Symposium Spotlight: The Twisting Turns of the Election of ’64—The Point of No Return

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Rea Andrew Reddby ECW Correspondent Josh Svetz

Rea Andrew Redd has loved the Civil War all his life. Starting with reading Life magazine’s six-part series on the Civil War as a kid, Redd gets as much of a thrill from delving into the Civil War now as he did then. A hobby concerning the ghosts of the past may confuse some. Intrigue is one thing; obsession another. But Redd’s wife gave him some insight, at least, the closest thing he can think of to explain the fascination.

“I have the Civil War DNA,” Redd said. “When you find a hobby you’ve loved since nine years old, where does that come from? I guess I was just born with it.”

Redd will get to showcase his love for the Civil War Aug. 3-5 at the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge in Spotsylvania, Virginia. 

Redd’s presentation will explore his chapter in ECW’s Turning Points of the American Civil War, “The Election of 1864: The Point of No Return,” will explore the pivotal presidential election between Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan, how Lincoln won the election and the impact of Lincoln’s win on the Confederacy and its ultimate demise.

Redd, the director of Eberly Library and an adjunct history professor at Waynesburg University, had attended previous Symposiums, but never got the call to present, until this year.

Redd’s friend and a fellow author at ECW Kris White nominated Redd to provide a chapter when ECW needed a fresh take on Lincoln. Redd, a civil war reenactor since 1993, who usually plays the part of Lincoln, fit the bill.

“I’m a Lincoln hobbyist,” Redd said. “I don’t have Lincoln bobble heads, but I have plenty of books. You get me in the right mood with the right lighting and I can pull off a decent Lincoln.”

Outside of Redd’s tendency to become the former president that fascinates him, he knows quite a bit about Lincoln’s biggest struggles, especially in 1864. Redd’s read through countless books, documents and essays all to answer one question: Was the election of 1864 the turning point of the war and did it doom the Confederacy? But answering such a question can’t happen without understanding the stakes.

In 1864, Lincoln’s popularity was low. Hundreds of thousands of Americans had died, families were starving and the American people wanted the war to be over. Lincoln went up for re-election against McClellan, one of his former generals. If McClellan had won, Redd said he planned to finish the war with an armistice, leaving the Confederacy intact.

“Everything goes back to 1860,” Redd said. “The slaves are still the slaves. If there’s no surrender by the confederacy there’d be no emancipation proclamation, probably no new amendments. Slaves that Lincoln declared free would go back to being slaves. Things would be different.”

In fact, Redd said there’d be a good chance that the Confederacy could exist to this very day.

“All the way through the 1900s’ there’d be two parts of the United States, the Union and the Confederacy,” he said. “Every once in a while they’d get together and fight over the west. They’d fight over, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and California would be split in half, northern California for the Union, southern California for the Confederacy. The Confederacy really could have survived the war if McClellan wins.”

But putting revisionist history aside, there were some interesting stories that came from this chaotic time for Lincoln and the America, one in particular involving an envelope.

“Lincoln writes a letter, seals the envelope and passes it to his cabinet and tells them to sign it,” he said. “They sign the envelope and Lincoln puts it in his desk drawer. What the envelope says is that if Lincoln loses the election we, his cabinet, will do everything that’s possible to end the war before McClellan is inaugurated.”

But the cabinet had no idea the stakes contained in that envelope, until Lincoln actually won.

“Once Lincoln wins the election, he takes out the envelope and lets his cabinet read it. They realize if Lincoln had lost they would have had to try and end the war as quickly as possible because they unknowingly took an oath to do so. That’s a 90-day period to try and turn the heat up on the confederacy. It would have been crazy.”

While Redd, a two-time author, is excited about his presentation, he’s just happy to be included with many great minds and enthusiasts of Civil War research.

“I’ve written books before, so I’ve gotten past that thrill,” Redd said. “But for a jury of my peers to cosign me, to let me be published with them, it feels pretty good.”

As for his talk, Redd said to be prepared for a fun and informative time.

“I’m not just going to get up and read my chapter,” Redd said. “I’m searching for new information. I want to make this worthwhile.”

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Tickets for the Symposium are $155 each and are still available. For more information about the line-up of events, Aug. 3-5, click here.

Symposium Spotlight: An Overview of Turning Points

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Dunkerly@Podiumby ECW correspondent Lucas Sperduti

Historian and award-winning author Robert M. Dunkerly will start off the 2018 Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge as the first speaker to take the stage.

