tv General Robert E. Lees North Anna River Defense CSPAN August 15, 2017 8:00am-8:50am EDT
introduction for this gentleman. chris makowski, dr. chris makowski, is the editor in chief of the emerging civil war. one of the cofounders, along with myself and another friend of ours. emerging civil war started six years ago. we celebrated our 6th anniversary. and we have put together a great group of young historians, old historians, emerging voices. a large part of that has to do with chris michalski. chris is the author of more than a dozen books. author and co-author of more than a dozen books. he takes up the entire backside of the book sale area, so make sure you go see his son jackson who is counting all the cash from the books you are buying. chris has been my co-author. he has been the editor in chief
of emergence of a war. he is the face of emerging civil war and without him we would not be here. we were not have the great cast of characters that have come up here. and i would not be where i am professionally without chris. and for those of you who know me i love what i do and without him i would not be there. i support hyssop -- i appreciate his support. he is going to talk about his book. blow," he will get into that. and this campaign is part of the third battle in the overland campaign toward richmond and petersburg. it will be lee and grant and follow the battle the spotsylvania courthouse here on the battlefield. so i want to introduce my good friend, the editor in chief of dr. chrisivil war,
makowski. [applause] chris: this is a face made for radio, i do not know what he is talking about. i am going to move up and down through here. already i am getting caught up. i will be moving around off through here. as a start moving and you guys are like, what the heck is he doing? i am giving you fair warning. i am walking down telegraph road, going from north to south, the modern route 1. just to get us acclimated, turning the rim into -- room into a map. the river runs over here. past hank, we can throw him in the river. telegraph road goes northward. richmond would be in that direction. spotsylvania would be conveniently over here at the
bar. [laughter] chris: if anybody wants to visit spotsylvania, here we are. we can have her own little mule at the end. that will get us oriented. we must strike of them a blow, property we said appeared in the afternoon of may 24, 1864. we must strike them a blow. he had put together the perfect plan for the union army. and the union army of the atomic had obliged, going straight into it. -- cot,g on his caught wracked by dysentery, robert lee nearly delirious lay saying "we must distract them a blow." but had no one he could call want to strike that blow. to understand how he found
himself in that most precarious position, we have to go back to the bar. where the army's have been fighting -- armies have been fighting since the fifth of may in the wilderness. ulyssesay, asking s. grant to go around. changing the nature of the war. all of you that have heard the nonsense about gettysburg being the turning point of the war, nonsense. do not believe that malarkey at all. it happens in the wilderness, new s grant -- when ulysses s. grant decides to go around. he has decided wherever property two of theere are army of the potomac should go. it is a war of attrition. he says, if by no other means man through attrition, we will
simply where the confederates down. crashlly the armies would -- classic and then withdraw. they would spend time to recuperate and resupply. but if it is a numbers game, grant does not want to give the confederates the opportunity that is why he chooses to go around, changing the entire nature of the war. that is why the wilderness is the turning point, because the war fundamentally changes. as you can see by the graph, a wonderful math -- map by hal. wave, hal. they go to spotsylvania, where lee intercepts grant again and they locked in combat for two more weeks. grant trying to find a way around, to out fight, to a maneuver and lee continues to perry each move. until finally granted realizes
he cannot get lee at spotsylvania. he says, "my main concern at this point is to get lee out into the open where we can have an open field fight." and he can use his superior numbers to overwhelm lee. the attrition factor. he starts the campaign with 120,000 men. by the time he gets from the wilderness to spotsylvania, he is down to 100,000. by the time he decides to leave, 80,000. those are terrible numbers. but he knows that lee is also racking up correspondingly horrible casualties. lee starts with 66,000 and by the time they finish he is down to 40,000. and grant is just going to keep wearing him down. so he decides to once more go around. time he will try something a little different.
