BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jay Winik, author of "April 1865: The Month That Saved America," where'd you get the idea for the book?
Mr. JAY WINIK (Author, "April 1865: The Month That Saved America"):
Where'd I get the idea for the book? Well, you know, originally I
was--before I wrote "April 1865," I was writing a book on the end of
the Cold War. And in the process of that, I started doing some
research and reading on other wars, just to get insights and parallels
from previous conflicts. And in the course of that, in reading about
the Civil War, several things happened. Firstly, I got drawn in. You
know, I became one of these, you know, what you would call a Civil War
buff. Secondly, it occurred to me, in the process of this, that
Robert E. Lee surrenders, yet he surrenders only his army. There's
still three Confederate armies in the field. We'll get to that later
on. Five days later, Lincoln is dead.
And I thought, `You know, from my previous life, when I worked in
defense and foreign policy'--I used to be an adviser to Les Aspin,
Bill Clinton's first secretary of Defense, and I had been involved in
a number of civil wars myself, most especially the conflict in
Cambodia, which I had a great deal of work with. It occurred to me
that's a story there, and I wanted to look at that, and, in fact,
nobody really quite looked at it that way.
In--in effect, what I was asking is the question of how wars end is
every bit as important as why they start or how they're fought. Put
differently, far too many civil wars throughout history end quite
badly. Think of Northern Ireland. It's gone on for some 200 years.
Thinks of Lebanon, Rwanda, Cambodia. Think of the horrors of the
Middle East or the Balkans today. Our civil war could have ended just
as badly, with the same terrible, tragic consequences, but didn't.
Why? That's a question I wanted to answer and which I do answer in
LAMB: You were the first person on the ground after the Killing
Fields in Cambodia?
Mr. WINIK: Not the first person on the ground, but I was on--the
first person to go back to Cambodia in--in an official airplane since,
actually--since, A, the Killing Fields and since we broke off
relations. And it was really quite a trip. We didn't know who we'd
meet with. I had to go meet with the Vietnamese the day before in
Thailand to make sure that we wouldn't even be shot down. And we
didn't know how long we'd be there. We didn't know what kind of
reception we'd get. You couldn't telephone, you certainly couldn't
e-mail, you certainly couldn't fax. It was, really, a black
hall--black hole removed from the rest of the war, and a civil war was
raging there, literally, when we landed. And it was a fascinating
trip. But one of the things that this work in--in other foreign civil
wars stimulated in me was a real interest in our civil war.
LAMB: What are some of the other civil wars you've seen up close,
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. I've been to--I've been to the civil war in
Nicaragua when--during the Sandinista period. I've been to the civil
war in El Salvador, and during that civil war, I still vividly
remember being in an armored car, with a lead car in front of us and a
chase car behind us, and we had a--a sort of garrison of machine guns
protecting us because the civil war was so raging out of control, and
that was another civil war I'd been to. I had been to the former
Yugoslavia as a--just--just as it was about to dissolve.
And I also saw the sort of dissolution of the Soviet Union, not quite
a civil war, but it has variations of it and had a fascinating,
fascinating several weeks where I met with Lech Walesa, Jaruzelski,
who was the--the--the commander, who was the pres--the Communist
president of--of Poland. We went through Czechoslovakia, and we just
went through all of Eastern Europe as it was dissolving. And it was
really history at its making, and I felt privileged and excited to be
there. And--and it also gave me an enormous pool to draw upon when
I'd later sit down to write this book.
LAMB: What do you do now on a full-time basis?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah, that's what my father wants to know, and we were
discussing that earlier. I now write full time. I used to be in
government. I worked for the Foreign Relations Committee, the Armed
Services Committee. I--I advised Les Aspin, who was the first
secretary of Defense for Bill Clinton. I made a decision when the
Cold War ended that I wanted to do something different. I came to
Washington not to have a job, but to do a job, and when the Cold War
ended, I wanted to do something sort of--that would mark--that would
challenge me anew, and that became writing.
And the first book I wrote was about the end of the Cold War. It was
called "On the Brink." And then I hit upon this idea for "April 1865,"
and the last--the last four and a half years, that's all I've been
doing. I get up every day, I have the same schedule, I have the same
routine, and I either research or I write. And--and at this point, I
really couldn't imagine doing anything else. In both administrations,
the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, people said to
me, `You've got a lot of contacts, you know a lot of people, you've
got the--the background. Why don't you go into the administration?'
And at this point, I just couldn't imagine doing it. I love writing,
and I hope to continue doing it.
LAMB: There--there's a--you read the acknowledgments, there's a
conflict to try to figure out where you might be coming from
politically. One of your favorite people is Stephen Solarz, a former
Democratic congressman, and, also, this is underwritten by the Bradley
Foundation, which is often known to underwrite conservatives. Help me
out on the ideology thing.
Mr. WINIK: Right. W--well, the ideology for "April 1865" is there
is no ideology. I've been in Washington a long time. I--you know,
I'm fairly well connected in both parties and with people of all
political stripes. Steve Solarz is somebody who I worked with
extensively during the Cambodia crisis, and I've come to know him
quite well. We play tennis together, and I think the world of him. I
think he's a terrific guy and a--and a wonderful statesman in America.
The Bradley Foundation has been helpful to me in--in providing
additional research monies. It's always a question with authors, `Do
you have enough'--no matter how much money you get paid--and I got a
nice advance for this, but it always runs out. And in--they were
really very nice and generous in assisting me.
What's important--one point I want to stress is--is the ideology for
this book is nothing. I want to write for all readers. I don't want
to turn off liberals. I don't want to turn off consi--conservatives.
Really, what I did is I sat down with a kind of a fresh eye and a
fresh vantage point, and I said, `What's the story?' And--and that's
what I set out to do.
LAMB: What do you get in your book that you don't get in all the
other thousands of books that have been written about Abraham Lincoln,
just for starters?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. Well--well, you--you certainly hit your
nail--you hit the nail on the head there because more books have been
written about the Civil War than any other topic there is, except for
the Bible. And, of course, when I started out, everybody said to me,
`Well, you're not a Civil War historian per se. What do you have to
say?' And--and--and that was kind of the challenge, and, I mean,
indeed, it was sort of heretical that I would take on a body of
literature where so many good scholars have written so many wonderful
and fine books, from James McPherson to Shelby Foote to Gary Gallagher
Yet having said that, because of my defense and foreign policy
background, I think I brought to it a kind of freshness of eye and a
freshness of appreciation and--and this--this idea of how wars end
being as--every bit as critical as why they start and how they're
fought. This was, really, one of those few areas that has, really,
not been mined extensively with this kind of eye.
One other thing I do in "April 1865," which is a little bit different,
is I strip away the inevitability of events, so that rather than
seeing it with the comfort of 136 years or 140 years of hindsight, you
see the events as they take place, you see the decisions as they see
them, you see the turning points as they see them, and you see how
easily events could have just as--just as easily gone one way or gone
another way. And it's that kind of richness of history that I wanted
to bring alive.
LAMB: Back in the back, on page 376...
