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
With appreciation to Peter Tsouras, who brought this to my attention.
One of the sadder moments of the Kilpatrick-Dahlgren Raid occurred when Col. Ulric Dahlgren ordered his column’s African-American guide, Martin Robinson, hanged because the column had had difficulty finding a workable crossing over the James River in Goochland County, on its way to Richmond. The unfortunate Robinson, scapegoated by Dahlgren, was hanged from a small tree, and his body was left there when the raiders moved on.
Pete Tsouras brought another episode to my attention today. I had missed this during my work on Ulric Dahlgren, which is unfortunate. It’s a tantalizing peek at a story that problem deserves further investigation. The following appears in Series 2 of the Official Records, vol. 6, part 1, pp. 1053-1054:
RICHMOND, March 15, 1864.
Brigadier General JOHN H. WINDER:
SIR: I have examined the papers in the case of one Tom Heath, a freeman of color, who was imprisoned in one of the military jails of this city on the 5th instant. Heath is a resident of Goochland County and is charged by a gentleman of the highest respectability and veracity with having acted as a guide to the enemy during the recent raid of General Kilpatrick and Colonel Dahlgren through Goochland. The only witness I learn against the accused is a son of Mr. S. D. Fisher, whose testimony, in the absence of other witnesses, would not be sufficient proof of the overt act of treason, although there is no doubt of Heath having adhered to the enemy, giving them aid and comfort. His offense is one of so grave a character that I regret to say he cannot, I fear, be successfully prosecuted for treason. The act of Congress of the 15th of February, 1864, providing for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus in certain cases, will enable the Secretary of War to inflict the punishment of imprisonment upon the accused. He has clearly been guilty of the crime of communicating intelligence to the enemy, giving him aid and comfort and holding intercourse with the enemy without necessity and without the permission of the Confederate States, and he may therefore be imprisoned and denied all recourse to the writ of habeas corpus. As hard labor for the benefit of the Confederate States should be superadded to the punishment of imprisonment, I have no recommend the immediate reference of the papers in this case to Judge Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of War, who will issue the necessary orders for the imprisonment of Heath. The crime with which he is charged is one of such frequent occurrence that an example should be made of Heath. It is a matter of notoriety in the sections of the Confederacy where raids are frequent that the guides of the enemy are nearly always free negroes and slaves.
P. H. AYLETT,
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF HENRICO,
Richmond, March 18, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded to the Secretary of War.
JNO H. WINDER,
MARCH 18, 1864.
This man, a free negro, piloted Dahlgren in Goochland. But one witness can be had to prove guilt and Mr. Aylett asks to have him confined and put to labor, denying recourse to habeas corpus. Recommendation approved.
B. R. W[ELLFORD], JR.
MARCH 25, 1864.
Refer to Brigadier-General Winder to have him detained in custody and placed at hard labor work in a secure place and for other attention.
J. A. CAMPBELL.
I had never heard of this incident involving Tom Heath previously. He was apparently imprisoned and put to hard labor for the crime of guiding Dahlgren’s column on its way through Goochland County. Unfortunately, I have been unable to locate anything further about him or his travails, but what an interesting episode this is.
There were two freed blacks who helped Dahlgren make his way through Goochland County. Martin Robinson paid with his life. Tom Heath was imprisoned at hard labor. Never let it be said that the war in Virginia was easy on civilians.Scridb filter
The soldier in the image is Lt. Alonzo Cushing, who is set to receive a Medal of Honor on September 15, 2014, 151+ years after his death at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Of the following facts, there is no dispute or doubt: Alonzo Cushing was a brave and very capable young soldier who died as a hero. Cushing, although horribly wounded, stood to his gun and pulled the lanyard, blasting canister into the faces of the Confederate soldiers of Brig. Gen. Lewis A. Armistead’s brigade at point-blank range at the climax of the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge. He was an incredibly brave young man who died a hero’s death doing his duty. These facts are not in dispute. I admire Alonzo Cushing.
