Friday, June 29, 2007

Civil War Auction Fetches $6.5 Million

A Civil War auction in Gettysburg raised more than $6.5 million earlier this week.

“This was, without a doubt, the largest and most impressive Civil War auction ever held,” said Gary Hendershott, Director of Civil War auctions for Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries.

A collector paid over $1.6 million for a sword presented to Ulysses S. Grant (pictured above). The citizens of Kentucky presented Grant with the silver and gold, diamond-encrusted sword just after he was named General in Chief of the United States Army in 1864.

Another sword, this one presented to Confederate Major General William Mahone, fetched $388,375.

The other highlight of the auction seems to have been the personal battle flag of General George Armstrong Custer. Hand-sewn by his wife, the flag flew over Custer’s troops as Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. The winning bid nearly reached $900,000.

Of course, my favorite item was the Zouave uniform of W. Beriah Chandler, complete with the jacket with ornate chevrons, ballooned, chasseur-style pants, sash and leggings plus the very rare fez hat. Chandler, a member of the 146th New York Infantry, fought on Little Round top at Gettysburg. It fetched $125,475.

The next Civil War auction will take place on December 1 and 2, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee. I’ll try to pass along the information when it becomes available.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

An $8 Lincoln Letter!

Firefighters save lives everyday, but when was the last time you heard of them saving a primary document?

Joseph Skanks, a firefighter in Tampa, Florida, collects old photographs. One morning, just after a 24-hour shift, he stopped by an estate sale and purchased a pile of old photos, books, and letters for $8. He carried the stack home and began to sort through it. And then he saw it.

It was an old letter, dated August 2, 1858, addressed to Henry Clay Whitney, signed…A. Lincoln.

Yes, it turns out this is an original! The PBS show "History Detectives" will highlight his discovery on August 27th.

Whitney was a fellow lawyer and traveled the law circuit with Lincoln throughout the 1850s. He also helped promote Lincoln’s political prospects. After the assassination, Whitney wrote about Lincoln’s life. In 1891, Whitney published a poor facsimile of the letter in question. The editors of the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln deemed it authentic and transcribed the letter (CW, 2:534-535).

To Henry C. Whitney [1]

Dear Whitney Springfield August 2d. 1858

Yours of the 31st. [2] is just received. I shall write to B. C. Cook at Ottawa and to Lovejoy himself on the subject you suggest.

Pardon me for not writing a longer letter. I have a great many letters to write.

I was at Monticello Thursday evening. Signs all very good. Your friend as ever A. LINCOLN


[1] ALS-F, ISLA, and copy, DLC-HW. The facsimile from Whitney's A Souvenir of Abraham Lincoln (1891), like other facsimiles in the same source, is so poor as to suggest forgery, but there seems little reason to doubt that the original was once extant.

[2] Whitney wrote from Chicago that ``a large body of Republicans & many Democrats acting in concert with them'' were planning to run Churchill Coffing as an independent candidate for Congress in the Third Congressional District and ``republicans of the [Hugh T.] Dickey stamp for the legislature---those candidates to be understood as Douglas men. . . .'' (DLC-RTL).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

The prize was Atlanta. William Tecumseh Sherman knew it, as did his Confederate opponent Joseph Johnston.

It was just 100 miles from Chattanooga to Atlanta, but the Confederates were prepared to do anything to keep Sherman from reaching his goal. Johnston prepared a series of assaults on the advancing Federals, but Sherman was able to flank the rebels and continued on his southeast course. But things changed outside Marietta, Georgia.

Johnston had his men construct trenches and earthworks at Kennesaw Mountain. By the time Sherman’s men reached the mountain, the Confederates were ready for them.

On this date, 143 years ago, The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain took place. General John Bell Hood began the Confederate assault, but Union soldiers were able to fight him off. Sherman initially wanted to keep his army moving toward their goal, but heavy rain, muddy roads, and a determined Confederate army made it impossible. He had to fight.

Sherman believed the Confederates were stretched too thin. He decided to attack the center of their line. He began his assault with a heavy artillery barrage, followed by a three-part infantry attack: George Henry Thomas would lead the main attack on the Confederate center, while James B. McPherson would attack the Confederate right along the slopes of Little Kennesaw Mountain, and John Schofield would engage the southern end of the Confederate line.

The Union attack against the dug-in Confederates at the Dead Angle, near the Confederate center, was unsuccessful. Estimated casualties were about 500 for the Confederates, while 3,000 Union men fell.

