This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
Van Doren introduces Bruce Catton, author of the Civil War novel "This Hallowed Ground." He talks about men joining the war, what fighting was like, what the world was like then.
Van Doren introduces comedian Joe E. Brown, who talks about his new book, "Laughter is A Wonderful Thing," tells stories about being a kid.
Van Doren introduces singer Marian Anderson, who talks about her book, "My Lord, What a Morning," and her career. (During her introduction, Irita gets choked up.) Anderson responds to both speeches, particularly Mr. Brown's story of a young boy eating starch to become white. A story about a little girl who wished to be a "rich white lady" when she grew up. Talks about the lessons she learned from her mother.
Short Q & A with Anderson.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71169
Municipal archives id: LT2616
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
I think we can start the program and I'm going to ask Captain to be out first because the. Most historians have training in the most of their lives to be historians and that. I think we can start this program and I'm going to ask Bruce Caton to be our first because. Most historians have training in the most of their lives to be historians and those historians of whom that is not true have rarely been highly regarded by the professionals in their field Bruce Caton is an exception in both regards he came to history by way of journalism belatedly and almost incidentally and he has acquired a structure in his adopted field that has caused the experts to respect his scholarship and applaud his ability to write. At Oberlin he studied to be a newspaper man and up graduation he pursued that career on the Boston American the Cleveland Plain Dealer and for fifteen years with the N.E.A. the newspaper and the prize Association writing feature stories book reviews editorials interviews and a daily Washington column. Still he showed no interest in history. Then the country went to war and he served as director of information first for the War Production Board and then for the Department of Commerce and one incident of these years perhaps between him and his future more than any other he came up on some Civil War regimental histories in a notebook store and for a Down House vote three or four of them. They were firsthand accounts of civil war experiences chiefly from the northern point of view containing small happenings rather jokes that it is crude accounts of life around campfires of cruel mutilation of cruelty and the lack of it of all persons good and bad even occasionally of reflection and. Now and then he picked up another such history and it is imagination that grew a very real picture like human picture of what had been for him only a confused far off Wall government service over and journalism no longer started by him he turned to a different kind of writer with those regimental histories in mind he decided to study the Army of the proper Thomas about which led him to be so many varying opinions he tore up the first hundred pages of bottling plant as a novel on the subject and settled down to the first volume of his civil war criminal Mr Milligan downie this covered the story to Antietam Glory Road to get on to get history and the stillness of after another completed now he had added another civil war violence this hallowed ground like the earlier one brilliant narrative history told with dramatic skill but this even more than the others presents the picture from the point of view of the common soldier human details from his letters home and from those regimental histories all told against the background of larger events and important personalities woven into a picture that has emotional unity and illuminating silence. This I felt as I read it is the first time I have ever known but the civil war would really like a Southerner brought up on it I could only applaud that understand when the fantasy of this accounts told from the point of view of the Northern Soul original I found tears in my eyes as I visualize more vividly than ever before that gallant desperate futile charge at getting there. And I read on toward the aftermath of an ending that I knew well with an agency and the suspense that would not miss me to put the book down until the last page and this is history as it should be written I gladly introduce to you the author of this hallowed ground the editor of The Book magazine American heritage and historian who can make our past meaningful and alive for us books Captain. I suppose the first question I have to be answered by anyone who at this late date undertakes to write a book about civil war is simply the question why on earth did you do it ninety five years of passed since the war ended in each one of those years there have been books about it personal accounts strategic analyses economic histories Heaven knows what all know war and its history has been written about as much as the school. It's been going on for nearly a century all of a sudden now after Lee's pace has picked up there are more books knowledge than ever before on this law or they come out every month why do they come out why do we still want to read about this why is it worth anyone's time to write about it and apply can the reading public be asked to read such books there are I think two answers that question I'd like to spend just a few minutes exploring both of them with you to begin with the Civil War was unique as wars go it was not the great romantic war that we sometimes think it was no war as ever romantic at first range they become romantic after the survivors have died and people like ourselves coming around to pick up the pieces it was not a romantic war I can't even go along with the distinguished person who once said that it was the last war between gentleman and because it was not in the least a gentlemanly war at least as rough and brutal and dissolution means as any war of it ever was nevertheless it does seem to have its claim on our imaginations The first reason for that I think is that it was peculiarly and Americans war that was fought between one rival timing's who spoke the same language live by the same traditions followed the same route ways of thinking. Long for the same ideals and somehow find themselves found themselves fighting one another. The the story of the war somehow tell us something about what this country little like back in the eighteen sixties back at the. Great moments of crisis the one great event that took place in American history that has shaped our course ever since and perhaps the best way to get into that is to remark that while America them was very much like America now in most of its essentials it was at the same time a very much less sophisticated. Country the country was young then it lacked the in effable advantages of radio television and motion pictures it was more of a rural country than it is now life was a little simpler that wasn't quite as highly organized and the things that happened to the man who quite unexpectedly found themselves called upon to go out and fight in the bloodiest war of this country has ever been in and they were not quite like the boys you know today basically of course they were blood brothers but in many respects they were different people they were younger younger spiritually and emotionally and intellectually I think one of the best ways to bring that out is a little story which crops up in a number of civil war memoirs in any war of course as you not very young men get all excited there's a war on the flags are waving the drums are beating in this town very very exciting. So immature young men are a anxious to get in the Army and go out and see what this is all about it often happens that some of these boys are under the proper military age but they want to join the Army anymore. Well nowadays when that happens