Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Castro's Lincoln?

Fidel Castro

I thought it was going to be a slow news week as far as Lincoln was concerned, but as it turns out, Fidel Castro proved me wrong.

The Cuban leader published an essay last Sunday, in which he criticized U. S. foreign policy and Geroge W. Bush. Nothing much new there. However, my eyes were immediately drawn to his comments about Abraham Lincoln.

He praised Lincoln for not only taking a strong stand against slavery, but for abolishing it in America. He wrote that Lincoln was devoted “to the just idea that all citizens are born free and equal.”

Castro went on to proclaim, “Long Live Lincoln!”

According to this news story, Castro has been a Lincoln admirer for almost half a century. In January 1959, Castro traveled to Washington, D. C. and visited the Lincoln Memorial. He also claims to have a bust of Lincoln in his office.

Now that is news to me!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lines on the Death of Col. Edward D. Baker

Willie Lincoln

While the Lincoln family continued to mourn the loss of family friend Edward D. Baker, ten-year-old Willie Lincoln put the finishing touches on a poem he had been working on. That’s right. Lincoln’s precocious son memorialized the fallen hero of Ball’s Bluff in a poem, which he shared with a local newspaper editor.

On this date in 1861, the National Republican in Washington printed the following letter and poem:

Dear Sir:

I enclose you my first attempt at poetry.

Yours truly,
William W. Lincoln

There was no patriot like Baker,
So noble and so true;
He fell as a soldier on the field,
His face to the sky of blue.

His voice is silent in the hall,
Which oft his presence grac’d.
No more he’ll hear the loud acclaim
Which rang from place to place.

No squeamish notions filled his breast,
The Union was his theme;
‘No surrender and no compromise,’
His day-thought and night’s dream.

His Country has her part to play,
To’rd those he has left behind;
His widow and his children all,
She must always keep in mind.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"One of the Mysteries of the War"

George B. McClellan

Everything in his background pointed toward success. His mother came from a prominent Pennsylvania family, while his father was a talented surgeon. At the age of fifteen, he entered the United States Military Academy, where he graduated four years later, second in a class of 59.

He served in the Mexican War, taught at West Point, wrote a manual on bayonet tactics, went to Europe to observe the Crimean War, and rose to the rank of captain.

He retired from the army at the age of 31 and began a lucrative career in the railroad industry, eventually serving as the president of the Ohio & Mississippi Railroad and later, the St. Louis, Missouri & Cincinnati Railroad.

George B. McClellan had it all.

And then the war came.

After the fall of Fort Sumter, the Lincoln administration called for volunteers. Ohio Governor William Dennison appointed McClellan a major general in charge of the state’s volunteers. He quickly received a commission in the regular army.

Everything pointed toward success, but McClellan's Civil War career is ultimately a study in missed opportunities.

Historian Jonathan M. Beagle has recently summarized the McClellan enigma:

The ambiguity of George McClellan’s Civil War service admits both praise and criticism. He forged a powerful weapon of war, the Army of the Potomac, yet wielded it weakly. He roused both the admiration of his troops and the ire of his superiors. He parried Lee’s thrust into the North, but was himself checked at the gates of Richmond. Indeed, McClellan’s legacy defies easy categorization and simple judgment. Perhaps Ulysses S. Grant expressed it best when asked after the war to evaluate McClellan as a general. “McClellan,” he replied, “is to me one of the mysteries of the war.”

McClellan’s postwar career is fascinating, but it is not well-documented. He traveled through Europe from 1865 to 1868, where his wife gave birth to a son in Germany. When he returned to the states, McClellan worked on several engineering projects in New York City. Like he had done before the war, he also served as president of a railroad, this time the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad.

McClellan reentered politics in 1877 when he ran for governor of New Jersey. He won and served a single, though successful, term in office.

George B. McClellan died unexpectedly on this date in 1885. He was 58.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area

Illinois Counties

The United States House of Representatives passed a bill this week that would create something called “The Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area” in central Illinois.

United States Representative Ray LaHood (R-Peoria) explained why he introduced the bill:

The legacy of Abraham Lincoln is so interwoven with the history of Illinois—and especially the central part of our state—that it is only right that we create this Heritage Area as we are on the cusp of the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009. There are dozens of sites throughout the 42 counties of this Heritage Area that have significant ties to Lincoln. This federal designation will allow us to tie these sites together to better convey to future generations the impact that Abraham Lincoln has had on our country, and the influence that Illinois had on Lincoln.

I am extremely proud that I represent the very same 11 counties which Abraham Lincoln represented during his single term in Congress. I could not think of a better way to commemorate the Lincoln Bicentennial than by creating this Heritage Area.

The Senate will now consider the bill.

Here are a few more details:

The legislation authorizes annual federal funding of $1 million for up to 15 years. This funding would allow for grants to be awarded to entities seeking to carry out the mission of the Heritage Area. Any funding awarded must be matched dollar-for-dollar in state, local or private funds.

Once this bill becomes law, the first step for the Abraham Lincoln Heritage Area will be to create a management plan containing a resource inventory, goals and strategies, potential funding sources, and an interpretative and business plan. The process will include significant public involvement. The management plan must be completed and approved by the National Park Service before matching funds are released for specific projects.

