tv Historians Discuss Leadership of General George G. Meade CSPAN August 21, 2017 1:53pm-3:18pm EDT
of having representation of minorities and women. this is an issue that we have encountered and we feel it's very important and will be addressed in the 2018 legislative session. >> "voices from the road" on c-span. now we take a look at the leadership of union general george gordon meade during the civil war including his role in the pivotal battle of gettysburg. this panel was part of the annual civil war institute conference at gettysburg college. this runs about an hour and 20 minutes. good morning everybody. i'm pete carmichael, professor of history at gettysburg college and also professor of the civil war institute. i welcome all of you to our panel on george gordon meade. i'm going to quickly go through
this morning's line up. on my far right you to your left, we have john hennessy, 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 supporter 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 volume 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 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 advisor 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 wrongfooted 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 lee's army at gettysburg. meade, in fact, saw this coming. december 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 corps 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 sab -- absolutely undenial. 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 doll like 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 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 historical neglect on grant. and people have not found him attractive until recently. >> i would add that i think 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 they 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. albean howe. remember him. he was a huge hero at 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 edward crapsui 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
crepsisi 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 correspondents 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 500 pages through the war on gettysburg and then 150 on everything else. we have as a society and historians have had a tremendous opportunity over the years to remedy the bad press that meade received during the war. the unjust press that he received. but we have such a fixation as kind of a public as historians
too on the possibility of existential 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 and large 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 like that as much. it is not as interesting, it is
not as dramatic to focus on a war -- 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 history and our expectations of history in moments like gettysburg that union army, if 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 others 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. they bring him 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 complains 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 oliver 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 council of war on the evening of july 2nd even to give that. even meade himself misses the climax the battle at pickett'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 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 imagination that is looking 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 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 e lis -- elicited enthusiasm. whether it was with politicians, whether it was with the people, whether it was the army. he e -- elicited respect and didn't 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 one of the most aggressive officers in the potomac. 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 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 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 at 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 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 hennessys. >> 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 philadelphian gentleman and he writes over and over in his letters about duty. so we talked yesterday 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 brooks 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 doesn'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 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 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
mcclellan, 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 mcclellan. 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 with lee. and the army of the potomac came to identify with itself. it is one of the most remarkable organizations we've ever 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 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 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 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 corps and meade's own 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 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 you to understand, that he confides to his wife, i had command of the field the whole day. grant visited me one time it was actually to tell me to pull the plug on the assault. but meade was so proud of the accomplishment that he didn't realize it was not much of an 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 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. grant. 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 to account for most of that. that's it. >> at appomattox it was just by where meade was positioned. he wasn't close to the mcclain
house. >> no. but they didn't wait either. they said, hey, sheridan is here. bring him in. he's good for the spot. 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 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 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 corps 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 achieve tactically on the battlefield. that to me explains this conservatism that you mentioned. it certainly 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 win a victory of annihilation over lee.
i'm not sure that he did, 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 maneuvering. and remember what he said after atlanta. let's not play their 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 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 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 mcclellan 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 petersburg and this a general that fights hard, and sometimes 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 battle. that is why there are 55,000 casualties. it is relentless conflict as opposed to let's kill 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 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 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 siege and it is 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 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 members who complained about meade's performance that grant couldn't manage the entire war effort and the army of the potomac at the same time. so grant understood this worked -- and so for your focus on casualties, also inflicted 33,000 casualties on the army of northern virginia and completed the wrecking of that army as an
offensive 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. >> 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 achievements. 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 petersbuerg 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 the army of northern virginia but let's be clear there were a lot of missteps on the way, many missteps. and there were lost
opportunities because grant and meade 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 now suffering 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 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, i would argue, have 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 counterattack. lee has no cards to play. he tries, but too early. that is the best he can do. it is a feeble reprise 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 greatest military asset out of the war and now you are left to rely on joe johnston who doesn't like to fight or john bell hood 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 chemotherapy and there are different kinds of cancer. and there are some where the chemo therapy is mild and fixes the problem and some types of cancer where the chemotherapy 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, that this was an existential 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 as manager and subordinate. we are one or the other in our lives 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 story 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. manages his way through that. he is offended at times and angry at times. he sometimes confronts, but he
never succumbs or indulges 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 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 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 ray's 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 the campaign after a certain point was utterly exhausted. their nerves were on edge. imagine every single day not
getting regular sleep, not getting regular 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 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 reardon who is with us tonight has written an article that is -- with the sword if one hand is 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
brilliant flank 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 steal petersburg and they didn't do it. again, i don't know how one explains that. i'm sure brooks and owners have 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 petersburg. but i want to point out something. john hennessy is exactly right. words that stick in my mouth. will have [ 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. and there's a traffic jam along the way between warrens infantry and sheridan's calvary and this
famous encounter where meade meets grant and complains about sheridan's action and sheridan 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 wants and for sheridan and meade, that is oil and water. that's 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, we talk about that and we're focus on grant 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. and but this was a statue where -- and i know jen 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. >> so 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. in planning the memorial there is this large conversation about how the meade memorial cannot eclipse grant's memorial.