Dunkerly holds a degree in history from St. Vincent College and a Masters in Historic Preservation from Middle Tennessee State University. “I always liked history. I could read it and understand it. The books just felt right,” said Dunkerly. 

In school, history was his favorite subject. Dunkerly knew that was going to be his career path, he just wasn’t sure how to make that a reality heading into college. Teaching was something that never really appealed to him. “I just knew I didn’t want to be in a classroom,” Dunkerly said.

As a senior in college, Dunkerly took road trips with some of his friends to historical sites in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. They specifically went to a few national parks. “National parks have some of the best historical sites,” Dunkerly said. “That’s when I realized, that was what I wanted to do.”

After graduation, Dunkerly was “full in” on being a historian and working as a Park Ranger at historical sites. Currently, he is a Park Ranger at Richmond National Battlefield, but in his career, he has worked at nine historical sites and visited over 400 battlefields and 1,000 historical sites worldwide. He’s written nine books and more than 20 articles, and his research interests includes archeology, colonial life, military history and historic commemoration.

Dunkerly takes pride in his work as an active participant in historical preservation and research. Sometimes the lack of information or sources can make historical research challenging. Other times, it’s just the opposite. “There might be so many accounts or so many records that it can sometimes be impossible to sort through it all,” said Dunkerly.

The theme for the 2018 ECW Symposium is Turning Points. As the first speaker, Dunkerly will present an overview of turning points of the Civil War.

“People tend to gravitate towards turning points because they help make sense of what happened,” he said.

His opening presentation will focus on many intertwined events that played a huge impact on the Civil War. Dunkerly will also look at the military’s impact away from the battlefield. While battles are important, Dunkerly said, his presentation will pay closer attention to political events, social changes and economic fluctuations. “One thing influences the other, and they all play into how something happened,” Dunkerly said.

The Turning Points theme will offer a different perspective than traditional topics and even more room for educational debates.

“Sometimes it’s fun to hear what other people have studied and also things you might not have considered,” said Dunkerly. “A good historian changes his opinion from time to time. That’s how you learn,” he added.

“Hopefully I can offer something unique for the people.”

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The Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge will be held August 3-5, 2018, in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Tickets, $155 each, are available here.

Symposium Spotlight: Grant Takes Command

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Grant and Meade in the Wildernessby ECW Correspondent Sean Lynch

While there are various moments that serve as turning points for both the Union and Confederate Armies, no moment had as much magnitude on President Abraham Lincoln’s future in office as Ulysses S. Grant taking control of the Union Army in 1864.

As a part of the 2018 Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge, Chris Kolakowski will speak on the topic of “Turning Points of the Civil War,” with his subject of “Grant Takes Command.”

“Author H.P. Wilmott said ‘A turning point is a signpost that points in the parting of the ways. It’s a noticeable course change,’” Kolakowski said. “So, the promotion of Grant to three stars and his appointment as General in Chief certainly qualifies.” 

Kolakowski’s expertise stretches past the Civil War. As a military expert from events 1775 to present. He’s worked as the director of the General George Patton Museum and Center for Leadership and currently is the director of The General Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.

Kolakowski spent time around Fredericksburg, Virginia, which led to his interest in Grant.

“I’ve been interested in Grant for a very long time. Ever since I’ve studied the Civil War I think he’s one of the major figures in American military history, not just in the Civil War,” Kolakowski said.

Kolakowski received his B.A. in History and Mass Communication from Emory & Henry College in 1999 and his M.A. in Public History from SUNY Albany in 2004.

“I also spent eight years as a ranger at the Fredericksburg-area battlefields, including the Wilderness and Spotsylvania where the first two battles of Grant’s campaign against Lee were in 1864, so I’ve spent a lot of time pondering General Grant, the year 1864, what it means, and how it goes,” Kolakowski said.

During the Civil War, the rank of lieutenant general was an important position within the military, with two people holding the position before the Civil War, one by brevet.

“By creating the rank of lieutenant general, looking back, we forget that was a big deal at the time. There had only been one other lieutenant general overall, which was George Washington,” he said.

Putting Grant into the position of power served as one of the major turning point of the war because of his command over the army.