instead of going around the flanks, he chooses to send one of his army court on a -- army corps on a flank maneuver, to lure him out, because grant understands how aggressive lee is. if i am the union army facing the confederate position, and i have moved around and around, i will finally swing off in this direction to try to go south. and what grant wants to do is lean on the second corps under hancock and send them in this direction, dangle them out there. ray, can you clear hand up over there? heading over there. doesn't he look like bait? grant is hoping if you can send them out there, lee will not be able to resist the bait and he will move to try to crush a portion of the union army. and when he makes that move,
grant will count with his other corps. that is the plan. one of the things i find it so remarkable about the north anna is this is-- stage, all psychological warfare. because the army's have -- armies have been locked in combat for three weeks ended the war of attrition has not only worn down the size of the armies and exhausted the men, but it has exhausted the commanders. so we will see missteps, second-guessing. we will see lost opportunities as the two amazing generals began to falter under the weight of their own personal attrition. isthis point, robert e. lee only sleeping three hours a night. grant, also running on fumes at this point. so we will see how this will
start to feed into their own inability to execute their own excellent plan. of may 20,vening 1864, he sets the plan in motion. and they get here to the intersection of church road and route 1, and telegraph road. straight shot. jay you would be in total big bad trouble if i was coming straight at you. in fact, one of the staff officers says, if grant had it treated it as a race to the north anna river, things would've worked out entirely different. instead, he will not aggressively push to the river, although it represents an excellent position, although it is the inside track to richmond, grant is thinking that he wants to lure lee into a fight. instead of sending the second corps straight down the road,
they will turn in this direction. we have a vacant chair for stonewall jackson at the station. and as the men make the market overnight, they talk about the change in scenery because this is a portion of virginia that has never before seen war. it was a feast for the eyes and a joy for the sole, one soldier said. crops were full. it was untouched by the war. immediately, this beer of gloom that had plagued the men for three weeks lifted from their shoulders. account after account talks about their soaring spirits, their optimism, their excitement, as they go into the heart of virginia. they go past guinea station and they continue down in this direction toward the village of bowling green.
i do not know your first name. smith? you look like the town of bowling green. >> oh dear. chris: oh dear is right. [laughter] chris: little village. marchingck's men come in at about noon. at aboutat -- calvary 9:00 in the morning, and then the men i knew. they pillage the town. i apologize. they pillage the town. but hancock's orders allow him to continue onward. to milford station, then if he feels bold he can actually cross the river to a place called hanover sanction -- station, represented by the podium. it is important because it is a real junction. the richmond and atomic railroad going north to south, the southern virginia railroad coming in and connecting here and going toward richmond.
it is a vital supply line and we will have to protect -- lee will have to protect that, keep that in mind. this is where things fall apart. as the men get into bowling green and they have their fun pillaging, and they start to move toward milford station, they run into confederate reinforcements that are getting off of the train. you might remember, a place called her re-bluff done around richmond, benjamin butler has been having a fine time doing little to nothing. butler trapped in a bottle, one cartoonist said. the confederates are able to strip the reinforcements and in them to lee. this will be the vanguard of 6000 reinforcements from george pickett's division. and when hancock gets there, they are not expecting anyone and is sent only they have to driveway the confederate. s. ksd that's books -- that spoo
hancock. grant senseer, hancock down because he is they go to guy. through the campaign he has called on the second corps for every single absolute tough job, the second corps gets sent in. they are exhausted, they are beat up, they have been marching literally for 14 hours. and when hancock gets into the position, they aggressive core commander of the army of the spooked. potomac gets they dig in atop a small nole. uncharacteristic, isn't it? this will be the first of actionsuncharacteristic by the officers and both armies. contributes to his
discomfort is the rest of the army is still empty spots opening a p at he is having a tough time communicating with them. it is not like everybody can get out their iphones, how is it going? so carriers are trying to get back and forth, but the problem calvary is considerable cal in the area. so the union carrier are having a tough time getting through and hancock begins to get nervous. nervousarts getting back in spotsylvania. hancock out to send there and move the rest of the army down here to try to trap lee. the follow-up is going to be warren's fifth corps. but grant, starting to get nervous, second-guessing his own plan, does not send warren. instead he sends him to back up
