Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Strange Story

The State Journal-Register ran a strange story yesterday.

Mary Stuader, a 78 year old woman from Montgomery County, Illinois, claims she has seen Abraham Lincoln…not a picture of the sixteenth president, but the man himself!

This isn’t a ghost story. She’s serious.

It goes something like this:

When Ms. Stuader was in grade school her class took a trip to Springfield to visit Lincoln’s tomb. Apparently, her teacher’s husband had some connections and arranged for the students to get a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the tomb. Well, it was no ordinary day at the tomb.

“They said they were going to move Lincoln,” Ms. Stauder said. “They had to move him for some maintenance. There was no publicity, because they didn’t want to draw a crowd.”

Ms. Stauder told the reporter what she saw:

I remember the top half of the casket was some kind of glass, and we could see the top half of Lincoln. What floored me was that his hair was white and down to here (she gestures to the tops of her shoulders). It was white as snow. But I could tell it was him. Other than his white hair, he looked just like he should have. We only got to stay for about five minutes.

So, what do we make of that?

First, the tomb was renovated in 1931; however, if Ms. Stauder is really 78 years old, that means she would have only been two years old in 1931—hardly old enough to remember such a trip and certainly not old enough to have been in grade school at the time.

Is it possible Ms. Stauder’s trip occurred later in the 1930s? Could be, but could anyone have seen the casket?

Probably not.

Lincoln was disinterred in 1901 and witnesses verified the body was indeed that of the sixteenth president. Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, gave specific instructions to the workers. To guard against grave robbers, Robert wanted ten feet of concrete poured over the casket.

It has been 106 years since anyone has seen Lincoln’s body. So what did Ms. Stauder’s class see that day?

Illinois state historian Tom Schwartz has a guess:

When I first arrived here in 1985, I kept hearing from people who said they remembered seeing Lincoln in a casket when they were kids. I think it might have been a wax figure that toured the country. I have seen ads of such things back then. Perhaps, being young, they confused that with Lincoln’s real remains.

For whatever it’s worth, I hope the wax-figure hypothesis is correct.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Today is the 153rd anniversary of the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

The brainchild of Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the bill was controversial because it threatened to repeal the Missouri Compromise.

Abraham Lincoln’s reaction to the bill is interesting. He devoted the previous four years of his life to his law practice. He traveled the law circuit and, at least publicly, he stayed out of politics. But Kansas-Nebraska was too much.

When Lincoln heard the news, he said it:

...took us by surprise---astounded us… We were thunderstruck and stunned; and we reeled and fell in utter confusion. But we rose each fighting, grasping whatever he could first reach---a scythe---a pitchfork---a chopping axe, or a butcher's cleaver. We struck in the direction of the sound...

The Kansas-Nebraska Act encouraged Lincoln to re-enter political life. His speech at Peoria, Illinois on October 16, 1854 details Lincoln's opposition to the piece of legislation, but I've always thought it is an underrated speech.

After an extended absence, Lincoln has reemerged, but his rhetoric is different. No longer does he recite standard Whig doctrine; indeed, the Whig Party itself did not survive the slavery crisis. Lincoln seems more mature at Peoria--his argument relies less on emotion and more on logic--he seems more focused and, perhaps above all, he is extremely confident.

I see the "Peoria Speech" as the first major speech of the second half of Lincoln's political career.

CLICK HERE to read Lincoln’s “Peoria Speech.”

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Workshop: "The Elusive Lincoln"

I came across another really good opportunity for teachers:

The Elusive Lincoln: Teaching and Learning about Abraham Lincoln through Documents and Images

Historic Southern Indiana presents the fourth annual Lincoln Institute for Teachers, June 14-15, 2007 at the University of Southern Indiana, Evansville, IN.

This is the fourth in a series of annual programs focusing on Lincoln as the bicentennial of his birth approaches in 2009. This year's institute will focus on historical evidence and how stories about Lincoln are created and change over time. Teachers from all grade levels and disciplines are invited to attend.

Harold Holzer, senior vice president for External Affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the co-chair of the federal Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, is the keynote speaker. He will address the images of Lincoln during his time and how they evolved after his death. He will also conduct a free public presentation on Lincoln at the Cooper Union. Matthew Pinsker, the Pohanka Chair in American Civil War History at Dickinson College, will discuss researching Lincoln. Thomas Schwartz, the Illinois State Historian and chief historian for exhibits and content at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, will address telling the Lincoln story to a 21st century audience. Matthew McMichael, school services coordinator for the Indiana Historical Society, will focus on images from the IHS's collection and Lincoln's visual legacy. Special resources sessions will be offered by Martha Beckort, media specialist at Lanesville Community School Corporation, and Glen Longacre with the National Archives Great Lakes Region.