Mr. WINIK: I--I'd like to say I know it by heart, but I don't.
LAMB: No, I'll read this to you, because I--I think it--it--it
touches on so many things I want you to talk about.
Mr. WINIK: Right.
LAMB: You do the `what if?'
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: `What if this happened rather than that?'
`What if Lee had found an abundance of food at Amelia Court House and
safely made his way south to link up with Joe Johnston?' Explain that.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. No, this is--this is one of the great moments
in--in American history, and it's fascinating, it's filled with drama.
The setting tha--that--that is taking place is as follows: Richmond
and Petersburg have just fallen, and Robert E. Lee, with his--with
his great Army of Northern Virginia having bested or eluded every
other Union general before them, now was go--trying to hook down South
to met up with General Joe Johnston, another Confederate general. He
has a one-day leap on the federals--on U.S. Grant. And his goal, at
this point, is he's going to hook down South, link up with Johnston;
they will strike at, of all people, Bill Sherman, and at that point
they will take to the hills. As Robert E. Lee once said, if he can
get to the Blue Ridge Mountains, he could continue the war for anther
And--and--and far from being dispirited when Petersburg and Richmond
fell, the men were actually quite elated. Their spirit was high,
their morale was high because Robert E. Lee had performed miracles
before. And so they believed once out on the open, he could do it
again; that was out in the open where he was his most aggressive, it
was out in the open where he was his most audacious. And...
LAMB: When--what was the timing on this?
Mr. WINIK: The--the timing of this was after April 2nd. It was
April 2nd leading until April--April 9th...
LAMB: So you're in that last month.
Mr. WINIK: ...when he was--surrendered ... You're
in that last month in that--thank you, in that last month in--in the
final four weeks. And--and yet this retreat is contingent upon one
thing: They need food. They leave without food. So they're marching
in the heat of the Virginia sun, they're marching in the cool of the
Virginia nights, hour after hour after--for a day and a half straight.
And eventually they come to the small, little sleepy village called
Amelia Court House. It's got--it's got spanking-white picket fences
and weathered cottages--weathered cottage houses and tumbled roses
running over the walks.
And thousands of men descend in, and eventually Lee himself comes in
there. And he let out this loud, lusty cheer because this is the
moment they've all been waiting for. They're going to find food, they
will rest and then they will move down South and continue this war.
Lee gets to the train, which has the--the food waiting for him,
350,000 rations. They open it up, and what do they find? They find
guns, they find cannon, they find caissons, they find weapons. They
find everything bi--but food, they find everything but tea, they find
everything but water. A mere administrative mix-up has threatened to
undo this mighty Army of Northern Virginia as much as any of the Union
generals before them. These are the quirks and the turns of the wheel
LAMB: `What if he had decided that honor lay not in surrendering, but
in fighting on and on for Mother South with organized guerrilla
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. It--it's--thi--this--this we should discuss in a
little bit of detail. The--the month of April, 1865, actually starts
out--let's not take it in the South, but let's move it into the North
for a second--a meeting that Abraham Lincoln has with his two top
generals, U.S. Grant and Bill Sherman. He wants to talk about the
war, when it will end, what will happen, how will it happen. And one
of the first things he says to Grant is he says, you know, `Must more
blood be shed, must there be a final bloody Armageddon?'
And, of course, picture Lincoln for a second; just imagine it in your
mind's eye. He is so exhausted and worn by this ongoing tornado and
wreckage of war. He is 30 pounds underweight. His hands are
routinely cold and clammy. He is so sick of this ongoing war, he has
recently held a Cabinet meeting from his bed. So he says to Grant,
`Must more blood be shed?' Grant shakes his head sadly and says, `Lee
being Lee'--`Robert E. Lee, the commanding general of the Confederate
Army's being Lee, more blood will be shed.'
And then Lincoln talks about his other great fear that is haunting
him. He says, `I'--he worries about them taking--the Confederates
taking off into the hills with their hearty horses and hearty men; in
other words, guerrilla warfare. That was the option that lay before
the Confederates, and that's what--that's what Lincoln feared, that's
what Grant feared, it's what Sherman feared. And, of course, when Lee
was about to be surrounded--he was surrounded in a nor--south and east
and west, every direction but north--it's at that point where he
convened a council of war. And in this council of war, one of his top
aides, E.P. Or--E.P. Alexander, one of his most trusted aides, I
should say, says, `You know, we can take to the hills like partridges
and rabbits, and a little more bloodshed now will make no difference.'
In other words, what he is talking about is he was talking about
guerrilla warfare. He is talking about what Jefferson Davis, the
Confederate president, was calling for: guerrilla and partisan
warfare. In other words, what he was talking about, in effect, was
the Vietnamization of America, and this was the decision that lay
before Robert E. Lee.
LAMB: `What if Lee had responded to surrender not with dignity and
honor, but with rage?'
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. It--it's--it's fascinating. You know,
we're--we're speaking in the year 2001, and while I don't want to date
ourselves, the fact is if we looked at the Middle East, there--there
are--these conflicts are kind of spiraling out of control, and with
every act of violence, it seems to beget more violence. And, of
course, in--in the case of Robert E. Lee, he was the moral conscience
of the South. He was--as General Wise, one of the--one of his top
men, once said to him--and Wise was also a former governor of--of
Virginia. Near the end of the war, they were talking about what will
happen next, and--and--and Wise had ridden through the lines. He
dismounted his horse, and he had actually fallen in--in--in Virginia
quicksand, and he was caked with red mud, and he looked kind of
Well, they joked a bit, and they--but then they talked about the end
of the war. And Lee sort of raises this dreaded concept of surrender,
and he says, `What will the country think?' And Wise looks over to
Lee, and he says, `Country? My God, man, you are the country to these
men.' So, in other words, Lee was the country to the Southerners. And
whether or not he would decide to deal with the Northerners with honor
and dignity and to become good citizens again or with rage with
continued civil war and civil violence, he would be the determinant of
that. That's what I'm talking about there.
LAMB: `Or if Grant and Sherman had neglected Lincoln's admonitions at
City Point and responded, not with generosity of spirit, but with
unbridled anger?' Where is City Point, and when was Abraham Lincoln
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah, Cit--City Point is--is in Virginia, and it's
where U.S. Grant, the commanding general of the Union armies--where
he had his floating--his floating fortress. City Camp was, in effect,
an armed command post for the Northern Army as they were encircling
the--Lee's army in--in Petersburg and in Richmond. And they met it on
March 27th and March 28th, where Lincoln actually wanted to see the
front lines and confer with his commanding generals.
