tv The Civil War CSPAN April 12, 2015 2:01pm-3:02pm EDT
he was a soldier who came to the war late. it was perhaps important symbolically. what i like to say about the composition of those entourages is that you have an grants entourage a large number of his right-hand men. these are his administrative officers, aids the camp, most important generals. they are there to bear witness to the surrender at this joyous moment. and interestingly joyous moment for them, they give us perspective on what happened there that conflicts with each other. we don't have a detailed account by robert lincoln or by others. they differ in their interpretation of what happens. some of the officers feel that lee at this moment of surrender was capable of cordiality, others felt that lee was so tense and distraught that he was
not capable of cordiality. on the confederate side we have only one man with lee, charles marshall. [applause] there are not as many confederates who bear witness and he will be prolific and writing about the surrender scene after the war. one of the challenges of re-creating this moment down to the challenge of figuring out who was in the room and what they were thinking was partially the fact that grant wrote that famous memoir of 1885 and he tells us in the memoir how he felt at that moment. leave it not need such a story. he lived for only another five years after the surrender. lee's views have to be reconstructed from proximate sources, from those close to him , from the way people reacted to him. i will conclude by saying that
in the immediate aftermath lee was a very controversial figure. host: elizabeth barron, thank you so much for being here and speaking with our viewers. we are going to take you live now here to the main stage at the appomattox national historical monument. you are watching live coverage of american history tv on c-span3. >> there is no charm in any life unless the charm can be enjoyed. the love of country and the performance of the duty that i owed to it and to you is all that sheers me. there was, would worth asserted as he concluded his letter, only one outcome they could justify the sacrifice that he and his other soldiers had endured. "i trust that the smile of an approving god rests on each of us that have proven ourselves in
this struggle. in his own good kind -- good time god will smile upon her victory and return us to our friends. home. james would worth did not make it home to his wife. but his words speak to the aspirations of virtually every soldier of this war, union, confederate, or indeed of every war. appomattox was the start of a path home. not 20 minutes after general lee departed on april 9, 1865, william smith of michigan sat down to write a letter. just 20 minutes after the surrender, this is what he wrote. "the soldiers -- the souls of my boots have worn off. but i was bound to see the last ditch and i believe we have found it, for i now consider the rebellion virtually over. why? i feel as though i am almost home.
" confederates, of course had no joy from victory, but for them home was the great consolation. would my parents recognize me? would my dog remember me? would my children remember me? a northern reporter in savannah, georgia, reported the little children clinging to the knees of fathers they have forgotten and the delighted gatherings of family groups. but of course, reality is never as simple as all of that and the complexities of the world after appomattox or hinted at by the dilemma of another group of americans. former slaves. for them, what was home? the cabins of their former bondage? cities in the north or elsewhere? and this question -- singly a
simple idea of home and the very complicated story of our nation especially a nation ravaged by war, coming together. for the nation, the great question loomed -- what next? what, beyond appomattox? today to help us answer that question, we are joined by one of america's great historians david light -- blight. most of us in the history business follow the intellectual path blazed by others. most of us are able to make a small additions or slight corrections along the way to an idea or theme blazed, created or articulated by one with an intellectual spam far greater than our own. david white is one of the intellectual trailblazers the rest of us have followed.
his great work on the legacy of the civil war, embodied in his magnificent book, race and reunion, the civil war american memory, fundamentally reset the public conversation about the place of the civil war in american culture and society. david blight is the class of 1964 professor of history at yale university, a director at the environmental center for the study of slavery, resistance and abolition. his list of publications and good works is very long and includes a book special to me -- "a slave no more: the powerful memoir of two slaves. including one from fredericksburg, annette -- a man named john washington. i have had the great honor to work with david over the last many years and i can tell you this with certainty, there are few historians on earth whose work is built upon a greater sense of humanity and historical justice than david blight.
it is my great pleasure and honor to present to you dr. david blight and "after appomattox." [applause] dr. blight: thank you so much john. thank you all for coming this afternoon. you are the loyal diehards. you have all been here all day watching the magnificent tableau of the reenactors in front of our eyes. they are irresistible. i have already watched two marches and stacking's of the rifles and there is going to be a third that i'm told is even bigger right after we finish year, so i will try to get done in a hurry. not to be missed. i want to first honor and praise the national parks service. ernie price and the incredible
staff of appomattox, john and all of the other part service staff and battlefield types. i have seen people here today from gettysburg and many other places. [applause] you've pulled off an amazing event. i have been calling home and saying -- you have to see this to believe it. watch c-span, i keep saying, and maybe you will believe it. last night i don't know how many of you were here, on this stage quires from all the black churches, huge quires performing old spirituals in the old way. reverend jones conducted a march symbolic of the living history funeral for hannah reynolds, the former slave woman killed on the morning of april 9 right near here. but no one ever knew where she was buried, so she was given her do here last night.