The legislation also designates the Looking for Lincoln Heritage Coalition (LFLHC) as the management entity for the new Heritage Area. Looking for Lincoln is a 501c3 organization which has been in existence for almost nine years. LFLHC works with a consortium of central Illinois communities and historic sites that have significant Lincoln history in common. LFLHC helps communities enhance and improve the interpretation of their Lincoln historic sites, and then provides marketing support to those that have “visitor-ready” sites.

The Heritage Area includes the following Illinois counties: Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Cass, Champaign, Christian, Clark, Coles, Cumberland, Dewitt, Douglas, Edgar, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Hancock, Henderson, Jersey, Knox, LaSalle, Logan, McLean, McDonough, Macon, Macoupin, Madison, Mason, Menard, Montgomery, Morgan, Moultrie, Peoria, Piatt, Pike, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott, Shelby, Tazewell, Vermillion, Warren and Woodford.

Honestly, I don’t really know what to think of the plan. LaHood says the idea evolved during discussions with the Lincoln Heritage Coalition board, which is led by Nicky Stratton, who does magnificent work. I suppose federal dollars to help promote local tourism is a good thing too, but I still want to learn more about this new geo-historical entity.

Perhaps more of the details will emerge when the Senate begins to consider the bill?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hiding in Plain Sight


Sometimes the best place to hide is right out in the open. Three Lincoln documents have been "discovered" this week. Guess where they they found them?

For the last thirty years, the illusive documents have been hanging on a wall in Sangamon County Recorder Mary Ann Lamm’s office. That’s right, they’ve been hiding in plain view in, of all places, Springfield. It wasn’t supposed to be a secret. In fact, Lamm enjoyed showing visitors the documents.

Somehow, word never made its way down the street to the Papers of Abraham Lincoln project. Though project members have traveled the country for more than two decades to capture scans of Lincoln documents, they were unaware of the Lamm documents until this week.

Details are a bit hard to come by just yet, but the documents seem to include a promissory note and possibly two receipts, all signed by Lincoln.

The promissory note appears to be the most interesting. A woman named Ritta da Sylva borrowed $125 from Lincoln to purchase a home. Lincoln charged her 10 percent interest on the loan.

Though the news story does not mention it, this document appears in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln in volume 2, pages 224-225. The editors identify “Ritta Angelica da Silva” as “a member of a group of Portuguese settlers who came to Springfield in 1849.”

Interestingly, the editors say this document is part of the Taper collection.

I wish the original SJ-R story provided more detail on the provenance of the document. If anyone can shed light on the subject, please send me an email.

Here is the full text of the document as transcribed by the editors of the Collected Works:

Mortgage from Ritta A. DA Silva

August 11, 1854

This Indenture made this eleventh day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand, eight hundred and fiftyfour, by and between Ritta D. Sylva, of the City of Springfield, County of Sangamon, and State of Illinois, of the one part; and Abraham Lincoln, of the City, County and State aforesaid of the other part, Witnesseth:

That the said Ritta D. Sylva, for, and in consideration of, the sum of one hundred and twentyfive dollars, to her in hand paid, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, has granted, bargained, and sold; and by these presents does grant, bargain and sell unto the said Abraham Lincoln, his heirs and assigns forever, the following described lot of ground, towit: Lot Five, in Block Six, in Wells & Peck's addition to the late town, now City, of Springfield, Illinois.

To have and to hold to the said Abraham Lincoln, his heirs and assigns forever, the above described lot of ground, together with all and singular the previleges and appurtenances thereunto belonging, or to belong.

Yet upon condition that whereas the said Ritta D. Sylva has executed her promissory note of even date herewith, for the sum of one hundred and twentyfive dollars, with interest at the rate of ten per cent per annum, payable to the said Abraham Lincoln, Four year after date---interest payable annually. Now, if said note shall be paid according to it's tenor and effect, the above conveyance is to be null and void, otherwise to remain in full force and effect.

In testimony whereof the said Ritta D. Sylva, has hereunto set her hand and seal the day and year above written.


Satisfied in full. Nov. 24, 1858.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Refusing to Let the Vandals Win

Peekskill, New York

Vandals defaced a train depot in Peekskill, New York. They painted swastikas on the door post and sprayed the “n-word” and other offensive language on the building, reports the Journal News.

But this is not merely a local story about vandalism or hate speech. No, the national media has picked up the story because the vandals defaced a historic building connected to Abraham Lincoln.

President-elect Lincoln visited the train depot during his trip from Springfield to Washington, D. C. The train made a brief stop at the Peekskill train depot on February 19, 1861, where a large crowd had gathered, hoping to catch a glimpse of the new president on the eve of the Civil War (contemporary sketch, pictured above left). Lincoln said a few words:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I have but a moment to stand before you to listen to and return your kind greeting. I thank you for this reception and for the pleasant manner in which it is tendered to me by our mutual friends. I will say in a single sentence, in regard to the difficulties that lie before me and our beloved country, that if I can only be as generously and unanimously sustained as the demonstrations I have witnessed indicate I shall be, I shall not fail; but without your sustaining hands I am sure that neither I nor any other man can hope to surmount those difficulties. I trust that in the course I shall pursue I shall be sustained, not only by the party that elected me, but by the patriotic people of the whole country.