And it was from City Point that--that Lincoln, in that same meeting
that he--he talks about his fears of guerrilla warfare, in the same
meeting where he talks about his fear that this--there will be a final
bloody Armageddon, he does something quite unique. Abraham Lincoln
says--he says, `When this war is over, there must be no hangings,
there must be no bloody work.' And, of course, what is--what is sort
of looming large in his mind is the specter of the French Revolution,
because it--it loomed large in the minds of all Americans. And, of
course, to remind our listeners and our viewers here, in the French
Revolution, the revolutionaries started out with the best of
intentions, and before everybody knew it, they were guillotining the
opposition, and before everybody knew it, they were guillotining each
other, and before everybody knew it, it would engulf all of a
And, in effect, what Lincoln was saying is, `There must be no French
Revolution here.' And it was prescient, and it was visionary and it
was one of Lincoln's finest acts and finest moments. And Grant would
carry it out brilliantly at Appomattox during the surrender, where
rather than treating--treating Lee like a defeated, dishonored foe, he
would treat him with great dignity and grace. And it would be one of
the most poignant scenes, really, in our history.
LAMB: W--we're in Washington, DC. If you had to go to Appomattox,
how would you get there from here?
Mr. WINIK: You let my wife drive there. No, you--you would--I mean,
I can't tell you the exact highway, but it's about three and a half
hours from Washington, DC. And Appomattox is one of these sleepy,
little places that d--does not get nearly enough attention, but it is
well worth going because it's in ap...
LAMB: In what state?
Mr. WINIK: In Virginia, I'm sorry. In Appomattox,
Vir--and--and--and the best way to do it is, really, you can go to
Richmond first, and you can actually do a little tour of Richmond.
You can sort of re-create the burning of Richmond, as happened on
April 2nd and April 3rd in 1865. And from there, you can go down to
Cold Harbor, and you see the--the--the ...() fighting of
1864. And then you can actually do Lee's retreat, and--and they have
it marked out in Virginia. And--and I did it. I mean, I--I did it
with my wife. We drove it. We walked those fields, we walked those
roads. We actually sort of did it on the day that Lee did it.
And--and people can do it now, and it's--it's just wonderful. I mean,
you really are transported back in time, and it's--it's a trip well
LAMB: Back to the `what ifs': `Or if there had not been an honorable
stacking of arms and mutual salute to set the tone for the end of the
war, but hangings and humiliations.'
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah, this was one of the crossroads.
Throughout--throughout history, far too many civil wars end with that
sort of bloodshed, where the--with hangings or killings or beheadings.
In fact, just think about it, the morning that--that Lee has made this
fateful decision that he's going to surrender--and at that point, he
sort of straightens himself up, and he says, `And now I must go meet
General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths than do that.
History has, more often than not, telescoped and simplified what
happens. They have simplified it to say that there's Lee's vain,
quixotic retreat. They've said then there's the dignity of
Appomattox, end of war, end of story.
In truth, it's far richer. Let's ask the first question: How would
Lee be treated when he goes to meet U.S. Grant? He didn't know.
What--what--what we do know is that Lee, that morning, was actually
quite nervous, uncharacteristically so. He was speaking in mumbled
half-sentences. And, well, he should have been nervous
because--because, throughout history, as he knew all too well,
defeated generals and revolutionaries and traitors were typically
beheaded, or they were hung, or they were imprisoned or, like
the--General Napoleon, they were exiled.
And, in fact, that very morning--that very morning, the Chicago
Tribune editorialized: Hang Lee. And just days earlier, in the Union
capital of Washington, DC, Andrew Johnson, the vice president of the
Union, went out with several senators and before a thronging crowd of
hundreds, maybe over 1,000, and gave a rousing speech in which he
said, `We must hang Davis, we must hang Lee. We must hang them 20
times.' So, in fact, Lee didn't know what to expect. And that Grant
would treat him with such tenderness and dig--dignity and it--it's
such a rich scene, he was carrying out Lincoln's vision at City Point
of no bloody work, no hangings. But it was really unique in the chain
LAMB: I have--talking about your book with some friends the other
day, and somebody said, `Well, Lee and Grant knew each other well at
West Point.' Well, you address this in the book.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. They--they--they didn't know each other
well at West Point, but what--what is interesting is--is the sort of
bonds that are forged--forged in war. And--and--and let me sort of
set the scene for a second to explain this. Let's go to the
Wilderness for a second because this is where--the Wilderness is the
sixth-week campaign in 1864, before they begin the siege in Richmond
and Petersburg, and it's f--where Lee and Grant squared off for the
In the first two days of the Wilderness, Grant loses 17,500 men. He
goes into his tent that night, and he weeps like a baby. And the next
morning when he comes out, everybody expects him to do what every
other Union general had done: retreat. Memorably, Grant says, `We
will fight it out if it takes all summer.' Of course, it will take all
year. Just a few weeks later, at Cold Harbor, in the first nine
minutes alone, Grant will lose 10,000 men; that is twice as many men
who will die of all the Confederates in the entirety of the Gettysburg
conflict. And--and he does it within 10 minutes. And in--and in this
entire six-week skirmish, Grant will lose as many men as Lee has in
his entire army, and he will lose as many men as we will lose in the
entirety of the Vietnam War.
So out of this ghastly warfare, this--this bloody battling, the irony
is--is that these two men came to respect each other, to r--almost to
fear each other and to admire each other. And...
LAMB: What's the difference in age?
Mr. WINIK: The difference in age is--is--is Lee is about 58, and
Grant is--is, I think, 43. So...
LAMB: So they didn't even come close at West Point.
Mr. WINIK: They--they--they--they didn't even come close at West
Point, but, interestingly enough, when they first walk into Appomattox
Court House, Lee is wearing his finest uniform because, as he said,
`And now I must become General Grant's prisoner' that day, and Grant,
who keeps him waiting for 30 minutes, comes in in a mud-spattered
private's blouse. In fact, later on in history, he will apologize for
how he's attired.
And, you know, picture this scene for a second: this small, little
home, Wilmer McLean house, in Appomattox Court House, this little
village of about eight structures or so, and rolling hills. And
outside in these rolling hills are thousands of men, who are standing
at rapt attention to watch this amazing piece of historical theater to
take place. In fact, you know, when the surrender is over--I'm going
to digress for a second--everything will be ripped apart from the
Wilmer McLean house: the--the desk, the pens, the floorboards,
the--the--the wallpaper. Even a tree that Lee himself would have
leaned against that morning will be ripped apart so there's nothing,
except for a hole there, because everybody knew that day that history
was taking place, and they wanted a piece of it. And so they were
standing at--rapt at attention.
But inside this small, little hou--this small, little home, Grant
comes in, and, you know, rather than talk about the surrender, they
talk about the old days. And I think this is what your friends are
referring to, because Grant says, `You know, I remember you from the
Mexican War, and what is it we do?' Lee looks at him and he says, `You
know, all these times in this battle, I've tried to recall your face.
I could never quite do it.' And, in fact, they continued to chat
happily. And--and Grant tell us that--that they continued on and on,
and it was eventually Lee who says, `I suppose we must discuss the
object at hand, the surrender.'
So though they didn't know each other, the kind of bond--the bonds
that were forged and the closeness they had almost defies the fact
that they were the greatest of nemeses one could imagine.
LAMB: Back to the `what ifs': `What if Andrew Johnson had been
assassinated, after all, and the blade hadn't missed its mark of
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. Let's--let's set the stage for a second.
The--the first thing to remember is that on April 9, as we were
discussing, Robert E. Lee surrenders to U.S. Grant, this dignified,
honorable surrender. Yet it--yet it--he only surrenders his army.