“Giving Grant that power, you look at the effects of that turning point. Maneuvering the federal armies all in a coordinated fashion. Grant’s command decisions, key command decisions at the Wilderness in Spotsylvania really are the beginning to the end of the Confederacy.”

Before his insertion into the position of lieutenant general, Grant’s work and success on campaigns beforehand helped put him into position for the rank.

“If you look at his campaigns, they build on each other,” he said. “Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, they all build on each other.”

A few months before his appointment on March 2, 1864, questions began to arise as to what the Union were going to do within the Western Theater encompassing Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“He’s now in command of the entire Western Theater at that point and he gets to this discussion of ‘What do we do in the West, what’s the strategy for the West, and how does the West fit into the bigger picture?’” By the time of the battles for Chattanooga in November 1863, he’s the first U.S. officer to maneuver multiple independent armies on a field of battle.”

President Abraham Lincoln also had a lot to prove when he decided to promote Grant to lieutenant general. 1864 was an election year, so Lincoln needed results from Grant on the battlefield in order for Lincoln to have a chance to defeat Democratic nominee George B. McClellan at the ballot box.

“At this point, Lincoln is feeling Grant out,” he’s said. “’I know this guy can win battles. I know this guy can win complex campaigns like Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Donelson. Does he have the strategic brain that I need as a general in chief?’”

Kolakowski hopes that people understand the magnitude of Grant’s appointment and the events that it affected over the course of the Civil War.

“We forget what it was like to have Grant be just the third lieutenant general in the history of the U.S. Army. It is just trying to get people to understand that perspective,” he said. “We know that Grant is going to win the war within 13-14 months of his appointment, but they did not know that at the time.”

While history played out and Lincoln ended up getting re-elected, hindsight has reduced the magnitude of making this move.

“We know that Lincoln is going to get re-elected partly because of the successful strategy Grant pursues; they didn’t know that in 1864. This is a big, big deal.”

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The Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge will be held Aug. 3-5, 2018. Tickets are still available for $155/each: order here.

Symposium Spotlight: The Death of Albert Sidney Johnston

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Ruggles BatteryBy ECW Correspondent Shannon West

Every spring, groups of Boy Scouts would wander the long, dirt-covered trails of Shiloh National Battlefield. Each step they took traced back to times of war where, in the spring of 1862, divisions marched with their bayonets high in the air toward a meeting with death. Now, there are only wide, open fields of green grass and a long line of cannons. As the scouts drove by one of the largest congregations of artillery in the United States, a young Gregory Mertz asked his youth leader if they were going to go past the long row of cannons.

The youth leader replied begrudgingly, “It’s called Ruggles’ battery.” 

Once he got home, he searched through his home for encyclopedias, looking up all the generals he could find. He made his own library, which included a collection the Historical Handbook series. He nurtured his passion for years, finally majoring in park administration at the University of Missouri. While a history major seemed like the most common and logical choice, he chose park administration for its more non-traditional route.

“The most important class I took was interpretation, the art of explaining a story to visitors in a way they can relate to,” said Mertz. “In many respects, interpretation is translating a language, and when you are translating a language, you’re taking these complex stories like a battle and explaining it to people in a way they can understand it.”

Mertz, currently supervisory historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park in Virginia, still retains his love for the Tennessee battlefield. He focuses on the battle of Shiloh in an essay published in Turning Points of the American Civil War, the first volume in the new “Engaging the Civil War” Series. He will present his topic at this year’s Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium.

Johnston, AS bas reliefMertz’s essay looks at the death of General Albert Sydney Johnston, one of the highest-ranking commanders of the Confederacy. According to Mertz, on the eve of battle, Confederate troops had arrived at the battlefield slowly. Many generals, including Johnston’s second in command, General P.G.T. Beauregard, advised Johnson to turn around and cancel the attack. However, Johnston refused to retreat.

“So, compared with other army commanders thus far in the war and compared with several of his generals at Shiloh, Johnston demonstrated superior initiative—an important military attribute forcing the enemy to react to the army with initiative rather than follow the preferred course of action the enemy might prefer,” said Mertz.

As the men lined up to fight, Johnston announced that his place would be on the battle front, assigning Beauregard to stay in the rear and direct troops forward to the action. Johnson ordered his men to charge and use their bayonets to push the Union back across the other ends of a field. Johnson tapped the tips of the bayonets, rousing the men before they went off.

