Civil War Talks on the Life of Jacob Cox, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Franklin, and the War in West Virginia

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This is the post excerpt.

A picture says a thousands words — here is an example. This is the official portrait of Jacob Cox as Governor of Ohio. He was elected in 1865 while still in the Volunteer Army. He chose to be pictured as what I call the consummate “citizen-general.” A self-trained military man, Cox the private citizen had an outstanding military career in the Civil War, but then chose to return to civilian life. In the painting he wears his dress uniform as a two-star Major General, but in his hand is his commission as Governor. On the table behind him is his commission as a general, his sword and scabbard, and his binoculars. The latter are symbols of what he has left behind, but also reminders that they are available if the nation calls again. This is among the reasons why I put this picture on the cover of my biography of Cox, “Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era.” The book is available via amazon. com. See also my web-site, https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com

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Robert E. Lee the Marble Man

Over the last few days, in between my lectures in Raleigh and Kitty Hawk, NC and Hershey, PA,  I had the occasion to see several Lee statues — Monument Avenue in Richmond (the most controversial of all); Gettysburg battlefield (Lee sending his men to their deaths during Pickett’s charge); and at the Antietam battlefield’s newest segment, the Newcomer House.  The Lee statue there was authorized by the previous owner, and the National Park Service has agreed to leave it there.  This statue is full of inaccuracies, e.g. Lee had injured both his hands and couldn’t ride and he did in fact support slavery and secession (the statue’s placard says he didn’t).  What was also interesting is that the statue is looking South across a segment of the battlefield where Jacob Cox fought.  And finally, Lee is wearing a hat only in the last statue.  All of the above is why this war continues to be the source of debate, not all of it, unfortunately, civil.

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Civil War Sites and My Lectures

After my lectures to the Raleigh and Outer Banks CWRTs over the last few days, I stopped to visit a few Civil War sites, some of which have been, shall we say, a bit controversial in the last few months.  Some not so much, but the potential is there, of course.

The four pictured here, are, in Raleigh, the North Carolina memorial to Confederate dead; and the statue on the North Carolina statehouse grounds honoring North Carolina’s three presidents (Polk, Jackson, and Andrew Johnson).  The one for Johnson says he “defended the constitution,” primarily against the 14th amendment, unfortunately.

In Richmond we visited the “Museum of the Civil War,” which was formerly the Museum of the Confederacy.  This included a visit to the “Confederate White House,” which a fellow named Abraham Lincoln also visited for a few hours on April 4, 1865.  The final picture is of the overwhelmingly large (clearly intentionally) statue of Lee on Monument Avenue.

Some day I’ll comment on the whole Civil War statue issue.  But it is of some note that the “One Way” sign appears on the Lee picture.  Here are the pics:

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NEXT STOPS: OUTER BANKS, NC AND HERSHEY, PA

Continuing my movements around the country, it will be my pleasure to speak to the Round Tables in Kitty Hawk, NC and Hershey, PA next week.

https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com

On April 17 In Kitty Hawk, I will discuss with the Outer Banks Civil War Round Table the role Jacob D. Cox played in the final months of the Civil War in North Carolina.  Having just regained his second star as a Major General, Cox and his 23rd corps forced the Confederate forces out of Wilmington and then took that city for the Union, thereby closing off the final open Confederate port city.  Subsequently, he was assigned to re-build the railroad from New Bern to Goldsboro in preparation for the merger of his army and that of General Sherman, advancing from the south.  From May 7-10 Cox and his men fought his final battle against the forces of  General Braxton Bragg at Kinston/Wyse Forks  The victorious Union forces then advanced to Goldsboro where the united forces prepared for the final advance against Raleigh.  While they prepared they received the news of Lee’s surrender, and the final days of the war ensued.

On April 19 at the Hershey Civil War Round Table, I will discuss Jacob Cox’s life as one of the finest “citizen generals” in the Union forces.  Without formal training in the military, he achieved considerable success on the battle fields of West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.  But his greatest contribution may have been his writings in Civil War literature, including four books, dozens of articles, and over 160 book reviews of relevant literature.  To this day historians make reference to his books not only as original source materials, but also as objective, well-documented histories.

“GRANT” Thoughts on Chernow’s book

I just finished reading the latest “sensation” in Civil War history, Ron Chernow’s “Grant.”  At 1074 pages (including notes, etc.), it was a grind, but for someone interested in the war and nineteenth century American history, it was an enjoyable and interesting grind  — for the most part.    https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com

There is no question but that I have a far better understanding of Grant’s character and personality now than before, thanks to this book.  He was a complicated man with many elements of greatness and probably an equal number of faults.  His blind spots were legion — e.g. he defended friends/relatives-turned-criminals repeatedly; he seemed incapable of introspection; he accepted gifts with no understanding of the motivation of the givers.  But his achievements on the battle field are his rightful badges of honor.

