Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lincoln and Religion

Lincoln and religion has never been an easy subject. His parents and sister were all members of the Baptist faith, but he never joined. He was married by an Episcopal clergyman and his wife later became a Presbyterian, but did he not follow her. Though he frequently attended church services, he never seemed to prefer one denomination over another.

Throughout his presidency, Lincoln invoked the Almighty as often as any other American president, but his personal religious beliefs are difficult to pin down. When pressed on the issue, a friend commented, “I don’t know anything about Lincoln’s religion, nor do I think anybody else knows anything about it.”

Lincoln’s political opponents seized on the opportunity. The most striking example came in 1846, during Lincoln’s successful run for a seat in the U. S. Congress. His opponent was Rev. Peter Cartwright, a circuit-riding preacher who was famous for his stirring sermons and combative political speeches. The Methodist preacher used religion as a campaign issue. The folks in New Salem reported that Lincoln had been an infidel and many of his Springfield neighbors suggested that Lincoln was still counted among the unbelievers. A whispering campaign spread across central Illinois.

On this date in 1846, Lincoln confronted the “Charges of Infidelity” by issuing a handbill. Though he won the election by a vote of 6,340 to Cartwright’s 4,829, you can judge whether or not he clarified his personal religious beliefs. Here is the handbill in-full (CW, 1:382-383) :

July 31, 1846

To the Voters of the Seventh Congressional District.


A charge having got into circulation in some of the neighborhoods of this District, in substance that I am an open scoffer at Christianity, [2] I have by the advice of some friends concluded to notice the subject in this form. That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular. It is true that in early life I was inclined to believe in what I understand is called the ``Doctrine of Necessity''---that is, that the human mind is impelled to action, or held in rest by some power, over which the mind itself has no control; and I have sometimes (with one, two or three, but never publicly) tried to maintain this opinion in argument. The habit of arguing thus however, I have, entirely left off for more than five years. And I add here, I have always understood this same opinion to be held by several of the Christian denominations. The foregoing, is the whole truth, briefly stated, in relation to myself, upon this subject.

I do not think I could myself, be brought to support a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion. Leaving the higher matter of eternal consequences, between him and his Maker, I still do not think any man has the right thus to insult the feelings, and injure the morals, of the community in which he may live. If, then, I was guilty of such conduct, I should blame no man who should condemn me for it; but I do blame those, whoever they may be, who falsely put such a charge in circulation against me.

July 31, 1846. A. LINCOLN.


[1] Illinois Gazette, August 15, 1846. The handbill likewise appears in the Tazewell Whig, August 22, 1846.

[2] See Lincoln's letter to Allen Ford, August 11, 1846, infra.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Order of Retaliation

November 1862. South Carolina. Confederate soldiers captured four black soldiers who were all wearing Union uniforms. Both Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon and President Jefferson Davis approved their “summary execution” and hoped it would serve as an example to other slaves who had ideas about joining the Union ranks.

A month later, President Davis issued an infamous Christmas Eve Proclamation. He promised several things, but the last two points were especially troublesome:

That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.

That the like orders be executed in all cases with respect to all commissioned officers of the United States when found serving in company with armed slaves in insurrection against the authorities of the different States of the Confederacy.

Former slaves would be returned to slavery, while their white officers faced execution.

On May 30, the Confederate Congress sanctioned the policy, but added a caveat—captured officers were to be tried and punished by military courts, rather than by the states.

Though the policy was not strictly enforced, there is no doubt some Confederate officers took matters into their own hands. Secretary of War Seddon acknowledged that captured officers were sometimes “dealt with red-handed on the field or immediately thereafter.” Anecdotal evidence confirms the observation. A Confederate colonel reported that his regiment captured a squad of black soldiers in Louisana. When some of them tried to escape, the colonel wrote, “I then ordered every one shot, and with my Six Shooter I assisted in the execution of the order.” Similarly, a North Carolina soldier reported helping capture several members of a black regiment, but “afterwards either bayoneted or burnt [them]. The men were perfectly exasperated at the idea of negroes opposed to them & rushed at them like so many devils.”

Rumors of such atrocities made their way to the White House, prompting the War Department to Draft an “Order of Retaliation.” On this date in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed his name to General Orders No. 252. Here it is in full:

Order of Retaliation

Executive Mansion, Washington D.C July 30. 1863

It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations and the usages and customs of war as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person, on account of his color, and for no offence against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age.

The government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave anyone because of his color, the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy's prisoners in our possession.

It is therefore ordered that for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war, a rebel soldier shall be executed; and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery, a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war


Friday, July 27, 2007

And the Answer is...James Shields

James Shields is the answer to more than one trivia question.

He is best known for the duel he almost fought against Abraham Lincoln in 1842. Though I find that episode fascinating, there is much more to Shields than the near-duel.

Born in Ireland in 1810, he arrived in the United States around 1826. A decade later, his neighbors in Kaskaskia elected the Democrat to the Illinois State Legislature. His future law partner, James C. Conkling, described Shields in a letter to his girlfriend: “Pray don’t let the appellation Paddy convey to you the idea that he is a great, brawny, double fisted, uncouth Irishman. Quite the reverse. A person might possibly detect the place of his nativity by his looks, but his tongue is smooth as oil.”