Having said that, I have real problems with him receiving a Medal of Honor now, 151 years after the fact. There were plenty of opportunities for the War Department to honor him in the years after the war, but it did not do so. 1520 Medals of Honor were awarded for valor in the Civil War. Many of them were politically motivated, like the one awarded to Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles, who instead should have been the subject of a court-martial. Many were not really earned or deserved. Many were. A number of them were even revoked. But Alonzo Cushing was not deemed worthy of being awarded a Medal of Honor by his peers. That fact is also beyond dispute or controversy.
Again, this is not to take anything away from Lieutenant Cushing or his courageous stand at the guns on July 3, 1863. But I have real problems with his being awarded a Medal of Honor today. Is this really the sort of precedent that we want to set? Isn’t this a slippery slope that will open up a big can of worms? Doesn’t this open the door for the advocates of any soldier who did something brave to demand that that soldier also be awarded a Medal of Honor even though his peers did not believe his feats worthy of one? That’s my real concern with this Medal of Honor being awarded to Alonzo Cushing, whose valor certainly deserved recognition.
As unpopular as this statement might be, my humble opinion is that if the veterans–Cushing’s peers–did not deem him worthy of a Medal of Honor, who are we to question the wisdom of their judgment? I think that we should just have left well enough alone. The precedent that this Medal of Honor sets is not one that should have been set.
Despite my objections, I nevertheless congratulate Lieutenant Cushing and his supporters who spent so many years fighting to win the Medal for their hero.Scridb filter
My world, and welcome to it.
The stuff that people feel that they have to share with us at book signings is pretty astounding.
Please don’t mistake my sarcasm for a lack of gratitude. I really appreciate it that folks feel like they can approach me and for the most part, I enjoy the interactions. Every now and again, someone will bring something to my attention that is of great interest to me, and I completely lose myself in the conversation. As just one example, at one of my first speaking engagements after my book Glory Enough for All: The Battle of Trevilian Station and Sheridan’s Second Raid was published, a fellow approached me and handed me a copy of a letter by his ancestor who had served in the 9th New York Cavalry and who had written a really terrific account of the battle that came to me about 6 months too late to do me any good. I’ve also had very interesting conversations with descendants of people who fought in the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Every once in a while, someone will tell me about an idea they have that’s great, or they share something really useful or unique with me. I live for those moments. I will always help folks with worthwhile projects.
And I’ve done this sort of thing myself. My book Little Phil: A Reassessment of the Civil War Generalship of Philip H. Sheridan is the direct result of a pretty remarkable dinnertime conversation that I had with the late Prof. Joe Harsh at a Civil War conference at Kent State University many years ago. I bent Joe’s ear for the entire dinner, and he graciously played along. But by the time that meal was over, the outline of the book was right there in my brain, waiting to be put down on paper. So, I really do get it.
And then, there are the ones that just prattle on and on and on about things that are of no interest to me, who are too oblivious to sense that they’re preventing me from talking to others or signing the books of others, and who won’t just shut up and go away. You try really hard not to be rude to them, but sometimes, you just have no choice. I’ve seen authors just get up and walk away out of exasperation. I haven’t done that, but I surely have tuned folks out completely from time to time.
In the end, I am no longer in charge of acquisitions for a niche publisher. I’m an author. Just because I’ve had stuff published doesn’t mean that I have the magic beans to get your lame idea published.
Perhaps some of my fellow authors will be willing to share some of their stories here. I hope you will!Scridb filter
First, please allow me to apologize for the absence. I had my portion of the Second Battle of Winchester book to write, and then I needed a break. I’m back in the saddle again, and I have some very funny stuff for you today.
What is thought of it–The Forrest-Kilpatrick Affair–Interesting and Spicy Correspondence.
The following correspondence explains itself. In consideration of the modesty of some parties, we give only initials:
New York, November 10
General J__n M. C___e:
Forrest says that I am “a liar, poltroon, and scoundrel.” What do you think about it?
Chicago, November 14
Sir–yours received. I think so too.
J__n M. C___e, Maj. Gen.
New York, November 7
Gen. W. T. S_____n:
Forrest has published me as “a liar, poltroon, and scoundrel.” What ought I to do about it?
