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tv   The Civil War  CSPAN  September 6, 2015 10:00am-11:06am EDT

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he attended west point in the 1850's before joining the civil war on the union side. explores his military competence as well as his involvement in the fall and occupation of richmond in april, 1865. museum of the confederacy hosted this hour-long event. [applause] mr. quatman: it is a fascinating story, it is a story that very few civil war buffs know. i've given this talk all over the country and people are surprised, they have not heard of him before. over the next hour i will tell
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you why he was chosen to enter richmond 150 years ago today. you may remember his name when you walk out of here. the book is actually on sale upstairs in the gift shop. i will be doing a book signing upstairs. if you have a copy of the book there is time to get one. richmond was captured april 3, 1865. what an understatement that is, to capture the historic event that happened 150 years ago today. i got interested in this project 12 years ago when i was going through my grandfather's family archive and memoirs and came across this entry. my father's uncle was a general in the civil war. my grandfather george weitzel. he was born in the united states in ohio. his parents were immigrants. his parents died at a young age when george was 18 months old. he was adopted, and the family name was changed to quatman. i'm a blood weitzel.
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we have weitzel's in the confederate white house. we have some weitzels here today. probably more than in 150 years. welcome. this is major general godfrey weitzel. born in 1835, died in 1884 at 49. he was born in germany, a small town on the french-german border. his family immigrated in 1837. like many german immigrants, they immigrated to cincinnati, ohio to a neighborhood the called over the rhine. it reminded them of the rhine river valley, full of steamships and steeples.
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today if you go there it looks like it did 150 years ago. still preserved. the neighborhood is still home to german restaurants. you can picture what it looks like back in the day. his father's name was ludwig. the name was changed to a more american sounding name, lewis. lewis owned a grocery store in the over the rhine neighborhood. gottfried, the german name, and the younger son the father, louis, became active in politics and cincinnati.
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he was a democrat and was very influential in the neighborhood. he actually became a member of the school board, so he achieved some status. his son was a bright young boy. he was tall for his age, and in the cincinnati school district, he attended high school and was top of his class and all classes his senior year. he caught the attention of some of the leaders of the german community there, and they said, "this young boy needs the best education we can get him," but as a grocer, the father could not afford a good college for him, so the plan was to get him admitted to west point. west point was a free education and the best education a young boy could receive. with the help of some congressman from ohio, germans that were influential, the application process started to get godfrey to west point. i want to step back a bit and mention lewis.
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the brothers were inseparable. in doing research recently, i stumbled onto a photograph of godfrey's younger brother. i was able to identify him in many pictures of godfrey on the battlefield. you see him with general butler. right behind him is his younger brother. at fort harrison, you see godfrey, who was 6'4", by the way, his younger brother sitting beside him. at petersburg after the war, when godfrey was relocated from richmond to petersburg, we see lewis off to the right. i've studied this picture a hundred times. the much larger photograph with the officers standing in formal poses except the young guy on on the right, slouching down on the ground. i wondered why this guy was slouching, and it was not until a few weeks ago i spread out this photograph and realized he was holding a dog.
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after the fall of richmond and bombardment of petersburg, you wonder what this puppy might have heard and encountered on the battlefield. the youngest cadet, godfrey is accepted to west point on september 6, 1850. he was born november 1, 1835. if you do the math, he is 14 years old when he is accepted to west point. the problem is you have to be 16 to get in to west point, so they fibbed a bit about his age. at this point, he signs his name to godfried, and his father, louis weitzel, signs the letter to send his son to west point. godfrey says goodbye to his family, takes a steamship and
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from there probably caught a stagecoach and maybe a train to new york city. at new york city, he would have caught another steamer up the hudson river to west point, this curve in the river where they formed the military academy high on the banks of the hudson river. fascinating culture up there. probably cannons being fired off. godfrey shows up, this young 15-year-old from cincinnati, the youngest cadet all four years when he was on campus. you get a feel for what was it looks like. godfreid may be in the crowd here somewhere. i don't know, but i like to think that he is. the pleabs, as they were called, were hazed by the upperclassman. the photograph shows one of the upperclassman cadets training them in formation. this was drawn by one of godfreid's classmates.
