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

Friday Oct 30, 2020


About this episode: 
A few nights after September the 22nd, 1862, a band came to serenade the 16th president. Moved by the music and supportive crowd, Abraham Lincoln stepped onto the executive mansion’s balcony and, referring to his recent Emancipation Proclamation, remarked: “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake. It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment on it, and maybe, take action upon it.”
But for the President, first things first: To put teeth into his executive proclamation, he would have to win the war - and that prompted him to leave Washington City and travel to the site of this country’s bloodiest single day. His ostensible purpose? To review the Army of the Potomac. His added incentive: to prod the army’s cautious commander, Major General George B. McClellan, into action. This is the story of the President’s visit to Sharpsburg, Maryland - his pilgrimage to the banks of Antietam Creek.

Friday Sep 25, 2020


About this episode: 
In a conflict that staged over ten thousand fights, Virginia led as a theater of war. The Volunteer State of Tennessee, second. What surprises many is that the third most active theater in the American Civil War was the border state of Missouri, a slave-holding state that remained within the Union. There, the curtain for violence rose long before Confederate forces open-fired on Fort Sumter. Indeed, on any night from 1855 until the summer of 1865, an attack on any town or settlement in Missouri or across the border in Kansas could strike like a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky. In both states, lingering ill will and vicious fighting erased the line between civilian and soldier, armed violence with Old Testament vengeance and fury. In short, the worst guerilla war in American history. And now, the uncivil border war between Kansas and Missouri.

Friday Aug 28, 2020


About this episode: 
Far too many see the Union war effort in the American Civil War as a monolith - patriotic men across the north from Maine to Minnesota, flocking en masse together under national colors - to fight to preserve the Union, and to rid the nation of the hateful institution of slavery. As will be evidenced in this episode, nothing could be farther from the truth. Within the federal union in the summer of 1863, there was war-weariness. Men of influence like New York politician Samuel J. Tilden, and artist/inventor Samuel F.B. Morse dared to call for peace at any price. And it wasn’t only men of power - there were some men and women representing several societal classes who professed pro-southern sentiments. Indeed, New York City had its share of these so-called copperheads. In February of 1863, a development added to their disaffection: the passage of the Enrollment and Conscription Act. A draft. So by the 4th of July that year, with word that R.E. Lee was at the head of a Confederate army in Pennsylvania, and U.S. Grant’s siege dragging on and on down at Vicksburg, Mississippi, not everyone felt like celebrating independence. Too many saw no end to the conflict, and now, men were going to be forced to fight in it. Taken altogether, a cauldron of simmering, seething fuel - all that was needed was a spark, and it came on a Monday, the 13th of July. What followed, still the largest civil and most racially charged urban disturbance in American history. And now, its story.

Friday Jul 17, 2020


About this episode: 
For John Wilkes Booth, time was ticking down to the moment he knew he would act. At a tavern next to Ford’s Theatre, he asked for a bottle of whiskey and water. While steeling his nerve for what he would soon do, there came a voice from the back of the dark and smoky bar: “You’ll never be the actor your father was!”
Booth smiled, nodded, and said quietly, “When I leave the stage, I will be the most famous man in America.”
In less than an hour, he would be the most wanted man in America. For this episode, we look back over time’s shoulder - from about 10:15 in the evening of April the 14th, 1865 to the sun’s rise on the morning of the 26th. This is the story of selected dramatic events within those fateful thirteen days. And now: the flight, capture, and killing of this democracy’s first presidential assassin.

