and comes back and a lot of people in the Republican party including some of those who were the sort of really diehard stalwart Republicans like your Roscoe Conklin's and your John Logans, people like that who had been really close with Grant when he was president. They are of the opinion that Grant needs to come back and serve again they they're tired of people of these sort of half-breed. Republicans like Hayes who dare to want to reform the civil service. And plus they liked being very powerful and very influential when Grant was president. And so there's a lot of people in the party that want Grant to come back and run again in 1880. And as you indicated at the beginning, Grant doesn't say he wants to do it but he doesn't say he doesn't want to do it either. And I think the other thing that's really driving Grant is that his wife is very much interested in him becoming president again. She sort of has this famous passage about how hard she how hard she wept when they had to leave the white house at the end of his presidency. She very much liked him being president and she very much liked being first lady. And so she's kind of a driving force too, I think. Wanting him to run again in 1880.

- Sure. Absolutely. And so when you have the Republican party convention, James Garfield is there, he's been in Congress and if memory serves me correctly, he was going to be serving as Senator?

- Yeah. He'd been in the House of Representatives since the end of 1863. He left the union army after two and a half years, went to the House of Representatives at the end of 1863 and had stayed there up until 1880. Yes, at the beginning of 1880, the Ohio legislature elected him to the Senate. So he was in early 1881, was already scheduled for a promotion, if you will. He was going from the lower house, the House of Representatives to the upper house to be one of Ohio's two U.S. senators. And he was in fact, as you noted at the 1880 convention because one of the people seeking the Republican nomination in 1880 was John Sherman, who at that point was secretary of the treasury under President Hayes. Sherman the brother of the very famous William to come to Sherman, the general who made Georgia to howl. Sherman had been in the Senate from Ohio for several years before a bit leaving that seat to go become a member of Hayes' cabinet. So Sherman had supported Garfield for election to the Senate, with the Ohio legislature. And then the price of that for Garfield was he was then in turn expected to support Sherman for the Republican nomination in 1880 and then to go to Chicago, to the Republican convention and actually be present for Sherman as a Sherman delegate and to make the speech nominating Sherman for the Republican nomination.

- Right. So kind of, I scratch your back and you scratch my back and we all kind of work together on that.

- Sure.

- So with the convention, Garfield sort of emerges as the front runner for the Republican party. And it's in a way from what I've read, it's really because he can kind of bridge the gap. He's not necessarily a Stalwart, he's not necessarily a half-breed, are in cahoots with James Blaine necessarily. He's somebody who kind of bring the party together. But I'd love to hear what were perceptions of Garfield? So Garfield wins the nomination, what are Roscoe Conkling and the Stalwarts, what are they saying about Garfield? What are the other half-breeds saying about Garfield? But what's the perception of him as a candidate running in that presidential election?

