A. Wilson Greene

A. Wilson Greene is the Executive Director of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier located near Petersburg, Virginia. Mr. Greene served as the first president of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites from 1990 to 1994. Prior to this, he worked as a National Park Service historian at a variety of locations, including Fredericksburg National Military Park and Petersburg National Battlefield. The author of more than 20 published works on the Civil War, Mr. Greene’s most recent books included, Whatever You Resolve To Be: Essays on Stonewall Jackson and Petersburg, VA: 1861-1865: Confederate City in the Crucible of War. Mr. Greene served on the presidential appointed board of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which oversees best practices and grants of museums and libraries throughout the country.
 
Sep 14 - 19, 2014
6 days
In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War
Tour details


Smithsonian Journeys interview with A. Wilson Greene about a past Civil War tour.
Q: Tell us about New Orleans at the start of the Civil War and why control of the city was so important to the North.
A: New Orleans was the largest city in the Confederacy, a major industrial center and the busiest port in the Southern states. Except in a political sense, the Crescent City was the Confederacy's preeminent metropolis. That alone would make New Orleans a prime target for Union military strategists but equally important was the city's position at the bottom of the mighty Mississippi River. The commerce of the American Northwest of the mid-19th century (today's Midwestern states) depended on the Mississippi to ship their agricultural and manufactured products to their primary markets. A large part of the Northern economy would suffocate without free navigation of the Mississippi River. Given all of these factors, it is no surprise that the very earliest comprehensive Union military strategy for winning the Civil War involved the reclamation of the Mississippi River and the capture of New Orleans.
Q: We will be cruising into Mobile Bay where one of the first submarines ever used in wartime, the H.L. Hunley was constructed for the Confederate army. Was it actually useful during the war?
A: The Hunley was only the most famous of several submarines employed during the Civil War. Its notoriety stems from its exploits in Charleston Harbor where it managed to sink a Union warship, but cost the lives of its entire crew. This same fate befell previous crews, none of which, however, achieved any military results. The use of submarines in warfare marks one of numerous innovations implemented between 1861 and 1865 that give the Civil War the aura of a transitional event in military history—the last of the old-fashioned and first of the modern wars. What makes the Hunley story so compelling is its human dimension. What would compel these men to climb into what had been the coffin of all of their predecessors? How did their final moments unfold? The recovery and restoration of the vessel and the unraveling of the experience of its sailors makes the saga of the Hunley larger than the sum of its historical significance.
Q: Our itinerary includes Shiloh National Park, where in the spring of 1862, a huge Union Army under the leadership of Ulysses S. Grant and l. Don Carlos Buell were preparing to lay siege on Corinth, Mississippi in hopes of capturing the South's only east-west railway line. The Confederate command surprised the Union armies with an early morning attack on April 6, 1862 which claimed over 23,000 casualties over two days. Do you think the battle favored the South or the North?
A: When the smoke of the battle of Shiloh cleared, people in the North and South experienced a collective shudder. The two-day engagement along the Tennessee River claimed more casualties than ALL actions in American history to that point—combined! No result of Shiloh eclipses this horrifying fact. Bloodshed aside, Shiloh made giant waves on the military landscape. The highest ranking Confederate field commander lay dead. The Union commander, a national hero seven weeks earlier, was now accused of allowing his army to be almost fatally surprised, and his career faced an uncertain future. And ultimately, the drawn battle around Shiloh Church set the stage for the Federal capture of the important transportation hub at Corinth, Mississippi, continuing the rapid decline of Confederate fortunes in the Western Theater. But the capture of Corinth, while important, was obviously incremental. Shiloh didn't resolve anything. The war went on...and on. After Shiloh, the voices who had predicted a short war fell silent.
Q: Our last stop will be Chattanooga, where in the fall of 1863 Union armies began their assault on stubborn Confederate lines with the hopes of taking the city and the important railway lines. The phrase "Cracker Line" is associated with the Union build-up during this time. What does it refer to?
A: The most important geographic locations in the Civil War were those cities or hamlets where rail lines converged. Chattanooga was one of those places. Tracks led northeast toward Virginia, northwest toward Nashville, west toward the Mississippi River and most importantly in 1863, south toward Atlanta and the heart of the Confederacy. Chattanooga was a small town in 1860, only 22 years removed from Cherokee control and boasting a population of fewer than 2,500 citizens. Yet by mid-war, the little town at the foot of Lookout Mountain loomed large in the military thinking of both armies. General William S. Rosecrans brilliantly maneuvered his Confederate opponent, Braxton Bragg, out of Chattanooga without firing a shot in early September 1863, only to have Bragg turn the tables on him two weeks later at the massive Battle of Chickamauga, a Confederate victory that drove Rosecrans's battered army into the fortifications of Chattanooga, where they barely subsisted on quarter rations. When Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Chattanooga he had two immediate goals: fire Rosecrans and restore supplies to his starving men. The first job was easy but the second involved an elaborate military operation in late October involving boat construction, midnight armadas on the Tennessee River, and a surprise attack that allowed the Federals to transport supplies—including hardtack or "crackers"—to the army. The grateful troops dubbed this new line of communications the "Cracker Line" and they used it to build up the strength to drive Bragg into retreat at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in November.
Q: The Chattanooga Campaign included the Battle of Lookout Mountain (November 24, 1863), which is sometimes is referred to as the "Battle above the Clouds." Why was it given such a romantic name?
A: Public relations didn't start in the mid 20th century! The journalists and decision makers during the Civil War understood the value of manipulating events for public consumption and the Battle of Lookout Mountain on November 24, 1863 offers a prime example. This engagement was relatively small and resulted in the expulsion of a moderate-sized Confederate force from the slopes of the northern end of Lookout Mountain, an 86-mile long, 2000-foot high ridge that terminates at the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. General Joseph Hooker led several Union divisions up the west side of the mountain out of view of the Confederate defenders, then swung them around on a shelf that extends about 500 feet below the ridge crest. Here they finally encountered stiff Confederate resistance. The Southerners decided to evacuate the mountain that night and rally on the more strategically significant high ground east of the city called Missionary Ridge. The decisive battle for Chattanooga would occur there the next day. The fighting at Lookout Mountain took place during a cloudy, drizzling day when fog periodically obscured the view of the action from the onlookers in the valleys below. But the "Battle in the Foggy Drizzle" just didn't possess that certain something! Rather, correspondents dubbed it the "Battle above the Clouds" and gave it an air of romance that persists today. Lookout Mountain remains one of the South's prime tourist destinations, in part due to the marketing appeal bestowed upon it by Civil War writers.