tv The Civil War Harold Holzer on Civil War Objects CSPAN August 2, 2020 10:00am-10:46am EDT
valerie paley of the new york historical society talk about artifacts featured in their joint publication, "the civil war in 50 objects." took placesation online due to the coronavirus pandemic and the new york historical society provided the video. talking aboutn the power of objects of historical events to be conduits for understanding the past. it is an extraordinary experience to be historian where i work alongside these treasures. let's talk about the inspiration "the civil warm in 50 objects" -- how do only 50 objects tell such a sweeping story? >> we used to ask yourself that
-- we used to ask ourselves that question. first we discussed the medium of the object. we wanted photographs, paintings, documents, relics, and then we wanted to represent every year of the civil war, 1851 to 1865. by the time we sifted through the criteria, we thought we had 50 objects out there that met those requirements. it was truly an embarrassment and it was hard to whittle them down, for sure. [laughter] that is definitely true. tonight we will be discussing two objects that are considered technology during the civil war.
you can see the images of those. we have one from 1861 and a half model of the monitor of 1862. let's consider the two part object. this is in the papers of alexander robert chisholm, bert -- born in 1834, died 1910. he was a stockbroker, a merchant, a railroad investor, and he died during the gilded age in new york city where he had grown up. theis youth, he served on confederate side of the civil war. can you tell us about his background? carolina born in south , the first state to secede from the union.
young and wasd raised by an aunt and uncle and then he inherited a plantation withuth carolina, complete 250 enslaved people. of new yorkly sense it,im he had, he abandoned went back to the plantation and began running it. when the civil war broke out, to allegiance was to work save his state and defend slavery. he became engaged in the effort forust the federal army fort sumter. people of his enslaved were trying to rebuild the
batteries that were aimed at fort sumter. there were african-american confederate soldiers. there were no african-americans who willingly fought for the confederate states of america. they were ordered into service. batteriesbuilding the in 1861. our god had a specific role. that was to send and receive coded messages. our first object was the key he used for deciphering these messages. work?es this messagesea of sending across areas in war is as old as war itself. in ancient times, it was done with fire and torture.
in the early days of the civil war, they were messages and in morse code by torchlight or through flags. that used to be done on navy ships, a system of alphabets by flag-waving. what did it was pretty new. if you look at what they did, at the top you will see the alphabet and the lowest corresponding letter could represent the original letter, but would be different. channel the bottom row by pulling and twisting it. be.ould be letter o.y would write x, v, and the person on the other end of the message, which by the way, would be sent by telegram, would receive the message and decode it. that was the idea. it sounds cumbersome and
complex. only decipher experts know how to do it. it was revolutionary at the time. technological advancement for the 19th century. >> circa 1861. >> if we could see the next image, in his own words, he was a confidential friend to the assembly and regard. regard.oyant tell us about who they were. >> he studied at west point under edison -- under anderson. very frenchmboyant louisiana born gentleman. to the southern cause and found himself in command of those batteries built
by slaves soldiers aimed at the federal fort in charleston. major anderson was in charge of fort sumter. wase these lies intercepted in the early days of 1861. before the cipher was coming into play, he would seemed -- send messages by boat. and the coding guy would take them out of the boat and they would usually say, surrender all or be bombarded. back-and-forth they will go. agreement and so war begins in april 1861 at fort sumter. >> we see in the next image, the bombardment of fort sumter.
they saw action at the first battle. >> let me talk about fort sumter for a second. does not take any lives in the fort. there was no way that they were going to recover or standoff this embodiment. he rose out and demanded the surrender of the fort after this day and a half long siege and anderson accepts the terms. it is in historical society that he thought anderson should be interestingled, an recollection of this. interrupt, -- >> they led a successful cavalry
charge and the first major engagement of the war, the federate -- the confederates won. there is a myth about this win. what is that? >> there are several. first of all, the union should not have lost. they outnumbered the rebels. all of washington society turned out to watch this event with picnic baskets packed with lunch. in the afternoon, the federals sorry, thend -- i'm confederates came back and routed the union. he was engaged in sending messages. if the message was captured, it could give away the plan. he became very active. there are reports that he deciphered messages to jefferson davis saying, we need your help. arrived, but he arrived so late, that it was
really over and also images show him coming to the rescue on a white horse, he actually came by railroad. message sure that the did that much to turn the tide in this case. aboutce we are talking keys and codes, it was a romantic story. detail on the cover of the key which reads in beautiful handwriting, "used in command of confederate army, the keywords being our navy, our pride." it is beautiful to see the detail of this object. they serve out the war together. he acted as a confidential messenger. after the war, he sought a
pardon from president andrew johnson, the first confederate officer to go for that consensus. he sold his plantation, returned to new york, became a shipping merchant and had a great deal of money. he valued his experience in the military so much that he saved all of his papers and donated into the new york historical. did you look over this collection, what parts of the key are in it. well arranged and classified and decoded. scrapbooks which are interesting. we find frame where the articles which decrease in number as the war went on and have declined in the south, for sure. and then there was this cipher key which was the remarkable thing.