hancock. so warren will move into this area through here. that is going to be really important. because grant, the ever aggressive guy and he has a good plan, but he is second-guessing himself. meanwhile lee is trying to read the tea leaves. are there still federals in front of me or not? he still has to union corps putting up a good show. but he is hearing reports of federals moving and he does want to take the bait. except, the ever aggressive lee chooses not to. instead he will hedge his bets and play it safe, and he will send his second corps on a road that will come down behind you. it will hook over here. and he will stop here and mud at tavern and -- mudd ta
block the road. he knows it is the tractor richmond and he have to protect it. and richard mule performs one of his best duties of the entire war by pulling off this march. he leaves at 3:00 in the morning, gets here by 10:00, blocks the road. he has denied grant the inside track to richmond. remember, officer grant -- if grant treated this like a race, he could've one -- he could have won. now he has been denied that chance. lee is afraid to commit, because he still has federals in front of him. here is one of those great missed opportunities, because we have warren over here, hancock off in here, we have yule right here, and the other half of the union army is right here. and i want to ask you, anybody that knows anything about military three, if you have
somebody in the middle, and the enemy on one side, enemy on the other side, what does that leave these guys susceptible to? the toast? you are absolutely right. [laughter] chris: i just like to say that. pitcher can of the close in. yule is a sitting duck. grant, who is still nervous about poor communication, does not close the gap to cut him off. that allows lee to move the rest of his army out of spotsylvania. lee recognizes it is a race to the river. he will send the third corps, now under a.p. hill who had started the campaign just fine and is now susceptible -- and was susceptible to his social
disease for two weeks, is now back in action. they will go straight toward hank. , nowhen, the first corps under richard anderson who has replaced a wounded soldier, will file in behind yule the book itself. the objective is to get to the north anna river. because the river, down here below the map. i will show it to you in a second. is a fantastic position. it has high banks. it is a narrow river. tough for the artillery position, but because of those narrow banks, it becomes hard to cross the river on the other side. and there are other places that dominate the northern bank. if i put the artillery here, i have a great platform. wants to hunker here
and let grant come at him. lee recognizes it is a race to the river. filinghis army comes down this direction, moving ewell still blocking the way, grant will send the rest of his army to follow up hancock. wave your hand. there he is. let's not forget about him. hancock is feeling very forgotten. that is part of the problem. here, as he gets his army he will follow and keep going that way. and he is going to send the ninth corps straight down the telegraph road. will followth corps up and keep going that way too. the problem is, ewell is
blocking the road. by the time burnside gets here, the army of northern virginia has basically filed down this road. look how wide open it is. no problems. and because it is smooth sailing, the rearguard of engineers have blocked a small stream. ok, so when you see the stream the engineers, that is it. because it is dusk, burnside pulls up and he sees confederates on the other side of the river, which is really a creek not wider than two of these tables. it has steep banks. burnside sees the confederates on the other side and he is a little nervous. because ambrose burnside is wonderfully mediocre, he chooses not to force a crossing. and instead, he chooses to
backtrack and follow the other two corps. now the backtracking alone is problematic, but what he actually does is he turns the whole column around, so the lead regiment stays in the lead, rather than have everybody turn around like this. everybody has to march. i am sure my military discipline is fantastic. we are going to march. and it creates a huge bottleneck, because now the 6th corps have to wait for burnside to turn around and he will filter through here. allow thet will rearguard of ewell to turn around and leave. if you had a more aggressive corps commander, you could have easily split. we are talking a couple hundred of engineers to stop an entire corps. a campaign of lost opportunities and here is one.
as a mentioned earlier, here is the sweeping easy road. miles into the interior, governor k warren's fifth corps is occupying the little roads and they get word the confederates are marching by. and the confederates do not have a clue how close the federal czar. -- the federals are. and warren says my men will be on the move that don. -- dawn. which allows the confederates to march on by. again, if there had been more aggressive action on the corps level, warren could have come down the road from the quarters, right here from the tavern and hit the confederate army completely unaware in the flank. instead, he will wait until morning. and that will allow the confederates to escape.