“Johnston repeatedly showed that he skilled at dealing with the former community leader who were suddenly officers in his army,” said Mertz. “Several times he spoke to and otherwise motivated and rallied men who had been roughly handled in battle, and led them into successful attacks.”

Johnston reeled in his saddle and fainted after sending one of his aides to redirect a portion of his army to knock out some Union cannon, according to Mertz. Aides took Johnston to a nearby ravine and searched for a wound. They eventually found that a bullet had struck Johnston on the back of his right leg, just above his tall boot. The wound had damaged Johnston’s sciatic nerve and he had lost sensitivity to heat, cold and pain in that leg. Johnston had already lost too much blood by time anyone became aware of the injury.

At about 2:30 pm Johnston was dead and command of the army passed to Beauregard.

“What would Johnston have done had he lived? We cannot know,” said Mertz. “Would Johnston have been successful in carrying out whatever he would have done? Though Johnston had been quite successful throughout the first day of the battle, the same condition of the Confederate troops, harassing Union gunboat fire and limited daylight that affected Beauregard’s decision to call an end to the first day’s battle, would have been faced by Johnston as well.”

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Tickets are still available for the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge, Aug. 3-5, 2018. For more information, including the full line-up of speakers, click here. To order tickets ($155 each), click here.

 

Symposium Preview: Grant Takes Command

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by ECW Correspondent Sean Lynch

While there are various moments that serve as turning points for both the Union and Confederate Armies, no moment had as much magnitude on President Abraham Lincoln’s future in office as Ulysses S. Grant taking control of the Union Army in 1864.

As a part of the 2018 Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge, Chris Kolakowski will speak on the topic of “Turning Points of the Civil War” with his subject of “Grant Takes Command.”

“Author H.P. Wilmott said ‘A turning point is a signpost that points in the parting of the ways. It’s a noticeable course change,’” Kolakowski said. “So, the promotion of Grant to three stars and his appointment as General in Chief certainly qualifies.” 

Kolakowski’s expertise stretches past the Civil War. As a military expert from events 1775 to present. He’s worked as the director of the General George Patton Museum and Center for Leadership and currently is the director of The General Douglas MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia.

Kolakowski spent time around Fredericksburg, Virginia, which led to his interest in Grant.

“I’ve been interested in Grant for a very long time. Ever since I’ve studied the Civil War I think he’s one of the major figures in American military history, not just in the Civil War,” Kolakowski said.

Kolakowski received his B.A. in History and Mass Communication from Emory & Henry College in 1999 and his M.A. in Public History from SUNY Albany in 2004.

“I also spent eight years as a ranger at the Fredericksburg-area battlefields, including the Wilderness and Spotsylvania where the first two battles of Grant’s campaign against Lee were in 1864, so I’ve spent a lot of time pondering General Grant, the year 1864, what it means, and how it goes,” Kolakowski said.

During the Civil War, the rank of lieutenant general was an important position within the military, with two people holding the position before the Civil War, one by brevet.

“By creating the rank of lieutenant general, looking back, we forget that was a big deal at the time. There had only been one other lieutenant general overall, which was George Washington,” he said.

Putting Grant into the position of power served as one of the major turning point of the war because of his command over the army.

“Giving Grant that power, you look at the effects of that turning point. Maneuvering the federal armies all in a coordinated fashion. Grant’s command decisions, key command decisions at the Wilderness in Spotsylvania really are the beginning to the end of the Confederacy.”

Before his insertion into the position of lieutenant general, Grant’s work and success on campaigns beforehand helped put him into position for the rank.

“If you look at his campaigns, they build on each other,” he said. “Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, and Vicksburg, they all build on each other.”

A few months before his appointment on March 2, 1864, questions began to arise as to what the Union were going to do within the Western Theater encompassing Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“He’s now in command of the entire Western Theater at that point and he gets to this discussion of ‘What do we do in the West, what’s the strategy for the West, and how does the West fit into the bigger picture?’” By the time of the battles for Chattanooga in November 1863, he’s the first U.S. officer to maneuver multiple independent armies on a field of battle.”

President Abraham Lincoln also had a lot to prove when he decided to promote Grant to lieutenant general. 1864 was an election year, so Lincoln needed results from Grant on the battlefield in order for Lincoln to have a chance to defeat Democratic nominee George B. McClellan at the ballot box.