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the class of 1855 had a young man who was not much of a student, but he was a great artist, and his name was james mcneill whistler. 17-year-old cadet and in the same class as weitzel. lined up in alphabetical order, so it was probably weitzel, whistler. people discovered what a great artist this young cadet was, and he ended up doing the graduation booklet cover for the seniors that year. my favorite is a four-part series whistler did showing a two-hour haze of the cadets on guard duty. the first half hour followed by the second half hour, the third half hour, and finally the fourth half hour. [laughter] mr. quatman: whistler had a problem with conduct and received a lot of demerits. he was facing expulsion, and failed a science exam where he
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identified silicon as a gas instead of an element. many years later, after he was expelled from west point, he said if silicon was a gas, he would have been a major general one day. we all know the painting of his mother, whistler's mother. the secretary of war at this time was jefferson davis, oddly enough. as secretary of war, he was in charge of the military. not a military position, but a civilian administrative decision. -- administrative position. the years that weitzel was at west point, jefferson davis was secretary of war. the superintendent was robert e lee. the lee family would host cap -- the top cadets at their home on sunday afternoon and entertain the boys and try to
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teach them some manners. from time to time, mrs. lee would invite some of the girls from the community to entertain some of the boys. some of the memoirs say how awkward it was between the young cadets and the young girls, but lee took note of the young cadets who were doing well in school and took note of this tall boy, godfreid weitzel. godfrey was one of the top students in his class all four years. this is the grade from his junior year. the number one position was held by cyrus comstock from massachusetts. godfrey weitzel was in third place by the end of their junior year. comstock was 20 when he entered west point. official records say weitzel was 16, but we know he was 15. even though he was five years younger, he was nipping at the heels of cyrus comstock. weitzel had only 60 merits for -- only six demerits for the entire year his junior year, pretty remarkable feat at west point.
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you can see below him, ebenezer gay had 100 demerits. if you had 100, you were a member of what they call the century club. if you had 200, you were expelled from the academy. by senior year, weitzel was still one of the top cadets, and comstock still had the top position. number one in almost every class. weitzel graduated number two in their class, still with one demerit less than comstock. robert e lee also graduated number two in his class. top cadets got the best assignments out of west point. it was an engineering school, and the engineers were assembled in what is called the corps of engineers. today, we hear about the army corps of engineers and think of them for civil projects, but this is when army corps consisting of engineer graduates from west point. weitzel's first assignment out of west point was to new orleans.
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1859 he was 1889 -- in new orleans. he was assigned to work under major pgt beauregard. beauregard was busy at work in new orleans on several projects and needed a young assistant, so this bright, young, german native from cincinnati shows up in new orleans. he takes a steamship from his family home down the mississippi river to new orleans and shows up in a city very different than the one he has been in before. keep in mind, he grew up in the north and probably did not see many black people growing up here and probably none at west point other than the servants, so it's a very different city. beauregard's fast at work on the customhouse on canal street. if you have been to new orleans, the customhouse is a massive structure. still there today. it takes up an entire city block. weitzel helped beauregard on finishing up the customhouse project. the other project that maybe is
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more important to our story is to know for about 40 miles down the mississippi river that guarded the approach to new orleans from the gulf of mexico. one was fort jackson on the west side. the other was fort saint philip on the east side. like west point, this is where the mississippi river takes an s-curve. any ship would have to slow down to slow down to take that turn, so they perched two forts on either side of that curve so
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of course there is concern in the south that what will happen to our southern can southern traditions?
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some think that is a bad idea when louisiana secedes from the union. the next day the secretary of war who is from virginia is indicted. he has been sending arms to the southern federal or, it is confirmed that they knew he would help supply the south before the war broke out.
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january 28, but regards appointment is revoked. he is still on the record today as the shortest tenure for superintendent. five days. [laughter] he is insulted they would revoke his superintendency, so he goes to richmond and volunteers his services to be a brigadier in the confederate army. lincoln is going to be inaugurated in washington. from west point, there's a call to gather a group of cadets to be bodyguards for the lincoln inauguration. dr. weitzel, as assistant professor, is sent down with a contingent of engineers soldiers to guard lincoln at his inauguration. on march 4, 1861, as a huge crowd assembles in washington, there are bodyguards all along the parade route watching for the point of a gun or dagger or anything that might be assault on the president.