happily for us it was listed separately. suddenly there is a cipher system that opens like a fan and can be coded. we have no idea how this works. it must be some really secret code. chisholm was completely unreconstructed which is sort of shocking. he was an admirer of the confederacy for his entire life. he wrote letters to the new york times defending beauregard and head of the local chapter of the sons of confederate veterans which indicates to me, to my dismay that there was an active camp of veterans who lived in new york. the good news is we have this amazing technological piece from the war. it did not improve the confederate cause, but it is a marvel. let's see the other the two
of this object. did the union and confederate ciphers differ? harold: yes. they were in fans or circles or accordions like this one. they were definitely used in the union. even when abraham lincoln wrote letters to his wife while she was visiting new york, he would "cipher," which he consistently misspelled. he was not a great speller. but he used the cipher. i have seen a few of the messages as they look in code. versus spy, mad magazine style, but in the civil war. >> are there many that survive ? harold: this is the only one i've ever seen.
>> it is beautifully intact. wonderful object to begin our conversation with. let's move on to the second object. the ussa half model of monitor, 1862. we are continuing with our theme of war and technology. it looks like a charming decorative ship model but it is a very important piece of history. can you explain what this is? the firstis is rendering of the first ironclad in naval history. the first specifically designed one in all of america and the second in the civil war. the first was a rebuilt wooden ship that became ironclad. this was more than an ironclad. that washe model created by thomas petrolin. modelieve this is the
that was taken to the white 1861 to show abraham lincoln and to convince him that the union side had better get with the program and develop this. ms. paley: let's look at the swedishof the wonderful born inventor working in brooklyn. in 1861, 8 connecticut industrialist was convinced that this man john erickson was onto something extraordinary. and what wasson extraordinary about this invention? harold: erickson is simply a visionary war designer and he had the right group with him. roland was the perfect engineer.
advocate.n -- bushnell. they are working on taking a wooden ship and putting iron plates on it. erickson had an idea that no one has had an that is for a revolving gun loaded with water and would rotate. battleships --e there had never been rotating guns on a ship of war. the ships had to sidle up to each other and fire on each other from nearby, that is the way it always went. this is a true revolution. he brought this model to washington. ms. paley: right. he shows it to lincoln and has a talk with lincoln about this work. what was lincoln's response? harold: his initial response
was, not my decision. let's walk over to the navy board tomorrow and show it to the sages of naval warfare. which they did. they showed it to the naval board and they all looked at lincoln for his queue and he looked at them and finally lincoln's immortal words, not his greatest oration but he said, "it reminds me of a story of a young woman who put on her stockings and she looked up and said, i think there is something in it." i don't know if they got this, you know, there is something in it. but they went to work immediately. ms. paley: they took that to be a yes. harold: that is a go. it is a good thing because the confederates are building the ship so they rush back to new york with the model and they get to work on the actual ship.
ms. paley: let's put that image. the image that shows the launch of the monitor. built in myas mother's ancestral home of greenpoint. there is still an erickson park there. i mother went to the monitor school in 1921. it is still there. build them up 1890's. -- built in the 1890's. there was a big shed where ships were made. there was a 24/7 production of veryship with a recalcitrant crew of workers. some of them felt they were being drafted even though there was no draft. they got this amazing thing done. it is amazing to see them sliding it down into the east river from greenpoint from which it went all the way into the brooklyn navy yard and that is where they put the fancy cables
-- it was a magnificent ship. even though it was dubbed a cheese box on a raft, it was not small. it is 170 feet long. a scale model was made 10 years ago by navy trainees and it is big. use the deck is a party space. it is a big vessel. it has lots of features inside. let's look through the image of the continental works in brooklyn. a picturesque image. there was another monitor, or maybe not this monitor, but they went into theyction of monitors, called the first one the monitor.
