tv 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns CSPAN May 20, 2017 7:00pm-7:45pm EDT
conversations in the oval office. be sure to watch c-span's "washington journal" sunday morning. join the discussion. >> next on american history tv, historian edward ayers looks at shenandoah valley campaigns during the civil war. he talks about the strategic importance of the valley to both the union and confederacy and assesses the battles and raids that took place in the valley during that year. he also describes the interactions in the valley between union troops, confederate women, and freed slaves. this 40-minute talk was part of a conference hosted by the university of virginia's center for civil war history. ayers, president emeritus of the university of richmond, and who also i feel i should add, was long a chair
member of the department of history here at uva and was also dean of arts and sciences here at uva. he's the incoming president of the organization of american historians, which is the biggest professional organization for people who do what most of us do in our scholarly lives. he is now a historian of both the american south and the civil war. he, as with everyone else that you have heard today, has published very widely. i will mention just three of his books again. that's my rule. promise of a new south: life after reconstruction, which was a major examination of the post civil war south. second title is in the presence of mine enemies, war in the heart of america, 1859-1863.
there's a sequel to that book. i will not read the title because it is not out yet. the third one is what caused the civil war, reflections on the south and other history. the lastrnoon, and has slot of the day when we have been here a long time, and he will explore how the valley allows us to engage with some of the larger themes of the war. ed ayers. [applause] mr. ayers: thanks, gary, and thanks to all of you, and i hope you've been down in copious amounts of coffee in the back. i was at uva for 27 years, and the work i'm talking to you about now began well before this when the library was here in the valley of the shadow project, and i will
always be very grateful to uva not only for helping to allow that to be created for sustaining it and all the years that i have been gone. do not believe anything i'm saying today, you can go see all the primary sources for yourself -- not right now. when we are done. [laughter] because i'm not really adding much to it. try to showt to that much of what we think of as being important you can actually see in the valley. the valley experienced national drama from beginning to in. as gary just showed us, after the end. tens of thousands of soldiers searched on towns. fields and towns burned while sons and fathers died on the battlefield. hundreds of thousands of miles away, people risk their lives to escape slavery. courthouses and towns squares
surged with rallies and speeches. all these things happened right over the mountain in the valley. these profound changes were profoundly unlikely. deep into the war, many americans on both sides did not foresee the unconditional surrender of the confederacy, a wealthy and enormous territory fully mobilized for war. the immediate complete and uncompensated destruction of the largest and most powerful system of slavery in the modern world had seemed impossible just a few years before it came to pass. the valley embodied all these changes, and more than that, the valley actually helped his changes take place. it was the site where things happened, that moved all of america's history. virginia, of course, had been essentially important. even as federal armies won victories across the rest of the
, victories in 1863 over the federal army of fredericksburg further elevated lead's army in the eyes of northern, southern, and foreign press, and a great invasion of consulting you by lee in the battle of gettysburg that halted that progress still did not destroy lee's army. they watched each other warily throughout the fall and winter of 1863-1864, and people in both the north and south believed 1864 would bring the culmination finally of the war, and that is where i want to pick up this story. the people of the united states had reason to be hopeful in spring of 1864 were it seemed so much of the confederacy had been overrun that the revelation would be unable to sustain its army for much longer. federal forces controlled the rivers, the ports, the coast,
the western part of the confederacy had been cut off from the eastern. the others out cut off from the lower. black people now labor for the benefit of the union and of themselves from the river valley to the less lowlands of south carolina to the rich farmlands of east tennessee, but the white people of the confederacy had their own reasons to believe that 1864 would bring the war's end but with a different outcome. they had only to hold off the united states army long enough for the north to lose heart, admit that the south could not be conquered and renounce lincoln in the presidential election of 1864. if the confederate army could hold on through the spring and northern voters, judging that they had sacrificed enough of their sons and brothers and others would negotiate a peace. as a result, the fate of slavery