and if you have seen it, it has lions. you don't want to eclipse the lions. so meade gets his place and he can't eclipse grant and the manager is none other than ulysses s. grant iii. >> so, jen -- i'll tell the audience, jen is in the middle of completing a biography and we're hoping the press will be publishing it. and you are now in the thick of meade's letters and correspondence and reflecting on what brooks just said about meade, his ability to subordinate ego, he did endure a tremendous amount from the press as well as within the army so he 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 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 historians 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. but other than that, it's unlike to happen in the civil war for a variety of reasons. and that leads to a lot of meade's tarnished reputation because he doesn't bag lee at williamsport and he offers his
resignation. you said meade isn't a quitter, but he offers his resignation to lincoln in a fit of frustration because lincoln is expecting too much of him. so you have a breakdown in the middle of the gettysburg campaign and a lot of that is important. 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 annihilate the army from virginia. >> excellent observation, because i think lincoln is often complicated how he handled meade, expressing disappointment that meade did not pursue and deliver that final blow. and then he took the letter and put it in his desk and didn't send it, right? 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 -- maybe 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 that's the case, but to your point about the lincoln letter, meade wouldn't have been surprised had he read that. and lincoln says your golden opportunity is gone. lincoln thinks it not only ends, it ends the war. those are tremendous enormous burdens to be placed on george gordon meade or any other commander. it's just not going to happen. >> 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 actual conflict. 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. i made some bad calls here. he was willing to give grant some slack in a campaign where he actively meddled much to the disenfranchise in a way that he was not 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 somewhere in what they would now call a lower body injury, and then get access to the president. so after antietam, it's joe hooker who gets shot in the foot. and lincoln never shakes it. lincoln visits to army of potomac in october 1862, he insists to see where hooker's 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. and he actually writes in lincoln's mind the first draft of what happened at gettysburg. and i've had bosses like this, the first story they get is the story that sticks in their mind.
lincoln had that weakness, you report to me and i get this understanding especially with the simple notion i could have gone there. 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. that's crazy, that soon. sickles is already recuperating or in washington recuperating, july 5th, the campaign against meade began. >> one of the myths that's endured and i heard it all the time when i worked at gettysburg is the statement by lincoln about meade with lee when lee's north of the potomac, all he had to do was reach out and his army was there for the taking. and that's reinforced when howe and sickles and double and pleasanton all testify on the committee of the conduct of the war, they all make this 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. others should have known better. they didn't destroy it, and they didn't drive it from the field. and meade knew those things. arm that story really has resonated. it's another one of these things that damages meade's reputation is that he could have just reached out. if he had just been aggressive and reached out, just attacked, he would have ended the war. >> so the episode at williamsport and post-vicksburg exchange lincoln had with grant, remember that the administration had been forging a war effort intended to diminish by increments at south's ability to wage war. i have been struck by the commitment to this kind of grinding war with respect to slavery, civilians. the new policies that emerged in
1862 and 1863 and the disconnect between that and lincoln's impatience related to military events. what we see after gettysburg -- i am not sure what the main spring was bringing him into alignment. but lincoln is thinking on military matters, ultimately came into alignment with the grinding policies the government had put in place at a prior time. and so you see after the gettysburg campaign you see meade with an abortive advance into central virginia that doesn't succeed in its end. pushed lee back across. lee forced meade back during the bristow campaign. you see meade launch an assault that succeeds on a limited level but does not change the course of the war. then you see meade launch a campaign that ends in nothing. and suddenly all of these things
are acceptable, somewhat acceptable to meade. now, true, admittedly, i think he is also deeply affected by the fact that there are not a lot of other choices to make for the army of the potomac. 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 westerner to command the army of the potomac itself. that had not gone well. the army of the potomac to a remarkable degree is a closed shop, namely the western based or trained commanders that has significant impact on the army of the potomac. there are only two or three, the entire war. it's a closed shop. but, in any event, i think this coming into alignment of policy with the expectations of