27 - April 14th, 1865

Friday Jun 19, 2020

Friday Jun 19, 2020


About this episode: 
Eight decades ago, popular historian Bruce Catton, and journalist/author Jim Bishop wrote works that profoundly affected my life and future profession: teaching. Catton's This Hallowed Ground and Bishop's The Day Lincoln Was Shot were both written in such dramatic prose that the events, people - indeed, the very era itself - came alive for me. Even today, both authors and their works reinforce my passionate belief that history is alive, relevant, and should be conveyed as a story. For this episode, it is with great reverence and pleasure that I take my lead from Bishop's book, which was published in 1955, sold over 3 million copies, and was translated into 16 languages. He began his research for the day Lincoln was shot in 1930. Then, after two decades had passed, in 1953, in an effort to expand his research, Bishop began reading seven million words of government documents. The result: an absolutely riveting hour-by-hour account of Abraham Lincoln's last 24 hours. In respectful tribute to the two authors that most influenced my professional coming-of-age, and stoked my drive to recount history as a story, I dedicate this effort. With Bishop's work as my central point of reference, here: hour-by-hour, from seven in the morning of April the 14th to 7:22 and 10 seconds the next morning, is the story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Friday May 29, 2020


About this episode: 
E.B. and Barbara Long’s monumental The Civil War Day By Day reveals that there were 10,455 military events during the American Civil War. Here’s a few examples selected from the 16 classifications that they used: there were 79 captures, 727 expeditions, 6337 skirmishes, 76 major battles, and 29 campaigns. No surprise that Virginia was the stage for the most military events. Though Tennessee was second, most students of the conflict are more aware of those events in the eastern theater. However, for this episode, we take you west to The Trans-Mississippi - to an active theater of the war that may surprise you. The statistics bear me out. The third most active state for Civil War events was Missouri, fourth was Mississippi, and the fifth serves as our stage today: Arkansas. For this episode, we recount a clash that may well have slipped under your Civil War radar - a 2-day fight which produced profound consequences. Today, we make our way to northwestern Arkansas - to Elkhorn Tavern, and the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Friday Feb 28, 2020


About this episode: 
At the beginning of the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America were faced with creating an army and, even more daunting, a navy. Starting essentially from scratch, it needed warships to defend ports and harbors, and a merchant marine to establish desperately needed trade with foreign nations. Mr. Lincoln ordered a blockade to negate both objectives, and in response, southern political and military administrators turned to radical naval design and innovation. The construction of ironclads was one response. Another: the very source for this episode. This is the story of the Confederacy’s desperate attempt to break the Union blockade - the first submersible to sink an enemy vessel. This is the incredible story of the H.L. Hunley.

Friday Jan 31, 2020


About this episode: 
For Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, the summer and fall of 1862 was a veritable roller coaster ride of emotion, from glimmering hope to hand-wringing despair. For Davis, the Confederate summer offensive may well have been the South’s greatest chance for foreign recognition - but by the end of October, that moment had passed. For Lincoln, far too cautious and deliberate generals allowed retreating Confederate armies to escape from Maryland and Kentucky. Both presidents had to accept that the conflict had no end in sight. And yet, as 1862 drew to a close, both saw opportunity in central Tennessee. Fought in weather that had to match the mood of weary men, officers, presidents, and American people, this is the story of the clash along the banks of Stones River. This is the story of the Battle of Murfreesboro.

23 - Chattanooga - Part 2

Thursday Dec 26, 2019

Thursday Dec 26, 2019


About this episode: 
The Union commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln, was beside himself. In the northwestern corner of Georgia, there had been defeat and near-disaster back in September of 1863. There, along the banks of Chickamauga Creek, and now in November, the real possibility of yet another reversal at Chattanooga.
Besieged by Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee, Major General U.S. Grant was called in to resurrect sinking morale and restore hope. He corrected the former with the opening of a cracker line. Full bellies and ample ammunition lifted spirits. Now, the man from Galena, Illinois determined to flip the military situation. What his men and officers did was nothing short of amazing. This is the story of the incredible events along the Tennessee River, and atop the heights of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. This is part two of the story of The Battle Of Chattanooga.