By 1842, Shields was appointed state auditor of Illinois, a position that brought him into conflict with Lincoln, but the future president didn’t slow him down. The next year, Shields was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court. He also went on to serve in the Mexican War, where he was wounded in comabt. After the war, Shields returned to Illinois as a war-hero and was promptly elected the United States Senate.

Here's where the trivia begins:

When Shields took his seat in the Senate, members began questioning his eligibility. Article I, Section 3 of the U. S. Constitution is clear:

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

Shields applied for citizenship in 1838, but his election to the Senate occurred just shy of the required nine years. Instead of pressing the issue, Shields “resigned” his seat and returned to Illinois.

The Governor of Illinois convened a special session of the state legislature in December, 1847 to fill the vacant Senate seat. Sidney Breese and John A. McClernand were candidates for the seat, but Shields again threw his hat into the ring. The special election had bought him just enough time to meet the nine-year rule.

Wouldn’t you know it…the legislature elected Shields to the U. S. Senate. To my knowledge, James Shields is the only person ever elected to the United States Senate twice in one year.

Shields later moved to Minnesota and in 1858 he was again elected to the U. S. Senate during Minnesota’s first year of statehood. James Shields was one of Minnesota’s first two members of the U. S. Senate.

But the trivia doesn’t stop there!

Though he supported John C. Breckinridge in the Election of 1860, when war broke out, President Lincoln appointed Shields brigadier general of volunteers on August 19, 1861. Though he was wounded at the Battle of Kernstown in March 1862, his troops were the only ones to hand Stonewall Jackson a tactical defeat during his famed Valley Campaign.

One more...

After the war, Shields moved to Missouri, where…you guessed it…he went on to serve in the U. S. Senate. James Shields is the only person to represent three different states in the United States Senate.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Abraham Lincoln's Son

He was only 21 when his father was assassinated. It could not have been easy being Abraham Lincoln’s son, but for the next 61 years, nobody let him forget it.

Robert Todd Lincoln was born on August 1, 1843 in the Globe Tavern in Springfield, Illinois. He was Abraham and Mary’s first child. His other three brothers died before they became men, but he lived to be an old man.

Though his father had never been to college, Robert took the entrance exam for Harvard University. He failed. His parents sent him to a prep school in Exeter, New Hampshire. The next year, he was accepted into Harvard, where he graduated four years later, in the top third of his class.

He also got a taste of the Civil War. Though his mother objected to him enlisting, she allowed him to serve on Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, beginning in February 1865. Robert was present when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. Robert hurried to the White House to tell his father what he had witnessed. He had breakfast with him the day he was killed.

After the assassination, Robert moved to Chicago with his mother and brother. He was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1867 and became a successful attorney. The following year, he married Mary Eunice Harlan, the daughter of an Iowa politician. They had three children: Mary, Abraham (who they called Jack), and Jessie.

In 1871, Robert lost his last surviving brother. The following years were not easy. He watched from afar as his mother descended further into mental illness. He read the newspapers, consulted doctors, and sought the advice of family friends. By 1875, he felt he had to do something. Sometimes something is too much, other times it is not enough. He tried to reconcile with her before she died.

In 1877 President Rutherford B. Hayes tried to appoint Abraham Lincoln’s son as his Assistant Secretary of State. In 1881 President James Garfield made Abraham Lincoln’s son his Secretary of War. By 1884 they wanted to make Abraham Lincoln’s son president, they tried again in 1888, but he wouldn’t have it. Abraham Lincoln’s son had no desire to live in the White House again—a place he called “a gilded prison.” In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Abraham Lincoln’s son minister to England.

When he returned from England, Robert Todd Lincoln threw himself into business. When his friend George Pullman died, he accepted a role in the Pullman Palace Car Company as temporary president. From 1901 to 1911, Robert served as president of the company. He continued to work with the company until his retirement in 1922.

Though his father had been born in a log cabin, Robert began construction on a mansion in 1905. Known as Hildene, Robert’s summer home occupied 500 acres in Manchester, Vermont. He became a golfer and a dedicated amateur astronomer.

Robert Todd Lincoln never forgot who his father was. Though he guarded his privacy religiously, he was proud of his father’s legacy. He controlled his father’s presidential papers and allowed his father’s secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, to use them in their massive Lincoln biography. However, access was a rarity. Robert turned away scores of researchers. He left the papers to the Library of Congress, but his will kept them sealed for 21 years after his death.

Abraham Lincoln’s son died in his sleep 81 years ago today.

He is the only Lincoln not buried in the tomb in Springfield. His wife declared that he was “a man in his own right.” Robert Todd Lincoln is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D. C.

It could not have been easy being Abraham Lincoln's son.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jacksonian Democracy for the 21st Century

I watched the Democratic Presidential debate on Monday night and wanted to offer a few thoughts on CNN’s innovative youtube format, as well as a Lincoln tie-in. Hang with me.

