tv Discussion on Robert E. Lee as 1865 Person of the Year CSPAN April 26, 2015 9:37am-10:31am EDT
"time" magazine selects a person who has had the most influence in the previous 12 months. if the same question was posed in 1865, who would "time" have selected as person of the year? the library of virginia and the american civil war museum invited five historians to their nominees. next, a. wilson greene nominates confederate general robert e. lee. this is just over 50 minutes. >> ok. let's go ahead and get started. good -- i should say cold morning, everyone. let's go ahead and get started. good -- i should say cold morning, everyone. i'm the co-ceo of the civil war museum. on behalf of my co-ceo kristi coleman and the museum in thely braer of virginia, i want to welcome you here to 1865. that is to welcome to the 2015 symposium on the person of the year for 1865. charlie mcdowell former
richmond columnist wrote that february is the cruelest month. and we've been lucky with this event since we moved it to february in 2006. luck ran out this year however because it's a little chilly outside, and we're supposed to have bad weather later this afternoon. so we're keeping track of the weather, but you should stay warm and cozy inside, and stay in because it will be fun today. some of you have been with us for all five years of this rather unusual, and we hope educational and entertaining series of symposia. we thank you for your arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude. and for remaining steadfast to the last. we'll be issuing parole passes to you at the end of the day. [ laughter ] actually, we'll be issuing ballots so that you can make your choice of the person or persons whom you believe most
influenced or best personified the events of 1865. as i keep reminding everyone every year the designation of person of the year is not a popularity contest or a testimonial to character, but a designation of significance. for example in this audience last year, william tecumseh sherman was chosen. after when he was introduced, there was a groan from the audience, but then they all voted for him. and i am here to tell you that william tecumseh sherman would not have been selected for mr. congeniality. we have a great lineup of speakers today. as always you will learn a lot by listening to their programs, and enjoy yourself as you do. we hope that you'll all stay to the end despite the weather. we'll make it possible for you to stay for the entire symposium. we'll keep it moving along.
if one of the speakers runs a little bit short we're going to take a break and start again. so ignore the clock/calendar on your programs. we may move a little faster than that. but before you get too comfortable, could i please ask anybody with a cell phone in their pocket or their pocketbook to turn it off. okay. with that -- as a matter of fact, i need to turn mine off. [ laughter ] you have in your program handout brief biographies of the speakers with particular emphasis on their credentials and publications. i'll not be repeating the speakers' biographies except to give the people watching us on c-span some basic information about our speakers. c-span has been with us all five years and we'd like to welcome them and their viewers back again for a great day of education and reflection. so our first speaker is a.
wilson greene. he is the founding executive director of pamplin historical park of the museum of the civil war soldier. the predecessor of today's civil war trust, the great battlefield preservation organization. far beyond that, will is a popular and very busy civil war battlefield tour guide not only for the petersburg campaign, the area of his greatest expertise and the subject of a forthcoming multi-volume history, but other theaters of the war, including his current home in chattanooga. will earned his m.a. in history at louisiana state university, where he was a student of a new up-and-coming professor named william cooper who will be speaking later today. so ladies and gentlemen, with no further ado, will greene. [ applause ]
>> well, good morning everyone. thank you, wade for that kind introduction. wade told me the last two years sherman won last year, and grant won the year before. and he also mentioned the bad weather that's coming. this is rich mobbed virginia. the bad weather is coming. let's make it easy. i'm representing robert e. lee. and we can just vote now and all go home. [ laughter ] before the snow hits. it's not often that we venerate a loser. especially someone who lost a war. but robert e. lee stands out as an example of an american hero best known for presiding over the total and unequivocal defeat. although lee lost battles in
each of the five years of the -- five calendar years of the civil war, there can be no doubt that his worst defeat the ultimate defeat that resulted in the surrender of his army, and the practical end of the liability of his would-be nation, occurred in the series of engagements in march and april of 1865. yet, i think there are at least six distinct reasons while in the midst of this abject failure, and its painful aftermath, that we should consider robert edward lee as the most outstanding person of 1865. so, first, let's consider lee as the symbol of confederate hope for his army, and his people. as the calendar year turned to 1865, any objective observer would conclude that the prospects for southern independence had never looked more grim.
