This is a guest post by my friend Daniel Mallock which provides food for thought about the role of the historian….
Late in the evening several days ago I was watching an episode of “Chopped”. It made a strong impression on me.
“Chopped” is an hour-long cooking competition television show that pits four chefs against each other. There are three rounds, appetizer, entrée and dessert–there’s a ten thousand dollar prize for the winner. If the judges don’t like a chef’s dish he or she is eliminated from the competition, that is, “chopped.”
For the dessert round Chef Fed prepared an English custard tart and German Baumkuchen combination. A colorful fellow with a hybrid American/German/French accent Chef Fed, obsessed with the supposed “aphrodisiac” qualities of food, finally failed to seduce the judges with his cuisine. He was chopped.
The exit walk-off of a defeated chef can be an illuminating moment. Some are egotists who complain of the incompetence of the judges, some are humble and express appreciation for having competed; some few compliment the judges or their opponents. Chef Fed’s exit was a bit different. He said, “I really appreciate the opportunity to show the judges and everyone my world of flavors.” I am not a chef, but I thought that this was a beautiful thing. I switched off the television and prepared for sleep.
It was around half past midnight. Suddenly, I had a crisis of meaning.
An accomplished chef, Fed knew exactly what he was about, what his “world” was about: superior, delicious flavors, beguiling and comforting aromas, and beautiful, balanced presentation. I thought, “He is a chef–of course he knows his ‘world.’ But what is my world? What is the world of the historian, the student of history?” That I didn’t have a ready answer was troubling. I sat for a time and thought about it. This post, prompted by Eric’s kind invitation to write on the matter, is the result.
Marc Bloch is widely considered one of the greatest French historians of the twentieth century. His last book, “The Historian’s Craft,” goes a long way in defending the study and teaching of history and of explaining its value.
A professor at the Sorbonne Bloch was a WW1 veteran. When the Nazis invaded France he left his teaching position and joined the French army once again (a reserve officer at the age of 52). With the defeat of France and Nazi occupation Bloch swiftly lost his teaching career due to the fact that he was Jewish. It was during this period that he wrote “The Historian’s Craft” (the book was never finished). But Bloch was by no means retired; he had joined the Resistance. Captured and tortured by the Nazi occupiers Bloch was executed not long after D-Day.
An anecdote he included in The Historian’s Craft, is this one, about a visit that he and his friend Henri Pirenne (another renowned European historian of the last century) made to Sweden.
“I had gone with Henri Pirenne to Stockholm; we had scarcely arrived, when he said to me: ‘What shall we go to see first? It seems that there is a new city hall here. Let’s start there.’ Then, as if to ward off my surprise, he added: ‘If I were an antiquarian, I would have eyes only for old stuff, but I am a historian. Therefore, I love life.’ This faculty of understanding the living is, in very truth, the master quality of the historian.” (p.43)
Must a great historian, like Pirenne and Bloch, “love life?” The answer must be Yes.
The present is so fleeting, so swift and mercurial it is gone in an instant–and becomes the stuff of history. The future is a mist, little more than an expectation, a hope. History then is ever-expanding and as each day passes becomes more difficult to discern.
What of those who find no value in the study of history? How should a student of history respond when someone honestly asks, “What is the value of history?” Bloch has an answer.
“These condemnations offer a terrible temptation, in that they justify ignorance in advance. Fortunately, for those of us who still retain our intellectual curiosity, there is, perhaps, an appeal from their verdict.” (p.11)
Historians ought to be strongly opposed to ignorance. Isn’t the core of the historian’s work meant to eradicate such things?
We’re obliged to get to the bottom of things as best we can, to understand the living and the dead and the times in which they live and lived to the best of our ability. Certainly an honest, open-mindedness with a tempering of any bias is fundamental to the historian’s “world.” Opinions are more common than a bad cup of coffee, informed opinions–not so much.
The historian’s view must be an informed one. Our views and conclusions should be shaped by research and by a disciplined exclusion of personal bias (or tempering of it). With this self-discipline we can best legitimately weigh the merits of evidence that we examine. Aren’t we obliged to follow the records to whatever conclusion they lead? Aren’t we required to be flexible enough in our thinking so that if our conclusions (based on careful research and analysis) are unexpected ones, we can accept them?
A good portion of the historian’s “world” is the attempt at making sense of the confusion, conflicts, and conflicting views and opinions about people and events of the past. Our responsibility is all the more heavy when we find ourselves as researcher, compiler, transcriber, chronicler, analyst, judge and jury. Our strong views should be tempered by the knowledge that others just as diligent, just as scholarly, just as curious and careful as we, working with the same or similar sources may (and likely have) reached entirely different (and even completely oppositional) conclusions.
James Parton, a nineteenth-century biographer of Andrew Jackson illustrates the difficulties (that is, the muddle of the past) quite clearly. A person or event might seem to be one thing and/or its total opposite simultaneously.
“Andrew Jackson, I am given to understand, was a patriot and a traitor. He was one of the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. A writer brilliant, elegant, eloquent, without being able to compose a correct sentence, or spell words of four syllables. The first of statesmen, he never devised, he never framed a measure. He was the most candid of men, and was capable of the profoundest dissimulation. A most law-defying, law-obeying citizen. A stickler for discipline, he never hesitated to disobey a superior. A democratic autocrat. An urbane savage. An atrocious saint.” (James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, 1861, I:vii; quoted in Andrew Burstein, The Passions of Andrew Jackson, 2003, xvi-xvii.)
One historian’s negative Andrew Jackson, or anybody else, is another’s hero (or both!).
Walt Whitman understood this inherent contradiction in humanity when he wrote the following in Song of Myself:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Making our way through the confusions of the past falls upon us, students of history. One of the benefits of good research technique and analytical skill is that our results/conclusions can be, as far as the limits of personal opinion and bias allow, verified, duplicated, and confirmed. Bloch again:
Corrupted by dogma and myth, current opinion, even when it is least hostile to enlightenment, has lost the very taste for verification. On that day when, having first taken care not to discourage it with useless pedantry, we shall succeed in persuading the public to measure the value of a science in proportion to its willingness to make refutation easy, the forces of reason will achieve one of their most smashing victories. Our humble notes, our finicky little references, currently lampooned by many who do not understand them, are working toward that day. (The Historian’s Craft, p.88.)
