tv Engineering Victory CSPAN January 29, 2017 3:34pm-4:27pm EST
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favorite devices. we'll bring you other shows, shows for children, lady bird and friends for children is shown in the romance genre, coming up is mid-mysteries, a sci-fi show coming up. so it's not just lincoln and the civil war, not just the presidency, it's everything. which brings us to our guest today. in the second half of today's -- "a house divided" program. like to introduce you to thomas army. abraham lincoln and see civil hard have fast ited thomas since the was young. he visited the president's home and the civil war battle fields on family vacations and decided to study history as an undergreatat at wesleyyant
university, confident. study the civil war and went interest a long career in education, including a 19-year stint as a headmaster at a new england boarding school. that would be an hour's worth of discussion. >> we could probably talk more than an hour at about. >> after that tom had enough of education and finished his ph.d the university of massachusetts. he was ban professor. the book we're going to discuss today, engineering victory, how technology won the civil war. this is tom's first book and congratulations. >> well, thank you very much. >> he lives in vernon, connecticut, with his wife, virginia.
engineering victory, how technology won the civil war, published by johns hopkins university press. we thank you them for producing that and getting tom here. 369 pages, wonderfully illustrated. the price is $49.95. and if you wish to order a signed edition in the next hour, please do so. tom, walk to lincoln -- book store. let's start the beginning. why engineering? what brought you to this top wick? >> my interest in engineering came as a result of exploring interests in technological advancements and innovation. all been fascinated by that. i am not a scientist. don't know much about science. didn't do particularly well in science in school. but certainly in the last ten to
15 years, as i watched the development of american science, and biotechnology, and nano technology, medicine, even in construction and architecture, and in everything that touches our lives, i became fascinated with the subject. recently, for example, visited a world war ii museumer in newton, massachusetts, where i had a chance to play with an enigma machine which was made famously the german army during the second world war. a machine that looks like a typewriter but was wired as a result of some remarkable electrical engineering, so thatt could send codes every day that were entirely different, and unless you had access to how those codes were shifted you account crack the enigma
machine, a famous movie was made about it. had a chance to play with a that. marveled it's and reinforced my interest in engineering history and in history and in engineering. so, looking back on how i got started on this book, i thought, well, what was the engineering like during the civil war? and is a started to explore that, i realized that not much had been written about it. so, i decided that i would tackle this and the more i looked, the more i got interested and the more i uncovered, and off i went. >> well, yeah. to some extent it was an open topic. >> people have not written a lot about it in the more recent generations but there had been some writing, it appears, here and there in general histories and in the past but this volume does, i think, serve as a collective. you may have used that word.
outdated motions of the north and the south in the civil war and another thing i find very fascinating about the book, before the civil war. the antebellum period that plays such an important part in engineering when the war does start. >> it does much. general premise was to explore the critical advantage that the union had over the confederacy in military engineering. and the skills that union soldiers and officers used to build bridges, tunnels, repair railroads, not only required remarkable mechanical skills but also required ingenuity and innovation, and i argue that ingenuity and innovation, that mindset, was developed during the antebellum period when the
north invested in educational systems to meet this growing industrial society. and so not only was there common school reform in the antebellum north but there were programs like -- the movement beginning in mill bury, massachusetts in late 20s. agricultural fairs. agricultural fairs were like today's home depot. people would go to these fairs and not only test the best apple pies and look at grains of wheat and discussions about fertilization but this wheres local farmers and mechanics would bring their latest inventions, and so if you war farmer and you designed a new hoe or you thing you came up with an alteration on the
traditional shovel, you would bring it to the fair, these fairs set aside relatively significant amounts of money to give as prizes to people who would come up with these gold star inventions. and so as people walked through these fairs, farmers and mechanics got their ideas, and went home and did their own tinkering. so, that reinforced this idea of innovation and ingenuity. >> a characteristic of the north. >> correct. >> the south was very different. >> this what i try emphasize in my book. i want to say straight up, because some people have asked me about this -- the book doesn't challenge the bravery or common sense knowledge of the southern soldier or the southern general.