the army of tennessee had been destroyed, the battles of franklin and nashville. the shenandoah valley had almost been wiped clean of confederate resistance in the autumn. the last of the southern gulf ports had been closed. savannah had been captured. georgia made the howl in large amphibious force threatened in wilmington. only around richmond and petersburg did it seem invincible invincible. as long as lee remained in the field, southerners in and out of the army could maintain the hope that their cause would ultimately succeed. artilleryist alexander wrote, nothing gave me much concern, so long as i knew that general lee was in command. i am sure there can never have been an army with more supreme
confidence in its commander than our army had in general lee. we look forward to victories under him as confidently as successive sunrises. irishman thomas connelly wrote in march of 1865, that lee was, quote, the idol of the soldiers and the hope of this country. and he spoke of the prestige which surrounds his person and the almost fanatical belief of his judgment and capacity which is the one idea of our entire people. the devotion of lee's soldiers is the stuff of legend. even during the darkest days of the winter of 1865. i have resolved to fight as long as marsh robert has the corporal's guard or until he says give up. the sergeant in the 31st georgia. he is the man i shall follow, or die in the attempt. and when word of lee's surrender reached remote parts of the
south, many equated the end of lee's army with the death of the confederacy, even though several great clad armies remained in the field. everybody seems to be ready to give up hope, wrote one woman expressing typical sentiments when learning of appomattox. the life of confederate states is gone when general lee and his army have surrendered. one other figure in the war, especially when prospects seemed so deem commanded this level of devotion. that level of trust. as henry wise famously told lee on april 6th during the retreat from petersburg there has been no country, general, for a year or more. you are the country to these men. they have fought for you. they have shivered through a long winter for you. without pay or clothes or care of any sort, their devotion to you and faith in you have been
the only things which have held this army together. if you demand the sacrifice there are still thousands who will die for you. only rarely in history has one man so symbolized the hopes of an entire people the stature certainly equates to greatness. now, secondly let's examine lee as general in chief of all confederate armies. as we well know lee and grant were not peers until february 6th, 1865. when the confederate congress and a reluctant commander in chief, jefferson davis approved the creation of the office of general in chief and named lee to the post. lee had not actively sought the position, and davis saw the creation of the rank as a potential infringement on his strategic prerogatives. still, such was lee's prestige. and so well did lee understand
and appease the president, that davis ultimately set aside his objections, and agreed to promote lee. as personally flattering as this may have been in reality, there was little lee could do on the chessboard of war. but as a morale booster the assignment possessed real value. providence raises up the man for the time, editorialized the richmond dispatch. and a man for this occasion we believe has been raised up in robert e. lee. the washington of the second american revolution, upon whom from the beginning all eyes are fixed as the future deliverer of his country. edward grant a soldier serving in southwest virginia, spoke for most of the boys in gray when he wrote that lee's appointment has inspired our country with more hope courage and confidence than it has had for a year or two. it puts us all in a good humor, and good spirits. and for myself i feel more
confident of our final triumph than for several months past. lee returned the confidence bestowed upon him by the public in accepting the position. deeply impressed with the difficulties and responsibilities of this new job, and humbly invoking the guidance of almighty god, i express the fortitude of the army sustained by the patriotism and firmness of the people, confident that their united efforts under the blessing of heaven will secure peace and independence, he wrote. now, what possible influence could and did lee have in the 63 days he served as general in chief. an appointment of staff officer called, quote, a mockery of rank no longer of any value. i count at least four accomplishments credited to lee during his brief tenure as general in chief. first, he secured davis'
permission to name joseph e. johnston as the commanding general to oppose sherman in the carolinas. lee knew full well that the president despised johnston and he carefully framed johnston's appointment as subordinate and beholding to him to lee. if johnston stumbled lee would take responsibility not the president. and davis acquiesced swallowing hard and approved the appointment, he wrote, in the hope that general johnston's soldierly qualities may be made serviceable to his country, and when acting under general lee's orders, and that in his new position those defects which i have found manifested by him when serving as an independent commander will be remedied by the control of the general in chief. second was lee's role in supporting the enlistment of slaves into the confederate army. lee's advocacy of such a drastic step in a slaveholder's republic
