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tv   Book Discussion on The Man Who Would Not be Washington  CSPAN  February 20, 2015 8:00pm-8:58pm EST

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he is loren blanchard the final in her interviews with the heads of colleges and universities. dr. blanchard thanks for joining us. guess the thank you very much for this opportunity and for the spotlight you have placed on xavier and the other hbcus.
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>> next jonathan horn recounts robert e. lee's decision to join the confederate army after being sought by the north and the south. from louisville kentucky, it's about an hour. >> it's my pleasure to introduce dr. horn. he is an author and former white house presidential speechmaker who spent years researching and writing his robert e. lee biography "the man who would not be washington" published in january of this year. jonathan has appeared as a commentator on "msnbc" and nbc radio. his writing has appeared in "the new york times"" "the weekly standard" and other outlets. during his time the white house jonathan served as a speechwriter and special assistant to president george bush and as a graduate of io university and we welcome him to
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louisville university. [applause] >> thank you so much for that lovely introduction judy. as was mentioned i used to work as a presidential speechwriter before i started writing this book. so you can imagine my shock when i learned that the subject of my new book didn't much care for my old occupation. in fact robert e. lee was so offended when he heard that george washington might've used a ghost writer to pen his famous farewell address that he refused to believe it and he said that anyone who said george washington used a ghostwriter was quote injudicious -- injudicious. i should say a little bit less about my own biography. i'm so pleased to be at this beautiful house and i'm so grateful to the historical society for me -- for inviting
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me today. i had a chance to see the historical society earlier today and it's such a wonderful facility and i'm so happy to see that is expanding. that's a great thing for people who do what i do because we are so reliant on the great work better archivists and other preservation is due to preserve american history. so thank you to the historical society for your great work. it's also a pleasure to be here in louisville. robert e. lee actually came to louisville in 1837. he was on a trip out west and i'm proud to tell you they put pressure on me. it wasn't so much what he saw here as who he met here two ladies. these weren't just any ladies. they were as lee put it decidedly the most beautiful and interesting young ladies but
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never fear robert e. lee faithfully told his wife every single detail about how he escorted those women to their destinations diligently and dutifully. what took leave through louisville in 1837 was an assignment that he received from the u.s. army -- army corps of engineers. they had sent him to go to the mississippi river to do some work. i mention that tonight because it's actually a river, different river that originally brought me to robert e. lee's story. i confess that on the surface i seem like an unlikely person to write a biography about robert e. lee. i grew up in the suburbs of washington d.c. and spent most of my adult life working there and around those parts when you tell people you are planning to write a civil war biography they assume you are going to put right about begin in general not a confederate general and they certainly don't expect you to
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write about that confederate general, robert e. lee. for a long time i avoided explaining myself. i did what you expect someone from washington to do when confronted with a tough question, i ducked it. [laughter] no more. now i want to explain myself. what first drew me to robert e. lee was probably what you would least expect, simple geography. simply put lee and i grew up along the same river, the potomac. now that sounds for two reasons personally think of the potomac river i think it's -- especially in kentucky you probably imagine a polluted stream of political corruption. sometimes that's true.