This institute is endorsed by the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission.

CLICK HERE to see the program schedule and registration information.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Memorial Day

I’ve gotten this email several times lately and thought I’d pass it along to you as you prepare to celebrate Memorial Day.

It’s a true story. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told this story earlier this year to a crowd in Washington, D.C.

Back in September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a social studies school teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock, did something not to be forgotten.

On the first day of school, with permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she took all of the desks out of the classroom. The kids came into first period, they walked in, and there were no desks.

They obviously looked around and said, "Ms. Cothren, where's our desks?" And she said, "You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn them." They thought, "Well, maybe it's our grades." "No," she said. "Maybe it's our behavior." And she told them, "No, it's not even your behavior." And so they came and went in the first period, still no desks in the classroom. Second period, same thing, third period and so on.

By early afternoon television news crews had gathered in Ms. Cothren's class to find out about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of the classroom. The last period of the day, Martha Cothren gathered her class. They were at this time sitting on the floor around the sides of the room. And she says, "Throughout the day no one has really understood how you earn the desks that sit in this classroom ordinarily." She said, "Now I'm going to tell you." Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it, and as she did 27 U.S. veterans, wearing their uniforms, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk.

They placed those school desks in rows, and then they stood along the wall. And by the time they had finished placing those desks, those kids for the first time I think perhaps in their lives understood how they earned those desks.

Martha said, "You don't have to earn those desks. These guys did it for you. They put them out there for you, but it's up to you to sit here responsibly to learn, to be good students and good citizens, because they paid a price for you to have that desk, and don't ever forget it."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Elmer Ellsworth

He was born and raised in New York, but eventually moved to Chicago with dreams of becoming a lawyer.

Elmer Ellsworth was also interested in military history. He read all about the great battles, studied the tactics, and reveled in the countless deeds of valor. He became a colonel in Chicago's National Guard Cadet unit and introduced his men to the flashy French colonial Zouave uniforms. Ellsworth and his comrades toured the country, performing flashy drill exercises for cheering crowds.

And then came the election of 1860. There was actually a presidential candidate in Springfield—and he was a pretty good lawyer too. Ellsworth had to meet him. Perhaps he could help with the campaign? He might even learn a thing or two about becoming a lawyer.

Lincoln and Herndon welcomed him into the law office. This twenty-three year old was full of energy—Lincoln called him, “the greatest little man I ever met.”

After the election the clouds of secession darkened the mood. But war captured Ellsworth’s imagination.

He knew the president…and there were people in the country plotting revolution! He began recruiting soldiers—he set up militia and cadet units. He found a girlfriend too—Carrie Spafford, the daughter of a leading businessman. He asked her to marry him and she said yes.

Ellsworth went to Washington with the new presdient. The revolution was underway and secessionists were everywhere. From a window in the White House you could even see rebel flags. And then Virginia joined the revolution. The day after they seceded from the Union, Colonel Ellsworth was eager to invade the South.

On this day, May 24, 1861, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth led his men across the Potomac and into Alexandria, Virginia. They seized the railroad station and started toward the telegraph office. But then, Ellsworth saw something.

The Marshall House Inn was flying a rebel flag. Ellsworth had to tear it down—it was too symbolic to ignore.

With four others, he entered the building, made his way up the stairs, and cut down the rebel flag. Mission accomplished.

And then he met the rebel inn-keeper on the stairs.

Ellsworth, wearing a Union frock coat, clutching the rebel flag in his hand—the inn-keeper, awoken from his sleep, leveling a shotgun at the brash young soldier.

He fired and Ellsworth collapsed. Corporal Frank Brownell returned fire, killing the shot-gun wielding inn-keeper. They gave Brownell the Medal of Honor.

They said Lincoln cried when he heard his young friend was dead.

His body lay in state in the White House and then it was taken to New York City, where thousands of Union supporters turned out to pay their respects.

Elmer Ellworth was the first prominent casualty of the American Civil War.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

William Harvey Carney

Here’s a name you might not recognize—William Harvey Carney. Well, he has a great story.

Born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia, Carney escaped to Massachusetts with his father prior to the Civil War. He spent the first part of his life as a sailor.

However, during the Civil War, Carney served as a sergeant in the famed 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry (featured in the movie Glory).