turned the tide of opinion in favor of this desperate expedience, particularly within the army. for example corporal chandler wrote, if general lee is in favor of it i will cast my vote in favor of it. i will give him anything he wants for gaining our independence. lee wrote, i think we could at least do as well with them as the enemy. and he attaches great importance to their assistance. under good officers and good instruction, i do not see why they should not become soldiers. now, of course, we'll never know if lee was right. because the confederate congress approved the measure too late to be put into effect. but lee's pragmatism and willingness to step outside the bounds of southern preaccepts demonstrates his devotion to achieving the nation's independence. third, lee's measures to combat desertion. during the winter of 1864 and
'65, desertion from all confederate armies, including the army of northern virginia, was a serious problem. lee again showed pragmatic leadership in issuing general orders number two in mid-february, a carrot and stick measure that provided a period of amnesty for 20 days, so that absent soldiers could quote, wipe out the disgrace and escape the punishment of their crimes. while promising that men still awol after that period would suffer such punishment as the courts may impose and no application for clemency will be entertained. in addition to instituting army policy, lee reached out to combat the cultural factors that contributed to so much to the high desertion rate, namely, the encouragement of desertion by dispirited civilians. because many of his absent soldiers, certainly not all, but many hailed from nearby north carolina. lee addressed governor vance in
raleigh on february 24th that victory could still be achieved if all worked diligently and zealously and the tried people would be induced to make one more effort to bear their sufferings a little longer and regain some of the spirit that marked the first two years of the war. now, added to his appointment of joe johnston his advocacy of enlisting slaves and lessons to lessen desertion it's notable for what lee did not do. historian charles rowland has written, quote, that only by the most drastic means could lee have made his new authority tell. only by a passionate appeal in his own name to the spirit of the south only by commandeering the railroads and provisions only by abandoning richmond in order to concentrate against infractions of the enemy, making
himself as a dictator in ancient rome could lee prolong the life of the confederacy, for at this stage nothing could have postponed the final outcome for very long. but lee refused to do any of this. and loyally served under the direction of jefferson davis, although men like walter taylor would regret that lee was unwilling to do what was required of a revolutionary. as rowland wrote lee was too much of an american to play the napoleon. now, a third factor to lee's credit is his conduct of the petersburg campaign in 1865. the operational situation around rich mornd and petersburg on january 31st, 1865 static for two months, presented almost insurmountable problems for lee and his army. but the general took several steps that resulted in his successful defense of the city for another 92 days.
including the 5,300 men lee could count about 57,000 men of all arms in richmond and petersburg in the winter of 1865, while he faced 124,000 men in meade and butler's armies under grant. in addition to this numerical disparity, lee had to cope with a worsening supply situation, so bad that he cautioned the president that if some change is not made in the commissary department not organized i apprehend dire results. and this warning helped persuade president davis to take just that step and relieve the incompetent northrup. lee had to defend a line that ran nearly 40 miles to northeast of richmond to hatcher's run southwest of petersburg. he faced odds of 2-1. sherman was coming. and sheridan was about to
advantage wish the last remaining resistance of the shenandoah valley. lee could count on only two railroads for supplies, and southern ports were all but closed to the outside world. yet lee was able to keep his army together as rowland wrote an enduring tribute to his leadership. the threat to his southern flank presented by sherman prompted lee in january to send joseph kershaw's infantry brigade under james connor wade hampton's cavalry division under butler, and hampton himself, chief of his cavalry, to south carolina to bolster the forces confronting sherman. demonstrating contrary to one of the typical criticisms of lee that he was not so virginia centric to neglect the other regions, even before his ascension to general in chief. lee successfully countered the offensive at the battle of hatcher's run.