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you certainly don't imagine a river in american history and second when he think of robert e. lee you tend to imagine him personifying the old south that seems light years away from the cosmopolitan capital that we know today. but the truth is far different. reminders of robert e. lee are all around the city of washington. i was fortunate for me because one of those reminders with the majority of robert e. lee's papers are in driving distance of washington so i was able to go to the archives and see the letters that lee himself wrote. writing a biography requires more than just looking at old letters. it also requires getting out and seeing the places where history actually happen history actually happened in robert e. lee's history took place all around where i live. during the course of my research on this book i traveled the full length of the potomac river from its source to its mouth. for those of you not familiar
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with the potomac it starts in west virginia at the fairfax dome word trickles out of a little stone and flows down through the appalachian mountains pass a city of washington and empties into the chesapeake bay at point lookout maryland. and yes i really did drive my wife along through this entire ride along the potomac. of all the things to write a biography and understanding -- but if you ever take this journey that i just described you will learn some things. you will learn that the potomac is much more than just a stream of political corruption. you learn that robert elise history flows up and down this river and you learn in the most unexpected ways robert elise history intersects with the father of our country's history and that is george washington's history. start way down river westmoreland county virginia
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near the chesapeake bay where robert e. lee grew up, was born i'm sorry on a great plantation called stratford hall. stratford hall was built by robert e. lee's great great uncle thomas lee. thomas lee has a distinction that no other american have. it's that he fathered two sons of the declaration of independence and the great house of thomas lee built at stratford was a symbol of the great wealth that the lee family accumulated on the potomac river. these -- the lee's truly were one of virginia's finest families and not far from stratford hall a short drive away in westmoreland county will find where george washington was born. by the time robert e. lee was born in 1807 george washington was long dead. but philly and washington names had already infused together and that was because of robert e. lee's father a man named henry
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light horse harry lee. light horse harry lee was one of george washington's most trusted calvary commanders in the revolutionary war. that is how he earned the nickname light horse harry lee but what makes harry lee the most famous is what he did after the war. he wrote a eulogy for his old commander. he is the one who wrote the words first in war first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen. those of course are still the words that we remember george washington by today and in robert e. lee's time everybody knew that his father had written those words. much as harry lee admire george washington he couldn't quite copy george washington's example. he couldn't imitate what he knew is george washington's greatest virtue and what was that the virtue? it was self-control and self-command. if the revolution were harry lee cycled into a cycle of tragedy. he bet almost all of this land,
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all this money on land and the loss very badly. in fact he lost so badly that he ended up in debtors prison and eventually had to go into exile in the caribbean. he left his family during the war of 1812 and he never saw his son robert ever again. so robert e. lee didn't grow up on a big plantation because of his financial problems. if you want to find where robert e. lee grew up you have to have a potomac river to to the time of alexander where robert e. lee lives in modest houses belonging to friends and relatives who took pity on his mother. today we know alexandria as alexandria virginia but back then it was alexander in the district of columbia and the reason for that was george washington when he laid out the original border in the district of columbia stud alexander into the bottom corner.
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indeed if you look at a map of d.c. today and you take the small strip of land for arlington and alexandria are intergenic you will see that it forms a perfect diamond shaped square. that was george washington's original intent for the district of columbia. he wanted it to include maryland and virginia. at the town closest george washington's mt. vernon plantation and alexandria considered himself a george washington sometime. young robert didn't have to look far to see reminders of george washington. he saw the medical air. robert e. lee as a child worship of the episcopal church. robert e. lee attended school at the alexander academy which george washington had in doubt and e. lee's ran errands for his mother in the marketplace were george washington brought troops during the french and indian war. in the description we have a property lee's childhood
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described him as anything but a -- described him as a nurse tending to his mother. they described him as a housekeeper running errands for his family. no one understood what dragged down harry lee better than his wife. she made sure that tragedy did not repeat itself in robert e. lee. from the earliest age she taught young robert to put duty before desire. she taught him how to control himself and for the rest of robert e. lee's life he had an almost compulsive regard for her. he would say he could never have his own way. and so as much as robert e. lee might want the material things he would not lack the virtue that separated harry lee from george washington. robert e. lee new self-control and he knew how to deny himself. but what most can ask robert e.
