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Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to flood the 6,000-acre Gettysburg National Military Park and surrounding town this week to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The events of July 1-3, 1863, produced more than 50,000 casualties, with an estimated 7,500 soldiers killed. Many historians consider Gettysburg a major turning point of the Civil War after Northern forces turned away a Confederate advance. And in the decades following the conflict, the battleground became a symbol of reconciliation. Diane and her guests discuss the significance of the Battle of Gettysburg and how it’s remembered.
- Drew Gilpin Faust President of Harvard University, historian and author of "This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War."
- Eleanor Harvey Senior curator at Smithsonian American Art Museum.
- Adam Goodheart Director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and author of "1861: The Civil War Awakening."
- Scott Hartwig Supervisory historian at Gettysburg National Military Park.
- Ervin Jordan Associate professor of history and research archivist, University of Virginia member, Gettysburg Foundation Board of Directors
Photos: Battle Of Gettysburg
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A quarter million visitors have converged on Gettysburg, PA to mark the sesquicentennial anniversary of our nation's bloodiest battle. The three-day clash in July 1863 helped turn the tide of the Civil War.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about the battle and its evolving legacy is Eleanor Harvey of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Adam Goodheart of Washington College. Joining me from a studio in Boston is historian and Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust and from WVTF in Charlottesville, Va., Ervin Jordan of the University of Virginia.
MS. DIANE REHMI look forward to hearing your comments and questions. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. You can follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning all.
MS. ELEANOR HARVEYGood morning.
MR. ADAM GOODHEARTGood morning.
MS. DREW GILPIN FAUSTGood morning.
MR. ERVIN JORDANGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all with us. Drew Gilpin Faust, so good to have you on, put the battle in context for us. What was the situation for both sides in July of 1863?
FAUSTWell, the Confederacy had had a very significant victory in May at Chancellorsville and Robert E. Lee was feeling extremely confident. Lincoln on the other hand was feeling that he was under enormous pressure to have an indication that the North could come out of the war victorious and therefore should continue to pursue the war itself.
FAUSTLee decided his best move would be to try again what he had endeavored the preceding fall when he marched north into Maryland for the battle at Antietam to move north again in order to demonstrate the strength of the Confederacy and what he hoped would be perceived by the northern public as the impossibility of northern victory.
FAUSTSo with the tremendous confidence following on Chancellorsville that was the move he began to undertake. And as he moved his troops northward with some encounters in Winchester and other spots as he headed through the State of Virginia towards the North the northern army began to recognize that it needed to both protect the capital and the northern countryside and to figure out a way to stop Lee's advance.
REHMAnd that to you…
FAUSTSo that is kind of the context of the confrontation that occurred in Pennsylvania.
REHMAnd Adam Goodheart, give us an overview of that three-day battle.
GOODHEARTWell, you know, this is a battle that really was determined almost more by the blunders and failures of both sides than by the successes. Lee and General Meade both went into this battle not intending to fight there at Gettysburg, but just sort of starting to clash with one another and then sending in more and more and more troops as reinforcements until these two great armies were fully engaged.
GOODHEARTNow General Meade, the Union commander had only taken command of the Army of the Potomac almost literally hours before the battle began. Both sides were operating with some degree of confusion and faulty intelligence and they found themselves ensnared in this great three-day battle where the Union army actually ended up holding the better ground on the battlefield which ended up I think determining the course of the battle as much as anything else.
REHMYou're talking about the geography?
GOODHEARTExactly, exactly, literally holding the higher ground where they could see more of what was going on. For a while, especially on the second day of the battle, it looked like the Confederacy might prevail unleashing a terrible series of assaults against the Union lines and then finally on the third day culminating in Pickett's Charge and the Confederacy finally had to withdraw and Lee pulled his army back across the border, across the Potomac into Virginia.
GOODHEARTBut of course, the great failure of the Union side at Gettysburg was that they didn't pursue Lee across the Potomac or trap him on the northern side of the Potomac and destroy his army. So in a sense, it was a failure by both armies.
REHMAnd turning to you, Ervin Jordan, what do you see as similarities and differences at the Battle of Gettysburg from other battles that had gone on before and indeed came afterwards?
