2014 Sacred Trust Lectures Day One

The first day of the 2014 Sacred Trust Lectures at Gettysburg National Military Park was July 4.

First up was John C. Waugh talking about Re-electing Lincoln.  He gave us what was pretty much the standard story of the 1864 election.  He claimed there was no more inept general in the war than Benjamin F. Butler.  Well, I’m not so sure about that.  Butler was no battlefield general, that’s for sure, but he was the first hero of the Union for opening the way for troops to get to Washington, D. C.  in the early days after Fort Sumter, and he was the one who came up with the concept of calling runaway slaves contraband of war and not returning them.  I can think of a few generals who made significantly fewer contributions to the Union war effort–such as the cowardly James Ledlie.  He also claimed that while the battlefield victories are generally acknowledged to have changed Lincoln’s electoral prospects, Lincoln might have won anyway due to what Mr. Waugh claimed was a deep reservoir of good feeling for Lincoln among the common man.  I think that’s probably going too far.  The “common man” was either sending his sons to war or was in the army himself, and had military events gone the other way on the battlefield it’s doubtful to me the “common man” would have supported Lincoln no matter how they felt about Lincoln personally.

Next was Jennifer Murray talking about the Gettysburg Battlefield from 1863-2013.  She told us that landscape was used to commemorate the war and to memorialize and honor those who fought and died in the war.  From 1864 to 1895 the battlefield was under the management of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association.  This period saw the first land purchase, the first monuments, and the first roads through the battlefield.  By the end of this period 522 acres were preserved.  From 1895 to 1933 the battlefield was managed by the US War Department.  It was during this time that Camp Colt was established on the battlefield for tank training, and some of the construction included an officers’ swimming pool installed at the Angle on Cemetery Ridge.  Beginning in 1933 the National Park Service took over management of the battlefield, but the NPS at the time had no expertise in preserving historical sites.  James McConoughy, the first NPS Superintendent at Gettysburg, was a landscape architect.  He was superintendent until 1941 and he took steps to create a “pretty landscape” with aesthetic value, not historical preservation, being his primary motivation.  During this time historical buildings were torn down and nonhistorical plants and trees were placed on the battlefield.  During the New Deal, two Civilian Conservation Corps camps were established on the battlefield in McMillan Woods and Pitzer Woods.  The modern tour route that we have today was laid down by CCC workers in the 1930s.  The CCC workers at Gettysburg were African-American, and that included their supervisors as well.  The CCC camps closed in 1942.  During World War II, Americans came to Gettysburg to find resolve.  The park also donated several tons of scrap metal to the war effort, and even had a plan in place that if things got bad enough monuments on the battlefield would be scrapped and the metal in them melted down for the war effort.  During the war a POW camp with 8,000 captured German soldiers was established on the Pickett’s Charge field.  Some of these men later stayed in the United States, married, and raised families.  During the Centennial commemoration in the 1960s, Gettysburg was an iconic site.  John F. Kennedy visited in March of 1963.  The Cyclorama building had opened in March of 1962.  In July of 1963 there were over 400,000 visitors to the battlefield, with over two million visitors in all for the entire year of 1963.  Many southern state markers were dedicated during the Centennial, with Alabama’s George Wallace visiting in July of 1963, giving a fiery defense of state rights.  The 1990s saw the rise of the culture wars and an expanded interpretation at the battlefield.  We saw a more politicized interpretation of history during this time.  Jen gave us an outstanding presentation that was very enjoyable.

Next, Allen C. Guelzo spoke to us about Lincoln’s Strangest Document, the Cabinet Memorandum of August 23, 1864.  This was the so-called “blind memorandum” Lincoln had his cabinet sign without reading.  Lincoln believed he wouldn’t be re-elected and in that memorandum said that he would do all he could to win the war before March 4, 1865.  The window of opportunity, then, would close on March 4.  Professor Guelzo talked about the options Lincoln faced, including options to keep McClellan from running.  McClellan would be a magnet for recruitment and re-enlistment, and an announcement of McClellan’s cooperation would help with this.  A second goal would be to split McClellan from his Democratic backers.  Co-opting McClellan would play into Lincoln’s wooing of the War Democrats.  One reason for having the cabinet members sign the memorandum at that time would be to demonstrate the sincerity of Lincoln’s offer by showing Lincoln was thinking about it for a long time.  There was no precedent for cooperation described by Lincoln in the memorandum.  Lincoln had offered a partnership but no abandonment of principle and no offer of compromise.  There would be no step backward on emancipation.  It was a document of determination to move forward to victory.  It showed that Lincoln felt kindly toward McClellan and was willing to share the laurels for victory.  As usual, Professor Guelzo delivered an outstanding lecture.  It’s always a pleasure to hear him and this was no exception.