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lee was george washington happened up river. you have to head further up river to the great pillared mansion that sits atop the arlington heights. if you ever see the arlington heights today it's right across the potomac river from where the lincoln memorial now stands. they're on june the 30th, 1831 robert e. lee married the daughter of george washington's adopted son. today we know arlington as a cemetery but back then it was a memorial to george washington because george washington's adopted son of man named george washington -- have built that house and filled it with relics of mt. vernon. if you had gone to arlington in the 19th century you would have seen china furniture and portraits that had once been at mt. vernon. you wouldn't have seen the bed were george washington died in supposedly george washington listed in the exact same condition that george washington
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liked it. people from all across the country came to arlington to see these. it's almost as if arlington was a museum. and there was something else at arlington. there were slaves who have dissented from mt. vernon and you might ask yourself how is that possible? didn't george washington famously free all the slaves in his will? he did free all of his own slaves but what he couldn't do much as he wanted to do was he couldn't free his white slaves in some of the slaves became the property of george washington's adopted son. now we himself that slavery was an evil institution. though you shouldn't make the mistake of thinking he was an abolitionist. he certainly was not an abolitionist. he did pray for a day that god would end slavery but it may surprise now that he thought slavery was worse for whites than it was for the slaves themselves which is an attitude
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that is probably hard for us to understand today. basically robert e. lee wanted nothing to do with the substitution and he would try his hardest to avoid it as much as possible. what ultimately entangles robert e. lee in the institution of slavery as his father-in-law died in 1957 he leaves it will naming robert e. lee as executor of the estate that actually includes slaves who are dissented from out burn in. on the eve of the civil war robert e. lee is managing the estate that includes slaves that george washington had wanted to but could not free. it was very much the unresolved question of slavery one of the personal leg -- legacies that robert e. lee received from george washington. and to see how this unresolved question of slavery began turning to violence that have to
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head 60 miles upriver from arlington and 60 miles up the potomac river and you'll come to a town. it had been george washington's idea to stick a federal armory in harpers ferry. his advisers thought it was a terrible idea. if you have ever been to harpers ferry to harpers ferry you would see what admittedly. "harper's" ferry is surrounded by three towering bluffs of the blue ridge mountains. george washington that it would make it easy for them to defend harpers ferry. as it turns out it made harpers ferry completely indefensible. they are in 189 a group of abolitionists led by one john brown across the potomac river sees the armory and took a number of hostages and one of those hostages was a man named lewis washington who was george washington and great grand nephew. john brown took something else from washington's house. he has accomplished is take something else and that was a the sword that had once belonged
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to george washington. for the entire time john brown controls harpers ferry he is carrying a sword that belonged to george washington and who was sent out to take back harpers ferry to reassert federal control? robert e. lee lieutenant colonel robert e. lee. lieutenant colonel robert e. lee goes to harpers ferry and he is known at that time is one of the military's finest soldiers. he had earned that reputation during the war in mexico. he proved to be a brilliant soldier. he had a unique understanding of topography. he could see things other people could not see and he equipped himself quite well at harpers ferry. he performs well. he puts down the insurrection. he reasserts federal control and what becomes known as john brown's raid doesn't already impressive resume also do something else. it heralds the coming of the american civil war. now i want to take you to one
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final place on the potomac trip a little upriver from harpers ferry. it's a quiet national park today where you will find a cornfield you will find a sunken road and will find a stone bridge over a creek called antietam. they're on september 1717th, 1862 robert e. lee outmanned and outgunned army -- army of northern virginia that the union army of the potomac which was much much larger to a stalemate in the bloodiest single day of combat in american history. the battle of antietam marked the end of robert e. lee's first first -- and gave abraham lincoln the opportunity to issue the preliminary emancipation proclamation which in turn would allow abraham lincoln to get a new birth of freedom to the union george washington had forged.
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anyone who takes a journey that i've just described must wrestle with an unavoidable question. how did an army officer so associated with george washington's legacy go to war against what we today consider george washington's greatest legacy, the union? it was this question that ultimately drew me to robert e. lee story and that tragic tension in the knowledge that history could have turned out so much differently because on the eve of the civil war leaders on both sides of the potomac in richmond and in washington saw these services for high command they both knew about his connections to george washington. that was common knowledge in both the tremendous significance on them. they also knew that winfield scott who at the time was the ranking general of the u.s. army that lee was the best soldier he had ever seen.
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robert e. lee certainly looked like a fine soldier. he stood just under 6 feet tall. he had powerful broad shoulders. he had a barrel chest. he had perfect posture. everybody who saw him set some version of the same thing, that man looks every inch a soldier. so in april 1861 an emissary for abraham lincoln asks robert e. lee to right across from arlington and come to the city of washington. that emissary's name is francis blair and he makes an extraordinary offer. he says will you leave the main union army to crush secession? as we remember the story layer tried in every way to condense robert e. lee to say yes. he said, blair set to leave the country looks to you quote is the representative of a washington family and that was hardly an exaggeration because here after all was the son of
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george washington's most famous eulogists and is the symbol of george washington's adopted child. so now only one word separated robert e. lee from the pinnacle of his profession from command opal will be the largest american army ever raced from glory perhaps that no american since george washington would know. what did robert e. lee say? he said he opposed secession and he did oppose the session. that secession was illegal and equally significantly he that george washington was supposed to secession. that was no given at the time because people on both sides of the conflict claimed george washington for their own. secessionists they george washington was a rebel who rebelled against the union with the british. on the other side unionists will say george washington in his farewell address said the price the union of any allegiance.