Very truly yours,
Cheyenne, November 16
I think you ought to call out Forrest for having lied about you–that is, for having told only half the truth.
W. T. S______n, Lieut. Gen.
New York, November 8
Gen. U. S. G____t:
Forrest, of Memphis, has published a card in which he says I am “a liar, poltroon and scoundrel.” What do you think should be done with an unhung rebel who thus vilifies a loyal soldier?
I am, my dear General, your most obedient servant,
Washington, November 10
I don’t know. Let us have peace. I have no policy on such matters. Have just had a present of a splendid bull slut.
U. S. G___t, General
New York, November 19
Gen. B. F. B____r:
My dear sir:
Forrest, the infamous butcher of Fort Pillow, has published me as “a liar, poltroon and scoundrel.” What ought to be done?
Massachusetts, November 13
Dear sir–I think he ought to be impeached. If you cannot impeach his veracity, borrow his spoons and don’t return them.
B. F. B_____r
There are several more letters in our possession upon this subject. They are mostly to the point.
This is some truly funny stuff. This article clearly was written with tongue firmly in cheek and has some real fun at Judson Kilpatrick’s expense. The “letters” from Sherman, Grant, and Butler are especially funny. The bit about borrowing the spoons nearly caused me to do a spit-take. And I wholeheartedly agree with the “letter” by John M. Corse that indicates that he agreed with Forrest’s assessment of Kilpatrick.
Just a quick note to wish all of you a joyous Christmas. Susan joins me in wishing all of you the happiest of days with your friends and families today. Hopefully, none of you found any lumps of coal in your stockings this morning, and hopefully none of you received a visit from Krampus.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy days to visit this blog. I appreciate all of you.Scridb filter
2013 has been an extraordinary year in many ways.
With the help of a group of dedicated and generous individuals who recognized the important of Fleetwood Hill, we have saved the single most fought-over piece of ground in North America this year. More important preservation opportunities in and around the Brandy Station battlefield presented themselves and are being pursued. We saw many important sesquicentennial commemorations this year, including the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station. Some good new books came out this year. Old friendships were renewed and new friendships were made. It was my honor and my privilege to be part of those events, and I will cherish those memories forever.
I remain thankful to each and every one of you who visits this website often and who contribute to it regularly. I never take that for granted, and those interactions mean more to me than I can say.
Susan and I wish each and every one of you a wonderful Thanksgiving. Travel safely, and enjoy the family time.Scridb filter
As the clocks tolled to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the guns fell silent. The Great War–the War to End All Wars, as it was known–had ended. The butcher’s bill had come due. 16 million were dead and another 20 million wounded. And for what? A few yards of soil in France? It’s a shame that it was not truly the War to End All Wars. Much worse ghastliness lay ahead, just two decades later.
Lt. Wilfred Owen, a British soldier/poet, who was killed in action a scant few days before the armistice took effect, left this moving elegy behind:
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
As we move toward the centennial of World War I, I thought it important to remember the horrifying human toll of the conflict, which is the root of the Veterans’ Day that we commemorate today.
And to each and every one of you who served, I can merely offer a thank you, offered with profound and humble gratitude for your sacrifice. I offer a special thank you today to my uncle, Sgt. Morton L. Wittenberg, U.S. Army Air Corps, World War II, my brother-in-law, SSGT Joseph Pacitto, USMC, Desert Storm, my father-in-law, Lt. Adam Skilken, U.S. Navy, Cold War, and my dear friends, Lt. Clark B. Hall, USMC, Vietnam, Sgt. Ted Alexander, USMC, Vietnam, Maj. Mike Nugent, US Army, Cold War, Col. Wade Sokolosky, U.S. Army, the War Against Terror, Capt./Sgt. Mike Phipps, U.S. Army, Iraq, Capt. Craig Swain, U.S. Army, Cold War and beyond, Sgt. Angela Clemens, US Air Force, Cold War and beyond, and Capt. Stuart Jones, US Navy, Cold War and beyond, and any of my other friends whom I have inadvertently left off of this list–it’s not intentional–for all of your service and sacrifices. Today, it’s my turn to salute you.Scridb filter