tv [untitled] April 4, 2012 11:30pm-12:00am EDT
we could be like south america rather than one united country. of course the other major result of the war as abolition of slavery and series of constitutional amendments and laws passed during and after the civil war that created constitutional equality for all people and that made it possible 140 some years later for an african-american to be elected president of the united states, which of course is another important legacy. it's quite true that many of the issues that divided country in the middle of the 19th century are still with us today either latent or active and that represents a kind of continuing struggle in this country to fulfill the ideas that were launched, i think, by northern victory in the war. >> our guest is professor james
mcf mcpherson, professor emeritus at princeton university and he's one of the five historians speaking today at the library of virginia making their nominations and their cases for person of the year, 1862, as the nation recognizes the 150th anniversary of the civil war. here's bob in washington d.c. go ahead. >> caller: professor mcpherson, i want to thank you for your major contributions to american scholarship on the civil war. do i recall correctly that it was farragut who said full speed ahead or if it wasn't him or was that done at mobile bay? second question i have is after mobile bay, is -- do anything outside of the gulf switch his efforts to atlantic coast? >> you're right in your first assumption. it wasn't mobile bay when he said damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. that happened as the fleet that
he commanded was in the process of passing the forts that protected the entrance to mobile bay and one of the union ships, an ironclad, a brand new ironclad, hit a torpedo which is what they called naval mines then. went to the bottom immediately with the loss of its whole crew and the whole union fleet came to a halt under the guns of the fort and farragut taking the risk of going through the mine field said damned the torpedoes, full steam ahead. so the rest of the fleet went through the torpedo field. fortunately for them none of the other mines exploded. many of them had been rendered harmless by the powder soaking or broken loose from strong currents. he didn't know that. he was a risk taker.
he was then asked -- after capturing mobile bay and shutting that down as one of the last of the blockade running ports for the confederacy, was asked to take command of the fleet that was going to attack ft. fisher in north carolina which guarded the entrance to wilmington, now the last blockade running port but his health had broken down over his service the last two and a half, three years. so he asked to take a leave of absence and instead secretary of the navy wells put david dixon porter in command of the fleet that attacked ft. fisher. his first choice for that was farragut and if his health hadn't broken down, he would have been in command of that attack too. >> a couple more calls for james mcpherson. here is joe in new york. joe, go ahead with your thoughts. >> caller: dr. mcpherson, if the city of new orleans was so important to the confederacy,
why wasn't there an attempt to recapture it? >> the confederates did plan several times to attack and recapture new orleans but the union had a fairly large army there. it was called the army of the gulf. first under benjamin butler but then from december 1862 onward under general nathaniel banks who took command in the army in the campaign that captured port hudson north of baton rouge. while the confederates planned a couple of different campaigns to recapture new orleans, they were never strong enough or to put it alternatively, the union force there were always too strong for that effort to succeed. the attack on baton rouge in august of 1862, i alluded to in
my talk, when "the arkansas" moved down there to try to help the confederate army to recapture baton rouge, that was to be a first step toward an effort to recapture new orleans but when the confederate attack at baton rouge was repulsed and unsuccessful, it ended that chance and later on the confederates undertook a couple efforts but they were never able to organize a strong enough army to carry it through. >> the program there at the library is about to get back under way. we'll take one more quick call from glen in downey, california. hi, there. >> caller: yes. dr. mcpherson, i would like to ask you a question. this question is about gettysburg in 1863. i hope it's appropriate. when stonewall jackson had died, had he not died, who do you think he would have sided with
at gettysburg, general lee or longstreet? >> i think he would have sided with lee. like lee, jackson always wanted to seize and hold the initiative and take the offensive. he was more of an offensive commander than a defensive commander in contrast to longstreet. so i'm fairly confident he would have sided with lee on those decisions. >> james mcpherson, we appreciate you joining us this afternoon. we'll wait with all of the rest of our viewers to see if your choice, admiral david farragut is picked as person of the year 1862 and remind our viewers that we have covered a number of events with james mcpherson in the past of his many books and you can find many of those in our video library. thank you for joining us this afternoon. >> thank you for having me. >> we are going to stay live. we'll go back live momentarily to richmond. we'll hear from john mountcastle.