- Well, I should say before I address to that, I will say that the thing Garfield and Blaine were personally very close. They were good friends. Blaine obviously was a candidate in 1880, Garfield supported Sherman because that was kind of what he had pledged to do. So Garfield was trying to be serious about his obligation to Sherman. But the thing that really made Garfield more of a half-breed at this point was simply that he didn't think Grant should be nominated for a third term. So he was definitely in the... Even though he had worked fairly well with Grant, they weren't personally all that close Grant and Garfield. He worked pretty well with Grant was president and Garfield was in Congress. Garfield deed was sort of, I guess you would say a little bit old school in that he didn't think anyone should seek a third term. And that still kind of goes back to that example of George Washington, which no one to that point had broken, even though there was no constitutional amendment saying they couldn't. No one had done it yet. So Garfield definitely was against the idea of the third term for Grant. Part of the reason that Grant could not get the required number of votes at that 1880 convention was because of the opposition of people like Garfield who did have a pretty good reputation. And the party was certainly renowned as an orator. And as you sort of alluded to, was somebody who as more time went on and more ballots were cast and there was still nobody who had enough support to get the nomination, Garfield emerges as a potential compromised candidate. Because even though he's more aligned with the half-breeds at this point, he is someone that everybody likes. He's been a solid and loyal Republican his entire career. He's sort of been a radical Republican, he's been a little bit more moderate, he's even better conservative on some things, but he's somebody that everybody likes and everybody thinks he's acceptable and he will do no harm. Very few people at that convention are there waving the Garfield banner. There are a few and there were a few who had even talked to Garfield prior to the convention about, "Hey we think this thing's going to be a mess "and we're going to need a compromise "and we think you're the guy." And just as Grant didn't tamp down people saying he should be nominated again. Garfield was pretty smart politician. He didn't say, "Under no circumstances "can anyone ever do this and mention my name." But I really believe he genuinely didn't think anyone was going to... He didn't think this was really going to happen. And the reason I think that is one, based on what he said and what he wrote about his his obligation to Sherman, but also I don't think Garfield would have let himself be anywhere near that convention. If he genuinely thought he was going to be nominated. Because at this point, if you are a candidate for president you did not go to this convention to any convention because it was seen as you were too eager for office. It was unseemly really. And, so I don't really believe Garfield thought he would be taken seriously as the convention went on. He does write some letters to his wife where he saying, the convention seems to be paying more attention to me. And I think they're turning their eyes to me. So he's aware that things are starting to shift but I do genuinely believe that he really didn't think that he had any chance of this really happening. I don't think he would have been there, but ultimately he is in fact, a dark horse nominee. He is a compromised candidate. He is nominated on the 36th ballot at that 1880 convention. So, you know, it takes days for them to come up with a nominee and, neither Grant nor Sherman nor Blaine nor anybody else has enough. And really it's funny that for the most part those top three contenders Grant, Blaine and Sherman all stayed fairly close to their vote totals from the first ballot all the way to, the 34th and 35th when suddenly things started to break to Garfield. So that's something interesting to consider as well that there were some people very dug in with their candidates, but they just didn't have enough to get them over the top.

- Right. And to your point for Grant, there was a group they called themselves The Immortal 306 and they were these delegates that stood with Grant the entire way through the convention for better or worse. And I think what's interesting about your discussion here is that, it's not a primary system like we use today where we sort of leave it to party members throughout the country to vote for their preferred candidate. This is really kind of the guys in the smoke-filled rooms, the politicians in deal breakers, sort of working together to find a candidate. And so the fact that took 36 ballots to work through that really shows the strong disagreements among the Republican leadership about who the best candidate was. And I guess kind of transitioning towards Grant's, excuse me, Garfield's presidency. We see Grant a little bit on the campaign trail towards the end of the campaign in 1880 and Grant isn't necessarily coming out and saying vote Garfield, but be saying vote Republican and vote for the African-American civil rights and fair elections in the South and supporting carpetbaggers, white northerners that are living in the South and saying that the best path for the country moving forward is the Republican party. So I guess, I'd love to hear about Garfield's vision. So, what is he envisioning for a Garfield presidency? What does he want for the country moving forward perhaps may be two or three of the biggest issues on Garfield's mind going into his presidency?