might still be determined in 1864. three million people still labored in slavery beyond the reach of the united states army in 1864. while slavery had unraveled everywhere, enslave people had a chance to seize freedom, the institution remained intact and still helped feed the confederate army and civilian population. while the policies of lincoln had made slavery essential central purpose of the war, only determinetself, would how and when the nation's long history slavery might end. freedom for black americans truncated or compromised or slowed or even halted, so even though people like to imagine gettysburg is the turning point of the war and it's all downhill from there, that's just not the case. more men died after gettysburg than before. thanch remained at stake before. everyone awaited the culminating
battle between grant and lee. grant with momentous victories at nashville and vicksburg and in virginiaarrived and marched to take over command of all united states forces and traveled army of the potomac. he would try to do what no union general had been able to do in three years of desperate fighting -- destroy the army of northern virginia. lee, for his part, welcomed the chance to confront threat in a culminating battle while the confederate army still was strong. in fact, the armies needed, each for its own reasons, to fight as soon as possible. lee and his staff had struggled throughout the long winter to feed and arm their soldiers, had watched the desertion. by spring, however, most of the men who had left their units to visit home had returned and lee commanded a veteran army of over 65 thousand men. the army of northern virginia had rarely lost over the preceding three years, and officers and soldiers had
persuaded themselves that even the defeat at gettysburg had been a temporary setback. the confederate command structure was stable, experienced, and competent, but the united states was also ready. it had amassed an even larger army than lee's and could draw on virtually unlimited supplies of food and arms. cards -- flatat cars freely traveled on the harbors and rivers of the virginia coast. everyone from abraham lincoln to the privates in the field had confidence that grant, given his record and resources, would soon be able to defeat lee and the rebellion would end. everybody knew that in this titanic struggle, the valley of virginia would play a critical role, and it had played a critical role in every stage of , ashis point in the war battlefield, supply base, route
of invasion, and people knew it would do so again. the army that controlled the valley would control much of virginia and the fate of the nation. the shenandoah valley would -- was both in the center of some and sometimes on its western border. the valley had also seen various forms of guerrilla, partisan, and irregular conflict. this is one thing to think about. the valley had all the different kinds of warfare that we see in the civil war. ofnton feels the suffering the first battles of the overland campaign with terrible immediacy. remember the map that was on the screen cap it is 100 miles by rail from richmond to stanton threw the longest railroad tunnel in the world at the time. the campaign as
train loans -- train loads of wounded men rolled into the town , the hospitals and hotels and churches and homes of stanton having slowly emptied of wounded soldiers from gettysburg the preceding summer. turnpikesed the valley and plant from the beginning the way the wounded would be brought .ack into virginia stanton was the kind of gathering place where they would be gathered and then sent to richmond. now the buildings filled again with dying men, many of them from the valley. the fifth and 52nd. you can read the newspapers, all s of the soldiers in the terrible injuries they had suffered, but soon the valley would be swept up in a more direct way.
maps bye some of the gary is going to tell you about in the new book. the cursor disappears when it goes down there. i don't know where that goes. it.y just have to >> on that does not do it. perhaps you can help me. call this up,to and i will figure out how to do this. here's the thing -- if we is not ahat the valley series of battles like pearls on a string, which is so often the way we think about these rings, as isolated from one another, and it's on the screen now i see, so thank you very much. as it turns out, it's not the map i wanted to start with. [laughter] you anrs: this gives
overview of what the situation is. where theray area is campaign is being waged. you see now it is around fredericksburg. you see most of the confederacy there suitably gray, and you as one ofhat grant, the strategies he has to take virginia is to take the valley. what you see here is franz sigel coming up the valley. you also see breckenridge coming northward in the valley, and after lee says i guess we're done with the valley, why don't you come on back to me, that's why that pattern shows what it does. they are leaving afterward, but that is not the end of the story, of course. after sigel is removed and hunter is put into place, his charge is to take the rest of the valley, so he takes over, and his goal is to take stanton,
which is absolutely central to everything that they are trying to do because you can see the virginia central railroad, but it is also because the mountains are you both with union soldier armies over here, but with also all kinds of irregulars, who are constantly threatening the , so hunter is really worried about coming through the valley, being threatened by mosby. but there's also guerrillas all throughout the valley. he comes and fights the largest battle in the shenandoah valley, larger than any stonewall jackson was ever involved in, battle of piedmont, and one sunday afternoon, i told my long-suffering wife, let's go see this, i'm writing about it, this lectern is is that you have to find the gps coordinates to get to.