he is the next historian to speak and make his case. he is a retired brigadier general and former chief of m l military history for the army. he'll be the fourth out of five historians speaking at the library of virginia in richmond. we'll take you back there live now here on american history tv on c-span3. >> ladies and gentlemen, if you could return to your seats and we'll get started in just a moment.
sam, why don't we go ahead and close the doors and get started. okay. our next speaker, those of us in the richmond civil war round table have grown accustomed to hearing jack mountcastle introduce speakers. it's an honor for me to introduce jack to you. first and foremost, you should all know that jack mountcastle is a product of the virginia military institute class of '65. [ applause ] jack is another of those retirees who is working as hard at retirement as he did when he was working. he teaches classes for the university of richmond and the virginia historical society.
like bob krick, he's becoming known as the father of another civil war historian, dr. clay mountcastle, a product of class of '94. clay is the author of "punitive war." confederate guerrillas and prepriceals. i had pleasure of reading that book early and plugging it for the book seller. it's a fabulous read. i recommend it to all of you. but a lot of local folks know that jack mountcastle retired from the u.s. army as a brigadier general. fewer people know that he also earned his ph.d. in history so i never have known whether to call him dr. general or general doctor. but ladies and gentlemen, here's jack mountcastle and did i remember to tell you that he's a product of vmi? [ applause ]
>> i agree with the applause. i think he did a superb job. we just keep training him year in and year out. he's getting better and better at these all-important introductions. goodness. mid afternoon and you're all still here. i think that's great. john, great job. excellent. [ applause ] like everyone else who has had the privilege of nominating a person of the year for 1862, i'm very, very pleased to be here with you and like all of our candidates, those we've already heard about and those yet to hear about, my man had major impact on the events in this very, very crucial year in the war, yes, certainly, but also in america's history. in america's story.
what about this fellow that i'm nominating? born of a good family in comfortable surroundings. raised politically as a wig. and so in his case, just from childhood, he developed the respect for order and discipline, for hierarchy, value of hierarchy, enlightened reason of course and then moderation in all things. these principles will not only support his growth through his youth and into adulthood, well educated man, but later happily married man as well. he was successful in his every endeavor prior to 1862. he was a natural choice for the position to which he was appointed in 1862.
not only was he a good-looking young man, not only was he well off and he was popular. but he had a way with words. i would guess that you may have identified my nominee by now. george clinton mcclellan of philadelphia. i see we have some philadelphia fans in the audience. if you go over here to the virginia bookstore, you can buy the little napkins, you know, that says to be born in virginia is really something special. philadelphia, you can't buy them. your money's not good enough, you know? you have to have a pedigree. graduated number two in his class, west point, class of 1846. he was commissioned in the corps
of engineers. not like people like george picket, shoveled into the infantry, the smartest guys typically went into the corps of engineers. in the decade following that war he was one of a group of young proteges of the very, very active, engaged secretary of war jefferson davis. because jeff davis had quite a bit of confidence in young captain mcclellan in the 1850s he was part of a handpicked group davis sent to the crimea in the siege of sebastopol. mcclellan established a reputation then as being very, very intelligent in his approach to dealing with british and french engineers and sent some excellent reports back to the united states war department. picked up a lot of life
experiences while he was over there in some bad neighborhoods. when he got back, though, he looked at what the army had to offer him. kind of a stultified period in our history. unless you were particularly fond of chasing comanches along the rio grande. that didn't really offer quite so much to a young man on the way up as did an offer from the illinois central railroad. as you know, railroad construction and expansion was a dot-com boom of the 1850s. he submitted his resignation to the army, as did a number of his fellow west pointers, to begin his engineering career and