22 - Chattanooga - Part 1

Monday Nov 25, 2019

Monday Nov 25, 2019


About this episode: 
It was fall in the year 1863. Much had changed since the summer. Back in July, a doomed assault on Cemetery Ridge meant Confederate defeat at Gettysburg - and now, back in central Virginia, Lee and Meade’s armies sparred. That same July, Vicksburg fell, and the Mississippi River became a federal highway. Yet the Confederacy’s heartland was still a beating bastion of defiance.
That’s why Abraham Lincoln wanted to drive into eastern Tennessee. That’s why he wanted a major railroad hub in the southeastern corner of The Volunteer State. This is the story of the Union’s attempt to crack the Confederacy from within. This is part one of the story of The Battle of Chattanooga.

Friday Oct 25, 2019


About this episode: 
Three of her four children did not live to adulthood, and her husband was assassinated while he held her hand. If anyone ever deserved to be troubled, it was the wife of the sixteenth president. James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois said simply: “She had the most tragic public life in American history.”
This is the story of the woman who once said, “I wish I could forget myself.”
This is the story of Mary Ann Todd Lincoln.

Friday Sep 20, 2019


About this episode: 
During the American Civil War, great drama was not exclusive to just the battlefield. There were many instances when what took place behind the lines, or behind enemy lines, was just as engaging and significant. Those instances bring life to the men and women who operated in the shadows, who dared to infiltrate and risk all in the process. These are the stories of selected spies, raiders, and military analysts.

Friday Aug 30, 2019


About this episode: 
In the light of Union frustration after the unsuccessful Peninsula Campaign failed to take Richmond, and the Confederacy’s Seven Days Campaign which repelled the Union Army of the Potomac, the North’s military powers-that-be surrendered something they would regret: the strategic initiative. This is the story of what Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia did with it. In a dramatic turnaround in the Eastern Theater, we return to ground through which ran a stream that locals called Bull Run. This is the story of the Battle of Second Manassas.

Friday Jul 26, 2019


About this episode: 
It was the fourth summer of the war, and Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign had sledgehammered its way down to Petersburg, Virginia. It had been a campaign that had bled both blue and grey armies white. There, east of town, under oppressive heat and humidity that walks hand-in-hand with the month of July, a daring plan unfolded - which, if successful, might end the war. Instead, it added to the slaughter. This is the story of an engineering marvel - a tunnel. This is the story of The Battle Of The Crater.

Friday Jun 28, 2019


About this episode: 
In March of 1862, Major General George B. McClellan began to land his massive army on the Virginia peninsula, created by the York and James Rivers. Its objective: Richmond. That army got as close as 4-5 miles, close enough to set their time pieces to the ringing church bells of the Confederate capital. Then, on the 31st of May and the 1st of June, there were two messy, inconclusive days of battle. One of the casualties was a significant one: Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. Knocked from command of the army defending Richmond, President Jefferson Davis named another. That new commander was 55 years old, and for the first month he reorganized, ordered the digging of trenches, and postured before the enemy. For that supposed inactivity, the Richmond press derisively called him "Granny." Then came the 25th of June, and for the next week, what this commander unleashed was so audacious that no one ever called him "Granny" again. No one. This is the story of Robert E. Lee's first major offensive. This is the story of The Seven Days.

Tuesday May 28, 2019


About this episode: 
Since the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863, the two, George Gordon Meade and Robert E. Lee, and their respective armies had shadowboxed down in Central Virginia. The sparring continued throughout the fall and winter, but in spring, there was a new federal presence, and he meant business. General-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant now wore a third star; the first true lieutenant general since George Washington, and rather than be mired in political intrigue in the capital, he chose to travel with Meade's Army of the Potomac. Before, Union generals ordered the Army of the Potomac forward, gave battle, retreated, and then sat on its haunches for months at a time before the next offensive. That would not be the case come spring of 1864. U.S. Grant was going to give battle and do so in relentless fashion, and so in May, he launched a campaign unlike anything the Federal Army of the Potomac had ever experienced before. This is the story of the first battle in what would be called "The Overland Campaign." This is the story of the first encounter between Lee and Grant.