Historians have questioned Sherman’s decision to attack the well-entrenched Confederates. However, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was one of the few Confederate victories during Sherman’s successful Atlanta Campaign.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lincoln and Race

On this date in 1857 Abraham Lincoln spoke at length in Springfield, Illinois on the Dred Scott decision. His comments were printed and were available for purchase. Several newspapers also printed his speech in full.

In my view, this is an incredibly important speech. Lincoln has not yet faced Douglas in the celebrated debates—those are still a year away. Lincoln is still developing those ideas, but his rhetoric has already come a long way. The villain in this speech is not Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, the author of the Dred Scott decision, the villain is Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who has recently commented on the wisdom of the decision itself. Lincoln lays out the fundamental disagreement—how do we interpret our Declaration of Independence?

But this speech is not simply a sermon about a Supreme Court decision or a meditation on how we interpret one of our nation's founding documents. This speech reveals how Lincoln sees African Americans as of 1857. Take a few moments to read through some of these passages. Lincoln’s comments are incredibly eye-opening.

He begins by establishing common ground with Douglas:

There is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races; and Judge Douglas evidently is basing his chief hope, upon the chances of being able to appropriate the benefit of this disgust to himself. If he can, by much drumming and repeating, fasten the odium of that idea upon his adversaries, he thinks he can struggle through the storm. He therefore clings to this hope, as a drowning man to the last plank. He makes an occasion for lugging it in from the opposition to the Dred Scott decision. He finds the Republicans insisting that the Declaration of Independence includes ALL men, black as well as white; and forth-with he boldly denies that it includes negroes at all, and proceeds to argue gravely that all who contend it does, do so only because they want to vote, and eat, and sleep, and marry with negroes! He will have it that they cannot be consistent else. Now I protest against that counterfeit logic which concludes that, because I do not want a black woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. I need not have her for either, I can just leave her alone. In some respects she certainly is not my equal; but in her natural right to eat the bread she earns with her own hands without asking leave of any one else, she is my equal, and the equal of all others.

Now, here is the fundamental disagreement. Lincoln says he disagrees with both the Taney and Douglas interpretation of the Declaration of Independence:

Chief Justice Taney, in his opinion in the Dred Scott case, admits that the language of the Declaration is broad enough to include the whole human family, but he and Judge Douglas argue that the authors of that instrument did not intend to include negroes, by the fact that they did not at once, actually place them on an equality with the whites. Now this grave argument comes to just nothing at all, by the other fact, that they did not at once, or ever afterwards, actually place all white people on an equality with one or another. And this is the staple argument of both the Chief Justice and the Senator, for doing this obvious violence to the plain unmistakable language of the Declaration. I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not intend to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all were equal in color, size, intellect, moral developments, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness, in what respects they did consider all men created equal---equal in ``certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.'' This they said, and this meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth, that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet, that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit. They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all, and revered by all; constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere. The assertion that ``all men are created equal'' was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain; and it was placed in the Declaration, nor for that, but for future use. Its authors meant it to be, thank God, it is now proving itself, a stumbling block to those who in after times might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism. They knew the proneness of prosperity to breed tyrants, and they meant when such should re-appear in this fair land and commence their vocation they should find left for them at least one hard nut to crack.

Lincoln then quotes from a recent speech by Senator Douglas. This, Lincoln says, is how Douglas interprets the same Declaration of Independence:

``No man can vindicate the character, motives and conduct of the signers of the Declaration of Independence except upon the hypothesis that they referred to the white race alone, and not to the African, when they declared all men to have been created equal---that they were speaking of British subjects on this continent being equal to British subjects born and residing in Great Britain---that they were entitled to the same inalienable rights, and among them were enumerated life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration was adopted for the purpose of justifying the colonists in the eyes of the civilized world in withdrawing their allegiance from the British crown, and dissolving their connection with the mother country.''

Lincoln says the Douglas interpretation is not only wrong, but ultimately, it is dangerous. “My good friends,” Lincoln says, “read that carefully over some leisure hour, and ponder well upon it---see what a mere wreck---mangled ruin---it makes of our once glorious Declaration.” Lincoln continues:

Why, according to this, not only negroes but white people outside of Great Britain and America are not spoken of in that instrument. The English, Irish and Scotch, along with white Americans, were included to be sure, but the French, Germans and other white people of the world are all gone to pot along with the Judge's inferior races.

I had thought the Declaration promised something better than the condition of British subjects; but no, it only meant that we should be equal to them in their own oppressed and unequal condition. According to that, it gave no promise that having kicked off the King and Lords of Great Britain, we should not at once be saddled with a King and Lords of our own.