buts just pulling over, this is a major battle, and i'm showing you because this is my whole approach to all this. unless we understand all the other things going on at the same time in the valley, we cannot understand what is going on in the valley. it is all tied into the gravitational pull from this, and you are seeing how central the railroads are. there's not a railroad that runs up and down the valley, ironically, but they are cutting into it from the east and west. breckenridge is making his way up trying to defend stanton. they do at piedmont. it is a union victory. one of my characters down there where i'm from, grumble jones, as he is an affectionately known lead forn, gets to maybe an hour before he is killed, and then taken back down to southwest virginia down near valleyut after this, the
is a whole different situation. what you see in all this is that it civil war as we imagine not as a series of disconnected battles, but if we pull the it is all about connections. it is about a vast expanse, about railroads, guerrillas, the personalities of people being a failure and hunter being a great risk. not a failure yet, but it's also about luck and vision and longing for vengeance. to understand the civil war, you had to have all of these things happening all the time. we cannot just hold something constant while we deal with this part of it. we have to find ways to weave them together. after hunter marches into stanton, and they say finally, the great stronghold of the valley has fallen. the place that has been a citadel for the confederacy is now in union hands, and they walk in and say they saw the
happiest sunflowers as they came in. but here's the way a stanton woman, a confederate describes what it was like when the union soldiers arrived. the first federal troops came in from the west across the mountain. a party of 40 or 50 perhaps dismounted and rest in. have you got any whiskey, flour, baking? the soldiers pushed into the house. one says come on, boys, we will find it all. the soldiers spread their way all over the house. they proceed to fill their sacks and pillowcases, scattering a large percent on the floor until it was nearly exhausted. as much as she hated to see she saved heren, fear in four different kind of searching. she said some went upstairs, opened every kind of trunk or drawer,opened every
pretending to be looking for arms. she said they did not do anything to provoke them but did not disguise their sentiment. they went peeking under the bed looking for rebels, they said. the 12-year-old said they are all rebels. the confrontations in stanton showed that soldiers on both sides allowed women and girls to they would never allow men or boys to say, and women frugally took advantage of that to make political statements and express contempt for the men going through their bonnets. soldiers and officers proclaim themselves amused by these femaless, patronizing as a matter of course. on the other hand, they found in these words a reassuring justification for looting and
destruction. they would have looted in any case, but the soldiers who were met with such content could they give themselves as attacking rebel households rather than defenseless civilian women. later, the same conversation, he you don't want to say such mean things to me because you want me to go off and kill your brother, and she says she does not have a brother and if she did, she would want him to go off and shoot him. the presence of union and confederate armies also tested the relationship between in slave people and white people as no previous event had. slavery had been disrupted and undermined for three years now, and yet, without an occupying united states force, enslaved people could find no local allies. even if slaves became dislocated, there was nowhere to
go. there's a big mountain between you and richmond and the united states army, so it's not clear what you're supposed to do if you are held in slavery. the farms and towns where enslaved people had labored had been one down, but white loss had not turned into black ring. the events of 1864 gave glimpses of what might lie ahead if the united states won the war, but the uncritical union presence left african-americans and white residents alike unsure whom i control the town. if you are an enslaved person, ? you show your hand when do you let it be known what you want to do? one union soldier noted what he considered self delusions among the slaveholders of the valley. "the satisfaction of these people regarding their negroes is surprising. they seem to believe firmly that their negroes are so much attached to them that they will not leave them on any terms. but the soldier had seen the
