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

“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

Welcome- a new venture

After writing my book on Jacob Cox, several people told me I should create a web-site for the book, especially since I began in 2014 to speak to Civil War groups around the country.  Technically inept and presuming I couldn’t do it, I resisted.  However, starting a new year, 2018, I thought I would give it a try.

I should especially thank Alex Rossino, author of “Six Days in September,” a fictionalized account of the Battle of Antietam, for encouraging this step.

I am now in the process of creating the site, using highly-advanced trial and error methodology (that is a joke, in case you didn’t understand that my technical aptitude remains intact).  As in  many aspects of life, I have found that making mistakes is a critical part of learning, especially if you only make the mistake once and learn from it.  That is what I’m doing now, and, actually, enjoying it somewhat.  So, over the next few days I hope the reader will see progress and enjoy the creation of this site.  Welcome.

My Civil War Blog

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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