For those of you who didn’t see it, CNN offered Americans the chance to ask the Democratic candidates a question. Thousands of folks videotaped themselves asking a question, uploaded it to the popular video site http://www.youtube.com/, and a lucky dozen or so had their video played. CNN’s Anderson Cooper moderated the debate, but all of the questions were from the American public.

I thought the format was fantastic, but I was most impressed by how well the American public handled themselves. It was refreshing to hear questions that were unexpected. Here’s an example:

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Rob Porter, and I'm from Irvine, California. I have a question for Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton, how would you define the word "liberal?" And would you use this word to describe yourself? Thank you.

I liked the question more than Ms. Clinton’s answer. She defined liberal as “a word that originally meant that you were for freedom…” But she rejected the term and claimed she would rather be known as a “progressive.” Fair enough.

Here’s another question I don’t think a traditional journalist would have asked:

QUESTION: Hello. This question is for all of the candidates. Partisanship played a major role in why nothing can be done in Washington today. All of you say you will be able to work with Republicans. Well, here's a test. If you had to pick any Republican member of Congress or Republican governor to be your running mate, who would it be?

Of course, the candidates scrambled to claim Chuck Hagel, but it was fun to watch them squirm.

Here’s one more that seemed to surprise them:

QUESTION: And we're from Pennsylvania, and my question is to all the candidates, and it's regarding the national minimum wage. Congress seems to never have a problem when it comes time to give themselves a raise. But when it came time to increase the minimum wage, they had a problem. My question to the candidates: If you're elected to serve, would you be willing to do this service for the next four years and be paid the national minimum wage?

Good stuff. But what does any of this have to do with Lincoln studies? Plenty!

The Lincoln-Douglas debates were one of the most famous debates in American history. They made headlines in newspapers throughout the country, but more impressively, they captured the attention of thousands across Illinois who turned out to listen. Keep in mind, these debates occurred in the middle of a hot, muggy, Illinois summer and early fall. The debates went on for three hours, but when they were finished, the crowds often stayed to listen to additional speakers.

Would we do that today? Do our political debates set ratings records? So what accounts for the difference between 1858 and 2007?

For one thing, the issues are quite different. America had a sense in 1858 that the slavery issue was tearing the country apart. Lincoln and Douglas represented at least two sides of a contentious argument. But we face momentous issues today, don’t we?

Though I can think of several possible differences between then and now, one sticks out: money. Money divides more than it unites, but nowhere is it more divisive than in political culture.

Politicians like Lincoln had an advantage over modern politicians. Lincoln did not need to raise tens of millions of dollars for his campaign chest. He needed to be well-versed in the issues of the day, willing and able to communicate his position, and people turned out to hear him. Can the same be said for today?

Yes and no. The public sphere is open to us all, but we are currently redefining what we mean by the public sphere. For example, though we have the right to, few of us stand in the public square and deliver stump speeches anymore. Why don’t we? For one thing, we have found more effective ways of communicating, but each requires money. Money buys access. In addition to everyday folks, lobbyists and special interest groups donate money to a politician, hoping to make an ally, while the politician spends that money to buy increasingly costly radio, print, and television ads, hoping to earn votes.

Mass communication has tremendous advantages. Today, I am willing to say we know more about each of our political candidates than at any point in American history. However, I fear the high costs of running campaigns tend to alienate us from our political candidates. Do our politicians reflect who we are as Americans today?

Here’s another way to put it. In 2003, 40% of United States Senators were millionaires, while just 10% reported their net worth below $100,000. How does that compare to the rest of American society? Believe me, I’m not beating up on the rich. I only bring it up to try to explain why the American public appears less interested in politics today than in 1858. Perhaps money explains some of it?

But here’s the good news: the debate on Monday night got me thinking about the internet and political campaigns. Certainly the folks who recorded and uploaded their questions felt more engaged in the political process. But more importantly, the internet has the ability to level the playing field for American politicians and the electorate. Without spending thousands on airtime or production, anyone with a political message now has the ability to get their platform out to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Perhaps that is Jacksonian Democracy for the 21st Century!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Which Civil War General Are You?

Dimitri Rotov runs a very fine blog called Civil War Bookshelf. If you aren't familiar with it, check it out sometime. Yesterday, he passed along this fun little quiz that determines which Civil War General you are. The bloggers over on Civil Warriors took the quiz too. It only takes about 5 minutes to answer the questions. Give it a shot, the results may surprise you. So, which Civil War general are you?

For whatever it’s worth, I took the quiz and learned that I am most like U. S. Grant. I was relieved I didn't have much in common with Nathan Bedford Forest, but my Ambrose Burnside count is disturbingly high.

Here are my results:

You scored as U.S. Grant: One of the most misunderstood figures of the war, your campaign at Vicksburg was a work of military genius, but future generations will come to view you as a butcher who won by weight of numbers. Sorry ‘bout that.