military campaigns is an important thing that we see it happen after gettysburg. and also, it is worth noting, that lincoln didn't have a lot of options when it came to getting a new guy if meade wasn't willing to do it. >> one more question. >> brooks wrote a fantastic piece, i believe entitled "great expectations" about the press on the cusp of the overland campaign published in gary gallagher's collection of essays on the wilderness. and "great expectations," just listening to john's point about things coming into alignment. your argument in great expectations, how does that begin as we reflect upon the world in which meade inhabited when he came to what he was aspiring to, what he envisioned? how does the press figure into
that again? >> the press figures in in terms of the argument of the piece was that great things were expected of ulysses s. grant coming east. and those fall short during the overland campaign. he is not going to defeat lee in a single blow, et cetera. what happens during that campaign, though, in part, and scott referred to it. jen is aware of it, meade starts a war with the press. some of his subordinate commanders. you think of winfield scott hancock of a great guy because of what he did at gettysburg. he becomes pretty childish about what he sees appearing in the press. and warren is having a pout because he will never have such a nice monument as he had at round top. that's his moment. if he had gotten shot at that point we'd remember him as the man who saved round top, not an obscure college professor. most -- college professor and
obscure, that's redundant anyway. [ laughter ] >> but meade -- meade can't win on this. and meade understands this. if the army wins, the credit will go to grant. he tells his wife. if the army loses, 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, this 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 uninformed notion of military leadership, he buys into, from the beginning of the war with elmer ellsworth, through the end of the war. there is a comment he makes about sheridan. general, when i heard you wanted
cavalry commander. i thought he should be 6'4", but 5'4" will do in a pinch. it betrays 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 busine businesslike, war management style that grant and meade engage in in 1864. we don't see that partnership as the lee/jackson partnership. the fact of the matter is that that partnership wins the war in the east. we tend to focus on the grant/sherman partnership. so once again meade walls by the wayside. even this panel which at times has been the brooks/simpson
roast shows four scholars committed to meade, and peter, to go ahead and go in a different direction and concentrate on other things other than meade's role in the war and his contributions to eventual union victory. >> all right. i would like to open it up to the audience. you all know the routine by now. you need to come to one of the mikes. >> sh >> shoshanna. before coming here i did some reading. i read some professor gelzo. sears and fans. i want to address the pipe creek circular. so these three guys treat it as a foregone conclusion that was the plan. i look at the pipe creek circular and i look at the remarks such as the time for falling back can only be developed by circumstances.
or, whether circumstances arise as would seem to indicate necessity for falling back. so the question is, pipe creek circular, the plan or contingency plan? >> the pipe creek circular is a plan. i won't say it's a contingency plan. it's a plan meade would have liked to have implemented if he could have because it was an exceptionally strong position. what he wanted to do -- he said this when he testified to the committee on the conduct of the war -- he wanted to fight a defensive battle. that would have been the battle he wanted. the only way he could get that battle is if he could have drawn lee out of pennsylvania down into maryland to attack him in that position. meade clearly understood that that might not happen. so if you look at meade's actions on june 30th, what he does on june 30th is very
important. he empowers john reynolds to command the left wing of the army. he makes him a wing commander. he also empowers reynolds with tremendous authority. reynolds is essentially given the authority to fight a battle in pennsylvania, to precipitate a battle if he feels, in his opinion, it's to the advantage of the army. it's a really smart move by meade, i think, because he delegates his authority to someone whom he has trust in because meade knows he can't be everywhere at the same time. once reynolds does precipitate the battle at gettysburg, what does meade do? he is not wedded to the pipe creek circular. he scraps the plan. it's not a contingency plan. a contingency plan would have been, well, if this doesn't happen, my favorite plan, then we'll fall back on the pipe creek plan. he wants to do pipe creek. to meade's credit, when the circumstances change, he scraps the plan, orders the
concentration at gettysburg and fights the battle on a battlefield picked by a subordinate commander. i think what it reflects upon meade is a flexibility. >> real quickly, we have been talking about the committee on the conduct of war. it's an outstanding book edited by william hyde, entitled "general meade speaks" i think published by lsu. union general speaks. excuse me. it has all the transcripts of the court. it's fantastic stuff. it's very well edited with great analysis. h-y-d-e. it's a fantastic book. >> al from pennsylvania. i would like to understand a little bit about the effect of meade's personal politics on how he was perceived and how he was evaluated, and also the army
politics. how did those combine as to how he was viewed? >> i'll go ahead with that. so meade was a democrat. he seems to have been sympathetic to the more cautious, limited war policies of 1862. he also shows signs, clearly, that he knows that ultimately the determination of the policy as it relates to confederate civilians and the abolition of slavery in the areas where the army goes is not really his business. in that he is not -- he is not part of the process of making that policy. mcclellan very much saw himself as a part of the process of making that policy. pope saw himself as a process of making the policy. meade did not. and by the time he assumes
