tv [untitled] May 27, 2012 11:00am-11:30am EDT
one of the things that i love about not only dr. seuss' work but the left as well, that the left is not worried to confront and which is why the government has a role in sort of maintaining the best ideals of human society and how it should be organized. finally, i would say for conservatives, the appreciation for the art is exactly why the endowment for the humanities, free radio, because ultimately the expressions themselves. >> khalil muhammad and michael kazin, thank you. it's been a pleasure. >> thank you very much. this week on the civil war, two historians discuss the wartime leadership styles of
the civil war. our vantage point in this session is a stra teej cal one in the examination of roles of abraham lincoln and jefferson davis as commander in chief. our session is thus about civilian leadership in wartime or more precisely about the tension between civil and military leadership. the constant tension between political and military leaders is exacerbated by the crucible of war and lincoln and davis both embraced the difficulties and responsibilities of wielding military power in perceptive and unevenly successful ways. we have with us today to address these questions two of america's most distinguished historians. mark neely is the mccabe greer professor of history of the civil war era at the pennsylvania state university
and has been called the platinum standard in the lincoln field. recognized as the finest lincoln scholar in the country he has spent a lifetime studying great volumes about abraham lincoln, american nationalism and civil liberties during the civil war. the fate of liberty, won the 1992 pulitzer prize, and lincoln and the triumph of the nation has been called one of the most original and important books on the war ever published. mark neely understands, as did abraham lincoln, that the struggle for victory was a battle for survival of the u.s. constitution. professor neely will speak first, and he'll address the topic the sources of statesmanship and command strategy in abraham lincoln's life. william j. cooper's presentation is entitled jefferson davis as war leader. professor cooper has been the professor at louisiana state
university for over four decades. no one has more penetratingly examined the life of jefferson davis or his role as president and commander in chief of the confederate states of america. his 2001 book "jefferson davis: american" has been called one of the most enigmatic figures in our nation's history. professor cooper's balanced yet corrective interpretation recognizes davis' intimate engagement in the military and diplomatic decisions of the confederacy as well as capturing the irony of a chief executive who interpreted the constitution as strictly limiting federal authority but was forced by the war to create a powerful centralized confederate government. professor cooper's 2008
masterpiece "jefferson davis in the civil war era" solidified further his reputation as the foremost scholar of the confederate president. please warmly welcome to the virginia military institute and to our sesquicentennial conference in turn professor mark neely and professor bill cooper. [ applause ] good morning. i get you while you're fresh. i brought with me a copy of -- it's my copy -- of why i think the most controversial and important book in the united states during the civil war. it doesn't have a very catchy title. it's the report on the organization of the army of the potomac and of its campaigns in
virginia and maryland under the command of major general george b. mccullen from july 26, 1861, to november 7, 1862. well, why would i make such extravagant claims for this rather dull, official, military report? and that's because, actually, that it was a lot more than an official military report. it was also a presidential campaign document. because george b. mccullen was the presidential nominee for president in 1864 to run against abraham lincoln. now the democrats dominated mccullen as what we would -- what political scientists today would call an eisenhower candidate. that is a very popular general who stood for nothing. and their plan -- their plan was to run what political scientists today call a harrah campaign.
so in a harrah campaign, you don't stress issues of what you say is, you know, it's not my candidate saying it's for this or my candidate stands for that, it's simply my candidate hurrah. and then you have a lot of barbecues and parades and fireworks. well, we might think of this book -- the reason i think of it as so important, you might think of this book as being a sort of forerunner or analogous to eisenhower's crusade in europe. but there was a key difference. eisenhower won the war and mcclellan did not. so, as it turned out in the presidential campaign of 1864 the democrats had to spend most of their time trying to approve of what, in fact, they had assumed the people already believed, that george b.