There are still three Confederate armies in the field. There are over
175,000 men, their murderous gun barrels hot to the bitter end. There
was Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, calling for guerrilla
warfare. And--and even Mary Lee, Robert E. Lee's wife--Mary Lee, who
is directly descended from Martha Washington, the great-granddaughter
and by--by marriage, of course, to George Washington, she says,
`Robert E. Lee is not the Confederacy. Richmond is not the
Confederacy.' That's how volatile the still--the situation still is.
And, of course, as Lincoln feared--how much longer would the war last?
A week? Three weeks? Three months? Six months?--was Lincoln knew
and feared, throughout history, such time spans had been enough to
start, fight and win wars, to unseat great dynasties or to complicate
the reconciliation to come. And five days later, Lincoln is dead. He
gets killed on April 14th at 10:14 at night. And William Seward, the
Union's secretary of State, is stabbed five times. His wife is soon
screaming, `They've murdered my son. They murdered my husband.' And
only Andrew Johnson escapes unscathed.
But the irony of that night is--is Andrew Johnson was invited to,
all--of all places, Ford's Theatre. He turns it down, saying, you
know, `I'm tired. I want to have a quiet, little supper and then turn
in.' And he does this, not realizing that on the very floor above him,
in his hotel, is another deadly assassin who's going to plunge a knife
into his heart. But at the last second, the assassin gets cold feet,
and so Johnson escapes. But had Johnson been assassinated that night,
there would have been a completed decapitation of the Union
For those who are old enough to remember the--the--the horror and the
trauma of just Kennedy getting killed, in one of the most established
and oldest and most formed democracy in the world, imagine this: the
first-ever assassination of a president in American history; his
secretary of State's been stabbed five times, and the vice president
was also a mark.
LAMB: I just saw the--the--the--the knife. It's on display in Ft.
Wayne at the Lincoln Museum there.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: And it's on--you know, it's--they had it on loan there. They
had an assassination exhibit. And it's interesting that, all these
years later, that knife is still intact. What was that all about?
Five times the secretary of State was stabbed. By whom?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah, hi--his--his name was Louis Powell, and he
went by a number of aliases, from Louis Payne to a number of other
names. And he was a big, hulking man who wore a sort of broad hat.
And--and th--the setting of that night was--was Louis Powell was
dispatched by John Wilkes Booth, who--who, of course, is the murderer
of Abraham Lincoln at--that same night and at the same time. And
Powell arrives at the Union's secretary of State's house, knocks on
the door, and he pretends to be carrying--carrying medicine for--for
the secretary of State, Seward. And the reason why that is is Seward
had just been in a--excuse me--a horse accident--I mean, a--a carriage
accident. He had--he had been knocked out, and he was in a neck brace
And so the irony is--is that when--when Powell went through the house
and was stabbing one person after another and finally finds the ailing
secretary of State, he stabs him once, twice and three and then five
times. What we know, or what is clear, is he stabbed a number of
times the neck brace, and that is the only reason why--why Seward
LAMB: What did you do to get a grip on the whole story of the
assassination, Ford's Theatre and John Wilkes Booth? How'd you learn
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. I learned it the way I learned everything
else. A couple of ways: Firstly, there's a rich body of literature
out there, and--and I try to become as--as--as acquainted and
as--as--as intimately aw--knowledgeable about this body of literature
as possible. And a number of many good books--and I hesitate to name
them for fear of omitting several good ones. Secondly, I went to the
places. I went to the places, and, again, I tried to re-create it.
I went to Ford's. You know, for example, in Ford's Theatre, they talk
about how John Wilkes Booth, after he shot--after he shot Abraham
Lincoln, he--he sort of jumped from the--the balcony, and he screamed,
you know, `Sic semper tyrannis,' or, `Death to tyrants,' and--and--and
it's often said that that was an easy jump, especially for an athletic
man like Booth. Well, I took a look at that--that--that balcony,
and--I play tennis and I've played a number of sports, and it was
clear to me that it was anything but an easy jump.
So, in other words, actually going--and as we used to say in the
defense business, to actually go out and kick the tires and to try to
relive it and to try to sort of feel it, that's--that--that was very
important and crucial for me to get a sense of that night. And just
the way I did--in Richmond, when I tried to re-create the burning of
Richmond, I really tried to kind of walk the streets and follow the
same paths to get a feel for what it must have been like. You know,
for example, at one point, John Wilkes Booth will cross a significant
body of water. Well, it sounds pretty easy unless you actually go try
and do it yourself. And, you know, you try to also sort of be on the
hunt the whole time. So I really tried to capture that as much as I
LAMB: The Ford's Theatre just 10 blocks from where we're sitting.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: Right across the street, the Peterson house. You also
re-create that whole night.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: He--he died--What'd you say?--7:22 the next morning?
Mr. WINIK: Right.
LAMB: Ho--did you find anything new, or did you just try to tell the
story as you found it other places?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. You know, i--it's--some of the details that I use,
I think, are different. And that's not to say I found anything new,
but I just sort of saw anew some of the details that have already been
out there. But, again, I want to go back to one of the original
things I started out by saying what I do in "April 1865" is I--is I
strip away the inevitability of events. More often than not, when
you--when you have books on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, it's
totally separate from the story of the end of the war.
So, in fact, most people don't realize that Lincoln was assassinated
just five days after the surrender of Lee. And most people also don't
realize there were still three Confederate armies out in the field,
that guerrilla war was a real possibility and that all sorts of things
could have happened to complicate the reconciliation.
One other thing that really struck me that night in the Peterson
house, when Linc--when Lincoln lay dying, is--you know, we've been
hearing a lot these days about Alexander Haig during the attempted
assassination of Ronald Reagan saying, `I'm in control here,' and how
that was seen as a really rogue act. Well, on the night of--of--of
April 14th and then April 15th, when Lincoln had died, from this
small--small, little room in the center of the Peterson house, the
secretary of War for the Union, Edwin Stanton, was literally running
the country. He had become the president, the vice president, the
secretary of War, the secretary of State and a comforter in chief, all
wrapped into one. And--and it shows you just how different the world
they inhabited was from our's.
LAMB: What did you learn about Mary Todd Lincoln and her reaction to
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. I mean--I mean, I have to say that i--it--it--it
really sort of struck a chord of both poignancy and pathos in me
because, you know, her husband has just been shot. I mean, his
bra--his brains have been--essentially been blown out before her eyes.
And that night, she was weeping and wailing by his side and, at one
point, again to show the power of Edwin Stanton, the secretary of War,
she had so gotten out of hand that at one juncture, he screams, `Take
that woman out of there.' And you know, you can imagine this happening
with Hillary Clinton. It would never happen. But in fact, she was
actually removed to the front room of the Petersen house where she
continued to weep and wail. And it was only--it was only then again
around 7:19 or 7:17, thereabouts, when she was allowed to be back with
her husband. And she was screaming, `Oh, do not--what--what have you
done to take him from me, God? Or bring Taddy to him.' Abe--you know,
`Abe loves him so.' I mean, i--it had to have been such a--a poignant
LAMB: Back to the what-ifs. You've got two left here. And it
follows on this discussion: It--`What if after the assassination of
Lincoln, all went to pieces and the presidential transition process
fell prey to momentary passions and fears?'