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godfrey is somewhere in the crowd here, and this is the first time godfrey gets his eyes on abraham lincoln. april 12, fort sumter first shots are fired. the war begins. we all know who fired the first shots, right? a fellow who just got his superintendency revoked. beauregard fires the first shots on fort sumter. fort pickens is still under union control. engineer soldiers are assigned from washington quickly to get down to fort pickens to hold that fort for the union. weitzel knows about reinforcing forts from his times in new orleans, and fort pickens is held in union possession all through the war. up north, there's a plan to strangle the confederacy. the concept was to blockade all the ports that would supply munitions and clothing to the
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confederacy, and the major point that needs to be blocked is the one in new orleans, the largest city in the south that controls the gulf of mexico's entrance into the mississippi river. mississippi being the backbone of the confederacy. we have officer david porter, president lincoln, secretary of the navy gideon welles, secretary of state william seward, general george mcclellan, secretary of war edwin stanton. they begin to talk about this need to seize new orleans. they plan that assault. predominately, they plan to assault fort saint philip and fort jackson. the problem is these are yankees from the north and they do not know those forts. someone at a meeting in arlington, which has been taken over, says there's a young lieutenant in washington right now who knows everything about this two forts.
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so the call goes out to find weitzel and bring him right away. he shows up with these the wigs -- bigwigs of the federal government. they ask what he knows, and he asks what do you need to know? i know exactly how to take the two forts because i know their weaknesses. so they make weitzel the chief engineer of the mission against new orleans. this twentysomething has the key to unlock the two forts, if you will. a large contingent of ships, and the fleet sales around the tip of florida to a staging area just off the coast of new orleans. weitzel tells admiral farragut how to capture the forts. the plan was that admiral porter -- flag officer porter at the time -- would bomb the forts from several miles away with mortar ships and would reduce them to rubble, and farragut would sail his fleet right past.
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it did not work out that way. after two days bombing the forts, they were hardly harmed at all. weitzel did a pretty good job reinforcing them during his years there. he says he has another plan. run close to the fort, and run up the river because these guns will shoot two miles away and they do not ratchet down very quickly. as you run close to the fort, they will fire over you. i'll come off the backside with soldiers in long books and canoes and ladders and scale the wall and surprise the confederates as they are looking on the riverside. farragut says, "let's try it." farragut commanded the fleet of steamships and admiral porter, general benjamin franklin butler is assigned to command the army forces that would occupy the forts and occupied new orleans
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after it has been seized. april 24, 1862, the ship started up river. farragut does what weitzel says. weitzel comes around the backside with a fleet of long boats and canoes and ladders. they scale the wall of fort phillips, and after an hour and a half while -- battled that rages on the seaside, the soldiers scaled the backside and capture the two forts. with the two forts silenced, farragut sails his fleet up the river and anchors just off new orleans. general butler marches into the city with his troops to occupy the city. weitzel says we should separate headquarters from the customhouse. he knows that city pretty well, too. he's the only one in the mission that knows new orleans. him most of the men in new orleans had left. what's left behind is the women. they're not very happy with this occupation of federal soldiers.
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whenever a federal soldier walked down the street, he would be insulted by the women of new orleans. some of them were so brazen, they would spit on them. they encouraged their children to do the same. this reaches pinnacle when a woman dumped her chamber pot off her balcony in the french quarter onto a federal officer -- admiral farragut. he barges in to general butler's headquarters and says he needs to put a stop of it or he will. then butler things about it for a minute and sit down at his desk to write general order number 28. let me read it to you -- as the offices of the soldiers of the united states have been subject to repeated insults from the women, calling themselves ladies, of new orleans, a return for the most scrupulous, non-interfering courtesy on our part -- he gives this order to the chief of staff.
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butler's intent was that the ladies would not want to be considered ladies of the evening and would conduct themselves in a more proper manner. butler is seen as a demon of the
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in general is killed at baton rouge, general williams, and general butler said we need a new brigade to go in there and flesh them out.