I had thought the Declaration contemplated the progressive improvement in the condition of all men everywhere; but no, it merely ``was adopted for the purpose of justifying the colonists in the eyes of the civilized world in withdrawing their allegiance from the British crown, and dissolving their connection with the mother country.'' Why, that object having been effected some eighty years ago, the Declaration is of no practical use now---mere rubbish---old wadding left to rot on the battle-field after the victory is won.

The Dred Scott decision is important because the interpretation of one of the nation’s founding documents is at stake:

I understand you are preparing to celebrate the ``Fourth,'' tomorrow week. What for? The doings of that day had no reference to the present; and quite half of you are not even descendants of those who were referred to at that day. But I suppose you will celebrate; and will even go so far as to read the Declaration. Suppose after you read it once in the old fashioned way, you read it once more with Judge Douglas' version. It will then run thus: ``We hold these truths to be self-evident that all British subjects who were on this continent eighty-one years ago, were created equal to all British subjects born and then residing in Great Britain.''

And now I appeal to all---to Democrats as well as others,---are you really willing that the Declaration shall be thus frittered away?---thus left no more at most, than an interesting memorial of the dead past? thus shorn of its vitality, and practical value; and left without the germ or even the suggestion of the individual rights of man in it?

Throughout the speech, Lincoln clearly says America’s different races should remain separated. Lincoln went on to develop these ideas further in the Lincoln-Douglas debates (see, for instance, the fourth debate at Charleston). I think it is important to acknowledge these remarks. This is how Lincoln saw race relations in 1857:

But Judge Douglas is especially horrified at the thought of the mixing blood by the white and black races: agreed for once---a thousand times agreed. There are white men enough to marry all the white women, and black men enough to marry all the black women; and so let them be married. On this point we fully agree with the Judge; and when he shall show that his policy is better adapted to prevent amalgamation than ours we shall drop ours, and adopt his.

Lincoln says the Republicans have a solution: they oppose the spread of slavery, thus the “amalgamation” of the races will not occur. Lincoln uses statistics to illustrate his case:

Let us see. In 1850 there were in the United States, 405,751, mulattoes. Very few of these are the offspring of whites and free blacks; nearly all have sprung from black slaves and white masters. A separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation but as an immediate separation is impossible the next best thing is to keep them apart where they are not already together. If white and black people never get together in Kansas, they will never mix blood in Kansas. That is at least one self-evident truth. A few free colored persons may get into the free States, in any event; but their number is too insignificant to amount to much in the way of mixing blood. In 1850 there were in the free states, 56,649 mulattoes; but for the most part they were not born there---they came from the slave States, ready made up. In the same year the slave States had 348,874 mulattoes all of home production. The proportion of free mulattoes to free blacks---the only colored classes in the free states---is much greater in the slave than in the free states. It is worthy of note too, that among the free states those which make the colored man the nearest to equal the white, have, proportionably the fewest mulattoes the least of amalgamation. In New Hampshire, the State which goes farthest towards equality between the races, there are just 184 Mulattoes while there are in Virginia---how many do you think? 79,775, being 23,126 more than in all the free States together.

These statistics show that slavery is the greatest source of amalgamation; and next to it, not the elevation, but the degeneration of the free blacks. Yet Judge Douglas dreads the slightest restraints on the spread of slavery, and the slightest human recognition of the negro, as tending horribly to amalgamation.

I have said that the separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation. I have no right to say all the members of the Republican party are in favor of this, nor to say that as a party they are in favor of it. There is nothing in their platform directly on the subject. But I can say a very large proportion of its members are for it, and that the chief plank in their platform---opposition to the spread of slavery---is most favorable to that separation.

Such separation, if ever effected at all, must be effected by colonization; and no political party, as such, is now doing anything directly for colonization. Party operations at present only favor or retard colonization incidentally. The enterprise is a difficult one; but ``when there is a will there is a way;'' and what colonization needs most is a hearty will. Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest. Let us be brought to believe it is morally right, and, at the same time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task may be. The children of Israel, to such numbers as to include four hundred thousand fighting men, went out of Egyptian bondage in a body.

People often get squimish when they read Lincoln's words. We don't want to believe the author of the Emancipation Proclamation said or believed such things, nor do we want to hear that crowds cheered such comments. In the end, these words are important. They tell us a lot about the Nineteenth Century. There is a reason why books like Lerone Bennett's Forced into Glory are written, but in my view, such books inevitably miss the mark. Was Lincoln a racist or was he the Great Emancipator? Well, it simply isn't that easy.

Lincoln was wrestling with tough questions all his life. This speech documents the answers he had found as of 1857. But also realize how few statues there are that depict the wayLincoln looked in 1857!