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actually robert e. lee is reading a biography of george washington in the months before the civil war and he is hearing these arguments and he concludes that he basically agrees with the unionist position. he believes george washington would have opposed secession. so what else does lee say to francis blair? he says he would would gladly washes hands of slavery. he would gladly get rid of all slavery if it would avoid war rate but then he says how can i raise my sword against my native state? here the blair family position says lee hesitated that is lee told the story he gave the answer once, no biggie turned down the command though he did not turn his commission to the army surfer more than three decades. he returns to arlington house. he soon learns that virginia in fact has voted to secede from the union and there on april 20
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the writes a letter resigning from the army and his wife recalled recall that decision to resign the severe struggle of his life. three days after sending that resignation letter lee is welcomed in richmond is the new commander-in-chief of all virginia's armed forces and the convention president, the president of the virginia secession convention says basically that robert e. lee is the second coming of george washington and he hopes that what was once said of george washington will soon be said of robert e. lee first in war first in peace, first in the hearts of countryman. the very worst that harry lee used to describe george washington. so we face this tragic tension in lee's story. robert e. lee for his part would say he didn't have a choice.
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it wasn't so much that he said he made the right choice. he said he made the only choice. it was very much like him to say he could never have his own way so we decided to have virginia's way. but at the same time we also know that other virginians made different decisions. winnefeld scott his mentor in the army decided to stay with the army and when robert e. lee came to winnefeld scott and told him he had turned down the man at that union army winnefeld scott said to lee, lee you have made the greatest mistake of your life but i fear will be so. it's true the decision that robert e. lee made cost him terribly. one of the very first things that happens after robert e. lee decides to fight for virginia is that union soldiers cross the bridges from washington and c. sierra lincoln heights were
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robert e. lee had lived and if you have ever been to washington you know why they did this. because of the confederacy had managed to fortify those heights overlooking the city of washington you could have destroyed washington. and in time as the casualties mount in this were union authorities are going to decide to turn arlington the state were robert e. lee married the daughter of george washington's adopted son into that cemetery that we know today. and that is just the beginning. i think as you read how lee's decision to fight against the union toward its ties to its founder you'll be astonished because it's shockingly personal the price that we paid. now my wife, i bring her up again, we'll tell you that the reason i became so fascinated by it this decision is how a reversible it was. and as a writer i have a very different -- because i can write
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something in research and i can change it a million times and revise it and that's what writers do. but we never had that luxury. there was no going back. we talk so often about social movements and trends and we sometimes forget that history is not inevitable. history can turn on the decision of a single individual and here was such an example. robert e. lee's decision forever change the course of american history. you ask yourself how did it change the course of american history? just imagine the counterfactual. what would have happened if robert e. lee had accepted that command? what would have happened if a soldier most associated with george washington has a beginning in that george washington had created? what would we think of our country? how would that have changed her outlook and there's perhaps no better place to honor that question then arlington. if you go out past the graves of men who died defending the union and you go up to arlington
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heights which robert e. lee's father-in-law virginie billed as a memorial to george washington but is now a monument to robert e. lee, it's a national robert e. lee memorial and you stare across the potomac river at the city of washington you will see the washington monument rising in the distance. but before the washington monument is the lincoln memorial memorial. that's a powerful symbol for our country because for all the property of these connections george washington, he is no longer the american that most folks associate with george washington. that honor belongs to the sum of kentucky who was born without a single connection to george washington. that honor belongs to abraham lincoln. herman melville woods wrote who looks at lee must think of washington. in that so deep with grievous meaning that is that. i hope you'll read about an ibook and i hope you will come to washington to see some of the
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places i describe and i'm so thankful to all for coming. i'd be happy to answer your questions. thank you. [applause] [applause] yes? >> there's a story after the war in a church a black man comes forward coming of the story. myself i don't believe it but i would like you to comment on it. because it is told in several ways. could you comment? >> sure. the story is robert e. lee is in a church and there is a black man praying and robert e. lee and no one knows what to do. robert e. lee goes up and kneels beside him. that's a story that's been told by many people. the truth is we don't know. it was told many years after the event so it's very difficult to