i have to point out, lee marches across the face of the enemy and does not know it. hello? again, if we are talking about missed opportunities, if we are talking about sloppy mistakes, here we have both commanders incapable of pulling the trigger. both commanders second-guessing themselves. both commanders not paying attention. we had it happening at the army command level and at the corps level. race.e finally wins the the 22nd, morning of the last nine miles he goes and gets across. at this point he has so exhausted that his men recognize he is not well. and when he gets across the river, his division of the vanguard, he says protected the
bridge right here. and one officer says, my men are exhausted. s his menhools -- scold and says, do not tell me this. i expect my orders to be obeyed. he turns to af, staff officer and says, generally is a very troubled man. he is not well. in fact, he is being racked by dysentery. he will have to start writing in a carriage -- riding in a carriage because he cannot stay on a horse he is so weak and ill. and he will be peevish and cantankerous as he gets his army into position. but even worse, he will become sloppy. aside from protecting the bridge head here, he does not have the army set up for any other defenses. as the men cross here, they start talking baths in the
river, they start relaxing. here he lets the men start relaxing. he knows grant is that way. he expects him to continue to the east and across the river somewhere off on the porch. rather than set of defense, he wants to let the men rest so tomorrow he can move and intercept. rest is on his mind. no doubt he is sick. meanwhile, grant is often this area now. ere, the second corps h ninth corps over here. i just turned you into ambrose burnside, i apologize. the ratio right over -- horatio right over here. he will head down this road. and grant is trying to figure out what to do. i want you to think back to his earlier order to george gordon
meade. he said, where lee goes you shall go too. meade says, we are all the way over here. i will cross and make the jump to richmond. grant says no, lee is over there. where lee goes, you shall go too. grant wants to take the offensive again, so he will consolidate the army through a series of backroads that are too narrow for me to make, and they will go off in that direction. i have friends from texas and they will consolidate at a place called carmel church. steve, you will be carmel church. he looks very holy, doesn't he? they will move part of the army around this way and the force part of the army across here. and on the afternoon of the 23rd, lee sees the vanguard of
the army. and he thinks, it is just confederate horseman. no big deal. the men are like, should we do something? no, they are fine. grant is in that direction. but no, it is hancock going across the river. the only defense lee has is the bridge right here. you are about to have a bad day, i apologize. this is hannegan's readout. they are there with the second south carolina deployed here. with the third south carolina battalion here. and the third here. we have four regiments. he is a 43-year-old farmer who has been promoted through good service and he is the guy that now have to face the second corps, which deploys in a wide arc.
you guys got that, right? it is a technical term. and they come in from three sides and they drive the south carolinians into the river, in a route. they last all of 15 minutes. the only reason it lasts that long, is because there are earthen walls 15 feet high and when the federals first get there could they cannot get over there, they cannot get over the wall. so some of them make steps so comrades can walk up. others giving their friends the heave ho. they drive the federals, or the confederates into tha ravine and starts blasting away. georgians come sweeping at him. prevented from doing so. the bridge sent only belongs to the federals.
and it is all that, as all that unfolds robert e lee is sitting on the porch of the fox house, it is still there, drinking a glass of buttermilk. and the opening barrage of artillery comes crashing around him. the finishes the buttermilk, passes the empty glass to one of his servants, gets up, goes to his carriage and decides, i had better get to work. the artillery barrage actually hits the chimney, one of the chimneys of the house and an avalanche of bricks comes down and kills one of the staff officers. and it looks like the yankees are indeed coming at us. ve youile, down here, da will have a good day. dave is going to be horatio and he will corps
basically cross the river uncontested. calvarysee confederate at the top of the hill. he will drive them away and they will go back and report, we have federal's crossing the river. no big deal, right? it is the entire fifth corps. warren is just crossing over. what is your name? dave, you will be the sixth corps. there are so many men, they cannot even all get across. they deploy. as they begin to deploy, the confederates realize, we probably ought to do something about that. and so the confederates finally send out some troops. the deploy, catching the fifth corps in the middle of their deployment. sweeping them back into the river. trying tose guys are
get onto the field, the confederates are literally smashing into them, sweeping them away. here is one of those great stories. herles mink with four guns, charges across the field and set up on the edge of a ravine and starts blasting away. georgians come sweeping at him. they get him pinned in a little ribbing and is just enough time for more federal troops to start reforming the long. -- the line. and the tide of battle turns, and the guys in the ribbing get caught in the crossfire and the drive them back. men finally get back to hill, who thinks, maybe i should send reinforcements. except he is late to the game. the fighting will end and hill is not able to send reinforcements.