On July 18, 1863, Carney and the 54th Massachusetts led an assault against the heavily fortified Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. It took several hours for the regiment to reach the fort’s parapet. Despite being wounded four times, Sergeant Carney planted the flag on the parapet, while the regiment charged. The 54th lost 281 of its 600 men that day, including Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and eventually had to retreat from their position. When asked how he was able to keep the flag planted during the assault, despite being wounded four times, Carney replied, “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!”

One hundred and seven years ago today, Carney became the first African American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the nation’s highest military honor.

Carney recovered from his injuries, was discharged with disability in 1864, and lived until 1908.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"Southern Chivalry"

Charles Sumner (R-MA) served in the United States Senate for twenty-three years. He was, without doubt, a Radical Republican during the Civil War Era and Reconstruction. However, he was most famous for a tragic incident that occurred on the floor of the Senate in 1856.

On May 19th and 20th, Sumner delivered a speech commonly known as “The Crime Against Kansas,” in which he denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the “slave power of our Republic.” Sumner’s rhetoric was characteristically graphic, but two passages were particularly objectionable.

The first passage included an extended metaphor in which Sumner compared the crisis in Kansas to “the rape of a virgin Territory…” The slave states were “compelling it to the hateful embrace of Slavery, and it may be clearly traced to a depraved longing for a new slave State, the hideous offspring of such a crime, in the hope of adding to the power of slavery in the National Government.”

While the first passage was generally offensive to the slave states, the second passage attacked a specific individual, Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina:

The Senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight, with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight I mean the harlot, Slavery. For her, his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this Senator.

Representative Preston Brooks was outraged. A cousin of Sen. Butler, he could not let Sumner off the hook. Brooks had a violent past; in fact, a few years earlier he fought a duel and had been shot in the hip, forcing him to use a cane for the rest of his life. How should he respond to Sumner’s verbal assault?

Brooks initially thought he should challenge Sumner to a duel. Of course, he knew the Senator from Massachusetts would never accept such a challenge. Yet, a duel could hardly settle the matter. Dueling etiquette required two participants of equal social standing. Sumner’s reckless speech demonstrated that he was not fit to be called a gentleman.

On this day, May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks confronted Sumner on the floor of the U. S. Senate.

“Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine,” Brooks exclaimed.

Sumner looked up from his desk and began to stand up when Brooks began beating him on the head with a thick, gold-handled cane.

Brooks was merciless. He landed a number of vicious blows before he eventually broke his cane. Blinded by his own blood, Sumner staggered a few feet up the aisle before he collapsed unconscious.

Suffering from the physical and mental effects of the beating, Sumner’s seat remained empty for three years.

The incident increased sectional hostilities. Northern newspapers decried Brooks and “the slave-power.” The political cartoon (as seen above) comes from a Northern paper. Notice what is in Sumner’s hands, a pen and paper, sure symbols of “the words of truth,” to which Southern men could only reply with force. Notice too the other Senators in the background, some are even smiling and holding others at bay.

For his actions, Brooks was not punished. Southern votes prevented his expulsion by the required two-thirds majority. Regardless, Brooks resigned, but won unanimous reelection in his district. While in South Carolina, the mayor of the state capitol presented Brooks with a new cane, while the city of Charleston gave him another one with the inscription, “Hit Him Again.” Brooks received dozens of canes from all across the South and became a hero to the emerging fire-eaters.

Brooks did not have long to revel in his new-found celebrity. He died eight months later of the croup.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Lincoln's Medical History

I stumbled upon a couple of very interesting articles pertaining to Abraham Lincoln’s medical history.

The most recent issue of the Journal of Medical Biography contains an article detailing Lincoln’s bout with smallpox in November 1863.

Researchers Armond Goldman and Frank Schmalstieg reviewed Lincoln’s symptoms and found that the president complained of being weak and dizzy in the days prior to delivering the Gettysburg Address. His condition worsened. He developed a high fever, severe headache, and backache. His skin soon broke out into scarlet blisters. In all, the president was sick for three weeks, during which time he became “emaciated.”

Historians have acknowledged that Lincoln’s doctors diagnosed him with “a mild form” of smallpox just after he delivered the Gettysburg Address. However, Goldman and Schmalstieg believe the president’s doctors deliberately downplayed his illness, hoping not to alarm the country during the Civil War. Because his skin erupted in blisters, they believe his condition was much more serious; in fact, they suggest the president could have died from the disease in late 1863. Indeed, one-third of all smallpox patients in the mid-19th Century did not survive.

Certainly future studies of the Gettysburg Address, need to acknowledge the president’s fragile health at the time; however, Goldman and Schmalstieg raise important questions that are usually relegated to the “alternate history” bin. How might American history have been different if President Lincoln died of smallpox in November 1863?