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evaluate the accuracy of the story. i have just actually seen a recent article of people debating it so unfortunately i can't answer the question. if there is some evidence that something like that happened what were robert e. lee's motives for doing it is something we can answer. it's possible what he was thinking was he's didn't like people feeling awkward and the best way to put this event behind was to go on with his business and set an example for upper body else but they should also go on that with their business. so we just don't know. it's a great story you brought up and i can't say it's not true and i can say it is true so it's right on the front lines of history. yes? >> i don't understand what happened to lee after the war. he visited the greenbrier and i know he spent some summers there and there was one summer a few years after the war was over confederate generals were there as well. he ended up signing something
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known as the greenbrier doctrine. can you talk about that? been after the war he leaves appomattox and goes back to richmond and has this vision that maybe he will try to get a plot of land to farm. if the union authorities would allow him to do that. ..
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becomes president of washington college, and today, of course, we know washington college as washington & lee university because it was immediately renamed as soon as robert e. lee dies. now, lee did go out to the greenbrier lot and there was -- he did participate in the greenbrier document that you named, and -- that was an example where he was trying to be drawn into politics and he was often reluctant to do this at least openly, because he felt that he had voiced some politics at least openly was not very useful. a couple other examples of people trying to draw him into politics. he was called to washington to
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testify before congress shortly after the war and he was asked all kinds of question and they want him to speak for virginia, and he didn't wasn't to do that at this point. but he does answer questions. and he says, i don't even read newspapers anymore, which isn't completely true. he still has a very firm understanding what is happening in the country so he is slightly pulling a fast one and in his private correspond yeps he remains extremely engaged in politics, very opposed to what he sees as the radical republicans and what they're doing to the country, and he actually -- i told you before the war, he was opposed to secession and thought secession was illegal. after the war, he actually changed his views, and you may have heard these letters. he says maybe secession wasn't illegal and maybe the founding fathers always permitted secession, and so i think it's understandable why he might have changed this view. he has just bun through this
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horrific war. led thousands of men into battle and at some point he injures seeks essentially absorbs theson argument -- the southern argument for secession so lee does one other important thing, and i'll mention this right now. just because he thinks now that secession might not have been illegal herb tells people this matter is forever settled. he tells them to raise their children as americans, to put the civil war behind and go be productive citizens. yes. >> did you find any evidence of where his antislavery feelings came from? i mean, did re -- he read -- where did that come from? >> so, that's a great question. robert e. lee married into a family his mother-in-law was very religious, and she took the attitude -- she basically was
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one of the leading members of the american colonization society, and she thought it was basically a religious duty to prepare slaves to find freedom in african colonies. and this was a very important mission to robert e. lee's mother-in-law and then to his wife. robert e. lee wasn't so active necessarily in the american connellizeation society, but actually his father-in-law became somewhat active as well and when he died, he actually left a will as i mentioned, but the will had something else. it said, you must raise enough money to pay off my debts and my legacy. but you must emancipate my slaves within five years. now, these are completely impossible goals to reconcile. because he can't pay off the debt and legacies the estate
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owes if he is a emancipating the work force he needs to raise the money, and this whole conflict actually plays out in the national media before the civil war, because there's a great national interest in what happens to these slaves because people know that robert e. lee's father-in-law was george washington's adopted son and robert e. lee actually struggles with this. he at some point says that his father-in-law has left him a terrible legacy. >> he has great affection for virginia obviously, because he is a native virginian, but there's so much in his life that must have drawn him to have great affection for the nation. west point, united states army didn't just live in virginia. he lived all over the country. what tipped the scales in your opinion? >> well, i think what tipped the scales -- you're absolutely right. he constantly talks about how