Lincoln never stopped looking for answers. His ideas evolved. Douglas challenged him to develop his ideas further, just as the election of 1860 presented different variables. And then the war came and with it came four years of unspeakable suffering. Forget the Emancipation Proclamation, read the Conkling letter or the Second Inaugural. There is a transformation.

CLICK HERE to read the entire speech on the Dred Scott decision.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Unconventional Warfare

1864. In my view, this was the most brutal year of the war—the year in which Lincoln finally found a general who understood that “awful arithmetic” of superior Union numbers.

The opposing armies fought their way to a standstill in Petersburg, Virginia, just south of the Confederate capital in Richmond. The armies began fortifying their positions—they dug trenches and settled in for a long siege. No one was going anywhere. Stalemate.

The men of the 48th Pennsylvania had an idea. Before they marched through Virginia in search of Confederates, they had been miners in Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal region. Why not put their peculiar talent to good use? Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants proposed a bold plan—his men would construct a tunnel stretching from the Union line to the Confederate position. Once they reached enemy territory, they would ignite a huge cache of gunpowder underground, causing a massive explosion—and massive casualties.

On this date in 1864, the men of the 48th Pennsylvania began digging the tunnel. They were able to complete about 40 feet per day. Finally, after five weeks, the 500 foot long shaft was complete.

They lit the gunpowder on July 30th. The plan worked. You can still see the crater today, measuring 170 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. Between 250 and 350 Confederate soldiers were killed instantly. Though the explosion worked and a huge gap was blown in the Confederate line, Union forces were unable to capitalize. The Battle of the Crater was a Confederate victory. Confederates reported losses of 1,032 men, while Union losses were eventually estimated at 5,300.

The movie Cold Mountain contains a dramatic depiction of this battle.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Every so often I come across a real gem.  I made a note to pass this one along awhile ago, so here goes:

Back in 2002 Harry V. Jaffa and Thomas J. DiLorenzo squared off at the Independent Institute Conference Center in Oakland, California for a public debate, appropriately titled, "The Real Abraham Lincoln."  Here was the original announcement:

Many Americans consider Abraham Lincoln to be the greatest president in history. His legend as the Great Emancipator has grown to mythic proportions as hundreds of books and a monument in Washington, D.C., extol his heroism and martyrdom. Is Lincoln’s reputation deserved? Lincoln defender Harry V. Jaffa (author of the new book, A New Birth of Freedom) will argue that Lincoln was a model statesman who stuck by high-minded principles as he fought to promote liberty. Lincoln critic Thomas DiLorenzo (author of the new book, The Real Lincoln) will argue that Lincoln was a calculating politician who waged the bloodiest war in American history not to free the slaves, but in order to build an empire that rivaled Great Britain’s. Was Lincoln a great hero or a villain? Did he honor the promise of America—or betray it?

I recently found the debate transcript and audio online!  Get a cup of coffee and plant yourself in front of your computer for this is a real treat.

CLICK HERE to read the transcript

CLICK HERE to listen to the audio

Special thanks to the Independent Institute for making the debate possible and for making the experience available online!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Going to Springfield?

I just found out about some of the new things happening at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. Let’s just say they don’t have much to do with Lincoln or the Civil War, but you may want to check them out if you’re in town.

The Museum has been sponsoring a series of musical performances all summer, which take place just across the street in Union Square Park. I wasn’t aware of it until yesterday, but there are a few dates remaining, including a nice lineup for the 4th of July:

June 22 12-2 pm Mike Anderson
June 23 10-noon Mike Anderson
June 29 11-1 pm Chris Vallillo
July 4 10-noon Chris Vallillo “Abraham Lincoln in Song”
July 4 noon Reading of the Declaration of Independence
July 4 1-3 pm New Century Orchestra

The second piece of news is a little stranger, so hang with me for a second. Project Runway is a hit reality show on Bravo. Basically, it is American Idol for fashion students. I watched the first season a couple of times and enjoyed it. But what does any of that have to do with the Lincoln Museum?

Well, former Project Runway finalist Mychael Knight will hold a fashion show gala event, “Fashion Knight at the Museum” at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum on Saturday, July 28 at 8 pm.

According to the press release, Knight will “highlight a past-to-present comparison of the trendsetting fashions of Mary Todd Lincoln’s day to the contemporary styles of today. This runway extravaganza will include local models presenting some of Knight’s own fashion designs.”

"Mary Todd Lincoln was quite fashion forward and extremely indulgent when it came to fashion and jewelry,” said Knight. “Her dresses were always designed and made to her specifications, regardless of the cost. If she were alive today, she would be my ideal client."