U.S. Grant 70%
William T. Sherman 65%
James Longstreet 65%
Robert E. Lee 55%
Ambrose Burnside 50%
Stonewall Jackson 50%
Jeb Stuart 45%
George McClellan 30%
Nathan Bedford Forrest 30%
Phillip Sheridan 10%

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana has scheduled some interesting programs for the summer.

On Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 7 pm, Donna McCreary will talk about her new book, Fashionable First Lady, the Victorian Wardrobe of Mary Lincoln and offer a visual presentation. McCreary is also the author of Lincoln’s Table, a cookbook about the Lincolns. There will be a book signing following the presentation.

While you’re there, don’t miss the museum’s fascinating temporary exhibit, “Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Medicine,” which runs through September 23rd. In addition to highlighting some of the medical advances that took place during the Civil War, the exhibit shows how nurses, doctors, citizen volunteers, and other soldiers cared for the sick and wounded.

The Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 1 to 5 pm. For more information, visit their website or call 260.455.3864.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Battle of Bull Run

Tomorrow is the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the American Civil War.

So many things come to mind when I think about this battle. The outcome was shocking. Not only had the Rebels scored a major victory at Manasas, but stories of fleeing Union soldiers spread across Northern newspapers. Almost immediately, Northerners recognized this would not be a 90-day bloodless war. But few could have predicted it would drag on for another four years and end the lives of 620,000 soldiers.

I also think about Sullivan Ballou. He was a lawyer and state legislator in Rhode Island. When war broke out, he joined the 2nd Rhode Island Infantry. He was wounded during the Battle of Bull Run and died a week later.

A week before the battle, he wrote his wife Sarah a letter. He knew battle was approaching and he wanted to express his feelings while he still had the chance. The letter is featured in the Ken Burns documentary. Here is an abridged version of the letter:

July 14, 1861
Camp Clark, Washington

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days—perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more . . .

I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt . . .

Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me—perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness . . .

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights . . . always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again . . .

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Part Two: Who Does This Look Like?

Alright, this story has legs.

You may recall my report on July 2nd about an auction set to take place at the end of the month. Nest Egg Auction Gallery, a Maine-based organization, claims to have a priceless photograph…well, not exactly priceless…the bidding starts at $100,000!

They claim this is a photograph (above) of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, along with Mary’s sister, Elizabeth Todd Edwards. They claim this is the real deal.

Don’t take my word for it, go to their website and view their “evidence:”

Flash Animation

Press Release

Anthropomorphic Analysis

Last night I stumbled upon an article in The Times Record, a newspaper in Maine, that not only discusses the purported photograph, but it also cites yours truly as a skeptic!

As I read this article I felt so bad for Melville Robbins, the 78 year old fellow who has been kicking himself for letting this “national treasure” slip through his hands.

I figure I should give Mr. Robbins a few reasons not to feel bad.

Let me be clear here. In my view, scholars would be ecstatic if a previously unknown photograph, featuring Lincoln, his wife, and sister-in-law came to light. However, the evidence must be convincing.

I can only speak for myself when I say I have weighed the evidence and the “Nest Egg Photo” smells rotten to me.

The provenance rests on one claim. They say this photograph was once owned by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, of Gettysburg fame. Let’s say Chamberlain did indeed own the photograph, what does that mean? Their theory appears to be that President Lincoln gave Chamberlain this photograph. Quite a leap of faith, is it not?

Is there any evidence that Lincoln ever met Chamberlain? Chamberlain wrote about everything else, why wouldn’t he write anything about the time the president gave him such a personal memento? Why would the president give Chamberlain a pre-presidential photograph of himself, his wife, and her sister? Moreover, why would Lincoln give away this one-of-a-kind photograph to an officer from Maine? Wouldn’t Lincoln want to hang onto this photograph?

But in my miind there is an even bigger problem with the photograph’s provenance. There is absolutely no mention anywhere of a photograph featuring Lincoln, Mary, and Elizabeth. Forget that Lincoln’s letters do not mention such a photograph, it is not mentioned in any of the interviews with Lincoln’s associates—and there are hundreds of such interviews, including interviews with Mary, her sister, and brother-in-law, Ninian Edwards. No mention of the photograph.

In my view, the photograph does not pass the provenance test. I don’t think President Lincoln gave this photograph to Chamberlain, nor have I seen credible evidence that Chamberlain himself owned this photograph. Most troubling, however, I have seen no evidence that a photograph featuring Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Elizabeth Todd Edwards even exists.

Now to the “Anthropomorphic Analysis.” First, the experts who conducted the study are not identified. What are their credentials? What other projects have they worked on? How reputable are they? By not identifying the experts, I am left with more questions than answers.

Onto the photograph itself.

“After analyzing the facial features of approximately 15 known photographs of Abraham Lincoln,” the report begins, “we have determined the following similarities to this particular ambrotype photograph:”

So they are comparing known photographs of Lincoln against this photograph. I have reservations. My fear is that they are going to try to “make it fit.” In other words, why not mix in a few photographs of people who aren’t Lincoln to establish differences in physical characteristics?