Our historian’s “world” then is about making sense of the past, being as honest as we possibly can, and deploying the finest and most vigorous research and analytical methods to reach conclusions that are as accurate as possible. In a sense we are guardians against ignorance and against the loss of knowledge, against the loss of myriad personal experiences and the total extinction of those who have gone before from the memories of the living. We’re open to discussion and are prepared, like any theorist working in the sciences, to have our theories challenged and if need be thrown down. The pursuit of truth cannot be about one’s ego.
Henri Pirenne was insightful and accurate in his characterization of the historian’s “world” as one built on a foundation of love of life. Perhaps those who are fully engrossed in the lives of the dead and in comprehending the influences of the past upon the present are in a particularly advantageous position to have a deep appreciation for life and for humanity. What is the value of full engagement in the events and people of the past if not to learn (and share) those lessons for the benefit of the living and the future?
History is not just about the darkness of the past, the pitch black of past times that we try to illuminate through our research and writings. It is also about coming to some understanding of the darkness and cruelty of evil, suffering, and inhumanity. What a challenge to describe the causes, consequences, and details of the abyss of past and present human savagery yet find in it all some cause for hope!
Certainly readers of history and those who follow events in the world of the living, too, are aware that evil deeds and evil-doers have never diminished. They and the miseries that they created rise and flow like some grotesque miasma through our lives and through the annals of history; the evil of some men and women, and their large and small cruelties and crimes, are the appalling pools that we all must wade through if we are to understand the past, and thus ourselves.
Suddenly, amidst the inhumanity, injustice, cruelty, violence, and hatred one finds a gem; a glistening thing of beauty, compassion, selflessness. We grab at it, wipe it off, put it in our pockets, and display it on the mantels of our work and souls to show everyone that, see!- we are not all so awful after all and, even further–that some who are awful can and have been redeemed.
The world of the historian then is a world of study, built necessarily on an approach to the past that is founded solidly on love of life and a disciplined self-honesty. We follow the truth as best we can and arrive at conclusions (and build explanations and theories) that are supported by evidence. But there are other things, too. There is hope.
The “world” of the historian must involve hope. The best histories show a true appreciation of life, of people, and of the difficulties they faced. And when (or if) they overcame their particular challenges, rise above some horror or war (or some other nightmarish thing) these folks ought to be celebrated; how they coped, how they persevered, how and why they may have failed, why they did what they did. If our subject(s) failed we should explain why, and talk about the cost and even speculate about if and how such horrors might have been avoided (or prevented or stopped or interdicted). Historians ought to be extremely sensitive to the errors and casualties of the past because helping the living to avoid the mistakes of the past is an important part of our “world.”
One of the finest American poets of World War Two was Randall Jarrell. He could write a novel, or a history, and tell an important story in only several lines that otherwise, in prose, might require several hundred thousands. This is the mark of the greatest poets. Much of poetry is about our human need and desire for connections. We need to know that we are not alone.
Here is the entirety of Jarrell’s poem called “Little Friend, Little Friend” (1945). It is encompassing, fundamental, brilliant.
. . . . Then I heard the bomber call me in: ‘Little Friend, Little Friend, I got two engines on fire. Can you see me, Little Friend?’
I said ‘I’m crossing right over you. Let’s go home.'”
Jarrell doesn’t tell us if the bomber and its crew (and their escort) survived. He only tells us that on that journey home the wounded crew in their burning plane was not alone. These haunting, disturbing lines are somehow triumphant, and comforting. The reaction of the stunned reader invariably must be… “I hope they made it home!” Isn’t it extraordinary that one of the finest poems of WW2 has only three lines?
Is there some aspect of the historian’s world that involves hope? The answer must be Yes.
If Pirenne and Bloch are correct in their affirmation of the value of humanity then, somehow, we must walk in the same path. The expression of the truth, the illustration and illumination of people and events, is an affirmation of humanity. If Pirenne and Bloch are right, and they are, that life is of the utmost value then it is part of our “world,” too, to affirm, explain, and defend this critically important concept.
The progress of humanity is built upon the successes and failures of previous generations. This is an undeniable truth of the linear quality of our too short lives. Understanding the near or distant past illustrates for the living lessons learned by those who have faced similar challenges; the continuum of humanity is built on lessons learned, forgotten, misunderstood, and ignored.
Since history is always active, that is, history is always being “made” or is endlessly occurring – it is almost impossible to understand wider issues, bigger themes in which we find ourselves, our fellows, our country and our planet. Events in which we are a part are sometimes so immense and long in development that only an understanding of previous events can provide crucial insights into those of the present. The greatest historians then, like Pirenne and Bloch, in studying, analyzing and writing of the past, and thus contributing to an understanding of people and events in the present time are in service to humanity. This works both ways: an insightful understanding of the living cannot help but assist in understanding those who are no longer alive. How can we talk about, write about, even judge people living or dead without trying our best to empathize with and comprehend people?
In another episode of Chopped a young woman chef named “Ashley” was unable to prepare pickled pig’s feet to the satisfaction of the judges. She was “chopped” in the first round. Chef Ashley said, “That’s why I love cooking, there’s always something new to be learned.” Like the Chef’s world of innumerable ingredients (and combinations), recipes, and styles, ours is an ever-expanding field of knowledge that must include a love of learning.
The “world” of the great historian is one of love of humanity and love of learning. If the historian has one but not the other, he or she then is something other than a proper historian.
Rabbi Harold Kushner’s introduction to Viktor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) summarizes the importance of hope. Frankl, a brilliant Jewish Viennese psychotherapist had been arrested by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. In such an appalling place so high in the pantheon of sites of human cruelty and suffering hope could not readily be found in abundance–but it was there.
“He (Frankl) describes poignantly those prisoners who gave up on life, who had lost all hope for a future and were inevitably the first to die. They died less from lack of food or medicine than from lack of hope, lack of something to live for.”