The second article comes from a University of Maryland School of Medicine conference, which examines the deaths of historic figures. This year, they focused on Lincoln’s assassination. They wanted to know two things: first, could today’s medical technology have saved Lincoln? Second, if so, could Lincoln have recovered well-enough to resume his duties?

“I don’t believe that the president had a uniformly fatal injury,” said Dr. Thomas Scalea, the physician in chief at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center. Scalea described how he would have treated the president’s wound and concluded that he could have lived.

So modern medical technology could have saved Lincoln’s life, but what about his recovery? Scalea said all brain injuries are different, but he suspected Lincoln would “have been left with substantial disability.” The bullet did not damage Lincoln’s frontal lobes, which are responsible for language, emotion, and problem-solving. However, it is unknown if Lincoln might have ever recovered well-enough to communicate again.

If Lincoln had survived, but could not immediately communicate, who would have ran the country? Apparently, not Vice President Andrew Johnson. The 25th Amendment, which deals with the transfer of power when a president is incapacitated, was not yet part of the U. S. Constitution. Historian Steven Lee Carson suggested that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who made several key decisions in the hours after the assassination, would have played a much greater role.

Again, neither of these two articles really asked new questions, but advances in medical technology have certainly offered new answers.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

North & South Magazine

I'm a long-time subscriber and strong advocate of North & South Magazine, but I have to admit the latest issue has me scratching my head a little bit.

Specifically, the editorial on page 4. I read that Terry Johnston recently stepped down after a two-year term. That is a shame. I thought the magazine was moving in an interesting direction--incorporating their website into the magazine through web polls and they even started a regular column reviewing Civil War-related blogs! So, it is too bad Johnston is stepping away.

However, Keith Poulter is taking his place. Poulter is the founder and was the editor for the first seven years of the magazine. No doubt, the publication will be in good hands. But, I am a bit disappointed to read about some of the "nuanced shifts" he has in mind. Here are a couple excerpts from the editorial, page 4:

For example, expect to see a little more emphasis on the military side of things, and a little less social history. The order-of-battle diagrams, so beloved of the wargamers (and many others) among the readers will again become a standard feature.

What's wrong with social history? True-enough, academic historians tend to focus on the social aspects of the war and, not so long ago, historians even worried that "Social Historians have lost the Civil War." The last few issues of N & S led me to believe we were bringing balance back to the war. Of course, military histories sell well and are essential to further our understanding of the conflict. But, I do think we need balance.

Here's another tough one:

I'm dropping the proposed special issue on Lincoln and Davis. The planned articles will appear, but spread over time. I have a feeling that an issue devoted solely to the two presidents would be less than riveting to those whose bent is mainly military, and would be something of a turn off for those whose orientation is southward--Davis surely coming off second best in any comparison.

What? This bothers me on several different levels. A magazine devoted to the Civil War, titled "North & South," thinks an issue devoted to the presidents of each side would be "less than riveting to those whose bent is mainly military..." What?!?

But, to be fair, Poulter offers a bit of a concession, though nothing is certain:

Another possibility is that we might publish a special Lincoln or Lincoln-Davis issue outside of the regular run of the magazine. Those interested could then buy it, those not interested would give it a pass.

One last tid-bit that is encouraging:

In a related development, North & South has reached agreement with Southern Illinois University Press, wehreby the Press will publish a series of books featuring articles that have appeared in the magazine. The first in the series, due out in spring 2008, will contian eight of the discussion articles that have appeared, inclduing such favorites as who were the top ten generals, and who were the worst ten.

I look forward to the series. I think that is a very positive endeavor and I will support it.

Maybe I'm just being a bit of a curmudgeon this morning, but I am a little worried about the "nuanced shifts."

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. CLICK HERE to weigh-in over on the DISCUSSION BOARD.

Friday, May 18, 2007


It seems like Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Rudy Giuliani have already been running for president for a long time. Today, the campaign for president lasts for about two years. What a marathon!

There was a time when presidential campaigns were much shorter. On this day, 147 years ago, Abraham Lincoln won the Republican Party’s nomination to run for president.

Leonard Swett, Lincoln’s personal and political friend, worked as hard as anyone to secure the party’s nomination for Lincoln. “I was with [Lincoln] the week before the Convention,” Swett wrote. “In speaking of the propriety of his going to it, he said he was most too much of a candidate to go, and not quite enough to stay at home.”