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it--you know, I went to Yale. I
got a BA from Yale, a master's from the London School of Economics and
a PhD from Yale University again, and I figured that the transition
mechanism, vice president becoming president, was all very simple and
laid out; that the president dies, the vice president becomes
president, end of story. In fact, the picture was far murkier and far
more complex in April 1865. Because as it turns out, when I went to
go check this question, the founders did not intend for the vice
president to become president. They only intended for the vice
president to temporarily act as president until there was an election.
And at that point, then there would be a new president. And so on
that fateful evening, when--when--when Lincoln was shot and Seward was
ailing with five wounds and Johnston, who nobody ever expected to be
president and who had met with Abraham Lincoln only once by
happenstance on the day of the assassination for 30 minutes...
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. No, no, no, during--during the...
LAMB: Just during the presidency.
Mr. WINIK: ...the second term.
LAMB: He knew him before that.
Mr. WINIK: Right. Right. But not well. And--and we've st--to this
day, we still don't know what they talked about. And--and Johnston
was widely written off as a buffoon in--in Washington circles. In
fact, during the second inaugural, the attorney general--while
Johnston was kind of rambling on and on because he was drunk that
night, the attorney general said, `Take that deranged man out of
there.' That's how low regard--little regard they held Andrew Johnston
in. And so that evening, the temptations for a regency were for a
Cabinet-style government. In fact, as I was saying earlier, Edwin
Stanton was basically running things for the first day and a half for
a regency or Cabinet-style government were great, or for that matter,
for a military-style intervention. You know, after the assassination
of Lincoln, there would be such turmoil, such chaos and anarchy
gripping the Union capital.
In fact, The New York Times would editorialize: `If this were France,
all the country would be in bloody revolution by 24 hours.' They were
in such turmoil that the Union Cabinet would soon be discussing
whether or not, in effect, a Napoleonic coup was under way and who did
they think was behind it? None other than one of their greatest
generals, Bill Sherman. And that's why I think it's so important to
go back and kind of re-create the world, not as we see it with
hindsight, but as they saw it, so we can see the turning points that
LAMB: Last what-if: If Joe Johnston had not decided to disobey
Jefferson Davis' orders--who was Joe Johnston?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Joe Johnston was the other principal Confederate
commander in the field beyond Robert E. Lee. So after Lee
surrendered, Joe Johnston was still out there, and Johnston and
Sherman had been engaged in 10 days of extensive negotiations about
what was to come next. And Jefferson Davis, the Confederate
president, sent orders to Johnston in which he basically said `Fight
on.' Imagine those words ringing like a Klaxon in his head. But
Johnston's final actions were not to do what--to do what Davis said,
but hi--his final act was really an act of disobedience. He said no,
and he concluded a surrender there following Lee's example. And in by
doing that, he played a great role in sort of helping heal the
country. But the irony is, is his last act was not as a good military
man, but it was really in defying his own Confederate president.
LAMB: On the back of your book, there are endorsements.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: How did you get the following people to endorse this book:
Doris Kearns Goodwin, James McPherson, Paul Johnson, Doug Brinkley,
Gary Gallagher and Robert Dallek?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Well, it--it--it's a pretty diverse cross-section
of--of people. And you know, if you think about--you know, you have
Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize winner, obviously James
McPherson, who--who I didn't know, and you know, Paul Johnston--we're
getting back to the ideological question. There's kind of an
ideological spectrum there. Basically, we sent the book to all of
them and we sent it not in the finished manuscript, but in typewritten
manuscript. So it was--these people were awfully nice to have waded
through this--this typewritten manuscript, and to be honest, I went to
the people who I thought were the very best and who I most admired
a--as much as anyone, whether it's Doris Kearns Goodwin or McPherson
or Paul Johnston, you know, and Bob Dallek is o--I mean, and Gary
Gallagher and--and--I mean, they're just all terrific people.
And--and I just was really touched that they had those kind words to
say about the book.
LAMB: When did you get out of Yale?
Mr. WINIK: I was originally class of seven--1979. I graduated in
1980. And got my PhD actually much later in 1993.
LAMB: Where did you go right after Yale?
Mr. WINIK: After Yale, I--you know, I didn't want to be a lawyer.
That was the only thing I knew, is I didn't want to be a lawyer and I
sort of wanted this--you know, back in those days, it was foreign
policy, the great issue of the Cold War, that was one of the hot
things to do and I was interested in it. I went to the London School
of Economics, got my master's in international relations. And--and it
sort of opened up a whole new world for me.
LAMB: And then when did you start working in Washington?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah, I started basically working in Washington in about
1984, '85, when Les Aspin, the Democratic congressman, became chairman
of the House Armed Services Committee. He--he and I sort of knew each
other. I'd been writing some op-eds in The New York Times, The Wall
Street Journal and we knew each other that way. And he said, `Why
don't you come down, work for me?' And I was sort of a young kid. I
was kind of fresh and green and not very schooled in the ways of
Washington, but I got a quick baptism in fire by becoming one of
his--his closest aides.
LAMB: On his congressional staff.
Mr. WINIK: On--on the House Armed Services Committee staff. And--I
mean, I did everything from writing speeches to--to--to doing analyses
of US-Soviet relations, to--to assessments of arms control and all the
rest. And--a--and that's really what I did for a number of years
until about 1990, and that's when I decided--or 1991, and that's when
I decided to take up writing.
LAMB: First book?
Mr. WINIK: This is my second book.
LAMB: But what was your first book?
Mr. WINIK: My first book was called "On the Brink." It was about the
end of the Cold War.
LAMB: How did it do?
Mr. WINIK: It got a lot of attention, got a lot of critical acclaim,
ruffled a few feathers. But it didn't do nearly as well as this.
LAMB: Why did it ruffle a few feathers?
Mr. WINIK: It--it--it ruffled a few feathers because ultimately, I
came out and I said that Ronald Reagan will go down in history as one
of the predominant presidents and was--was real--was really
instrumental in--in--in the end of the Cold War. And--and--and my
view was, was that Reagan was a more sophisticated, more nuanced
leader and you know, it took me four years to get to that point. And
when I started writing the book, the last thing I wanted to do was go
out and say `Ronald Reagan was a critical factor in all this.' But by
the end of the book, I just felt that that's really where the evidence
laid and I actually kind of was furiously rewriting things to suggest
that--that history will be much more kind and much more generous to
him. And--but because the book was written fairly recently after the
end of the Cold War--partisan passions are still high and--you know,
just as if you had written a book about Franklin Roosevelt shortly
after World War II, it would have ruffled a lot of feathers. I mean,
that's what happens when people who are still part of that--those
administrations are around. History usually sorts those things out.
And I took my first crack at history there.
LAMB: When did you start this--when did you start your research?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: ...() can you remember a moment where you said
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Wh--where I said `April 1865' or just...
