tv The Civil War CSPAN November 2, 2014 11:00am-11:48am EST
rit rich history. you're watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. 2015 c-span student video competition is underway. opened all middle and high school students to create a 5-7 minute documentary on the theme, the three branches and you great you.ng help prizes totaling $100,000. for a list of rules and how to get started, go to student cam.org. >> next, the author and history
professor discusses the legacy of the confederate capital henry wirz to his arrest for war crimes. the professor argues that his trial was framed in the context of slavery, but it has changed in 20th century events. this is an hour-long portion of the 2014 civil war symposium hosted by the u.s. capitol historical society. >> i want to thank my fellow symposium members. i think they really set high standards to try to wrap things up. i am going to try to wrap things up quickly and to keep things energetic with images. i want to thank the historical society for hosting this. that is the hanging of henry wirz on november 10, 1865.
if you want answers to your questions about wirz you should go to andersonville on november 10 of any year, because that is the day they remember him and honor him. tony horwitz writes about confederates with a chapter of this. there is a society dedicated to wirz. it is a lost cause society absolutely. so, he is hanged on this platform, and that moment i think plays into our notions of an end of war moment. we have come to expect at the end of the war there will be a punishment, but that more importantly, it will be visible. this is a visible thing. they did this in the capital prison. i think as you can see -- people climb the trees to see
over. they climbed the walls to see over. they all knew that wirz was being hanged, and they had to see the body. it was the finale of a very long trial just described. we expect to see something like this when wars end. that is a 20th and 21st century phenomenon. we expect to see after the nuremberg trials, people executed, after the tokyo trials or in italy, people hanging from meat hooks upside down after world war ii. there is a sense that when the war ends, somebody has got to swing. that's brings me to i guess the larger point about the wirz trial. one is, and i think paul's talk
makes this very clear in this trial, which is in its tone, which is you cannot look at the wirz trial objectively. you cannot look at it without looking through the lens of the 20th century, without looking at nuremberg and the war crimes issues that followed in the 20th century, or even without thinking about things like the way saddam hussein was dealt with or even the way osama bin laden was dealt with, which was with a kill, not capture order, despite the government's denial that was the order. precisely because these trials on american soil of war criminals have become such disasters for various reasons that if you can find an opportunity to pawn them off on somebody else, which is what
happens with hussein, although that helps give legitimacy to the iraqi government. that is the real reason they do it -- or to kill them so this person never comes to trial. that is preferred. the words trial and execution is not a disaster. it is a disaster procedurally, but it is a failure in terms of what they hope to achieve. the prosecutors. i will say more about that. you cannot see the trial on its own -- and this is true of all history, right -- without looking through the lens of the present. the second point i am trying to make is this is a way to think about the end of the war because in the trial, the issue of when the war is over becomes an issue. so, the things that gregory dellums was talking about very
well in terms of what congress is debating, that continues to go on, but these issues are already there in the summer of 65. you have to figure out, is this a war crime that happened during the war? is it a war crime tribunal happening after the war? the term war crime is never used. i think that is important to remember. that comes later in large part because of the trial. he is on trial for multiple counts of murder were no actual victim is named. to talk about procedural irregularity, that is a big one. they have no names of murder victims. they just say whose name is not known.
and he is on trial for violations of customs of war. that goes back to what paul finkelman was talking about. the real reason why he is there, is that there is a bigger game that they have in mind. that is that they want to get wirz to implicate higher ups. here is an interesting contrast with nuremberg. nuremberg trials start the highest they can get. although that is complicated. then the secondary nuremberg trials are for the lesser people. they are working their way up the chain. they want to implicate jefferson davis. and other members of the davis administration. davis, during all of this is an fortress monroe -- not all of this, but for most of it, he is in fortress monroe, and then he is moved comfortably into a home where his wife does get to visit. so his request is not necessarily out of the ordinary or h.