They go onto review the 15 Lincoln photos and find that Lincoln had a “well defined jaw line, or mandible.” The man in the “Nest Egg Photo” also has “a pronounced jaw line and distinctive lips.” Bingo! No measurements, no photographs to compare, just a match.

They compare the “vermillion area and the vermillion border to the labial commissure” and they have found that the “dimensions appear to be very, very similar.” No measurements, no photographs to compare, merely the scientific “very, very similar.”

Next, they compare the “philtral column which runs form the lower portion of the nose to the upper lip.” They found that these “also appear to be very, very similar and dimensional.” No measurements, no photographs to compare, but this time it is not only “very, very similar” but it is also "dimensional."

Now it's time to go mole hunting! They find a “slight shadow in the natural crease of the lower malar prominence area which is the exact location of a mole. This similarity is evident in all comparison photographs.”

Lincoln did indeed have a distinctive mole on the right side of his face, but I am not sure where the mole is on the “Nest Egg Photo.” I am sure they studied a much better scan than I have access to, but it appears that this fellow’s mole is too low—it is even with his lips. Every picture of Lincoln I see clearly shows a mole located above his mouth.

They also claim matches with the “nasal bridge” and the left eye, but they save the best for last. Here it is in full:

“The most striking similarity to Abraham Lincoln in this ambrotype photograph is the left hand shown draped down. It is is [sp] a known fact that Abraham Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome. In close examination of this hand, is that of a person suffering from this ailment. Our conclusion is with so many similarities that the probability of someone, by chance, requesting a photograph with two women similar to Mary Todd and Elizabeth Todd Edwards, and a striking resemblance to Abraham Lincoln and a third parties hand with Marfan’s Syndrom, is extremely unlikely.”

Fantastic! I am supposed to believe this is Lincoln based on the “Marfan Hand?” First off, it is not “a known fact” that Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome. It is a theory, not a fact. There is a big difference between what we think and what we know. Can we do a DNA test and determine if Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome? Perhaps.

However, if Lincoln did indeed suffer from Marfan’s Syndrome, what does that mean for the authenticity of this photograph? They have diagnosed the man in this photograph as having Marfan’s Syndrome based on the what? Are there members of the American Medical Association who can diagnose Marfan’s Syndrome by looking at the photograph of a man’s hand?

In my view, the evidence is simply not convincing. I have not seen any evidence that suggests a photograph featuring Lincoln, his wife, and sister-in-law ever existed. I can't tell you who these three individuals are, but I do not think Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, or Elizabeth Todd Edwards appear anywhere in this photograph. Randomly assigning names to these faces—and thereby monetary value—seems irresponsible.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

2007: The Battle of Anderson County, South Carolina

I made a note to pass this story along to you a couple of weeks ago. I found it in the Illinois Times, listed under their fine "News Quirks" section:

"A Civil War re-enactor in South Carolina was wounded during the Battle of Anderson County, even though the participants were firing blanks. Stewart Lambert, a Confederate cavalryman with the Laurens Orphans, suffered a gunpowder burn to his leg and a cut that required stitches. Frank Stegall said he was a few feet away and saw Lambert's pistol shoot when Lambert holstered it. The re-enactment resumed after an ambulance removed Lambert from the battlefield. In the original skirmish on May 1, 1865, there were no Confederate casualties."

I had never heard of the Battle of Anderson County, but it seems I am not alone. There isn't much information out there because, well...there wasn't much of a battle to begin with. Nontheless, I was able to find a website devoted to the battle. Gotta love the internet!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Scotland in the American Civil War

Two months ago I reported on a group in Scotland that was busy planning a ceremony to honor its countrymen who fought in the American Civil War. I am happy to pass along an update.

The ceremony will indeed take place on July 21, 2007 at the Lincoln Memorial, located in Old Calton Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I have been in contact with Rev. Dr. Bill Mackie (pictured above), who has been kind enough to pass along some additional information regarding Scotland’s contribution to the American Civil War.

Shortly after the war ended, the American Consulate General in Scotland arranged for the monument in Old Calton Cemetery in Edinburgh. The names of the Scotsmen who served in the war are engraved onto the monument and five of the veterans are buried close by:

Lt Col. William Duff
2nd. Illinois Regiment of Artillery

Robert Steadman
5th Maine Volunteer Infantry

James Wilkie
1st. Michigan Cavalry

Robert Ferguson
57th New York Infantry

Sgt Maj. John MacEwan
66th New York Volunteers

After extensive research, another soldier was identified and added to the monument in 1993:

Alexander Smith
66th New York Volunteers

Another soldier, James B. Harden, who served in the 91st New York Infantry, moved to Edinburgh after the war and is buried in an unmarked grave in Piershill Cemetery. Mackie's group hopes to honor him with a stone next March 2nd.

Mackie’s group has identified yet another veteran of the American Civil War, but this soldier did not serve in the Union ranks. Col. Robert A. Smith was a Confederate soldier who served with a Mississippi regiment. He died on September 21, 1862 from wounds sustained a week earlier during the charge on Fort Craig in Kentucky. Though Col. Smith is buried in Jackson, Mississippi, he was born in Edinburgh. After his death, his family ereceted a monument in his honor in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh (pictured above).