JORDANOne of the similarities, of course, in the North, was that at the end of such battles there were always efforts to commemorate. Speakers would come and speak for two or three hours extolling the glories and the courage of the Union soldiers and there was some of this in the South as well.
JORDANThe other differences, though, I think with Gettysburg was with the fact that the civilian population after Gettysburg were just almost completely overwhelmed by the carnage that had been inflicted on their town. I mean, there were at least 7,000 dead and the town's population itself was barely 2,000 so it's like 2 to 1 odds or something like that.
JORDANAnd so these people had to deal with that sort of thing. The North could commemorate battlefields while the war was still going on whereas the South couldn't really do anything like that until many, many years after the war.
REHMNow, do I understand correctly that there were no black troops fighting at Gettysburg?
JORDANYou're asking me? Professor Jordan, okay.
REHMForgive me, forgive me.
JORDANNo, no. It's quite all right, ma'am. There were no black Union regiments at Gettysburg however there were black Union regiments elsewhere because of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in January of that year. The federal government for the first time, officially and formally allowed Blacks to enroll as soldiers, so no there were no black regiments at Gettysburg.
REHMAll right. And turning to you, Eleanor Harvey, do you agree that Gettysburg became the turning point in the Civil War?
HARVEYI do think that it did. I think that James McPherson and others have made a compelling argument that Antietam is the beginning of that turning, that Lee simply can't orchestrate a victory in northern territory and that for all that he had held sway during the bulk of 1862, that that wasn't enough to be fighting a defensive war.
HARVEYThat one needed to be able to take the war to the North in order to rally the troops and scare the Union into believing that the Confederacy was a viable threat. I think that it also becomes clear in the aftermath of Gettysburg that as the news of the Battle of Vicksburg also fought at the same time and won by General Grant in the West on July 4th comes in that one-two punch and emboldens the Union to believe that they can fight a war on two fronts and fight it effectively.
HARVEYAnd that Grant's star is rising at the same time that Meade is experiencing the mixed blessings of having won the day at Gettysburg but not then capitalizing on that victory. But I think there's no question that early July 1863 is the swing point for the Civil War.
REHMAnd Drew, I have seen paintings. I've seen portraits. I've seen drawings of the Battle at Gettysburg called the bloodiest battle in our nation's history. Talk about how these soldiers fought and came together.
FAUSTHow they chose to join in the battle? Is that your question?
REHMHow they fought against each other?
FAUSTIt was a time of technological change in the weaponry of war and it was a time in which tactics and strategies were evolving as well. The extended range of rifled musketry that could send a projectile more than twice as far as it had been possible to do, meant that when troops charged across open fields they were under fire for longer periods of time.
FAUSTAnd this, of course, had implications for the enormous death toll of the Civil War as those kinds of tactics only slowly were changed. By the end of the war, by the days after Gettysburg and after the decimation of the army of Northern Virginia you find Lee when he goes back to Virginia entrenching his army much more, not exposing them to fire.
FAUSTBut you see a great deal of exposure to fire at Gettysburg and probably most famously in Pickett's Charge on the third day when the southern troops under Pickett headed across an open field and were essentially slaughtered. The casualty rate was more than 50 percent in Pickett's unit and every single one of his commanding officers was either killed or wounded.
FAUSTSo that was one way of fighting. But there were also other ways of fighting on the Gettysburg battlefield that even included vicious hand-to-hand combat. For example when Chamberlain charged down at the end of the second day with his troops from Maine, bayonets fixed in a kind of confrontation that was actually very unusual in the war.
FAUSTThere wasn't much bayonet fighting and direct hand-to-hand combat of that sort. But it was a very significant factor in preserving the North's position on that second day.
FAUSTAnother element that we should think about that played a big role in the kind of inadvertence that Adam Goodheart explained in the beginning, the battle that no one quite understood they were about fight. As we think about modern warfare we have an understanding of the very sophisticated nature of communications and commanders knowing where troops are, not just their own troops but often enemy troops.
FAUSTOne of the aspects of Gettysburg that's so striking is there was a lot of guessing. Lee's cavalry Commander Stuart who was supposed to be the eyes of the army had more or less disappeared just before the battle for several days. Lee didn't know where he was, much less have the information that Stuart should have been giving him about the location of troops.