- Sure. Well civil service reform obviously is a big one. And Garfield that was also really the sticking point other than the issue of Grant and a possible third term civil service reform was really the main sticking point between the Stalwarts and the Half-breeds and in 1880 Garfield himself, frankly was never really all that charged up about civil service reform. I think in fact, what really started to change Garfield's mind about the need for civil service reform was the experience of being president-elect. After he had won the presidency. But before this of course obviously is in when the lame duck period was much longer, it was... Inauguration day wasn't until March 4th rather than January 20th, like it is today. So Garfield has almost four months between his election and his inauguration where people just start showing up and literally, banging on his front door, asking for jobs and trying to get an audience with him. And this only gets worse after he becomes president and moves into the white house. And we know now that his eventual assassin Charles Guiteau in fact, was an office seeker. He was a lot of other things too but he was an office seeker. So I think, this experience is really what made Garfield start to turn a little bit on civil service reform. He mentions in some of his letters and things during the campaign that he thinks, some change to civil service reform is going to come about at some point, but it was never something he had really staked out his career on. And of course we know that, guys like Conkling and Logan and Cameron that really stalwart, the triumvirate as they were called who the stalwarts for Grant. They were extremely opposed to civil service reform. What, Coughlin kind of snidely called sniffle service reform, because, the patronage system that had been in place since the Jacksonian era really was how they built up power. And they liked people having to come to them and ask for jobs, whether it be, to become a minister to another country or to be a postmaster in a tiny little town. It was a way for them to build up a base of power and they liked that. And so they didn't want to get rid of that system. So they were very much opposed. So that's really the main sticking point between those stalwarts and half-breeds, again Garfield was kind of lukewarm on civil service reform I think until he was president-elect. And then, president and that's really what made him start to see, yeah we got to make some changes here because he writes letters and diary entries just expressing this great frustration at the amount of time he has to waste that he feels could be put to good use for the country thinking about the real issues. And instead he has to spend hours and hours meeting with people that want jobs. I think civil rights is another big issue for Garfield. Grant, I think directly is getting a really good re-assessment from historians now. Over the last, I don't know you probably know better than I do 10, 15, 20 years. I don't know, for his record on civil rights which is incredibly impressive. And Grant is in, seems to be moving up in rankings by historians on the effectiveness of his presidency for that reason. And I think that's a good thing. By the time Garfield becomes president in 1880, well re-construction is for the most part over in most people's minds, I would argue in some ways it's probably not even over yet today in 2020. As witnessed by some of the things we've seen, earlier this year with, Black Lives Matter and protests and things like that. But a lot of people considered that, okay. The reconstruction amendments of the constitution had been passed and even a lot of former radical Republicans at this point are saying, okay, enough already. We've done what we said we would do for African-Americans. The civil war is over. They are no longer enslaved. We've passed the reconstruction amendments to the constitution. We need to move on to some other issues. And we as Republicans at this point in 1880 need to find other issues to think about. And Garfield is one of those Republicans that still saying, yes this is all true but we still have some work to do on civil rights. And so he really... He wasn't quite ready to think of the Republican party as no longer a party dedicated to civil rights. And that's really where this idea of him that I titled my book, "The Last Lincoln Republican", that's really where that comes from is the idea that Garfield kind of hearkens back to in my view, the really the founding generation of the Republican party like Abraham Lincoln who view the party as a vehicle to promote at least some degree of equality for everyone racial equality, economic equality, what have you. So that's really kind of where I... So, in my mind at least, and obviously I'm a Garfield partisan, both in my job here and in my life as a historian. But I do feel like because of who Garfield was and because of the issues that were important to him even as far forward as 1880 and 81, he really was the right man for the job at that point. He was the right Republican to be president in 1881. And of course, then that just magnifies the tragedy of his death, how much good might he have done on civil rights and other issues too, had he survived. And so I do think the country was denied some potentially very strong and effective leadership with his death.

- Sure, for historians like us, we have to kind of tread lightly with what we call counter-factuals which is essentially, what could have been but I think that's one of the great counter-factuals of 19th century history to sort of consider what a Garfield presidency would have looked like had it not been so tragically cut short so early into his presidency. So this is really wonderful. And I'm excited to read your book eventually. And I think Garfield is just an extremely fascinating character in his own right. And it's been a real wonderful time just hearing from you today. And yeah. So once again, the book is "The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880" and I want to thank site manager Todd Arrington at James Garfield National Historic site for being with us today. Thank you.

- Thanks Nick.

Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
22 minutes, 11 seconds

Ranger Nick interviews Todd Arrington, Site Manager at James A. Garfield National Historic Site to discuss Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, and the election of 1880. Arrington is the author of "The Last Lincoln Republican: The Presidential Election of 1880" (University Press of Kansas)

 
Visit our keyboard shortcuts docs for details
Duration:
21 minutes, 57 seconds

Park Guide Chris Bingham (Appomattox Court House National Historical Park) joined Park Guide Ashton Farrell to discuss various works of art depicting Ulysses S. Grant's acceptance of Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Bingham describes each work of art and highlights important details included and left out of these paintings.

Last updated: June 3, 2021

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

7400 Grant Road
St. Louis , MO 63123

Phone:

314 842-1867

Contact Us

Stay Connected