mcclellan was a great military hero and, hence, the importance of this book to make had his case. now the dispute over mcclellan's worthiness of the title of military hero boiled down to a pretty simple question. and that was mcclellan's failure in the campaign of 1862. the issue, therefore, in the 1864 presidential campaign was simply -- it boiled down to one question. did mcclellan lose all by himself because he was too cautious and too slow, or did president lincoln cause mcclellan to lose by with holding from him thousands of soldiers to protect washington that mcclellan needed in
virginia to win the peninsular campaign. this was not just a military report but also a campaign document for presidential election. it was widely reviewed in the press, and i would have to say that most of the reviews of it were unthinkingly partisan. but i did find one that was moderate and thoughtful. the review appeared in new york city in a periodical of sort of mildly democratic party leanings. it was a magazine published briefly during the civil war called the roundtable. and the anonymous reviewer in answering what he called the
all-important question, quote, was mcclellan or the administration more to blame for the failure of the peninsular campaign? that's the key question. this is what he said about abraham lincoln. it is hardly just to judge the administration too severely. mr. lincoln honestly wished to do what was best, but partly on account of his circumstances and partly because of his education he could not act very differently from what he did. the training of a lawyer is not very well fitted for making a
good general. a planner of campaigns needs breadth of view, comprehensiveness, directness, a knowledge of how to make time his ally. but the legal mind, while active, loses in breadth what it gains in sharpness and intensity. mr. lincoln could not understand why if a rebel army could be whipped at the west it was not done at once overlooking all the remote consequences. to move on the enemy's works was all that was required to gain victories. it is somewhat remarkable that of the large number of lawyers who have entered the armies, north and south, so few have achieved real distinction. well, this struck me when i read it because i had just finished writing a book in which i assessed the influence of lincoln's legal training on his constitutional ideas during the war. and i devised an explanation that said that the sources of lincoln's constitutional ideas were three -- nationalism, the wig party, and the anti-slavery movement. and then you will notice all stemmed from lincoln's youth. so i sort of had -- was reminded
of the great importance of lincoln's youth. well, what was significant about lincoln's youth, we tend to think of the place that he spent it but the time is just as important as the place. he grew up on the frontier all right, but that didn't matter as much, perhaps, as when he grew up. in the aftermath of the war of 1812. i think that made a very great difference. lincoln was born in 1809, so he was 6 years old when that disastrous war ended. i think all intelligent americans at the time knew that we lost that war. and that we didn't really have a country. you don't have a country unless -- unless you have infrastructure. unless you have roads on which to march the troops. unless you have banks in which to dispatch the pay of the troops.
unless you have manufactured products. you just don't have a country. so after the war of 1812, the united states embarked on what historians call today the aiming of nationalism in the united states. and abraham lincoln imbibed from the spirit of the times from his youth a part of the spirit of this massive campaign to make america a nation. so abraham lincoln was a nationalist. the second source of lincoln's constitutional ideas was his situation as a youth living on hard scrabble farms with an illiterate father on the frontier, and this bred in him a need which was filled by the wig party. but you don't want to emphasize the political parts to this. it's absolutely existential for a boy who grew up on hard
scrabble farms as a poor youth, lincoln hated the frontier, incidentally. how are you going to get off of the frontier if there aren't any roads or any way to get a bank loan? so if you're ambitious, as lincoln was, what you need is a transportation network and the development of finance. you need manufactured goods. so if you want a good picture of lincoln's life depicted in these terms, i suggest you read what is the best lincoln book written in my generation "lincoln and the economics of the american dream." well, for this problem, the wig party had a solution, and that was for government sponsored economic development. there would be internal improvements. they would build in
infrastructure with government support. they would develop manufacturing by having protective tariffs. they would have a national bank to aggregate capital so that eventually somebody like lincoln could get a loan and are for other financial reasons. well, of course the constitution doesn't say that the congress can create roads and canals and banks. so if you believed in the wig platform, you were a broad constructionist. so lincoln was a nationalist and he was a broad constructionist. the third source of his ideas was, of course, the anti-slavery movement. now the constitution are for the anti-slavery movement was a terrible problem. it clearly sanctioned slavery.
