Skip to main content

tv   Historians Discuss Leadership of General George G. Meade  CSPAN  August 18, 2017 8:00pm-9:24pm EDT

8:00 pm
well as the internet grew, and there were jobs, and people are putting things online and there is money at risk, all of a sudden hackers started getting jobs doing security. >> watch on c-span and and listen using the free c-span radio app. you're watching american history tv on c-span 3. we're in prime time all this month while congress is in recess. next we'll continue our focus on the civil war, with conversations on fame bank robber jesse james and general william sherman's march to the sea and union prisoners that escaped. we'll start with union general george meade, this is part of the civil war institute conference at gettysburg college. >> good morning, everyone.
8:01 pm
i'm pete car mikele and the director of the civil war institute. i welcome all of you to our panel on georgia gordon meade. i'm going to quickly go through this morning as line up. on my far right you to your left, we have john hennessey, and historian. he is also a -- the author of an acclaimed book on second bull run. to his left, scott hartwig. he is a long time friend and supporters of cwi and also a historian. retired historian from gettysburg national park. he is also written a book on the battle of antietam. it is a two volume study and the second voelume will be out in a few years. excellent. good. to the left of scott is jennifer murray. jen murray also cut her teeth as a historian right here at the
8:02 pm
gettysburg national park. and she is a professor of history at the university of virginia at wise. and many of you met ken know. he was your adviser at auburn where she completed her dissertation. and last, we have brooks simpson who he just said who needs no introduction. you do need introduction. and everyone, on c-span audience, they know you, brooks. he is a professor of history at arizona state and his specialty as you know is the presidency and specifically u.s. grant. let's turn to george gordon meade. history has wrong footed george gordon meade. the man who is behind one of the most important victories in american military history is barely recognized for his role in defeating these army at gettysburg. meade, in fact, saw this coming.
8:03 pm
d des 7th, 1863 he wrote the following to his wife. i see that the new york herald, i see that the herald is constantly harping on the assertion that gettysburg was fought by the corp commanders and the common soldiers and there is no generalship displayed. i suppose after a while it will be discovered that i was not at gettysburg at all. the words absolutely undeniable. but it would have been truly astonishing if he had identified in that same letter that a colonel of a maine regiment was the true savior of gettysburg. so that leads us to this. why doesn't george gordon meade have a bobblehead ball like
8:04 pm
joshua chamberlain. brooks suggested that -- and brooks is among many things a marketing genius. he suggested that we should have bobblehead dolls of the all of the cwi historians and i don't think we'd be able to keep brooks in stock. >> brooks' bobblehead would be the biggest. >> it would be the biggest. that wasn't scripted, i swear. we didn't plan that. >> my bobblehead would have socks on. [ laughter ] [ applause ] >> brooks, i am not surprised at all that you don't understand a fashion statement. this is a fashion statement. >> no scarf, peter. what could i say. >> it is 90 degrees outside. that is why. all right. we will do our best to try to turn the conversation away from us. although obviously we like to talk about us. and we will go to -- actually which is avery serious question and that is why in fact does
8:05 pm
george gordon meade, his reputation, you almost have a reputation, right. why, in fact, is he forgotten here at gettysburg and really his entire military career? >> well, one reason i actually do think that meade is forgotten is the lack of capable biographers up to this point in time that we only have a handful of dry biographical studies of meade. we heard of many in the works at this time. that i think will give him a lot of attention the same way that other people like grant himself, who has been the subject of a handful of biographies over the last couple of decades. that has readdressed the hist oral neglect on grant. and people have not found him attractive until recently. >> i would add that i think
8:06 pm
there are two things related to gettysburg and one thing related to the overland campaign. the damage to meade's reputation. greatly. and carries all the way to this day. the one is sickle's testimony about meade's generalship at gettysburg, both the pseudonym articles in the newspapers that were condemning of meade's generalship and filled with half truths an lies and his testimony before the committee on the conduct of the war which kind of perpetrated that, but also the committee on the conduct of the war, the hearings that he held in the spring of 1864 for meade were tremendously damaging to his reputation because they initially -- all of the people that he called forth were enemies of meade. al been howl. remember him. he was a huge hero at
8:07 pm
gettysburg. why did they call him? admiral double day. he was -- he fought very well but he hated meade. so they tried to stack the deck against meade and then they surprised meade when he was in washington and had him testify. he wasn't prepared for the first time he testified. so he didn't come off very well. so the committee on the conduct of the war i think damaged him, his reputation and then in the overland campaign, he -- there was a correspondent named ed ward crap si who worked for the philadelphia inquiry and in a story he wrote about the early part of the campaign, he mentioned that after the battle of the wilderness and his article was pretty accurate. but one of the things he mentioned was that meade wanted to retreat after the battle of the wilderness and meade was a -- somewhat of a prickly sensitive guy. he really took offense to what he wrote and he was getting tired of a lot of lies told by
8:08 pm
correspondents so we had crepe si humiliated and they put a placard on him and mounted backwards on the horse and said libeller of the press and drummed him out of the army and all of the other correspondens got together and cut meade out of anything positive and any disaster to the army, they put meade's name associated with it. so i think those things all combined to really damage his reputation for the rest of time. up to today. >> i would offer maybe a bigger lens on this question. almost every book that spans the civil war, if you note, will have 5 hup pages through the war on gettysburg and then 150 on everything else. we have as a sewite and historians have had a tremendous opportunity over the years to remedy the bad press that meade received during the war.