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you are now brigadier general. so he is 26 and he becomes at the time the youngest federal general in the union army. not only that, but other assigned him a group of all black soldiers. slaves and heed outfitted them into a regiment called the louisiana native guard and assigns them to brigadier butler. he takes his men, after several months of training, up the river to donaldsonville, and he takes them down onto banks on either and clashesages their had achieved his first victory. the battle of the georgia landing, 86 federal casualties, 229 confederate. he is a brigadier gaining a reputation already as a pretty good officer. after the confederates are flushed out of the region,
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slaves begin to leave their plantation homes and begin to tag along with weitzel's brigade. he has an army on the move and now has a gathering of several hundred slaves who are following him from day to day. he's not quite sure what to do with them, so he writes a letter to general butler and says we have this phenomenon happening, and he's not sure what to do with them. a cartoon was published in the paper. a little offensive, but i will show it to you. the caption is -- the man who won the elephant at the raffle. general butler says the question is -- what am i to do with the creature? general butler says, in the south, they consider slaves to be property. and although the fugitive slave act says we are to return slaves to their master, louisiana seceded, so they are no longer protected by the fugitive slave act. so he was to seize these slaves as property, and he coined the term contraband of war.
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put them to work as he needed to, but it was really his problem how to handle these. jefferson davis, outraged at a couple of things butler did -- one is the order against the women of new orleans, and the other is he hung a man for tearing down the u.s. flag. another woman who wore some bones as a decoration on her dress saying there were bones of a union soldier was sentenced to prison on ship island, off the coast. on christmas eve, 1862, jeff davis issues in order that says benjamin butler is to be a felon deserving of capital punishment. to be immediately executed by hanging if captured, and it did not stop there. he went on to say all commissioned officers in the command of butler shall be criminals deserving of death.
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soldiers found in the company of armed slaves, an insurrection, and given similar treatment. godfrey weitzel, who was the young mayor, then turned brigadier, now in command of slaves bearing arms, is also a commissioned officer. if he's captured, butler will be hung and weitzel will be executed on the order of jefferson davis. i'm going to fast forward some of the story here to get to the fall of richmond, but the siege of port hudson was the longest siege of the war. it took place on a bluff just above baton rouge. one of these s curves in the mississippi river where the confederates had a stronghold, 70 feet high on the bluffs where any federal ship trying to pass would be pummeled with cannon fire from up above. the union realizes they have new orleans, but they got to capture vicksburg and port hudson to really control the mississippi.
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weitzel's given command of the second brigade, first division, occupying the far right of port hudson. after a 48-day siege and several battles where weitzel's men suffered many casualties, vicksburg falls. when vicksburg falls, the commanding officer of the confederacy of port hudson realizes grant is now free to send all his troops down to port hudson. so the white flag is flown over port hudson, and port hudson surrenders. general nathaniel banks chooses weitzel to accept surrender of port hudson. he says weitzel has been more influential to the campaign than anyone else. weitzel humbly declines. the next day, he is sent to flush out taylor, who had crept back into the region. he engages in a second battle there, this one not so good. general tom green meets them head on. weitzel's first defeat.
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he is made a division commander at the age of 27 on the heels of that battle. his next battle again did not go well. it's the battle of sabine pass. it's the river that separates louisiana from texas. it's a confederate held position. they tell weitzel to take a contingent of gunboats and transports to sabine and capture it, which should be child's play. weitzel had 2000 federal soldiers. fort sabine was guarded by 43 confederates. a couple of lucky shots -- maybe not lucky, but skilled shots -- the first two go right in the steam rollers of the first steam gunboats. they explode. they are stranded in the middle of the river right where weitzel was supposed to land.
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he looks off in the distance and decides to abandon the mission, pulls out. the battle of sabine pass is part of the confederate legacy. at this point, weitzel is assigned up to virginia where ben butler is in charge of the department of virginia and north carolina. he is reunited with two of his mentors. ben butler, who has been reassigned from new orleans up to virginia, and pgt beauregard, who was entrenched in a position called fort drury at an area called to drury's bluff, about eight miles from here. again, one of those s curves where the confederates set up a strong position to stop any federals who might be foolish enough to try to assault richmond. morning of may 16, 1864, weitzel and his men are in position
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opposite beauregard, his former mentor, and weitzel gets an idea. he's captured nine miles of telegraph wire to break up communication between richmond and petersburg. he goes to general butler and says, i've got a wild idea. let's take the telegraph wire, wrap it around stumps and trees about knee-high. in the morning, if beauregard tries a sneak attack, they will trip over the wires, and we will be able to surprise them. butler always like crazy ideas, so he approves of it. the next morning, may 16 in the fog, they hear groans and moans as the confederates are assaulting and trip over the wires. weitzel opens up a torrent of lead and many balls. since weitzel writes that we peppered them with gunfire and killed them like partridges. they piled up in heaps. although it was a confederate
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victory, that battle goes on weitzel's scorecard maybe as one against his former superintendent. the confederates called it a damn yankee trick. weitzel called it a victory. for that, he was promoted to major general at age 28, continuing his rapid escalation through the ranks of the union army. at this point, he becomes a corp commander. fort harrison is just outside of richmond. the ruins are still there. you can go to see them, and i would encourage you to do that if you have some downtime. on september 29, the union army under general ord, captures fort harrison, a very strong position outside of richmond. he's critically injured in the battle, so another major general is needed to take over the 18th corps, and who do you suppose they picked? godfrey weitzel. he takes over the 18th core. he has only recently been made a major general, and now he is in charge of the 18th army corps.