REHMDrew Gilpin Faust, she's a historian. She is the author of "This Republic of Suffering" and she is the president of Harvard University, short break and right back.
REHMAnd now joining us by phone from his office in Gettysburg, Penn. Scott Hartwig. He's supervisory park historian at the Gettysburg National Military Park. Thanks for joining us, Scott. I know it must be a very busy day for you. What is the Gettysburg National Military Park doing to mark this anniversary?
MR. SCOTT HARTWIGWell, Diane, just let me say that we're delighted to be on the show and it's great to be here...
HARTWIG...and talking to you. Enjoy your program.
REHMThank you so much.
HARTWIGWe have over a four-day period so we're looking at the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg as a four-day event. The battle of course was July 1, 2, 3 but we want to make sure that the aftermath of the battle is not forgotten, because the aftermath lasted for almost four months. And so we're going to cover that in one day. On July the 4th our programming is going to focus on the consequences of the battle. We'll talk about the civilians, the burial, the dead, the wounded, the prisoners and so on.
HARTWIGBut through the four days we're doing over 200 public programs and they're all free of charge. If you add up the demonstrations we're doing with living history groups we have here it's probably even more than 200.
HARTWIGSo there's a lot.
REHMOkay. And tell me how the re-enactors fit into the park's mission.
HARTWIGThere's a couple of ways. For example, yesterday I gave one of our -- what we're calling battlefield experience programs. And we called it the last march of the iron brigade and we followed one of the union units that came here on the first day of the battle and lost -- well, they lost the highest numbers of any unit in the Union Army during the battle. And we wanted to follow the route of them to the battlefield on July the 1st.
HARTWIGAnd we organized a group of 60 living historians who researched the uniform that soldiers of the 2nd Wisconsin wore, made the flag of the 2nd Wisconsin that they actually carried at Gettysburg. And they participated as a part of the program. And they added just an amazing ambiance to the program because the visitors who attended it -- we had about 1200 people on it -- had an opportunity to see the way the iron brigade would've looked, how they maneuvered on the field and so on. So everybody was a part of the program, both the living historians and the visitors.
HARTWIGAs far as our demonstrations go, the living historians will demonstrate the tactics that the infantry and the artillery used during the battle. We actually don't have any cavalry here this time. We also have signal corp. We'll give people an exposure to the day-to-day camp life that soldiers had when they were on campaign. We have some medical people here, U.S. Sanitary Commission, U.S. Christian Commission to give an idea of the role that they played with the armies during the campaign and the battle.
REHMWell, it all sounds extremely interesting. I just find myself wondering about the reenactment and whether kids especially can really get it, or are they focusing more on guns and...You know, the society has changed so much with the equipment and the way wars are fought and the way people die in wars. Do you think these kids especially really get the impact of what happened on those battlefields?
HARTWIGYeah, I think they definitely get the impact of what happened on the battlefields. I -- we definitely do not try to glorify what happened here. We try to drive home the fact that what happened at Gettysburg was really truly a tragedy and a horrific event. The other thing that's important to know is that we don't do reenactments on the battlefield. There are two reenactments in the Gettysburg area. They're all on private land. National Parks Service policy does not allow us to do reenactments.
HARTWIGSo anything that we do is a demonstration. We don't attempt to reenact battle. We don't -- there's two reasons behind that. One is, reenactments tend to damage resources and our job is to preserve and protect the resources.
HARTWIGAnd the second part is, a reenactment can never possibly come close to showing what a real battle was like.
HARTWIGAnd why would you really want to reenact the real battle?
HARTWIGSo we don't do that.
REHM...I want to thank you so much for joining us today. Scott Hartwig. He's supervisory park historian at Gettysburg National Military Park. Thanks...
HARTWIGThanks for having me.
REHM...thanks for joining us. Eleanor, when we talk about these reenactments so that people can begin to understand what happened, what do you think people get out of these?
HARVEYI'm sort of of two minds about that. I think for some people it is almost as though they are working through a traumatic experience vicariously. They're trying to understand how they're direct ancestors would have behaved under those circumstances. And by proxy how they behave. And so it is a personal journey, almost a psychological journey to try to better understand the legacy of the war and their own role in it.