8:09 pm
the unjust press that he received. but we have such a fixation as kind of a public as historians too on the possibility of exiten shall moments. we like to hang on those moments when we believe that the war could turn in an instant. and of course the participants at the time believed by enlarge that the next big battle that they were about to participate in would be that moment. but after gettysburg, it became clear to everybody, or most people, certainly over time, even most importantly to abraham lincoln, that the war would not hinge on a single moment. instead it would be a war of accumulation. and as consumers of drama, historians and the public alike, we have discounted, we don't
8:10 pm
like that as much. it is not as interesting, it is not as dramatic to focus on a war sh -- a grinding war of accumulation over time. meade, when he wrote about military campaigns, he often referred to them as operations. not battles, but operations. and over time he began to see the war much as grant, and one of the reasons i think they worked together as well as they did, is that they began to see the war as an operation. and those sorts of grinding cumulative campaigns don't enrapture us the way gettysburg and antietam do and i think it is quite simply -- or maybe not simply, but largely a function of our kind of warped perception of liftory and our expectations of history in moments like gettysburg that union army, if
8:11 pm
it is defeated is going to collapse like a broken camp stool. we have that expertise or that belief, that if the confederates had won at gettysburg, the world would have been different. there is nothing in the war that tells us that that in fact was the case. so i think meade is a man who waged a war of accumulation over time. and we just don't find it very interesting. >> i'll add to that. meade is very much aware of his declining reputation, if you read through meade's letters, he's constantly talking to his wife and very intimate correspondence about his reputation is on the decline. and there is like grant and sherman and sheridan are eclipsing him. but it wasn't always that way. meade's rise to prominence parallels a quick decline but when he gets to frederick on july 8th, on the pursuit, the people of frederick come out and greet him.
8:12 pm
they bring his flowers and wreaths and he's treated as a wrong star and he gets to falling water and you could see his reputation declining because it doesn't push lee. >> one of the things, though, i think that actually goes back to what john is talking about, because when we look at gettysburg, you go out into the town, you go to the shops and there are all of these paintings. you have to look very hard to find a meade painting. there are a couple of. they are not terribly exciting. even meade's statue out on cemetery ridge is just him standing there looking, trying to see if he could see the virginia monument across the way. only of course to see that lee is on a higher pedestal than he is. and the fact is, we go back to what peter talks about, that meade complain explain --
8:13 pm
explains that i wasn't at gettysburg at all and if you look at those days, you don't see him in the dramatic moments. he is an army manager. it is hancock who comes to the field to rally the troops and to the dismay of otis howard. it is other people who do dramatic things, even if they are wrong headed like dan sickles. if i'm asking you, give me an image of meade at gettysburg, you are hard-pressed outside of the war to give that. even meade himself misses the climax the battle at picket's charge and comes up and said, my god, is the enemy already repulsed. i haven't seen this. the only other sign we have in the movements in the battlefield are getting away from the bombardment prior to the july 3rd assault is he go to round top and where the 146th new york monument is there is a sign that meade was here right after the
8:14 pm
battle contemplating what to do next and of course he chose to do nothing. we might find that to be a wise decision. but there is nothing about what meade does here that captures that imagine acation that is lo for that precisive turning point, that order that changed things. he's a war manager. my argument by george meade is very simple. at gettysburg he proved he is not the general who would lose the war. he showed competence, which is sorely lacking in his predecessors. also showed afterwards he was not the man who would win the war. that man was still elsewhere at this time. >> i would add, and i think john's point and what brooks is adding on to that is very good, is meade was a, in many respects, he developed into a modern soldier. so one of the things that gets me into the trouble at gettysburg. is meade constantly developed
8:15 pm
alternative plans in case this happened or that happened. he wanted to have plans in place. and that was actually relatively rare amongst civil war commanders. they have a plan and if that failed they had to come up with a new plan and he had alternative plans and they used that against him. but he was a -- he was a business-like warrior. so when you think about some of the great leaders that emerged from the civil war, sheridan, grant, sherman, a sherman never cultivated the press but the press loved him. meade never cultivated the press, at all. the press didn't love him. his men didn't love him. they respected him but they didn't love him. he wasn't the sort of personality that i think illicited enthusiasm. whether it was with politicians, whether it was with the people, whether it was the army. he illicited respect and didn't
8:16 pm
do anything to build his reputation. you look at meade before the battle of gettysburg, and you're hard-pressed to find an offer with a record as good as he has. and what is musing, when they say he was a cautious fighter. i'm like, really, have you seen fredericksburg, antietam and he was wush of the most aggressive officers. but in the army knew that. people outside of the army didn't know that very well. because he didn't cultivate the press in any way. >> and in fact, the only thing where meade tries to cultivate interest of anyone, it didn't work very well. is in the spring of 1863, so joseph hooker has taken over the army of the potomac and the lincolns visit the army of the potomac. and meade writes home to his wife and one of the things we have about civil war commanders that those who write home to their wives have reputations changed forever by the letters
8:17 pm
they write or reported to have written in some cases. in any case, meade writes back to his wife back in philadelphia that he had spent part of a lunch flirting with mary todd lincoln. now usually this would merit a combat service badge. [ laughter ] >> and it is the only time apparent apparently that mary saw someone flirting with her rather than her husband. but the fact of the matter is meade did understand some of these things but even then he was clumsy as trying to advance himself and he didn't like it. it wasn't who he was. he was conscious of his reputation and conscious that that he was not very skilled at self-promotion. he would have been awful on twitter for example. his facebook page would be bland, kind of like hennesseys.
