tv The Civil War Harold Holzer on Civil War Objects CSPAN August 9, 2020 1:20pm-2:06pm EDT
>> up next on the civil war, historian harold holzer and valerie from the new york historical society talk about artifacts featured in their joint publications, the civil war in 50 objects. in this program, they discuss objects related to soldiers' uniforms and accoutrement. this conversation took place online and the new york historical society provided the video. valerie: this series has been investigating the power of objects to be emblematic historical events and to help us understand the past. as a historian at new york historical, i work alongside these treasures every day. it is my great privilege to use them in exhibitions as well. how can only 50 objects tell
such a sweeping story? harold: we have tack till objects, images, but probably as you force us to describe this in civil war fashion, i'll get that later. the hardest thing is to preserve, you know better than most, for textiles and the objects we're going to discuss today, some of them are really extraordinary and n terms of how they survived. valerie: absolutely. and without further ado, let's get to our four things this evening. we have a military button, and a drum. very interesting, and fashion, maybe, maybe not. but in aggregate, they do tell the story of uniform courage,
outfitting the civil war soldier. let's start with this uniform. surviving uniforms, or textiles in that matter in five conditions from the civil war are very rare. and this one is impeccably preserved, and it's unique. you have to admit, a pretty cookie costume to wear into combat. can you tell us about this outfit? >> as you say, in a uniform, believe it or not, the soldiers who wore these dudss were considered the toughest dudes in the union or confederate army. sashes, these baggy short jackets. you see the leggings and what we don't see is that they also wore this on top. so these uniforms were modeled ter uniforms that the french
in turn adapted. so it became french foreign gion look, and noted, and so 25 confederate regiments and 75 union regiments started the war in this costume until somebody kind of figured out that they were pretty easy targets in this. it sort of declined, but also the more they were worn, as impractical as they looked. >> there's strange the way they were dressed. you say in this book they look like harem masters. it's curious. who popularized this style? harold: really, we can give credit to a new yorker from
utica. his name was elmer from ellsworth. i know we have a picture of him coming up. and he was a drill master and maybe we should do the next slide so people can take a look. there he is. you see he did not wear this, but he condensed it, and he organized a brigade that did show these stages across the country, very celebrated snow chicago, and what they did was they did double time around the stage in circles. they broke off sort of like cheerleaders or the way bands march at football stadiums, where they break off and jump off. his guys had rifles. themmed they would put it at their shoulders, and anyway, it was very well received, and he became something of a celebrity at a very young age.
he also was a law student of abraham lincoln in his law office and was his bodyguard when he traveled to washington from springfield to become president. so they were acquaintances, and then organized a unit when the war started. and really got into the fray. valerie: well, at the very beginning of the yeerks ellsworth turns out to be a war heat sandrow actually a kind of martyr. would you tell our audience why? harold: yeah, in fact, he was the first war hero for the north. so when the war started when fort sumter fell, federal authorities wanted to secure the virginia side of the river opposite washington, d.c. and that meant alexandra to start. and ellsworth was a frequent
guest of the white house and playing with lincoln boys on the roof of the white house. he noted a huge confederate flag flying in alexandra. he could see it with a telescope. by the way, i've seen the remains of this flag. it was big. so he decided to march his -- across the bridge to the other side of the potomac as the union forces captured. he went to the hotel. he marched up the stairs to the roof. he tore the flag down. he put it over his shoulders. and he descended the staircase. and as he got midway, the proprietor of this hotel who was named thomas -- his name was james jackson. he was a relative of the man who would soon become a couple of months later at bull run. and jackson shot ellsworth dead. and then ellsworth's men shot jackson dead. so there were actually two
martyrs created in one day, one for defending a confederate flag, one for lincoln was devastated. he gave ellsworth a funeral on the white house, his family, and he wrote a very famous letter of condolence to ellsworth's parents, and it was a great tragedy for this family. and as you say, i think we can that this next image princeton paintings of ellsworth, maybe not the most accurate depictions in the world, but they elevated this poor young guy into a martyr as you noted overnight. valerie: we noticed one of the soldiers is wearing a costume, but he isn't enough, so this is kind of interesting. harold: i don't think he did. i think he always wore the regular uniform, but his soldiers were other uniforms. valerie: our own uniform in the collection of new york