it is the most remarkable thing i have ever seen at the national parks service. frankly. it shows us a great deal of how the parks service itself has come so far in trying to broaden and strengthen the way that they interpret this pivotal event in our history. now, everyone who came in here today, and anyone from the southside virginia knows -- the red lugs are blooming. now, i'm from connecticut, where they are not blooming yet, so it has been special for me. but the way that nature has painted the red buds on the budding spring green this week is just magnificent. we need to remember that they were blooming and budding 150 years ago -- 100 and 50 years ago today as well. confederate soldiers, union
soldiers, black soldiers, 5900 african-american soldiers were here. 4600 slaves, former slaves in this county alone in appomattox, they were also watching the bloom on the spring green of the trees all around the region. we have to try to imagine -- what did that mean to them? to the confederacy it must've been bittersweet at best. maybe horrible. open hearts, broken bodies. they were starving. what does the red blood of spring mean to them? to the union soldiers who were going home, they were going home with victory. they could see it in the rent blood and dogwoods that followed . the renewal of spring the renewal of the country, the renewal of spirit and life -- they were going to survive, most of them. for the african-american former slaves they must have seen something only perhaps unique to
them. and might not have been about redemption yet. they did not know where their life was going, but they knew that they had just experienced a tremendous change of their lives . that renewal of spring meant a new beginning like no other. now -- it is magnificent, nsa, a pamphlet written in 1961, the great southern poet and novelist historian, robert padawan said many great things about the civil war. start with the red war and legacy of the civil war in 1961. in it he said that the civil war draws us like an oracle, darkly portentous and personal, as well
as national in fate. that is a mouthful, but what did he just say? [laughter] soldiers are shouting, drums will be beating, and we will hear that trump trump on the track of their feet. what did warren just say? that this event, for americans is our oracle. what does that mean? he meant it in the greek sense. i think he did. he meant it is the place that we go. it is the event around which we gather to try to ask questions. to get wisdom. look the civil war, and if you are here on this day in this many numbers? somehow this event and this place, among many others, is probably an oracle for you of some kind.
i cannot suggest exactly what it means to anyone of you. but if the civil war is our oracle, the place we go to ask -- who are we? what are we? what were we then and what have we become? where is that oracle for you? it might be this gorgeous green spring landscape. it might be cemetery ridge at gettysburg. it might be stone mountain in georgia to some people or monument avenue in richmond to some people. it might be the egg us the same garden, the most significant of all the memorials, the sholem ariel -- shaw memorial on the boston common. it might be the lincoln memorial. perhaps to the most people over time since 1922 that lincoln memorial has served as a kind of national secular cathedral.
a place that people go to ask -- so, mr. lincoln? what did it mean? you can look up on the walls and read his answers. gettysburg or the second inaugural. the oracle. yes, we have come to feel the authenticity of what the reenactors are re-creating. yes, we come to commune with the places where this happened. but deep down i hope we are also asking -- what did it mean? why did they fight? what were the results in the aftermath? again, think of the reenactors. they try so hard to get inside the personal experience of the soldier, right? some of you are reenactors. they live it as authentically as they can.
thousands and thousands of us as historians and readers try, in every way that we can, to get inside the world of the people of the 1860's. we think that we do. we get close. we read there hundreds of thousands of letters. john just quoted from a couple of them. we think we know them because we study them so much. we find their voices. but think for a moment about what we cannot know. what do you think they would think of us? how would they know us? if a few of them could arrive and walked down this aisle? how would they know us? well, they would be utterly bewildered and astonished, of course, by lots of our world especially our technology. they wouldn't get it. we've all got universal
communication in our pockets. they wouldn't get that. they would get industrialization. they would get cities. they wouldn't get airplane travel yet. nope. they would get some things about our society. but you know? i can't prove this, obviously, it's counterfactual, but if they were to watch or listen to a discussion on television or read the newspaper about our politics , about the great issues of our own time -- a debate on television among pundits or politicians -- would they really be mystified? would they feel lost and adrift? they might not. they might wonder -- my gosh, they can't seem to stop talking about race. it seems to be all over the
place here. they have all kinds of writing now and my god, the black guy is the president said -- god they got problems with race. if they kept listening to more political commentary they would perhaps realize that we have never gotten over states right and federalism. they would find it all over commentary, debates in the radio waves. debate after debate of state sovereignty and the relationship to the federal government. they would say -- my god, they never got over federalism and it seemed like the civil war put that to rest but by god, it didn't. they might be surprised. if they listened to our politics. john quoted from a couple of soldiers letters. i want to quote from one as well as, taking us back to one of those people we tried to novak.