In addition to the ceremony on July 21st, Mackie’s group has organized another ceremony to honor Col. Smith. The service will take place on September 15 at 11 a.m. at Dean Cemetery.

The Civil War remains America’s greatest tragedy. 620,000 soldiers lost their lives. I know how easy it can be to get lost in the numbers, but Mackie’s group offers a powerful reminder to never forget the individual soldier. Each one had a unique story to share. Each one left behind someone who loved them.

Though I can't be in Scotland next week for the ceremony, my thoughts will certainly be with my friends across the Atlantic.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The One that Lingered

She was holding his hand when the gunshot rang out. She wore black for the rest of her life. She was the one that lingered.

Loss was the one constant in Mary Todd Lincoln’s life. Born on December 13, 1818 to Robert Smith Todd and Eliza Parker, she lost her mother before she turned seven. Eighteen months later, her father married a woman she never got along with.

She married Abraham Lincoln on November 4, 1842 and wore a wedding band with the inscription, “Love is Eternal.” She gave birth to four boys, but lost three of them before they became men.

Her father died on July 16, 1849. She lost her maternal grandmother in January. A month later, she lost her second-oldest, Eddie. Her third son, Willie, was born in December that year. He died in the White House, before he turned twelve. Mary was inconsolable. Never again would she set foot in the room where he died. Like thousands of Americans in the nineteenth century, she consulted spiritualists who promised her they could communicate with her lost loved ones.

A year after the assassination, William Herndon, her husband’s law partner, delivered a lecture in Springfield. He told the crowd that Lincoln had been engaged to a girl named Ann Rutledge. When she died, Lincoln’s heart broke and he never again loved another woman. Herndon called Lincoln’s marriage to Mary “a domestic hell.” Mary never liked Herndon, but now she despised him.

Mary took Tad to Europe, where they spent most of their time living in Frankfurt, Germany, where Tad attended school. Three years later, they returned to the states, but Tad became ill during the strenuous trip across the Atlantic. He died shortly after returning to Chicago on July 15, 1871.

The next few years in Mary’s life are very difficult to trace. She spent some time in Wisconsin and Canada, but her exact movements are unknown. In November 1874, she traveled South, visiting Chattanooga, Savannah, and Jacksonville, Florida.

On March 12, 1875, Mary sent her only remaining son an urgent telegram: “My dearly beloved Son Robert T. Lincoln rouse yourself—and live for my sake. All I have is you from this hour. I am praying every moment for your life to be spared to your mother.” Mary took the first train to Chicago to be by her son’s side.

There was no reason to worry about Robert’s health, he was fine. When Mary arrived in Chicago, Robert reserved two rooms in the Grand Pacific Hotel, one for him and another for his mother. She seemed alright. But when Robert awoke in the middle of night, he found her wandering the halls in her nightgown. When he tried to guide her back to her room she protested, screaming, “You’re going to murder me!”

Robert did not know what to do. He found out she was carrying around a large amount of cash, at least $1,000. She talked about committing suicide, was clearly paranoid, and threatened to leave town.

Robert hired Pinkerton guards to watch over her while he sought the advice of his father’s friends, as well as doctors. Eventually, he was put in touch with Dr. Robert T. Patterson, who ran Bellevue Place, a private sanitarium for the mentally insane in nearby Batavia. But Robert knew his mother would never go there voluntarily.

There was a trial. It went on for an excruciating three hours. The last witness to testify was Robert himself. “I have no doubt my mother is insane,” he told the jury. “She has long been a source of great anxiety to me.” The jury delivered its verdict. She was insane and needed to be confined at the asylum in Batavia.

They led Mary from the courtroom back to her hotel room, where they found $56,000 sewn into her dress. Despite being watched by a woman and two guards, Mary slipped out of her hotel room. She went to at least four different pharmacies in search of laudanum, but was unable to purchase any. Though there is debate among historians, Mary may have been trying to commit suicide.

She spent the next few months in the asylum in Batavia, where she had a private room, took carriage rides, and could roam the grounds at her pleasure. Robert visited her each week, but the visits were not pleasurable. She was released in September and went to live with her sister in Springfield.

She quickly made plans to return to Europe. She spent the next four years living in relative anonymity in Pau, France. Again, little is known about her time abroad, but her health seems to have deteriorated rapidly.

By the end of 1880, she again crossed the Atlantic and arrived back in Springfield to live with her sister, Elizabeth Edwards. She brought 64 trunks stuffed full of clothes, lace, furs, and hundreds of kid gloves. She kept the shades drawn and had no desire to leave the house. She was nearly blind, had kidney problems, spinal sclerosis, and was probably diabetic.

Robert visited his mother one last time in 1881, bringing his young daughter along. He told himself that the visit meant he and his mother had reconciled.

On the eleventh anniversary of Tad’s death, Mary collapsed, probably suffering a stroke. They put her in bed, where she lingered until 8:15 the next night.

Mary Todd Lincoln died in Springfield, 125 years ago today.