slavery is mentioned three times in the constitution in the three-fifths compromise, in that the international slave trade couldn't be halted for 20 years, and then in the fugitive slave clause. so the anti-slavery movement has this terrible problem. you don't want the constitution against your movement, and so their answer to it was to say that the constitution never mentioned slavery by name. it referred to slavery only by some sort of euphemism like people held to service or labor. so anti-slavery people claimed that these circumlocutions proved the founding fathers were ashamed of slavery and they looked to a time in the future when it would end and when people would look back at the constitution and wouldn't be able to find any reminder of slavery in it. that was the anti-slavery review of the constitution. lincoln believed that. so he believed that the constitution was essentially a liberal document.
well, what you immediately notice about these ideas is, first, that they all -- crucial constitutional ideas, lincoln held before he became a lawyer in 1836. he could have had all of these ideas without stepping one foot inside a courtroom. when i read this review of mcclellan's report that said lincoln's faults as commander in chief stemmed from his being a lawyer, that really caught my attention. i doubted that. and i doubted that the law had such an influence on lincoln's conduct as commander in chief. but then i had a clue to where to look. if it's not from that, where do you look for the sources of lincoln's ideas as commander in chief? and i think you look to his youth, to his very early years, and that's what's new about what
i'm going to say today. i used to do what i think most military historians have done, and that is attempt to explain lincoln as commander in chief by what he learned during the civil war. a kind of tough on the job training. and so, like most other historians, i tended to play down, to note only in passing and generally to make light of lincoln's limited military experience before he became president and commander in
chief. i think most of us who are historians have done that because lincoln made light of it himself. in a very funny speech that he gave in congress in 1848, which is often called the military coattails speech, lincoln did have some military experience. of course he was a militiaman in the blackhawk indian war when he was 23 years old. but, to him, at least in this speech, it was downright laughable. he was, in the speech, making fun of presidential candidates who well exaggerated their military careers and in particular of the democrat lewis cast and so in it lincoln said, for example, by the way, mr. speaker, did you know that i'm a military hero? yes, sir. in the days of the blackhawk war, i fought, bled, and came away. speaking of the general's career reminds me of my own. i guess i surpassed him in charges upon the wild onions. if he saw any live fighting indians, it was more than i did. but i had a good many bloody struggles with the mosquitos. so lincoln said, you know, that it was a war in which he never saw a hostile indian or fired a
shot, but he was already good at manipulating the facts of his past to the immediate political situation. and it's a mistake to think that his experience was laughable. it was not. and it was not insignificant for his development as commander in chief. so here's an idea that was already in place before he became commander in chief. if you look at the testimony of lincoln's fellow militiamen in the blackhawk war, not of what lincoln recalled but of what his fellow soldiers recalled, you get a very different view. and you can see that lincoln got an eyeful of war. one of lincoln's fellow volunteers was a man named roy o'claire. he was one of the claire boys
and he described what lincoln and the rest of them saw on that campaign. this is something lincoln didn't describe. the indians had killed davis and pettigrew's families, hall's two girls with them. they were young women. we saw the scalps they had taken, scalps of old women and children. the indians scalped an old grandmother, held it on a ram rod that it might be seen and aggravate the whites. they cut one woman open, hung a child that they had murdered in the woman's belly, that they had gutted. strong men wept at this, hard-hearted men cried. well, in short, lincoln and the other volunteers saw plenty to provoke them, but another volunteer, william greene, in an oral history interview given in 1865, very shortly after lincoln's death, recalled this from the blackhawk war. an old indian came to camp and delivered himself up showing us an old paper written by lewis cass stating that the indian was a good and true man. many of the men of the army said we have come out to fight the
indians and, by god, we intend to. mr. lincoln got between the indian and the outraged men saying, men, this must not be. he must not be shot and killed by us. there's more than one witness to this event. so i think it's easy to see that lincoln's -- one of the first things lincoln knew long before he was commander in chief was that he must protect noncombatants from indiscriminate slaughter. and this respect for moral restraint remained one important aspect of lincoln's career as commander in chief. we too often forget that one of lincoln's main goals as president was to restrain