within a year he was moved up to the position of vice president within the illinois central railroad. he soon, as i said, became very, very successful and well known. he was also going through a little bit of a crisis in confidence. i said that his family was of the whig-ish variety. and he had always admired people like conservative politician daniel webster. he found himself the more he heard about this radical group, these abolitionists within the new republican party actually repelled by their pushiness and demands for this and demands for that, so in 1856 he made the decision he would no longer identify himself as a whig and certainly not a republican and he became what was typically referred to as a very conservative democrat and in 1858 as a conservative democrat and a board member, officer, rather, of the illinois central, he supported the democratic candidate for a senate seat in the u.s. senate from illinois,
the man, of course, steven a. douglas. interestingly enough for young mcclellan who was just in his 30s at this point, he actually knew the republican candidate for the senate seat who ran unsuccessfully in 1858, a lawyer, a fellow by the name of abraham lincoln. he'd done some legal work for the illinois central and had worked for mcclellan in that capacity. with the outbreak of war in april 1861, mcclellan's name popped up again and again among midwestern states and even pennsylvania, state of his birth, with the governors of each of those states vying for his services, who could capture this young man mcclellan with his war record and his record of success in business to lead their volunteer forces. it would be governor denison of ohio that would get mcclellan to sign on the dotted line, and he
became commander major general of ohio volunteers, all the ohio forces being raised at a feverish pitch in 1861. so, on the 3rd of may he took charge of these forces from ohio. in 11 days on the 14th of april, here comes a different commission, major general united states army. oh, my gosh. now he's second in command only to his wartime commander from mexico, old general winfield scott in washington. as someone who moved at a considerably more sedate pace up the scales, i can tell you moving from captain to major general in that short of time's really moving at warp speed. and it was major general u.s. army and the commander of the department of ohio that mcclellan would lead union
forces across the ohio river into there around clarksburg, virginia. today if you look for it on the map you'll have to look over in west virginia. clarksburg, virginia, on the 27th of june, 1861, so the summer of '61 sees him moving into action assisted by his old antebellum army friend william rosecrans. the federal forces would bump into forces from john peagrum and they would defeat the confederates in july of 1861. although it was rosecrans that did the heavy lifting in this campaign it was mcclellan's name that had access to all the reporters. it was mcclellan's name that got into all the newspapers, and immediately after the union defeat at manassas junction, first bull run as they called it in the northern papers or bull
run, the battle at bull run, he got an order from washington to report immediately to washington. he was needed there right away. so, he boarded a train that took him up through ohio, over to pennsylvania. made a quick stop to visit with his wife, ellen marcie mcclellan, maryellen, there in philadelphia, his hometown, where he was loudly hailed as a hero, one and all. and then arrived in washington on the 26th of july. very, very exciting for someone in his mid-30s. this gentleman right here. i think that probably his letter described best what it was like in washington in july, 1861. because at the meeting with the president, the commanding general of the army about that time quite elderly and infirm winfield scott and a number of influential members of congress
he sat down that night to write, as he did almost every night to his wave at home who was waiting for him in pennsylvania. and here's what he said to ellen, i find myself in a new and strange position here, president, cabinet, general scott and all deferring to me. by some strange operation of magic, i seem to have become the power of the land. mcclellan then set to work right away to try and bring some order out of the chaos that represented the u.s. army in and around washington. you had people whose three-month enlistments was running out. militia units like the hoity-toity infantry of new york were going home and others just arriving. the great mass of enthusiastic volunteers who were arriving in the washington area. by the fall you had over 80,000 federal troops around there.