In recent years, the train depot was simply used for storage, but city officials, along with the Lincoln Society, have just recently completed a $1.8 million renovation of the building. They commissioned a Lincoln statue (pictured above right) and have scheduled a dedication ceremony for this Saturday, October 27 at 11 am. Former Governor George Pataki, Peekskill Mayor John Testa, historian Harold Holzer, and sculptor Richard Masloski will be on hand for the unveiling and dedication of the new statue.

The ceremony will go on as scheduled, but the senseless act of vandalism leaves more questions than answers. “We are just absolutely sickened by this,” said the police chief. “So much has been put into this building becoming a centerpiece of Peekskill’s historical renovations and to have it defiled like this is just horrible. It’s an assault on our sensibilities.”

Though the vandalism is discouraging, I wish the people of Peekskill the best. They have worked hard and now they are ready to share their connection to Lincoln with the world.

I wish I could say the act of spraying racial epithets on Lincoln-related monuments was unique, but it is not. Springfield has had a number of cases of such acts. Vandals sprayed racist slogans and graffiti onto the Lincoln tomb in 1987. Local citizens were outraged. They volunteered to repair the damage and the Lincoln National Life Insurance Company donated $1,500 to help the cause. Ten years later, vandals returned and sprayed swastikas and obscenities onto the Lincoln tomb.

Defacing a historic site is a senseless act, but vandals who paint racial epithets onto a Lincoln-related site are especially ignorant of what the site stands for.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Battle of Ball's Bluff--Part 2

Edward D. Baker

The Lincoln family was not prepared to hear that Edward D. Baker had been killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. He had long been a welcome visitor to the Lincoln home, both in Springfield and in the White House. He was eloquent, full of energy, and extremelly ambitious. In addition to being a lawyer, he had fought in three wars. He had been a member of the United States Congress and the U. S. Senate. The Lincolns named their second son after him.

Lincoln tried to stay busy the day following Baker's death. He held a Cabinet meeting and discussed the disastrous battle, as well as the recent actions of General John C. Fremont, who Lincoln had concluded must be removed from command. After the meeting, Lincoln retired to the living quarters, where he and Mary refused to see any visitors. That evening, Lincoln went to the homes of Secretary of State William H. Seward and General George B. McClellan. The next day would be difficult.

On this date in 1861, the president and Mrs. Lincoln attended Col. Baker's funeral.

Lincoln wanted the funeral to be held in the White House, but repairs made it impossible. Instead, serices were held at the home of Baker's friend, Col. J. W. Webb. Colleagues in the Senate offered eulogies and, according to a reporter, Lincoln "wept like a child."

From Washington, the funeral procession traveled to Philadelphia, where Baker's body lay in state at Independence Hall. Two days later, his body lay in state at City Hall in New York. Some two months after his death, Baker was finally laid to rest in San Francisco, where he had been living before the war. An estimated 15,000 people attended his funeral.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Battle of Ball's Bluff--Part 1

The Death of Col. Edward D. Baker

Very little had happened since the humiliation at Manasas Junction in July. “All Quiet Along the Potomac,” declared the war correspondents. But that silence was shattered on October 21, 1861.

General George B. McClellan was now in charge of Union forces. While he spent the last several months organizing and drilling his newly christened Army of the Potomac, the president reminded his new general that the country was growing impatient. When would he advance against the enemy? When would he do something magnificent to tip the scales in the Union’s favor and end this rebellion? “Don’t let them hurry me,” McClellan calmly replied.

As war correspondent Charles Carlton Coffin mingled with encamped Union soldiers near Alexandria, rumors began circulating that something was happening upriver, near Edwards’ Ferry.

In search of the story, the reporter descended on McClellan’s headquarters. While waiting to meet with the general, the president entered. He shook hands with the reporter and commented on the beauty of the afternoon. As the president spoke, the reporter took note of the deep lines carved in the president’s cheeks, obvious examples of the stress and anxiety he had been under.

A lieutenant entered and led the president into the next room. The reporter overheard muffled voices, but everything suddenly went silent. The “click, click, click” of the telegraph increased its pace. The machine brought the first details of events upriver.

Five minutes passed.

Unannounced and alone, the president emerged. His head was bowed and his face was suddenly pale. Tears poured from his eyes. He passed by the reporter before stumbling onto the street. A guard saluted him, but he did not respond. The president’s hands were on his heart, while tears continued down his sunken cheeks.

The reporter’s attention left the president only when McClellan stepped into the room. The silence after Manasas was over, but it was still too early for specifics.

“I have not much new to give you,” McClellan said, “There has been a movement of troops across the Potomac at Edwards’ Ferry, under General Stone, and Colonel Baker is reported killed. That is about all I can give you.”

The Battle of Ball’s Bluff was over and the Union suffered another terrible defeat. The repercussions would play out over the next several weeks.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"All the Ladies Like Whiskers"

Grace Bedell Statue in Westfield, NY

An eleven year old girl wrote to the Republican candidate for president in 1860. She had just seen his picture and had a bit of advice for him: he should grow a beard!

“You would look a great deal better for your face is so thin,” reasoned Grace Bedell. But this was not merely a cosmetic suggestion, it would yield political results. “All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband’s to vote for you and then you would be President,” she wrote.

On this date in 1860, Lincoln replied to his young admirer. “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?” Lincoln asked.