historical, it was owned by one david p. david, and just be the uniform again. we know he must have been disturbed in the bronx and served for two years. where did he see action? we have a sense of that, do we not? harold: yeah, he was in a unit that was called the red-legged devils. so you could see that, again, they took pride in this uniform, and they kind the flamboyance with toughness, and he did say a lot of action. and then it was the army, in its failed attempt to capture richmond in early 1862. he was in the battle of second bull run. , antietam, fredericksburg, one of the worst unions and finally ended his, virginia in may, so almost up until the battle of
gettysburg before he mustered out, and as we see, union form intact, no holes, no tearing, so that's why we were able to get in the historical society. valerie: well, phenomenal object. next we have something a bit different. these are military buttons mounted on cars. and this is also an interesting relic of the war, that soldiers were avid collectors of their service. these were easy to acquire mementos from battlefields, but repeatedly they also took them by stealing personal property from pavilions or prisoners. tell us about the fellow who collected these buttons.
mr. holzer: we know, as you say -- sorry about choking up. i'm not choking up with emotion but with allergies. kind of a macabe hobby. the buttons were really amazing. each state had its own. each unit has its own. these are union collected buttons by an enterprising soldier in the seventh new york, which was a pretty elite regiment. and we know that he was also an extraordinary number of actions including spotsylvania, which was bloody. we also have evidence that some may have taken them from shallow graves.
there was such an interest in getting them. also, you mentioned prisoners. it was considered one of the worst insults you could render to a prisoner of war, to rip a button off the uniform, so that was partially humiliation and partially this mania for collectibles. ms. paley: let's see a typical oftograph of the kinds scenes that a collector would have taken these buttons off of these jackets. very macabe, indeed. mr. holzer: he would have been totally uninhibited about walking up and down this line of corpses. they also took guns, shoes, whatever they could grab. ms. paley: we have another collection too, which sort of
supplements the first collection of buttons. if we can see the other slide? here are some other confederate buttons from a variety of sources, which are quite beautiful. it is interesting. we noted these are from 1860, so before the war presumably because they were created for the uniforms. lincoln himself received some gifts of war, souvenirs such as these and others, but what sorts of relics did he receive? mr. holzer: he got a cane made from the hull of old ironsides. he got another relic from the burned hull of the merrimack, the ship we discussed last week. he got some faded, translucent leaves from the battle of gettysburg that had been
allegedly bloodied in the battle in july. he got them in the fall when the leaves were falling off the tree s and turning. he got socks, he got soap, bibles, canes, walking sticks, anything you can imagine. as he said to his wife, as another suit arrived unsolicited hem a taelor -- a tailor said, "if there's one thing we are going to get out of this, it's new clothes." unfortunately, she took that to heart and thought that meant she should run up the credit card. ms. paley: which she did. mr. holzer: which she did. ms. paley: the next part of the collection is not clothing, but a footlocker with belongings. there's nothing glamorous about living in the field during the
civil war, but the experience of generals is different than that of privates. do you want to talk about that a little bit? mr. holzer: generals, of course, had their own tents and servers and chairs. our friend was a mapmaker, very important in battle in terms of quickly sketching out terrain. so he got this kind of -- it looks rustic, but it is really a n amazingly utilitarian footlocker. think of the very best carry-on that you could take on an airplane, if anyone can remember doing that. this is a civil war era equivalent of a great carry-on. you can see, because this has been beautifully photographed with a lot of its contents, you epaulets on top there. it's got flags. it's got his own souvenirs. it's got medals, and it has his
tools of the trade. you see a mapmaking tool there, and i forgot what it's called and i should know because i use it in school once. that makes a circle. this would be what he would use, strap it on to a horse when he's ready to move on, and he did use it. it has tape measure and a sketchbook. again, amazingly intact relic. as we keep discovering, the historical society has this just extraordinary range of artifacts that testify to not only the art of war but the everyday life of war. ms. paley: in addition, in this pain --ar footlocker, payne has an interesting -- i