Fashionista Ticket ~ $75

Exclusive invitation to the Very Mary VIP Party with special guest Mychael Knight at 6:00 p.m. in the Library Atrium (cocktails and hors d'oeuvres served) Private tour of Mary Todd Lincoln: First Lady of Controversy exhibit before the show Preferred seating to Fashion Knight at the
Museum at 8:00 p.m. in the Museum Plaza VIP memento

Trendsetter Ticket ~ $35
General admission seating to Fashion Knight at the Museum at 8:00 p.m. in the Museum Plaza Viewing of Mary Todd Lincoln: First Lady of Controversy exhibit after the show Public autograph session with Mychael Knight after the show

CLICK HERE to purchase tickets.

If you know someone who is interested in fashion, it might be a good way to get them to come to Springfield…you might even be able to sneak in a tour of the museum!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission Grants

The Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission has awarded more than $440,000 in grant money!

The Bicentennial Grant funds are part of a Fiscal Year 2007 appropriation passed by the Illinois State Legislature. The grants were available to organizations, museums, local communities, nonprofit institutions, and government agencies to support educational, interpretative, and special events related to Lincoln’s Illinois heritage.

I was so pleased to learn that the Jonesboro Debate Site is among the 14 projects that will be funded!

Here is the complete list:
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate Site, Alton The funds will provide interpretive signs at nine sites with Lincoln and Civil War significance around the greater Alton area, including the existing Debate site monument. Bicentennial Grant: $65,000.
  • “Lincoln Road Scholars,” Illinois Humanities Council This project will produce a two-year, six-person roster of Lincoln-related humanities programs that will be offered, free of charge, to communities and nonprofit organizations that do not have programming budgets or access to humanities scholars. Bicentennial Grant: $40,082.
  • Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council, Chicago The Bicentennial funds will help develop interpretive materials, street banners, a website, and event programs to promote this area of Chicago with its Lincoln-era history. Sites and history that will benefit from the project include Camp Douglas and its role in the Civil War, the Soldiers Home, Stephen A. Douglas Tomb, Confederate Soldiers Mound, Douglas Elementary School, and Griffin Funeral Home. Bicentennial Grant: $25,000.
  • Vermilion County Museum Society, Danville An exhibit will be developed reflecting Lincoln’s life in Vermilion County. The exhibit and accompanying handbooks will be taken to all 47 private and public schools and nine libraries in the county. While at the libraries, it will be utilized as part of the summer reading program. Bicentennial Grant: $1,500.
  • Lincoln Log Courthouse, Decatur Major roof repairs will be made to this historic landmark, the only log courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law as a young lawyer. The log building is used for many interpretive and educational programs. Bicentennial Grant: $11,000.
  • Land of Lincoln Statewide Read Program Patterned after the “city wide reads” programs in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, this program will encourage readers across the state, through their local libraries, to read Richard Carwardine’s book, Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power. A study guide pamphlet will be developed, a list of Lincoln scholars who are willing to make local presentations will be prepared, and readers will be encouraged to visit the Illinois locations mentioned in the book. This program is in cooperation with Northern Illinois University and Illinois Library and Information Network. Bicentennial Grant: $18,065.
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate Site, Freeport This Debate site will be enhanced with 13 new wayside exhibits, updated street and sidewalk paving, additional lighting, benches, and landscaping. Bicentennial Grant: $20,000.
  • Ravinia Music Festival, Highland Park The grant will support the nationwide commissioning of up to ten chamber music compositions, each embedded with or framed by Lincoln’s words. Ravinia Festival will hold a competition that will award commissions to the winners with a special emphasis on Illinois composers. Performances of the pieces will be given by Ravinia’s Steans Institute for Young Artists alumni in schools and other public venues. Bicentennial Grant: $70,000.
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate Site, Jonesboro Statues of Lincoln and Douglas will be created with the grant funds as the centerpiece of the Debate site to create interest and generate more funding for a planned courtyard, interpretive signs, interpretive center, and more projects. Jonesboro is the only Lincoln-Douglas Debate community without statues commemorating the Debates. Bicentennial Grant: $61,000.
  • Early American Museum, Mahomet The museum will create a DVD of Lincoln’s life as an attorney traveling the Eighth Judicial Circuit, focusing specifically on Champaign County and east central Illinois. Copies of the DVD will be distributed to educators and visitors. The grant will also help upgrade audio-visual equipment to show the DVD in the museum. Bicentennial Grant: $9,700.
  • Menard County Tourism Council The grant will fund a program to develop interpretative signs and multi-media equipment to encourage public visitation of Menard County’s Lincoln and other historical sites. Bicentennial Grant: $26,500.
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate Site, Quincy Quincy will use the grant to improve the site of the sixth Debate. A raised limestone base will be added to the existing monument, an interpretive plaque will be created, and new illuminated flagpoles bearing the 1858 U.S. flag will be installed. Bicentennial Grant: $50,000.
  • “Prairie Fire” program, WILL-TV The public television station will produce a series on Lincoln’s life as an 1850s attorney on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, featuring re-enactments and interviews with historians. WILL-TV’s audience includes the cities of Decatur, Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Charleston, Mattoon, Bloomington-Normal, and Danville. The features will also be distributed to a national PBS audience. Bicentennial Grant: $40,000.
  • Evans Public Library District, Vandalia A project is underway to create educational kits for children emphasizing the period that Lincoln served in the Illinois State Legislature in Vandalia. The grant will expand that project to produce additional third and fourth grade educational kits that will be available to public and school libraries through interlibrary loan. Bicentennial Grant: $2,200.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