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the next morning, september 30, lee realizes what a strong position this is, personally takes 10,000 troops from petersburg to richmond to try to recapture fort harrison. three attempts, three surges at the fort. weitzel successfully holds his position all three times and beats his former superintendent in one battle at least at fort harrison. this is a photograph of weitzel and his staff at fort harrison. you can see he was 6'4". most of the men at the time were about 5'6", so he towered above them. december 12, he was made a full major general at age 29. the 18th army corp is disbanded. all the black troops from the 10th and 18th corps are taken together to form the 25th army corps. they needed a major general to command this corp. it's the last corps formed. the only all-black corps formed
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during the war, and who do you suppose they chose to command it? godfrey weitzel. grant and lee are engaged in a standoff at petersburg. during the winter, grant realizes he has to keep lee penned in because in the spring, when the roads are passable, lee might try to escape and if he gets out of petersburg, it may be a long time before they can end this thing. weitzel is given command of all the union troops outside of richmond. 24th army corps, which is white, and the 25th, the all-black corps under his command. richmond was a very fortified place, especially approaching from the north, south, and east. weitzel built three observation towers to see the trains moving in and out, try to assess when the time might be to find a weakness in richmond's guard.
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april 1, general grant sends him a telegraph saying, "i need you to keep long street penned in. i'm afraid he will send some of his troops to come down to petersburg to help reinforce lee. i need to keep him pinned in. in the morning, i need you to make an assault against long street's fortified position." long street was also a west point graduate and had constructed an impressive work outside richmond. obstructions like this were about 100 yards in front of the fort itself. any assault would have to go through these first, usually with an axe before you get there with a gun. the worst assignment in the union army was being handed an
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axe instead of a gun. behind that was the fortress itself. pointed spikes were jammed into the ground to prevent a cavalry assault or slow down any union infantry trying to approach the fort. in between these logs were landmines that would explode under five pounds of pressure. behind that is a deep ditch. then you've got the earthen wall, the rampart, behind which would be confederate sharpshooters picking off any union assault. this is the fort that grant tells weitzel to assault in the morning, not intending to capture it, but just to slow long street. you can see the ruins of these forts today outside richmond. after a full day of trying to plan this assault, wiesel knows it's a suicide mission. he gets a telegraph message from grant later that night after midnight which says, "you need not assault in the morning. unless you think you can make a breakthrough. i've got a pretty good thing going a petersburg, and within a few days, i think i will be able to send you all the troops you need." it's like a reprieve from the
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governor. he can sit back and doesn't have to assault that fort in the morning. lee telegraphs davis on april 2 and says, "i see no prospect of doing more than holding our position here until night. i'm not sure if i can do that. i advise all preparations be made to leave richmond tonight." davis holds a cabinet meeting. they decide to evacuate richmond. the federals are coming. lee's line has been broken. we know he has got to move out. the tobacco warehouse, the cotton warehouse was set on fire under orders of general yule to prevent any of the supplies falling into enemy hands.
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fire expands throughout the city. the armory is on fire. the ironworks explosion in the city. richmond is ablaze. the wealthy escape over the bridge to manchester. confederate soldiers make their way out of the city. davis and his cabinet take the train to danville. the burn district, we still call it here in richmond, was left with scars from the fire of that night. back in the union camp, general shepley is doing some paperwork. he begins to hear explosions just eight miles away. weitzel is going to bed in his tent. he comes to the side and begins see an orange glow above the sky. he realizes what is happening.
