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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Monday Jul 01, 2024

About this episode: 
Washington City was buzzing with anxiety. It was the middle of May 1864 and no news had arrived from Virginia for days. Then, finally, in flurries, it came - word from the front and it was most welcome. Grant was posed to strike a mortal blow. Readers clutched papers that, in bold print, screamed “Extra.” Unable to concentrate, Congress adjourned for three days. At 10 pm on the evening of May 11th, the President moved out onto the Executive Mansion portico where, before him, a massive crowd sprawled on the lawn. He announced the times as dramatic and, in his high, reedy voice, Mr. Lincoln read a message from Grant, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” And, indeed, it would. To the tune of Union casualties that numbered as many or more as Robert E. Lee had in his Confederate army. This is the story of two more Overland Campaign collisions between Lee and Grant. Two more that continued to bleed both armies. This is the story of the battles at the North Anna and Cold Harbor.

Friday May 31, 2024

About this episode: 
With gray cape lined with red satin and ostrich plume in hat, he was the beau ideal of the cavalier South. He rode and campaigned with Sam Sweeney on banjo and Mulatto Bob on the bones. At times, one wondered was it war or just a lark. Despite all the showy display, he was Robert E. Lee’s “eyes and ears” and his reconnaissance set the table for battles and campaigns. And, in doing so, he came across as a knight in shining armor on a holy quest - a happy warrior in the middle of a desperate war. A dashing adventurer who loved to see his name in headlines, there were some who believed that for him, the contest was a constant quest for glory. And, sometimes, that propensity got himself, his comrades and the commander he dearly loved in trouble. This is the story of a man whose exploits paved the way for Confederate victories, and, to many, one of its greatest defeats. This is the story of James Ewell Brown Stuart. 

Friday Apr 26, 2024

About this episode: 
She was witty, intelligent and a great conversationalist: everything that raised the eyebrows of proper Southern women in the mid-19th century. And then, she married the man who became the first and only President of the Confederacy. Wedded to her fate with him and a doomed nation, her life was filled with trying times. She was, if you will, locked in a personal civil war as she struggled to reconcile her societal duties with strong individual beliefs. This is the story of a remarkably resilient woman who served as the Confederacy's First Lady. This is the story of Varina Howell Davis.

Thursday Mar 28, 2024

About this episode: 
For those aboard the fifty-gun USS Congress, it had been a quiet morning. Its crew, as usual, prepared the twenty-year-old vessel for inspection which would be held the next day. Meanwhile, the ship’s quartermaster gazed out over Hampton Roads which glistened under a late winter sun. All seemed normal. And then, at 12:45 p.m., a column of heavy black smoke. Curiosity aroused, the quartermaster turned to a fellow officer, handed him his glass and asked for him to take a look. Their gaze created concern. Indeed, as the quartermaster put it, at last, “that thing is a-comin”. Something no one had ever seen before. Its mission - to change the course of the war. It was Saturday, March 8, 1862, and one vessel, an ironclad, was about to alter centuries of naval warfare. This is the story of technology turning a page. This is the story of the Duel between the Ironclads.

Friday Feb 23, 2024

About this episode: 
When exercising power, the 16th President’s stocky and sphinxlike Secretary of War could demonstrate a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Personally honest, he could be unforgiving and given to histrionics when he thought them necessary. And again, when required, warm hearted, selfless and patriotic. In charge of the Union’s land-based operations, he made tough decisions and did so with little regard for those affected by those decisions. His mission was to win the war and he pursued that purpose with relentless fury. In doing so, far too many simply remembered him as the “unloved Secretary of War”. In the pantheon that was Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet, this is the story of his Mars. This is the story of Edwin McMasters Stanton.   

Friday Jan 26, 2024

About this episode: 
For most of us, our mental snapshot of 19th-century battlefield medicine is captured when Union Major General Carl Schurz recorded a ghastly scene at Gettysburg: “There stood the surgeons, their sleeves rolled up to their elbows … [One] surgeon snatched his knife from between his teeth …, wiped it rapidly once or twice across his bloodstained apron, and the cutting began. The operation accomplished, the surgeon would look around with a deep sigh, and then – 'Next!'”  Relying on first-hand accounts, meticulous statistics and research, we share a side of the conflict that few who fought wanted to think about and, particularly, experience.  For our 70th episode, we tell the story of Civil War Medicine.

069 - Fredericksburg Revisited

Tuesday Dec 26, 2023

Tuesday Dec 26, 2023

About this episode: 
Back in December of 2018, we told the story of an engagement that took place along the banks of the Rappahannock and detailed events that took place afterwards.  Now, five years later, we return to that story but with greater detail, and the addition of first person accounts.  Once again, we would like to take you back to November and December 1862, when yet another Federal commander wanted Richmond but, in order to do that, had to take a sleepy little town almost halfway between the Southern capital and Washington City. Once again, we return to stories not only about men in battle but men showing compassion for one another - yes, even for those deemed their enemy.  This is story of the Battle of Fredericksburg, revisited. 