realizing that partial or possibly complete evacuation of richmond and petersburg might be necessary. lee began to prepare for just that contingency by creating stockpiles of supplies along the richmond and danville railroad. the route he would use to head for a rendezvous with joe johnston. he and johnston would collaborate to develop a strategy to gain some sense of equilibrium in the theater of war, in the carolinas and petersburg front. lee hoped between his army and johnston's, they could gain a victory over the union forces, not a decisive victory, which lee realizes is too remote a possibility to pursue, but one that had the opportunity to galvanize southern morale. and thereby, create the conditions in which a protracted resistance would be once again possible. it was lee's plan to repel either sherman or grant in order to revive southern spirits,
bring thousands of wayward confederate soldiers back into the ranks and build on these accretions and carry on the quest for victory. out of this operational thinking, sprang what we know as lee's last grand offensive, the attack at ft. stedman on march 25th. in hindsight, this probably had little chance of success. but considering his options, attempting to win a morale-building victory, while providing the opportunity to withdraw a portion of his army to reinforce johnston and defeat sherman, this was lee's best possible move. to use a football analogy, lee threw a mail mary to stedman with two touchdowns with less than a minute to play and the pass was intercepted. lee was forced to play defense. a role he had so often assumed since grant's arrival in virginia. lee realized his only hope to maintain the army of northern virginia would be to leave the tightening noose around richmond
and petersburg combine with johnston somewhere between danville and greensboro, and together with an army as large as 90,000 men, continue the war. the problem was one of supply and transportation. it would take time to arrange such an evacuation under the very nose of grant, and beginning on march 29th, grant would launch his own final offensive around petersburg. time does not allow us to go into the details of the series of engagements. no fewer than 11 distinct battles fought between march 29th and april 2nd around petersburg. suffice it to say that lee's generalship under the most trying military conditions of his career was nothing short of brilliant. he responded to the loss of the plank road on the 29th by concentrating picket's reserve division and all the army's cavalry at the critical 54 intersection to protect his one remaining supply route, the south side railroad.
on march 31st, lee launched two attacks, both of which achieved initial and remarkable success. three brigades from three separate cores under the nominal direction of a division commander assaulted two divisions of the veteran union 5th corps and swept them off the field. causing warren, the fifth corps commander, to lament that his corps was all but destroyed. a union counterattack regained the lost ground and interposed itself between lee's right flank and picket's troops to the west. as for picket and fitslee, the cavalry chieftain, they achieved their own victory, similarly vanquishing two of sheridan's cavalry divisions before the last of his troops under george armstrong custer stabilized the tactical situation. picket then withdrew to the
vital crossroads at five forks where on april 1st, they outnumbered the confederates. but the real day of the decision at petersburg came on april 2nd. the day began with a series of assaults, most of which lee's men repulsed, but the one six miles southwest of the city managed to break through the confederate lines. under these dire circumstances, lee did not panic, and his coolness, moral authority and advanced planning would not only hold petersburg for the rest of the day but set the stage for the successful escape of all the confederate troops between richmond and petersburg that night. don't let anybody tell you that petersburg was a siege. it was not a siege, obviously it was not a siege because lee got out on the 292nd day of the campaign. upon learning of the defeated five forks, lee called for charles fields' first corps division to come south and shore up lee's right.