it was really a class of ships. you can see the revolving current on top. what inspired that name, the monitor, and how long did it take to launch the vessel? it was done in three months. to virginia in bad weather. it almost capsized. monitoran had the because he said it would be -- harrison had the idea because he said it would be a monitor against those who wanted to destroy the union. it reminded me of when the first governor cuomo used to greet people by saying, i look at the definition of governor, the second definition of something that gets in the way of machines and slows them down. like a hall monitor, who stops
you from doing bad deeds. ms. paley: [laughter] before you mentioned it was towed to virginia, but before he could arrive there, a was uprate ironclad, it in virginia, it was known as the merrimack and proven to be very formidable herself. whichdamage on the union is very interesting, it makes the whole thing more dramatic. it was in hampton roads, virginia. it was laughed at by the union fleet which was in the harbor. was thepens next deadliest and costly day in american history up until poor
harbor -- pearl harbor. merrimack had a long battering ram at the end so it rammed the cumberland and the cumberland sank immediately with great loss-of-life and then it launched shells at another ship, the uss congress was caught on fire and more lives were lost. was, itas the merrimack chased this petrified captain of the minnesota to shore and the ship ran aground and tilted. and then the time changed so the virginia retreated back toward more folk -- norfork. they had no doubt that the next morning the merrimack emerged from around the van and came at what was left of the union navy. vessel appears on
the horizon, enters the harbor and what happens next is the monitor engaging the merrimack in the most famous naval tool in american history. ms. paley: here is a beautiful depiction of that incident. it was dramatic and unforgettable. harold: you can see the difference. one is like a big stack. of all of the shells fired that day, no damage was done to the merrimack. some damage was done to the turret and one is close and blinded the captain and he was out for the duration. the last thing that happened was the turd was struck early -- turret was struck early. it lost control and kept revolving. wasonly time to get off
when it turned only around and somebody could shoot. it was agonizingly hot in that ship at that point. over 100 degrees and dangerous. dual that changed warfare and painting as well. ms. paley: nobody died and both sides claimed victory. why does this so-called battle of hampton roads have such mythic inspirational qualities? every seventh grader knows about the monitor and the merrimack. mythic in our historical imagination. harold: it was observed by so many people on shore. this was not far from the shoreline. we have the artistic happenstance of the good guys and they are the ones doing the
drawings and paintings. spewed white smoke and the bad guys spewed black smoke which made it look more ominous. one was a relic and one was new technology. i think the real reason was that this was the end of the era we were joking about. this was the end of the era of the warship, the wooden worship. it was a romanticized impact on the culture. it was bravely shooting cannons in the face of fire. this was the dehumanization of war as war shifted from men to machines and there was a sense after this that the better machines would win the war. ms. paley: let's see an image of the man in the machine. what was lincoln's reaction to this achievement? was he still as drawn to the new
technology as he had been initially? harold: by the way, i am struck by how toy like the boat looks in that drawing on the bottom. battle, it is warmer in virginia and they put up this amazing canvas tent to shield the turret from the sun. but that is the turret. it was recovered years later from the bottom of the sea and it is being restored now in newport news at the monitor center, as it is called. i think the most extraordinary thing about this post-battle depiction is if you look to the left of the port hole in the picture, the photograph, you see marks thattions, the are the confederate shells
hitting the turret as it revolves slowly around without any constraints, without any monitor, right? lincoln, he was always interested in technology. remember, he is the only american president to holding patent on an invention. what was the invention? it was a boat that would lift itself in shallow waters to be able to navigate the muddy streams of illinois. it was never manufactured, but he did devise it. the actual model of that is in the national archives. he loved ships even though he was a landlubber. he always loved technology. during the civil war, some people said his office would sometimes look like a gun store filled with weapons.