The historian’s “world” is also one of duty. We have a duty to our forebears to tell their stories and to learn from them as best we can. We have a duty to keep the memory of heroes and villains and the experiences of everyday people alive. And then we have to analyze it all, explain it, present it, and share it with others for their knowledge (and perhaps even entertainment). Someone must keep the light of the past burning; somebody has to read the old books, and cull the important bits from them. We’re meant to tell the stories and help the living as best we can by providing for them an illumination of the past!
One of the finest poems about the Civil War is Donald Davidson’s “Lee in the Mountains.” It’s a haunting, beautiful achievement. A segment:
And Lee is in the mountains now, beyond Appomattox,
Listening long for voices that will never speak
Again; hearing the hoofbeats that come and go and fade
Without a stop, without a brown hand lifting
The tent-flap, or a bugle call at dawn,
Or ever on the long white road the flag
Of Jackson’s quick brigades. I am alone,
Trapped, consenting, taken at last in mountains.
We may be feeble, tired, and even overwhelmed but there is that duty. There is that duty and pleasure to discover/rediscover and understand and to make it all relevant somehow for today. We absolutely must learn the lessons of the past; there is no other way to avoid, if at all possible, the old mistakes.
Lee and Jackson and Lincoln are gone, all now outside of time. The determined blue and gray soldiers and their bitter guns are silent sentinels now on battlefields across the land. Davidson’s description of Lee is a poignant thing. It’s an emotionally heavy poem, and for those who know the history, all the more so. Stonewall’s “quick brigades” are dispersed, disappeared. The poet can invoke them, but only the historian can tell their stories and, in a sense, “bring them back” out of the darkness and nothingness of time gone by. There is too much of events and character to be learned from all of these people to ever let them go to nothingness.
In a historian’s “world” nihilism is an impossibility.
In a September, 1870, letter to Charles Marshall, his former aide-de-camp, Robert E. Lee in summing up his many years of experience chose an inspirational message. The War had been over then five years. There was not much time left, and Lee was aware of his failing health. This quote and the promise of hope that it provides has not gone unnoticed since his death a month after he wrote it. Despite everything he had been through, the loss of the war and of the old South and the Confederacy itself, Lee focused on wider themes and concluded with a message of positivity that is now, much like the General himself, timeless and outside of time.
“My experience of men has neither disposed me to think worse of them nor indisposed me to serve them; nor, in spite of failures which I lament, of errors which I now see and acknowledge, or of the present aspect of affairs, do I despair of the future. The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow, and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope.”
The present is a fleeting mist, the future but a dream and hope. What remains then is history; everything is history. It is the foundation of hope.
I will never compete on Chopped. I can find the best ingredients, prepare and present them with attractive colors, depth and balanced aromas and flavors. I can sauté, steam, stew, and simmer. I can select a good, appropriate wine. I can plate and serve a fine meal. I am not a chef, but I know how to cook.
Daniel Mallock is the author of the forthcoming book An Essential American Friendship: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and a World of Revolution (Feb. 2016)
Title quote from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865. (Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.)Scridb filter
Part 2 of 2. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, ever the good soldier, obeyed Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s order. He informed his adversary, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, that the civil authorities in Washington, D. C. had rejected their treaty on the grounds that Sherman had exceeded his authority. He informed Johnston that his sole authority to treat with him was to offer him the same terms that Grant had offered to Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Davis, opposed the surrender of Johnston’s command under the terms given to Lee, ordered Johnston to disband the infantry and escape with the large force of cavalry attached to Johnston’s army. To his undying credit, Johnston disobeyed those orders and surrendered the nearly 90,000 Confederate troops remaining under arms on the same terms given to Lee’s army at Appomattox. The troops included men in the Carolinas, Georga, and Florida. Only after Johnston surrendered did the armies of Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor and Gen. Edmund Kirby-Smith finally surrender, too.
On April 26, 1865, just eight days after the execution of the putative peace treaty, Sherman and Johnston reconvened at James Bennett’s small log farmhouse near Durham, North Carolina, where they had negotiated their putative peace treaty, to complete the formal surrender of Johnston’s army. Initially, the two generals had trouble reaching an accord. Johnston was concerned that without adequate provisions in place, the disbanding Confederate army would turn into marauders and robbers—in other words, that anarchy would reign. Sherman persuaded Johnston that he need not be concerned about that, and eventually got the Virginian to agree to the same terms that Grant had given to Lee.
Sherman presented Johnston with a prepared instrument of surrender, and Johnston signed it:
Terms of a Military Convention, entered into this 26th day of April, 1865, at Bennitt’s House, near Durham Station, North Carolina, between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major-General W.T. Sherman, commanding the United States Army in North Carolina:
All acts of war on the part of the troops under General Johnston’s command to cease from this date.
All arms and public property to be deposited at Greensboro, and delivered to an ordinance-officer of the United States Army.
Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate; one copy to be given to an officer to be designated by General Sherman. Each officer and man to give individual obligation in writing not to take up arms against the Government of the United States, until properly released from this obligation.
The side-arms of officers, and their private horses and baggage, to be retained by them.
This being done, all the officers and men will be permitted to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by the United States authorities, so long as they observe their obligation and the laws in force where they may reside.
W.T. Sherman, Major-General
Commanding United States Forces in North Carolina
J.E. Johnston, General
Commanding Confederate States Forces in North Carolina
Approved: U. S. Grant, Lieutenant-General
These were precisely the same terms as those accepted by Robert E. Lee for the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. The difference was that Johnston surrendered all remaining Confederate forces still in the field—nearly 90,000 men.
With the execution of the instrument of surrender, Joseph E. Johnston and his 32,000 man army stacked arms in a ceremony reminiscent of the one wherein Lee’s army surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House. Rifles were stacked, and colors were furled, and then the defeated Confederate soldiers tearfully returned home. Their war was over.