think it might be in the footlocker -- he held a patent for a tool that we still use, the coiled flat field tape measure. he won a contest for his invention. mr. holzer: that's right, the retractable one. we absolutely still use it is a one. much smaller model, but i had forgotten that detail. he was an inventor, too. just like last week's hero, on a slightly smaller scale. we still make tape measure. you know, as you pointed out, he used this in his engineering career, and we have some evidence that he was helpful in the construction of the brooklyn bridge in the 1870's and 1880's, and got a medal from the chief engineer, which he also just threw into the footlocker. ms. paley: there it is. in the the little silk foreground of that image. back in this footlocker for just
saw some i think payne serious action and recorded it, being a surveyor and the kind of guy who did that sort of thing. where did he see action? where did this footlocker see action? mr. holzer: the most notable thing he saw and recorded in his diary was what we call the high watermark of the confederacy. it is arguable in terms of military history, but he was on the scene for pickett's charge on the third day of the battle of gettysburg, july 3, 1863, so he saw waves and waves of unprotected confederates massing and then marching and then running toward these union lines and really being mowed down by artillery and then by gunfire. so, he was witness to the last stand of the confederacy in terms of invading the north. that never happened again after that epic. ms. paley: this footlocker was
as well. is there evidence of the fact that he used the footlocker after the war? i mean, presumably so. think there are little souvenirs from his prosaic and exalted career. again, the bridge was one, but he also worked on the flushing railroad. it sounds very unglamorous compared to pickett's charge, but it could be his portable work desk, he was an engineer in the field. and i guess he must have thought after the battle of gettysburg, all of this is gravy. i survived, my baggage survived, and i'm just going to thank my lucky stars i can have a civilian career in engineering. yeah.ley: finally, our last object this evening is a snare drum. it is beautiful, highly
decorative and aesthetically pleasing, but it serves quite a utilitarian purpose in battle. tell us what drums were used for. mr. holzer: first of all, i want to endorse what you said about what a great object. look at the painted eagle and stars, and the eagle clutching in its claws an american flag. it is an amazing example. drums were not just for military bands. they were used in all aspects of camp life in the civil war and, probably more importantly, in battle. first of all, the sound of the rat a tat tat of the drum would be the first thing that a soldier heard every morning, the reveille. it would start with a drum roll, and then the bugler.
irving berlin famously said, i want to murder the bugler who wakes me up in the morning. the drum was used in camp life, and also at the moments when soldiers did have leisure, there were bands that performed in camp, and the drum was, of course, the rhythmic staple of the military band as well, but in battle troops, if they were marching forward, marched off to drums andg of the they followed the drums. when the battlefield became 's -- became smoke-filled and bullet riddled, and, really, scenes of confusion and mayhem, soldiers in precarious positions listen for the sounds of the drums. because not only what that signal a place where they could
coalesce again or regroup, but also the drums were used for issuing orders. ms. paley: you write that they are almost in the category of weapons. mr. holzer: woe to those who did not understand the drum instruction. ms. paley: and it has the power to inspire precision because it's the rat a tat tat, as you say. mr. holzer: right, and they marched in rhythm, absolutely. ms. paley: who owns this drum? mr. holzer: we know that -- although we do not know who made we as the caption indicates, know that it was owned by a drummer boy, as they were called, named charles mosby. although we do not have a picture of little charlie, we do have a drummer boy photographed in the next slide that shows
just how young and innocent, at first, these drummer boys were -- or this actually is mosby. ok. mosby.ley: this is -- say it again. ms. paley: philip correll, 14 years old, but this is a typical drummer boy. looks petrified. some were as young as seven years old, which i think is quite an extraordinary thing. mr. holzer: they were extraordinarily young, and there was a lot of criticism of that by reform groups. they thought that these youngsters, aside from being exposed to great physical danger, that worse even their souls were being subjected to the evils of camp life like
card-playing and drinking. i think it's fair to say that this was a generation that came of age too quickly. some of them came from unhappy home lives. some of them because of the romance of the military service, which they soon found out was not quite so romantic. some went with fathers. some went with older brothers. , when there was not a battle or a musical celebration, their life was pretty dismal because they were expected to be like servants in camp, shining shoes and fetching things for soldiers. although the wealthier officers would often give them tips to supplement their little salaries, the older soldiers -- i'm sorry, the poorer soldiers, , were prettyuys obtrusive.