LAMB: Where that was--that's the--what the book was about.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. I think really going into the proposal writing
process. I'd--I wanted to--y--you--I mean, I sort of focused on the
idea of this April 1865, but I wasn't sure the meaning of it, the
extent of it or the richness of it. And--and one of the things that's
clear to me, now having written two books, and especially after
writing "April 1865," is what you think you're going to say going into
the book will be very different from what you eventually come out
saying. I think there are a number of moments during a book where you
really get hit with an epiphan--epiphany and things start rushing
together and you say, `This is very different from what I had thought.
I want to capture this.'
LAMB: So when did you begin to focus on exactly what you're going to
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: And what did you go through to get there? I mean, you mention
going to the Ford's Theatre and down to Richmond and battlefields.
Mr. WINIK: Right. Right, right. I--it--I mean, sort of midway
through the book--I--I was writing the story and--and midway through
the book and--and I started writing this in about, you know, it--the
last four years, I've been writing it. The first two years was
research and writing. Somewhere around year two, things started
coming together to me. And the way I write is I don't hand in drafts
to the--the publisher. And I'm sort of putting them on notice for my
Wh--what I do is I write the entire book and then I actually sit down
with my wife, my wife Lyric Winik. She's also a talented writer and
author in her own right. And we edit this thing at great length.
Every single paragraph, every single sentence, every single word has
been edited and--and--and--and pruned in here. And--and I think it's
important for a--a writer to sort of write so people feel like this is
an enjoyable experience, that it reads well, that it sort of comes
alive, that it's evocative. And--and that's--that's what w--that's
what I really labor to do with the good assistance of my wife Lyric.
And--and that--that process takes at least about six months. But I
think it really pays dividends. I don't know how many people have
come up to me and they said they've read this book. They've had tears
in their eyes. It's really moved them and it--and it reads like a
novel. And I think that's because I put so much effort into sort of
giving that k--that kind of aura and feeling.
LAMB: When did you know you a--you--and you went on The New York
Times Bestseller List, but when did you know that you had a winner
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. You--you know, a--anyone who writes a book who
thinks this thing is kind of gamed out is--is just--it's not the world
that I live in because anything can happen. Every time the book was
read, it came back with the same response. So when did I--I--I always
felt I had a winner from r--from really day one. Once the book was
done I felt there was nothing more I could do. My goal was always to
write the best book I could and then it's up to the rest--it--it's up
to the rest of the world. And I felt I wrote the best book I could.
But from the time that Doris Kearns Goodwin said that, you know, `This
is a superb piece of history and I'm a remarkable--you know, I'm
a--I'm a marvelous storyteller with a remarkable tale to tell,' to
what Paul Johnston said--P.W. gave it a starred review and they said
it--Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review saying `This book is a
triumph and that I'm a master storyteller,' and--and then it just kind
of continued on there. But, you know, even Peter Jennings--I don't
know if I should be saying this on TV. Peter Jennings heard me on NPR
and he said he wept hearing me talk about the book. And then he said
he started and he was reading it and he just called me up as a fan and
I was--I was very touched by that.
LAMB: What are they weeping about?
Mr. WINIK: I think they're weeping about how--how, for example,
people like Robert E. Lee--you know, that--that--that men can be on
what we deem now as the wrong side and yet can have such character and
dignity. And--and sort of hope against hope, rather than giving in to
the passions of the day, that they can really--th--that they can sort
of give of themselves in a sense.
Let me give you a quick example of that. You know, after the end of
the war, you know, the South was in--the South was in tatters. It was
a defeated, ruined country. And of course, the--the institution of
slavery was turned upside down and was gone. And there's this
poignancy that takes place in St. Paul's Church. St. Paul's Church
is in Richmond. You can go there today. It's a beautiful church.
I've actually been to a wedding there for one of my wife's closer
friends. And--and--and the--Charles Minnegrow, the--the--the rector,
was giving the--was giving the--the sermon, and at a certain point, it
came time for communion. Quite unexpectedly, shattering years of
tradition, a black man walks up to the--to the chancery rail and he
kneels down ready to take communion. And at this point, everybody
tenses. They--they're wondering, my God, this has never happened,
certainly not in the church of the elite.
And--and all of a sudden, quite unexpectedly, a man who has sort
of--hi--his hair is kind of thinned on top and he's got a midlevel
there and--and he looks sort of tired and beaten and--and worn down
and he sort of slowly walks up. And this is a man who--who just days
earlier said, `I am defeated. I am homeless and penniless. I have
nothing left to live for.' And that man knelt down to take communion
next to this black man, setting tone for what would c--for what should
come next in the South. And that, of course, was Robert E. Lee.
That was a poignant scene.
LAMB: There's another scene that--and I've talked about it before
with other authors, but it still--every time you read it, you can't
believe it happened, the McClellan-Lincoln visit.
Mr. WINIK: Right. Right.
Mr. WINIK: It defies imagination.
LAMB: Explain that whole story.
Mr. WINIK: Well, I--I assume you're talking about when--when Abraham
Lincoln comes to McClellan's house and he wants to talk about the
progress of war. And Lincoln...
LAMB: What time of the war is this?
Mr. WINIK: 1860...
LAMB: He was still in charge...
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: ...so that would be middle because he had quit and...
Mr. WINIK: Eighteen--yeah.
LAMB: ...quit and then ran against him.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah ...().
LAMB: D--d--doesn't matter so much...
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: ...but it was--it was not at the end.
Mr. WINIK: Right. Right, right. No, it--it's in the earlier stages
of the war. And--and--and Abraham Lincoln comes in with his secretary
of State and--and he wants to meet with--meet with Mc--General
McClellan. McClellan, h--McClellan comes in, walks up the stairs and
Lincoln is kept waiting for a full hour. And after a full hour,
McClellan sends word down to Lincoln he won't meet with him. He'll
meet with him the next day. That is unthinkable in this day and age
with a president and a commanding general. And what it tells us
is--is it tells us of the kind of stature that Lincoln had. You know,
we revere Lincoln. I mean, I know I revere Lincoln and I love Lincoln
and he's--he is so crucial to this country. But in his day and age,
he was as hated as he was loved. And if he walked into a room, he
wouldn't sort of fill it the way presidents do today. And one other
little footnote, you know, the night that he went to Ford's Theatre,
he invited 13 separate people to come with him and they turned him
down. This was the man who was the president of the surrender of
Appomattox and somehow, 13 people turned him down. Imagine that
happening with a John F. Kennedy or with a--with a Bill Clinton or
with a Ronald Reagan. It'd be unthinkable.
LAMB: You use words with all three principals--Grant, Lincoln,
Lee--anxiety, depression and fatigue. I don't know how many times I
read it. They were exhausted beyond all belief. What did you pick up
about that? And why--what's with all the anxiety and the
...(), not--not that he couldn't handle it, but wh--what
did you learn about that?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah, well, you learn about it,
it--it's--it--it's--war is serious business. You know,
in--in--in--in--in Grant's case, let's take that for example. I mean,
Grant--just before Appomattox, Grant ha--had this pounding headache,
this migraine headache and he was using mustard plasters and all sorts
of other homeopathic remedies to--to take care of it. And--and--and
he was ailing. He was ailing. And it was only when he got word
of--of--that Lee would surrender and he said, `Quite by magic, it was
gone.' The headache was gone. And I mean, th--the stress and the--the
terrors and the difficulties of war were just great. You know,
in--in--in Lee's--in Lee's case, he had a bad back. He had diarrhea.