command, he has managed to dodge the political pitfalls of engaging in that battle, that debate over union war aims, which sunk men like mcclellan and 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, though very controversial, and it stimulates months of acrimony and debate within the army and beyond, by the time meade takes command, you don't see public debates, certainly not exercised by the army, about the wisdom of emancipation. they did not become at heart emancipationists, but they all accepted that emancipation was in their interest, and they all
ultimately fought for the abolition of slavery as a matter of policy. meade understood that. he exercised the policies as it related to civilians in the same way that his predecessors had. 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 into virginia, the army practiced, or related itself with civilians in the same way that largely pope's army had. witho pope had a period of three weeks where he lost control of his army. it was not so much rooted in especially as the war progressed not rooted in an objection to
suffering civilians, especially secessionist civilians but rooted in concerns of the impact on the policy by the army itself. by 1863 it was pretty well set. meade had the good fortune to avoid the debate early on largely, in a public way. once he assumed command of the debate as it related to the army was largely resolved. in my view. >> great. thank you. >> mike, pennsylvania. it's kind of well understood that -- or a truism -- that the civil war was a transformative process. and 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 different 19th century personalities to transform themselves into some aspect of modernity. some do it well in certain aspects, such as the technology or deployment of warfare.
others may do it even better in terms of managing the press and their public image. the kind of things we accept routinely right now as part of modernity. overall most of these characters seem to be conflicted because they don't completely step into this modern world that we conceive but many are locked into where they would be in the 19th century. i would like the panel to comment on that. do you agree? >> aren't we all? aren't we all stuck between what we have known and what we are to learn? look at the internet. how many of you have flip phones? probably a lot of you. some of you may not have phones at all. we are all stuck in that. it happens to apply to the military world as well. >> joe. >> after gettysburg there was a significant reorganization of the army with thousands of troops sent out west and a bunch of conservative officers removed. as a conservative himself what
role or input did meade get into that reorganization of the army? >> what was the last part? >> what input did meade get into the reorganization of the army? >> he had a huge role in it. he was the primary -- he was the primary proponent of the reorganization of the army. it wasn't grant. grant just approved the reorganization when he arrived. meade felt the reorganization was necessary. he thought the first and the third corps, who had both suffered about 5,000 casualties apiece in the battle of gettysburg, that they had never really recovered. the recruiting hadn't been able to recover them. they didn't have enough new units coming in. and that -- he also didn't have enough corps commander who were competent to command army corps. he felt that reducing the number of army corps -- i think he also
looked at lee's army and saw how maneuverable it was with a larger corps, and i think he thought it was a better model. he is never going to admit that, that the confederate organization might be better than the one they had. even though later on andrew humphreys, who had become chief of staff of the army, he felt that having more army corps in certain circumstances worked better because it gave you more maneuver elements. but the other argument is that, when you reduce the number of army corps you have less people you have to give orders to. he was a big part of the reorganization. >> all right. >> dennis graham, hagerstown, maryland. during the retreat from gettysburg, the claim was that all meade had to do was reach out and the confederates were his. however, the confederates built a rather elaborate set of earth works south of hagerstown for
several miles that eric whittenburg claims, or says, that makes mary's heights at fredericksburg look like a speed bump. how much did this line of earth works affect meade's pursuit? >> meade recons that area, first, the weather is kind of foggy and he doesn't get a good view of what the lines look like. then he holds the council of war on july 12th and his subordinate commanders in a 5-4 decision decide not to push. when they go out the following day he does like a reconnaissance in force. when they testified to the joint committee on conduct of war there are plenty of respected commanders in the army of the potomac that said meade made the right decision not to attack, including two senior corps commanders who agree. and charles wainwright, the first corps artillery guy
offered similar sentiment that meade would have attacked at falling waters the forces would have been crushed and received a severe repulse. >> louis, media p.a. he stole part of my question. there are several things which most people, i've heard or not heard, about what meade was sort of bogged down with. the first one is that one of his things he had to do was to protect baltimore at 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 still there, and they were digging in and hoping for an assault. the willingness part -- defenses were built by engineers. if you have ever seen pictures
