The final day of this year’s Sacred Trust lectures at Gettysburg National Military Park began with Brian Steel Wills speaking on “The Fates of Gettysburg.” This was basically about Major General William Dorsey Pender. It’s always a pleasure listening to Brian, and this was no exception, though he does tend to go out on tangents. At least his tangents are entertaining and informative.
The next speaker was Ranger Frank O’Reilly speaking on “Grant & Lee 1864: Masters of War.” He told us 1861 was a year of defiance; 1862 was a year of definition; 1863 was a year of determination; and 1864 was a year of decision. The stakes were high in 1864 due to the Presidential Election. To re-elect Lincoln was to continue to prosecute the war. The only way Lincoln could be re-elected was through positive military victories. Frank told us that Lee’s objectives were first, to not lose, and second, to inflict severe damage on the Army of the Potomac. Typically we think of Grant as waging a war of attrition, but a war of attrition requires time as well as overwhelming resources, and Grant didn’t have time due to the election. Grant instead pursued a war of annihilation. In 1864, Lee was waging a war of attrition. He wanted to outlast the election. Because of the election, Grant was forced to wage a war of annihilation. Neither general started the year with a high opinion of the other. Grant thought Lee had had it easy. Lee thought Grant had had it easy. Frank then went through the Overland Campaign in which each man began to gain respect for the other. This was a really good presentation, though he did make the error of calling Grant “Ulysses Simpson Grant” and there has been some doubt cast on the account that had Grant crying in his tent after the Battle of the Wilderness.
Next up was Stephen Fox speaking on “The Confederacy at Sea: Raphael Semmes and the CSS Alabama.” Semmes, in command of the CSS Alabama, was the most effective commerce raider of the war. The Alabama was built by Lair Brothers Shipyard in Liverpool, England and snuck out on July 29, 1862. She rendezvoused with two other British vessels bringing her armament, ammunition, and crew. She took ten prizes in two weeks. These were whalers. At Galveston, Texas she sank a Union gunboat. Semmes had spent 35 years in the US Navy. He married the former Ann Spencer of Cincinnati, Ohio. The marriage produced five children. She was an antislavery Protestant while he was a proslavery Roman Catholic. Both had wartime romances. She had one during the Mexican War while he had one during the Civil War. The immediate effect of the Alabama was shock and panic in Northern port cities. Insurance rates skyrocketed and US firms sold their ships to other countries, particularly the British. The US merchant fleet has never recovered from this. It also caused the diversion of precious naval resources. It led to a crisis in Anglo-American relations because she had been built in Britain, armed by British arms, and was crewed primarily by British seamen. This led to claims for reparations after the war. This was another really good presentation, and we learned a great deal from it.
The next speaker was Heath Hardage Lee speaking on “Winnie Davis: Daughter of the Confederacy and Last Casualty of the Lost Cause.” This was really an outstanding presentation. It was fascinating to hear of What Winnie and Varina Davis did and went through in the years after the war. It was truly ironic that the daughter of the confederate president would fall in love with the grandson of a famous abolitionist. It’s unfortunate that the confederate veterans thought they had more claim on her than she had on herself. Even Jefferson Davis approved of her engagement, but the confederate veterans didn’t and made violent threats. This was truly a tragic story.
After that, Edwin Root, Jeffrey Stocker, and Richard Jacoby spoke on the 15th, 19th, and 20th Massachusetts regiments. I took this opportunity to get some lunch, so here is the recording:
Next up was Scott Hartwig, reprising his winter lecture on the Army of the Potomac from Brandy Station to Petersburg. As usual, it was excellent.
Next was Brian Craig Miller on “Remembering Failure: John Bell Hood in Civil War History and Memory.” This was another excellent presentation. Hood was viewed fairly objectively at first, but then the Southern Historical Society moved away from New Orleans, which was where Hood lived, and settled in Richmond. The Virginians in the SHS decided to determine who to blame for confederate defeat, and one of their targets became Hood. Joseph E. Johnston was one of the first to attack Hood. Hood was angered and began to structure a defense, which became his own memoir. About six years after the Southern Historical Society’s move, though, Hood was dead of Yellow Fever. There is a great deal to learn in this presentation.
The final presentation was Dan Vermilya presenting “Sherman, Kennesaw Mountain, and the Atlanta Campaign.” Dan gave this presentation during the Winter Lecture Series, and did an outstanding job. I took the opportunity to leave early and view it later.