HARVEYBut I think it's also important that in talking to some of them it's an opportunity then to move off of that, not to lose yourself in the 19th century, but to understand the complexity and the difficulty of our history as a means of understanding the complexity and difficulty of the world we've inherited.
REHMAdam Goodheart, I want to go back to the first day's battle, of the first day's fighting at McPherson's Ridge Oakhill -- Oak Ridge. That battle larger than previously thought?
GOODHEARTYou know, Diane, I have to say I'm not a sort of battlefield historian so I'm probably not the right person to ask about the specific engagements in the course of the campaign. You know, it's funny, when I think about the Civil War, some people approach it as if in the words of one historian, America's great 19th century Super Bowl with which division was charging against which corp on which hill? And it's my own failing, but I always forget all of those details.
GOODHEARTBut, you know, what I do like to think about is the way that wars are fought and won, not just on battlefields but in the larger field of politics. And this is something that we know from more recent wars in our own times but also was extremely important at Gettysburg that we don't always think about. Drew Faust spoke a bit about the context, but I think it's important to remember that Gettysburg is happening just six months after the emancipation proclamation, which was extremely controversial for a lot of white people in the north.
GOODHEARTIt's happening just after the Union has announced the first major conscription, the first major military draft in American history. It's happening as things seem to be falling apart and fraying for democracy, not just in the U.S. but all over the world. With the French armies invading Mexico, with Lincoln, as was mentioned, suspending civil liberties in the north closing down newspapers, arresting advocates of the Southern cause or even people who seemed somewhat sympathetic to secession in the North.
GOODHEARTAnd so what General Lee was doing was he was really fighting a two-pronged attack. On the one-hand the military invasion of the North, on the other hand, a war for Northern public opinion. And Lee was encouraging Jefferson Davis to open peace talks with the union at the same time that he was invading the North, believing I think very cannily that once the northern public saw that there was terrible pain being suffered by the northern armies and even northern civilians, and also there was this chance to negotiate with the Confederacy, that would bring the war to an end.
GOODHEARTSo that I think was almost more important than what was actually happening on the field.
REHMErvin Jordan, do you want to comment?
JORDANI'd like to touch upon the Emancipation Proclamation and its racial implications. There are two racial implications to it. Number one is first the idea that slavery is going to be abolished in most if not all of the United States of America. The second implication is that blacks are going to be welcome as soldiers. In 19th century America, being a soldier was considered a very high moral and community honor.
JORDANTo be a soldier was to be respected. To be a soldier was to be treated as an equal. And whites still had to grasp the concept of blacks being soldiers and therefore being equals. Because if you make a man a soldier, you not only make him an equal, you're also saying that he is a citizen and that he is entitled to all the rights and privileges of any other citizen in American society.
JORDANThe other point I would like to make is about black soldiers. As I said earlier, there weren't any black regiments at Gettysburg, however in the years afterwards when they had reunions and commemorations and anniversary celebrations at Gettysburg, black veterans did come and were in the audience and participated to some extent. And today in Gettysburg, what I considered one of the most unknown and unhallowed grounds in Gettysburg is a small cemetery -- black cemetery called Lincoln's Cemetery. And at least 30 black United States colored troops are buried there.
JORDANUsually when I'm in Gettysburg -- and I'm just back from Gettysburg actually -- I try to go by there just to salute these men to thank them for their courage and their sacrifices.
REHMIndeed. I'm so glad you raise that point. Drew, I want to ask you about something that Adam said earlier that is the miscalculations on both sides, both by General Meade, General Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. How do you see it?
FAUSTIn part it was a failure of information and communication on the battlefield and inability to know what was happening. And then a necessity of guessing where troops were and making a move based on those troops -- on those guesses, excuse me. And it could also be a slight of hand or an effort to try to deceive the enemy. For example, on the third day of the battle, the day of Pickett's Charge, the North decided to hold its return of artillery fire in order to make the southerners who were getting ready to charge and were trying to soften up the line to make those southerners think that perhaps they'd run out of artillery or that they weren't going to be able to continue to respond.
FAUSTAnd so those kinds of psychological aspects of making the enemy not understand your strength or making the enemy not necessarily understand where your weak points were was an essential part of this battle.