8:18 pm
>> you were waiting and now you got it. >> john's excitement comes tonight. but in any case, he doesn't have those things -- he has a staff that is passionately loyal to him. and has filled the pages of many an archival box with tributes to meade and how he's been unjustly overshadowed by others but meade doesn't have that skill to portray himself and in fact, would have seen this, even though he wished he it, as an artificial promotion of his image and therefore a violation of his professional norms. and his character. >> i think he sees himself as a sort of a quintessential 19th century philadelphia gentleman and he writes over and over in his letters about duty. so we talked yet about marcel eck and sherman and order under scores sherman's life and for meade it is duty. it is a sense to be dutiful and follow orders which is not parallel to being like brookz
8:19 pm
and shameless self-promotion. if meade had been more like brooks simpson -- >> then you'd have a much more interesting biography that people would buy. >> with a big bobblehead. >> well at least my bobblehead moves. you have a scarf around it. it didn't move. >> you won't be surprised that our major preparation for this panel was figuring out and make sure none of us have to sit in the love seat with brooks. and we succeeded. but one of the -- something that we tend to overlook and is a consistent pattern during the war and in life in general, you've all experienced it, i've experienced it, is that no matter when you are in a subordinate position, commenting on a -- on your superiors, it is very easy to be aggressive, assertive, or imagine that you
8:20 pm
would have been. but the greatest inspiration for conservatism on the earth is responsibility. and once that responsibility is yours and you see it over and over again, you see these leaders, especially of this army of the potomac, most notably hooker, but also meade. revert to a much more cautious approach to things. the first responsibility is to avoid disaster. now as a subordinate, meade was very vocal in his letters home about mcclennan's caution and the need to be more aggressive. but when he assumed command, of course he found that wasn't always as simple as that. it is also to me notable, or worth noting that to assess meade, you have to understand the army he commanded. and his reception in that army
8:21 pm
is very much a function of their relationship with their prior commanders and their rearrangement of how they perceived the commander of the army of the potomac. by the time he took command, of course, there had been mcclennan, there had been for some of them john pope, there had been burnside, there had been hooker. and the army in one way or the other wanted to love and in fact did love a couple of them. or at least mcclennan. but by the time gettysburg came along, the army's identity was not wrapped up in the commander, unlike the army of virginia which identified wholly will lee. and the army of the potomac came to identify with itself. it is one of the most remarkable we've seen in our nation. they had a very powerful sense of identity. and the reason, in my view, gettysburg is so important to the nation is because it was so important to the army of the
8:22 pm
potomac. it was that justification of their self perception as a remarkable army which they called themselves before the battle and then afterwards, you see a rush within a matter of months to memorialize by the army, to memorialize the service here at gettysburg. the reynolds monument. other discussions of monuments at gettysburg. the creation of the national cemetery here. all of these things are a reflection of how important gettysburg was to the army. and it was a reflection of the fact that the army identified so strongly with itself. it never saw grant as its identity. although thi although they admired grant and came to admire meade as well. mostly the great pivotal point for george meade and the perception of the army ironically and tellingly was a decision not to do something at mine run. army saw that decision not to
8:23 pm
assault at mine run as careful solicitation of their well being, without risking the cause for which they fought. and they appreciated that a great deal. so has kind of low simmering placement in america's heritage, is in many ways i think function. although, i was thinking this morning, this is probably the largest group of people that has gotten up early for george meade since the great review in 1865. >> and i think that the mine run thing is interesting. because his own correspondent is actually upset that that assault did not take place. the governor warren would calls off at salt and at that point he is in the charge of the second corp and meade's own correspo correspondence was i was ready to go. and he pulled the plug on it. and he gets credit for mine run but this is a battle in which he
8:24 pm
wanted to be aggressive. meade didn't always have a good p.r. sense in other ways. as a very interesting letter that he writes his wife on june 4th, 1864. in which he claims credit for being in command on the field the entire day, the preceding day. that was called harbor. generally speaking, you would not want to take credit for what happened at cold harbor as the commander, but meade was so much into i want -- she would understand that i'm in charge of this army, and that he confines with his wife, i had command on the feel the whole day. grant only visited me one time and to tell me to pull the plug on the assault. but meade was so proud of that accomplishment that he didn't realize that it was not a much of a accomplishment at all. but it was part of the grinding war. that john is talking b. we forget that the vast, vast majority of meade's service as commander of the army of potomac
8:25 pm
is after july 3, 1863. and that he plays an essential role in the campaigns of late 1863 which most people forget altogether. and the campaigns of 1864, '65. and yet given meade's unairing ability to avoid a spotlight that sometimes i think he desperately craved privately but could not talk about publicly, guess who does not show up at mcclain's parlor on april 9th, 1865. george meade is not present in the room when robert e. lee sur renders the army of northern virginia to ulysses s. grand. he's not feeling well that day. and later on that day meade and lee actually meet and then he the only comment is that lee looks at meade and said you've gotten a lot grayer. and meade replies, well you have
8:26 pm
to account for most of that. that's it. >> and but appo mattox, it is by where meade was positioned. he wasn't close to the make clain house. >> no. but they didn't wait either. they said, hey, sheridan is here. bring him in. he's good for the spotlight. he's got great statues. >> but i guess we are concerned about image and it seems how meade tried to present himself, especially to his private letters which we should emphasize, private letters to his wife. i thif maybe -- think i think we have seen meade as a more modern general and you see that meade had contingencies in terms of his planning. but i think what we're forgetting is that meade came to a understanding that civil war armies were indestructible. he came to that conclusion, one
8:27 pm