the issue is what is going to happen to jefferson davis? my colleague is riding a book about this, which is very important. about why davis is not brought to trial. that is the goal, to have wirz as leverage to implicate davis. it does not happen. he intends to do that. that is one reason why they call him a martyr to the lost cause. to the end, he will not give up jefferson davis. he will protect to davis. he will insulate him from prosecution. wirz is hanged. it is a visible thing. his body is cut down. i should say this is not a pretty thing at all. after he is cut down, his body is autopsied.
sorry. this may take a second to work out. first of all i should say public executions by this time were well known in america but not so much because they happen on american soil. schoolkids would have been very familiar with the executions in england during the english revolution. they would have been familiar with the execution of charles the first and later, charles the second.
what does charles the second two? well, oliver cromwell is already dead. so, he digs up the body of cromwell and hangs the long dead body of cromwell from tyburn, a famous site in london. so, they would have already known of this tradition of hanging the rebel, of hanging the lead rebel. they wanted -- secretary of war stanton and judge advocates general holt in particular -- they want to get the lead rebel, who is jefferson davis. so, wirz was a very good person to go after. there he is depicted. as you see, he is holding his right arm this way because
supposedly the right arm was not healthy. there are different accounts as to why that is. it is claimed by his daughter he -- fought in combat for the confederacy. it was then that his arm got injured. this is one of the controversies. was it in fact injured, or was this just a ploy to get sympathy when he was put on trial? he was because of his looks, which is sort of like a trapped ferret, the right man to put on trial in this way, and after he
was hanged, his body is autopsied. if you are interested, you can go and -- the body is autopsied, and the arm is cut off to see just how injured it was. the vertebrae were taken because doctors at the time were interested in this issue of what does hanging do to a person? does it break their neck or do they die of suffocation? these were in ford's theater. now it is part of a larger museum in silver springs, maryland. if you go there today -- let me see if i can still get this working. you can see the bone -- the arm
bone of wirz on display. the vertebrae is not on display, but the museum holds it. i suppose if you ask nicely they will let you take it back. the curator was happy to explain. i am not going to go into this. they have another piece of his body. the gruesomeness is part of the situation as to why hanging and execution can be a problem. what do you do with the body? this became a huge issue with a osama bin laden. how do you dispose of the body? who gets the body? do you burn it? what do you do? this is one of the issues. when appomattox occurs, april 9, the surrender, the prison at andersonville is still going strong. then comes the surrender of joe johnston to sherman that was
already discussed later in april. wirz believes because that surrender covers georgia that he has amnesty. he never thinks for a second he is going to be arrested or certainly not executed. that is why he doesn't try to make a run for it. he simply goes home. on may 5, 1865, the union captain knocks at his home near the stockade, and there he is living with his wife and two daughters. now i pick up the scene as described in 1955 by the novelist, mckinley kantor, whose novel "andersonville" won the pulitzer prize. this is what i mean by not being able to see it. that generation would have known
andersonville through the novel. most people do not remember the novel. they may remember the tnt production if anything. kantor described the arrest and describes wirz saying -- he thinks he has amnesty. he is told, you don't have amnesty. he goes to change. his wife kindly offers a piece of cornbread. he kisses his daughters and says, what should they do to me? he responds, if they are satisfied you have been doing your duty and acting in accordance with orders, you will probably be released. hope then creeps into wirz's voice. he said, that is what i do all the time. he is speaking in a german
accent, you see. i carry out orders. i do my duty. you are a soldier. that you should know. so, an accused war criminal, defending his action in a german accent, no less, saying, i was simply carrying out my superior's orders, how could you and not this in 1955 think about nuremberg trials 10 years before? you can't. that continues still today. this way in which -- in paul's talk, the evocation of the concentration camps in world war ii is perfectly natural. i am not meaning to condemn that, but it makes it a fools errand to think we can get at the truth of this because we have to see it in those lenses.
so, it was very important to do this trial in a way that led to a conviction and ideally being able to nail jefferson davis. they needed someone like wirz going back to 1865, someone who was nefarious for what he had done, someone who could not garner any sympathy in the public, and that was important, because you have to remember this trial occurs on the heels of the trial of the lincoln assassins. during that trial, one assassin in particular gained tremendous public symphony, mary surratt, public sympathy that is well and alive, not only across parts of virginia, but also across hollywood, where i don't think a
lot of people saw the movie -- the conspirator, played up mary surratt's potential innocence and as a sympathetic figure. this is another reason why he was perfect. he was the perfect man for trial. . one of the people that boards him. he describes him in the following way. wirz has a small head, a retreating for head with the hair very then, threatening baldness.