HARVEYWhat's interesting, the Gettysburg battlefield guides, who are wonderful. And if you go there I would highly recommend that you hire one of them to walk you through the three days of the battle. The weather was very similar to the way it is right now, high 80's, low 90's, high humidity. Cannons put out a lot of smoke. And the early artillery volleys on day three meant the entire area covered by Pickett's Charge was smoke filled.
REHMYou couldn't see.
HARVEYYou couldn't see anything. So when Meade silences his cannons, Lee is gambling that they are no longer operational. And it isn't until they're halfway across the battlefield that the wind picks up and moves the smoke and they are staring at 100 to 150 fully operational Union guns.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You wanted to add to that, Adam.
GOODHEARTThere was actually just recently a reconstruction done by some historians using geographical information systems and photographs from the era to try to figure out what could each commander actually see from different vantage points each moment in the battle. You can actually find this online at the Smithsonian magazine's website. And one of the things they discovered that was fascinating was almost throughout the battle, the Union commanders just had a better view of the field. They could tell better where the Confederacy was. And meanwhile...
GOODHEARTTopography to a large degree.
REHMBecause they were at higher levels.
GOODHEARTThey were at higher levels. They had better lookout points. And meanwhile the Confederate forces were often just wondering and sort of stumbling, wondering how many Union forces were at a particular point as they attacked.
FAUSTAnd that wasn't...
JORDANThere were also psychological aspects to the battle as well that should be pointed out. Robert E. Lee thought his men were invincible. He felt that he was going to sustain victory. I mean, seven months earlier at Fredericksburg, the Army of Northern Virginia clobbered the Army of the Potomac. It was just a slaughter. And so there's this psychological aspect that Lee's soldiers thought they were going to win. The Union soldiers said, oh here comes Lee again. We're going to get our butts kicked again. So there's that psychological aspect.
JORDANIn fact, that's one reason why Meade didn't seriously pursue Lee after the battle because Meade said, we've done -- he actually said, we have done well enough. Because they were so used to being beaten by Robert E. Lee that Meade and many members of the Army of the Potomac just didn't want to press their luck after they had won.
FAUSTI was going to say that it was not an accident that the North had better position and could see better. In that Buford on the first day had seized high ground and had claimed that advantage. And then Longstreet failed to execute on an order from Lee and to take an area of high ground on Cemetery Hill. And so Lee, I think, understood that it would've been preferable to get high ground but he was out-positioned early on and that yielded the kind of advantage that Adam was describing.
REHMDrew, tell us about the town of Gettysburg and the role of civilians, both during and after the battle. I gather there was only one Gettysburg civilian killed.
FAUSTThis was a woman and the story about her is she was baking bread and a bullet came through the door of her house. That's the story that has grown up about -- sometimes called Jenny Wade or...
FAUST...Mary Wade. There's some controversy about what her name actually was. Gettysburg was a small town, a little more than 2,000 inhabitants. It was ill prepared for this battle. And part of what the National Park Service was going to observe on the 4th is how the town managed to try to cope with the slaughter that the battle introduced.
FAUSTThere were individuals. For example, there's a widow -- Widow Lester who suddenly found herself with 15 dead horses in her front yard. A farmer named John Forney who had a line of North Carolinians, 79 of them dead right across his field. And how do you cope with this? What do you do? How do you bury the dead? How do you take care of the thousands and thousands of wounded who still can benefit from human attention and whose lives depend on getting prompt human attention?
FAUSTPeople from outside the town begin to descend on it and that means they have to be fed and housed. And so they become both a contribution to dealing with the aftermath of the battle, but also a challenge for the very small town in which they are located.
HARVEYWe have unparalleled and grizzly evidence of what that was like. Alexander Gardener and Timothy O'Sullivan, both photographers based in Washington D.C. arrived at Gettysburg on July 5th and began almost immediately photographing the corpuses, both Union and Confederate. They also documented dead horses. They documented blasted trees and in essence give us a record of how bad it was.
REHMEleanor Harvey. She's senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Short break, your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones as we talked about the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Let's go first to Bill, in Chelsea, Mich. Hi there, Bill.
BILLHi, Diane. I have a question about -- I guess it's logistics for Lee's army. When he concentrated his army and they could no longer feed off the land, my question is, you know, how crucial was it to feed his army once he had brought it together? And did maybe Stuart's coming in help him in some way in feeding that army?