that lee never ever reached and sherman certainly did. i don't know about grant. but i think for us to -- to really understand meade's decision making in the field was that recognition that you could, in fact, that is what happened on july 1st, racked two corps an the first and 11th corp and what did they do, they recover pretty quickly. couldn't they. he had seen that time and time again. so he understood the limitations of what an army could chief tactically on the battlefield. that to me explains this conservatism that you mentioned. it certainlily is a great concern for the welfare of his men. in a way that he never had that responsibility before. but there is a maturation in thought. and that is where i think meade and sherman stand out. you could speak to grant. you can't take the overland campaign and extract it from all union military operations because if you look at that then you would say, well, grant obviously believed that he could
8:28 pm
win a victory of annihilation over lee. i'm not sure that he d. but if you look at the overland campaign, it is possible to see consistency in what meade did on the ground with the army of the potomac because he knew he had to get ahold of the army of northern virginia and not let go. so that sherman and others could do the man you'euvering. and remember what he said after atlanta. let's not play his game. i don't want to chase his army. we'll have another pitch battle and we'll fight and they'll retreat and fight again. so what we're missing in meade is again he stands out in terms of his philosophy. >> i would say that meade -- part of being a good general is knowing when to fight and when not to fight. and meade was pretty good at that. in determining when there was some potential gain to be made. and as john mentioned about mine
8:29 pm
run, you could also include in that his far more controversial decision not to attack lee at hagerstown and williamsport but he did want to attack and he did have some of his corp commanders who wanted to attack. it was wadsworth and howard who wanted to attack and then the ones he trusted more recommended against the attack. but i think that is a good example of meade analyzing what are the potential gains that we have here. and what is the potential risk that we have. and fighting a battle is a tremendous risk because it is so uncertain. joe hooker had a brilliant battlefield plan. and then partially his own fault, but things started to go awry. but there is always unforeseen circumstances that could rise in battle. with meade, one, he sees when
8:30 pm
you fight and when you don't fight. but the other thing that i think meade sees and grant definitely sees it and sherman definitely seed it. is you can't wayne win the war without fighting. he was criticized during campaign, look at what mcclennan accomplished in 1862 and he didn't lose all of the casualties. well all you are doing if you follow the strategy in 1864 is you are just transferring where the fighting is going to be. you still have to fight and have to beat the army and not like being in northern georgia. you have to fight them. and i think meade understands that. so while you could look at meade at mine run and look at meade at hagerstown and say he chooses not to fight when you look at the meade at the wilderness in spotsylvania and cold harbor petersberg and this a general that fights hard, and sometimes
8:31 pm
clumsy but not well but he knows you have to fight to break down the confederates an he realized that armies are very resilient. you won't fight a battle and destroy the enemy and they will flee from the field. it is a grinding process. >> so that leads to my next question. how is it possible to describe the meade grant partnership as anything but dysfunctional when you consider that from may the 4th to june the 24th 55,000 casualties. to me, that is a dysfunctional partnership at work. >> first of all, it is the grant-meade relationship. not the meade-grant relationship. >> that is important. so -- >> and you know, why there are 55,000 casualties, because they fight pitch battle after pitch
8:32 pm
battle. that is why there are 55,000 casualties. it is relentless conflict as opposed to let's gill and maim a lot of guys and then wait a few months and then go at it again. so you take -- and much more is achieved frankly between the wilderness and the crossing of the james than the army of the potomac ever achieved in virginia during the preceding part of the war. you look at the war as a sporting event as some do, and kevin levine chats about this every once in a while. hi, kevin. every -- stanley cup so far, you win on your home ice so to speak. you win north of the potomac, confederates win south of the potomac. it is only in 1864 that the yankees gain and retain the initiative time and time again and it really doesn't matter they don't win a decisive battle. they have opportunities and some of those slip through their
8:33 pm
fingers but they keep moving on. they keep persisting. and there is something to be said not only about the officers and men but the generals who are undeterred and they will keep on plugging at it until this is done as opposed to pull back afterwards, rest and refit and reconsider what they are going to do. one oeng thing about both grant and meade understood, which was the clock was ticking. 1864 is an election year. you heard the comment that robert e. lee makes that they cross the james and there will be a sieeeng an-- a siege and i a matter of time. and time was one thing that grant and meade did not have. and they had to produce a result and at least nullify lee's ability to turn the tables while other subordinates of grants
8:34 pm
like sherman could take care of business. so when you focus so tightly on the grant-meade relationship as you do. you actually don't share grant's appreciation of meade in terms of the man who could manage the army of the potomac, knew its generals well, something grant admitted he did not have that kind of familiarity, while grant at the same time is keeping an eye on benjamin butler, which given butler was a task in and of itself. keeping an eye on sherman. keeping an eye on the authorities at washington. which is something that grant could do. and that meade was not good at doing. so meade freed grant to exercise the responsibilities of being the general and chief and grant himself pointed out to staff membe members who complained about meade's performance that grant couldn't manage the entire war effort and the army of the t potomac at the same time. so grant understood this worked -- and so for your focus
8:35 pm
on casualties, also inflicted 33,000 casualties on the army of northern virginia and completed the wrecking of that army as an aggressive juggernaut. george g. meade is most responsible for the destruction of the army of northern virginia, never forget that. >> if it were true we would not forget it. that is not true. it is not. you -- >> just talk about 50,000 -- 55,000 casualties. how many casualties suffer at gettysburg. >> 28,000. >> how many -- peter. peter. how many casualties does lee suffer during the overland campaign. about 33,000, or 34,000. that is about 55,000, again if you want to look at a man would lost an awful lot of men, you might want to look at robert e. lee. >> we all know that.