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confederates have abandoned richmond. some of the pickets have come in with prisoners they have captured, and the prisoners have report they have been left out there with no replacements because the army is pulling back from richmond. he goes in to tell godfrey weitzel, who is sound asleep. and the only way to wake him up is to pull him off his bunk. he shouts in his ear, "general, we can take richmond in the morning." he says you must be dreaming. he sees the glow above the sky and here's the explosions in richmond. he says that you're into the ground, you can hear lee's cannons rolling off. he says get the 24th and 25th corps ready. shepley says they are ready and waiting for orders. with that, weitzel mounts up and process begins to occupy richmond. he first sends 40 massachusetts cavalrymen as an advanced team into the city at a quick gallup. stevens sees a carriage with a
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white flag. he stops and inside the carriage is mayor joseph carrington mayo, the mayor of richmond with a surrender note written on a piece of wallpaper. hastily written that says, "we are surrenduring the city of richmond. we ask your protection for the women and children and the property in richmond which is ablaze." stevens rushes into richmond. the first thing he does is go to the capitol building where he hoists down the confederate colors and hoists the flag, the first union colors hoisted by major stevens. weitzel's were settled and ready to enter richmond. everyone wants to make history as the first union regiment or first union corps into richmond.
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weitzel says each group will take a different road in and converge at rocket landing. the different groups all take roads in. there's a bit of a foot race on some of the regiments where two meet, and when group would rush across the field trying to beat the other into richmond. as the troops enter, the 25th corps enters first. followed by godfrey weitzel. explosions are heard in the city. the city is on fire. the liberated slaves come out and greet the union troops as liberators. many drawings have been made of this scene of the federals entering, and you can always find godfrey weitzel. he did not dress in full major general's attire. here he is, shown behind a band
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from his 25th corps playing union songs as they march in in orderly procession into the burning capital. they stop at capitol square, which is the only place that people can get a breath of fresh air. the poor people of richmond have gone there with their belongings. at capitol square, another flag is placed above the confederate capitol building by a young 18-year-old named jonathan livingston depester who kept in his satchel the flag from new orleans that flew over the state house in new orleans. he rushes to the capitol building, hoists the union flag, the stars & stripes.
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that is what it looked like above the capitol building that day, and it still flies above the capitol building today. weitzel has to get a telegraph off. it says we took possession of richmond at 8:15 this morning. telegraph goes to news services in the east, and weitzel becomes an overnight hero. they are celebrating in the streets of new york, philadelphia, washington, as word spread that richmond has fallen. the papers begin to announce that richmond is ours. what an irony that is to see freed slaves wearing the blue uniform marching into the capital of the confederacy. weitzel entered the rebel capital yesterday morning. weitzel's negro troops occupy the city. general weitzel occupies his mansion in richmond.
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as the advanced team goes in, they give word that the confederate white house has been set aside by president davis under special orders that it should be given as a residence to the union general. they don't know who it will be, but it happens to be weitzel. weitzel and shepley show up at the confederate white house, greeted by the housekeeper who says president davis left in such a haste he did not eat his meal and asks if they are hungry. they sit down in jeff davis' dining room and eat the meal that was prepared for jeff davis. day two. abraham lincoln knows the end is near. grant has been giving him hints. we are making good success here, i want you to come down. when he gets word at city point
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that richmond has fallen, lincoln said, "it seems to me i've been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is gone. i want to see richmond." the next day, he goes on a ship up river to richmond. he takes his son with him. his son, tad. it is tad's 12th birthday, but it's a very small contingent that arrive in richmond. lincoln arrives early. weitzel gets word the president is coming but not for several hours. they make better time than expected, and when lincoln arrives, he is greeted by slaves who see lincoln coming up river. word begins to spread, and they gathered to greet the liberator -- abraham lincoln. little tad, 12 years old, always wears a miniature union uniform in the pictures you see of him. always dressed like a miniature soldier. lincoln marches through the streets for a two-mile walk. no official greeting. he has 12 bodyguards, 12 sailors admiral porter brought along with him. his 12-year-old son, admiral porter, and one bodyguard. as he walks through the streets,