GOODHEARTWell, actually one of the reasons that Lee invaded Pennsylvania was in order to feed his army better because, of course, a lot of the Southern farms, the Virginia farms had been devastated by these two years of war and foraging by both the Union and Confederate armies. And so when Lee went into Pennsylvania there are all these accounts of his troops just being astounded at the bounty and the beauty of the farms around them. And actually the Confederate troops would go into these towns and requisition supplies, requisition food, clothing, shoes…
REHMMuch as the North did in the South.
GOODHEARTThat's right. And actually Lee's army would offer payment for these supplies, but what they would offer was Confederate currency, which of course wasn't…
GOODHEART…a whole lot of good to people in Pennsylvania. But there's a much darker side to this, actually a couple of darker sides. And one thing is that it was an important part of Lee's strategy to bring the pain and suffering that his fellow Virginians had felt at the hands of the U.S. Army, and bring that to bear on the people of the northern states, again in an attempt to make them cave in and feel that this war wasn't worth fighting.
GOODHEARTThe other very dark side is an aspect that's been almost forgotten, which is that there were many free blacks in southern Pennsylvania, just above the Mason-Dixon Line. And as Lee's army came in they started kidnapping these people, seizing them in large numbers, as many as 1,000 people were captured, sent back across the Mason-Dixon Line and sold into slavery again. Actually, not even again for many of them. They had spent their whole lives in freedom. There's one account of literally a wagonload of women and children being sent southward, back into slavery. It's just…
REHMErvin, do you want to comment?
JORDANYes, I would. Thank you. This is something that neo-Confederates have tried to cover up over the years. So this is like the same old story that has not been told. Most of the blacks in Gettysburg fled when the Confederate Army approached. They had to because they would have been re-enslaved. And what the history books -- until about 30 years ago, basically ignored this whole subject that this was done to African Americans.
JORDANThere's a story of blacks being rousted out of their beds, being seized while they were on their way to work, entire families being taken. In Greencastle, Pa., for example, at least 50 blacks were rounded up there and shipped south as slaves. One reason for this, of course, is that Jefferson Davis had issued a proclamation himself, earlier that year, in which he said, "From this point on, all blacks in the Confederacy are to be treated as slaves. Any blacks encountered in territories that we conquer will be treated as slaves."
JORDANSo this was the main cornerstone of the Confederacy, was slavery. And when Confederate soldiers went into Pennsylvania they rounded up blacks. And many white residents of Pennsylvania -- we read their letters and their diaries -- they were aghast at this practice. They were just appalled that these men would come into their state and do this to people who had been born free.
GOODHEARTThere's one account of the Confederates actually coming into a town and demanding that any free blacks who were being sheltered by white families be given up to them immediately or they would burn the entire town down. It's almost shades…
GOODHEART…of World War II.
REHMAnd here's a tweet, which is relevant to what we've been talking about. The tweet is, "I've heard the adage, 'The victors write the history books.' Does your panel believe this affects how Gettysburg is both remembered and taught?" Drew Gilpin?
FAUSTInteresting observation on the subject of Civil War history because in the aftermath of the Civil War and in the late 19th century, very much the opposite could be seen as having become the case that the romanticize-ation of the Confederacy and of the noble losers became a basis for national reconciliation. And as Adam and Professor Jordan were just saying, this terrible suffering inflicted on African Americans in Pennsylvania was not part of the story. This is just one example of a rendition of the Civil War the prevailed until the time of the Civil Rights Movement that did not focus on slavery as a fundamental cause of the war or on the meaning of the war for African Americans and the purpose of the war in ending slavery.
REHMIt also, does it not, have an impact on what historic resources are preserved, Eleanor?
HARVEYI think it…
FAUSTAnd which are also -- I'm sorry, if you directed that to Eleanor.
HARVEYNo, go ahead.
REHMThat's all right. Go ahead, Drew.
FAUSTNo. I was just going to say, and also what historians think to consult. As the story of the Civil War changed so dramatically after the 1960s, it involved historians looking at different kinds of documents that had been all along, but had not been seen as significant until historians began to ask different questions.