At her funeral, Rev. James A. Reed delivered one of the most moving eulogies I’ve ever read. He likened the Lincolns to two tall, stately pine trees which had grown so close together that their roots and branches were intertwined. They survived many storms by relying on each other for support. But there was one storm that stood out from all the rest. The taller of the two was struck by lightning and died immediately, while the other reeled in shock. “They had virtually both been killed at the same time,” he said. “With the one that lingered it was only slow death from the same cause…when Abraham Lincoln died, she died. The lightning that struck down the strong man, unnerved the woman…So it seems to me today, that we are only looking at death placing its seal upon the lingering victim of a past calamity.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

Henry David Thoreau

Computer issues prevented me from posting yesterday. Apparently, a contractor hit a fiberoptic cable and knocked out internet access to the greater portion of southern Illinois yesterday. It's a shame too because I had a nice timely post all ready to go. At any rate, let's celebrate Henry David Thoreau's birthday a day late!

Born on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts, Thoreau is an American literary icon. Perhaps he is best known for his book Walden; or Life in the Woods, a non-fiction social critique of nineteenth century New England.

But Thoreau’s literary career was bigger than Walden Pond. He wrote books, articles, essays, and poems on diverse subjects, including history, philosophy, business and consumerism, ecology and environmental history, and even humor.

Thoreau was also a lifelong abolitionist. He delivered lectures against the Fugitive Slave Law and he also defended radicals like John Brown. His essay “Civil Disobedience” predates Walden by five years. It illustrates his opposition to both slavery and the Mexican War, but unlike Brown, Thoreau preached nonviolence.

Here is what Martin Luther King said about Thoreau’s essay:

During my student days I read Henry David Thoreau’s essay On Civil Disobedience for the first time. Here, in this courageous New Englander’s refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery’s territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times.

I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice.

Thoreau died on May 6, 1862, less than six months before Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. He was 44.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Duel

Today is the 203rd anniversary of the most famous duel in American history.

1804. Weehawken, New Jersey. Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice President of the United States shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, a leading Federalist and former Secretary of the Treasury.

How could this happen?

Hamilton came to the colonies as a poor immigrant. He joined the Continental Army in 1776 and quickly became one of George Washington’s favorite soldiers, serving as the future president’s aid. After the war, Hamilton served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and led the ratification movement to create a strong, central government. In 1789, Washington appointed Hamilton the nation’s first secretary of the treasury.

Conversely, Burr was the son of a prestigious New Jersey family. He graduated from college, served in the Continental Army, and distinguished himself in battle. After the war, he was elected to the New State Assembly, served as state attorney, and was elected to the U. S. Senate.

But Hamilton did not trust Burr. He thought Burr was an opportunist, who would do anything to advance his own interests. Hamilton was not shy about sharing his low opinion about Burr to others. By 1804, their relationship had deteriorated to the point where Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel.

Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to resolve their differences peacefully. On July 11, 1804 at 7 am, the pair met near Weehawken, New Jersey. It was the same spot where Hamilton’s son had died in a duel just two years earlier.

We don’t know exactly what happened. Some claim Hamilton fired first, but purposely fired into the air, missing Burr on purpose. But Burr’s actions are easier to trace. He took aim and fired, hitting Hamilton in the stomach. The bullet pierced his liver and spine. Alexander Hamilton died the next afternoon.

The nation was outraged when they heard Hamilton was killed in a duel—and by the Vice President, no less! New Jersey and New York charged Burr with a variety of crimes, including murder, but he was never prosecuted. He served out the rest of his term as Vice President and died 32 years later.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

James McPherson

Thought I’d pass along this interview with Professor James McPherson. He appeared on Bloomberg Radio last Tuesday with host Tom Keene. You can listen to about 18 minutes of the interview by following this LINK. The interview is listed about 6th from the top.

Professor McPherson talks about his new book, This Mighty Scourge, as well as Battle Cry of Freedom, and current topics like the Iraq War.


Monday, July 9, 2007

Is it Real?

I came across this story over the weekend.

The Chicago History Museum has a new exhibit entitled “Is It Real?” The exhibit examines the authenticity of historical artifacts. A few Lincoln-related items made the list, including a bed sheet stained with blood, purportedly from the bed at the Petersen House, where Lincoln died.

It got me thinking about how we verify the legitimacy of historical items. Certainly the provenance of an item is important—we need to know who previously owned the item. We can also date the items. In the case of the bed sheet, I would assume a bed sheet produced in 2007 looks quite different from one made in the 1860s.

DNA is also a possibility. In the case of the blood stained bed sheet, I think we can test the sample and see if it is consistent with Lincoln’s DNA. But then I wonder—do we have Lincoln’s DNA? There are strands of Lincoln’s hair, but have any of those been tested yet? I’m just not sure.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Lincoln Train Station in Gettysburg

The train station in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is opening for tours.

Originally opened in 1859, the train station was converted into a hospital after the battle. In November 1863, President Lincoln arrived in Gettysburg to deliver one of the most famous speeches in American history, but historians just aren’t sure if Lincoln walked through the station upon his arrival.