his name is uriah. i love that name. no one has that name anymore. that's a 19th-century name. a good, biblical name. he was a 21-year-old junior at yell. when fort sumter happened he could not wait to get into the war. he enlisted in new york cavalry regiment because it was not a connecticut one ready and available yet. he dropped out of yale in his junior year. he had grown up on a farm near guilford, connecticut. it made him a bit unusual in the union army, he had grown up in an abolitionist family. he wrote to his brother during that first year of the war -- if i had money enough to raise a
few hundred contraband meaning escaped slaves, and armed them, i would get up and insurrection among the slaves. i told the captain i would desert to do it." that is a bit of bravado, i expect. he did not lead any mutinies that we know of or organize a set of contraband's for insurrection. at the root -- the letters kept going. in 1861 and 1862 he starts denouncing lincoln and denouncing the administration. he's angry that the war is not officially a war to free the slaves. he does not get it. why are we not fighting to free the slaves? he writes home early in 1862. "this will settle the question as to whether the constitution
or the rebellion shall triumph. the great heart wound, slavery will not be reached. " " he's impatient. he's angry. he writes to his brother saying that he wishes he had the moral courage to desert because the union army had not yet begun officially to fight against slavery. he did not desert. about one year later, in march of 1863, obviously in the wake of the emancipation proclamation and the official declaration of this war against slavery, he transformed. he refused the furlough. not many soldiers did that either. to stay and fight. he writes home "i do not intend to shrink now that there really
is something to fight for. i mean, freedom. since the first of january and has become more and more evident to my mind that the war is henceforth to be conducted on a different basis. those who profess to love the union are not so anxious to preserve slavery, while those who opposed to -- oppose the war technology in all action that its continuance will put an end to this accursed system. so, then, i am willing to remain and in dewar whatever may fall to my share. " he was decorated for bravery three times and promoted by his commanding officers. especially the bravery at chancellorsville in 1863. he joined a connecticut cavalry unit shortly after that. after the lifting of the seizure petersburg his unit, his connecticut cavalry unit, was
actually coming south right down through this region. they began at harpers ferry in early february and they marched -- they stopped for a while in charlottesville, north of us. he complains in a diary entry that some of his men had been reckless and overdone it in the burning of a bridge and some houses. they kept marching and kept going. he complains at another point in his diary that one of his buddies lost his copy of shakespeare. and then he talks about eating every day. meditations on the essence of christianity. march 2, he rejoiced over victory in waynesboro, the capture of 975 confederate prisoners, 14 guns and ate battle flags. march 3 and march 4, they passed
out and recorded in the diary that they passed by monticello the home of jefferson. on march 4 year knowledges in his diary on the day of the second inauguration that he remembers about four years earlier reading the first inaugural address among his college mates. then there was about three and a half weeks of no diary entries. because they were constantly on the march across virginia to get to petersburg. they never got to petersburg. they did not need to after the siege was list -- lifted. they encounter the confederate forces at 54. the last entry in his diary was march 30. it reads "going to camp, a section of my company very wet. i clean off my horse and go to
water with him. i went out alone, intellectual clearness. what might amanda do -- a man do with this habitual state of mind? " two days later he was killed at the cavalry charge at the fork eight it -- eight days before the surrender at appomattox. his name is enshrined at the yell war memorial. every day before class as i walk through there, i rubbed his name. i start every course at yell bite telling that story. i urge my students, when they walk through, to do the same. so, why do we come here? why appomattox?
as you know, it became a watchword. it became a marker in time. it became a flashbulb memory. it became a 9/11 or a pearl harbor. it became the kennedy assassination. it became the news that you never forgot where you were when you heard appomattox. the word, as much as any other place name in the civil war, certainly as much as at least as gettysburg or antietam or vicksburg or some of those major turning point in the war. appomattox took on a powerful symbolic, lasting significance as something that meant the end of this, but it also meant the end of one world and the beginning of another. something was over. something new had begun.