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he is greeted again by the slaves. great praise, great emotion shown by lincoln as he enters richmond. this has been depicted by many artists. as he gets to the confederate white house, an orderly runs up to the virginia state house where weitzel is busy working and he rushes in and says, "the president is at the white house. he has arrived early." weitzel drops what he is doing, gets in a carriage and rushes over to the white house. as he rushes in making apologies to president lincoln, the two of them sit down to business. the story goes that lincoln asks weitzel, "who is here besides us?" weitzel says, "it's just us, mr. president." lincoln slaps his knee and says, "let's take a look around." weitzel takes him through and explains everything that has
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been told to him by the housekeeper. lincoln says this must've been the president's desk where he issued all his orders. imagine the irony of that -- 48 hours after jefferson davis has left, there is lincoln sitting in his easy chair at his desk. there is a request, a knock on the door, a former supreme court judge, john campbell. campbell is from alabama. he is the assistant secretary of war, and although davis and his cabinet members have left to danville, campbell stays behind. he wants a meeting with president lincoln. lincoln says he will meet with him on the condition he shall have one friend with him and he may have a friend as well. campbell chooses general joseph anderson, who runs the federal ironworks and also stayed behind. lincoln chooses godfrey weitzel as his second, his witness. there are two meetings. one takes place at the confederate white house. the other takes place the next day on the ship. at the meeting, campbell says, "mr. president, i have an idea for you -- allow the virginia
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legislature to come back to richmond for one meeting. they have all fled. give them safe passage. allow them to meet one time, and the purpose of the meeting is to rejoin the union. if virginia rejoins the union, lee will have to lay down arms. there will be no reason to fight any longer. we will end this war with the stroke of a pen instead of the blast of a musket." lincoln eventually concedes. he goes back to city point and into washington. the next day, the newspapers and all of virginia allow safe passage of all the virginia legislators to come back to richmond. a few begin to trickle into richmond for the meeting. before lincoln leaves, weitzel and lincoln take a ride around town. lincoln wants to see the city. on the carriage ride, weitzel asked him, "what should i do with regard to the conquered people?" lincoln says, "i don't wish to give any orders in that place, but but if i were that position,
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i'd let 'em up easy. let them up easy." when lincoln gets back to washington, secretary of war stanton says this is a crazy idea allowing the rebel government to reconvene in richmond. who knows what they might come up with? he counteracts the order and denies that lincoln ever issued such an order. he spread the rumor this was weitzel's doing and lincoln never would have authorized this. the next controversy that happens is april 9, is palm sunday. in the episcopal church at that time in the confederate states, they would read a prayer for jefferson davis every sunday. it's palm sunday, and the ministers come to meet with weitzel and ask what they should do tomorrow about church
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service? weitzel says we cannot pray for jefferson davis. how about a prayer for those in authority? stanton in d.c. says they have to pray for abraham lincoln. they've been praying for davis all these years. they must pray for lincoln. weitzel's remembers lincoln's advice to let them up easy. he does not order a prayer for lincoln, only one for those in authority. stanton gets word of this. it's the second chink in weitzel's armor. he begins to lose confidence in weitzel as a firm leader. lincoln writes to weitzel and said, "i don't remember hearing prayers spoken of, but have no doubt that he acted in a spirit manifested by me when i was there." lee surrenders to grant. because of the surrender, the reconvening of the legislature is a moot point. lincoln writes to weitzel and says is there any sign of the legislature coming together on my letter?
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if there is no such sign, you may withdraw the offer. this is a moot point. lee has surrendered. virginia does not need to rejoin the union at this point. stanton has lost total confidence in weitzel. he writes to grant. april 14 was good friday. today is good friday. easter a little early this year or was late that year. weitzel is relieved of command in richmond. general ord comes in and resumes command of the army of the james, and weitzel is directed to move his black troops to petersburg. before he leaves, however, he gets word that robert e. lee has returned home. it's five days after the surrender, lee returns to his home on franklin street. weitzel goes to his aide, thomas p. graves, and gives him a wallet of confederate currency.
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realizing confederate currency is worthless at this time, he says to go to robert e. lee and says, take from this whatever you need. thomas graves writes that he goes to the confederate home of robert e lee on franklin street. he knocks on the door and fitz hugh lee answers the door. he's the nephew of robert e lee, a brigadier general, and a classmate of godfrey weitzel. not the same class, but they were contemporaries. graves announces he is here from weitzel to tell lee to take what he needs. fitz hugh lee is so touched by this that he has to walk across the room to regain his composure. he goes to robert e lee he is in the parlor resting, explains the offer to lee. lee speaks to his nephew, and the nephew comes back to the aid and says, "send general weitzel our love.