On the day of the nomination, each candidate was announced to the capacity crowd in Chicago’s Wigwam. When the favorite, William H. Seward, was announced, the crowd went wild. Swett confessed he was impressed. He continued to describe the scene:

Afterward, Bates, McLean, Cameron and Chase came with moderate applause. Then came Lincoln, and our people tested this by seconding the nomination of Seward, which gave them another chance. It was an improvement upon the first, and placed us in the background. Caleb B. Smith, of Indiana, then seconded the nomination of Lincoln, and the West came to the rescue. No mortal eye before saw such a scene. The idea of our Hoosiers and Suckers being outscreamed would have been as bad to them as the loss of their man. Five thousand people at once leaped to their seats, women not wanting in the number, and the wild yell made soft whisper breathing of all that had preceded. No language can describe it. A thousand steam whistles, ten acres of hotel gongs, a tribe of Comanches, headed by a choice vanguard from pandemonium, might have mingled in the scene unnoticed.

Lincoln won the nomination on the third vote. His friends were beside themselves with happiness. Swett wrote to a friend from his home state of Maine:

We will sweep the whole Northwest. The nomination is from the people, and not the politicians. No pledges have been made, no mortgages executed, but Lincoln enters the field a free man. He will continue so until the day of the election. He is a pure-minded, honest man, whose ability is second to no one in the nation. In twenty years he has risen himself from the captaincy of a flatboat on the Mississippi to the captaincy of a great party in this nation, and when he shall be elected, he will restore the government to its pristine purity.

By noon the news reached Springfield. 100 guns were fired in celebration. Friends called on Lincoln, who spoke briefly, and then invited the group to step inside.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A Call for Papers

The Illinois State Historical Society invites proposals for papers to be delivered before the 2008 Illinois History Symposium, which will be held in Springfield on March 6-8, 2008. The theme for the 2008 Symposium will be "The Legacies of Abraham Lincoln."
Papers on Lincoln and his contemporaries as well as the legacies of that generation, such as individual rights, the role of government, American identity, and changing memories of that time, are encouraged. The symposium committee welcomes proposals on all other aspects of Illinois history. Proposals for panels, papers, multi-media presentations, and teacher seminars are encouraged. Professional and amateur historians, graduate students, history and social study teachers, and museum professionals are encouraged to submit proposals to:

2008 Illinois History Symposium
Illinois State Historical Society
210 ½ S. Sixth Street, Suite 200
Springfield, Illinois, 62701

Deadline for proposals is November 19, 2007.
Please direct questions to Michael Batinski, symposium chair, at
The 2008 Illinois History Symposium will be held March 6 -8, 2008, in Springfield. For more information about the symposium, call the Society office at 217-525-2781.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"It Must Have Been Terrifying"

In a war that furnished dozens of iconic images, I’ve never been able to shake this one from my mind.

Taken two days after the Battle of Antietam, it is, to say the least, a disturbing image. Two dozen dead Confederates have been gathered and are waiting to be buried on the battlefield. Their clothes are tattered. The landscape is barren. I wonder if these soldiers knew one another?

With almost 23,000 total casualties and more than 3,600 deaths, the Battle of Antietam remains the bloodiest day in American history. Historians are still trying to piece together what happened on September 17, 1862.

I recently came across an ARTICLE about a team of archeologists from the National Park Service doing work at Antietam. Using metal detectors, they are trying to find as many of the spent rounds fired during the battle as they can. They plan to use them to chart the precise movments of individual units during the battle. Some of their observations are fascinating.

By charting shrapnel and spent and unfired bullets, they have traced the retreat of the fleeing 7th Maine near Piper Farm. The archeologists explain that Confederate artillery was simply too intense for the Maine soldiers. They found one shell that was half the size of a human hand, which was probably filled with lead shot the size of ping pong balls, each capable of killing a man or, at the very least, taking off a limb.

“I think about who was out here, that's what I think about—and the proximity to each other. This wasn’t shooting at each other at 250 yards. This was 70 yards. You could see the faces of your enemy,” archaeologist Bob Sonderman said. “It must have been terrifying.”

Terrifying. That’s a good word for what I’ve imagined it might have been like.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A New Discovery

It happened again.

There was a box in a vault at the Department of Library and Archives in Frankfort, Kentucky. No one knew what was in the box. And then Ron Elliot opened it up.

It was a court document. An old, handwritten, three-page document, dated May 1853.

The handwriting looked familiar. Elliot scanned to the bottom of the document and found the signature, “A. Lincoln.”

“My hands were kind of shaking,” he confessed.

Researchers had no idea the document even existed. It seems as if the former Kentucky state historian acquired a box of Lincoln-related documents decades ago. After he passed away, the box was placed in the vault and simply forgotten about until Elliot “discovered” it last week.