negroes take the first opportunity of a fine of running to our lines and giving information as to where their masters are hidden and conduct our foragers to their retreat. in this way, our supply of cattle has been kept up. beyond that, negroes were continually running to us with information of all kinds, and they're are the only person upon whose correct truth we can rely. that is another thing as we are thinking about the military history of the valley. you have to remember the active role of enslaved people. white southerners did not focus on this as much. they dwelled on stories of loyalty on the part of enslaved anyle, and they believed fleeing of enslaved people was the result of betrayal by federal soldiers. one woman wrote about a black woman who ran off though he had been nursed, "by his mistress as
tenderly as if he had been a brother." and she was always kind to him, as was his master and he would not find such treatment anywhere. what with these words mean if you were in slavery? who was captured and who was overtaken? it's night -- it's not clear what that would mean. white southerners studied the northern men who suddenly appeared in their midst to see what they really thought about lack people, looking for fanaticism or hypocrisy or conventional racism, and they found whatever they were looking for. one soldier disgusted with general hunter and the debacle of the retreat in west virginia took time to record a scene that foretold many such scenes to follow. let's look at this again. joe referred to that. to give you a sense of the
scale. that is the path of hunters retreat, ok? and it was just brutal. time, the railroad, they talked about sometimes being tracked through the mud. that is how worn out the rails are, but still a lot faster than marching because they are able through all of this to kind of patch together -- and they had marchingt of the way because the tracks had been torn up between charlottesville and richmond. had to march there to catch the train and make it to lynchburg. they play the band, stay up all night, make them march around creating the illusion that there's a lot more confederates than there are. he says that seems to be a lot of confederates. i've got an idea -- let's flee through west virginia. and why?
to save the army. we cannot let this army be destroyed. and look how far we are from our supply line. only one rag -- only one wagon train made it to hunter. that's how much the guerrilla presence was. he's not wrong. they literally ran out of ammunition. they are waiting, taking the time, doing things like burning down large parts of lexington and so forth, so the supply trance can keep up with them. we think about the union army being all-powerful and equipped, but by this time, they are the ones in enemy territory. hunter, to his credit, says he is saving the army to fight again another day rather than the captured by an army that they think is much larger. you can see lynchburg is even
more important because lynchburg has a canal and a railroad. this railroad runs all the way down into tennessee and is a major supply line for lee. grant says if we can just get lynchburg for one day, that's all he needed, if we could break a for that long. one of the union generals said that would not happen. they would not allow them to take lynchburg. lynchburg and stanton are absolutely essential, so you can see the valley campaign is not just running up and down i-81, but it is very distended, and you can see soldiers coming in deep in the mountains of west virginia, so the valley is not just vertical, too. it is also east and west. as we are picturing it, you have to see the conversion of all these people. as they are marching through the mountains of west virginia, and it is a brutal, horrifying
march, they have no food, the place has been burned, nobody in support of them, he talks about this one image. days,e last four or five an old negro had striding along on foot with wonderful internet -- interests and zeal, walking for freedom, he supposes. this is what is happening, too. somebody 75 years old, walking, keeping pace with the union army to make it to freedom. that is what the end of slavery is looking like, one person at a time taking a risk associating themselves with an ally, getting a piece of information here or there. it is not enormous numbers leaving at one time. months before sherman's march to the sea, the cycle of violence in the valley demonstrates to americans what they can do to one another. this is very important.