mcclellan actively pursued a campaign to get regular army officers assigned to his department there, the defense of washington which was called at that point the military division of the potomac. and he used all those engineering skills that he had honed at west point and mexico and he had observed in the crimea to build fortifications around washington and to construct control areas and drill fields and so forth in parts of the city. the newspapers began to refer to him as the young napoleon. well, he was young. he wasn't very tall. and he did have a tendency to put his hand in his coat whenever the photographers asked him to. throughout the fall of 1861 this ever-growing field force of soldiers in washington troops
and their rookie officers reading hardy's infantry tactics ignite and go out to practice in the morning went through what we call the school of soldier. and his troops began to call him -- not the young napoleon but they referred to him familiar as little mack. you see little mack riding through the camp with an entourage and sabers and spurs jingling, a whole troupe of infantry behind him, staff officers eager to be seen with the great man. his horse was named daniel webster. the troops learned that, and he -- during this period he did his very best to inculcate a sense of mission in those soldiers. in a recent book "mcclellan's war" which is subtitled "a failure of moderation in the struggle of the union." makes a very good point when he writes this. let me read, mcclellan did not
want fear of punishment to be the primary force motivating the efforts of his men. mcclellan recognized that the american citizen soldier was a member of the political community, sensitive to his rights and would not tolerate the brutish discipline which soldiers in the european armies had been accustomed for centuries. mcclellan's soldiers had his orders of the day read to them by their own immediate commanders at the evening formation, and he heard words like these from their general. i'm to watch over you as the parent over his children. and you know that your general loves you from the depths of his heart. they believed him. they believed him. and for the most part, they responded in kind. in fact, the young napoleon established an emotional bond. long before this bonding business got started, you know, the guy that sells me gas says
we are really bonding now, aren't we? not really. i just like the coffee, you know? the gas is okay, but the coffee's better. well, but this was a bond. just like this. this loyalty to their first commander would lead the veterans of the army of the potomac to erect this striking monument on some of the same ground where they drilled endlessly in the late part of 1861. this is where he organized those soldiers, where he sought those soldiers, where he molded them in the image that he had for his army. this loyalty to their first commander would only grow even as he found it harder and harder to do the things he wanted to do
when he wanted to do them. because there was another actor, in fact, several. one being the commander in chief and the other being the commanding general of the army at that time winfield scott. and mcclellan became so frustrated late in 1861 with having to submit everything by way of order or plan through winfield scott's small staff which then took a long time to approve it. and this is what winfield scott wanted to do. he wanted to see what was going on even though he was no longer in a position, he weighed almost 300 pounds at this point and couldn't ride a horse, to go see what the army was actually about. finally it became obvious to winfield scott and those around him it was time for him to turn over the reins to a younger man, much younger, and so his request for retirement was approved in late october, 1861. as he left on a train up to west point, the military academy where he would live out his
days, a new order arrived for mcclellan. he was now appointed commanding general of the entire united states army. remember, he's only 35 years old. he's now commanding all of the federal forces. in response to president lincoln's express concern, here's your commission, and i'm really worried that you can't do all this. the young general looked back at the president and said simply, i can do it all. and so given that, the assurance that i can do it all, they moved forward together. but it wasn't long before they began to see things differently. now, lincoln disagreed with what he was hearing from mcclellan about an appropriate strategy for union offensives in the east along the atlantic seaboard and also out west.
concerns abounded in the government then at the end of 1861, the start of '62, about the continued presence of a significant confederate force under joseph j. johnston nears manassas and centreville. they'd gone into winter camps. they were moving into the neighborhood. they were establishing different camps with saying first texas this way, 15 south carolina that way. and who knows when they might being southerners to get in their mind to just attack washington one night, kill us in our beds! it had to be cleaned out. this nest of vipers at manassas. and then there were the pesky artillery batteries that had been established along the little potomac, 1861 honest ship captains couldn't sail their vessels up and down the potomac without fear of being shot by the pesky rebels. they needed to be cleaned out. and then, of course, the third leg in the stool that concerned
so much concern was the ohio and baltimore railroad bringing critically needed supplies across the edge of virginia, northwestern virginia, into maryland. passing by harper's ferry. dissatisfaction with the pace of mcclellan's movements, especially those in the east, were particularly acute in the congress where after the unfortunate situation that occurred at ball's bluff in the fall of 1861, they formed a committee, a joint committee, on the conduct of the war, and began to demand that the young napoleon come up to capitol hill and explain to him how he was going to win the war in the next spring campaign. mcclellan really resented these people in congress. then, as now, united states congress didn't include very many members who had any personal experience of
maneuvering troops or even living in the field. mcclellan felt aggrieved at this. as he wrote to his wife, makes me feel heavy at heart when i see the weakness and the unfitness of the poor beings who control the destiny of our country. this is not from a gallup poll. we should note that in all honesty, mcclellan didn't get along with the congress, although he did all right with the democrats. and the bloom was off the rose a bit in his relationship with his former business partner or business associate from illinois, abraham lincoln. captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2008
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