a boy will simply go to the recruiting station he may be sixteen or seventeen he will swear that he's eighteen and he will unless the matter is that in eighteen sixty one it wasn't quite that easy and. A boy of sixteen or seventeen of them might want to join the army he was under age and he knew it somehow he had the idea that he couldn't quite lied to his own government he couldn't say he was eighteen when he really wasn't eighteen so they worked out a little system like this such a boy's preparing to enlist would take a little piece of paper and he would write the numerals eighteen honestly that he would put that piece of paper in the bottom of the shoe for the shoe lot and when to lift when he would ask how old are you thinking very honestly and truthfully say I am Irv are eighteen. It's utterly impossible to imagine a boy doing that now he might swear that he was eighteen when he wasn't but he wouldn't go through that elaborate dodge to of void the necessity of swearing for something that was true the. Boys who got into the army at that time some of them were quite on the tutors and on top. The drill sergeants at the training camps very quickly found that they had a large number of boys from the farms small towns who literally did not know their left foot from their right foot you know the Army puts quite a lot of emphasis on that that makes you start to march in the step off of the left foot first and then the right left and right and so on and if a boy doesn't know his left foot from his right foot he has great real trouble catching on so the drill sergeants thought up a little gag on that they would get some straw they would tie a wisp of straw out of the boy's right foot of a Tyson hay to his left foot then when it was time to march instead of saying left right left right it would simply chant hey it's books drop it a foot straw foot and the boys would step off on the proper foot in everything that you find and I sometimes wonder how many recruits today would know a hay from straw. But at that time they did the. Recruiting in the Civil War got into a regiment which usually was recruited locally that as it was everybody in the regiment came from his on home town or is on the county or is on particular section of the city regimental loyalty around very high with these young innocents who are going off to war and they thought that their own regiment was by far the best one of the United States Army and they looked down on all other regiments and some very odd tales developed as a result of that one of my favorites which comes up a number of times in various civil war anecdotes as a matter of fact it appears to have been the stock tale among the Civil War soldiers. Has to do with two regiments one from New York City Manhattan Island and one from Brooklyn and in some camp down near Washington these regiments were camped side by side and there was a very great rivalry between them one day there came to the colonel of the New York regiment a wandering minister who had caught on to the fact that the New York regiment had North chaplain and so he suggested to the colonel that he would be glad to hold the line services for the man of the New York regiment Well the colonel said he wasn't sure that was too good an idea to his memory a pretty irreverent carefree lot and once you're in the spirit get a good spirit Lally clergyman said he was willing to take his chances he just had services with the Brooklyn regiment and they'd been very nice to him and that was all the colonel need to hear he mediately had the regiment paraded announced they were going to listen to a sermon that if anyone caught off their laughter any of them cleared his throat you'd be thrown on the guard hot all the regiment was assembled on the parade ground and the minister made you put on with delivered his sermons. And at the conclusion of what he asked if any of the men in the regiment care to step forward and make a profession of faith he said of the books of medicine today before those fifteen men had come up to confess their beliefs at the end of the service the colonel immediately got to his feet a little loud voice bellowed up to his adjutant these adjutant we're not going to let that stand up and regiment beat us to anything detail twenty five men and have them baptized at once. There was a a loose jointed air to these civil war units. Which arose partly from this basic lack of sophistication which pervaded the entire country at that time partly due to the loose way in which the government organized its army and then a member a very peculiar things that left the men elect their own officers which meant that discipline was something which the men delivered to the officers if they felt like it otherwise not it meant that little housekeeping details like hospitals and kitchens and so on were cared for quite incidentally for example in all the civil war no soldier would ever enlisted as its cook a regiment would get in the camps each company would be issued a certain quantity of whatever the basic rationed were flour rice salt pork tacked on meal and so on then each company was obliged to appoint to manners cooks whether these men knew anything about cooking and was entirely extraneous they were cooks from then on as a matter of fact one veteran wrote afterwards that the way in which they selected company cooks ran about like this he said if a man is too stupid to learn the drill and too dirty to appear on parade they make a cook out of him. So that what the several more soldier had to eat outside of the basic marching ration was of soft pork and hard tack and coffee and he usually did not bother to cook the salt pork it was just too much trouble and you can't fry a piece of salt pork over an open fire anyway. What he had eat was the messes cooked up by these appointed cooks. Which may account for the fact that to from first to last approximately a quarter of the Union Army came down with a digestive upset and either died of them or were discharged and certificates of medical disability this odd lack of discipline plus the fact that the man in each army sort of speak knew the man in the other army they could talk to them but the same language used the same slang felt pretty much the same way about everything occasionally led to some very odd incidents I think one of the funniest the sort of thing that couldn't conceivably happened in any war except the civil war happened to General US Grant down a Chattanooga in the late fall of eight hundred sixty three the Union Army held Chattanooga at the time it was besieged by the Confederates Grant came down to take charge of the Union Army and one day rolled out on the tour of inspection all by himself. And he passed the farthest union picket line and by some accident got the wrong turn in the lanes and presently came smack up to a confederate take a post where here were fifteen or twenty armed confederates lounging about in the commanding general of the United States Army came riding up all by our least laws they should of course and surrounded him and captured him which they could have done very easily and the war might have come out quite differently instead of being the. Soldiers who'd been taught to respect the top brass as Grant approached this like a post he heard the corporal of the guard saying up turn out the guard for the commanding general immediately these sixteen confederates stood up presented arms and a snappy salute Grant returned the salute rode away and that was all of us to it. That's a very odd way to run a war. And yet and it's essentials that was one of the ways the Civil War was run now that of course does not mean that there is any softness or pulling of punches when the two armies got together the battles in that war were as vicious as costly and as completely dreadful as any battles which American soldiers have ever fought anywhere because with all the looseness of