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

Andrew Johnson: A Cipher and a Failure?

On our way back from Franklin, TN last weekend, we stopped in Greeneville, TN to visit the Andrew Johnson house/visitor center.   We and another couple were the only visitors on a lovely Saturday afternoon, perhaps symbolizing how Johnson has been forgotten.  But of course he shouldn’t be forgotten, because he was responsible for so many of the problems of Reconstruction with which we are still living.  Or was he?  The debate will go on, of course, as we Civil War types continue to “re-fight” the war and also Reconstruction.

Below are pictures from the visitor site and Johnson’s statue there, and also a picture I took earlier of the statue of Johnson (along with Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk) on the Raleigh, NC statehouse lawn (these three presidents were born in NC).  Note that Johnson’s accolade is that “he defended the Constitution” — of course that included the 14th amendment.

One of Johnson’s strongest supporters in the early days of Reconstruction was Jacob Cox, who believed Johnson’s policies were consistent with those laid out by Lincoln before the assassination.  Eventually even Cox turned against Johnson when the latter showed almost no ability to adjust to changing attitudes in the Congress and the country.

The following from my biography of Cox is apt:  In a letter in November 1866, Cox wrote: “Johnson has disappointed everybody: the Democrats who adopted hm as well as the Republicans whom he abandoned.”  Calling Johnson a “failure and a cipher,” an embittered Cox said he had stayed as loyal as long as he did only to protect against the kind of Reconstruction that no one could accept.  Cox wrote acerbically, “he is obstinate without being firm, self-opinionated without being capable of systematic thinking, combative and pugnacious without being courageous…The Democracy played with him as an angler with a trout,” and their Southern allies, who had “always looked down upon him as a ‘mean white,’ puffed him with the idea that he was to be the leader of their class of Southern gentlemen.”:





Battle of Franklin Visit

Last weekend I returned to Franklin for the annual “Legacy Dinner” (on Friday the 27th), which celebrates the many advances the Battle of Franklin Trust is making in preservation and expansion of the Civil War-related areas in the city.  Their work is nothing short of fantastic, with many more acres of land now open for visitors and a new visitors center about to be built.  I was of course especially pleased to see the large exhibit in the visitors center of Jacob Cox’s sword, epaulets, and other memorabilia, courtesy of a family trust.  This “unsung hero” of the Battle of Franklin is now getting the recognition he deserves.   Below are three pictures from my most recent visit, of the Carter House (Cox’s headquarters), Carnton Plantation (a confederate hospital), and the statue of a rebel soldier on the town square.  I have also added an older picture, one of my most cherished memories, of my shaking hands with Ed Bearss during the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 2014.  Enjoy!


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.



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:



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.

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.

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,, 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