In the years after the war, the War Department purchased the entire village of Appomattox Court House and turned it into a shrine. It’s now part of the National Park Service, with many of the buildings–including Wilmer McLean’s handsome home–having been reconstructed as replicas of the original structures. The Appomattox Court House National Park consists of 1800 acres and includes 27 original structures. It is amply monumented, and the small battlefield area–the fight was brief and aborted when Lee realized that Union infantry had arrived and that his plight was hopeless–is well interpreted. There’s even a small military cemetery on site, a large Eastern National Park & Monument Association bookstore with an excellent selection, and a visitor center with a nice museum.
In many ways, what happened at Bennett Place is more remarkable, and more important, than what happened at Appomattox. However, the Bennett Place episode has long been ignored in light of the more dramatic events at Appomattox. The Bennett Place surrender site is a North Carolina state park that occupies about four acres. The Bennett house burned to the ground in 1921, and a replica was constructed on the site. In 1923, a Unity Monument was placed on the site to commemorate this historic event. There is a recently remodeled visitor center with some museum exhibits, a movie, and some books for sale. The contrast is absolutely shocking when compared with the plush and huge national park at Appomattox. The Bennett Place site sits a couple of hundred yards from an Interstate freeway, nestled among houses, so there is no way that it could be expanded. And that’s all there is to commemorate the place where two of the great men of the Civil War era combined efforts to accomplish one of the most important and remarkable events of the American Civil War.Scridb filter
Part 1 of a two-part series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.Gen. Joseph E. Johnston learned of the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia in Wilmer McLean’s parlor in the hamlet of Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 several days later. Lee had been trying to outrace the pursuing Union armies in an attempt to link up with Johnston’s army near Weldon, North Carolina. Once Lee’s army surrendered, there was no reason for Johnston to continue the bloodletting—it was over, and the wise old Confederate general knew it. Johnston, also horrified by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and worried about potential recriminations stemming from it, was eager to end the war. The wily old Virginian had a great deal of respect for his adversary, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, and he saw an opportunity to not just end the fighting, but to end the war itself. Sherman, weary of the butchery, also wanted the same thing.
Johnston proposed a meeting between the two army commanders to treat for peace, and they selected James Bennett’s modest farmhouse, near Durham, North Carolina, which was approximately halfway between the positions of the two armies. As one of Sherman’s staff officers put it, “two great men came together in the heart of North Carolina, intent, with true nobility of soul and in the highest interest of humanity, upon putting a stop to the needless sacrifice of life.”
As Sherman was preparing to leave for his conference with Johnston, he learned of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln via telegram. He swore the telegraph operator to secrecy to keep word from reaching the men and jeopardizing the meeting.
On April 17, the two army commanders entered the little Bennett house and began hashing out the terms of not just the surrender of Johnston’s army, but for peace and the restoration of the Union. Each commander arrived with his staff and a cavalry escort. Sherman informed Johnston of the assassination, and the Virginian said that the president’s death “was the greatest possible calamity to the South.” Sherman offered Johnston the same terms offered to Lee by Grant. However, Johnston believed the purpose to cease the fighting so that the civil authorities could make peace. He proposed to surrender all remaining Confederate forces in the field, and idea that Sherman eagerly embraced, as he wanted to avoid a long guerrilla war.
Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton of South Carolina, Johnston’s chief of cavalry, and the highest-ranking Confederate cavalry officer, and Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick, Sherman’s cavalry commander, accompanied their commanders to the peace conference. Both officers had transferred from the Virginia theater of operations, and they had tangled many times. Hampton was a patrician, reportedly the richest man in the antebellum South. Kilpatrick, small, ambitious, and with an unsavory reputation, were two entirely opposite personalities.While their men mingled and chatted, Hampton and Kilpatrick instead engaged in a loud and ugly argument that led to “both parties expressing a desire that the issue of the war should be left between the cavalry.” Their row had grown so loud that Sherman and Johnston had to interrupt their important discussions to separate their quarreling subordinates. A few minutes later, the two respective contingents mounted up and rode off after scheduling another meeting for the next day to finalize their discussions. Johnston needed time to communicate with the Confederate authorities. Hampton remained at headquarters the next day to avoid another ugly confrontation with his old adversary.
The next day, April 18, Sherman and Johnston met again. Johnston wanted to have the advice of General john Breckinridge, the Confederate Secretary of War, and an experienced attorney and politician, as to the legalities, so he invited Breckinridge to attend the meeting. Sherman initially opposed the presence of a civil official of the Confederacy, but agreed to permit the Kentuckian to remain once Breckinridge agreed to act solely in his capacity as a major general. Pausing only to take a sip of whiskey, Sherman began writing. The two commanders then signed a remarkable document:
Memorandum, or Basis of Agreement, made this 18th day of April A.D. 1865, near Durham Station, in the State of North Carolina, by and between General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army, and Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Army of the United States in North Carolina, both present:
The contending armies now in the field to maintain the status quo until notice is given by the commanding general of anyone to its opponent, and reasonable time – say forty-eight hours – allowed.
The Confederate armies now in existence to be disbanded and conducted to their several State capitals, there to deposit their arms and public property in the State Arsenal; and each officer and man to execute and file an agreement to cease from acts of war, and to abide by the action of the State and Federal authority. The number of arms and munitions of war to be reported to the Chief of Ordinance at Washington City, subject to the future action of the Congress of the United States, and, in the mean time, to be used solely to maintain peace and order within the borders of the States respectively.
The recognition, by the Executive of the United States, of the several State governments, on their officers and legislatures taking the oaths prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, and, where conflicting State governments have resulted from the war, the legitimacy of all shall be submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The re-establishment of all Federal Courts in the several States, with powers as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.
The people and inhabitants of all the States to be guaranteed, so far as the Executive can, their political rights and franchises, as well as their rights of person and property, as defined by the Constitution of the United States and of the States respectively.
The Executive authority of the Government of the United States not to disturb any of the people by reason of the late war, so long as they live in peace and quiet, abstain from acts of armed hostility, and obey the laws in existence at the place of their residence.
In general terms – the war to cease; a general amnesty, so far as the Executive of the United States can command, on condition of the disbandment of the Confederate armies, the distribution of the arms, and the resumption of peaceful pursuits by the officers and men hitherto composing said armies.