The book’s problems include numerous small errors of fact and all too much emphasis on Grant’s drinking problem and his efforts to combat it.  Also, despite the appearance recently of two books documenting Grant’s prejudices and distortions in his memoirs, especially against certain generals like William Rosecrans, Chernow takes no notice.   He rightly says that Grant’s writing the memoirs while at death’s door was a monumental achievement.  But while the memoirs are an important document, a more balanced view of that book’s problems would have been helpful.

In sum, every student interested in an in-depth understanding of this man and his times should read this book — and of course other books with different points of view.

 

Next Stop Raleigh: An Even Dozen Events this Year

Next Monday April 9 it will be my pleasure to speak at the Raleigh, NC Civil War Round Table on the topic of Jacob Cox and the Civil War in North Carolina in 1865.   Cox played a critical role in that state, first with his forces taking the city of Wilmington, the last open Confederate port.  He then oversaw the re-building of the railroad from New Bern to Kinston, and at the latter city in early March defeated a Confederate force under Braxton Bragg.  He was present when Sherman and Johnston negotiated the surrender o the latter’s army and he then served as Military Governor of western North Carolina, based in Greensboro.

As you can see on my web-site, https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com, I have twelve speaking events scheduled this year, by far my busiest since I began this venture.  Many thanks to all the groups, from Woodbridge, NJ to Duck, NC, to Gettysburg, PA, etc. for your kind invitations.

All of these events are open to the public, so I hope you gentle readers will consider attending.  I look forward to meeting any and all Civil War fans.  Best wishes, Gene

 

A Contemporary View of Robert E. Lee

Doing some research recently, I came across a very interesting article in Harper’s Weekly, dated April 22, 1865.  I found the assessment of Lee quite interesting, especially that the “Lost Cause” image of him was already developing, an image which the paper clearly did not share.   What do others think?  https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com

“HARPER’S MAGAZINE, APRIL 22, 1865

That the general satisfaction with the surrender of Lee should beget a kind feeling for the rebel General is not unnatural.  But it is a great folly to invest him with any romance.  Robert E. Lee may be an honest man, as doubtless many of the rebels were, but beyond that he has no claim of any kind whatever upon the regard of the American people.

His story is very briefly told.  Educated an army officer, he acknowledged the doctrine of state Sovereignty and, honestly holding it, he followed his State when she seceded.  Now even if a man believed that his State had the right to secede at her pleasure, if he thought the occasion insufficient, as Lee confessed he did, he would silently acquiesce, and no more.  But if the occasion were infamous, if the object of the exercise of State sovereignty at enormous peril to the lives and happiness of his fellow citizens were nothing but the perpetuity of human slavery, a noble and generous man would have protested with all his heart.  Robert E. Lee offered his sword.

From that moment he has been an active soldier.  His military skills have been much overrated.  STONEWALL JACKSON, his Lieutenant, achieved his most famous successes, and Lee’s two aggressive campaigns were ignominious failures. No man can be held guilty of a want of genius.  But will those who are so eager in extolling General Lee inform us why this Christian hero had not a word to say in regard to the atrocious treatment of our prisoners in rebel hands, especially at belle Isle, under his eyes?  Will the flatterers of this Virginia gentleman explain why his reports of operations in the field were so unfair and deceptive?  Will the friends of this simple-hearted soldier say why he tried a trick of words in his final correspondence with General Grant?

There is no act known top us during his long career as a rebel in arms which should favorably signalize Robert E. Lee among hundreds of his fellow-rebels.  Why does not JOHNSTON or EWELL or LONGSTREET or HILL deserve the same praise?  What excellence for character or excuse for conduct has he which they had not?  Do those who speak so softly about his crimes feel so gently about JEFFERSON DAVIS?  Yet DAVIS at least believed heartily in his cause, and it was LEE at the head of the army who made DAVIS’s crime so prolonged and bloody.

We have no emotion of vengeance against General Lee.  We would not hang him – not because he has not deserved hanging, but from motives of state policy. Neither are we inaccessible to admiration for a foe.  Major ANDRE’ we can pity, but General ARNOLD we despise.  ROBERT E. LEE was an American citizen educated by his country who, from a mistaken sense of duty, deserted his flag.  Had his story ended there it would have been sorrowful.  But he drew his sword against his flag not because of any oppression or outrage, but because by peaceful and lawful means it bade fair to become the symbol of justice and equal rights, and he drew it, thank God! in vain.  There his story ends, and it is infamous.”  https://civilwarhistory-geneschmiel.com