Our next speaker was William Marvel, who spoke on “Gettysburg and the Road to Andersonville.”  This was a little disappointing in that he really didn’t connect it to Gettysburg and what he said could be found in his book from 20 years ago, Andersonville:  The Last Depot.  He really had nothing new to add, even after two decades.

Next was Michael C. C. Adams.  His topic was “1864:  To the Edge of Sanity–‘Many a man has gone crazy.’ ”  This was a pretty decent blending of general military history with a discussion of the experiences of Civil War combat veterans.  He made the point that 19th Century combat was “carnage incarnate,” and it wasn’t just in the American Civil War.  At Solferino on June 24, 1859, for example, the Austrians lost 14,000 men in one day and the French and Italians lost 15,000.  Nineteenth Century armies were very big because of advances in transport and logistics, and casualties were huge because of the rifled musket and artillery.  He talked about some veterans suffering from dissociation, or shutting down mentally, others suffered from what we now diagnose as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Shell concussions led to traumatic brain injury.  As the war lengthened, soldiers got angrier and angrier at their enemy and they were less likely to give quarter and were more willing to burn and destroy.  The Union high command came to the conclusion they had to break the will of the southern people.  The title of the presentation came from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who said, “Many a man has gone crazy since this campaign began because of the pressures on mind and body.”  Civilians also went insane due to pressures on them caused by the war.  This was a pretty good presentation with new information that we don’t normally think of when thinking about the war.

The next presentation was “We Might Have Gained a Great Victory” by Kristopher White.  This dealt with the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, part of the Chancellorsville battle.  This is another straightforward account of an action that’s fairly well known.  It generally followed the narrative most are familiar with and I didn’t detect any errors or new information.  The presentation was well done, as was the next presentation, “From ‘Old Bald head’ to ‘Lee’s Bad Old Man’ ” by Phillip S. Greenwalt.  This one was about the Army of Northern Virginia’s Second Corps in 1864.  After that, Howard Coffin spoke about “Gettysburg in Vermont:  Civil War Discoveries in the Green Mountain State.”  Based on his presentation from last year, I didn’t feel that I needed to see this year’s presentation, so I took a quick break.  Mr. Coffin is far more excited about his home state than I am, no offense to any Vermonters out there.

The final presentation of the day was “What the Yankees Did to Us:  Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta” by Stephen Davis.  This was based on his book, What the Yankees Did to Us, which I’m contemplating buying.  He made the point that there is a legend that a little girl was allegedly killed by the first shell fired into the city, but this is a historical falsehood.  The bombardment lasted from July 20, 1864 to August 25, 1864 and Sherman personally ordered it.  There were 3,000 to 4,000 noncombatants in the city at the time.  These were the people who had nowhere to go, were too poor to flee, were secret Yankees, or were rich and had basements in which they could hide.  There were approximately 20 to 25 civilians killed and 40 to 60 wounded in the bombardment.  Sherman ordered all civilians to leave the city on September 5.  About 1,650 chose to go south, most of the rest went north, and maybe 50 families, all Unionists, were allowed to stay in the city.  Sherman ordered his chief engineer, Orlando Poe, to construct a shorter, inner line of fortifications.  The engineers began wrecking and burning facilities of military significance from November 10 to 15.  From November 11 to 15, though, several soldiers engaged in unauthorized arson.  Davis’ presentation was well balanced and interesting.  He appears to have done prodigious research into the subject, and I believe eventually I’ll buy and read his book.

The first day of Sacred Trust 2014 was a lot of fun, and I learned a great deal.  It was, for the most part, an outstanding line-up.

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4 comments

  1. Pat Eakin · · Reply

    Al, I hope everyone who reads your posts appreciates the time and effort you take to share what you heard, along with your opinions and analysis. “Bad Generals”? I saw a book on Ambrose Burnside that claimed that before his disastrous defeat he had been a respected and competent military commander. I’ll have to look it up on Amazon.com or some other book list. I wrote a biography for my Google+ site on Gen George McClellan. I found that he had a following of admirers, was quite popular at the Democrats convention in1864 and received over 47% of the votes in the general election. My research also found defenders of his military strategy.

    1. Thanks, Pat. I’ve added the videos from the lectures as well.

  2. Rosemary Kubera · · Reply

    Been hoping to find this year’s lectures online… especially got my eye out for Ed Ayers’ talk. Thanks for posting Day One…. haven’t read your entire post yet … betting the rest of the talks will show up here. Your website is a great find cause you find so much!

    1. Thanks. More to come.

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