1864. Petersburg, Virginia. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is severely wounded.

He had been a college professor from Maine, but he took a sabbatical to serve in the Union Army. He became a legend at Gettysburg. He commanded the 20th Maine and secured the Union left flank on Little Round Top. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions.

He suffered six wounds during the Civil War, but this one—suffered at Petersburg—was the most serious. Doctors said it was fatal.

But Chamberlain rallied. His condition steadily improved and he rejoined the Army of the Potomac in time for Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

After the Civil War, Chamberlain returned to Maine and wrote his memoirs. He served four terms as governor and became president of Bowdoin College, where he worked before the war.

Chamberlain was also in attendance for the 50th Anniversary of Gettysburg in 1913. A year later, he died of an infection from the wound he suffered at Petersburg.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Are Historians Unpatriotic?

Many thanks to btarrington over on the discussion board for calling my attention to a Lincoln mention in Time Magazine this week. I read the piece and want to share an observation that has less to do with Lincoln, more to do with the historical profession and, I fear, the current status of political dialogue in America.

For those of you unfamiliar with William “Bill” Kristol, he is a conservative pundit—a founder of the Weekly Standard and Fox News Contributor. His father, Irving Kristol, is generally considered one of the founders of the neoconservative movement in America. Like all of us, Kristol’s world-view influences the way he interprets the past.

In the article, Kristol focuses on Lincoln’s 1838 Lyceum Address. He praises 28-year-old for accepting the challenges his generation faced at the time. “Now we face challenges almost as daunting as those confronting the nation when Lincoln spoke,” Kristol writes. “The perpetuation of freedom in the world is no more certain today than was the perpetuation of our free institutions then.”

I don’t want to take issue with Kristol’s overall thesis; instead, I want to talk about the first two sentences of the article:

"In the old days, historians—at least some of them—were partriotic and moralistic. No longer."
I don’t like this at all.

Kristol references Andrew Ferguson’s new book, Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America. For those of you who haven’t picked this one up I encourage you to. It is a good one—along the lines of Confederates in the Attic—Ferguson is interested in the ways we remember Lincoln. He not only writes with humor, but he is genuinely interested in the way history works.

Apparently, Krisol was intrigued by Ferguson’s observation that historians have encouraged “skepticism about the country, its heroes and its history.” So we come back to Kristol’s opening line: “In the old days, historians—at least some of them—were patriotic and moralistic. No longer.”

What? Historians today are somehow unpatriotic because they encourage Americans to view their origins with a critical eye? Let’s be careful with what we wish for. Apparently, Kristol wishes history would return to an earlier, simpler time—a time in which American textbooks "celebrated" the past. Well, he should pick up a textbook from the nineteenth century. Nationalist historians—most notably George Bancroft—were incredibly popular a century and a half ago. But be careful with them. Their interpretation of American history "celebrated" the triumph of Anglo-Saxon people over inferior races, often justifying colonization and the treatment of Native Americans, and yes, they also justified American slavery.

Bancroft offered an interpretation of American history—largely from the perspective of white males. To put it mildly, the historical profession has come a long way since then. Historians today do not tell simple stories. We meet the past on its own terms. We do our best to interpret what life must have been like for the generations that came before us. That means our histories include the people who were absent from Nationalist histories—people like women, African Americans, Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, sharecroppers, child workers, etc. I could go on, but you get the point.

It isn’t that historians today are unpatriotic—they love their country as much as any political pundit. We celebrate the American experiment in popular government, but we understand that the story has many layers. If those stories make some people uncomfortable, that is just too bad! I’ve never taken an oath to make people feel comfortable.

Kristol has the right to question a historian’s judgment in telling uncomfortable stories. I see no harm in that debate; in fact, I encourage it. However, to question a historian’s patriotism is a sad commentary on the current state of political dialogue in America.