giving the federals free access to the south bank of the river. they are across the river here. they have the bridge crossing here. evening. a bad . bad evening for robert e. lee calls together his command staff. they sit on the roots of an old oak tree that towers above them. he tells -- polls each one, what should we do? what should we do? what should we do? candid they all offer their opinions. they know they have to protect hanover junction. the rail line heading straight in this direction. the consensus seems to be they should line up on the rail line, using the embankment as a good, strong defensive line. but there is a problem with
that, because the federals can come down and outflank. there is no spot to anchor the flank down here. a couple of streams, but the federals could go further up and separate the real line -- sever the rail line. so they are puzzled. lee turns to his chief engineer, martin smith. i should say, everybody look at matt, because he is standing where i stood and he is thinking, i am getting stink eye from the back of the room. [laughter] chris: smith poses a different formation. rather than a straight line, pardon me. he wants to do a v. he wants to anchor on the river itself. i will reorient the battlefield he little bit, so that this will not be the telegraph road. this line has opened up.
and what smith wants to do is anchor the line here at a tall spot called ox ford. because the south bank of the river dominates. and he wants to pull the line back along some ridges two about here,then go -- to about then go straight across. and he will refuse the line going this way. and this march will protect the confederate right -- marsh will protect the confederate right. the portion i just described. meanwhile, this aside under hill will go back along in older stage road and anger at extreme. -- anchor at a stream. so this v will invite the federals to take advantage of their crossing at jericho mills.
you had a great day, you are over on the south bank of the river, alright. warren is feeling good, because he defeats the confederate third corps. warren married hill's old girlfriend. as my friend would it tell you, and he sendss hill a letter saying, i saw your old boyfriend. here again, he sends a letter to his wife, i had an encounter with ol' hill. he loves to rub it in. warren is here and he can just continue to advance. i do not want to walk into the speaker. he can continue to advance. meanwhile, over here at the chesterfield bridge, hancock can just crosses the river and continue to advance. what do you notice about the
configuration? let me see if i can find my laser pointer. my use of technology. hancock can come down here, warren is going to come down here. what do you notice about that? as both wings of the army advance -- they are going to split them. a further each wing advances, the farther away it gets from its support. ultimately, hancock's men will be down here. if they were going to help warren, they would have to cross the river, come across the river again, a total of seven miles and to river crossings in the face of the enemy. so if either wing was to reinforce the other, it becomes a huge logistical challenge, making the army extremely vulnerable. it is the perfect track. -- trap. because lee wohler -- will lure
them down in this direction, then slam this shot. s secondsend ewell' corps to close the jaws of the trap. it is brilliant. the meeting closes, in part because they have come up with a plan, but also often the distance lee start hearing mule drivers within the mule. and he calls out, what are you doing in that mule. and a voice yells back, what is it to you? it ain't your mule. and lee quietly gets up and he goes to pay a visit to the mule train. we do not have a record of what happened, but i can imagine. the rest of the army mobilizes and reconfigures the line. if you ever have a chance to
visit the battlefield today, you will see it is amazing earthworks. as tall as my head. and they are just fantastic my wonderfully preserved. in the morning of the 23rd, the morning of the 24th, hancock's men cross the bridge and the begin to advance. there are a few skirmishes, but no resistance. warren finds the same thing, no resistance. continue toorders, the south and a river and cross by tonight, if possible. another six or seven miles to the river. grant sees open field. confederates must have retreated to the richmond defenses. hancock's men get into the area, they realized, there are confederates in front of us. and so they begin to hunker down. they start exchanging artillery fire. confederates begin to blast them
off of the fields. and as the federals try to shuffle and moving to respond, they do not know what to do and it is ambrose burnside trying to cross at the tip of the v, who finally discovers what is going on, because he cannot get across the river because the artillery dominates his position, preventing him from crossing. guys over,s to send but they get mowed down. he says, our chances for crossing are not that good, but we will give it a try. and he continues to be driven away. now with the second corps vulnerable, all lee have to do is spring the trap and close the jaws. but as he turns to his subordinates, he sees richard you had a very bad time at the bloody angle, who