8:36 pm
>> so let me quickly set you up here john, because what brooks is done -- >> no matter what you say, i'm going to respond. >> i think we're going to be in alignment here. these 55,000 casualties, and your explanation, i think it papers over a number of things. it papers over in that 55,000 casualties there were a number of opportunities in the overland campaign that were lost. and they were lost because meade and grant for whatever reason didn't communicate well. opportunities in which there could have been significant tactical acleavements. may 12th in spotsylvania and which we don't need to do but there war miscommunications and failed opportunities. that 55,000 casualties nearly lost lincoln the election. and that 55,000 casualties created an army of the potomac around petersonberg and there was not a veteran army. the best officers, they are dead, wounded and maimed from the wilderness down to richmond. those casualties and i agree with you, it took a chunk out of
8:37 pm
the army of northern virginia and there were misstepped because grant and lee didn't get their act together. >> and the reason that there are missed opportunities and then john could take a shot, is because a lot of officers and men in the army of the potomac are suffer what we call short-timers disease. we talk about the number of people that re-enlisted in the winter of 1863-64. but if the armed of potomac, that is under 50%. and one of those people who is disillusioned is oliver wendall holmes who will talk about in our youth, our hearts were touched with fire. but his correspondence in 1864 as a staff officer or basically the message is i can't wait to get out of here. i've had enough. and one of the reasons for that army does not exploit the opportunities he has is because people say, i'm about to go
8:38 pm
home. i'm not going to get killed at this point in time. and i think that is a very understandable calculus on their part. both armies, wouldi would arguee wrecked themselves by mid-june 1964 and neither army could perform as well. from a larger perspective, that achieves a great deal for the union because what had robert e. lee been able to do in past years. reverse the flow of the events to a daring counter attack. lee has no cards to play. he tries, but too early. that is the best he can do. it is a feeble rep rise of what happens in 1862. grant has nullified lee. he couldn't have done that without meade. and the relentless war that they waged. pinning lee took the confederacy
8:39 pm
greatest mi greatest military asset out of the war and now you are left to rely on joe johnston who doesn't like to fight or johnhood who does an excellent job of annihilating his army, just happens to be his own and that is what you need. and so therefore, if you look strategically, this partnership does achieve a major objective. it takes the army of northern virginia out of the war. >> so i often think of 1864 as a doctor would think of a case of cancer. and that the campaign itself is chemo therapy and there are different kinds of cancer. and there are some where the chemo therapy is mild and fixed the problem and some types of
8:40 pm
cancer where the chemo therapy comes as close to killing the patient as it possibly can in order to make them well. and in the 1864 campaign was that. and grant knew it. lincoln knew it. meade knew it. and more than that, if you read the press on the eve of the campaign in the north, they did a tremendous job of preparing the northern populous for the fact that this campaign was going to be different. that these were not existential moments and that this was epic. and in fact when they came to write the reports in the official records, that is what they called the sections of -- epics. not battles but epics and i think that the partnership getting very specific about it, if you look at it from the perspective of both grant and meade, both of them are in very difficult situations and manager
8:41 pm
and subordinate. we are one or the other in our lived and sometimes both. and put yourself in the situation of a meade. whose boss is going to sit and take his chair and sit next to you at your desk all day every day. that is a hard situation, whose boss is going to spend a pretty fair amount of energy kind of subtly communicating to you that culture of the organization in a you have managed now for nine months in meade's case isn't quite what he wants to to be and he wants it to change and he will make it change if he has to. and he does. the story of the battle of the wilderness, the first day, the first couple of days of the battle, is yes, it is a sorry of the a battle, but it is also a story of grant interjecting himself into the culture of the army. trying to overcome that kind of reflexively conservative approach to war. and meade, to his -- to my mind, and almost in an astounding way.
8:42 pm
manag manages his way through that. he is offended at times and angry at times. he sometimes confronts, but he never succumbs or indullths himself to the point where he loses focus on what he's trying to accomplish. it is a remarkable thing. and i would count the meade-grant partnership as one of the four or five most important military partnerships in american military history. and i would count, and think think lincoln would agree, the 1864 campaign as a necessary, though harsh, dose of therapy on a patient that had only one path to survival. and that was the path that ultimately they took. >> i want to comment on your use of the word "dysfunction" in the relationship between the two. um, i -- first i would say i
8:43 pm
don't think that there -- their management of the army was any more dysfunctional than sherman's management of atlantic campaign. if you are using the number of casualties as a measure of dysfunction, then they were both dysfunctional. but both dysfunctional campaigns achieved their objectives. sherman took atlanta and lee's army surrendered. i would say that the thing that is remarkable to me about meade, let's talk about meade, i think that the meade and grant relationship was a very functional relationship. even though it was fraught with problems. they made a lot of mistakes in the overland campaign. one of the things, if you've read gordon rayes series of book that to me was one of the themes that emerged is that meade and grant both expected human beings to do things they weren't capable of doing. the other point was every one in
8:44 pm
the campaign after a certain point was utterly exhausted. their nerves were on edge. mather single day, not getting regular sleep or meals for weeks. for weeks on end. what is remarkable to me is that meade and grant emotionally, psychologically held up to the very end. if you look at the second world war as an example of the number of army commanders, division commanders who were relieved of command, not because they were incompetent but because psychologically and mentally they couldn't stand the strain of it. you begin to understand. because they were under the same strain in the overland campaign and some couldn't hold up. warren had his problems. and hancock ultimately has to take his leave of the army. so there were a lot who didn't hold up and the fact that that relationship held up under all of that strain and performed
8:45 pm
like it did, is pretty remarkable to me. even though i'm granting you, they made a lot of mistakes. a lot of mistakes. and sacrificed a lot of lives and some in cases needlessly, that is gordon rayes point. and his book on spotsylvania. he is very critical of the communication between the two of them. and he notes time and time again from may 8th to may 18th, that there were opportunities and those opportunities were not lost because of the exhaustion or fatigue, but you are right and carol rear don who is with hus tonight has written an artic that is -- with the sword if one hand and jomenny in the other and it is a great piece. but my point, because i'm the moderator to bring up another angle is taken from gordon ray, who is not only critical of grant and meade in that instance. but how do you then explain the
8:46 pm
brilliant like maneuver that grant embarked upon after cold harbor. taking the army below the james river and the appomattox. it is a great moment. it is an opportunity to steel peters burg and they didn't do it. again, i don't know how one explains that. i'm sure brooks and owners have ideas b ideas about it. i truly don't. it is a mystery to me because there is a combination of factors there. >> but meade cannot be held accountable for the fact the crossing of the james operation does not result if the fall of petersberg. but i want to point out something. john hennessey is exactly right. [ laughter ] . [ applause ] >> because one of the comments that we're going to go back and then cross the james later on. but we're going to go back a little bit to may. after the movement starts from the wilderness to spotsylvania.
