Threads From The National Tapestry: Stories From The American Civil War

History is, indeed, a story. With his unique voice and engaging delivery, historian and veteran storyteller Fred Kiger will help the compelling stories of the American Civil War come alive in each and every episode. Filled with momentous issues and repercussions that still resonate with us today, this series will feature events and people from that period and will strive to make you feel as if you were there.

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Episodes

6 days ago


About this episode: 
Shockingly brief given the lives lost, cost, and national trauma, but the American Civil War’s two greatest significances are that the nation was preserved and that slavery was ended. This is the story of a major step in ridding this country's association with “the peculiar institution.” This is the story of the labored steps for the passage of the 13th Amendment.

Thursday Dec 29, 2022


About this episode: 
There are some sixteen accounts about the life of the President of the Confederacy. Unlike his counterpart, Abraham Lincoln, this President, from the perspective of most historians, has not fared well.  Brittle, ill-tempered, one who held grudges, possessed poor political skills.  In short, a second-rate leader who loved bureaucracy and was unable to grow with responsibility.  When asked why the Confederacy lost the war, Southern-born David Potter, a professor of history at both Yale and Stanford Universities, commented that this Chief Executive should shoulder much of the blame.  Writing some two decades ago, another historian and biographer, William Cooper, Jr., wrote that we should look at a man from his time and not condemn him for not being a man of our time.  Though that seems to fly in the face of current sensitivities and agendas, that is what we, now, shall attempt to do. This is the story of a man, like Robert E. Lee, who is a marquee figurehead for a short-lived nation whose Constitution supported states’ rights and slavery.  A man subjected to the bolts of lightning flung his way for being its elected leader.  This is the story of the first and only President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson F. Davis.  
 

Monday Nov 28, 2022


About this episode: 
It was a Thursday, March 10, 1864, when the brand-spanking new General-in-Chief of all US forces arrived at Brandy Station, Virginia where Major General George Gordon Meade made his headquarters. Fully aware the most pressing military matter was for the Army of the Potomac to forcefully campaign, Lieutenant General U. S. Grant arrived from Washington City to do what he believed he had to do - find a new man to lead the that eastern army. The Pennsylvanian, Meade, expected as much and opened their conversation by offering to uncomplainingly step down and serve in a subordinate role if Grant desired one of his own - perhaps a westerner like Sherman.  Instead, Meade’s candor impressed Grant and, whatever the Lieutenant General originally thought about the Army of the Potomac’s commander, the two hit it off.  They sensed they could work together.  Up in Washington City, the 16th President of the United States felt certain that, after three years of trial and bloody error, he finally had found his general.  This is the story of his learning curve and role as the nation’s top military official.  This is the story of Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. 

Friday Oct 28, 2022


About this episode: 
The former Confederate general entered the ruined city of Richmond from the south and in the midst of a heavy April shower.  His route took him through the portion of city that was most thoroughly burned in the evacuation fires of April 2nd.  People stopped and stared or pointed as he made his way up Main Street.  To them, he tipped his hat. Eventually, he turned and stopped in front of a three-story red brick house at 707 East Franklin.  There, he dismounted Traveller, gave the reins to another, opened the iron gate, walked to the eight steps to the portico, climbed them, turned, took off his muddy hat, bowed to those that had gathered, opened the door and disappeared.  And that, I feel certain, was the way he would have liked it - to move past the war and, for the rest of his days, be a constructive and positive citizen.  However, it seems history won’t let him.  This is the story of a man - a marble man who, as of late, has become a lightning rod.  This is the story of the last days of Robert E. Lee.

Friday Sep 30, 2022


About this episode: 
Just some fifteen miles south of Chattanooga - there in the northwest corner of Georgia - there runs a creek with a harsh name.  Indeed, its Cherokee or Creek origin means “River of Death.”  That name was never more appropriate than in mid-September 1863 when Union and Confederate armies fought as if the entire war hinged on its outcome.  In the end, it may well have, for all the circumstances that flowed from it.  This is the story of the second bloodiest day of the American Civil War.  This is the story of the Battle of Chickamauga.

Thursday Aug 25, 2022


About this episode: 
The two were quite famous. One went to war with weapons and men, and the other could do the same with words and wit - yet their separate paths became one. During this country’s great and terrible civil war, U. S. Grant saved the nation. After the war, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) would save U. S. Grant. This is the story of their remarkable friendship.

