2024 Civil War Travelogues — Monterey, CA, Conference

Welcome to my 2024 travelogue pages. This is my report of a weekend conference in Monterey, California, sponsored by David Woodbury Historical Tours, “1864 to War’s End.” To see the entire list of my 2024 trips, go here.

Here is a reminder about the reason I write these pages the way I do. They record my experiences and impressions of Civil War trips primarily for my future use. Thus, they sometimes make assumptions about things I already know and focus on insights that I receive. They are not general-purpose descriptions for people unfamiliar with the Civil War, although I sometimes link to various Wikipedia articles throughout. Apologies about the quality of interior photographs—I don't take fancy cameras with big flashes to these events. If you would like to be notified of new travelogues, connect to me via Facebook.

The conference was hosted in a small art museum right on the Monterey waterfront, the Stanton Center. Woodbury was somehow able to assemble five top-notch Civil War historians for an outstanding program. I didn’t count noses, but it looked like there were fewer than forty attendees, so it’s a mystery how the financial arrangements worked. Monterey is a nice city to visit, only two hours from my home, although some periods of rain put a minor damper on the weekend.

I typically take detailed notes in conferences, but this one featured such excellent agenda descriptions that I am reproducing them below with only occasional comments in italics. The conference theater was quite dark and I was not close to the stage, so my few photographs are not of the highest quality.

Friday Evening (March 1, 2024)

6:30-7:30 — Registration

Wine and cheese reception in art gallery adjacent to the theater.

7:45-9:00 — Introduction

Introduction of presenters, panel discussion, hosted by California historian Evan Jones: “Reflections on 1864, and War’s End.”

The panel discussion was well done and primarily designed to evoke experiences of the historians.

David Woodbury, Evan Jones, and Panel
Joan Waugh and Craig Symonds
Harold Holzer and Gordon Rhea

Saturday (March 2, 2024)

9:00-9:45 — Joan Waugh

The Confederacy Totters to Its Destruction: Vicksburg as a Turning Point

This talk challenges the common assumption that the titanic battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania fought between July 1-3, 1863 was the major turning point of the Civil War. Rather, I argue that Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, culminating in the surrender of General Pemberton’s army, was far more consequential in shaping the final stage of the conflict, and bringing about the end of the war.

A good description of the campaign, although it is unclear why it fits into an 1864 and later conference.

10:00-10:45 — Harold Holzer

So Much Savage Feeling: Lincoln, Nativism, and Immigration

Even as slavery, secession, and civil war roiled the increasingly dis-United States, some ten million foreign-born people immigrated to American shores and took up residence here. Immigration forever altered the nation’s demographics, culture, and—perhaps most significantly—voting patterns. The country’s newest citizens fueled the national economy, but they also wrought enormous changes in the political landscape and exposed an ugly, at times violent, vein of nativist bigotry. Abraham Lincoln’s rise ran parallel to this turmoil; but even Lincoln himself did not always rise above it. Tensions over immigration would split and ultimately destroy Lincoln’s Whig Party years before the Civil War. Yet the war would make clear just how important immigrants were and how interwoven they had become in American society. This talk charts Lincoln’s political career through the fresh lens of immigration, from his role as a member of an increasingly nativist political party, to his evolution into an immigration champion, a progression that would come at the same time as he refined his views on abolition and Black citizenship.

Holzer is an outstanding speaker and I learned quite a bit about Lincoln and immigration.

11:00-11:45 — Gary Gallagher

(Gary spoke via Zoom because he couldn’t travel due to back problems.)

Robert E. Lee and the Question of Loyalty

This presentation explores the image of Lee as a person whose primary loyalty was to his home state of Virginia. It presents a more complex reading of Lee's range of loyalties to Virginia, the slaveholding South, the United States, and the Confederacy and the ways in which they fluctuated in importance at key moments in his life.

Gary Gallagher via Zoom

11:45-1:30 — Lunch Break

Break in the rain

1:45-2:30 — Gordon Rhea

Assessing the Stormy Relationship Between Grant and Meade

This talk will examine the deteriorating relationship between Grant and Meade during the Overland Campaign and its impact on the conduct and outcome of that campaign. The two men were starkly different, not only in their personal traits and social standing, but also in their perception of how the campaign should be conducted. We will examine why their relationship quickly unraveled and the impact that their breakdown in communication had on the campaign’s outcome.

Gordon gave an excellent detailed overview of the Overland Campaign, without script, notes, or slides!