it does not do that. but what it does do is it looks at whether or not southern soldiers, like northern soldiers, were prepared in an industrial society to meet changing technological needs, and my answer is, no no, they were not. in a plantation system which dominated the south during the antebellum period, it that only dominated the economics of the south but also dominated the political landscape of the south. so that plantation owners were the ones that sat in the state house of representatives and the state senates, and so they not only called the shots politically but they also had control over economic development, and in the south, the plantation economy made millions of dollars for plantation owners. there's no doubt that men who
ran successful cotton plantations were some of the wealthiest men in america. any belief or understanding that some form of industry was to encroach been that was frowned upon, and so -- as a result of that so was the idea of developing educational systems. and so if you look the south in prewar years, there are -- with the exception of the state of north north carolina, that put together a remarkable common school reform movement, the other states did not. and most local communities and states were not interested in that, and some of the reasons are taxes, some of the reasons have to do with the belief that
if you really wanted your child educated you go to a private school or be tutors. but the end result was a large segment of the yeoman farmer class or tenant farmers in the south were not particularly well-educated and weren't educated to understand mechanics and machine tools, and so when the war breaks out, both sides are recruiting these men, and so when these armies form and a call goes out for engineers because there just weren't enough west point trained engineers to go around, the union army looked to its resources within. it look to individual regiments. to men who were not west point graduates, who work on a railroad before the war, and that they happened to be
officers in the 15th new york infan tri, and general mcclelland decided no longer are are you in the 15th new york infan tri. you're going to be 15th new york volunteer engineers and at your head is going to be captain beers or van brocklin who have some engineering background, and the south had nothing comparable. >> there's enough operational engineering in this book to go for an hire hour or two. i want to ask you one more question about education before we get into the war. there is another i'd solve education for the union arm and the confederate arm and that is west point. the westpoint was essentially ang findinger school, and it -- in your pointings did west pointers live up to the expectations to bed the leading he can -- engineers?
i think they dade but that's a double-edged sword. people look the mall of west point engineers, graduates, available when the war break us out. some of the many had left the army and they were now working for private businesses. war break outs, the men enlist and the split was about three/fifths to north, two 50s to the south. and -- two/fifths to the south. they say the south must have had good west point engineers. the problem with that line of reasoning, as i discovered, was that might have been acceptable if the army stayed the size of the u.s. army during the mexican american war. scott moved 15,000 men from veracruz to the state of mexico city. the biggest army in the field.
now the army's -- there are armies in tennessee and armies out on the mississippi, and 60 engineers going north and 40 going south are not enough. so, they have to rely on volunteers and as it turned out, although the west pointer -- toure question -- that though the west pointers take the lead and get commanding posts, the volunteer soldiers perform just as remarkably as do the west pointers. >> especially in thest. >> especially in the west. >> when it's pure west pointers and i want to bring up one of the people who could almost be one of the union heroes of the
mississippi valley campaign, who was josiah bissel and what what's idea. >> that's a remarkable story. bissel, who has some civil engineering brown before the war, goes to army recruiters in august of '61 and says i think we need an engineer rep regiment out waste and i propose to lead one. and they agree and become the engineer regiment of the west, and bissel gets attached to pope's army. so, the war starts. et cetera, et cetera, and now pope finds himself coming down the mississippi river and he is interested in punching through at eye iland number 10 and everyone knows the story that
the flotilla is going to be stopped at vicksburg. but in '62, pope's army is stand at island number two -- between, and in one of the great stories of the civil war, bissel guess to pope and said i'd like to explore the possibility of cutting a canal through -- north of island number ten so see if we can get around the island and surround it. forcing it to surrender, and so o'pope agreed. so bissel and a song gets in a row boat, they good down the mississippi river, and they discover that the area is flooded. they see no possibility of doing this. so bissel tells the private who
is with him, to go back and to ask the navy, the union navy, who are north of this position, if they would be willing to try to blow past island number 10, and in the meantime bissel is looking around. he stands on the morning 0 he is supposed to be picked up again in row boat and is stand agoen the opposite shore of the mississippi and looking across the mississippi, and he sees what he thinks is a cut between these large trees, and he decides that when the rower gets there they'll travel this cut and he discovers it was an old wagon road that is underwater. he thinks he can push through there and cut canal, and that's exactly what the does. they invent some ingenious
mechanical devices, including a saw that is on a platform that looks like a trapezoid, which saws the heavy logs, trees, underneath the water. they cut them downs' pull them out and sure enough, within eight days, the union army is sending supply barges and a few ships through the canal and they find themselves south of island number ten. the commander at island number ten is so -- the confederate commander otherwise a matessed by this, recognizes he is surrounded, mass he surrenders the island. >> without a -- brill -- briggan he can nearing campaign that did not result in a bloody battle. >> correct. >> the next stop would probably by vicksburg, but i think that's -- you need to read the book to find out some of the
magnificent engineering that occurred in vicksburg campaign, especially grant's ability -- the ability of grant's he can nears to deal with water, get through water, over water to create new water courses. the canal didn't work. i didn't work. but i want to do is town another type of engineering; there are engineers -- army engineers trashings divisional and then top graphal engineers, sherm want was a topographical engineer. tells what it they did. >> topographical engineers were mapmakers but their role in the civil war from the out set was very critical because the united
states had not mapped itself with the exception of the american coastline. there was a coastal survey group, and this group was responsible for mapping the coast line of the united states, especially the harbors and inlets and some top graph wall engineers work their this group. so when the war broke out they needed good maps and they especially needed the union army needed good maps in the south, and so the topographical engineers were assigned to do that. now, it became much more complicated than sitting down at a table and drawing a map because you had to estimate differences, you might styles be working behind enemy lines. and then you had to reproduce
the maps. it was one thing to have the commanding general have a reasonably accurate map of a particular area in which your army was operating. but it was another thing when you are asking core commanders or division commander ore regimental commanders to find farm road size think maneuver their men into pigs position so the commanding general could launch an attack. well, the union army first stopped it had no method of reproducing the maps except by having clerks literally sit down and copy them. so by the middle of the war the army discovered that separating the topographical engineers, which was a specialty, from the engineers, wasn't really working. it was inefficient.