after learning of the break in his lines, he calmly sent word to the secretary of war, quote, it is absolutely necessary that we abandon our position tonight, or run the risk of being cut off in the morning. i have given all the orders to the officers on both sides of the river, and have taken every precaution that i can to make the movement successful. it will be a difficult operation, but he said, i hope not impracticable. breckenridge passed the message on prompting davis' ominous departure from st. paul's church just around the corner here on that sunday morning to prepare to leave richmond. walter taylor observed his boss at this time and declared him, quote, self-contained and serene. noting that he acted as one who was conscious of having accomplished all that was possible in the line of duty and who was undisturbed by the adverse conditions in which he found himself. demonstrating that lee's leadership contributed to a fierce determination of his men
undaunted by the critical circumstances of april 2nd, the army fought hard for nearly three hours southwest of the break-through, repulsed two attacks at sutherland station, and made a defense where they held off 8,000 federals for two hours, to allow fields' brigades to take position in petersburg's inner defenses, and repulsed the union's ninth corps inflicting more than 1,500 union casualties and contemplating a massive counterattack when the orders to evacuate reached the second corps. that night executing flawlessly the contingency plan he had developed earlier, lee's army slipped across the appomattox river at petersburg the james river at richmond, and in chesterfield county between the rivers, and marched west for the long intended rendezvous with johnston's intact army. early would write, for long nine
months was an unequal contest protracted by the genius of one man, aided by the valor of his force. fourthly let's consider lee's evacuation of richmond at petersburg and the subsequent an appomattox campaign. lee had been working on this evacuation strategy since late february. it incorporated multiple routes to avoid road blocks. he targeted amelia courthouse on the railroad as the concentration point for no fewer than four threads of his scattered army fleeing west from richmond, chesterfield, petersburg, and western dinwitty. lee kindly but perhaps unwisely had given permission to his trusted walter taylor to get married. meaning that lee acted without taylor's competent assistance. and this probably had something to do with the trains that they met in amelia courthouse
containing equipment. but not the needed rations. again, time does not permit us to examine the appomattox detail. the decision to wait at amelia courthouse on april the 4th, squandering a one-day lead that his brilliant evacuation gained him was not borne so much of a desire to compensate for the missing rations but to wait for a large portion of his army, yule's command to catch up to the main body a delay caused by more logistical failures for yule to cross the appomattox river. on april 5th, lee opted not to test the defenses southwest of jeetersville but to shift directions and head for farmville to be supplied by the south side railroad. whether a determined attack by lee early that afternoon, before all the union infantry arrived and entrenched, might have suck
saided, well, we have to chalk that up to the unknowable. the decision to controls the appomattox river on april 7th, and take a longer route west to appomattox station looks in hindsight as the wrong move. because it allowed sheridan and ord to take the shorter route west and arrive at appomattox before lee. no matter what mistakes lee might have made from our perspective 150 years later, there can be no question that his presence was about all that kept the army of northern virginia together. the most famous evidence of this is the oft quoted scene lee, atop a hill watching the fugitives from gordon's and anderson's corps fleeing from the yankee pursuers. the sight of him raised a tumult, wrote an eyewitness. fierce cries resounded on all sides. and with hands clenched violently and raised aloft, the
men called on him to lead them against the enemy. it's general lee! uncle robert! where's the man who won't follow uncle robert. i heard this on all sides. now, the larger question i think during his retreat to appomattox was surrounding his decision to surrender the army. lee had received -- lee has received substantial criticism in the last 20 years from writers who accuse him of carrying on the war long after it was obvious that he could not prevail. this line of reasoning suggests it was lee's responsibility to initiate surrender proceedings at some unspecified time, but certainly well before the exchange of messages with grant between april 7th and 9th. i find this one of the most unfair of all the efforts to discredit this great american and there have been many in recent years. let's not forget lee may have been the general in chief but jefferson davis was the
commander in chief. and lee had ample evidence derived from many conversations on the subject with the president that the chief executive had no intention of surrendering the south's quest for independence. as late as april 4th, april 4th, davis had issued a proclamation expressing renewed faith in the confederacy's ultimate triumph. it would be unwise wrote the president, even if it were possible to conceal the great moral as well as material injury to our cause from the occupation of richmond by the enemy. it is equally unwise and unbothy of us as patriots engaged in a most sacred cause to allow our energies to falter our spirits to grow faint or our efforts to become relaxed. we have now entered upon a new phase of the struggle. the memory of which will endure for all ages. and to shed any increasing luster upon our country. relieved of the necessity of guarding cities, with the army
free to move from point to point, nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but our own unconquerable resolve. i will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of any of the soil of the states of the confederacy. virginia with the help of the people and by the blessing of providence shall be held and defended and no peace ever made with the infamous invaders. so spoke lee's boss. so, after testing grant as to what sort of terms he might obtain attempting to negotiate a broader piece, and finally making one last concerted effort on the battlefield to carry out his superior's orders lee finally faced two alternatives. suicidal resistance or surrender. and on the morning of april 9th, 1865, he opted to spare the lives of his brave and loyal men. there's nothing left for me to
do but go see general grant and i would rather die a thousand deaths, he said dutifully. now, what about lee's behavior at appomattox. lee's 72 hours at appomattox courthouse following his request to meet with grant mark another measure of lee's greatness. we all know the story of lee's meeting that afternoon at mclean's brick house along the lynchburg stage road in the tiny village. grant receives generous and well-deserved praise for offering magnanimous terms and obtaining a dignified atmosphere with his 90 minutes with lee in the parlor. what of lee that day did he possess any agency in the conduct of affairs? of course, the answer goes well beyond the cliches of the formally dressed general quietly accepting the inevitable. lee faced several difficult challenges on april 9th, and the days that followed under which a lesser man might have cracked.