of valley as an episode destruction before sherman. we will see why that is important. not just because i wrote a book about it, but it is important intrinsically. the large-scale violence of both the united states and confederacy on and beyond the battlefield was fed by the belief that the civil war was reaching its culmination, that this is not the time to leave any card unplayed. the impending presidential election in the north and the military stalemate in virginia nowt battles had to be won or never. are remarkably bloody and costly to the north and very costly to lincoln. we talk about what that is doing in the summer of 1864 at the same thing all this is happening -- at the same time all this is happening to undermine lincoln's political power. , for early moves rapidly
the reasons you heard, which was washington in order to put political pressure on it and also try to get grant to send men to washington, which he in fact does. the expansionat into maryland and into be not fora seems to any particular military goal because i do not believe -- i would be curious to hear the discussion if he thinks he can really take washington, d.c. i don't think he does. i think he thinks he can shift the focus of attention to the continuing threat at the confederate army still poses after all the sacrifice the north has made. lee'sis eager to fulfill plan to use the valley, now free of any union presence at all. you had siegel and hunter, and
now they are all gone. early needs to threaten the north with a large force so grant would have to divide his forces individually. some of the newspapers in the north grew agitated, and grant he had many, but men to send. were early might have accomplished remained unclear. "in retaliation of the degradations committed by major general hunter of the u.s. forces during his recent raid, it is ordered that the citizens ofchambersburg for the sum 100,000 dollars in gold or in lieu, $500,000 in greenbacks or national currency, otherwise the town will be lain in ashes within three hours. they succeeded in getting money from towns in maryland, but they thought there is nothing quite
as sweet as crossing the mason-dixon line, so close to gettysburg, as you can see, and making the north pay. it turned out to be a bad idea. to give you an idea of what his reputation was, but i will only say he failed in the result was chambersburg was burned on july 31st, the same day as the battle of the crater. these things are happening simultaneously, and we cannot tell two stories at one time. you will constantly be going back and forth, but these things are related. it causes a crisis in the union command in a crisis in washington. you here with the democrats are saying -- you have been telling
us for years we have one through this war, but they are burning our towns? this is a crisis. here is a case where you see don'tilitary events necessarily see political issues. the general unleashes drunken soldiers on a defenseless population. and horrifying accounts of physical destruction mixes with personal accounts with officers who are sorry that they have to destroy things. in gave a prominent role to alcohol. in stanton, they knocked the rollsoff barrels and it through the streets and people are scooping alcohol out of the
gutters. the fire in chambersburg came pretty quickly. the devastation of the two towns have little in common. stanton held crucial military resources and served as a key transportation hub and hospital-based. it has been an object since the war began. targetsned strategic while he protected homes. soldiers had considerable latitude over two days to search and plunder those homes to demand yields and to have conversations with citizens. in chambersburg, the devastation lasted only one morning and a single strike. some people have argued did he give them one hour? two hours? three hours? that they burn the whole town? in fact, they did. but soldiers could only carry so much. to ensure limits of
time, making ransacking more frantic. the stories northerners told was how regretful confederate soldiers were, but no one was ever punished after the fact. they said, we love to hear those cries of anguish. theowell of destination -- howl of desperation comes to us like music over the waters. represent --hat latter we director fusion has assumed its most terrible shape -- glad that retribution has assumed its most terrible shape. early engaged in theatrical warfare was the presidential aimedon, the confederate a clear message at the north saying you are not safe. you are led by an incompetent administration that chooses
incompetent generals. after your untold suffering and sacrifice over three years of war, and after the brutal -- grantedffectual virginia, we can threaten your capital, crusher borders, and burn your towns, or at least this one town. republicans have led you into despair. they were able to plant new doubts in a new political season. that was a lot. grant new he would have to remove the threat to the union. the threat was as real as any military challenge. newspapers said we have the most important campaign of the election coming up and that is to reelect president lincoln. election hasl enduring consequences.
a week after the burning of chambersburg, he installed philip h. sheridan for shenandoah. a lot of people were dubious about the sky as he was only 33 years old, but karen trusted sheridan and gave him a month -- but grant trusted sheridan and gave him a month. sheridan's job was to lay riches and cut through the virginia central railroad as soon as possible. had a criticales election and its history only three months away. text looks full say -- the textbooks full say, thank goodness they had the victory in atlanta. they possess the critical rail lines of the confederacy.