The newly-discovered document refers to some debt-collection work Lincoln did for his father-in-law’s law firm in the 1850s. Apparently, the firm claimed Lincoln still owed them $472.54, but Lincoln disputed the claim.

Though I have not heard all of the details, Illinois State Historian Tom Schwartz has read the document. “This case upset Lincoln a great deal,” Schwartz said. “It questioned his integrity and honesty.”

More details are sure to follow.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Scotland in the American Civil War?

Scotland is proud of its sons who fought in the American Civil War. Yes, you read that right!

The Reverend Dr. Bill Mackie (pictured above) has organized a ceremony to honor the Scottish veterans of the American Civil War. The ceremony will take place on July 21, which is the 146th anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run. The Abraham Lincoln memorial in the Old Calton cemetery (also pictured above) in Edinburgh, Scotland will host the ceremony. Organizers expect the American Consulate General in Edinburgh to be in attendance.

This is the first I’ve heard of a foreign country honoring its citizens who fought in the American Civil War. Kudos to Scotland for reminding us of the scope of the conflict.

CLICK HERE to read the original story.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Was Lincoln a Christian?

There has been plenty written on this subject, but there is hardly a clear-cut answer for this one.

Though his parents were Baptists, young Lincoln never joined their church. In New Salem, he allegedly wrote an “Infidel Book,” in which he denied several of the basic tenets of Christianity. Though his wife joined churches in Springfield, Lincoln never did, but he did attend church services with her. As president, he remained unaffiliated with any religious denomination.

All that being true, I don’t think anyone would deny that the man was “religious.” He read the Bible and was able to quote passages from memory. His political speeches contain too many references to the Almighty to consider him an unbeliever. But was he a Christian?

I came across this STORY recently. Baptist Pastor Keith Lunceford believes Lincoln became a Christian on November 19, 1863. That date should seem familiar by now—it was the date of the Gettysburg Address.

According to G. Frederick Owen, the author of The Man & His Faith, Lincoln told friends the following:

When I left Springfield, I asked the people to pray for me; I was not a Christian. When I buried my son-the severest trial of my life-I was not a Christian. But when I went to Gettysburg, and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there consecrated myself to Christ.

Did Lincoln really say that? The article does not go into a whole lot of detail about the quote’s provenance. I did a little digging and thought I’d share what I found. The quote does not appear in Fehrenbacher’s Recollected Words. I assumed that the quote was probably conveniently “remembered” years after the assassination by a minister to combat some of the things Lincoln’s former law partner, William Herndon, was saying and writing about Lincoln’s faith. Turns out I was wrong.

The quote comes from an article in the Freeport Weekly Journal in Freeport, IL. Here’s the shocker—the article appeared on December 7, 1864. In other words, during Lincoln’s lifetime. In my view, this lends substantial credibility to the purported quote. But what does it mean?

Wayne C. Temple’s fine book, From Skeptic to Prophet, examines the quote and offers a sober interpretation:

Perhaps Lincoln did make this statement, but there was no visible change in Lincoln’s later references to deity in his public utterances and writings. He still referred to God—not to Christ. And the honest President did not rush to join a church after speaking at Gettysburg. For a number of years he had been a God-fearing mortal, and he often referred to the United States as a Christian nation, yet Lincoln still did not publicly acknowledge himself to be a Christian. Lincoln’s attitude toward Christ is most difficult to evaluate.

At any rate, Pastor Lanceford believes the quote is accurate. Here is the conclusion to his recent article:

By his own testimony, Lincoln had a real conversion experience. He was precise as to its time and place. He was precise in his testimony of faith in Christ. Can you remember when you exercised faith in the Savior? Or have you exercised faith in the One who shed His blood on Calvary’s cross? If not, I pray you will.

Pastor Lanceford’s conclusion is telling. He appears to use Lincoln’s alleged conversion experience as a catalyst to encourage you to turn your life over to Christ. The preachers have identified their Lincoln.

Again, this has me thinking about Lincoln in popular culture. I am skeptical of people who use Lincoln as a “spokesman” for their cause—be it religion or anything else for that matter. When we “define” Lincoln by attaching our cause to his shadow—when we attempt to “Get Right With Lincoln”—are we advancing our understanding of the man himself or are we really just taking a cultural shortcut?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What's Left to Say About Stonewall Jackson?

As long as people remain interested in the Civil War, Jackson will remain one of the most interesting figures in American history. And for good reason. His actions during America’s most tragic war are studied by tactical commanders all over the world.