8:47 pm
and as the traffic jam along the way between warrens infantry and sh sheridan's calvary and this famous encounter where meade meets grant and complains about sheridan's action and sheridab is complaining and grant smiles and sheridan said if you give me the calvary i'll rip jeb stuart and he said that, and well let him do it. and he sends him off and he does whip stewart, he is dead at the end. but it is told from grant's perspective of imposing his will on a sleepy army of the potomac. i want to you flip this around. you've just been told by this guy who has finally commanded your men in battle that this little punk upstart is going to be given free rein for what he
8:48 pm
wants and for them that is a bad combination. you've just been snubbed by your new boss. and meade takes it. all right. compare this to another commander who george gordon meade knew very well who a couple of months later for the second time during the war throws up his command in the face of the enemy, so-called fighting joe hooker, i didn't get the job i want, i quit. again. meade's not a quitter. he absorbs as many punches in this relationship with grant that he does in fighting the confederates. so crossing of the james, rwe talk about that and we're focus on that again and not the man whose beautiful statue in washington -- meade about to try on a new suit or go into the baths. depending on your point of view.
8:49 pm
and but this was a statue where -- and i know jim has done research on this. a lot of talk was done about the statue and what the symbolic value was and it is neglected just like meade's reputation. >> tell us -- >> do you want to talk about the monument. >> sure. soirks this monument goes up in 1927. and if you have seen this monument in washington, d.c., you it used to sit close to grant. who comes up in 1922. and it sits now a little bit down farther away from the capitol and goes up in 1927. in 1911, the pennsylvania legislature passed a meade memorial commission so this was a 16 year effort led by john fraser of philadelphia being one of them, and it comes up in 1927. meade is consistently in grant's shadow during the war and remains so in memory.
8:50 pm
in planning the memorial there say conversation about how the meade memorial could not eclipse grant's memorial and if you have seen it, it has lions. you don't want to eclipsecapito liones. so you don't want to eclipse the liones. so meade get his place, and she can't eclipse grant. and the one charged to erect this monmmt in 1927 is none other than ulesseys s. grant iii. >> as you now are in the thick of these letters and correspondence and reflecting on what brooks just said about meade, his ability to subordinate ego, he did do a tremendous amount from the press as well as within the army so he
8:51 pm
could make this partnership work with grant. could you just talk a little bit about meade's personality. you spoke about his sense of duty, but there is something extraordinarily as mrl about this man, and how he was, again, like so many of his peers, ego was put aside for the good of the cause. >> we focused on the relationship with grant. but it might be worth some comments with relationships with lincoln as well. and we used the word decisive battle. that's coming up. and civil war historians are not often good military historianmizech and i think it's important when we evaluate meade or any others we talk about what decisive battle means. decisive battles are incredibly rare in world history. you can think of napoleon executing some decisive battles.
8:52 pm
but other than that, it's unlike lato happen in the civil war for a variety of reasons. and that leads to meade's tarnished reputation. and he offered his resignation. you said meade isn't a quitter, but he offers his reination to lincoln in a fit of frustration because lincoln is expecting too much from him. and some of that has to go to lincoln's rather elementary understanding of what it takes to beat an army and actually cripple and anilet the army from virginia. >> excellent observation, because i think lincoln is often complicated how he handled meade, expressing disappointment and delivering that final blow. and he took that letter, put it in his desk and he didn't send
8:53 pm
it. lincoln went straight to halleck. so the idea that lincoln showed restraint, it's just nonsense. that did not happen. so i think you're exactly right. and i don't know, again, how much lincoln's thinking matured over time. brooks suggests that made it did. but your point again about this relationship with meade and lincoln, has your research revealed anything about post-gettysburg or is it now just lincoln and grant and meade is on the side lines? >> i think to the lincoln letter, lincoln thinks if meade defeats lee at gettysburg, it not only crushes the army of northern virginia but it ends the war. and those are enormous burdens to be placed on george gordon or any other commander. it's just not going to happen.
8:54 pm
>> you don't remember -- there are people who talk about the civil war as the modern war or hard war, whatever. the fact of the matter is their historical comparisons look backward. they look backward to, by the way, a myth of napoleonic conflict as opposed to action merchandise what's equally important is the letter that is sent that day. because the same day lincoln composes this letter of disappointment in meade, he also writes grant and says you know what, during the vicksburg campaign, you were right and i was wrong. he was willing to give grant some slack where he actively medaled in a way that he was not
8:55 pm
willing to give to meade. and i think that is important. how lincoln always had an open door for any commander, any general in the army of potomac to come and complain to him. and it was very important if you were a general in the army of potomac to get wounded in a battle and then get access to the president. lincoln visits to army of potomac in october 1862, he insistsoon seeing where hookers men fought. so what happens here? july 2nd, dan sickles who was a masterful politician as he was as shaky as a general, of course, loses his way. but that gives him first access to lincoln.
8:56 pm
and he actually writes in lincoln's mind the first draft of what happened in gettysburg. and i've had cases like this. the first story they get is the first thought that sticks in their mind. i could have gone down there and led them myself. meade can't win in that situation. >> it's astonishing. lincoln met sickles on july 5th. the campaign against meade began. >> i've heard it all the time when i worked in gettysburg, the statement by lincoln about meade with lee and meade's north of the potomac. all he had to do was reach out. and that's reinforced how
8:57 pm
sickles and -- all testified. they all make the statement how easily they could have destroyed the army of northern virginia. in the case of two of those men, they were not in the battle of antietam. they didn't destroy it, and they didn't drive it from the field. and meade knew those things. but also that story has really resonated, and that's another one of those things that damages meade's rep talgz that he could have reached out. if he had just reached out and attacked, he would have ended the war. so the episode of the post-vicksburg exchange lincoln had with grant, remember the administration had a war effort
8:58 pm
had been forging -- i've often been struck by this commitment to war, new policies that emerge and the disconnect between that and lincoln's impatient as it related to military events. and i think what we see after gettysburg. and i'm not sure what the main stream was in bringing him into alignment, but lincoln's thinking on military matters often came into alignment on grinding policies the government had put in place at a prior time. so you see after the gettysburg campaign, you see meade with an aborted advance into central virginia that doesn't succeed in its end and will push lee back. of course meade forced lee back. you see meade launch an assault that succeeds on a very limited
8:59 pm
level but doesn't change the course of the war. and then you see meade launch a campaign that ends in up -- and suddenly all these things are somewhat acceptable to meade. now, true admittedly i think he's also deeply affected by the fact there aren't a lot of other choices for him to make for the army of potomac. he was not inclined -- one of the most important impacts of john pope's presence in virginia in 1862 was that it discouraged if not eliminated any possibility that lincoln would bring in a a westerner to command the remembery of the potomac itself. that had not gone well. in fact the army of the potomac to a remarkable degree is a closed shot, namely the western based or train commander that has a significant impact on the
9:00 pm
army of potomac. there's only two or three the entire war. it's a closed shot. but in any event, i think this coming into alignment with policy is an important thing we see. it happened afterigatiesbering. and also it is worth noting that lincoln didn't have a lot of options if lincoln wasn't willing to do it. >> one more question. so brooks wrote a fantastic piece. i believe it's entitled great expectations on the cusp of the overland campaign published in gary gallagher's collection of essays and expectations. just on things on things coming
9:01 pm
into alignment, your argument and great expectations, how does that begin when we reflect upon the world in which meade inhabited. how does the press figure into that again? >> ewell, the press figures in terms of the argument of the piece is that great things were expected of grant coming east. and those expectations fall short during the over lpd campaign. he's not going to defeat lee in a single blow, et cetera. but what happens during that campaign is meade starts a war with the press, some of his subordinate commanders -- he becomes pretty childish of what he sees. that's his moment.