Gordon Rhea

2:45-3:30 — Craig Symonds

The Georgia Campaign, 1864: Sherman vs. Johnston

The twin campaigns in Virginia and Georgia were the decisive campaigns of the Civil War. The Virginia campaign, which led to Appomattox, often gets more attention, but an argument can be made that the campaign in Georgia between William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston (what Shelby Foote called “The Red Clay Minuet”) was even more important, since the fall of Atlanta secured Lincoln’s re-election and arguably saved the Union. Some have argued that Johnston’s cautious tactics in that campaign led to southern defeat. This talk will assess the command leadership of both Sherman and especially Johnston (as well as John Bell Hood) and offer some conclusions about why and how the campaign played out the way it did.

Craig’s presentation was very animated, as usual, and was very interesting in its discussion of the campaign strategy vs the Overland Campaign, and the political intrigue in the Confederate chain of command.

Craig Symonds

3:45-4:30 — Evan Jones

Andersonville Rediscovered: Etchings of a Confederate Prison Turned Freedmen's Community

This talk traces the evolution of the Civil War's most infamous prison after the surrender of Atlanta. Using recently found documents, we will follow the road from 1864 to war's end and beyond, to learn Andersonville's surprising post-Appomattox legacy of emancipation, freedom and memory.

Evan displayed some reconnaissance sketches drawn by Union cavalry in 1865, recently discovered by himself after being lost for over 150 years. He revealed the history of African Americans’ efforts to preserve the remnants and legacy of Andersonville.

4:45-5:30 — Book Sales And Signing

Sunday (March 3, 2024)

9:00-9:45 — Gordon Rhea

Comparing the Generalship of Grant and Lee in the Overland Campaign

The Overland Campaign that opened in the spring of 1864 was the meeting engagement between Grant and Lee. The popular image of Grant is that of a general who eschewed maneuver and relied on frontal assaults, and Lee is popularly portrayed as possessing an uncanny ability to fathom his opponent’s intentions. This presentation will examine both the myths and realities of each man’s generalship during this critical campaign from the Wilderness to the movement on Petersburg.

In another standup without notes, Gordon went through the details of Grant employing maneuver instead of repeated frontal assaults, often keeping Lee confused and forced to react.

10:00-10:45 — Harold Holzer

Lincoln vs. the Press, 1840-1865

Abraham Lincoln was not only a brilliant politician—he was also a breathtakingly skillful master of “public sentiment” through the press—an unheralded genius in what we now call “public relations.” This lecture traces Lincoln’s political rise through the lens of his efforts to alternatively woo press allies while countering press enemies; his little-known ownership of a newspaper of his own—printed in German!—his historic efforts to speak to the public through the press, an unheard-of innovation in the 1860s; and his controversial actions as president to censor opposition newspapers, close down anti-Union dailies and even imprison anti- war, Democratic journalists and editors. Lincoln justified his actions, claiming they lay within his constitutional purview during a time of rebellion—and this talk will re-visit both his actions and his justifications, and introduce listeners to Lincoln’s most loyal press allies and his most hostile press foes. This talk traces Lincoln’s lifetime of interaction with newspapermen, both local and national, as he sought to win elective office, save the Union, and end slavery.

11:00-11:45 — Craig Symonds

The Navy and the River War

Discussions of the U.S. Navy’s role in the Civil War generally concern two issues: the salt-water blockade of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and the war on the western rivers. This talk will focus on the latter campaign on the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers, and explain how and why the Union’s possession of a superior navy was the key to success in the western theater, and contributed significantly to Union victory.

Craig covered the Red River Campaign, Alabama vs Kearsarge, Mobile Bay, and the destruction of the CSS Albemarle. He was very critical of David D. Porter in the first instance.

11:45-1:30 — Lunch Break

1:45-2:30 — Joan Waugh

General Grant’s Appomattox Surrender Revisited

This presentation addresses the complications and controversies in history and in memory that arose over the generous surrender terms offered by U.S. Grant and accepted by Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865. I ask the question if current Americans can still admire the agreement forged while acknowledging the harsh realities of a viciously fought war and the “tragic” era that followed.

2:45-3:30 — Gary Gallagher (via Zoom)

The Grand Review

This lecture examines the great parade of more than 150,000 Union veterans in Washington, D.C., on May 23-24, 1865. It seeks to capture, through the words of people who were present, a sense of the Review's contemporary meaning and what it tells us about how they understood what was at stake in the war. It also addresses how scholars have dealt with the Review, with an eye toward the sometimes-striking disjuncture between mid-19th-century evidence and modern interpretations.