atrocity. as the president said himself in august 1863 while defending the emancipation proclamation, quote, armies the world over destroy enemy's property when they cannot use it and even destroy their own to keep it from the enemy. civilized belligerence do all in their power to help themselves or hurt the enemy except a few things barbarous or cruel. vanquished foes and noncombatants male and female. there's a very important idea. i'll admit that lincoln did learn some things on the job, but i think the most important one no one can figure out how he learned it. but he did know it. it's a very simple idea which i call understanding the nature of war before the germ theory of disease. and we know that lincoln knew
this from a conversation he had in the white house in december of 1862 just after the disastrous battle of fredericksburg. he had this conversation with his private secretaries and one of them, william o. stoddard, recalled it afterwards. we lost 50% more men than did the enemy and yet there is a sense in the awful arithmetic propounded by mr. lincoln. he says that if the same battle were to be fought over again every day through a week of days with the same relative results, the army under lee would be wiped out to its last man, the army of the potomac would still be a mighty host, the war would be over, the confederacy gone, and peace would be won at a smaller cost of life than it will be if the week of lost battles must be dragged out for yet another year of camps and marches and of deaths and hospitals rather than upon the field. no general yet can face the arithmetic, with but the end of the war will be at hand when he shall be discovered. now, the statistics from the
crimea, the statistics from our own commission, were available to everyone for all to see but how many leaders in the civil war really noticed that twice as many soldiers died in camp from disease as from enemy action? who else realized the awful arithmetic of which dictated a strategy of having no strategy? well, this idea of having no strategy but attack was reinforced by other parts, i think, of abraham lincoln's youth. and one of them i've talked about already, his impoverished youth on the frontier. in as much as anything, this gave lincoln a viewpoint on warfare that said that maneuver and strategy were not what you
should do and this was the big difference between him and george b. mcclellan. that's where their difficulties lay. now lincoln got this idea on the frontier because, well, it had no transportation network and, so, the rewards of hard work by people like his father, well, what if you grew a surplus? what good would it do? it just rotted in the fields. and so if you want to understand this, you want to look, for example, at a treatment of this in the book called market revolution. so if you grow a surplus and it's going to rot in the fields, why grow a surplus?
so the frontiersmen were lazy and instead of growing a surplus they opted for leisure only they called it hunting and fishing. and another thing they did was to move west thinking that better land would somehow solve their problem. well, this exasperated lincoln because their problem wasn't the need for more land. their problem was a need for infrastructure and economic development. and we know this very well from a letter that abraham lincoln wrote to his worthless brother-in-law -- pardon me -- yeah, his worthless stepbrother, excuse me, who was living in illinois and getting ready to move to missouri. so lincoln wrote him about this.
i cannot but think such a notion is utterly foolish. what can you do in missouri better than here? is the land any richer? can you there any more than here raise corn and wheat and oats without work? will anybody there any more than here do your work for you? if you intend to go to work, there is no better place than right where you are. if you do not intend to go to work, you cannot get along anywhere. squirming and crawling about from place to place can do no good. well, lincoln gave the same advice, more or less to george mcclellan in 1862 and said, quote, it is indefensible to you that you strike a blow. i am powerless to help you. you will do me the justice to remember i always insisted that going down the chesapeake bay in search of a field instead of fighting at or near manassas was only shifting and not surmounting a difficulty that we would find the same enemy and
the same or equal entrenchments at either place. so by contrast then, when in 1864 lincoln was explaining to general grant why he wasn't going to interfere with him as he had in the past he said that the problem had been that -- the problem previously had been, quote, prep procrastination on the part of commanders. procrastination. so, in other words, lincoln saw strategy and maneuver as squirming and crawling. one of the other things that lincoln liked about ulysses s. grant. he wrote a memorandum which said the army like the nation has become demoralized by the idea that the war is to be ended, the nation united, and the peace restored by strategy and not by hard, desperate fighting. so we can see lincoln wasn't combat shy. he had a high tolerance for bloody struggle.