Four months later, as the president-elect made his way to Washington, he stopped in Westfield, New York to deliver a brief speech. A reporter captured the event:

At Westfield, Mr. LINCOLN greeted a large crowd of ladies, and several thousand of the sterner sex. Addressing the ladies, he said, ``I am glad to see you; I suppose you are to see me; but I certainly think I have the best of the bargain. (Applause.) Some three months ago, I received a letter from a young lady here; it was a very pretty letter, and she advised me to let my whiskers grow, as it would improve my personal appearance; acting partly upon her suggestion, I have done so; and now, if she is here, I would like to see her; I think her name was Miss BARLLY.'' A small boy, mounted on a post, with his mouth and eyes both wide open, cried out, ``there she is, Mr. LINCOLN,'' pointing to a beautiful girl, with black eyes, who was blushing all over her fair face. The President left the car, and the crowd making way for him, he reached her, and gave her several hearty kisses, and amid the yells of delight from the excited crowd, he bade her good-bye, and on we rushed.

Of course, either Lincoln or the reporter got the name wrong. Miss Barlly was indeed Grace Bedell and she met Lincoln, now with a set of fresh whiskers.

Today there is a statue (pictured above) in Westfield, New York that depicts this meeting.

Grace went on to live a full life. She married a Union veteran, had children of her own, and died in 1936 at the ripe old age of 87.

For those of you who have children, you may want to check out one of the many books that depict this story:

Mr. Lincoln’s Whiskers by Karen B. Winnick is intended for children ages 4 to 8:

Grace’s Letter to Lincoln by Peter and Connie Roop and Stacey Schuett is intended for children ages 9 to 12:

Lincoln’s Little Girl by Fred Trump is also intended for children ages 9 to 12:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

John Brown & Harpers Ferry: Part 3

Harpers Ferry

Colonel Robert E. Lee had taken a leave of absence from the military. His father-in-law had recently passed away and left him a large, but decaying plantation called Arlington, along with 196 slaves. Adjusting to life as a planter did not come easy for him.

Lee was working at Arlington when a rider approached. It was twenty-six year old JEB Stuart who, as luck would have it, had been in the War office that morning when news of a slave rebellion reached Washington. Secretary of War John B. Floyd ordered the young cavalryman to cross the Potomac River and bring Col. Lee to the War Department.

Without wasting time to change into military garb, Lee met with the Secretary and President James Buchanan. Details were hard to come by, but initial reports estimated that some 3,000 men had captured the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and had armed local slaves. The president had already decided to send in a company of marines, as well as four companies of Maryland militiamen. Lee was in command and Stuart would serve as his aide.

When Lee arrived at Harpers Ferry, he learned that the initial estimates were wrong. Local militiamen and area farmers had done an admirable job. They had already blocked the main escape routes and the assailants were pinned in a small brick building. Lee had a plan.

He told the militia companies and the local farmers to leave the area. The marines surrounded the building.

At about 2 am, Lee wrote a note to the people in the armory building. He told them they had no escape and they must surrender immediately. If they resisted, Lee told them he could not “answer for their safety.”

Lee gave the note to JEB Stuart and told him to deliver it under a flag of truce. If Stuart encountered any difficulty in delivering the message, Lee told him to give a sign and the marines would storm the building.

At 7 am, 148 years ago today, Stuart moved into position. As he was cautiously approaching the building, the door opened slightly. A bearded man leveled the a muzzle in his direction and took aim. Stuart knew he could go no further, but he stood his ground. He opened Lee's mesasge and began to read aloud.

A voice from inside the building interrputed Stuart. The man said he had hostages and instead of surrendering, he proclaimed that he would “rather die here.” Satisfied with his refusal, Stuart backed away from the building and signaled to Lee.

The marines stormed the building. As they struggled to break the door down, John Brown fired his musket in their direction. In the ensuing chaos, two of the marines were shot and one died from his wounds. Once inside, Lt. Israel Green recognized Brown, who was busy trying to reload his musket. Green drew his sword and stabbed Brown in the neck. In less than three minutes, the situation was under control. The hostages were free and Brown had been taken alive.

Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise, Senator James M. Mason of Virginia, and Representative Clement Vallandigham of Ohio arrived in Harpers Ferry that day and personally questioned Brown for more than three hours.

They concluded that Brown was not simply a madman or a fanatic, but he was guilty of the most serious crimes applicable under the law. Justice needed to be swift. They charged him with murder, inciting a slave rebellion, and treason against the state of Virginia.

His trial would begin in nine days.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

John Brown & Harpers Ferry: Part 2

John Brown

News of the raid spread quickly to the countryside, but slaves did not rally around John Brown. Instead, local farmers, militiamen, and shopkeepers grabbed their muskets and took positions on the heights surrounding the arsenal. For the next several hours, they shot at Brown and his men, pinning them down in the small armory buildings in Harpers Ferry.

Brown made no attempt to escape, but by noon it was a moot point. Local volunteers charged into town and blocked off the bridge. If Brown and his men had any intention of escaping, they would now have to engage in a gun battle with well-armed local militiamen.

Eight of Brown’s men were either dead or dying. Five others were cut off, while two more had managed to escape across the river. Brown gathered his surviving men, along with nine hostages, and moved to a small brick engine house and waited.