prominent years, his eyes are large and of mixed blue and gray, very restless, reminding you continually of a cat when the animal is excited by the scent of prey. the man who writes this was the -- general lew wallace -- the president of the commission that tries henry wirz. he writes this before the proceedings have begun. one might say therefore there is a bit of prejudice in the mind of the presiding officer. wallace had already tried on the commission to try the lincoln conspirators. that is one reason he was picked up for this duty. and wallace is a really important figure in the end of the american civil war for all sorts of reasons.
he did not want to be in this commission. he wanted to be in mexico. he had this notion you could create a peace if the union could join with the confederates and say, let's put the war aside and have a joint venture into mexico where napoleon iii had installed maximillian as emperor, and there was a war going on. the idea was, we will liberate mexico together, and we will be able to annex parts of mexico. the war is over. like many people who have in mind peace, he has the next war in mind. he goes to brazos, texas, where
he was 20 years before as a soldier in the mexican-american war. he was at that time having dreams of fearlessness and had read the great work on the conquest of mexico and was imbued with romance at the time. somewhat disenchanted when he got to see his hero zachary taylor and described him as a short, pudgy man. in 1865, now he sees this chance. the mexican plan doesn't work out. he comes back. he serves on the commission that tried to the lincoln conspirators, and he serves on the wirz commission. he never gives up the idea of mexico. during the proceedings, while he is sitting there, he is engaged in correspondence with a great scheme to funnel troops in a very subtle way across the border to help the rebels against maximillian, and in
doing so, they will get paid. they will get land. america will get mexican territory. he takes one of these letters where, from texas, someone says, we have almost got the deal in hand. he is so happy with it he circulates it among his fellow commissioners. they are sitting at the table while wirz -- while witnesses are being questioned, and instead of paying attention, they are reading this like a love note. this thing about this new venture. not only do the judges read it, but the judge advocate reads it, and each write a little note -- this is in the wallace papers -- saying, this is great. and the prosecutor writes, i see once again the american eagle soaring. when we talk about procedural irregularities, this is what we are talking about.
wallace was a romantic. now he knew the end of the trial was predetermined. look. walt whitman, the great lover of humanity, said before the trial began that wirz should suffer blackless, endless damnation. if that is whitman, you have got to believe most people think this man is going down. the trial itself -- i could spend a lot of time with. i don't want to spend too much time on it. i do want to say there were many witnesses that spoke of the horrors. the horrors they spoke of reduced this thing to a horror show. the trial itself, one of the things they learned from the trial of the lincoln assassins,
which had been a close trial to some extent. members of the press were there, but it was not open to the public. it was in a small place. they decided to invite the public. they needed a bigger venue. they held it in a room of the capitol building. this gave it the look of a civil trial, even though it was a military tribunal. that meant there were people -- wallace's wife attended and writes about this. there was a woman every day sobbing as she heard the stories. the horrors there were about the water, the food, but the things that came up most often were about the dogs. the use of bloodhounds to chase down escapees, and this use of stories of bloodhounds was clearly meant to evoke slavery. one witness is asked about the bloodhounds and says, i helped. i owned the dogs, and i used to raise these dogs when i used to
chase negroes in virginia. they connect these dogs used to chase escaped slaves with those used to chase escaped prisoners. everyone knew about these dogs already because of harriet beecher stowe's "uncle tom's cabin." although these dogs don't show up, in -- in the famous chase scene of that, in the stage production, dogs became a regular feature. they would have live dogs chasing the actors around the stage. often they would get in the audience and create havoc. when you knew about slavery and its horrors, you knew about these dogs. these witnesses were like, i didn't see any dogs. there is a great story of a witness that says, i was trying to escape once. yeah, there was a dog. he came up to the fence and he rubbed his nose against mine and