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tell him thank you, but we don't need the money. we would like safe passage for the lee women who need to come back to richmond." weitzel grants safe passage, and the lee women are back in the home within the day. the same day in washington, lincoln decides to go see a play. it has been a tough week for him. it's been a tough four years. as he sits in the booth watching the play, the president is assassinated by john wilkes booth. weitzel resumes his career in the corps of engineers. he dies in philadelphia, pennsylvania, march 19, 1884. he dies of a typhoid fever. he marries a second time. they have three children. two die in infancy. one daughter, irene, survives. weitzel's grave is in a very modest plot in cincinnati, ohio in spring grove cemetery. the day i went looking for it, i had a hard time finding it.
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it's a small slab with his name, birthdate, date of his death. years later, someone etched the word "general" above his name, perhaps as an afterthought. not to think the military forgot about his accomplishments. arlington cemetery, ironic as it is, the former home of robert e lee, you will find weitzel drive is one of the main roads running through the cemetery today. at a gate on the east entrance to arlington cemetery, two columns erected, ord-weitzel gate. although his grave site in cincinnati is modest and humble, the army honored him in arlington cemetery. so that is right at an hour, and it's the whole story of godfrey weitzel and how he ended up leading the troops into richmond 150 years ago today. thank you very much. [applause]
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i'd be happy to answer any questions. yes, sir. >> i'm curious -- does anyone know what happened to cyrus comstock, the guy who was first in his class? mr. quatman: comstock ended up becoming ulysses s. grant's chief engineer on his staff, and comstock and weitzel ended up being paired together at the battle of port fisher. off the coast of wilmington, north carolina. there were two assault, christmas day of 1864 and january 15, 1865. weitzel led the first in december, with comstock as grant's eyes and ears to watch what was going on. the first assault was unsuccessful. the second assault was led by general terry. it was successful. comstock was promoted to brigadier general for that event. comstock married. he lost his wife. they ended up reconnecting at the great lakes where he was in charge of designing lighthouses
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and dams. today, there's a comstock prize in physics given out annually to budding young scientist. >> yes, ma'am. >> the relationship between the slaves or the troops that he led , the black troops, what was
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that relationship like? i've never seen anything written by the troops about him. he was a very benevolent commanding officer, and i have to think he was equally benevolent to the black troops. he did design a badge for the 25th corps. he wrote a letter to the troops about the badge. it talks about them wearing this with honor, the 30,000 free men in this final campaign. if that is any indication of the way he wrote to them come he was a kind and benevolent leader. it is in the book, by the way. this is for sale upstairs. [laughter] >> i will be happy to sign your book afterwards.
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welcome everyone. thank you for coming. i bet you learned some things today. as a passionate observer, i think you resemble him very much. >> i think it is in the nose perhaps. [laughter] >> yes. >> it seems that -- certainly the general got caught in the crosshairs between stanton and lincoln in the crosshairs of politics. he was tarnished in the northern press for being drummed out of richmond for mismanagement and in competency. even inalled a plucky the newspapers of his hometown.
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the samet to some of to clear his name, especially in the german community. despite his campaign to do that, he always carried the burden of those last days when stanton denounced him as an incompetent. we know that he was following lincoln orders in. unless your stanton realized that he had a letter authorizing him to do what he did. i did run across where -- at one point grant begin to lose confidence in him. he said that when i went to explain it that grant did not blame him.
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some of the research i got was from grant's memoirs. other questions? kelly, final comments? >> thank you very much for being here. one more reminder, we do have the book upstairs. he will be signing those books. thank you all for coming today. >> thank you. [applause] you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. coming up next, historian and coast guard veteran, thomas ostrom, traces the history of united states coast guard through its beginnings under
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alexander hamilton in through 1790 the world wars and the present day. he discusses the many leaders of the coast guard and their missions while in service. this 55 minute program was hosted by the u.s. navy memorial in celebration of the 225th anniversary. mark: good afternoon, i am mark webber curator of the memorial in atlanta and i'm pleased to welcome you to another one of our programs as i welcome tom ostrom back to the memorial to speak on his book, "the united states coast guard: 1790 to the present." it is fitting we do this today, the coast guard's 225th birthday. the book was recently published by mcfarland and company. this is tom's fifth book on the coast guard. he is a prolific author and we are always happy to have him re


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