At one point, Brown sent his son Watson and another of his men out with a white flag, offering to surrender. When the well-armed crowd saw the men, they ignored the white flag, and shot them. With one son now dead, Brown turned his attention to another of his sons, Oliver, who had been wounded in the initial gunfire. By now he was moaning in agony, begging his father to kill him. Brown told his son to “die like a man.” Within hours he did as he was told.

Brown was out of ideas.

News of the raid made its way to Washington. By 3:30 pm, Colonel Robert E. Lee and a force of U.S. Marines were on their way to Harpers Ferry.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

John Brown & Harpers Ferry: Part 1

John Brown Painting

He is one of the most controversial characters in American history. Some say he was a mad man, a fanatic, a terrorist, and even a murderer, while others claim he was a prophet, as well as a martyr.

Today is the 148th anniversary of John Brown’s failed raid on Harpers Ferry.

In Brown’s mind, the plan made perfect sense. The federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia contained 100,000 muskets and rifles. Not only did Brown want to capture the arsenal, but he also wanted to send word to local slaves. Upon hearing the news of his bold strike, area slaves would flock to the arsenal and rally around their new Moses. Brown would then lead his army further south, capturing federal arsenals and arming local slaves. He would bring an end to American slavery.

Initially, everything went right. Brown led 21 men into Harpers Ferry. They cut telegraph wires, captured the armory and arsenal, and rounded up hostages, including Col. Lewis Washington, whose great grand uncle was George Washington.

But then disaster struck. There was a noise off in the distance and it was getting louder. It was a train and it was coming toward them. Brown and his men froze, but one of the occupants of Harpers Ferry was not going to let this opportunity pass him by. He ran toward the train and was shouting. They were under attack, this madman named Brown wanted to incite a slave rebellion, help! Brown and his men ordered the man to stop screaming, but he wouldn’t listen. They shot him. The first casualty in John Brown’s slave revolution was named Hayward Shepherd, a free black.

Rattled by the shooting, Brown allowed the train to depart Harpers Ferry. It would be one of many mistakes he would make during the next few days.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Lincoln and Douglas in Alton, Illinois

Lincoln and Douglas, 1858

The campaign dragged on for more than five months. For the past three months, the two aspiring candidates for the United States Senate met in seven towns in Illinois to debate the issues. And of course, slavery was the issue.

On this date in 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas met for their seventh and final debate in Alton, IL.

Douglas spent a considerable amount of time trying to define Lincoln as an abolitionist. He wanted the crowd to believe that Lincoln not only opposed slavery in the territories, but he also advocated perfect equality amongst the races.

Referring to a speech Lincoln had given earlier in the campaign, Douglas told the crowd:

In that Chicago speech he even went further than he had before, and uttered sentiments in regard to the negro being on an equality with the white man. (That's so.) He adopted in support of this position the argument which Lovejoy and Codding, and other Abolition lecturers had made familiar in the northern and central portions of the State, to wit: that the Declaration of Independence having declared all men free and equal, by Divine law, also that negro equality was an inalienable right, of which they could not be deprived. He insisted, in that speech, that the Declaration of Independence included the negro in the clause asserting that all men were created equal, and went so far as to say that if one man was allowed to take the position, that it did not include the negro, others might take the position that it did not include other men. He said that all these distinctions between this man and that man, this race and the other race, must be discarded, and we must all stand by the Declaration of Independence, declaring that all men were created equal.

I’ve always found it curious that Douglas used the name Lovejoy during this speech. Presumably, Douglas is referring to the abolitionist Owen Lovejoy, whose brother Elijah was murdered by a pro-slavery mob in Alton, IL in 1837.

Of course, Douglas was distorting Lincoln’s position on slavery, just as he was twisting his opponent’s interpretation of the Declaration of Independence. Lincoln used his time to clarify his position. He read an excerpt from an earlier speech he had delivered, which he hoped would illustrate his interpretation of the Declaration:

I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what 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 they 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: 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 Alton Debate marked the last time Lincoln and Douglas would engage in face-to-face debate in 1858. The election was just two weeks away.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Lyman Trumbull & Robert E. Lee

Lyman TrumbullRobert E. Lee

Webster defines coincidence as “the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection.” Consider a couple of my favorite examples:

Americans observed the one year anniversary of 9-11 on September 11, 2002. Print and broadcast media ran tributes to the victims, the nation observed a moment of silence, and the president visited the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania, and ground zero in New York City. While Americans mourned the victims, they also feared another attack from Al Qaeda. But here’s the part I chalk up to coincidence…the winning numbers that night in the Pick Three lottery for New York were 9-1-1. Strange coincidence, right?

Here’s another one:

Edgar Allan Poe wrote dozens of short stories, but he only wrote one novel. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket is a strange book. The story follows Pym as he stows away aboard a whaling ship. Poe describes the horrific journey, which culminates in a shipwreck, mutiny, and cannibalism. That’s right. The crew kills and eats the cabin boy, named Richard Parker. Here’s the coincidence…In 1884 a ship was blown off course by a hurricane. The crew was adrift in the Atlantic Ocean for several weeks. After 19 days with little food and water, one of the young crew members began drinking seawater and became delirious. The crew ended up killing him and, for the next 35 days, they stayed alive by eating him. The unfortunate fellow’s name…Richard Parker!