so they combined the two. the core top graph wall engineers went able and the engineers who were part of the topographical service, some of them, continued in this process. but going back to this idea of ingenuity and innovation. by 1864 several of the topographical engineers came up with ways to reproduce maps. whether it was taking pictures of maps and then taking the image and sketching -- copying the inning, and then reproducing them that way. there will several methods of doing this. by '64, then, union generals were able to distribute these maps. ...
i want to introduce everybody to a remarkable photographic ã that is francis miller's photographic history of the civil war. a 10 volume magnificent piece of work. it was created about the time of ãthe civil war between early 1900s and 1911. so this is created and miller sent out research for all of these lost photographs about the civil war. there is one volume that is particularly interesting. for someone who is interested in engineering. it is volume 5. artillery which
also ãdid you find illustrated history, photographic histories, photographs of engineering projects useful in research of this book? >> yes. first of all because they reinforce some of the things that i was reading. they also provided me with in some cases, an image that i had to try to imagine through text. case in point i will give you would be herman ãso he is a west pointer engineer, the youngest man to graduate from west point. he graduates from west point, he is 19 years old. goes into the railroad business. he is a remarkable engineer. and he is brought on to be one of the chief engineers of the
newly formed united states military railroad. he comes up with the idea of building a barge, trying to describe this, he built a barge and basically on this barge, he plants railroad tracks. and so, what happens is that he also runs railroad tracks right up to the edge of wars. so now he is going to bring these massive locomotives right to the edge of the war where he is going to have them hauled onto these barges. and he is going to be able to put four or five locomotives on these barges. he clamps them down and then the barges are floated upriver to places for example, during mcclellan's peninsula campaign, some of these and then later on two years later, during the
wilderness campaign he is going to bring these barges up to places like city points. which becomes a major depot for the north. and the reverse will happen, they will pull up to the tracks at the end of the wharfs. the trains get hauled off. this time they get pushed off friend first. they get pushed up about a half-mile down the tracks where side cars will connect the boxcars and jaw off the train goes. it really was ingenious for 1860 to 1863 or 64. nothing like it has been tried before. and in the miller but there are several wonderful photographs of this device. in fact there is one called the general decks, that was the name of the locomotive.
i believe it was at city creek were ãbut you can see the barge, you can see the train coming onto the wharf and so photographs like that, where usually helpful to me. as you know i read, as i read helps memoirs as he describes this. or you read sources from grants who is describing or from you know men who are involved in the construction core. that is one thing to try to visualize it is another thing to be able to turn to a book like the miller volumes and flip through the pages and actually see this. >> some of the folks at home again to see some slides from the miller volume. >> it is really quite remarkable. >> and i should also say, the first edition is going to look at.
subsequent additions were made but the original plates have so much more. and the people at home back to see pictures of just how vivid they were. the pontoon bridges and ãyou brought up the ãcampaigns. so we have another photograph that i wanted to share. this is another, this is from another source. this brings us to the peninsula campaign.mcclellan's peninsula campaign.and for those who can see it, this is reproduced by the matthew brady society. for those of you who are interested in the photograph itself, this is a remarkable reproduction one-to-one from the original. so for people that can see that, people that can see that
at home, you will actually see something might not be used to and historical photographs. you might think of these in sepia. they are not because they have aged. they have the egg and the age and they turned sepia. at the time they did not look that way. when people have their picture made he had much more of this beautiful dark ãin what looked more like a black-and-white photograph. and purple was really the look there. but here we say the famous ã the palisade there had been put up by the engineers and by the mortar men brothers into place. that brings us to another engineered that he did quite a job of engineering at yorktown yet they left him in that way.