Not being fully empowered by our respective principals to fulfill these terms, we individually and officially pledge ourselves to promptly obtain the necessary authority, and to carry out the above programme.
W.T. Sherman, Major-General,
Commanding Army of the United States in North Carolina
J.E. Johnston, General,
Commanding Confederate States Army in North Carolina
This remarkable document, if ratified, would not only ensure the surrender of Johnston’s army, it would end the war and restore the authority and civil government of the United States in the former Confederacy. It marked Sherman’s and Johnston’s attempt at statesmanship. Sherman then ordered the halting of hostilities by all troops under his command.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis quickly accepted these generous terms. However, the civil authorities in Washington, D. C., still enraged over the assassination of Lincoln, declared that Sherman lacked authority to treat for peace. Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant, Sherman’s superior officer, ordered Sherman to abrogate his treaty and to inform Johnston that he could only offer to Johnston the same terms that Grant had offered to Lee at Appomattox. Their remarkable efforts came to naught.Scridb filter
I’m excited and very pleased to announce that one of my favorites of my titles, 2006’s The Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads and the Civil War’s Final Campaign is back in print after being out of print for four or five years. The folks at Savas-Beatie have just released a softcover edition of the book just in time for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the battle, which was fought on March 10, 1865. For those attending the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Bentonville next weekend (March 21-22) or the 150th anniversary of Johnston’s surrender to Sherman at Bennett Place on April 18, I will have copies of both editions available for sale there. Signed copies are also available by contacting me directly.Scridb filter
Ben Buehler Garcia hosts a weekly talk radio program on Tucson, Arizona’s KQTH called American Warrior that airs every Sunday from 12:00-1:00 PM PDT, or 3:00-4:00 PM, EDT. I was Ben’s guest today, where we spent an hour commemorating the 150th anniversary of the March 10, 1865 Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads. Those interested can download that hour-long discussion here.
Unlike some of the radio hosts that I have talked with over the years, Ben had read the entire book and was extremely well-prepared for our conversation. It was an interesting and enjoyable discussion, and I hope that some of you will check it out.Scridb filter
Conclusion of a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.After rallying his troops, Kilpatrick found a ragged old nag of a horse, and ordered a counterattack by his men, who surged forward out of the swamp and engaged the Confederate cavalrymen. In the meantime, Lt. Stetson was able to man first one, and then other, of his guns near the Monroe house, taking the starch out of the Confederate attack. Butler ordered an attack on the guns, which was led by The Citadel Cadet Ranger Company of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry, led by Capt. Moses Humphrey. Leading his troopers forward, Humphrey and his horse were both felled by a blast of canister. The captain and his loyal steed were buried in the same grave. Lt. Col. Barrington S. King, the commander of the Cobb Legion Cavalry, was also mortally wounded by one of Stetson’s blasts.
Those blasts of canister served to rally the Union men. One of Kilpatrick’s troopers described the determined counterattack by the Union horse soldiers as “one of the most terrific hand-to-hand encounters I ever saw.” Blue and gray mingled promiscuously as they slugged it out for possession of the Union camps. One of Wheeler’s division commanders, Brig. Gen. William Y. C. Humes, was badly wounded in the leg, and a brigade commander, Col. James Hagan, lay on the ground bleeding from a severe wound.Kilpatrick’s determined counterattack re-took his headquarters at the Monroe House and then began shoving the Confederate cavalry back toward the Morganton Road. They also punished those elements of Wheeler’s corps that had gotten bogged down in the swamp for the better part of 90 long minutes. After taking heavy losses—Wheeler had lost two division commanders and two brigade commanders badly wounded—and realizing that he had done all that he could, Hampton finally ordered his command to withdraw. Law’s reserve troopers came forward to cover the Confederate retreat and were joined by Brig. Gen. George Dibrell’s late-arriving brigade of Wheeler’s corps, and these troopers fended off Kilpatrick’s final attacks and allowed the rest of the Confederate cavalry to break off and withdraw safely.
Kilpatrick was happy to let them go. Having been caught by surprise and having taken heavy losses, he was in no hurry to pursue the grayclad horsemen. His command spent the rest of the day licking its wounds. Maj. Gen. James D. Morgan’s 14th Corps Division arrived to reinforce Kilpatrick after the battle ended, and the Union commander soon became a laughingstock when the story of his flight into the swamp clad in only his nightshirt spread. The foot soldiers quickly dubbed it “Kilpatrick’s shirt-tail skedaddle,” not without merit. So ended the final major cavalry engagement in the Western Theater of the Civil War.In the end, Kilpatrick won the battle by retaining the field at the end of the day, and having driven off Hampton and Wheeler. However, winning or losing the battle was not the issue. Hampton’s plan was designed to buy time for Hardee’s infantry to make its escape, and in that, the Confederates were wildly successful. By keeping Kilpatrick’s cavalry tied up for the entire day on March 10, Hardee was able to reach Fayetteville unmolested, and to cross his entire command safely. Wheeler’s troopers served as the rearguard, and the last of them to cross the Clarendon Bridge set it ablaze as the lead elements of Sherman’s army entered Fayetteville on the morning of March 11. The destruction of the bridge forced Sherman to halt in Fayetteville for several days until his pontoon bridges could be floated up the Cape Fear River from Wilmington. Hardee’s command pulled back and established three strong defensive positions at Averasboro, where his small command of less than 10,000 men successfully held off fully half of Sherman’s army for a full day on March 16, 1865 before withdrawing after dark that night. Hardee’s command then joined Johnston’s army at Smithfield the next day.
In short, the determined attacks by Hampton and Wheeler at Monroe’ Crossroads made the Battle of Bentonville possible. But for the bold surprise attacks that nearly destroyed Kilpatrick’s command, Hardee’s troops might have been brought to ground at Fayetteville and the Clarendon Bridge might have been seized by Kilpatrick’s troopers and made available for use by Sherman’s army, which might have arrived before Johnston could concentrate his army for the battle that became known as Bentonville.Scridb filter
Part two in a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War.Col. Gilbert J. “Gib” Wright, who commanded Hampton’s old brigade, was determined to try to capture Kilpatrick. He ordered Capt. Samuel D. Bostick of the Phillips Legion Cavalry to head straight for the Monroe farmhouse to capture the Union cavalry leader while the rest of the dawn attack launched.