of course, the first involved his decision to surrender. after all, the army was still viable. and willing to undertake anything lee demanded of it. his staff officer, charles venable, asked lee quote oh general, what will history say of the surrender of the army in the field? lee replied, i know they will say hard things of us. they will not understand that we were overwhelmed by numbers. but that is not the question, colonel. the question is, is it right to surrender this army. if it is right then i will take all the responsibility. lee's outstanding ar till arist offered an alternative to battle or surrender suggesting that the army scatter and continue the war in an informal fashion. the men who have fought under you so long have the right to ask you to spare us the mortification of you asking grant for terms in unconditionable surrender. save us from that.
lee quickly rejected that option. citing the likelihood that the soldiers would, quote, supply their want by violence and murder. a state of society throughout the south in which it would require years to recover. responded lee. i have not a single word in reply. he has answered my suggestions from a plane so far above it i was ashamed of having made it. lee's wisdom in seeking a surrender, and his dignity in accepting graciously from grant marked lee's greatness. in my view the most courageous act, lee's finest moment at appomattox came after he left the mcclain house to ride back through his army to his final bivouac east of the village. as soon as he entered confederate lines, soldiers approached him asking, general are we surrendered? and pledging to take up their rifles that moment and fight again. a cavalry officer described the scene.
a most remarkable exhibition of the section entertained by him, by the army, and a display of deep feeling on the part of large bodies of men which i suppose have been rarely equaled in history. unfolded in front of me. when they saw the well-known figure of general lee approaching, there was a general rush from each side of the road to greet him. and as he passed, two solid walls of men were formed along the whole distance. their officers followed and behind the lines of men were groups of them mounted and dismounted, awaiting his coming. as soon as he entered the avenue of these old soldiers the flower of his army the men who stood to their duty through thick and thin through so many battles, wild, heart-felt cheers arose. lee rode straight ahead his eyes fixed between the ears of his mount. somehow maintaining his composure amidst this outpouring of grief and devotion. lee being the object of it all. lee responsible for it all. and the tens of thousands of men
not present who had given their lives for a cause that lee did not and could not win. on april 10th, lee met with grant at the union commander's request to discover providing parole documents for his surrendered soldiers. grant also sought lee's influence in ending military resistance by other confederate armies, requested lee claiming an unfamiliarity with the precise situation prevalent in johnston's, taylor's and smith's armies, declined to honor. lee's final act at appomattox involved a farewell to his devoted soldiers. the singular survivors who had persevered for in some cases for four long years. lee gave the assignment to charles marshall, whose draft lee modified to strike just the intended tone. after four years of arduous service, marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude the army of northern virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers of
resources. i need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard-fought battles who have remained steadfast to the leftast, that i have consented to this result to no distrust to them. but feeling valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that would compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of this contest, i determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen. by the terms of this agreement, the officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchange. you will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed. and i earnestly pray that a merciful god will extend to you his blessing and protection, within an increasing admiration for your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself. i bid you an affectionate farewell.