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about this on the DISCUSSION BOARD.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Flag Day

Today is “Flag Day.”

On this date in 1777 the Second Continental Congress passed the "Flag Resolution:"
Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.

I like the way George Washington interpreted the flag: “We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty."

The Flag Resolution did not specify how the stars should be arranged. However, the oldest US flag in existence has the stars in a circular pattern and battlefield paintings from the American Revolution often depict flags with the stars in a circular pattern.

Today, we say the thirteen stripes represent the original thirteen colonies, while the fifty stars each represent a state. Over the last 230 years, the number of states has steadily increased, thus we’ve had several different flag designs.

Of course, the flag is flown all across the country outside homes, schools, government buildings, private businesses, sporting events, etc., but that's not it. The flag is also on continual display on the Moon. It was placed there by Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17. We assume the flag is still planted on the Moon's surface today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Heavy Fire in the Blogosphere

Apparently the new issue of Civil War Times Illustrated has, to put it mildly, upset some folks. I know, I know—it was a special issue devoted to Gettysburg, so what could be the problem?

Well, the interview with historian Gary Gallagher, who comments at length about “the battle’s powerful place in the American consciousness, how it got there and why it has remained,” did the trick.

Here’s the exchange:

Question: "You delivered a paper at the Society of Civil War Historians that asked the question: Do we need another book on Gettysburg? Do we?"

Gallagher: "Well, I think that there are some books on Gettysburg we really don't need. If you just love Gettysburg and want to know everything about it, then this flood of books that comes out looking at tinier and tinier parts of the battle in greater detail are of interest. But for most people, those who want to understand the Civil War, or even the war in the East or the Gettysburg campaign, do they need 450 pages on two hours in the Railroad Cut? I don't think so. I just don't think that this literature takes us any place. Do we need multiple books about what Lee's real plan at Gettysburg was? Or, more recently, I think there have been two, maybe three, new books on Jeb Stuart during the Gettysburg campaign. I just can't believe that there is anything new to say about Jeb Stuart during the Gettysburg campaign. I really believe there is not. All the arguments have been laid out, pro and con. All the key documents have been available for a very long time. So you either pick your John Mosby school that says Stuart was pretty much doing his job, acting within his orders, and even Alan Nolan sort of fits into that, or you go to the other side where it's Jeb Stuart's fault. I think Jeb Stuart didn't do a good job. But the notion that there would be a lot that's new, enough to support new books--and not just one new book but maybe two or three--I just say, stop the madness."

The authors of Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg, Eric Wittenberg and J. David Petruzzi seem to feel Gallagher's comments were directed at them. I understand they have crafted a rebuttal letter to CWTI regarding the comments, but they have also voiced some of their outrage on their personal blogs:

Eric Wittenberg’s blog, Rantings of a Civil War Historian

J. David Petruzzi’s blog, Hoofbeats and Cold Steel

The best coverage about all of this comes from Kevin Levin’s blog, Civil War Memory

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Nancy and Thomas Lincoln's Wedding Anniversary

Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks were married 201 years ago today.

We know very little about the wedding itself. We know Jesse Head, a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church, married the couple in Richard Berry’s cabin, close to Beechland in Washington County, Kentucky.

The new couple settled in Elizabethtown in Hardin County. Eight months later, Nancy gave birth to Sarah Lincoln (b. February 10, 1807). Two years and two days later, they welcomed Abraham into the world. Another child, named Thomas, died shortly after being born.

Abraham Lincoln never knew which county his parents were married in. For years, historians searched Hardin County records for a record of the Lincoln marriage, but never found one, leading to widespread speculation that the Lincolns were never legally married. However, in 1878 R. M. Thompson followed a lead from an old settler and eventually tracked down the marriage bond in Washington County, Kentucky.

I just recently came across the interesting picture at the top of this article. The bronze sculpture depicts the Lincoln family about a year after Abraham’s birth.

CLICK HERE to visit the Lincoln Birthplace website.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Lincoln's Humor

I’m still trying to process the Sopranos finale from last night, so here’s a funny story for Monday morning:

On Sunday, June 10, 1849, Lincoln traveled from his home in Springfield to Washington, D.C. to take his seat in the United States Congress. It took him about a week to make the journey, but he seems to have had company. A stranger from Kentucky accompanied Lincoln on the stage.

After completing their introductions, the Kentuckian offered Lincoln a smoke, but he declined, saying he did not smoke. After a while, the Kentuckian offered Lincoln a chew, but again, he declined, saying he did not chew. Later still, the Kentuckian offered Lincoln a drink of whiskey, but again, Lincoln declined, saying he did not drink alcohol.