I realized that today is another one of those days. No, it’s not a day filled with tragedy or cannibalism, but coincidence does play a part in October 12. If life and death are opposite sides of the same coin, then Lyman Trumbull is on one side, while Robert E. Lee is on the other. Here’s what I mean:

Today is Lyman Trumbull’s 194th birthday. Lincoln had known Trumbull for years. Their wives had been great friends throughout their earliest days in Springfield. Julia Jayne Trumbull had even served as a bridesmaid at the Lincoln wedding. However, their relationship imploded when Trumbull bested Lincoln for the Senate in 1855. Mary Lincoln never again spoke favorably or even cordially to the Trumbulls.

When Lincoln became president, Trumbull was serving in the United States Senate. Almost from the beginning, Trumbull aligned himself with the radicals. He quarreled with the president over patronage issues, the conduct of the war, and emancipation. Trumbull wanted the president to emancipate the slaves and allow blacks to serve in the Union ranks. After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure, Trumbull began working on a constitutional amendment to make emancipation permanent.

Today, Trumbull is recognized as the co-author of the Thirteenth Amendment, which officially abolished slavery in America.

While Trumbull was born on this day in 1813, Robert E. Lee died on this date in 1870.

There is little left to say about the legendary Confederate general. Lee is revered by Americans, both North and South. But like so many people from the past, the Lee legend distorts the man. Advocates of the Lost Cause interpretation of American history will tell you that Lee was an anti-slavery man. They say he did not lead his Rebel soldiers into battle to preserve slavery; instead, Lee was merely defending his beloved Virginia from a tyrannical government led by Lincoln and the dreaded Republican Party. Sometimes the truth is more complicated.

Lee owned about six slaves during his lifetime, but he acquired many more through marriage. In 1831, Lee married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, whose great grandmother was Martha Washington and step-great grandfather was, of course, George Washington. When Lee’s father-in-law died, he left his daughter a plantation called Arlington and 196 slaves. The will called for the slaves to be emancipated within five years “in such a manner as to my executors may seem most expedient and proper.” Lee was named executor of the will.

Custis had run up staggering debts and Lee, as executor, was in charge of paying his creditors, as well as repairing the plantation he and his wife had inherited. Lee knew how to raise the money. He took a two year leave of absence from the army and began hiring out the slaves to work on neighboring plantations.

Several of the slaves began complaining about their new work. Many of them understood that Custis planned on emancipating them after he died, so why were they still working? Lee discussed the situation in an 1858 letter to his son:

I have had some trouble with some of the people. Reuben, Parks & Edward, in the beginning of the previous week, rebelled against my authority—refused to obey my orders, & said they were as free as I was, etc., etc.—I succeeded in capturing them & lodging them in jail. They resisted till overpowered & called upon the other people to rescue them.

Three more slaves ran away the following year. Lee pursued his property and captured them a few miles from the Pennsylvania border. The New York Tribune published two anonymous letters in June and July 1859. Both letters claimed Lee had the three runaways, two men and one woman, whipped.

In 1866, one of these runaway slaves gave an interview. After their capture, Lee told the runaways “he would teach us a lesson we would not soon forget.” The slave claimed the stories about being whipped were indeed true. The two men were tied to posts and whipped 50 times by the constable, while the female slave received 20 lashes.

Lee fulfilled his duty as executor to the will and freed the slaves at the end of the five year period. On December 29, 1862, two days before Lincoln’s final Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lee completed the paperwork required to free the Custis slaves.

Today is a curious day. The man who authored the amendment that killed American slavery entered the world; fifty seven years later, the man who had led Confederate soldiers into battle departed.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Voices of Secession: Part 1

Lincoln and Hamlin, 1860

The election was still more than three weeks away, but secession fever was already burning its way through Charleston, South Carolina.

On this date in 1860, the Charleston Mercury printed a long, paranoid editorial. What would a Republican victory mean for South Carolina, the South, and slavery? The editor foresaw disaster. I have added his 1,200 word rant to the Primary Documents section. Here it is in full:

"The Terrors of Submission"

Charleston Mercury [South Carolina]

October 11, 1860

A few days since, we endeavored to show, that the pictures of ruin and desolation to the South, which the submissionists to Black Republican domination were so continually drawing, to "fright us from our propriety," were unreal and false. We propose now to reverse the picture, and to show what will probably be the consequences of a submission of the Southern States, to the rule of Abolitionism at Washington, in the persons of Messrs. LINCOLN and HAMLIN, should they be elected to the Presidency and VicePresidency of the United States.

1. The first effect of the submission of the South, to the installation of Abolitionists in the offices of President and VicePresident of the United States, must be a powerful consolidation of the strength of the Abolition party at the North. Success, generally strengthens. If, after all the threats of resistance and disunion, made in Congress and out of Congress, the Southern States sink down into acquiescence, the demoralization of the South will be complete. Add the patronage resulting from the control of ninety-four thousand offices, and the expenditure of eighty millions of money annually, and they must be irresistable in controlling the General Government.

2. To plunder the South for the benefit of the North, by a new Protective Tariff, will be one of their first measures of Northern sectional domination; and, on the other hand, to exhaust the treasury by sectional schemes of appropriation, will be a congenial policy.

3. Immediate danger will be brought to slavery, in all the Frontier States. When a party is enthroned at Washington, in the Executive and Legislative departments of the Government, whose creed it is, to repeal the Fugitive Slave Laws, the under-ground railroad, will become an over-ground railroad. The tenure of slave property will be felt to be weakened; and the slaves will be sent down to the Cotton States for sale, and the Frontier States enter on the policy of making themselves Free States.