moved on. that is not to minimize how terrifying these dogs were under slavery and at andersonville. we're not talking about the floppy eared hounds of "the andy griffith show." these are weaponized dogs. they are trained to hunt and mangle people. the stories told are not just about hunting people but of mangling and eating people. the other stories told are about whipping the black soldiers who escaped. not only were black people with but white people escaped. many of these white people were whipped. only the white people who put on blackface to pretend to be slaves of the way to mingle with the population outside -- they are brought back and for the crime of pretending to be black, they are whipped. this comes out in the trial, too. all of this i mention because
what is being judged here? wirz's activities in the camp, absolutely, but also what is being put on trial was something that never was put on trial -- the crime of slavery. i would argue this is the only time in american history you get close to a war crime tribunal for the war crime of slavery. a crime against humanity identified as such in the 1700's forward. that has an actual perpetrator. it's the only way there is an actual perpetrator they can point to. and that is wirz. all right. he is hanged. wallace presides. this makes it a fairly morally
straightforward affair, to see it in the way we describe it so far. moral complexity begins to enter the story after world war ii, after nuremberg, after eichmann in jerusalem. when people begin to see the moral complexity that attends these sorts of trials. in 1959, saul levitt, a playwright, writes a play called "the andersonville trial." that play is very much informed by nuremberg. it is very much about superior orders. the prosecutor at nuremberg came up with that phrase, superior orders, i was only following orders -- that defense. that defense, right?
that is not what wirz says at all. they wanted him to say that, but he never says that. he says things like, the confederacy was out of money and food, so that is why i had to treat prisoners this way. they put into his voice the voice of nuremberg. actually in the play it was very popular on broadway for at least a year. then the producers did something remarkable. they took the show to berlin. were performed for one time in 1960. the press coverage was rather remarkable. the audience appeared touched by the play's and analogies to the nazi past. when the curtain closed the audience stood up to applaud this play about andersonville. tenures later, in 1970, that was put on tv on pbs at a live drama. it had a cast of fairly
well-known people. george c. scott -- who was in the 1959 production. he helped produce it. william shatner plays norton shipman. shatner is the glue that holds this whole story together. shatner plays shipman. 10 years later he played the aid to the chief judge in the movie "judgment of nuremberg." he is the perfect person to play a critical role in this trial. you can't divorce these things. in the 1970 version, the press on this, now the context has changed again. when you read the reviews of this, which is broadcast just a few weeks after the events have
and it was just , after kent state. so now the review says, "here are events of 105 years ago, but the question is the kent state campus. how far is andersonville from vietnam?" so they cannot divorce the events from the context. now, the person involved in this who really i think is the most interesting but has not been looked at in this way, who has trouble untangling fact from fiction is lew wallace. lew wallace will go on to have an illustrious career, and i will talk more about that in a second, but during the trial he writes to his wife as the trial is going on and he is hearing this testimony described about
his dream. he says, "i have the first draft of a picture." because he was also an amateur painter. subject over the deadline. the ropes paul finkelman describes, they were called a deadline. if you go over them, you are dead. if you are wondering if there is any connection between that and newspapers, newspaper writers use of the deadline, there is. that is exactly where the term comes from. so wallace in his later life finally turns this draft of a sketch into a painting, which i show you here, over the deadline. what you see here depicted is a dead union soldier, nearly naked, cup falling out of hand. in the background, henry wirz, which we can tell because his right hand is held. but he has a toga on. which is a little odd. or something like a toga.
and what is this? is he henry wirz? is he pontius pilate? the genre he is calling on is the drama of the lamentation of christ. which is a common genre any painter would have known off. the differences in the classic lamentation, mary magdalene and mary mother of god attend, but in "over the deadline," there is no sympathy for the soldiers. there is an absence of sympathy, the absence of the woman caring is what makes this so poignant. then we get to wallace's fame. wallace is the author of the best-selling novel in american history. i'm still struck by the fact one ask people, what is the best-selling novel in american history, it is not "birth of the nation," it is "ben-hur."