Orphaned by the age of seven, Jackson eventually graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, class of 1846. He fought in the Mexican War and later accepted a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington.

When the Civil War erupted, he took command of a group of recruits from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia. These soldiers became known as the famous “Stonewall Brigade.”
Jackson earned his nickname at the first major battle of the Civil War at First Bull Run. As his men reinforced the Confederate line amidst heavy fire, a general yelled out something along the lines of, “There is Jackson standing like a stonewall!”

His place in American military history was etched during his famous Valley Campaign of 1862, in which his 17,000 men engaged three Union armies, effectively disrupting the Union offensive against Richmond.

And of course, there is Chancellorsville. The battle represents Jackson’s finest and final moments. Lee divided his forces and entrusted Jackson to flank the Union right, which he accomplished to the tune of 4,000 Union prisoners.

That night, as Jackson was scouting his position, his troops failed to recognize him as one of their own and fired in his direction. Jackson was hit, but the wound was not mortal. His left arm was amputated. Upon hearing the news, Lee commented on Jackson’s importance, “He has lost his left arm; I have lost my right.”

While the 39 year old general was recovering from his wounds, he contracted pneumonia. As fever ravaged his body, those around him heard him say, “Let us cross over the river and rest in the shade of the trees.”

Stonewall Jackson died 144 years ago today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

"Young Abe Lincoln"

Lincoln State Park in Spencer County, Indiana has big news. The state’s new biennial budget includes more than $1.6 million for the site.

Officials already have plans for the money. From 1987 to 2005, the site featured a musical drama called, “Young Abe Lincoln,” which focused on Lincoln’s formative years in southern Indiana. The show closed after the state legislature cut funding. But now, it’s making a comeback!

Officials plan on using half of the $1.6 million to commission, costume, and stage a new version of “Young Abe Lincoln.” The rest of the budget will go toward refurbishing the park’s 1,500 seat amphitheater and parking lot. Look for the show to reopen in 2009.

The state budget also features an additional $1.475 million for Indiana’s Lincoln Bicentennial efforts.

This story has me thinking again about Lincoln in popular culture. I wonder how much of the public’s money is allocated each year for Lincoln-related sites, events, artifacts, etc.? I suppose it would be interesting to know the figure, but I wonder how the break-down by state would turn out? How would the numbers fluctuate by year? A long-term study would tell us quite a bit about Lincoln's place in the "American mind." Does anyone know of such a study? The topic is certainly worthy of a dissertation and/or book.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

4,000 Miles to Illinois

I remember my eighth grade class trip. We sold candy bars all year to pay for a full day at Six Flags in St. Louis. A two-hour bus ride, a dozen rides on the roller-coasters, a two-hour bus ride back, and we were home by 8 pm.

I came across an article today about a sixth-grade class that visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. To pay for their trip, the class hosted “fiddle dances, cakewalks, basketball tournaments, bake sales, and raffles.” In the end, each student also had to put up $500 of their own money to offset the costs of travel. The trip cost a whopping $18,000. Now I know tickets to the ALPLM aren’t that expensive, so what’s the deal?

Well, the class was from a remote village in western Alaska! After learning about the American Civil War during the school year, they traveled 4,000 miles to Illinois and plan on spending the next week touring the various Lincoln sites throughout the state.

If you run into the thirteen sixth graders and two teachers from Ket’acik Aap’alluk Memorial School in Kwethluk, Alaska, congratulate them for working so hard to get to Illinois!

Monday, May 7, 2007

A Letter to Mary Owens

On May 7, 1837, twenty-eight-year-old Abraham Lincoln wrote a long letter to his girlfriend, Mary Owens. He had been living in Springfield for less than a month. The transition to the new town was not easy:

This thing of living in Springfield is rather a dull business after all, at least it is so to me. I am quite as lonesome here as [I] ever was anywhere in my life. I have been spoken to by but one woman since I've been here, and should not have been by her, if she could have avoided it. I've never been to church yet, nor probably shall not be soon. I stay away because I am conscious I should not know how to behave myself.