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he -- how much he loves the union and his devotion to the union. but he has been taught from his very first day that his first allegiance is to virginia, and even in that time people were surprised. they said, seems strange to us that someone who was so associated with george washington is ignoring the message of the george washington's farewell address but lee never waiverred in the question. he always felt he had a duty to virginia and was determined to fulfill that duty. so he is either going to portray -- betray his country or go to war against his home state, and that we be very difficult to so. not to say other virginians didn't make the choice. it's just to understand it was an extremely difficult decision to have to make. >> yes. >> how about the statement that one of the differences between
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lee and washington was that washington realized that the commander-in-chief was -- what he mainly had to do was not lose the war, and that lee never had that insight to possibly end the civil war that would have been true. >> right. that's one of the criticisms often leveled at robert e. lee. if you think about the civil war was very different than the revolutionary war. the -- he joined he revolutionary war, george washington was facing an enemy who was an ocean away. robert e. lee was fighting an enemy that was a river away. and he very much felt that time was not on his side. that's sort 0 a revisionist arguement to say he didn't feel that. he thought the longer the war went on for the more men the union to brick to bear and union armies would come to the south and cause damage he thought the south social order would snap, and basically he felt he had to
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break the north's political will before the south had its social order snapped. that's why you find him so devoted to the concept of trying to tee destroy the union army and even after his greatest victories, the battle of chancellorsville in 1863 he is frustrated. you think about his greatest victory. he doesn't celebrate it because the union army got away and he felt he had to destroy the union army. and there is -- i think there is a good arguement to be made for his point of view that time wasn't necessarily on his side. >> i came across an interesting comment in jones' -- toward the end of the war, there's a -- [inaudible] -- katrina -- crown lee as caesar and maybe win this thing. >> it was published in newspapers at the time. newspapers openly said,
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basically, george washington was essentially a dictator at the end of the revolutionary war. what we need right now is robert e. lee to take that authority. now lee him was never interested in that. he felt that he could barely do what he had to do to oversee the army of northern virginia. how could he possibly take responsibility for everything else? that said he does end up accepting the title of general in chief of al the confederate forces, which just makes his job all the much harder and you might thing he celebrates this as a great honor, but he sees it as a burden and not something to celebrate because, again, it's a sign of just how desperate the times were that people were saying things like that. yes? >> how can you not support social order in the south and be
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for the southern evidences of secession and rebellion. he wanted to have social order maintained as it was. how is that possible to do so? >> i think you can make the argument that he had a more gradual view and he would have said that, for example it wasn't that he was opposed to emancipation. but he was in favor of it he said after the war, gradual emancipation. he said that was always his point of view. he doesn't mean he necessarily wanted everything to happen at once. and i think part of the key is understanding robert e. lee was truly a conservative and in fact he was so conservative he ends up being unable to rebel suppose you could say against rebellion. might be a key to understanding his personality. he can't rebel against rebellion and he gets -- basically decides he can't have his own way, he'll have virginia's way. >> supports the south rebellion
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and slavery, didn't he? >> i think, as a backdrop question that's true and there's no escaping that. the point that you're making. in fact, what the cause ends up becoming -- robert e. lee is somewhat aware of that, because later in the war there's some confederates holding out hope for foreign recognition, and robert e. lee is not interested in hearing it because he says to rest of the world this looks like a contest between slavery and freedom and as long as that's the case no foreign power will intervene on our behalf to so put aside those thoughts. i think the point is well taken. yes? >> did you come across anything in his writings about his thoughts about lincoln's assassination? >> he actually gives an interview when he gets back to richmond, which is not like him. and he is on the record with his views about that. and he is very disturbed by it.
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he thinks this is a terrible act, and his biggest fear is that the north is going to blame this on the south, and it's going to lead to retribution or even worse, and he thought it was a terrible act. >> of the signing of the treaty of appomattox, and what i have read, lee was so formal in his military gear and france was just the opposite. is that accurate? >> that is in fact accurate. pretty much that moment has been described that way ever since it happened. robert e. lee comes in, and he is buttoned up to his throat. grant has his blouse kind of not even fully buttoned. robert e. lee has this fancy sword. grant has no sword at all. robert e. lee had beautiful spurs. grant comes in with muddy boots.
