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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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.

Friday May 28, 2021

About this episode: 
From the Battle of Gettysburg, there are as many stories as participants. For this episode, selections from the first day: stories about the first shot, the arrival and instantaneous death of a Union corps commander, the desperate struggle for a flag, an unlikely 69-year-old volunteer, and two infantry regiments savagely engaged - the men of the 26th North Carolina and the 24th Michigan. All actors in a great historical drama, and played out - just as we are - as human beings.

Friday Apr 30, 2021

About this episode: 
It was a Tuesday, April 11, 1865 - only two days after Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia.  Down in North Carolina, with Major General William T. Sherman’s relentless blue wave only some 30 miles to the southeast of Raleigh, NC, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s men of the Army of Tennessee began to march in and through the Old North State’s capital.  Women, lining both sides of Raleigh’s Fayetteville Street, greeted them.  They handed out meat, bread and tobacco.  On the western edge of town, a favorite place for soldiers to linger as they poured westward - at St. Mary’s, a school for women - where dozens of young ladies doled out food, water and encouragement.  Before them, Johnston’s ragtag force acted soldierly but, one of the young ladies, unable to mask the reality of what she was witnessing, gasped, “My God! Is this the funeral procession of the Southern Confederacy?”  Indeed, it was, for Johnston and Sherman’s men were on the final stretch of road that would lead to a rustic dwelling near Durham’s Station - the Bennett Place.  There in the North Carolina Piedmont region was the humblest of stages for the surrender of the last major Confederate army and, numerically speaking, the largest surrender of the great and terrible American Civil War.  Here, the story of those last days.  

Friday Mar 26, 2021

About this episode: 
The stage: the town of Alton in southern Illinois. The date of the act committed:  the 7th of November, 1837. On that Tuesday, an angry mob murdered Elijah Lovejoy, the Presbyterian minister who was the founder of the Illinois State Anti-Slave Society. Two days later, some 500 miles east in Hudson Ohio, a church congregation held a memorial service to honor the murdered activist. Owen Brown opened the gathering with a long, tearful prayer. At its conclusion, there was a long silence. Then, in the back, Owen Brown’s son rose and, stiffly, raised his right hand, then vowed, “Here before God, in the presence of these witnesses, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery.” It was 37-year-old John Brown’s first public statement on the inflammatory issue and, as time would tell, his message and actions would be ominous. And yet, on that Tuesday and in that service, this was John Brown of Hudson, Ohio.  It would take time and events to fully create the John Brown of “Bleeding” Kansas and Harpers Ferry.  From crusader to Old Testament avenging angel, this is his story.

Friday Feb 26, 2021

About this episode: 
Thus far, we have offered anecdotal insight as to Bedford Forrest’s humble origins: his makeup and antebellum experiences. We’ve detailed his entrance into the great conflict and his meteoric rise to command - his fights at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Fallen Timbers, and his dogged, relentless pursuit of Colonel Abel Streight’s Union command. Now, we’ll delve into the remainder of his Civil War career as well as his post-war life. Both periods, perhaps unsurprisingly, are laced with controversy. And so, we pick up the fiery story that is Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Wizard of the Saddle.

Friday Jan 29, 2021

About this episode: 
Major General William T. Sherman, the officer who disemboweled the Confederacy with his marches across Georgia and through the Carolinas, understood the nature of total war. That uniquely qualified him to offer assessment of one of the most remarkable and yet controversial officers in all of the Confederacy. During the war, Sherman spat out, “that devil must be hunted down and killed if it costs 10,000 lives and bankrupts the Federal Treasury!” Later, in reflection, he offered that that devil, militarily speaking, was the most remarkable man the Civil War produced on either side. For this episode, part 1 of the man and officer who, particularly in these times, remains a lightning rod for knee-jerk-like reaction - both pro and con. This is the story of The Wizard of the Saddle. This is the story of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Copyright Fred Kiger 2022

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