they slapped them around, they teased them. so it was a very difficult life, and some of them came out of the war or at least the genre of the drummer boy came out as another celebrated kind of volunteer. ms. paley: there were 3800 soldiers that were aged 16 or younger. quite something. do we know what happened to the owner of our drum, mr. philip correll? mr. holzer: we know that he lived a long, long time. think about a drummer boy of the civil war who survived two years into the presidency of franklin d roosevelt, and he survived to see world war i, the depression, automobiles, airplanes, and the new deal. he lived until 1935.
he had served, by the way, in the 99th new york and served with a general named winfield scott hancock. nothing demonstrates a transition from old-fashioned war to modern war than at the beginning of the war there was someone named after him. hancock was known as hancock the magnificent. you can imagine that the drummer boy had to be spruce. we don't know much about his life, but we do know that he , again, was at fredericksburg, gettysburg. lived on to age 88. i'm sure he told stories about the war for the rest of his life because the drummer boys were
sort of inured to the real fear. ms. paley: sure, but they were also romanticized and memorialized later in many different artistic expressions. mr. holzer: yeah. homer and other artists did famous renderings of them. the most famous is probably by william morris hunt, who heard about an episode at the battle of antietam where a drummer boy had been hit by a bullet and had looked up to one of his older comrades and said, "if you lift me up, i will drum us through." so hunt did a portrait -- actually, hunt did another drummer boy. this is eastman johnson. eastman johnson did a portrait of a drummer boy perched on a soldier's shoulders. anatomically, it's probably impossible, but there he is
sitting on the shoulders and drumming away in the midst of battle. and they were lionized in poetry and song. maybe in a way, society made some excuses for the fact that it had forced these young men into adulthood and danger well before their time. ms. paley: absolutely. we are about ready for our q&a. maybe we can see the image of the four objects once again. so, our first question is, do many of these buttons we showed survive? mr. holzer: the buttons are hard to destroy unless you step on them. that's one of the advantages of metallic objects. people still find the remnants of bullets and even artillery of civil war battles. although, not recommending that we search, because it's actually
against park service rules that you dig and forage and use metal detectors and all that. but what is amazing about these buttons and their survival, and i think what makes them unique, is that the fellow who we snaps them personally did such a great job of cataloguing them. he mounted them, numbered them, wrote a beautiful headline. that is a handwritten confederate button period. and then for each number, he listed the origin of the design of the button. maybe museums have done that research for themselves, but i have never seen a collection of these relics catalogued at the time by the person who found them or seized them, so i think that makes this pretty unique. ms. paley: absolutely. at new york historical we also have collections of revolutionary war buttons from the new york city area too.