He may have even suffered a heart attack mid in the war. And somehow
throughout all this, these men kept pushing themselves. They didn't
have fancy hospitals to go to or fancy doctors. Somehow, they pushed
their bodies to the limit.
And of course, in Lincoln's case, as I was saying earlier, his hands
were clammy, he was 30 pounds underweight. He was--he was routinely
sick. The stresses of the war were so great and--let me--let's give a
way to think about this. Any general who has to send men to their
deaths in waves of thousand after thousands after thousands has to
have this coronal of remorse eating away at them. And so Abraham
Lincoln and so Robert E. Lee and so U.S. Grant had to have this
kernel of remorse eating away at them for--for what was going--for
what was taking place.
LAMB: What was the total number of dead at the end of the Civil War?
Mr. WINIK: 620,000 casualties. I mean, it j--it just--it dwarfs any
other conflict in--in our history. It's--it's unfathomable.
LAMB: At the end, you do something different. You talk about a lot
of people--and I wrote all their names down and their ages that they
were at the end of the Civil War.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Thank you for picking up on this.
LAMB: Well, d--d--Henry Ford was two, you said.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: Frank Woolworth, 13. Richard Sears, two. Thomas Edison, 18.
Alexander Graham Bell, 18. Samuel Gompers, 15. John D. Rockefeller,
26. Andrew Carnegie, 30. Henry Clay Frick, 16. Frederic
Re--Remington, four. And then you have Hiram Revels of Mississippi,
was in--in 18--he turned about to be the--in 1870, the first United
States senator of black--the black race. P.T. Barnum was 55. He's
55 at the end of the war?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. And he--and he--he hadn't started his circus yet.
He had all these other--these other al--other careers and his--his
greatest career was still ahead of him.
LAMB: Why did you do that? What was your point on that?
Mr. WINIK: Well--well, you know, earlier we had talked about sort of
epiphanies or things that come to you in the process of writing and
this was really one of them. Somewhere in the process of writing
"April 1865," I decided I wanted to write a snapshot of America and
also the men who had gone to shape America for the next 20, 50, 75
years. And so wherever they were, whatever they were doing, I just
wanted to capture them. And this--you just read the list of a number
of the people who I sort of write where they were, what they were
doing. And what really so struck me about all this is that, more
often than not, most of them were failures in life and considered to
be failures. You know, in--with Henry Ford, I talk about how his
father says, `Oh, Henry's not much of anything. He's a tinkerer.' His
father's convinced he's going to be or--he's going to be a failure in
Or Thomas Edison, just gets fired from yet another job and he's sort
of drifting around aimlessly. And--and what that really tells you is
a lot of life is persistence. It's hard work. And it's just when
everything is--seems to be in its lowest depths, somehow leaders find
a way, or people who will become great figures in history somehow find
a way to overcome it. It's a real lesson in life as much as anything
LAMB: Do you have a favorite chapter?
Mr. WINIK: Oh, that's a--you know, that's what I always ask the
people who read the book. I say, `What's your favorite chapter?
What's your part of the book?' And--and more often than not, my
favorite is different from other people. There are two chapters that
I feel--I mean, it's very hard for me to say which I'm more attached
to. I--I love the chapter that has Lee's retreat, because just from
a--a standpoint of just sheer drama and--and the craft of writing, I
think it really sort of hums and soars and it holds and grips the
reader. And I also love the--the prelude, which I have, of "April
1865," the introduction. Most Civil War books, or more often than
not, they will start out with a more traditional setting like the
Mexican War. I start out "April 1865" in, of all places, Monticello
with Thomas Jefferson. And the reason why I did that is because I
felt Thomas Jefferson, slave owner on one hand who also wrote the
Declaration of Independence, a great empire and nation builder on one
hand and yet nobody was more of a fervent believer in state rights. I
sort of felt that Jefferson seemed to embody the contradictions that
would lead to the Civil War. And in e--in a--in a way he was a
guiding spirit for both sides in the Civil War.
And more interestingly, when I went to Monticello, I learned that, you
know, on the eve of April 1865, Monticello, it turns out, had a
Northern owner, it had a Southern owner and was cared for by neither.
And that, for me, seemed to be a telling metaphor for the country.
Now I should say, getting back to the craft of writing this book, this
was probably the hardest thing to write in the entirety of the book.
It had to be rewritten several times. When the draft got to the
publisher, thanks in good measure to the wonderful sort of assistance
of my wife in the extensive revision process, it was in pretty good
shape. But that was one of the parts that really had to be sort of
redone and redone. And it wasn't clear to me how do I get from here
to there to make it work. Finally, it came out. So I'm attached to
that one as well.
LAMB: You talk about Thomas Jefferson. You--there's one line here I
wanted to ask you about. `In 1800,' you write, `he soberly warned
that,' quote, `"a single consolidated government would become the most
corrupt government on earth,"' unquote. Why did you put that in there
and what do you think he'd think if he saw things today?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. I'm not sure that's a snake's pit I'd
totally want to walk into. You know, the politics of back then don't
totally translate into the politics today. But it is clear that
Jefferson Davis, who was--who was an agrarian, who believed in smaller
government, local was better at every level. If one were to go back
in time and sort of tell him, `This is what the government looks
like,' he would surely be appalled by it. But having said that, I'm
not sure that it totally translates into today, because Thomas
Jefferson is also somebody who liberals love as well.
Mr. WINIK: Th--that's a partial answer. I mean...
LAMB: So did you meet characters in this book you want to write more
Mr. WINIK: You know, e--most of them I would love to write more
about. I'd love to write more about Robert E. Lee. I'd love to
write more about Thomas Jefferson. I'd love to write more about U.S.
Grant and Abraham Lincoln. You know, one of the great things about
this book, for me, as--as the author, is--you know, I was--much of the
writing was taking place during the whole Monica Lewinsky saga,
and--and everyone was talking about leadership, leadership. Where is
leadership? And where is character and this and that? I've got to
say it was a great pleasure every day to wake up and go to my desk and
deal with these figures who would emerge larger than life and who
would be so critical in saving this country. So all of them I could
easily see writing about again. I won't do it for the next book,
LAMB: You did, though, create a contrast between William Tecumseh
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: ...and Joe Johnston.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah.
LAMB: Wh--what role did they play in this after April 1865 or you
know, after the war we thought was over? And why did you compare the
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah, I--I compare the two because it
just--the--the contrast in their personalities and their types just
invited comparison. You know, if you think of Bill Sherman, Bill
Sherman, of course--this is Bill Sherman, a Union general,
who--who--who said `War is hell and you cannot refine it,' who took
Atlanta, who took Savannah, who took Columbia, and cut a swath 422
miles of the South in which he sort of `picked clean,' as he put it.