of them, you wouldn't want to attack them as a frontal assault. and the confederates are hoping that there would be a frontal assault. >> so excellent summary of what we have talked about. we need to probably get to the question right now. so your question is? >> one more thing is, and also meade did not have the slows when he did decide to move. part of his army moved 32 miles in one day. i didn't really have a question. i just wanted to bring this up. [ laughter ] >> everybody is talking about -- >> thank you very much. >> you've done a very nice job of summarizing much of what has been said here. we appreciate your good listening and summarizing. >> we should have had you up here instead of simpson. >> that's right. go to the back mike, please. >> yeah. hi. i am brian cheeseborough from
howard county, maryland, something was mentioned about civil war armies being indestructible. that meade recognized the army of virginia was if i heard correctly indestructible. i heard the civil war battle is where both armies don't destroy each other and live to fight another way. if civil war armies couldn't destroy each other, why is that? or what did it mean to destroy the enemy in a civil war context. >> i heard the same thing you heard. as soon as i heard civil war armies were indestructible i started thinking of vicksburg, fort donaldson, cases in which armies were destroyed. they surrendered. civil war armies could be defeated and captured. lee's army of northern virginia
was defeated. 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 ability -- what's the difference between waterloo and gettysburg? waterloo, the difference between waterloo and gettysburg is there is no railroads and so sort of supply system like you have during the 19th century in the mid 19th century in america to sustain an army in the field. so after the battle of waterloo, which is a different sort of battle too. sometimes people make that comparison and it's a silly comparison. but it's much more difficult for the french to be able to reconstitute their army after that defeat and the panic spreads. they can't reconstitute it well. civil war armies were better supplied and, in some respects, more resilient because of the sort of weaponry that they had,
the logistical system that they had to support them and enable them to recover from really damaging battles. you think about the battle of gettysburg where lee's army loses 28,000 or the battle of the wilderness and the armies continue to function? how do they continue to function? they continue to function because the system that sustains them is very well developed. >> battles -- can i make a quick point? battles of annihilation are incredibly hard to achieve in the civil war because the soldiers come from the same citizen soldier tradition. they have the same tactics and training that makes it harder to achieve an edge on the other. they work with parity a lot in terms of tactics which we'll talk about tonight on the panel and the citizen soldier tradition. >> i return to what i think is the single best military history of the war. how the north won. hattaway and jones.
it's a policy of exhaustion and a ratings strategy is what ultimately brings the confederacy to its knees. "how the north won." a brilliant book. time for two questions. and we need efficient answers as well. >> this is a quick comment about the meade -- >> we need a question. we need a question. >> i am dr. john willen from washington, d.c. and i just wanted to point out where that statue is. >> oh, okay. >> it's third and pennsylvania across from national gallery of art. but the building you see in the background is the main federal courthouse in washington. so if you are accused of any major governmental maleficence, that's where you're going to be. my feeling is you may see that statue in the future on national tv. [ laughter ] >> all right. our final question. >> kristen bolden. lamsberg, virginia, uva. i was 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. >> he does. he is sent down in 1867 and 1868 to handle georgia and several other states. he is actually, for all his early reserve about issues of race, much more aggressive in protecting african-americans, especially in georgia where there is a lot of political violence. however he feels, once again, when grant becomes president and they engage in promotions meade finds that he is not going to get a long-coveted third star which goes to his long-time rival phillip sheridan. so meade spends the last several years unhappy. feeling unappreciated. and just after election day in 1872 with grant winning
reelection, meade dies. >> on that note, we'll end. [ laughter ] >> so let me thank the panelists for our lively conversation. thank you all. [ applause ] we will have more from the conference at gettysburg college in a moment. coming up tonight an american history tv we'll look at the congressional debate over slavery that took place in the 1790s as well as talk about the legacy of former house speaker newt gingrich and his influence on contemporary partisan politics. that will be 8:00 p.m. eastern. american history tv is in prime time every night this month while congress is away for their summer recess. for the first time in nearly a century, a solar eclipse is working its way across the u.s. and we are simulcasting nasa's
tv coverage now on c-spann. at 4:00 p.m. eastern we want to hear from you about the solar eclipse. join us live an c-span. you are watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming on american history every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter @c-span history for information on our schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. next a look at famed bank robber jesse james and his civil war experiences fighting for confederate causes in missouri. this was part of the annual civil war institute conference at gettysburg college. it's a little over an hour. >> good afternoon. i am peter carmichael. member of the history department here at gettysburg college. i am the director of the civil war institute.