he encouraged the creation of balloons,s, meteorological balloons. one of his letters came from an inventor of a double barrel curved gone. he said this will be designed for cross eyed soldiers so they could shoot both sides of the liver at the same time. , because deadly level lincoln believed that breath alone kills no rebels. he believed in a permanent form to use in wartime. he was all about using new technologies. he used to walk around the white new technologies. he would walk around the white house grounds and fire new kinds of weaponry. he was fascinated with
technology and a big bolster to military technology. can see that image of the monitor a one more time, that half model. in 1862, that's pretty remarkable. donated around the time the monitor and the merrimack engaged in one-on-one combat. >> a great awareness of its historical importance. >> i think we are about ready a portion of the evening. do we know of any examples of crucial messages that were interpreted? >> that's a good question. we think that the cipher was --d to convey methods messages at the battle of shiloh. the battle of shiloh probably should not have been a
confederate route that ended the career of ulysses s grant before it matured. there was a surprise attack for which the union was unprepared. a total route from how the union the routed held back on the first day and lived to fight another day. grant turned to sherman and said to get them tomorrow. i would think -- the messages are to maintain the secrecy of battlefield instructions but they don't ensure they are the right instructions. it is left to the human brain and technical and strategic skills -- grant had his own codes and his own vision. next question. was the wreck of the monitor ever recovered, if so, where is it displayed. ? the ship was followed by many
-- >> the ship was followed by many monitors, but the original was pretty famous. it was never tremendously seaworthy. it stayed very close to shore. instead it was dispatched to a -- two cape hatteras, a famous graveyard for naval vessels. and new year's day 1862. just nine months after it became the most famous ship in the union navy. it sank off of cape hatteras. there it remained for 145 years, until the national oceanic and aeronautical organization located it. it was recovered -- parts of it were recovered. the hull had disintegrated, although the shape was easily discernible to divers. they brought up the gun. a huge gun. they brought up the turret, an amazing achievement.
and they brought up lanterns, coins, dinnerware, spoons, all kinds of things. all of them are at the mariners museum at its new monitor center. and the gun and turret sit in a saline tank outdoors. you can walk on a plank to see it. there, these and oxygenation are being applied. these crustaceans are being removed from the relic. five more years, you will be able to see the actual turret. you can already see some of the dents from the confederate shells. >> how exciting. this question came up when i was rereading the essay. wasn't the merrimack renamed the virginia? do northerners prefer to call it the merrimack?
newspapersead the you can look at the captions most of them say merrimack. so , it was the uss merrimack. it was an american ship the confederates seized and burned to the shoreline. they said let's call it the virginia, after the state we are in. the name never really caught on. purists always say the uss -- css virginia. but there's -- how can you resist that alliteration, the monitor and the merrimack? it goes by both. call it the merrimack more often than not. you left it open, because the virginia was so slow and heavy when the tide went down it left. to leave the field of battle,
that's losing. by another calculation, the monitor was able to prevent any further destruction to the outdated wooden fleet. so it was a victory by those standards, too. even though by winning the victory it spelled the doom of the wooden navy itself. everything was iron after that. >> back to the naming of the monitor and the merrimack. do northerners prefer to call it or does it just sound right? >> it sounds right. i think northerners prefer it because it sounds like it is a recovered vessel from the past that we had our way with, i guess. but civil war historians more often say the virginia. by the way, eventually, it's probably the only ship in american service to be burned twice. when the union army
marched near norfolk and looked about to capture the boatyard, the confederates burned the virginia so it could not be taken over by the union. so it vanished yet again. >> interesting. so here's a question about the cipher again. what is revolutionary about it? it seems very simple to the person who has the question. >> i think the notion of carrying around on one's person a wheel or booklet that would allow you to transpose letters and actually change the cipher during the course of a battle or campaign, as long as both sides understood what the new code was, was revolutionary. there was an understood symbol of flags, flag signals, and torch signals, but they couldn't easily change. because what
constituted a letter was a letter, morse code was morse code. so the cipher enable you -- so the cipher enabled you to switch out. you can change it every week, prearrange to change it every week. make a v this week, make an l next week, and the alphabet shifts. so it was an idea that was very portable. >> off-topic time of the evening, did you find the recent three-part series on grant to be accurate and fair? >> that's a heavy question. i thought it was more than fair, more than accurate, in some ways. it stressed the great achievements of grant and his amazing talent. seeing action for relentlessness. made a strong case that he did not win the war just because of superior numbers and ruthlessness, and willingness to take casualties, but out of a master plan. what