had his army nearly destroyed on the 18th at harris farm, lee does not have confidence in him. in the anchor cannot move. he is a great guy, but not a guy with razzle-dazzle. and he just screwed up the day before. said, why dide you not throw in all your memo jackson would have? what a cold slap that was. hill andrew jackson did not get along. and he pulls the jackson card -- snap. [laughter] chris: and lee is too sick to supervise. lee in his tent, confined to his camp, was not lee in the field. moste is taking only the vital dispatches, but he cannot get up. he eventually is confined to his
cot, trapped in his tent, nearly delirious. with this -- we must strike them a blow. we must not let them escape. he has no one to depend on, no one to turn to the spring the trap. grant realizes what is going on in the orders the men to get into defensive positions, save yourselves. he has stumbled into this and now he must save his own army. warren finds no one in front of him and he is told to hunker down as well. ninth corps troops will try to circumvent by hooking this way in a very -- and a very drunken james levy will try the line against orders. and his five regiments, including dependent regulars,
will all be in the midst of a thunderstorm with lightning flashing around them in a very dramatic, but ultimately futile effort. hope tolee can do is strike a blow that can never happen. grant will hunker down, his calvary will finally return and enable colby outmaneuvered -- pull the outmaneuvered, swinging out and pulling out of north anna river altogether, leaving lee behind in this perfect formation that proved ultimately impotent. and so as we consider this great defense, easily lee's strongest position of the campaign, one of the most ingenious positions they are able to pull together, we think about the toll of this
campaign. and even the greatest of defenses mean nothing if your leadership falls apart. if your leadership begins to second-guess itself. if your leadership falls victim to the very attrition it is trying to inflict. both armies leave in high spirits, grants still thinks he can win. lee still thinks he can fend off grant. this is completely indecisive. and if we consider the toll on the armies, the toll on the commanders, and as we consider these great defenses, even the greatest of defenses can be for not. if you do not have someone available who can strike that blow. thank you very much. [applause]
>> thank you. thank you very much, chris. we have time for one or two questions. anybody have any questions? i have to go somewhere over here in your bowling green. >> frank from youngstown. i always considered meade the chessplayer. where was he in this campaign? they did not participate or help? i always consider him the guy that counters lee's chess moves. chris: that is a great question. by this point he is pretty much forgotten. i think the point of this illustrates that is a photo that has become famous, where the army has pulled out pews from a
church and meade is sitting on one of them and grant is over his shoulder. grant intended to let him run the day-to-day operations of the army, but grant is not hands off and he has taken more control of the army to the point that meade feels impotent. as the commanders march to the river, meade gets so huffy he speeds past grant. it becomes really petty. there is a nasty scene at carmel church where he gets a telegraph, if you could now inspire the army of thepotomac to do something, and meade blows his top -- we do not need to do something to inspire them. and he says, you took my calvary away! he is powerless to do anything. turns out, he suggested to be --
to cross the river, and he turns out to be right. and because he is the ultimate professional, he will never rub that in grant's face, he will continue to follow orders and be dutiful. and he will continue to carry out to the best of his ability. here we have an instance where he is overshadowed and frustrated by it and he will continue his service. >> more like a high-ranking staff officer rather than a commander. one more question. anybody? chris: i will point out, this is the closest the armies ever get in size. by this point, attrition has brought the union army down to about 68,000 men. reinforcements and he is up to about 53,000, about 53,000-68,000, look how close the armies are. it.grant and lee both botch
>> how long does it take lee to recover? chris: great question. he is only out of commission for a couple of days. because the federals hunker down rather than push forward, it buys him enough time to recover. ewell will also come down with dysentery and he will be sent to the rear and not invited back, but because lee is the indispensable man, he cannot go to richmond to recover. thank you so much for your time. i appreciate it. [applause] >>