do you think yorktown was a blunder for mcclellan? >> i think it was, i think it demonstrated that mcclellan was not an aggressive general. whether or not, i mean yes it was a blunder. but does it mean that mcclellan after yorktown had no chance of meeting his strategic goals which were to take richmond. i don't think so. but i do think it indicates that mcclellan is going to find a campaign. with a great deal of caution. moving forward. and of course that is exactly what he does. now, you brought up the many played a very important role in
the peninsula campaign before. that is these new yorkers. the engineers. they play an important part in this book especially in this campaign. and to some extent as you told mcclellan converted ? >> that is correct. >> we also see new york. going out and recruiting an engineer regiment. engineer units as michigan and kentucky. but then there is new york. what is behind that? and how effective it was? >> well, i think let's back up a minute and say, during my research i came to understand that i was starting to look at mcclellan a little bit differently than i had when i started. there is no doubt mcclellan was a cautious general. there was no doubt that lincoln was justified in firing him.
in fact, you could make a case that lincoln could have done this much earlier. except of course that lincoln is worried about the political implications of doing that. mcclellan was not a very good commander of field forces when it came to fighting. but mcclellan was a skilled administrator. and it is that skill that contributed to the growth of volunteer engineering units. because in late october 1961, when mcclellan is beginning to get his army ready he has a conversation with one of his lieutenant colonel's. i demand that by the name of barton s alexander. there is a dialogue that goes back and forth between these two men. and mcclellan is concerned that there are a lack of engineered
troops and alexander suggests that volunteers would fit the bill. because he is discovering that in some of these infantry regiments they have these skilled mechanics and tool makers and shipbuilders. that would convert nicely to military engineers. so mcclellan is gives the go-ahead to convert these units. and one of those units was the 15th new york. so they enlist as a volunteer infantry company. next thing you know they are volunteer engineer unit. now to the second part of the question, because i think the question really has two parts. i think the second part of the question is what is it about new york? well new york was one of the great, it was becoming even in the middle of the 19th century one of the great economic centers of the united states.
the erie canal built in the 1820s, 1830s railroad development the new york railroad by 1860 was really an incredible well-run long-distance railroad. new york city was becoming the center of not only the united states emerging market economy but also becoming the national finance center and so with this industrial growth came pockets of areas around the state of new york that were becoming more and more focus on mechanics and trade. and so even in places as northwest as oswego for buffalo for elmira, they were developing, they had men with mechanical skills.
there was a lot of lumbering that went on in the western part of new york state. there was, there were carpenters out in the western part of new york. and then of course on the coastline in new york city the shipbuilding and designing civil engineer projects to manage the growing city. whether it be a water system or a sewer system, you had these civilians. not west pointers. who were learning this engineering trade. you know most of these, no child college education. most of them what you would consider to be a high school education. >> you think the union commanders recognized the
talents of other mechanical ã amongst their soldiers, where they aware of this advantage? >> i think they do but your question is actually an excellent one. i think what happened was that the professional engineers were really miffed by these nonprofessionals. they were being relied upon to pull off these remarkable feats. i think that's where the difficulty was. yes, i think men like grant and mead and someone like william rosecrance, i think they have fully appreciated the talent they had within the army. the real question was did professional engineers life james duane ãyou know, did they recognize and what they
prepared to be a full credit to these upstarts? and attend west point just felt very threatened. as you read official reports, you can really see that as you read between the lines. after the chattanooga campaign and the famous proper line you read about the campaign and you read the after action reports written by the engineers. they are happy to mention the men who did this work but the men, the men are vague and they seldom mention the volunteer engineer offices. and they always mention the west point regular army
engineer of officers. it's really interesting.>> yes it is interesting how these field commanders and ãnot one of the things, we only have so much time left and we haven't even talked about some things. >> let's think, one aspect of the 1864 campaign. grant has to move so quickly and that will remind us of illustrations had to help us. he needs to move the army so quickly and there are 70 rivers and 70 bridges and now he has a very effective pontoon training. >> correct. >> so you can tell is a little bit on robert e lee, partially because of that training. can you tell us about that? >> let me set the stage for everyone. lee and grant have been engaged
in this incredibly bloody horrific wilderness campaign. and grant cannot get laid to come out from behind his entrenched position. and it seems like now, you have to imagine if you can pop up a map in your head and imagine we are north of richmond and petersburg. and every time grant slides the south in a little bit is as if lee is able to read his mind. and every time grant tries to flank these position, lee is there. so grant decides that it is time for bold action. and this is the thing that i love about grant. the risk-taking aspect of grant is wonderful. so grant decides that he is not
going to try to steal 15 or 20 miles he will try to steal 40 or 50 miles. and so he pulls off this remarkable retreat. unbeknownst to lee. you know what he wakes up an army is gone and he does not know where. quote what grant has done is he has swung south and is now going to cross, he is going to cross the james river and try to get beneath lee's army, capture petersburg and then easily march onto richmond. because what he has petersburg because of all the railroad traffic that would go into richmond. this would force lee to leave. and so the problem is that he has to cross the james river.