4. With the control of the Government of the United States, and an organized and triumphant North to sustain them, the Abolitionists will renew their operations upon the South with increased courage. The thousands in every country who look up to power, and make gain out of the future, will come out in support of the Abolition Government. The BROWNLOWS [Tennessee newspaper editor William G. Brownlow] and the BOTTS [Unionist John M. Botts from Virginia], in the South, will multiply. They will organize; and from being a Union party, to support an Abolition Government, they will become, like the Government they support, Abolitionists. They will have an Abolition Party in the South, of Southern men. The contest for slavery, will no longer be one between the North and the South. It will be in the South, between the people of the South.

5. If, in our present position of power and unitedness, we have the raid of JOHN BROWN-- and twenty towns burned down in Texas in one year, by Abolitionists-- what will be the measures of insurrection and incendiarism, which must follow our notorious and abject prostration to Abolition rule at Washington, with all the patronage of the Federal Government, and a Union organization in the South to support it? Secret conspiracy, and its attendant horrors, with rumors of horrors, will hover over every portion of the South; while, in the language of the Black Republican patriarch--GIDDINGS [Representative Joshua R. Giddings of Ohio]-- they "will laugh at your calamities, and mock when your fear cometh."

6. Already there is uneasiness throughout the South, as to the stability of its institution on slavery. But with a submission to the rule of Abolitionists at Washington, thousands of slaveholders will despair of the institution. While the condition of things in the Frontier States will force their slaves on the markets of the Cotton States, the timid in the Cotton States, will also sell their slaves. The consequence must be, slave property must be greatly depreciated. We see advertisements for the sale of slaves in some of the Cotton States, for the simple object of getting rid of them; and we know that standing orders for the purchase of slaves in this market have been withdrawn, on account of an anticipated decline of value from the political condition of the country.

7. We suppose, that taking in view all these things, it is not extravagant to estimate, that the submission of the South to the administration of the Federal Government under Messrs. LINCOLN and HAMLIN, must reduce the value of slaves in the South, one hundred dollars each. It is computed that there are four million, three hundred thousand, slaves in the United States. Here, therefore,is a loss to the Southern people of four hundred and thirty millions of dollars, on their slaves alone. Of course, real estate of all kinds must partake also in the depreciation of slaves.

8. Slave property, is the foundation of all property in the South. When security in this is shaken, all other property partakes of its instability. Banks, stocks, bonds, must be influenced. Timid men will sell out and leave the South. Confusion, distrust and pressure must reign.

9. Before Messrs. LINCOLN and HAMLIN can be installed in Washington, as President and Vice-President of the United States, the Southern States can dissolve peaceably (we know what we say) their union with the North. Mr. LINCOLN and his Abolition cohorts, will have no South, to reign over. Their game would be blocked. The foundation of their organization, would be taken away; and, left to the tender mercies of a baffled, furious and troubled North, they would be cursed and crushed, as the flagitious cause of the disasters around them. But if we submit, and do not dissolve our union with the North, we make the triumph of our Abolition enemies complete, and enable them to consolidate and wield the power of the North, for our destruction.

10. If the South once submits to the rule of Abolitionists by the General Government, there is, probably, an end of all peaceful separation of the Union. We can only escape the ruin they meditate for the South, by war. Armed with power of the General Government, and their organizations at the North, they will have no respect for our courage or energy, and they will use the sword for our subjection. If there is any man in the South who believes, that we must separate from the North, we appeal to his humanity, in case Mr. LINCOLN is elected, to dissolve our connection with the North, before the 4th of March next.

11. The ruin of the South, by the emancipation of her slaves, is not like the ruin of any other people. It is not a mere loss of liberty, like the Italians under the BOURBONS. It is not heavy taxation, which must still leave the means of living, or otherwise taxation defeats itself. But it is the loss of liberty, property, home, country-- everything that makes life worth living. And this loss, will probably take place under circumstances of suffering and horror, unsurpassed in the history of nations. We must preserve our liberties and institutions, under penalties greater than those which impend over any people in the world.

12. Lastly, we conclude this brief statement of the terrors of submission, by declaring, that in our opinion, they are ten-fold greater even that the supposed terrors of disunion.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Robert Gould Shaw Day

Robert Gould Shaw

As far as I’m concerned, today is Robert Gould Shaw Day. I encourage you to celebrate his 170th birthday by reading a bit about him. Why not stop at the video store on the way home from work and rent Glory, starring Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington?

Shaw entered the world on October 10, 1837 in Boston. His parents were wealthy abolitionists. They encouraged their only son, as well as their four daughters, to be socially conscious. Shaw dropped out of Harvard after his junior year and entered a clerkship position in New York. However, the election of 1860 captured his attention.

Shaw watched the country unravel after the election. Just a week before the South fired on Fort Sumter, Shaw wrote a hurried letter to his sister:

We have exciting news today from the South. It is now almost certain that Mr. Lincoln is going to re-enforce the United States forts, and in that case the Southerners will almost surely resist...For my part I want to see the Southern States either brought back by force, or else recognized as independent.

Shaw joined the 7th Regiment of the NY State Militia. When Lincoln called for 75,000 troops, just after the fall of Fort Sumter, Shaw marched with the 7th NY to Washington, D.C.