now on november 5, 2008, the morning after barack obama was elected president, thomas friedman in the new york times a regular columnist, very good one -- on the morning after that election he wrote a column called "unfinished business." drawing language from the gettysburg address. the opening sentence of the column -- and this is what columnist do. the rest of the column takes care of itself. his topic sentence was -- basically -- last night, 10 p.m. grant park, chicago, illinois united states of america, the united -- the american civil war ended."
then he went on to say that pennsylvania had been the state that put lincoln over the top. that gettysburg had been a great turning -- he misused all of that as he went on with the column but what was friedman doing there? understandably? i think he was trying to represent this urge that we have in this country to get that civil war over with. to find the time, a place, a moment, and declare it ended. done. he probably thought -- i have never had this moment. a black man just got elected president. there was disbelief. there was also shock. and probably hatred. 52% were crying for one reason, maybe 48% were crying for another reason. i don't know, i didn't do that
poll. but what freeman may be representing there is this very old american dilemma now to wish that that war ended. to get it over and done with. we do come to appomattox to feel that, don't we? we want appomattox to sit still. to stop it. to make us solemn. in this place does. i have noticed, all of us lining the roadways during the stacking of arms and we all go stone silent. just as he said in the ending of that great book. he said that appomattox became despite thousands of soldiers with their accoutrements and weapons, it became a place of enormous silence. that is what we want the civil war to be. we want it to be done with.
for those of us with an eye open, those of us aware of our political debate if we were sitting with the people from 1865 who might join us today to watch the debate with us about something, we might be having to explain something to them. -- why are you still having all of these debates about race? why are you still having all of these debates about federalism? now, i don't have much time left , but what i want to leave you with is basically this -- james baldwin, the great african american essayist, novelist, the voice of the civil rights movement -- at least the written voice of it, was always writing about the legacies of slavery.
he wrote a line in 1962 that is frankly very poignant, saying that the problem the way that americans use words about their history was that they use the words to cover up the sleeper but never to wake him up. we sometimes want our history to make us get a good nights sleep. to not give us nightmares. to cover us up. give me a history that makes me feel good. give me a history that makes me comfortable. give me a history that i want to live in. give me a history where i know myself in it. do not give me a history that challenges and shocks me. >> can you give us a quick count?
>> i will give you a quick count. 1, 2, 3 -- dr. blight: if you look around, if there were verdicts at appomattox -- and there were -- someone really lost this war here and someone really lost -- really won this war -- that the honor to honor as it was cold and -- called among soldiers was just that -- and it should have been. that was a soldier surrender. this was a military surrender, not a political treaty. what grant proposed in terms was not a political treaty. that had to come later in something called reconstruction. the verdict of appomattox said -- the united states had just won the civil war. it had to somehow now put the union back together without a
blueprint to do it. it had just reached 4 million slaves from bondage overnight in a historical time to something called freedom and something called -- some kind of civil and political liberty. how to do that? every day on our front pages today on our news commentary programs, blogs, gadgets all around us -- open your gadgets. you will find a debate about the racial legacies of the verdict of appomattox. you will find a debate about federalism. the action in american politics today is not really in the u.s. congress. it's in the state legislature. it's in the state legislatures where we are experiencing a roiling revival that has been
going on for three decades of states rights doctrine. we have people running for president now who are. when advocates of states rights doctrine. they advocate doctrine, procedures, meanings of the constitution that some people who won here had some reason to believe had been buried in the slaughter of the civil war but were not. the reason that we are still have these roiling debates about race and about federalism is because they probably are each a questions of the american condition. human equality. a permanent dilemma. of the human condition. we have come light-years since 150 years ago on that question.
our friends from 1865 would not really get that. but we still have a long way to go to protect the right to vote. we still have a long way to go for all other kinds of forms of equality. and we are having, as never before, at least in the last 50 years as never before -- a vigorous debate about the relationship of the states to federal power and just what that federal government that was saved here, preserved here given a rebirth here -- has the power to do. the legacies of appomattox -- the legacies of the civil war are as alive as the rest of us. though often not as beautiful. but they are even more important. because they are permanent.