In the meantime, two factors came into play to stymie the Confederate battle plan. First, a significant portion of Wheeler’s command got bogged down trying to push through the nearly impenetrable swamp. Those who got through lost all sense of discipline when faced with the veritable bounty of Kilpatrick’s campsites. Famished men stopped to feast on the ample Union rations or to loot the camps instead of pushing on. The combination of these two factors allowed sufficient time for those elements of Kilpatrick’s command that had not been gobbled up by the initial Confederate assaults to escape into the swamp, where Kilpatrick began to rally them.
In the meantime, Wheeler himself drew his saber and pitched into the melee, and so did Hampton. The big South Carolinian—6’4” and about 240 pounds—carried a heavy broadsword and not a saber, and he ended up killing a couple of Kilpatrick’s troopers during the day’s fighting, the 12th and 13th men that he had killed in personal combat during the Civil War. The scene in the Federal camps was utter chaos. Hampton’s plan for a surprise attack had succeeded beyond his wildest expectations, but with the complete breakdown of discipline, and the nature of the terrain, which naturally funneled the action toward the swamp, the Confederate tidal wave was rapidly running out of steam.
In the meantime, Judson Kilpatrick was rallying his routed command and getting it organized to launch a counterattack. After his humiliating flight into the safety of the swamp, the Union commander was determined to regain his camps.Scridb filter
Part 1 of a series. Cross-posted at Emerging Civil War:
The stakes were high. Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee’s 5,500 man corps was in a race for its life. If it could reach the Clarendon Bridge across the Cape Fear River in Fayetteville, NC first, Hardee could get his men across and then destroy the only crossing of the Cape Fear in the area. The Cape Fear is navigable as far north as Fayetteville, so it could only be crossed by bridge or ferry in the Fayetteville area. If Hardee could destroy the bridge, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s 65,000-man army would have to halt and wait for bridging materials to be brought up river from Wilmington. By the time that the bridging materials arrived and Sherman got his army across the Cape Fear, Hardee would be well on his way to joining the force that Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who came out of retirement to assume command of the remaining Confederate forces in North Carolina in February 1865, was assembling near Smithfield.
Leading Sherman’s pursuit was the Third Cavalry Division, commanded by Bvt. Maj. Gen. Judson Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick’s division—consisting of three brigades of mounted men and an ad hoc brigade of those men who had lost their horses and had not been able to replace them—was the only cavalry with Sherman’s grand army. Kilpatrick, of questionable reliability, had already demonstrated that his command could be caught by surprise at Aiken, South Carolina on February 11, was the weak link in Sherman’s army. However, in the absence of any alternatives, Kilpatrick and his troopers would have to do.
Closely shadowing Kilpatrick’s pursuit of Hardee’s infantry was a large and still effective force of Confederate cavalry. Even at that late date, the Confederates could still put more than 5,000 horsemen in the field, consisting of f about 4,000 men under the command of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler, whose command had been shadowing Sherman’s army since the beginning of the March to the Sea, and another 1,200 or so troopers from the Army of Northern Virginia under command of the newly-promoted Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton who had been sent to South Carolina at Hampton’s request in February to help defend against Sherman’s army. As the highest-ranking officer in the Confederate cavalry service, Hampton had overall command of this large force of Southern horsemen.
By the afternoon of March 9, 1865, Kilpatrick’s command was only a few miles behind Hardee’s infantry. Each of Kilpatrick’s three brigades of mounted men used a different road to pursue the Confederates. Kilpatrick himself rode with the brigade of Col. George E. Spencer, which was accompanied by Lt. Ebenezer Stetson’s two-gun section of the 10th Wisconsin Battery, and the dismounted troopers, organized into ad hoc regiments based on which brigade they served in, all under command of Lt. Col. William B. Way of the 9th Michigan Cavalry. Nightfall came quickly on the short early March days, and Kilpatrick decided to halt at the intersection of the Morganton and Blue’s Rosin Road, not far from Fayetteville. Kilpatrick established his headquarters in the Monroe farmhouse, where he spent the night in the company of an unidentified woman who was traveling with his command and who was considered to be a woman of loose morals. That intersection, known as Monroe’s Crossroads, would become the site of the last large cavalry battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War the next day.
Kilpatrick was careless and sloppy in his dispositions. He had only a single company of the 5th Kentucky Cavalry of Spencer’s brigade deployed as pickets on the Morganton Road. Wheeler’s lead elements—scouts of the 8th Texas Cavalry (Terry’s Texas Rangers) under command of Capt. Alexander Shannon—caught the Kentuckians by surprise and captured them en masse, meaning that Kilpatrick had no other early warning system in place in case the Confederates approached. This was incredibly negligent and violated nearly every rule for cavalry in the field, and it nearly cost Kilpatrick dearly.
Wheeler and Hampton recognized that Kilpatrick’s entire command was vulnerable. Hampton developed a plan whereby his entire command would pounce on Kilpatrick’s vulnerable camp. Wheeler, with his entire corps, would attack at dawn from the west, while Maj. Gen. Matthew C. Butler, commanding Hampton’s old division, would attack from the north with Col. Gilbert Wright’s brigade (Hampton’s old brigade), while the brigade of Brig. Gen. Evander M. Law would be held in reserve. It was a brilliant plan, and if it was executed properly at dawn as ordered, the grayclad horsemen would fall upon the sleeping Union camp like a tidal wave.
However, as the old cliché about the best-laid plans of mice and men goes, while the plan was brilliant, its execution left something to be desired.Scridb filter
Some clown named Donnie Johnston (who can take someone named Donnie seriously anyway? It raises memories of Donny Osmond….) writes a regular column for the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star newspaper. He was born and raised in Culpeper County, Virginia, where numerous major engagements occurred, and where the Army of the Potomac spent the winter of 1863-1864. This unenlightened troglodyte also is a fierce opponent of battlefield preservation. He has a long track record of it.