they are very durable objects. the next question is, are there comparable collections of union army buttons? mr. holzer: yeah, the civil war museum in harrisburg, pennsylvania has a good collection. the new civil war museum in richmond, which is on the site of an old confederate munitions factory has a collection. i hear of them more in the south. i think the west point museum has a pretty good collection as well. ms. paley: maybe in gettysburg, too, at the museum there? mr. holzer: yeah, they do have a wonderful visitor's center. and they have a good collection as well. ms. paley: was there standardization of union and confederate uniforms? and did that apply to the fancier uniforms? mr. holzer: i know, this was a
melange. as you can see from this uniform, which doesn't even seem to have any buttons, by the way, the uniforms were a local affair at first. thee buttons boarded emblems of local units, local regiments. they paid tribute to states more than the national authority that had called up the militia. uniformsere not -- the were not uniform. and at the beginning of the civil war, at the battle of bull run, there were enough confederates wearing bluish uniforms to confuse a lot of people, including other confederates and other union men who did not quite know if they were shooting at friends or enemies.
later some confederates war -- wore kind of a butternut color. the union army eventually was well-funded enough to approach a kind of uniform look, no pun intended -- or pun intended, i guess. don't you think the zwabs were always confusing? standing out? they were lucky if there was a little cluster. fire over there. ms. paley: but there was uniformity to the zwab costume and you could not tell if they were confederate for union. there is a question for me and that is, how or when can we see the objects in the program? soon after this book was published, we did have a mini exhibition of all of the object, not many of them remain on view on the fourth floor of new york
historical. and sooner than you know it, we will be back in the museum and be able to see them. we should probably put a little label on the ones we featured on this program. mr. holzer: and there's much more. i know we have a little time, and we don't have a special segment devoted to flags, but along the lines of beautifully conserved textiles that the historical society has some amazing flags in both north and south, including a little palmetto flag from fort sumter. and one i'm going to talk a little bit about, even though we don't have a picture of it -- just think of a little american flag. we don't need too much imagination to conjure up that image. and this is a period in which we are witnessing or participating in demonstrations all over the city and all over the country.
after the battle of fort sumter, which we talked about last week, an american flag, it was reported, had been trailed in the mud by the confederates and then returned to major robert anderson, who took it back to new york, and that flag was shown at union square at a demonstration of 100,000 people. the historical society has one of the little flags that a lady put on her window. maybe on broadway or fifth , toue in lower manhattan demonstrate her loyalty. if you look into the research for historical society, which i did for this book on several occasions, you find out that flag merchants up the prices of flags and sold out really quickly, just as a -- they sold out of black crepe for lincoln's funeral.
i'm just amazed at the textiles in the collection. ms. paley: and they survived too. i ask you acan question? ms. paley: sure. mr. holzer: what kind of preservation efforts have to be made to keep a uniform like this intact and not just falling into pieces? ms. paley: it's quite almost scientific. we have great technicians and conservators on staff who monitor the deterioration of textiles, which is one reason why they cannot be viewed for longer than three months, tops, and then we put them aside and then wait several years before we can show them again. but, you know, the conservation efforts with the proper kind of boxes, the proper kind of temperature control. it's complicated, but the colors
on this particular costume are just so vivid that it is a testament to our conservators on staff that it survived. mr. holzer: also, the conservators that dealt with it its first 50 years before these modern chemical and refrigeration preservation techniques were on hand. that is amazing. ms. paley: here's a question about swab uniforms. how did he feel about these uniforms? mr. holzer: he loved the displays. he loved the drills. again, we are looking at them and laughing at them as pajamas, but these guys were the proudest and most uninhibited and fearless -- you have to be very fearless to wear white booties. and a sarong. and then a fez. lincoln was a great fan of watching military parades.