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robert e. lee has this perfect posture, grant is sort of slumped over looking, and you have this amazing contrast between two great generals and it's something that people noticed then and have noted ever since. yes? >> i believe that robert e. lee's graduating second in his class at west point, and was at the time they usually went -- became engineers. how was he able to get into the infantry and where did he learn all his o.j.t. to be the head of the northern virginia army? >> i'm glad you asked. actually he was an engineer. he did graduate second in his class and subpoena the engineers and that was considered the most prestigious branch of the army you can go into. the reason why he whereas coming through -- was coming through louisville in 1837. he was on his way to st. louis
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to perform some work on the mississippi river. during the mexican-american war he puts his skills to work because engineers played an important role in deciding where armies can go and lee has what is called then a peculiar talent for topography and recognizes he can see routes around he mexican army, but his background as an engineer comes back during lee's early campaigns in the civil war. we tend to have this image he was immediately successful in the civil war. that's actually not true. his first campaigns were disasters. he was sent to western virginia in 1861, and he has a very elaborate battle scheme for what will happen and requires independent columns to converge all at the same moment, and the plan is just a complete failure and newspapers in the south actually say, robert e. lee is too much of an engineer to be able to command. he is not a soldier, and what we need right now is fighting men.
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now, of course in 1862 when robert e. lee chases george mccell land off the peninsula those damn newspapers are speaking very differently about mr. lee at that point. >> what was grant's opinion about robert e. lee. >> grant says that lee has -- it's almost impossible to be able to read his facial expressions. even in this moment of ultimate defeat for lee, he is holding himself together with complete self-control and grant knows that. the other thing that is so interesting about that meeting between grant and lee is that grant actually has a pretty good memory of robert e. lee from the mexican-american war, and lee has been struggling to sort of picture grant's face the whole time he has been fighting him, because during that time robert e. lee what much more important that ulysses s. grant and there's one more meeting -- another meeting that happens
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between grant and lee and that takes place at the white house when grant becomes president and robert eastern lee actually goes to the white house and meets the newest occupant. you can only imagine what that meeting must have been like for robert e. lee. >> you say he had this peculiar talent for looking at poverty. so the gettysburg fiasco where he did not take his lieutenant's advisements under consideration, do you believe his permit of holding things in and being in control and being overwhelmed with the loss of stonewall jackson just before had anything to do with his poor decisionmaking? >> he certainly looks back at gettysburg and never gives an explanation why it failed. he is not getting good intelligence because jeb stewart
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disappeared, his cavalry commander, and he goes another a joy ride before gettysburg and lee relies on him for intelligence help believes his core commanders don't act in unison, and he believe even if pickets charge, it could have succeeded if he had proper artillery support but no one told him they were rung low low on artillery. i think pickets charge as a sense of frustration for lee. he has to destroy the union army and feels he is running out of time. if you go a back to chancellorsville, you look at robert e. lee's view of the battle, he is furious. furious at joseph hooker who escapes and a lot of confederates think that hooker's final position at chancellor'sville was a strong position, and robert e. lee was planning to order a frontal assault against that position but hooker withdraws that night, and so in some sense, hooker makes the greatest mistake of
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his life by retreating, and saves-eastern lee from making a mistake that will make the pickets charge. >> did lee ever write down what he thought of arming slaves as confederate soldiers? >> he did. he was asked that question directly, and he did say that he thought at this point it was better to begin to enlist african-americans in the fight and he thought you had to have include emancipation as part of the deal because the people would not fight unless they would get emancipation and basically the attitude was it's better to have them fight with us if they're going to be fighting against us. so he does take that view. yes? >> i believe after the war there was a lot of pressure on lee from former generals and officials of the former confederacy to write his moment moyers and he procrastinated
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and died in 1870. was there any preliminary material he might have gathered together that was available for historians and so forth? >> there is, actually. it's a relatively recent discovery. lee did say right after the war he wanted to write his memoirs but you have to remember he had lost almost all of his personal papers during the war so he is actually writing letters and asking people to send him those documents. so he can try to reconstruct some idea of what has happened but it's such a frustrating process he basically does abandon the project. what he does instead is write a memoir of his father and he writes a short buying agraph of him and that's an awkward task bus he goes through, and you can see this in his edits to the biography of his father where he crosses out certain things. it says his father zealously
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opposed the virginia resolution from 1798, and robert e. lee crosses that out and he doesn't
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you feeling for him change as you went through the journey you described, and from the compelling question that drew you to him, did you find some reconciliation yourself? how did you feel about his decision as a historian?