the james river at its narrowest point, it was called, time points. by the engineers decided the best place to. >> is about 2000 feet long. and the james is a title river as well. and ãthe engineers are told that to supply this move, i speak about this in my book, to put things in perspective for everyone. when you are moving the civil war armies in 1864, if you include all of the men and all of the cattle and all of the wagon trains and medical supplies. you are talking about an army that moving from front to back passing point a would take at least 4 and a half days.
24 hours a day marching. i mean these, these armies were huge. spread out over everywhere. and so, this is ãgrant reminds the engineers that he is going to need boat traffic as well down the james as a way of bringing supplies to these armies. so the engineers are faced with 2000 feet of river. his title and they have to keep in mind that there will be boat traffic. and so they begin and finally build one of the most remarkable engineers in the war. certainly as remarkable as what bissell does. and they built a 21 foot pontoon bridge. >> 21 foot ? >> 2100 b. but in the middle,
they are able to open the middle sections for river traffic. and sure enough, grant's army crosses. the problem that happened was that grant's elements kind of stumbled into petersburg, had a hard time getting organized. i know that we are just kind of skimming over this but ãlee's army gets wind of this. i believe it is general beauregard who was in petersburg and he is able to repel these initial advances. >> correct. >> and of course lee arrives and what happens is ãbut exactly, just to get there ã really was exactly. and grant does not get there without the engineers.
>> well, there is so much more in this book that we could discuss which is why you need to order the book and tell him to sign it for you. i was going to ask you about other things but it would be another 10 or 15 minutes. or the field fortification that another scholar ãhe has made such wonderful ? >> he has done a remarkable job. >> there is so much to the story of engineering in the civil war. and there is so much in this book. has a subtitle ã"engineering victory: how technology won the civil war" if we even peeled off that topic you talk a little bit about the ruling of the south prior to the war. but certainly, and maybe just a moment of your time to look at
some of the most important engineers which were in my opinion, -- the african-american community was forced to serve as engineers for the confederacy. >> well, they were. the confederacy had the west point trained engineers. and where the confederacy excels was in building fortifications. the fortifications they built around petersburg, around richmond, around atlanta ãand even around pittsburgh. they were highly sophisticated fortifications. but as i argue in my book, the confederacy had advance notice. they had some time to build these. answer the engineers could set out with the fortifications
what they were going to look like. and then african-american slaves would be brought in to dig those fortifications. under the supervision of confederate officers. and so, the black slaves were the ground forces for the confederacy. and of course the problem with that was that african-americans would not offer any alternative for making suggestion. i mean, that was simply just did not happen. doing things better. so there was no bottom up conversation that took place. and there were bottom-up conversations that took place as the union army faced on the spot challenges. >> yes, the workers in building a union fort had a lot to say. >> yes and they especially have
a lot to say when it came to a river and the pontoon trend was 15 miles ãand they had to cross. then they had a lot of input. and they worked out a way to do it. >> well, thank you very much. i'm going to ask you to get to work and sign some books for us. >> i would love to. >> while i talked to the people at home and give you the idea of some upcoming programs. coming up on authors voice, a house divided. this program on saturday, november 12 at noon, timothy b smith will return to abraham lincoln bookshop. his book is grant invades tennessee the 1862 battles of fort henry and donaldson. and this will go very well with tim's previous book that he wrote on shiloh and ãour
friend david powell will also return for the third volume of his trilogy. the chickamauga campaign and so those of you have done the first two volumes of dave's trilogy will want to get volume 3. and then later, saturday, december 3 at noon, a terrific book from another old friend noah andre ãwith lincoln's latest journey 16 days that changed the presidency and along with another author with a terrific and imaginative book, mark ãwill be here with storyteller john hey, mark twain and the rise of american imperialism. again to put on this "engineering victory: how technology won the civil war", by johns hopkins university present -- it is worth every
penny. a brilliantly written book with brilliant stories to tell us. not technological. a brilliant story. so thank you tom. thank you to abraham lincoln book shop, thank you to the university press and team at home, join us again on house divided on november 12 and have a great day. thank you c-span. >>