revisionist, historians have explained to us that lee's general orders number 9 was disingenuous, and that lee was consciously laying the cornerstone for a false if enduring explanation for confederate defeat. but i ask you to simply listen to those words in the context in which they were written and delivered, and then gauge this eloquent tribute to a defeated army, and a conquered people against the most moving and revered rhetoric in american history. finally, what about lee in 1865 after appomattox. the last aspect of general's greatness this year unfolded after lee returned to richmond as a parole prisoner of war. historian marshall fishwick calls lee's post-war years the greatest period in the life of a great american. a former confederate general agreed that, quote at the close of the war the deportment and conduct of our noble and honored leader were worthy of his previous history. in that dignified and useful
retirement to which he devoted the remainder of his days the grandeur of his sole showing as conspicuously as his military genius in his campaigns. as for comparing lee's post-war life to that of grant, this man wrote, we might as well compare the great pyramid which rears its majestic proportions in the valley of the nile to a pygmy perched on appomattox. despite lee's refusal to get in the affairs of the other armies, it was dispatched to jefferson davis that the general recommended that to save the useless effusion of blood, i would recommend measures be taken for suspension of hostilities in the restoration of peace. lee expressed similar sentments shortly after the conclusion of the war, but he repeatedly urged his countrymen to accept the outcome and look to a future of peace, and unity.
lee condemned lincoln's assassination as beyond es ka ration, and he signed the amnesty oath swearing to protect and defend the constitution. now, the outline of lee's life after the war is well documented, after spending the first two months after appomattox, just a few blocks from here in richmond, lee sought to leave the city and find some quiet home in the woods where i can get shelter and my daily bread. accepted an invitation to reside in a humble tenant's home arriving in june. then in august, the trustees of washington college extended to lee to become the president of the struggling little school in lexington. lee at first declined. but then decided to answer the call. i accepted the presidency of the college in the hopes that i might be of service to the country, and the rising generation. and from not in i preference of
my own. i should have selected a more quiet life and i should have preferred a small farm where i could have earned my daily bread. lee's record in his five years at washington college is familiar to you all. he performed wonders at the school, which now thrives as washington and lee university. lee described his mission at the college shortly after taking the reins, i have a self-imposed task which i must accomplish. i have led the young men of the south in battle, i have seen many of them fall under my standard, i shall devote all my life now to training young men to do their duty in life. now, in june 1865, lee explained to a minister correspondent that i have fought against the people of the north because i believed they were seeking to rest from the south their dearest rights. i have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings. this great and good man experienced events in 1865 that would have tested the resolve,
acumen and character of any person at any time in our history. the esteemed soldier, by count wolsley wrote, i have met many of the great men of my time, but lee alone impressed me with a feeling that i was in the presence of a man who was cast in a grander mold, and made a different and fire metal than all other men. he stamped upon my memory as being a part and superior to all others in any way a man to whom none i ever knew, are worthy to be classed. a fair portion of that assessment derives from robert e. lee's sterling professional and personal behavior in 1865. behavior that bestow upon him your vote as person of the year. thank you. [ applause ]
>> we have time for a couple of questions. you'll be the arbiter of the time. if there's anything that anyone has. i can't imagine how you could rebut any of that. [ laughter ] yes? >> hi. that was wonderful. thank you. i was just wondering, of course, lee was trying to get out to go join up with johnston. was there talk floated about johnston coming up to attack grant instead of trying to stop sherman? johnson to come up to work with lee? >> i think everybody heard that question. and the answer is there's a great -- there was a great deal of correspondence between johnston and lee about the strategy, once johnston took the reins. it was lee's concern that sherman, if he was allowed to cross the roanoke river, and get him to the northern part of north carolina, and into south
side virginia that he would be in a position to cut lee off and lee would be trapped. so the focus was to defeat sherman. the focus was to defeat sherman first. because if sherman was allowed to be victorious grant would have stayed put and sherman would have been the one to close the door on lee. there was a debate between whether the army of northern virginia should entirely abandon richmond and petersburg and go to reinforce johnston, or partially evacuate richmond and petersburg, as an intermediate measure. and part of the strategy behind that attack at ft. stedman was to shorten the union lines and allow a constricted number of confederate troops to defend the richmond/petersburg front, while the remainder of the army of northern virginia took advantage of the opening to the southwest to get down to carolina and reinforce johnston. now, i mean, was this going to be a viable strategy?