9:02 pm
if he'd gotten shot at that point, we would remember warren as the man who saved round top and not some obscure college professor. college professor and obscure, that's redundant anyway. but meade can't win on this. and meade understands this. if the army wins, the credit will go to grant. if the army lieuses, then they'll blame me. meade is not good at structuring that politics of image, which i would argue is essential. for all the talk about actual performance, nis is a people's war in which people's perception of leadership is crucial to what's going on. and lincoln who himself has a rather naive and informed notion of leadership, he buys into.
9:03 pm
from the beginning all the way to the ownedf the war -- that actually portrays the lincoln image of what a general should look like and a popular image of what a general should look like. that's negated by this rather business-like war management style that grant and meade engage in 1864. and we don't see that partnership as we do the lee-jackson partnership. there's no talk about removing grant and meade statues from some park in charlottesville. but the fact of the matter that partnership wins the war in the east. but we tend to focus on the
9:04 pm
grant-sherman partnership. so once again lee falls by the wayside. even this panel, shows the ability of four scholars committed to meade and peter to go ahead and go in a different direction ask concentrate on other things other than meade pfts role in the war and his contributions to eventually a union victory. >> so i'd like to open it up to the audience. you all know the routine by now. you need to come to one of the mics. >> before coming here i did some reading. i read some professor gel gelzo seers and fans. and i want to address the pipe creek circular. so these three guys treated it
9:05 pm
as aforegon conclusion that was the plan. i look at the pike creek circular and the time falling back can only developed by circumstances or whether circumstances arise as would seem to indicate necessity for falling back. so the question is pike creek circular, the plan or contingency plan? >> pike creek circular is a plan. i'm not going to say it's a contingency plan. it was a plan meade would have liked to implement if he could have because pike creek was an exceptionally plan position. and he wanted to fight a defensive battle. and that would have been the battle he wanted. the only way he could have gotten that battle is if he could have drawn lee out of
9:06 pm
pennsylvania down into maryland to attack in that position. meade clearly understood that might not have happened. if you look at meade's action on june 30th, what he does on june 30th, very important. he empowers john reynolds to join the left wing of the army. and he also empowers reynolds with tremendous authority. reynolds is essentially given the authority to fight the battle in pennsylvania to precipitate the battle if he feels in his opinion it is to the advantage of the army. it's a really smart move by meade i think because he delegates his authority to someone who he has trust in because meade knows he can't be everyone at the same time. once meade does precipitate that battle, what does he do? he doesn't tell everybody we need to fall back to pike creek. he scraps the plan.
9:07 pm
the contingency would be if this doesn't happen, then we're going to fall back. to me it's credit with when the circumstances change, he scraps the plan, organize the concentration to gettysburg. and i think what reflects upon me is the flexibility. >> real quickly we've been talking about the committee, and it's an out standing book. it's entitled general meade speaks i think published -- union general speaks, excuse me. it has all the general transcripts of the court. it's fantastic stuff. and it's very well edited with great analysis. william hyde is a fantastic
9:08 pm
book. >> i'd like to understand a little bit about the effect of meade's perm politics on how he's perceived and how he's evaluated. and also mcclellan's politics, how was that combined to how he was viewed? >> so meade was a democrat. he seems to have been sympathetic to the more cautious limited war policies of 1862. but he also shows signs clearly that he knows ultimately the determination of policy as it relates to confederate civilians and the abolition of slavery in the areas the army goes is not really his business in that he is not part of the process of
9:09 pm
making that policy. mcclellan very much saw himself as the part of the process in making that policy. pope saw himself as a process of making that policy. meade did not. and by the time he assumes command, he has managed to dodged the political pit falls of engaging in that battle of the debate which sunk men like mcclellan, sunk men like franklin and many others. but by the time he assumes command, the union's debate over the nature of war, over the aims of the war is largely resolved. the emancipation proclamation, although very controversial stimilates months of debate within the army and beyond all possible doubt, by the time meade takes command, you don't
9:10 pm
see public debates certainly not exercised by the army but the wisdom of emancipation. they did not become at heart emancipationest. but they all accepted emancipation was in their interest and all ultimately fought for the abolition of slavery. and meade understood that. gradually over time, more severely. but really the army of the potomac never wavered from the approach towards civilians that it assumed in late 1862 after pope's arrival. even under mcclellan when he resumed command of the army and took it back to virginia, the army related itself to civilians in the same way that largely pope's army had. pope had had a period of about three weeks where he lost
9:11 pm
control of his army. and the objection of the high command to the world policies relate today civilians was not so much rooted especially as the war progress said to suffering civilians but rooted in concerns about the impact of that policy on the discipline of the army itself. and by 1863 that was pretty well-set. so meade had the wisdom or fortune to regard the debate. and then it was largely resolved. >> thank you. >> it's kind of well understood that a truism that the civil war was a transformative process. in listening to today's debate and last night's, it seems to me that the civil war is kind of like a portal for these
9:12 pm
different 19th century personalities to transform themselves into some aspect of muderanty. and some do it well and others may do it better in terms of managing the press and their public image, the kind of things we accept kind of routinely right now as part of modarety. but over all most of these characters seem to be kind of conflicted. many of them are locked into where they would be into the 19th century. i'd like the comment of the panel on that. >> aren't we all stuck between what we want to know and what we want to learn? i mean look at the internet. how many of you have flip phones? probably all of you. some of you may not have phones at all.