it didn't do was talk about his shortcomings. none of them, that -- one of them, that i think is worth remembering, is his zeal to root out spies, disloyalty, risk perceptions he banned all jews in 1862 theater of the war. it saw jews from paducah, kentucky leaving their homes in search of rescue. this order had to be countermanded at lincoln's insistence. new york rabbis went to the white house to say "let my people go back." lincoln obliged. although he took pains not to embarrass grant. the series could have spent time on his shortcomings, including his drinking, which was only alluded to briefly at the beginning. the actor who portrayed grant, was
good. lincoln, not so much. too skinny, too short. he had a mole on the wrong side of his cheek in one scene. >> back to our objects. were there other nations who made ironclad ships around at the same time? >> that's a really good question. ours were not the first. the french made a few before the civil war. they were also more unwieldy. permanentlyever adopt them as a design or style. once the monitor combined keeping most of your sailors under the waterline and having , because of a submarine. keeping a gun up
impregnably, and also having it rotate, that was the new design of choice. there were submersibles used in the civil war. a little fleet of four man -- three or four man things that were sort of human torpedoes that never came back from their missions. but this was the model for modern naval submarine warfare. also, battleship guns that can turn around and follow the action. >> back to our cipher codes, or -- did either side ever break the cipher codes during the war? >> there were some instances of a cipher code being broken. before the battle of antietam, some orders that i believe were in cipher. the good thing about our series is i am corrected every week if i make a miscue. i don't tell you about it, but i get lots of them. so there were
orders that were found rolled into a cigar before the battle of antietam. they were discovered and decoded. he -- it did not help mcclellan. he should've known everything about the battle plans, and this was not sufficient. but codes were broken. again, you just move the bar, as some say. back to our man chisholm. was he wrong about anderson and fort sumter? were there any help of the union army relieving him, or he held out? >> anderson was told by the lincoln administration his forte -- told by the lincoln administration his fort would not be reinforced, it would be resupplied. it was running out of ammunition. he had no way to defend himself for much longer. the supply ships returned back -- were turned back from the shelling. there is a great story
about anderson, he was allowed to leave. there were casualties. an area of the fort blew up. he took the flag with him, went on a boat, and went all the way back to new york, center of the universe, even then. he admitted when he was on the ship to new york, he didn't know whether he would be given a court-martial or a parade. guess what? he was given a parade. his flag was put over the equestrian statue of george washington, and 100,000 people came out. then when the seventh regiment, new york's elite regiment marched down broadway to board ships to head to virginia and fight, they passed by a jewelry company which had a pediment of which
major anderson was waving the flag of fort sumter tattered, fluttering in the breeze. it became a great symbol of resistance, ultimately. anderson went on to continue his not so dramatic career in the union army. >> one more question about cryptology. did it advance at all during the civil war? >> i think what you saw is what you got. has it advanced since? i'm not sure it has advanced more than this since from the basic premise of substituting letters. when radio came in, messages were sent to the resistance in europe during world war ii. the messages would be in code, like "the church bells will ring at 4:00," which meant something opposite. so the underground had absorbed
what the message would be. basically, i think the cipher was the big advancement. before that, it was one if by land, and two if by sea, that was the idea of a cipher before the civil war. >> as always, a pleasure. it looks like our time is up. thank you for being such a compelling and gracious guest. thank you all for watching, listening, and supporting the new york historical society. we will see you all again next week. thank you. >> thank you. japanese emperor hero he telenav's japan's unconditional surrender -- and nine august 6 bombings of hiroshima and nagasaki. the formal surrender ceremony took place september 2 aboard
the uss missouri in tokyo bay, ending world war ii. c-span'shistory tv and washington journal will be live to look at the strategic situation in world war ii's theater, truman's decision to use the weapon, and the impact of the atom bombs. on august 6 we will be live from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. eastern. on -- anincludes author and president truman's grandson. fromgust 9 we will be live 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. eastern. guests will respond to viewer calls and tweets. ♪ >> this is american history tv.
featuring events, interviews, archival film and visits the college classrooms, museums, and historic places exploring our nation's past every weekend on c-span three. >> now on the presidency we continue with a film that's in the holdings of the franklin d. roosevelt presidential library, which is marking its 80th anniversary this february. we'll see eleanor roosevelt's 1958 interview with mccall's magazine on the occasion of her 74th birthday. she looks through family photographs and tells the stories behind them. this is 15 minutes. >> regardless of political sentiment, most people agree that eleanor roosevelt is the outstanding woman of our time. mccall's magazine is proud to have her as a member of the family, a regular monthly column of questions and answers, if you ask me. in celebration of ms. roosevelt's 74th birthday, we're