Thursday Nov 30, 2023

About this episode: 
By 1864, a desperate Confederacy realized it must resort to desperate measures.  Measures not only confined to land battles and trying to break the Union blockade, but the procuring and use of commerce raiders which would scour the oceans to wreak havoc on the North’s vast merchant marine.  Anything to create economic hardship. Anything to doom Abraham Lincoln’s chances for reelection.  This is the story of one such raider.  This is the story of the CSS Shenandoah. 

Monday Oct 30, 2023

About this episode: 
The Native Americans referred to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley as “Daughter of the Stars.” Yet, both the Federal Union and the Confederacy knew it to be the “Breadbasket of Virginia” - and that made it a theater for military operations. Both sides very aware of “Stonewall” Jackson’s assessment in 1862, “If the Valley is lost, then Virginia is lost.” Played out in 1864, this is the story of the dramatic ebb and flow to control that strategic site. This is the story of the Second Valley Campaign.

Monday Sep 25, 2023

About this episode: 
This time around, a different delivery, a different approach. Rather than anecdotes and stories from a biography, battle or campaign, this time a series of facts, figures, theories and themes that set the stage for waging civil war. This session: Strategy, Tactics, Arms and Technology - a basis for understanding why our civil conflict was so long and so costly.

Friday Aug 25, 2023

About this episode: 
It was over 140 years ago that the American Red Cross was founded. Though most know its founder, few know the details of her lifetime of charity, sacrifice and service. This is an attempt to correct that. This is the story of an American pioneer - an American hero. This is the story of Clara Barton.

Friday Jul 28, 2023

About this episode: 
In the first days of the American Civil War, Winfield Scott, the then 74-year-old Union General-in-Chief, advised a strategy that he believed was key in putting down the Southern rebellion.  Derisively tabbed the “Anaconda” Plan, Scott believed: one, the Border States had to be held and used as avenues for invasion; two, Southern ports should be blockaded and, third, to split the Confederacy, the Mississippi River should become a Union highway.  This is the story of the incredible campaign that made Scott’s third element reality.  This is the story of Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign and siege of Vicksburg.

Friday Jun 30, 2023

About this episode: 
It was January 1872. In Lexington, Virginia and on the campus of recently re-named Washington and Lee College, former Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Anderson Early was on a mission: a mission to venerate Robert E. Lee, and to give Southerners a positive spin on their defeat - not only to address the recent past, but to arm them and their descendants with, as he and his disciples put it, a “correct” narrative of the war. This is the story of an ideology that simmers even to this day. This is the story of the creation and foundations of the Lost Cause.  

Friday May 26, 2023

About this episode: 
It was May 1864 and Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign was underway. After two days of violence in the Wilderness and a swing to the southeast, weary men from the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac found themselves eyeball to eyeball yet again. The fighting to come: savage, up close, personal, hand to hand. The consequences: bloody, even ghastly. This is the story of the most vicious episode of sustained combat ever to occur on the North American continent. This is the story of Spotsylvania Court House.

Thursday Apr 27, 2023

About this episode: 
The United States Military Academy has a long and distinguished history. Established in 1802, its stated mission continues to be “to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.” Six decades after its creation, that mission took on new and unusual interpretation, for their country was at war with itself. All too often, fellow alums and classmates - all trained on the west bank of the Hudson River - were pitted against one another. This is the story of one prominent class that found itself caught in that tragic dilemma. This is the story of the West Point Class of 1846.

Friday Mar 31, 2023

About this episode: 
It was March of 1865 and the men under William Tecumseh Sherman had punched their way into North Carolina. In this, the Carolinas Campaign, over 60,000 battle-hardened veterans marched, as they had since they left Atlanta, in two columns. To confront the blue surge, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston boldly planned to throw some 21,000 men upon one of the isolated Federal wings. And so would be fought, on low-lying, marshy ground near a small hamlet in southeastern North Carolina, the largest land battle in the history of the Old North State. It would be the last major display of Confederate resistance in the American Civil War. This is the story of that desperate effort. This is the story of the Battle of Bentonville.

Friday Feb 24, 2023

About this episode: 
It was early 1863 and in the very midst of a civil war that challenged the continued existence of the Union, an event that looked to its future.   Indeed, a daunting enterprise – the breaking of ground for the Central Pacific Railroad.  This is the story of a great undertaking.  This is the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad.

Tuesday Jan 31, 2023

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. 

Copyright Fred Kiger 2022

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