“At this point, Lincoln is feeling Grant out,” he’s said. “’I know this guy can win battles. I know this guy can win complex campaigns like Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Donelson. Does he have the strategic brain that I need as a general in chief?’”

Kolakowski hopes that people understand the magnitude of Grant’s appointment and the events that it affected over the course of the Civil War.

“We forget what it was like to have Grant be just the third lieutenant general in the history of the U.S. Army. It is just trying to get people to understand that perspective,” he said. “We know that Grant is going to win the war within 13-14 months of his appointment, but they did not know that at the time.”

While history played out and Lincoln ended up getting re-elected, hindsight has reduced the magnitude of making this move.

“We know that Lincoln is going to get re-elected partly because of the successful strategy Grant pursues; they didn’t know that in 1864. This is a big, big deal.”

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The Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge will be held Aug. 3-5, 2018. Tickets are $155 for all three days. You can purchase tickets here.

Symposium Preview with Rob Orrison

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RobOrrison-Shiloh

Rob Orrison

by ECW Correspondent Jordan Vollmer

More than 100 people are already registered to attend the Fifth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge slated for this summer. Rob Orrison, co-organizer of this year’s event, gives the credit to this year’s theme.

“Turning Points of the American Civil War” ties into the book Turning Points of the American Civil War published late last year by Emerging Civil War as part of its “Engaging the Civil War” Series with Southern Illinois University Press. The book contains essays from ten different ECW historians.

“Civil war history people love to debate,” said Orrison. “One of the biggest arguments that Civil War buffs seem to have is deciding which certain point the war became a guaranteed advantage for the North.” 

Orrison believes that this is the reason so many people are already signed up to attend the symposium on Aug. 3-5. The three-day weekend includes a speaker series with eight different authors and a different keynote speaker. (See here for the full schedule of speakers.)

Orrison wrote one of the essays in Turning Points of the American Civil War, titled “Confidence Renewed: Surviving Bull Run and the Birth of the Army of the Potomac.” The essay is about the defeat of the northern army at the battle of First Bull Run in July 1861. After the battle, the army had to totally reorganize itself under its newly appointed commander, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan.

“The army went from weak and defeated to a powerful military machine,” said Orrison. When the army became a professional organization, that was their turning point, he explained.

Orrison wrote this essay about a year and a half ago. Chris Mackowski, editor and co-founder of ECW, picked Orrison to write about the topic. “I think he wanted me to write about it because I live in Manassas, Virginia, which is in the area, and I know a lot about the battle of Bull Run,” said Orrison.

Orrison has worked in the history field for more than 20 years. He currently serves as the historic site operations supervisor for all Prince William County-owned historic sites.

Orrison’s piece is not featured in this year’s symposium mainly because he felt he already had his work cut out for him, being one of the select few who are running the event.

However, he admits that the work has been fairly easy so far with picking out the topics and getting guest speakers. “The easiest thing is getting speakers,” he said. “Civil War historians love to present and they love to get in front of a crowd and answer questions and share their theories.”

This year’s keynote speaker is Scott Hartwig. Hartwig is the former Gettysburg National Battlefield Supervisory Historian. “Scott is great,” said Orrison. “He’s worked in national parks around here for a long time. . . . It makes a difference when the person who is delivering the message is engaged and they know what they are doing.”

Orrison said the hardest part of organizing the symposium will come the week before the event. “I know something will break or happen and I’ll have to fix it,” Orrison joked.

More seriously, according to Orrison, the key to this position is staying organized. “I will say that the hardest challenge so far has just been getting everyone on the same page,” he admitted. He said it’s sometimes difficult to communicate mainly through email. This is due to the fact that ECW is so spread out, with different authors living all across the U.S. “It’s hard to explain what’s going on to other people who aren’t on the same page if you aren’t organized—you always have to know what’s happening,” he said.

Orrison has been a part of ECW for the past four years now, and has seen the symposium grow a lot since it began.

“It’s easy to see the growth in the symposium, and think that’s because it’s really aimed at the general public and people who are interested in this topic and don’t want to read a 600-page book,” Orrison said. “The point of the symposium is to essentially to get people hooked on the topic.”

As an organizer, Orrison has been able to see the event in a different light and hopes that attendees will feel appreciation for all it has to offer.

“The point of the symposium,” he said, “is for people to go in there with an open mind and learn new things so that they can continue to learn more on their own.”