i will end with my friend, james baldwin. he said that it is easy to declare men free before god. it is always much harder to declare them free and equal before other men. thank you. [applause] host: you are watching "american history tv" on c-span3, where we are watching -- live from the appomattox historical park in appomattox, virginia. we just heard from yale historian david light, speaking to the audience here, and in a few minutes we will give you a chance to talk to him. we will open up the phone lines again.
as we continue our coverage here from appomattox. all of that, coming up on c-span3. we wanted to show you some of our conversations over the last day or so with some of the historians here. >> tell us your name, where are you from? john: my name is john paul and i am from atlanta georgia. i have been doing living history as a volunteers and 1972. >> what makes this one so special to you? john: i have had the privilege of being in many of these events and i felt like i wanted to close it out by being here on the day and the times that the
surrender took place. >> why not tell us a bit about the unit you are with today and the character you are playing over these couple of days. >> i represent a confederate artilleryman. the army of northern virginia, as you will see in a few minutes, they surrender their guns and parked them, i am here representing that artillery. >> how do you prepare for these kinds of events? >> research. do your research, read about what took place, allow yourself to become comfortable. try to betray someone from the past as accurately as you can. as living historians our goal is to speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. >> in doing the research of artillery men in particular, do one or two stick out? john: as a confederate we typically portray the alabama battery, the battery on top of
kennesaw mountain first opened fire on union forces. >> when it got to appomattox the confederates were obviously in rough shape. what was the artillery like the point? john: it had been greatly reduced in numbers. it was very short on horses and battery wagon such as that. so it was not as up to full strength at all. confederate batteries have been reduced down from four guns, shorter than the union sixgun down to two or even one gun representing a battery. >> what was the general sentiment from the union that you were involved in, april 9 1865? >> what we thought about most and talked about most was what these men were experiencing that night. you know, on both sides there had to be some trepidation.
on the confederate side, certainly, there was probably a sense of relief and despair. those soldiers who surrendered the 25,000 or so who could stick it out, you wonder if they knew that they had a home to go to or what type of situation they would find when they returned home. >> looking at it 150 years later , what is the lesson of appomattox? >> the lesson is that this really is the turning point in american history where we go from being these individual states to being truly the united states. i think an even bigger point is that if we do not remember our history, we may be prone to repeat it. >> we talked about your part in living history. it's easier, i guess, when there are 150 years to remember beyond these dates the 150th closing of the civil war, effectively. how do you continue that with other generations? john: we hope to find young
people who will come along and do living history with us. we use history clubs and that sort of thing to recruit young people. i do a tremendous number of school programs and field trips where they come out. our goal is to get children and young adults interested in history. they may not get interested in civil war history, but as long as they are interested in the form of history we can feel good about what we do. >> thank you for joining us. john: thank you for having me it's been my pleasure. >> tell us your name and where you're from. thomas: many missed thomas and i am from cleveland, ohio. >> tell us about the soldier that you are playing today and the unit he would have been with . thomas: this weekend i am not portraying any specific individual. i am a generic union infantry colonel. >> what is the specialness of appomattox to you as a person who participates in a lot of
these events? >> it was the beginning of the end of the civil war. everyone things that when lee surrendered, the war ended which was not true. there was still scattered fighting up until the early fall. but it was the end of the division of the united states and the beginning of the reunification of the country, if you will. >> you have had a couple of days to spend with the folks who participate in this living history here. what is the conversation about? >> just the realization of the significance that we are here on this site 150 years later to the day of the actions happening. >> do you yourself know of relatives or ancestors of yours who may have fought on the yankee or confederate side? thomas: sadly i don't have any relatives and i know for sure i had none in the confederacy.
>> what got you interested in this and the first race? thomas: good question. as long as i can remember i have been interested in the civil war. past life and all that, i can answer, but i've always had a lifelong interest in the civil war. >> aside from being the event that ends the civil war effectively, how does this differ from the other battle experiences you have gone out to participate in? thomas: primarily because this is not a battle, it is more or less a ceremony. it was the stacking of arms and taking risk at offending my southern brethren, the surrendering of lee's army. so, other than a brief action on thursday the significance of this is the cessation of the army of northern virginia. >> you said that you are pretty much playing a generic union soldier as part of the events here. what about the people who are all around us here?