HARVEYI think we're also in an unparalleled position to be able to mine a broader spectrum of resources, thanks in part to the internet, thanks in part to the higher cultural literacy about the Civil War at this time. People are bringing forth diaries and letters and recollections, things that have been buried or submerged. And we now have more to sift through to gain a better perspective on how all this played out.
REHMAnd a question on that very point from Ann, in Newbury, Ohio. Good morning.
ANNGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
ANNI was wondering what your panel would suggest as to how to get young people today -- and I'm thinking of my 12-year-old grandson, for example, who are so into technology and so forward-looking into the future, how to get them interested in Gettysburg and to understand the significance? Only because, the first time I visited Gettysburg I was a history major. I knew so much Civil War history growing up and was taught in school. The first time I visited Gettysburg was like a religious experience. I was overcome with emotion walking across those fields.
ANNTrying to take my 12-year-old grandson, though, who has no frame of reference whatsoever, except that it's something in the history books, it's frustrating for me because I want to transmit this experience.
REHMErvin Jordan, igniting that appreciation?
JORDANWell, I'm on the Gettysburg Foundation Board of Directors and one of the things that we're trying to do is to make the Gettysburg experience far more inclusive and certainly more welcoming, as far as reflecting the diversity of American culture and society today. Also the way American history is being taught in the United States these days, it makes history about as much fun as doing your income taxes. (laugh) It's dull, it's dry.
REHMI fully agree.
JORDANIt's boring. So I think first we need to bring our kids to these sites so they can actually walk the ground. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that we need to make sure that we include more people of color, women and immigrants about the Civil War. In a nutshell, when the Civil War's taught in most American schools, all African Americans hear about is slavery. Well, African Americans were just not standing around, the slaves were not just standing around singing spirituals waiting for the Union Army to come free them during the Civil War. They were actively participating and directing the outcome of that war.
JORDANThe other thing we need to do is the exhibits. The way are exhibits are done is changing, thanks to the digital age and technology. What we need is more hands-on exhibit. We need exhibit more at the eye-level of young people, of kids in middle school and elementary school, so they can see these things better. And that's something that I think we're doing very well at Gettysburg.
HARVEYI would echo Ervin's comment, "Go." My kids, when I first took them to Gettysburg were about, you know, 10 and 14. They thought they were going to be bored to tears. We, again, hired one of their professional guides who talked about the why, the stuff you don't talk about in the classroom because it's hard to get onto the test. Why did this happen? What was the weather? What was Lee's state of mind? What would have happened if. And the kids got excited. And the highest compliment I think any child can give after an experience like that came from my daughter who said, "I wish she had been my social studies teacher. I would have been interested in history."
REHMIsn't that something.
HARVEYAnd so to me, I think that's right. And since I work in an art museum, I also understand the value of getting people interested by asking interesting questions rather than preaching back received wisdom. And I think that's something Gettysburg does really well. I also think for a technologically adept child, go to the Smithsonian Magazine site, look at those interactive maps. You can watch the troops move. You can see what each commander would or would not have been able to see topographically. And it comes to life in a way that you can then translate onto the actual terrain when you're on the ground.
GOODHEARTBut the more time that…
JORDANI would hasten to add that when you take children to these historical sites, take them to the gift shop, don't buy them the tacky stuff that is there, encourage them to check out a book. Say, "Is there a book here that you see…
JORDAN…that you would like to take back?" Or if that fails, try getting them a DVD, but, you know, buy them a book, buy them a DVD, something that they can really take with them and continue the lifelong learning experience because American history can be fun and exciting.
REHMAll right. I have two emails. One from Chip, who says, "We should consider that Confederates were wrong, but that there were noble soldiers." On the other hand, an email from Catherine, who says…
JORDANWell, as an African American I'm going to say right off the top of my head that I'm glad the Confederacy lost."
REHM…"My great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy at Gettysburg. He was a slave owner. Your show today reminds me of the continuing guilt I feel as a Southerner whose ancestors perpetuated the abomination of slavery." Drew Gilpin Faust, what would you say to both of these folks?