9:13 pm
we're all stuck in that. and that applies to the military world as well. >> after gettysburg, there was a significant reorganization of the army and conservative officers removed. as a conservative himself as what role or input did meade get into the that reorganization of t the army? what input did meade get into the input of the reorganization? >> he had a huge role in the reorganization. he was the primary propone want of the reorganization of the army. it wasn't -- recruiting had never been able to recover them. they didn't have enough new
9:14 pm
units coming in, and they also did want have enough core commanders that were competent to command army corp. so he felt that reducing the number of army corp. i also think he looked at lee's army and saw how it was with the larger corp, and he thought that was a larger model. he'd never admit that, that the organization might be better than the one they had. even later on andrew hum fraez who would become chief of staff, he felt that having more army corp would be better because it gave you better maneuver elements. he was a big part of that reorganization. >> all right, back mic, please. >> during the retreat from
9:15 pm
gettysburg, the claim was all that meade had to do was reach out and the confederates were his. although, the confederates built a -- it makes it look like a speed bump. how much did this affect meade's pursuit? >> meade recons the area and he doesn't get a good view of what the lines look like and then holds the council war, and then in a 55-4 decision decide not to push. and when they go out the following day, he does like a recognizance in force. and when they go out, there's plenty of respected commanders of the army of potomac that said
9:16 pm
lee made the right decision not to attack. and charles wainwright, the first military guy offered the same sentiment, if meade would have attacked, his forces would have been crushed. >> all right. >> he stole part of my question, but there are several things which most people as far as i've heard or not heard about what meade was sort of bogged down with. first one was that one of the things he had to do was to protect baltimore and washington, d.c. consequently, he always had to worry about being defeated and those two cities would be attacked. he waited a day after the battle was over to find out what was going on because lee's army was
9:17 pm
still there. and they were digging in hoping for an assault. well, the defenses were built by engineers. if you've ever seen pictures of them, you wouldn't want to attack them. as a frontal assault, and the confederates are hoping there would be a frontal assault. -- >> this is an excellent summery of what we've talked about. you need to get to the question now. so your question is? >> also one more thing, meade did not have the slows. when he decide to move, part of his army moved 32 miles in one day. i didn't really have a question. and just wanted to bring -- >> well, thank you very much. you know what, you've done a very nice job of summarizing. so we appreciate your good listening and summarizing for everyone. >> we should have hayou d you u
9:18 pm
here. >> i'm from howard county, maryland. something was mentioned on the panel about civil war armies being, well, indestructible that made me realize if i heard correctly the northern army of virginia was indestructible. so my question is if civil war armies couldn't destroy each other, why is that -- or really what did it mean to destroy the enemy in a civil war context? of course, why couldn't they destroy it? >> i heard the same thing you heard, and as soon as i heard civil war armies were indestructible i started
9:19 pm
thinking of vicksburg, port donaldson, they were destroyed. they surrendered. so civil war armies could be defeated, could be captured. johnson's army of tennessee was defeated and surrendered. so they could. i think really what we meant up here was that because of the abilities -- what's the difference between waterloo and gettysburg? the difference is there's no railroads and no sort of supply system like you had in mid-19th century america to sustain an army in the field. so after the battle of waterloo, which is different kind of battle. sometimes people make a comparison. it's much different from them to reconstitute their army after
9:20 pm
their defeat. and the panic spreads they can't reconstute their army well. civil war armies were better supplied and in some respects sort of resilient in terms of the weaponry they had, the logistics they had that enabled them to recover from losing battles -- these armies can continue to function. well how can they continue to function? they can continue to function because the system that sustains them is very well-developed. >> that was kind of a good point. real quick, battles of annihilation are really hard to achieve in civil war. they have the same kind of ta tactics and same sort of training that makes it harder to achieve an edge over another.
9:21 pm
>> and i would turn toward i think is the single best military history of the war, their argument is that a policy of exhaustion. we have time for two quick questions. and we need some efficient answers as well. >> just a quick comment about meade's. >> we need a question. >> i just wanted to point out where that statue is. it's 3rd and pennsylvania across from the national gallery of art. if you're accused of any major governmental malfeasance that's where you're going to be. so my feeling is you may see that statue in the future on
9:22 pm
national tv. >> all right, our final question. >> i was just wondering if you could talk about just briefly meade's post-war career and whether he had any role in reconstruction of the army after the war? >> yes, he does. in fact he is sent down in 1867 and cept to handle georgia and several other states. actually, for all his earlier reserve about his issues of race, much more aggressive in protecting african-americans especially in georgia. however, he feels once again over swamped when grant becomes president and engages in promotions, meade finds he's not going to get a long coveted third star, which in fact goes
9:23 pm
to his long time rival, philip sheridan. so meade spends those last several years unappreciated. and just on election day meade dies. >> and on that note we'll -- let me thank the panelists for our lively conversation. thank you all. you're watching american history tv. 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span 3. follow us on twitter at c-span history for information on our schedule to keep up with the latest history news. on monday a total solar eclipse will be visible coast to coast across the u.s. for


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on