while the great victory in atlanta abruptly reversed military momentum to the benefit of the republicans, the -- gorillasalley still rained through the valley. republicans could not claim to have one for the war as long as lee and early remained in virginia. sheridan's orders from grant needed to go deep into the valley and to do all damage to railroads and crops you can. if the war was to last another they want the shenandoah valley to remain a barren waste. sheridan -- culminating in the most on the cost triumph of winchester. the valley lay open to sheridan.
sheridan fun interested in the small theater of charred houses and scattered clothing. he was star and a much larger drama, destroying the capacity of a crucial part of the confederacy. but rather than risk his army by leaving the valley and attacking virginia's central railroad, sheridan would destroy the most important cargo carried by the railroad instead -- food for at's desperate troops petersburg. the federal troops moved quickly and efficiently. houses, a burning of few months earlier, sheridan's cover he set out to destroy as much as they could while he stay on the move. to the mainclose roads and did not push into the
woods where inhabitants were or bushwhackers could be hidden. it was a strange mixture of the -- aic early had moved back to waynesboro to guard the mouth of the railroad tunnel other virginia central. they could do nothing. they just watched it. is an federal soldier wrote -- the very air is impregnated with the smell of burning property and on the planck filled by federal soldier. the victories to the valley provided overwhelming triumph that people have longed for. or valley, place of disgrace one union general after another had become the scene of lorries victory.
victory in the valley provided something else people longed for, the destruction of the bountiful landscape that had sustainably's army for so long -- landscape that had sustained 's army for so long. the republican papers -- the democrats attacked this. we should not be doing this. and republican said rebel armies armies.me blackened the situation is simple -- war traitors.s by acts of ri i am showing you the area that was burned.
either two destroyers of the thedence of the calvary, people suffered but what not the and they would. -- people suffered, but would not star. rve. people watched their barns he said ablaze. they turned their hatred on grant and sheridan. not against the confederacy. the burning seemed only to ir for ther yankees instead of the confederacy. as long as they have the railroads coming to them, they could survive. by that measure, sheridan had failed. if he had managed to break the
virginia central, the work at it ended months earlier. lives mightow many have been saved if sheridan broken the railroad rather than burn the valley. retrospect, knowing how the war turned up, the burning of the valley, like the burning of chambersburg, seemed like mistakes. either accomplished military -- but foster deep and enduring resentment. people in the valley so talk about the burning as the great travesty of the war. october 1860 four, none of that was clear, but the people in octoberh new -- 1864, none of that was clear, but the people of the north new that sheridan -- they knew that grant found a successive ally. they knew the power of farmers of the rich shenandoah had been
forced to pay the price for their disloyalty and that lee would not have a supply of food within virginia. maybe he would so render -- maybe he would surrender before the winter. that knowledge arrived before the election. i don't want to ruin it for you, so you need to read the book and find out what happened. [laughter] we see that the valley of virginia saw the american civil war and a microcosm. this mix of military and political history, of theatrical warfare woven into the fabric of political -- went throughout the valley. it helped secure the reelection. the constantly shifting
kaleidoscope of morale and ideology turned in the valley. of the calculus of physical destruction went as far as the burning and chambersburg as it anywhere. the people of the united states and the confederacy watched these intertwined dramas of the valley with fear, fascination, and hope. all for good reason. thanks very much. let's have a discussion. [applause] >> you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at c-span history. >> c-span, were history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a
public service by america's cable television companies, and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. >> i am standing on the pennsylvania side of the delaware river were behind me is new jersey state capitol of trenton. we are here to learn about its history, including the state capitol built in 1790. >> trenton became the state capitol in 1790. it was selected because of its location, even though we are not in the geographical center of the state. we're saturated on the delaware -- we are situated on the delaware river. it made sense for trenton because