what are folks asking? thomas: just asking why we are here, where we are from. basically a lot of the questions you are asking. what got us interested? why do we do it? some of us a been sleeping in mud for nights and we will do it again. at my age that is not what most people pick as a recreational activity. >> typically during one year how many weekends do you spend participating in an event? thomas: my schedule, probably half a dozen or eight. being from cleveland, this is a 9 hour drive so this is probably the outside perimeter of my activities, but we do a lot of things in southern pa and maryland, about six hours from home and then we also do local events back in ohio. >> it seems like a substantial and steady crowd. does that surprise you? thomas: no.
yesterday, yes, the weather was absolutely foul. but today? no. again, people are still in dressed in their history. we are what we are today because of what happened 150 years ago and people still want to find out about that. who we are, where we came from, and why we are here today. >> are there lessons that you look back to that are applicable today? thomas: absolutely. without getting political, a lot of things happened during the civil war that still apply today. one general one is that when people stop talking and compromising, they start shooting. that better not ever happen again. >> thomas, thank you for joining us. thomas: thank you. >> tell us your name and where you're from. tyler: my name is tyler mink from baltimore. >> tell us about the soldier you
are playing today. tyler: there was a generic confederacy -- at generic confederate major, he was the same age as i was. >> before we started i am as you for union officer because of your dark gray coat. tell me about your uniform. tyler: a lot of fabric is being imported from europe. there is a manufacturer named kate lives in ireland and is shipping in fabric from the u.k.. it is normally what you would think of as confederate gray. these are three layers of braid
it is for a major. one for the tenants, 34 kernels. it is the same pattern that exists today if you look at marine corps dress uniforms. i have the same thing on my cap. three layers of braid for a major. these would have been done by hand. officers uniforms were privately purchased by officers, historically, so they would have been made by taylor's. >> who does yours? tyler: i don't remember the name of the guy who made this one but he did a really good job. >> you have played as you're playing a confederate major today. have you taken on other roles? tyler: i am with the fife and drum corps, i had came originally as a fiver. >> what got you hitch rested in living history to begin with? tyler: i've always been interested in history, material
culture, and things from the past. i thought that it looked like fun and it combines my passion for material culture with getting to teach people about history. >> how is this event organized? how do you know what to do and when? with the signing of the letters of surrender their at the mclean house, how do you know where to be? tyler: the simple answer is you either get told or you have some sort of schedule that you need to follow. having an accurate timepiece is really important out here. make sure that your watch is wound and that you know where you are going. >> meaning that your act -- actual watch winds? tyler: yes, it winds by key. >> bringing it out now, other than the physical things how do you maintain the mental sort of mindset of being in 1865?
tyler: especially if i'm answering the questions of people i'm not doing what's called first person. i'm not pretending like i'm in 1865. it's a lot easier to relate to people if you're not attending like -- what is this microphone? it's a lot easier to answer questions. but while were in the field one of the things that keeps you sane is to remember that it was done in the past and if that they could do it, you could do it, too. just camping out and everything, this is why we came out here. if you get rained on, that's just part of the deal. >> what brought you out into doing these kinds of events to begin with? tyler: i wanted to start as a musician. i taught myself how to play fife and i joined the fife and drum corps. i've come out for about 14 years now, it's on most like a family. we just go everywhere as a group.
>> have you been here before? >> i have not been to the park before, no. >> what do you think the takeaway is? what is the lesson of appomattox? tyler: a lot of people focus on what ended here today. that this was the last night or the last day of the confederacy. it is not so much about what is ending as what is beginning. this is a new birth for freedom in the united states. a day of unification. and it really is the true beginning of the civil rights and that leads us all the way to the present day. they made a move today that would change american history forever. and profoundly change the lives of millions in this country. >> we have been talking with tyler mink, thank you so much. >> thank you. >> we are back in two on "american history tv."
it is the 150th anniversary of the surrender at appomattox. we are at the appomattox court house national historical park we will talk to the man u may have seen just a few moments ago, david blight, the author of a number of books -- including race and union in the civil war. we are going to obviously give you a chance to join the conversation and offer your comments -- here's how to do that -- if you are in the eastern or central time zones, the numbers 202 -- 798 -- 8900. host: you have written about the end of appomattox as being the beginning of a new calendar of time for freed slaves. what does that mean to them? >> there were actually some
african-american leaders in the wake of the civil war that even suggested 1865 is the beginning of a new calendar. they did not literally invent a new calendar, but it meant that life had begun a new. that a new history had begun. in some cases, actually, they viewed it in biblical terms. that somehow god in the old testament tradition had answered history and torn up jerusalem torn up peoples government. the people's society, destroyed it, it had to be made a new. emancipation was viewed as that kind of turning point. it meant that black folks now at least had an opportunity. they did not know where it was going but they had an opportunity to live in a new history. that is what i meant in the new book. to some people appomattox represented not just a marker in time, but the kind of beginning
of a new historical time itself. host: this covers your recent article entitled "the civil war isn't over." and capsule lies that for us, if you could. dr. blight: the shooting war ended here, the armies surrendered and the war did indeed decisively end slavery and save the union. but the great issues for how you would transform the emancipation of 4 million people into some kind of civil and political liberty -- how you would reunite north and south -- readmit 11 former confederate states back into the union -- how you would form a new union or a new constitution had yet to be determined. we had been living out to broad kinds of legacies ever since.