published in 1880, it was the best-selling novel for many years. it then got outpaced by "gone with the wind." but then with the rise of conservative christianity born-again movements, "ben-hur" comes back because it is the tale of the christ. that is the subtitle. you may not know the novel. i forced myself to read it. it was really quite interesting. but what you really probably know is the 1959 movie. when you think "ben-hur," you are thinking the chariot race and charlton heston and his biceps. and that is "ben-hur." the chariot scene is crucial to be novel. but it's a small part of the novel. it is interesting. wallace did not identify himself as a christian or a follower of any religion.
yet this becomes foundational for christians. it is a novel about the world in which jesus lives, focusing on the character of ben-hur. at two crucial moments, a cup of water plays a crucial role. in one moment, ben-hur as prisoner is being marched towards rome and the prisoners are stopped and they take a water break, but a soldier puts him aside and does not allow him near the water. and a man, you never see his face, only his hair and his back -- in the movie, that is -- offers him a cup of water. and the soldiers are mesmerized by this man, so much so they do not interfere. the man is jesus, of course. then, that is charlton heston getting a cup of water from jesus christ. then when jesus is being marched to calvary, he gets to repay the
favor. nobody is supposed to go near jesus as he is being marched, but ben-hur makes the bold move of stepping to jesus and giving him the much-needed cup of water. again, i rely on the movie, not the book. you cannot i think go back to this, these scenes -- and they are in the book -- and think they are somehow not related to the deadline. because the idea of a couple of cup of water given or denied stuck in lew wallace's mind so much, so long, he had a painting of it and put it into the novel. my last couple comments and then i will take questions. what is wallace in his later life thinking? is he still thinking that wirz was a criminal and he is glad for what he has done? i want to say that i don't think so. i think that lew wallace and his
later life had become disenchanted with the united states in many ways. mainly because they kind of screwed him over. he had become known as a coward for behavior at shiloh, which i can go into in more detail. grant had gone along with the story that had wallace come to shiloh when he was supposed to, the union would have won cleanly on the first day, but that did not happen, so there was a standoff. wallace never got the acclaim that he wanted. he ended up in a remote part of the west. and he came to see the united states as a kind of republic overly bureaucratized that was on the precipice of its fall. in other words, it was exactly like rome at the time of jesus. if you read "ben-hur," you can
see it. you can see it in the descriptions of the roman bureaucracy, the descriptions of the u.s., and you can see it in the person who condemns ben-hur and his mother to prison, where they will contract leprosy. this little functionary is the criminal of the book, and what he says he is doing is he is simply carrying out the rule of law. wallace writes, "romans, it should be remembered, were at no time such lovers of the law and its forms as in the ages of their decay." the functionary is the villain of this. i think when wallace is revisiting the wirz trial in his head as he writes "ben-hur," who is the evil here? yes, it is wirz, but it is also the commission, because the
commission was behaving in this way of trying to end the war when it could not be ended. during the charges against wirz, it was said by the defense of wirz you cannot do this because the war is over, the whole military commission cannot be allowed to exist. and this is my final, final point. which is that defense sounds weird in november of '65. people say, wait, the war is still going on. and so, the prosecution says the spirit of rebellion still exists, even though the war is over. and that puts on the table, well, how do you crush the spirit of rebellion? how do you end an insurgency? how do you end a war? the war's end requires the destruction of a spirit in the process.
the wirz commission is like a similar war ending inquisition. it was hardly a venue for truth telling. it exacerbated rather than healed the damage of the war, like many tribunals are meant to do, and it suggested the war was not finished, if it ever would be. then as now, war would abide no deadline. thank you. [applause] so i have taken up -- i sucked up all of my question time. i don't know if i'm allowed any questions. ok, i can take some questions. there is a microphone coming around. >> what did the u.s. government hope to get on jefferson davis from wirz? >> that davis knew what was going on in andersonville and either directly or indirectly
authorized him or commanded him to behave in this way, starving soldiers, denying them water. and in this way, we could charge davis with murder and crimes against the laws and customs of war. >> two brief questions. one is, has anybody ever tried a top-down approach, how the confederate government functioned and who the commanders of pow camps reported to and matched papers, if any, from secretary of war or jefferson davis' war? a second point is you said wallace died in an obscure part of the west, but my memory is he was the territorial governor of new mexico. he could not conquer mexico -- >> yes, he got to mexico. >> where he finished "ben-hur." >> i apologize to anyone for -- from new mexico for calling it of skewer.