he was always on hand with his hat over his heart as the troops went by. he rode up and down the lines inspecting, so he would have seen these, and they were always pointed out to him, again, as the roughest and toughest guys, and, of course, having known ellsworth, having seen him with his command around the white house, he was used to them and felt that they represented volunteerism, because all of this was before the draft. these were guys that on tiered not only to serve, but to where this kind of an outfit. ms. paley: here is another question about the zwab uniforms. themclellan help introduce
into the union army, and how did grant feel about it? mr. holzer: that's a very good question. they were embedded in the service before mcclellan became commander. remember, he doesn't take command until after the battle of all wrong. -- of bull run. by the way, i would point out, winslow omer once said these guys must be crazy. although he did some beautiful , beautiful paintings that are at the metropolitan museum. they wore these, but it's a good supposition to say that mcclellan was involved because he was pretty flamboyant in his own way. but, no, they were in service before. grant, i don't know the answer, but one would assume that the soldiers who were marching south relentlessly through the
wilderness in that awful spring and summer of 1864 and were in the trenches before petersburg in early 1865, i would guess, by this time there were not many in the regiment. ms. paley: another question about souvenirs like the buttons. were they collected for bragging rights or for their market value? mr. holzer: it's another really good question. i would say bragging rights in terms of intimidating enemy prisoners. and humiliating enemy prisoners. not so much monetary value, but souvenir value. fray.there, i was in the you know, in the same way that american soldiers of world war ii collected detritus, including weapons, enemy weapons, german and japanese weapons and sabers that they were told they could
not bring back, they somehow managed to bring back. something about the "i've been to the war and here is the evidence" mentality, that's very powerful. next question. did lincoln have a point of view regarding looting? mr. holzer: yes. remember, there was a fine line between foraging and looting. there was a code of conduct in the service that was pretty rigidly enforced at that time. there was no abuse of women on the home front and exceptions were punished pretty tough sleep. toughly. eventually, the union and confederate armies could not supply themselves sufficiently, so they had to live off the land, and that meant, particularly when lee marched into maryland in 1862 with a very thin supply line, that
meant taking whatever they wanted. pillaginge -- their involved chickens and cows and apples. lee marched into maryland at apple harvesting time, so he practically took every apple off every tree in maryland. by the way, let's say one thing else about robert e. lee who is in the news again because of the statue controversies, but robert e. lee also took as hideous souvenirs free black men and sold them back into slavery. he captured free people and enslaved them. that was the most hideous of all the souvenirs. of course, then we go to sherman in late 1864, who forages his way through georgia. and you know, there are two points of view on that. one is that he burned georgia.
the other is that he spared georgia, in some ways, by not engaging. here's 1 -- well, i'm going to do a teaser. when we talk about appomattox in a future program, i'm going to talk about another famous bit of souvenir hunting. i will save it for that. ms. paley: save it for that. [laughter] we have a few minutes left in a couple more questions. who made these uniforms and how expensive where they? were any made in new york city? mr. holzer: i would say these were expensive. some soldiers paid themselves. the union army gave an allotment to soldiers to buy uniforms, but i'm sure that these were funded by philanthropic groups in the states, but again, there was a
certain pride of wearing the uniform. let me point one thing out -- we talked about systemic racism and how long it has existed. back in the civil war, even when african-american troops were finally allowed to volunteer to risk their lives to save their country and end slavery, white soldiers were given an allowance to buy uniforms. black soldiers had the cost deducted from their salary for the first few months of their service. frederick douglass came to lincoln to protest not only that the soldiers were getting a lower pay grade but that they had to pay for their own uniforms, unlike the white soldiers. lincoln said he was sorry, but we had to do it this way in the beginning to just get the white soldiers past this revolution of an integrated army. so, that is one of the sad
aspects. the government did not have the courage to treat all uniforms and their soldiers equal. -- equally. ms. paley: indeed. oh, let's see -- we have one minute left. one more question. was there any martial etiquette against killing drummer boys? mr. holzer: you know, i don't know. i would think that once the battlefield, bullets go where they go and drummer boys were wounded. that's a great question. we will ask people to write into us and tell us if they know. i hate ending on a question i don't know the answer to, but there we go. it's inevitable. ms. paley: but uniform courage is our theme, and certainly exemplarsr boys were of that.
i am afraid we are out of time. harold, thank you again for being a font of fascinating information. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> you are watching american history tv with event coverage, archival films, lectures and college classrooms, and visits to museums and historic places. all weekend, every weekend on c-span three.
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