legacies about race, the quality before law and the legacy of states rights and federalism that are today all over our political culture. both of these are still at the heart and center of what we debate in this country. host: you talk about people wanting the civil war to be done with. what do you mean by that? dr. blight: it is the most divisive and bloody event in our history. it represents the biggest dilemmas in our history. representing the fact that we are the nation that owned slaves . the people and then the nation that owned slaves for two and a half centuries. representing the fact that we had the most violent emancipation in all of the 20 some odd nations and empires that freed the slaves between the late 18th century and 19 century. it's also the largest bloodletting in our history. we have never experienced loss on this scale at any other time. that is all because of a set of
historical nightmares that people would like to put to rest . they would like to see a piece of this landscape that is so beautiful as a way that their history ought to be instead of, you know, industry full of vexing problems that are left over from an event that ended here. host: david blight is the director of the study for slavery resistance and abolition . your calls momentarily, one quick question about reconstruction -- how well do you think it is taught in american high schools and colleges? dr. blight: much better now than when i was in school. i did not learn much at all about it. but it is still that hole in american history. that decade, that decade and a half that most people would just as soon slip past and get through.
it's so vexing and conflicted full of skulduggery and corruption. it is especially full of racial violence. the most widespread use of terror and political violence in our history. it is the time where the united states lurched ahead with a tremendous experiment in racial democracy. but that experiment in the 13, 14th, 15th amendment, was in effect if heeded by the rising democratic party in the south and what the south came to call southern redemption. reconstruction was overthrown and in some ways actually defeated. it is not a heroic time. it is not as attractive if what you want from history is the story of your triumph. and your pleasure. it is a story full of a kind of political animosity and conflict
almost like no other time we have ever had. host: we have several calls waiting period phil, good afternoon. caller: i was going to ask you -- i know that lee declined the command of the union army or getting out of the war. did he ever express regret over that? maybe save himself a lot of carnage? suffering? did lee and grant have a relationship before the war? dr. blight: they had vague memories of meeting during the mexican war, but they were of different ranks and ages, as you probably know. did lee ever experience regret over taking command of the confederate forces? not that i know of, although i am not a lee biographer.
there are those out there who would know those details. to my knowledge, no, he did not. i think that what you did have was a man who when he made that choice but you had was a fierce confederate nationalists. he fought to the bitter end. he made the important decision not to before these troops. that is important. caller: hello, professor. thank you for dedicating your career to this wonderful topic. i know that you have looked at the african-american experience
before and after the civil war. basically at the end of the civil war and the experiences that african-americans have had up through today what of the biggest factors? dr. blight: that is viewed question. the 14th amendment is where you have to start, that magnificent clause about equality before the law. first of all, you would not have it under which all of us live. that is the irrelevant holds us together, legally. you would not have that without the emancipation of 4 million slaves? 10,000 definitions from 10,000 different interests. it is a long story with many stops along the way.
the second greatest of the civil rights movement 100 years later. the dream metaphor in the martin luther king speech does not come until the last three minutes. the first 14 minutes are all about the centennial of emancipation and the civil war. he repeated over and over repeats the refrain, in fact that the negro is not free. and they were not. segregation meant that people were not free. now, we change the constitution again fundamentally. it reshaped our relationship to rights movements, leaving aside
the collection of police violence. the voting rights act is once again back on the table and under attack and the key provision of that voting rights act was stricken out in a 54 vote two years ago, meaning that the federal justice department does not have authority over judging what those former segregated state do with voting rights. all the unique to know about why we are in this dilemma at the moment is to look at what many states did, not just in the south, but what many states did in the state legislatures controlled by republican majorities right after the supreme court brought down that decision. they immediately passed some kind of voter id laws which ultimately are designed in one way or