i mean i can hardly imagine the logistics logistics. it was very difficult -- the richmond railroad was not a strong solid line. that was the only supply line lee could have used, because the petersburg and weldon railroad was long ago cut off. i think logistics, not necessarily numbers, or intent, but i think logistics would have probably rendered that an impossible strategy. but the idea was to try to defeat sherman first. and then come back and confront grant. >> i was happy to hear your reference to the homerratic proportion, in terms of one of the petersburg engagements. my question is this. looking at homer we looked at the cities in the war. lee would have known, at any point in 1865 or prior, would
lee have fought without some aid, not from persians, but from someone else that would not be any chance of victory? certainly we know that the spartan lead without the persians, i mean, there would have been no naval victory against athens. so in hindsight, i know we can all gauge, but in your opinion, do you think that lee, with his knowledge of these prior wars, might have foreseen a defeat prior to 1865 without all idea support? >> i think the polynesian war is before the 19th century. i don't know anything about before the 19th century. i do know lee was never a believer that foreign intervention was going to be the salvation of the confederacy. i think it's a -- there's oftentimes you'll read that his campaign into maryland in 1862 was predicated in part on
impressing the british and french to come in on the side of the confederacy. there's very little real evidence to demonstrate that. he's on record in 1864 and in 1865, as they say, you can look it up, it's in all of lee's published correspondence, that he tells davis that they have no -- they should rely, not count on any foreign intervention. that they're going to achieve their independence, they're going to have to do it themselves. i don't want to get off on a tangent, but this goes to a little bit of the criticism that lee has received broadly in the last generation about him being too offensive minded. and he should have carried on a war like george washington, been on the defensive and tried to bleed out the federal army and so forth. well, that's not -- that was never lee's philosophy. lee believed that he had to defeat the forces of the united states on the battledfield in
order to achieve independence. in order to defeat them, he had to take the war to them. and that was his philosophy all the way to the end. i mean think about things like i briefly mentioned that most of you know about anyway, think about the last week of the war. how many times did lee go on the offensive. tactically. i mean, you know it's remarkable to me on march 31st, that he launched two tactical offenses and won them both, until the last union reinforcements came on the field to negate his victories. lee was an offensive-minded general. he had no hope that the british and the french were going to bail him out. and i think he was cognizant of the potential for wearing out northern will to carry on the war, but he felt like winning victories was the way to do that, not by dragging out the war to an interminable end.
>> i'm going to ask a question. do you think that lee should share person of the year honors with grant? that they should be coupled for this award? >> there's a loaded question, john. [ laughter ] you know, as wade mentioned, i'm in the process of a life-long sentence of writing a three-volume history of the petersburg campaign and trying to work at the same time. i'm almost done with the first volume. i can tell you that -- i've always been an admirer of grant john. i've always thought that he had what it took. but i can tell you that during the first six weeks of the petersburg campaign grant was not doing too well. which is a little bit surprising when i started digging into things.
i think grant's -- grant certainly behaved well during the appomattox campaign. i give him full credit for the way he managed affairs there. especially during the surrender. but, you know, when you've got all the five-star players, and you're playing randolph macon, it's easy to be good. when you're facing the odds that lee had to face in 1865 not just the military odds but the morale, and being responsible for just about everything going on in the confederacy, jefferson davis, as i'm sure you'll hear from my old mentor bill cooper was not the esteemed leader of the confederacy in 1865. people weren't looking to president davis to save them. they were looking to robert e. lee to save them. and so no, i think i'd keep -- i think i'd give the honor to lee by himself. [ laughter ] [ applause ]
>> each year "time" magazine selects a person who had the most influence on events. if the same question were posed in 1865 the library of virginia and american civil war museum invited historians to speak on their choice. cassandra newby-alexander discusses freed slaves and the challenges they faced in the aftermath of the civil war. this is just under 40 minutes. okay. ladies and gentlemen, our next speaker is cassandra newby-alexander. cassandra is a professor of history and director of the
joseph jenkins roberts center for african diaspora. she earned her ph.d. in history at the college of william and mary. she's written several books on the african-american history of hampton roads and is now co-authoring a history on the black community of norfolk. many of you know cassandra from the 2010 virginia civil war sus question centennial conference, held at norfolk state on slavery and the civil war. the tough stuff of american history and memory. she was the director of that conference. i first met cassandra at a conference in 2006 at ft. monroe. it was interesting, that conference was co-hosted by the museum of the confederacy and the united states army. i think it was the first time that those two were ever allies in an effort. [ laughter ]