Thursday Jul 28, 2022


About this episode: 
Since its creation, this nation has so embraced several of its victorious generals that it elected them as presidents.  Up until the American Civil War, most notably George Washington, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor come to mind.  This, in the aftermath of war, is the story of another - a man who, like the president he served, came from the humblest of origins and found himself in this nation’s highest elected office.  A man, who in many ways, found his political campaigns just as challenging - perhaps even more so - than his military ones.  With a tip of the cap in particular to William McFeely’s biography, this is the story of Ulysses S. Grant, who not only was instrumental in winning the American Civil War, but in trying to win the peace that followed.

Friday Jun 24, 2022


About this episode: 
It was a Sunday, January 11, 1863 when the incredible tedium of blockade duty suddenly lurched into frenzied electricity. Five Federal Navy blockaders off Galveston, Texas had sighted a three-masted ship and, although it was some twenty miles from the fleet, the five-gun USS Hatteras moved to investigate. At about 100 yards, Lt. Commander Homer C. Blake demanded the mystery ship’s identity.  In response, someone answered, “This is Her Britannic Majesty’s steamer Petrel.” Unimpressed and suspicious, Blake wanted to board and inspect the vessel which was his right under international law. To his request, there was an awkward silence. When the inspection boat from the Hatteras was only a length away from the ship in question, someone, in the twilight of day shouted, “This is the Confederate States steamer Alabama. Fire!” Thirteen minutes and several Confederate rounds later, the Hatteras sank with its colors still flying. The episode: a rare ship-to-ship encounter during the American Civil War and a favorite tactic for the Confederate commerce raider Alabama, whose career has few equals in modern sea warfare. This is its story. 

Friday May 27, 2022


About this episode: 
In mid-April of 1863, Major General Joseph Hooker oozed with confidence. So assured was he about his offensive preparations to defeat and, in his mind, destroy the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, he remarked to a group of his officers, "My plans are perfect, and when I start to carry them out, may God have mercy on General Lee, for I will have none." This is not the story of Joseph Hooker's greatest success, but that of the man he faced. For our 50th podcast, this is the story of Robert E. Lee's greatest and, perhaps, costliest victory. This is the story of Chancellorsville.

Friday Apr 29, 2022


*Listener discretion advised*
About this episode: 
There have been more works written on the American Civil War than there have been days since it ended, and the number of topics can be overwhelming. However, one aspect of the military experience has largely been overlooked. Hidden from families and posterity, a topic as timeless as war itself. This episode: sex and the American Civil War.

048 - The Trent Affair

Friday Mar 25, 2022

Friday Mar 25, 2022


About this episode: 
James Murray Mason was a Virginian. As a former member of the U.S. Senate, he once served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His credentials made him a natural selection for a diplomatic mission to London as a representative for the Confederate States of America. Then there was John Slidell, a native New Yorker, who moved to Louisiana where, as a young man, he embraced the French language and culture. He, too, was perfect for his assignment to Paris - to the court of Napoleon III. In November of 1861, they made their way on a mission which, if successful, would create a tipping point that would have profound consequences for the American Civil War. Then an event in the Bahama Channel abruptly interrupted their journey. Found on a British vessel, they were captured in international waters by a US armed sloop and, because of that, the two came the closest to accomplishing their designated mission long before they ever arrived. This is their story and the incredible ramifications of their capture. This is the story of the Trent Affair.

Friday Feb 25, 2022


About this episode: 
In July of 1863, Major General Henry Halleck posed a question to a fellow Major General, one who was encamped along the Big Black River down in Mississippi. Asked about the continued depth of Confederate resistance after the fall of Vicksburg, William Tecumseh Sherman answered that he felt Confederate belligerence would continue until southerners were made to suffer for a conflict he firmly believed they started. As he put it, “war is upon us, none can deny it. I would not coax them or meet them halfway, but make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it.” By the end of 1864, after his capture and firing of Atlanta, and his 60 mile-wide path of destruction across Georgia, Sherman most certainly was doing his part to make southerners sick of the war. And now, as January gave way to February in 1865, he was about to make them even sicker. This is the story of Sherman’s march north from Savannah. This is the story of his Carolinas Campaign.