FAUSTWhat I would say is that the Civil War offers us an opportunity to understand human beings in a very challenging context, and to try to look at the world in a way that enables us to say, "What motivated them? Why did they do what they did? How do we understand so many people choosing to risk their lives on behalf of one side or another?" And I would certainly agree with Professor Jordan that I'm very glad that Union won and that the war did bring the end of slavery, but there's a lot we can learn about choices human beings make by saying what in the world were all those Southerners thinking about?
FAUSTWhat were they thinking about when they ran out in front of the fire that greeted them in Pickett's Charge? What were thinking about as they were motivated to go into battle? How do people make these kinds of choices? And then, how do we think about moral choices in our own lives, as we confront them in a very different era and a very different time, when those choices come in a different form, but are still, nevertheless, often as fundamental in their implications to the world in which we live?
GOODHEARTYou know, it always makes me wince a little bit when I hear people who are the descendants of slave holders say that they feel guilt, personal guilt about this, because, you know, I'm a white American whose ancestors weren't even in America during the Civil War, but I'm sure wherever they were in the world they were probably doing their own terrible things. And, you know, I have enough things that I've done in my life to feel guilty about without taking on the sins of another generation.
GOODHEARTBut I do think that this is something that we have to all share our legacy as Americans, white and black, and try to come to terms with it collectively as a people.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go to Fort Myers, Fla. Hi there, Mark. You're on the air.
MARKGood morning, Diane. I just wanted to pass this along to one of your panelists or maybe more who may be able to comment. To commemorate the anniversary of Gettysburg I re-watched Ted Turner's movie, "Gettysburg," filmed about, oh, 15 or so years ago. In that movie there was a subtext involving Confederate General Jeb Stuart who, according to the movie, was dispatched with his cavalry unit north of Gettysburg to seek out and find the enemy and report back to Lee on troop strength levels and so on.
MARKTo make a long story short, Stuart did not appear, did not come back, nobody knew where he was until two days into the battle. He was severely upbraided by Lee in the movie. And he offered to give Lee his sword and surrender his office, but Lee said there's no time, we'll talk about it later. My question simply is what role did Jeb Stuart play in the demise of the Confederate Army at Gettysburg?
JORDANI was an advisor for the sequel to "Gettysburg," "Gods and Generals." And first of all, that conversation between Stuart and Lee is entirely fictional. No one knows what they actually said to each other. Secondly, Stuart's mission -- the cavalry during this period, particularly the Confederate cavalry, were the eyes and ears of the Confederate Army, of armies in general. They have to go ahead and find out where the enemy was. And Stuart kind of got off the track with that a little bit.
JORDANHe failed in his mission, but he continued to be an outstanding officer for the Confederacy for the remainder of the war. What is not well remembered is, of course, that Stuart and General Custer actually had a cavalry clash at Gettysburg -- I believe it was on the third day -- that was inconclusive. So Stuart was considered the best cavalryman, North and South both said he was the best cavalryman of the entire war.
GOODHEARTWell, you know, for 150 years people have been arguing about whether the South's defeat, the Confederacy's defeat was Stuart's fault or Longstreet's fault or Ewell's fault. And actually, I do think that a lot of blame has been deflected from Lee himself, who's orders…
GOODHEART…and actions during the battle weren't always as clear and decisive as they should have been and could have been. You know, the best response that I know to the question of who was responsible for the Confederacy's loss at Gettysburg came from General Pickett himself, who said, "I've always thought that the Yankees had something to do with it."
REHMAnd final question for you, Drew Gilpin Faust, what is the legacy of the Battle of Gettysburg?
FAUSTThe Battle was so terrible that in terms of the numbers of people killed and wounded and the impact it had in northern eyes by bringing more into a part of the country that had not yet become as familiar with it as Virginia had become over the initial years of the war, it was so terrible that it required a definition of purpose for the war, and in a sense, for the nation. If we are going to suffer such loss, what is it that we are going to define as our commitments and our ends in pursuing this war? And that yields in the fall of 1863, The Gettysburg Address, and the commitment to a new birth of freedom as the purpose for which this loss is being endured.
REHMDrew Gilpin Faust, she is president of Harvard University. She's the author of "This Republic of Suffering." Ervin Jordan, associate professor at the University of Virginia. He's also a member of the Gettysburg Foundation. Adam Goodheart of Washington College. Eleanor Harvey of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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