On December 29, 2001, he declared his enmity to battlefield preservation in his column:
Avoid getting bogged down in swamp or historic land
Posted: Saturday, December 29, 2001 2:30 am | Updated: 8:47 pm, Fri Jan 30, 2015.
“Possible Civil War battlefield site,” it said.
I suppose the owner figured that this was a valid selling point, but knowing that a Civil War battle might have been fought on that property would surely have dissuaded me from investigating further.
In this day and time, there are two types of acreage the average working man should avoid like the plague–historic land and swamp land. Either can wind up costing you money and causing you grief.
Now your old pappy may have warned you to stay away from deals that involve swamp land, but I doubt that men of his generation would have put historic land in the same category.
My, how things have changed.
We live in an area so Civil War conscious that sometimes it is hard to make people believe that we actually have history that predates that conflict.
Many act as if some mysterious land bridge magically appeared in 1861 and civilization began when men wearing blue uniforms walked down from the North to confront men in gray uniforms walking up from the South.
What happened after that is considered so sacred that one historic preservation group has declared that nothing so seemingly innocent as a game of softball should be played on the hallowed Civil War battlefield ground it owns.
That’s fine for big preservation groups, but, increasingly, government wants to restrict how small landowners use their historic property, too. And a man who has his life savings invested in a few acres of ground that are declared historically significant can suddenly find himself behind the eight ball.
Now I have nothing against preserving our history, but every site on which a Civil War soldier slept cannot be kept inviolate forever.
Given the thousands of soldiers that marched through Central Virginia, there is hardly a square foot of ground between Richmond and Washington that didn’t figure in the Civil War in some way.
And every acre between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Fredericksburg was most certainly used by either one army or the other between 1861 and 1865.
It can’t all be declared hallowed ground–not if we want our children and grandchildren to build homes and continue to live in this area.
But as open land dwindles, no one can be certain which parcels will be preserved and which will not.
And if you happen to own land on which a Civil War battle was fought, you just might get caught in a costly squeeze someday and your property rights severely restricted.
Increasingly, historic land is more of a liability than an asset–especially for persons who are not wealthy.
The same holds true for swamp land, which has become an even greater liability than historic land.
No one seems to know what you CAN do with swamp land, but there are two things that you almost universally CAN’T do with it.
You can’t use it and you can’t clean it up.
And if you can’t do either of those two things, a swamp is about as useless as a pregnant chad on a Florida ballot.
So why own it? Why pay taxes on land that is absolutely no good to you?
If you are buying land that has a swamp on it, ask the seller to deduct that acreage from the parcel.
And if you own swamp land, consider deeding it to the government so you won’t be taxed on that part of your property.
Even if the government owns your swamp, you can still enjoy the beavers that flood it and the ducks that swim in it. But you won’t be responsible for that land and you won’t have to pay taxes on it.
Let the government figure out what to do with it!
A donation of “valuable wetlands” to the government should even earn you a big tax break.
If you’re rich, you might not worry about owning a few acres of unusable swamp or a battlefield site whose use might be severely restricted one day.
But if you’re just an old working Joe, you might want to look the other way when someone tries to sell you land that is either swampy or historic in nature.
And if someone tries to interest you in a marsh where a Civil War battle was fought, run for your life!
The government probably wouldn’t even let you look at property that sacred–let alone use it!
DONNIE JOHNSTON is a staff writer with The Free Lance-Star. He can be contacted by mail at The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401; by fax at 373-8455; or by e-mail marked to his attention at email@example.com.
Note that he updated his angry rant on January 30 of this year, more than 13 years later.
Then, on February 21, 2015, he fired this unenlightened cheap shot.
Nothing ‘hallowed’ about war
Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015 12:00 am
BY DONNIE JOHNSTON/THE FREE LANCE-STAR | 6 comments
Posted on Feb 21, 2015by Donnie Johnston
I am so sick of hearing people cry about “hallowed ground” I could scream.
Everywhere a Union or Confederate soldier set his chamber pot is now declared “hallowed ground.”
You can’t build a store because there may be a Minié ball somewhere in the ground. Housing developments get axed because some farmer once plowed up a rusty bayonet in that field. You can’t construct a road because some soldier once fired a cannon from that spot.
This is all getting absurd.
Yes, the Civil War figures prominently in our country’s history, but the surrender at Appomattox was 150 years ago. Get over it and let’s get on with life.
Why people are so adamant about glorifying war—any war—is beyond me. Ask anybody who ever fought in one and they will tell you that war is indeed hell.
People kill other people in wars. They blow their heads off—literally. They disembowel fathers and sons and brothers with cannons and mortars.
Soldiers lose their arms, their legs, their feet and their hands in wars. You want to glorify that?
I’m not a fan of war and I certainly don’t celebrate killing. As Jimmy Stewart once said, the only people who win wars are the undertakers.
We talk of the soldiers who fought the Civil War as if they were holy vessels sent down by the Almighty to purify the Earth. These were people like you and me—some good, some bad.
Few fought because there was some holy cause involved. Most of the Confederates fought mostly because they resented being invaded by the Yankees. Most of the Federals fought because they wanted to teach Johnny Reb a lesson.
The Civil War began because big landowners in the South wanted to keep black people enslaved. You can sugarcoat it all you want, but slavery was what that conflict was all about. You want to glorify slavery?
Those big landowners—the aristocracy—were the political leaders of the South and they developed political policy. The average guy who had never owned a slave just got caught up in the excitement and the politics of the day.
Yes, the slaves were freed as a result of the Civil War. But then America proceeded to treat black people like dirt for another 100 years. It was only after the Civil War centennial that black children were even allowed to sit next to white children in many public schools.
Civil War soldiers killed, looted, stole and burned homes and outbuildings. If you see glory in that, you’ve got better vision than I.