Friday Jan 28, 2022


About this episode: 
On Wednesday, November 16, 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman initiated a campaign that, as one military publication would put it, was either “one of the most brilliant or one of the most foolish things ever performed by a military leader.” Only eight days after Abraham Lincoln was re-elected, some 62,000 left behind a smoldering Atlanta and headed east for Savannah. As Sherman put it, “My first object was…to place my army in the very heart of Georgia.” And, indeed, he did just that and more. This is its story. Here, in Part II, this is the story of Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Wednesday Dec 29, 2021


About this episode: 
In the same month that Abraham Lincoln was re-elected, Major-General William Tecumseh Sherman began a campaign that cut a swath through the very heart of Dixie. Severing his supply line and committed to living off the country, he hoped to break the will of Southern resistance and knock Georgia out of the war. This episode, Part I, details the military chessboard that was late summer and fall of 1864 - the moves and calculations that had to occur in order to breathe life into Sherman’s plans. This is the story of the principals and conditions by which one of the most remarkable campaigns in American military history came about. This is the story of how Sherman’s March to the Sea became a reality.

Thursday Nov 18, 2021


About this episode: 
Major-General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne was a native of the green jewel that is Ireland and commanded a division in the Confederate Army of Tennessee. For his military prowess, he was tabbed the “Stonewall of the West”, yet the warrior was often reserved and sentimental. That surfaced the day before the Battle of Franklin when he and his adjutant paused in a little village named Ashwood. There they found St. John’s Episcopal Church. Small and quaint, it was nestled in a grove, framed by ivy and, though late in fall, with flowers. Adding to the pastoral scene, there was fresh shrubbery - so very green when contrasted with the bleak, gray November sky. Cleburne reined in his horse at the church and, admiring the scene, mused just loud enough for his adjutant to hear “that [the beauty here was] 'almost worth dying, to be buried in such a beautiful spot.'” With his time on earth now measured, in hours, his wish would soon come true. And, symbolically, in only five hours on the 30th of November, 1864, so too would the effective lifespan of an entire army. This is the story of the mortal wounding of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. This is the story of the Battle of Franklin.

Friday Oct 29, 2021


About this episode: 
While most history enthusiasts are aware that Virginia was the leading theater of the war, many of those same people are surprised when they learn that Tennessee was second.  Indeed, the Western Theater of the American Civil War is shamefully neglected, despite the fact that it was in that theater where battles were fought and won that mortally wounded the Confederacy.  The Battle of Nashville in December of 1864 was, perhaps, the most significant in helping to bring the South to its knees and the Federal officer who led that victorious army has, like the theater in which he was engaged, been overlooked.  This episode hopes to bring attention and kudos to him.  An officer that former naval commander and historian, Thomas Buell, noted was unique - a Southerner who not only remained loyal to the Union but contributed mightily to its winning the war.  Our story is about a Virginian who, despite his state’s secession, chose blue: George Henry Thomas.

Friday Sep 24, 2021


About this episode: 
While actual combat was, indeed, nightmarish, being at home - helpless, constantly wondering about loved ones, fending for one’s selves - proved to be equally harrowing.  That particularly was the case in the American South - the Confederacy - which served as the primary stage for the four-year-long conflict.  And so we return to those eleven seceded states whose political leaders sought independence but, instead, sowed the seeds and reaped the whirlwind for Southern turmoil and destruction.

Friday Aug 27, 2021


About this episode: 
While fighting raged at the front, loved ones back home waged their own battles. While worried about those in uniform, each day brought the additional burden of trying to cope with and find meaning to the all-consuming consequences of civil war. Here: the efforts, the people, and personalities of those on the Northern home front.

Friday Jul 30, 2021


About this episode: 
In 1948, the Southern novelist, William Faulkner, wrote in Intruder in the Dust, ”For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word…”  Such was the weight and power of events that unfolded on Friday afternoon, July 3rd, 1863.  This is how it came to pass.

Friday Jun 25, 2021


About this episode: 
On Thursday, July 2, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg tumbled into its second day.  What on Wednesday, the 1st, had been a meeting engagement was now a set battle - one with far more men on the scene and still much at stake.  On this day, Robert E. Lee and George Gordon Meade would experience the crushing weight of responsibility and loneliness of command - both issuing orders which placed tens of thousands into harm’s way.  And when those orders were misinterpreted or went awry: anguish from thousands who suffered the convoluted and bloody consequences.  Such were the clashes this day that geographical features, fields, and orchards would be added to this nation’s list of iconic landmarks - the Round Tops, Devil’s Den, the Peach Orchard, Cemetery Ridge, Culp’s and Cemetery Hills.  This is the story of some of those men and their units that transformed those landmarks into hallowed ground.

Copyright Fred Kiger 2022

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