The Lincoln Train Station is open to the public Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. It is also open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission is free. Call 717.339.6161 for more information.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. It contains a bit of the building’s fascinating history.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Ford's Theatre is Reopening

Four weeks ago site officials closed down Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site for a much-needed renovation. Site officials were excited about the $8.5 million overhaul, which included the installation of the theater’s first elevator, new restrooms, and upgrades to the heating, air conditioning, lighting, and sound systems. The plans were to remain closed for 18 months.

Well, things have changed.

Late last week, the National Park Service announced they were reopening "America's most famous theatre." Apparently, they did not receive adequate bids from contractors. Officials have reopened the bidding process and, at least for now, you can continue to tour the site of Lincoln’s assassination.

The Ford’s Theater museum has also been reopened. Among the many assassination-related items, the museum houses the derringer used by John Wilkes Booth on the night of the assassination, as well as the knife he used to stab Major Rathbone.

In addition to visiting Ford’s Theater and the museum, the Petersen House, located just across the street, is also a must-see.

The sites will remain open throughout the rest of the summer from 9 am to 5 pm. Call (202) 426-6924 for more information.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Independence Day is a special time for Americans. Of course, we celebrate our independence from Great Britain, but let us also recognize how important the American experiment in popular government is. Take a moment to read one of the most stirring passages of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

On America's 87th birthday, July 4, 1863, President Lincoln received word of two tremendous victories--Vicksburg in the West and Gettysburg in the East--effectively turning the tide in favor of the Union during the American Civil War. The opening line of the Gettysburg Address marvels at the American experiment, just as it reaffirms the promise of the Declaration of Independence:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Today is America's is 231st birthday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Breakfast Fund-Raiser Tomorrow

If you are in the southern Illinois area tomorrow, I know where you can get a good breakfast.

The Lincoln-Douglas Jonesboro Debate Committee will be hosting a Breakfast Fund-Raiser from 8 – 10 a.m. at the Community Center (just north of the square). For $5, you get your choice of biscuits & gravy or eggs.

  • Debate t-shirts will be available for $15

  • The winners of the Gazette-Democrat coloring contest will be announced

But that’s only the beginning!

The festivities continue at the debate site at Lincoln Memorial Park. You can walk the ½ mile to the debate site like Lincoln did in 1858 or you can take a horse-drawn buggy to the site like Douglas.

  • Children’s games will begin at the park at 9:30 am
  • Lincoln Look Alike awards will be announced at 10 am

All proceeds will go toward the 2008 Debate sesquicentennial celebration next year.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Who Does This Look Like?

This story has me scratching my head.

The Nest Egg Auction Gallery is hoping to make national headlines. The Connecticut-based company will auction off a previously unknown ambrotype photograph (the one pictured above). It can be yours this July 28th, but it won’t come cheap. Bidding starts at $100,000.

Whose picture would command that kind of money?

They claim the individuals in the photograph are: Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln (seated), and Elizabeth Todd Edwards. That’s right, they say this is the only photograph Lincoln and his wife had taken together.

The auction house doesn’t say why Mary’s sister appears in the photo, but they do explain how they acquired the photograph. The owner bought it from “an antiquities dealer in Bath, Maine who in turn purchased it from a Brusnwick, Maine banker. The banker told the dealer that he obtained the item when Rosamond Allen, the granddaughter of Union Civil War General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg, sold the family’s home in Brunswick in 1939.”

I think this means we are supposed to believe that Gen. Chamberlain once owned this photograph, but what does that mean? For the sake of argument, say Chamberlain did own the photograph—did he think Lincoln was one of the people in the photograph? The press release doesn’t say.

Instead, the press release lists three reasons why they believe this is a Lincoln photo:

First, “Lincoln” is “wearing his trademark stove pipe hat.”

Second, they have enlisted “facial recognition experts,” who have “used a variety of forensic techniques and computerized analysis to verify the identity of the people in the picture.” These unnamed experts have compared the photograph to 15 other Lincoln known photographs and found “at least 8 points that matched.”

Third, and this appears to be their smoking gun: “The most striking similarity to Abraham Lincoln in this ambrotype photograph is the left hand shown draped down. It is a known fact that Abraham Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome. In close examination of this hand, is that of a person suffering from this ailment,” the analysis states.

Simply amazing. How do I put this…I don’t think this photograph is the real deal.

Lincoln wasn't the only person in 19th Century America to wear a stove-pipe hat, but there is a bigger problem with this picture. I know it doesn’t sound very scientific, but the man in the photo simply doesn’t “look” like Lincoln, nor do the other two ladies resemble who they are supposed to be.

And what's the deal with the “facial recognition experts?" Why are they not identified by name?

One final point: It is not “a known fact that Abraham Lincoln suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome.” It is simply a theory, not a fact—big difference there! But even if I concede that Lincoln had Marfan's, what does that mean? Nothing. You simply cannot diagnose Marfan's Syndrome simply by looking at a man's hand in a photograph.

Let’s just say I won’t be bidding on the recently discovered photo.