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>> i'm glad you asked that question. actually, going back to the previous question so much we'llly think of robert e. lee as a symbol for one thing or another and is such a divisive figure in our society and we're always trying to make him represent something. regardless of whatever you think about the civil war, and what i found some which was wonderful at the time was by looking what he actually wrote, and looking at the letters he wrote to his wife and his children, i got to see a man who could be very funny at times, who could be sometimes flirtatious with women, but he also has an extreme sense of frustration, feeling he could never have his own way in life and that he was always being forced into roles not of his own choosing, and there's something about that, i think, that makes this story very tragic. i think robert e. lee's story is a unique tragedy in american
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history. yes? >> as president of the washington college how effective was he and what was his life like there and what was his emotional state there following the war and his experience. >> he was actually a very involved president. you might think he took the post and was going to sort of let other people do the work, but that wasn't much like robert e. lee, he actually held long office hours. when boys didn't do their work they were called in to see general lee, and we can only imagine how that went. but w actually we know. a lot of them left with tears. he actually was quite progressive in his ideas about education. he thought at this point that we needed to -- college needed to expand offerings to prepare people for jobs in the south at that time. so he expands the school
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dramatically increases its endowment. one program he proposes is a scholarship for field -- for a course of study in a field that he dislikes, which is journalism. i think people see robert eastern lee after the war and a lot of people see him taking long rides on his horse, traveler and they wonder what is on his mind because they can see a sadness in his eyes and so his son said one can only imagine what he was thinking during those rides. yes? >> i thought the story of reconstruction has been somewhat re-assessed recently or not too long ago or do many americans still look at reconstruction through the eyes of "gone with the wind." >> you're absolutely right. people definitely look at it
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differently. i didn't mean to imply it looked at it one way or another when i said what robert e. lee thought about it. that sort of -- what robert e. lee thought bat about what is happening to the country, not so much -- i don't know if you care to know what i necessarily think and i think reconstruction has been re-evaluated and we see a lot of good things that came out of reconstruction that are very different from the old traditional narrative and a lot of ideas that would later find their time in american history and we're certain lay better country because of it. yes? >> does lee ever address a guilt about the deaths of many, many thousand men under his command? >> yes. so i guess i answered the question two different ways. when hi is talking about those people, the union army, he would be perfectly blunt often says he wishes that he could have destroyed more of the army
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because he thinks it's so essential to victory to destroy the union army. but after gettysburg he does say -- don't have the exact words but he basically says he wishes he could never see blood again or have to watch bullets be fired ever again because he has seen so many good men die. i think that is a statement of -- i wouldn't say it's regret but it's certainly a sign of just how much these deaths affect him and actually i didn't get a chance teen mention this put one of the very first most personal deaths that happens to robert e. lee is during an early campaign in 1861 in western virginia. the brings as an aide another great grand nephew of george washington and this man is actually the heir to mt. vernon and he dies under robert e. lee's command, and this has a devastating impact on robert e. lee. he feels the loss very sharply. >> was there a final question?
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>> as you studied the characters back then, how do they compare with the casualties today in washington? is there -- [laughter] sounds like this guy is this way? >> i say in the beginning, when con fronted with a tough question, there's one thing you expect washingtonians to do and that duck. >> are you from washington? >> i'm not washington. i think it's just so hard to say. i'm often asked and have been asked recently what robert e. lee say about the way the world is today. and i think it's just impossible question. it's just -- we can't know because so much has happened and it's not fair to stick him from 1870 the last thing he knew, into 2015, and say what do you think about healthcare reform or something like that. he cou


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