Six miles from where I live, a wounded Union soldier was executed in the bed where he was convalescing—shot in the head at point-blank range—as a means of revenge. You want to glorify that?
My great-grandfather went off to war on a lark, leaving his wife and children to almost starve to death. He came home and wasted away with dysentery. That was some glorious death.
Now we want to save every inch of ground trod upon by every Federal and Confederate. Why? Well, partly so that re-enactors can line up, fire blank shells and show us what the war was like.
If these people want to show us what the war was like, let them fire real bullets and cannon and then accept only the type of medical help that was available during the Civil War.
Let us watch a few limbs being amputated with hacksaws and without anesthesia or antibiotics. Let’s see how romantic that is.
Enough is enough. We don’t glorify World War I or World War II or even the Revolutionary War, where we won our independence. It is only the Civil War that seems to excite us.
Yes, we should honor our history, but we can’t save every inch of soil that was part of the Civil War. If we did, most of Virginia would be an empty field.
As for this “hallowed ground” business, no war is a holy war. War is an atrocity, no matter which side is in the right.
We can respect the men who fought in the Civil War without stripping landowners of their rights 150 years after the fact. The re-enactors can still play soldier and have a high old time, but let the people have homes and let the roads pass.
Like we do with most everything else, Americans take history and run it into the [hallowed] ground.
The Civil War is over. Let’s move on. The good earth was put here for us to use, not to glorify because one man killed another man at some particular spot.
Donnie Johnston: firstname.lastname@example.org
This ignoramus clearly doesn’t get it. Which is a tragedy.
Mike Stevens, president of the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, which does a magnificent job of stewarding battlefield land in and around Fredericksburg, wrote this excellent letter to the editor of the Free-Lance Star that rebuts the ignoramus:
To the Editor:
Donnie Johnston’s recent column, “War shouldn’t be hallowed,” made clear his antipathy toward, and opposition to, preserving our remaining Civil War battlefields. He was direct, forthright, and pulled no punches.
I am President of our local preservation group, Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT), and would like to respond. (For a more complete picture of why we preservationists do what we do, please check the paper’s archives for my past op-ed articles.)
–We of CVBT don’t wish to preserve the ground of a Civil War battlefield in order to glorify war or to enable reenactors to “play soldier and have a high old time.” Rather, we do so in order to commemorate this most important and defining event in the history of our country, to preserve the memory and meaning of what took place on that ground, and to remember and honor the men in both blue and gray who fought and fell there, to ponder what they did and why they did it. There are lessons to be learned by having such special ground to walk upon.
–We of CVBT do not attempt to save every inch of battlefield ground where “there may be a Minie ball somewhere in the ground” or where “some farmer once plowed up a rusty bayonet in that field.” Rather, we consider the ground sanctified by the blood and bravery of thousands of Americans (ground almost certainly still containing the remains of many of those men) to be consecrated and special, to be as worthy of respect and preservation as is the consecrated and special ground of any existing cemetery.
–We of CVBT are not “stripping landowners of their rights.” We understand that a man’s property is his own, and we support this as a fundamental right of citizenship, as long as the corresponding responsibility to respect the historical stewardship of that property is taken into serious account.
–Finally, some of us might wonder about his comment that “the good earth was put here for us to use, not to glorify because one man killed another man at some particular spot.” It might be more respectful and honest to say that we are called upon to be good stewards of God’s created order, to use what we have been given not exclusively for personal profit and gain but with the acknowledgment that there are places touched by such suffering and sacrifice that they become special and Spirit-filled, worthy of being preserved forever. To us of CVBT, a Civil War battlefield is just such a place.
Clark B. Hall, who has done more to preserve battlefield land in and around Johnston’s home, Culpeper County, writes:
There are many who are both shocked and surprised at Mr. Donnie Johnston’s provocative column asserting battlefield preservation is “absurd,” but as one who has labored three decades to help save Civil War battlefields in Culpeper County—from where Mr. Johnston hails—I am neither shocked nor surprised as his cynical insensitivity toward preservation is well known in Culpeper.
Back in the mid-80’s, a California developer arrived in Culpeper and deigned to build a commercial office park on the Brandy Station Battlefield. A group of local citizens—not including Mr. Johnston—directly aided by the Fredericksburg-based, Association of the Preservation of Civil War Sites, Inc. (today’s Civil War Trust)—opposed that proposal and the developer declared bankruptcy. Another developer successively purposed to build an automobile racetrack on the battlefield, but he was also beaten back by preservation advocates.
And today—directly supported by enlightened Culpeper citizens—the Civil War Trust owns, and has placed in easement, thousands of acres of historic landscape in Culpeper County. This protected, “Hallowed Ground”—a poignant term scorned by the censorious Mr. Johnston—incorporates portions of the Brandy Station, Cedar Mountain and Kelly’s Ford Battlefields.
It is a fact none of these Culpeper County battlefields would have been saved absent the direct support of Culpeper citizens. It is also a fact Culpeper County officials have inserted battlefield preservation in their “Comprehensive Plan” as a vital element the county must consider when rendering planning decisions.
And, by the way, Culpeper County now experiences a heavy visitor experience on its battlefields and Culpeper’s hotels, restaurants and stores can easily confirm “heritage tourism” directly conveys cultural and economic benefits. We can confirm, however, Mr. Johnston does not today join Culpeper student groups out on the battlefields while these young charges learn valuable lessons about the tragedy of war, along with the attendant components of courage, ultimate sacrifice, and the importance of tending our collective historical memory.
And please know battlefields now saved in Culpeper County are today protected despite the acerbic obstinacy of Mr. Donnie Johnston.
Clark B. Hall
My wise old father used to say, “opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.” Mr. Johnston apparently has two, both of which are dead wrong.Scridb filter
On January 9, 2015, I announced that I had made a deal with Savas-Beatie to bring out a Kindle version of my Ulric Dahlgren biography very soon, and a softcover version of it later this year. I am pleased to be able to tell you that the Kindle version is now available, as are all other digital formats. The cost is $9.99, and I hope some of you will check it out!
I will let everyone know when the book is back in print later this year.
And thank you for your support.Scridb filter