Lincoln also doubted the way he felt about Mary Owens:

I am often thinking about what we said of your coming to live at Springfield. I am afraid you would not be satisfied. There is a great deal of flourishing about in carriages here, which it would be your doom to see without shareing in it. You would have to be poor without the means of hiding your poverty. Do you believe you could bear that patiently? Whatever woman may cast her lot with mine, should any ever do so, it is my intention to do all in my power to make her happy and contented; and there is nothing I can immagine, that would make me more unhappy than to fail in the effort. I know I should be much happier with you than the way I am, provided I saw no signs of discontent in you. What you have said to me may have been in jest, or I may have misunderstood it. If so, then let it be forgotten; if otherwise, I much wish you would think seriously before you decide. For my part I have already decided. What I have said I will most positively abide by, provided you wish it. My opinion is that you had better not do it. You have not been accustomed to hardship, and it may be more severe than you now immagine. I know you are capable of thinking correctly on any subject; and if you deliberate maturely upon this, before you decide, then I am willing to abide your decision.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Platt Family Scholarship Prize Essay Contest

So here's the question: "How did Lincoln’s study and practice of law prepare him for the challenges he would face during his Presidency?"

Your answer could make you $1,000 richer!

The annual Platt Family Scholarship Prize Essay Contest is open to any full-time student enrolled in an American college or university during the Spring 2007 semester. The contest is not open to high school students.

Essays must be typed, between 1,500 and 5,000 words, and contain a works-cited page or bibliography. CLICK HERE to see a full list of eligibility requirements.

The deadline to submit your essay is JULY 31, 2007.

The winners will be announced at The Lincoln Forum annual meeting in Gettysburg on November 18, 2007.

First Prize is $1,000
Second Prize is $500
Third Prize is $250

Send your entries via email to Don McCue at:

Or via regular mail to:

Don McCue, Curator, Lincoln Memorial Shrine
125 W. Vine St.
Redlands, CA 92373
Phone: (909) 798-7632

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Illinois State Bar Association

The Illinois State Bar Association has launched a $270,000 public relations campaign to build confidence in the legal profession. Guess who they chose to be the face of the campaign?

The new ads feature a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, along with the message: “Our state has a history of some pretty good lawyers. We’re out to keep it that way.”

I was not surprised to see Lincoln in their advertisements, but why did they choose that picture? That is the famous “Gettysburg Pose” from 1863. Yes, it is an iconic photograph, but it comes from Lincoln’s presidency, not from his days on the Illinois law circuit. Seems to me as if this photo would be a much more appropriate choice:

This “white suit photo” was taken in 1858 to commemorate the famous “Almanac Trial,” in which Lincoln earned an acquittal for Duff Armstrong, who was on trial for murder.

Quibbles aside, I wish the ISBA the best of luck in their efforts. According to surveys, Illinois lawyers are concerned about the image of the legal profession. Ethical concerns have always plagued the legal profession. Lincoln was no exception. Not only was he concerned with his profession’s reputation, but he even prepared a few remarks on the subject. CLICK HERE to read Lincoln’s advice to lawyers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

William C. Davis

William C. Davis is a prolific author. He has written more than twenty books on the Civil War, including a highly-regarded biography of Jefferson Davis and a really fine political history of the Confederacy. Eight years ago, he turned his attention to the Union army and the sixteenth president. Drawing on the letters in more than 600 manuscript collections, Lincoln’s Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to an Army set a high standard for historical scholarship.

Professor Davis will be speaking at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia tomorrow (May 3, 2007) at 7:30 pm. His talk will focus on Abraham Lincoln and the Union soldiers.

His talk is part of third annual symposium of The Lincoln Society of Virginia, a group founded to “commemorate and disseminate information about Lincoln family connections in the Shenandoah Valley, to protect and preserve Lincoln landmarks in the Shenandoah Valley, including Lincoln homes and the Lincoln cemetery and to interpret the sixteenth president, his life, work and legacy, particularly in Virginia.”

For more information about the Society or the symposium, contact Elaine Dellinger, c/o Bridgewater College, 402 E. College St., Bridgewater, VA. 22812. The phone number is (540) 828-5620 and the e-mail address is

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Richard Norton Smith

C-SPAN viewers know him from his regular appearances on “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” but Lincoln scholars recognize him as the first director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

Richard Norton Smith will be appearing at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal today at 2 pm to speak about Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.

“Every generation rediscovers Lincoln for itself,” Smith said. However, he does not believe we should put Lincoln “up on some marble pedestals.” As the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth nears, Smith encourages Americans to wade through the “myths, legends, and criticisms of the man so that a rediscovery is seen through the realities of his time, not ours.”

I want to encourage all my friends at ISU to check out the talk at the Bone Center. As always, I’m sure Richard Norton Smith’s comments about Lincoln will be insightful, but also take the opportunity to ask him about some of his other projects. He truly is a scholar who has written about the American presidency, the life of George Washington, and is currently writing a book on philanthropist Nelson A. Rockefeller. In addition, he has directed official libraries and museums of four other U. S. presidents: Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Regan.