The frustrated Kentuckian looked at Lincoln and said, “See here, stranger,…my experience has taught me that a man who has no vices has damned few virtues!”

Lincoln liked the exchange so much he repeated the story to his law partner, William Herndon, who included it in his Lincoln biography.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Dreaming about Tad

I came across this telegram a few years back and got a kick out of it.

On this date, 144 years ago, President Lincoln sent his wife a telegram, which can be found in the Collected Works 6:256

To Mary Lincoln [1]

Mrs. LINCOLN Executive Mansion,
Philadelphia, Pa. Washington, June 9. 1863.

Think you better put ``Tad's'' pistol away. I had an ugly dream about him. A. LINCOLN


[1] ATS, IHi. There is no reply to this telegram.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A "New" Lincoln Document?

It seemed like an easy-enough task. The Discovery Channel wanted the National Archives to track down a few documents for their upcoming documentary on Gettysburg.

Archivist Trevor Plante began searching through the documents when he saw something that wasn’t supposed to be there.

The letter was old, the handwriting was familiar, the signature…“A. Lincoln.”

“I was looking for something else and frankly where I found it was in an obscure place,” said archivist Trevor Plante. CLICK HERE to read the AP story.

Plante adds his name to the list of people who have uncovered a Lincoln document!

So does it reveal something about Lincoln we didn’t already know? Well, no. In fact, a transcription of the letter appears in the Collected Works 6:319:

To Henry W. Halleck [1]
Major-General Halleck: [July 7, 1863]

We have certain information that Vicksburg surrendered to General Grant on the 4th of July. Now, if General Meade can complete his work, so gloriously prosecuted thus far, by the literal or substantial destruction of Lee's army, the rebellion will be over.Yours, truly, A. LINCOLN.

[1] OR, I, XXVII, I, 83. In the source Lincoln's note to Halleck is introduced in a telegram from Halleck to Meade of July 7 as follows: ``I have received from the President the following note, which I respectfully communicate.''

On July 8 at 12:30 P.M., Halleck again prodded Meade, but gently: ``There is reliable information that the enemy is crossing at Williamsport. The opportunity to attack his divided forces should not be lost. The President is urgent and anxious that your army should move against him by forced marches.'' (OR, I, XXVII, III, 605).

Thursday, June 7, 2007

General Washington on the Iraq War!

My apologies for being scarce the last few days. Thanks very much for the kind emails inquiring where I've been. My trip out of town lasted a few days longer than I expected. But, I'm back in the saddle again this morning.

I thought I'd pass along this article from the Onion. For those of you unfamiliar with "America's Finest News Source," reading the Onion is a great way to start the day. Nobody does satire quite like it.

Friday, June 1, 2007

"Ten Times Ten Thousand"

Two days earlier a committee called on President Lincoln, urging him to authorize the recruitment of 10,000 black soldiers with General John C. Fremont in command.

The New York Tribune reported Lincoln’s reaction:

The President declared that he would gladly receive into the service not ten thousand but ten times ten thousand colored troops; expressed his determination to protect all who enlisted, and said that he looked to them for essential service in finishing the war. He believed that the command of them afforded scope for the highest ambition, and he would with all his heart offer it to Gen. Fremont.

Senator Charles Sumner favored the plan and called on the president to discuss the matter in greater detail, prompting Lincoln to put his position in writing, dated June 1, 1863 (Collected Works, 6:242-243):

In relation to the matter spoken of Saturday morning, and this morning, towit, the raising of colored troops in the North, with the understanding that they shall be commanded by Gen. Fremont, I have to say

That while it is very objectionable, as a general rule, to have troops raised on any special terms, such as to serve only under a particular commander, or only at a particular place or places, yet I would forego the objection in this case, upon a fair prospect that a large force of this sort could thereby be the more rapidly raised

That being raised, say to the number of ten thousand, I would very cheerfully send them to the field under Gen. Fremont, assigning him a Department, made or to be made, with such white force also as I might be able to put in.

That with the best wishes towards Gen. Fremont, I can not now give him a Department, because I have not spare troops to furnish a new Department; and I have not, as I think, justifiable ground to relieve the present commander of any old one.

In the raising of the colored troops, the same consent of Governors would have to be obtained as in case of white troops, and the government would make the same provision for them during organization, as for white troops.

It would not be a point with me whether Gen. Fremont should take charge of the organization, or take charge of the force only after the organization.

If you think fit to communicate this to Gen. Fremont you are at liberty to do so. Yours truly A. LINCOLN

By war’s end, nearly 180,000 black soldiers served in the Union army.