He was an asthmatic. He was volatile. He was--you know, Bill Sherman
is someone who I like enormously. I think he'd be great to be at a
dinner party with. He would be fascinating. He was a great
intellect. He spoke his mind. I sort of like what he said about
journalists, although I'm not going to say what he said.
LAMB: Well, go ahead and repeat it.
Mr. WINIK: He--basic--it was something to the effect of--of...
LAMB: Come close.
Mr. WINIK: ...of, you know--he--he--he said `God--goddamn
those--those journalists,' out of--you know, i--i--if--`If you died
and went to hell, they'd still be there,' I mean, because he really
despised journalists. In fact, he tried to imprison one and--and
court-martial him, even though it didn't make any sense. But--but
Sherman was just--he was a great military man, but he was a
fascinating character. You know, in the South today--and you know,
I've been on a 14 city book tour and I've been all over the country.
I've been East Coast, West Coast, in the South. Sherman is--is still
reviled in much of the South today. But the irony is, is Sherman
said, `You know, when this war is over, I will share with you my last
cracker.' The fact is, is he actually loved the South and it was his
love for the South that sort of led him near the end to try to give as
generous as terms as possible.
Now in the case of--of Joe Johnston, he was a kind of prim, upright
Virginian who--who--who was much more staid and much more proper than
Sherman was. Although, the two of them had this marionette dance
in--in sort of late 1864, in which they kind of chased each other,
zig-zag. In fact, Johnston even inflicted some serious blows at one
battle against--against Sherman. And--and at one point, Sherman
banged on his dinner table. He said, `My God, what is Joe Johnston's
game? Where--where is he today?' because he had escaped from his
grasp. And this is another example of two men who became very close
in life, as a result--very close bonding as a result of their war
experiences. And you know, it's so fascinating, and though I don't
put this in the book, when Sherman died, Joe Johnston was selected to
be a pallbearer at his funeral. And it was a cold, misty, rainy day
and--and Johnston didn't have a hat on. And somebody said to him--he
said, `Well, why don't you put on a hat?' because it--it's so cold and
misty out? And, of course, by then, Joe Johnston's a very elderly
man. And Johnston straightens himself up and says, `Well, Sherman
would not--do this for me and I will do the same for him.' And Joe
Johnston died something like nine days later of pneumonia.
LAMB: Now how did they end it? What's the Bennes--Bennett House
Mr. WINIK: Yeah, the--the Bennett House story is the story that we
never hear about. Appomattox is--is usually viewed as the end of the
war on April 9th. But, of course, as I was saying, there are still
three Confederate armies in the field, 175,000 men, Davis calling for
guerrilla warfare. Five days later, there's a tripartite
assassination attempt of Lincoln, Andrew Johnston and Seward. Union's
in total chaos. And what takes place in the Bennett House in North
Carolina is the final surrender of the other principal army of the
Confederacy, which is commanded by Joe Johnston.
And in--in--and it's 10 days' worth of negotiations where
Johns--Sherman first sits down with Johnston and John Breckinridge,
who is a former vice president and--and--and Breckinridge rejoined
them for the negotiations. And at one point, the Confederates will be
laying down such terms, and--and--and Sherman will move his chair back
and say, `Well, see here, who's--who's surrendering to whom?' And--but
in fact, Sherman will give very generous terms to the Confederates.
And in doing so, he thinks he's carrying out Lincoln's vision. But he
will be sharply rebuked by the--by the Union Cabinet, particularly
after the death of--of Lincoln, the assassination, and--and Grant will
actually be sent down to talk to Sherman. Now this is a fascinating
scene, too, because in the Union capital when this happens, the
attorney general, James Speed, will say, `Well, what if Sherman
decides to arrest Grant?' And Speed and Stanton were convinced
that--that Sherman was potentially thinking of some kind of a coup,
and as they put it, he was getting ready to march northward with his
legions to take over. That's the kind of chaos and anarchy that was
gripping the North post-Lincoln assassination while there are still
Confederate armies in the field.
So if Johnston had decided to go to the hills and along with Lee to
start sanctioning some kind of guerrilla warfare, we would have been
in a real mess. But Johnston instead followed Lee's example
and--and--and he, too, would surrender, as we said earlier, in this
act of basic--basically insubordination. And--and in doing so, it
would really pa--pave the way for this country to become not like the
Balkans, not like the Middle East, not like Lebanon or Cambodia or
these other civil war-torn countries, or Northern Ireland, but to
become like America today.
LAMB: So was John Wilkes Booth working on his own?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. That's a--it's a great question and i--and it's
one I don't know the answer to. Very few issues did I duck in my own
mind when I went into this book. Whenever I went into an issue, I
wanted to resolve it in its entirety. That was something that I felt
is really beyond just the scope of the book on one hand, and for that
matter, the scope of my own knowledge. That's a lifetime's worth of
work. I--my sense is--is he was not working in concert with the
Confederate government, per se, but I also say in a footnote,
somewhere in the end notes, that--that he may have had a relationship
with the Confederate Secret Service.
You know, in our time, we've known the CIA to have a number of rogue
operations which has been sanctioned by sort of higher-ups, but not at
their highest level. And something like that might have happened with
Wilkes Booth. But if there's one thing that I was struck by with John
Wilkes Booth, many historians kind of talk about this kind of
cockamamy rogue group that he has, which is almost kind of pitiful.
And my sense is it was quite different. However sort of impromptu and
im--improvised this--this sort of group that he assembled of assassins
was, the fact of the matter is is how close they almost came to
decapitating the entire Union government. I mean, that's really
LAMB: Did I read in that footnote that you said that the--the Secret
Service, when the Confederates had something like 800 and some
thousand dollars to--to do a s--project in the North?
Mr. WINIK: Yeah, I--I think that's probably right.
LAMB: That's a lot of money back then.
Mr. WINIK: Yeah. Yeah. But again, as I s--I'm going to duck this
one. That's--I mean, I know this from other sources. It is a lot
money. But let--let's look at this in context. We do know that
Jefferson Davis, at another point--and this--you know, when--when
Sherman was ravaging the South, a type of warfare that Robert E. Lee
explicitly rejected, attacking--you know, attacking innocence and
cities and--and depopulating whole sta--cities, Jefferson Davis turned
down a proposal by his own men to send small pox infested blankets
into the North. So I don't think that the South is willing to go that
LAMB: What's your next book?
Mr. WINIK: My next book is going to be--it's different and it's kind
of bold and as sweeping as--as this book, but on a very different
subject. Rather than write about--you know, on one hand, I'd like to
write about the Civil War again because I have a whole body of
knowledge and it would make my life a lot easier and certainly my
wife's life and my family life, but I--I want to be challenged. I
want to write something different and if I feel excited and enthused
about it, I'm convinced I can make readers equally enthused. So it'll
probably be about the world of the 1780s to 1790s.
LAMB: Our guest is Jay Winik. Here is the book: "1885: The Month
That Saved America." Thank you very much.
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