15 - Shiloh

Friday Apr 26, 2019

Friday Apr 26, 2019


About this episode: 
It was April of 1862, and the war was just about to enter its second year. The beginning of that year had been a bleak one for the Confederacy. In February, Fort Henry, Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and Fort Donelson all fell. Now there were invasion routes into "The Old North State," the interior of Tennessee, and the very heartland of the Confederacy. In the first week of March, Missouri was for all practical purposes lost to the confederacy thanks to Union victory at Pea Ridge. In the east, more cause for southern concern. The ironclad USS Monitor had revolutionized Naval warfare, and neutralized the Confederacy's CSS Virginia, and George B. McClellan finally stirred from his slows to land 121,000 men on the Virginia peninsula with its sights on Richmond. Though there had been all these military events, there were still some, North and South, who believed that particularly if the southern capital fell, the conflict would soon end. In fact a year earlier, A.W. Venable of Granville County, North Carolina declared that he would wipe of every drop of blood shed in the war with "this handkerchief of mine." Naive words. In his most vivid and terrible nightmares, he never dreamed of two days like April 6th and 7th, 1862. Neither had an entire nation. Two horrific days that churned and burned near a river landing and a little Methodist church built for the Prince Of Peace. Two bloody days that served as a national wake up call; a call that announced the sobering reality of how terrible civil war would truly be. This is the story of those two days. This is the story of the Battle of Shiloh.

Thursday Mar 28, 2019


About this episode: 
The Associated Press reported the address would be brief. The day of the speech, Saturday, March 4th, 1865 dawned with steady rain. Streets oozed with mud. Like a shroud, fog wrapped its gray arms around the city. At 11:40 that morning, the rain suddenly ended. The clouds began to part, and finally, on a wooden platform before the east portico of the Capitol, the 16th president was introduced. He arose from his chair, put on his steel-rimmed eyeglasses, and stepped forward to speak. In his left hand was a copy of his inaugural address. It was his second, and with a nation weary of civil war, with a population hoping for peace, and before an expectant crowd that needed a soothing message, he began. As he did, the sun broke through the clouds . This is the story about what he said; his second inaugural address, and despite what you may think, the one he truly believed was his greatest. 

Friday Feb 22, 2019


About this episode: 
At 750,000 square miles, the Confederacy was huge, and to put down the rebellion, Mr. Lincoln's armies had to go on the offensive. They would have to be the aggressor. It was a daunting task; even more so in the Confederate West where there existed poor transportation and communication networks. Known early on as The Western Department or Department Number Two, three major rivers offered invasion avenues into the heartland of the south: The Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland. This is the story of a federal campaign led by an officer who was a most unlikely hero, one forced to resign from the United States Army back in 1854. This is about his campaign to blast open doors into the interior of the Confederacy. This is the story of Thunder On The Rivers Tennessee And Cumberland: Forts Henry And Donelson.

Friday Jan 18, 2019


About this episode: 
By late December of 1864, dark waters were closing over the Confederacy. Back in August, David Farragut's fleet successfully bottled up Mobile Bay. Two months later, up in the Shenandoah, federal victory at Cedar Creek opened the valley to fire and desolation. In November, William Sherman marched his army across Georgia, and as he entered Savannah in December, he envisioned a similar path of destruction north through the Carolinas. That same month, over in Tennessee, George Thomas won a decisive victory at Nashville, and in Virginia, U.S. Grant continued to pin down Lee's army at Petersburg. Though the noose was being tightened round the neck of the Confederacy, there was still one major supply line and portal from which the shrinking Confederacy could count on supplies from the outside world. That railroad line was so vitally important Robert E. Lee tabbed it "the lifeline of the Confederacy." It ran from Petersburg south to Weldon, North Carolina and then down to the port city of Wilmington. This is the story of the massive fort that protected that city; that lifeline. Fort Fisher: The Gibraltar Of The Confederacy.

Copyright Fred Kiger 2022

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