obscure. that is not what i intended. that was exactly where he ended his service to the u.s. that is correct. on the first question, can we find a paper trail? they very much wanted to find a paper trail. of course, the confederates had done some paper destroying, but a lot had been destroyed. that is why it is not a coincidence that francis lieber, already discussed by paul finkelman, very interested in military justice and the code of war is also the person in charge of collecting the confederate papers. he wants to do precisely this. for months he is the head of what he called the confederate archives. the confederate papers we have, most of them we can thank francis lieber for that. a lot of them got destroyed. part of that is to do precisely this. he wanted the paper trail to find out who are the traitors and who is not. who do we put on trial and who not. a lot of that can be done, but a lot cannot be done because the paper trail is gone. >> how long was wirz in command of andersonville?
>> thank you for asking that, because that is not something i had a chance to mention. very briefly. this is one of the other problems. if i wanted to take the side of wirz, and there are people who do, you could say, look him he was not in charge there very long. the commander at andersonville most of the time was general john winder. wirz was his subordinate. winder had a heart attack and died in february of 1865. while the u.s. would go to certain extents, i don't think they would dig him up and charge him like they did with oliver cromwell. so he is in charge of the camp beginning in february 1865, the camp does not dissolve in april. it is a long and slow process of prisoner transfers, which includes some of the prisoners going on the terribly horrific story of the ship sinking. when he leaves and goes home,
there are still prisoners there. he knows there is a union army nearby and he expects them to take care of them. >> so how much of what happened was really the responsibility of -- >> how much of what happened at andersonville can we pin on this one man, henry wirz? i'm glad we are at the end of my time. [laughter] no, because this question is so excellent. it is one of the few, but really a crucial one, at the heart of any war crimes tribunal, of any postwar tribunal, which is how -- ok, we acknowledge there have been atrocities. how much of these atrocities can we pin on one person, two people, everyone? this is the nuremberg moment. it's much easier to parse this out.
nuremberg defines -- there is no definition. they talk about war crimes, crime against peace and crimes against war. that doesn't exist before -- i'm sorry, crimes against humanity. so i don't want to try to answer that. in my mind, wirz was guilty, but i guess i would go back to what paul finkelman said, many others were guilty, too. but if you started hanging people, i'm not exactly sure when you would be legitimately right to stop. >> thank you. >> can i just add to that, while wirz is not in charge, he is the number two guy. it seems from the evidence that he is running the show a lot. winder does not seem to be doing much of anything. and the general, every assessment i have read off him -- these are, by the way, people who are pro wirz, saying that winder is utterly incompetent. >> but wirz was competent. [laughter]
>> that is the point, wirz is running the show because he is competent. and so, the question is if you are the number two person and you are doing this -- >> i agree, there is no question that wirz was more the manager operations even though he was second-in-command. i don't think the argument that he was second-in-command works for a well if i was trying to defend wirz, which i am not because he was very much involved. but he was not in command until february. >> for those who have not heard, there was a timely announcement this last week, they are going to remake "ben-hur." >> yes, i heard the announcement a little earlier, mgm -- there have been two major productions of "ben-hur" on film. 1959 was the second one. the first one -- 1929, maybe? a silent film. mgm has announced they will bring on a new production of "ben-hur."
so we may all get to see this whole story played out again and people will say, who wrote that book, who was lew wallace, what else did you do, and you will be able to tell them what he was. i see no other hands. so i guess i will thank you all. wait, do we have time? ok, one more question. >> the humanity films forum broadcast the andersonville trial. the two commenters were cannot -- kenneth stamp and your teacher, david donald. stamp said he should not have been hung, david thought he should have. thought you might be interested. >> that is fantastic. no, i wish i knew the argument as to why he should not have been hung. you can actually youtube and see -- it's very poor quality, but the 1970 tv pruc