Shaw’s letters home during this period show how young and unprepared he was for what awaited him. “We all feel that, if we can get to Washington before Virginia begins to make trouble, we shall not have much fighting,” Shaw wrote to his mother. “The Massachusetts men passed through New York this morning...Won't it be grand to meet the men from all the states, East and West, down there ready to fight for the country, as the old fellows did in the Revolution?"

He also tried to calm his sister’s fears and possibly his own. "You mustn't think, dear Sue, that any of us are going to be killed,” he wrote, “for they are collecting such a force there that an attack would be insane, that is, unless the Southerners can get their army up in an impossibly short space of time."

Shaw’s time in Washington was eventful. A fellow private in the 7th NY named Rufus King had political connections in the nation’s capitol. His father was the president of Columbia College and had arranged for his son to meet Secretary of State Seward. King asked Shaw to come along. During the brief meeting, Shaw said he wanted to meet the president. Sec. Seward gave him a note and pointed him in the right direction. Shaw wrote:

After waiting a few minutes in an antechamber, we were shown into a room where Mr. Lincoln was sitting at a desk perfectly covered with papers of every description. He got up and shook hands with us both, in the most cordial way, asked us to be seated, and seemed quite glad to have us come. It is really too bad to call him one of the ugliest men in the country, for I have seldom seen a pleasanter or more kind-hearted looking one, and he has certainly a very striking face…

A few weeks later, Shaw received a commission as second lieutenant in the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. By July, Shaw and the 2nd MA were at Harpers Ferry, where one of their responsibilities included tracking down runaway slaves and returning them to their masters. Shaw was torn between his parents’ abolitionist teachings and government policy.

On May 19, 1862, Shaw wrote to his father, detailing his interest in forming a regiment of black soldiers:

You will be surprised to see that I am in Washington. I came down with Major Copeland to see if I could assist him at all, in a plan he has made for getting up a black regiment. He says, very justly, that it would be much wiser to enlist men in the North, who have had the courage to run away, and have enlist men in the North, who have had the courage to run away, and have already suffered for their freedom, than to take them all from contrabands at Port Royal and other places...Copeland wants me to take hold of the black regiment with him, if he can get permission to raise it, and offers me a major's commission in it.

Shaw was at the Battle of Antietam. Before sunset on the bloodiest day in American history, Shaw witnessed the horrific scenes of death and dying:

...such a mass of dead and wounded men, mostly Rebels...I never saw before; it was a terrible sight, and our men had to be very careful to avoid treading on them; many were mangled and torn to pieces of artillery, but most of them had been wounded by musketry fire. We halted right among them and the men did everything they could for their comfort, giving them water from their canteens and trying to place them in easy positions...

After the battle, Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Surprisingly, Shaw’s reaction was subdued:

So the Proclamation of Emancipation, has come at last, or rather its forerunner. I suppose you are all very much excited about it. For my part, I can't see what practical good it can do now. Wherever our army has been there remain no slaves, and the Proclamation will not free them where we don't go...Jeff Davis will soon issue a proclamation threatening to hang every prisoner they take, and will make this a war of extermination.

On February 2, 1863, Massachusetts Governor Andrew wrote to Shaw’s father. Not only would Shaw’s dream of a black regiment come to fruition, but the governor wanted him to accept the position of colonel of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. .

The movie Glory takes up the story from the winter of 1863 to the assault against Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. If you’ve never seen the film, I encourage you to rent it. You don’t have to be a Civil War aficionado to appreciate it.

For those of you who have seen the film, you’ll appreciate James M. McPherson’s essay, “The Glory Story” in Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War (99-109). Here is a snippet:

“Can movies teach history?” asked the title of a New York Times feature article. The answer for Glory is yes. It is not only the first feature film to treat the role of black soldiers in the Civil War; it is also the most powerful movie about that war ever made, and one that strives for greater historical accuracy than we have come to expect from Hollywood. It does much to correct the distortions and romanticizations of such earlier blockbuster films as Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939). It grapples more forthrightly with the issues of what the war was about than Gettysburg(1993). Approaching their sixtieth anniversary on the screen, Scarlet O’Hara and Rhett Butler are still teaching false and stereotyped lessons about slavery and the Civil War to millions of viewers. Glory throws a cold dash of realism over the “moonlight and magnolias” portrayal of the Confederacy. It also helps restore the courageous image of black soldiers and their white officers that prevailed in the North during the latter war years and early postwar decades, before the process of romanticizing the Old South obscured that image.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The American Civil War Comes to Southern Illinois

Steven E. Woodworth

The American Civil War is coming to southern Illinois next week!

John A. Logan Community College will be hosting their Third Annual Civil War Lecture Series on Wednesday, October 17. This year’s featured speaker is Steven E. Woodworth. His presentation is titled, “Black Jack’s Autumn Campaign: John A. Logan and the Election of 1864.”

Woodworth is professor of history at Texas Christian University and author, co-author, or editor of 26 books! He is a two-time winner of the Fletcher Pratt Award of the New York Civil War Round Table (for Jefferson Davis and his Generals and Davis and Lee at War), a Pulitzer-Prize nominee (for the latter), a two-time finalist for the Peter Seaborg Award of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War (for While God is Marching On and Nothing but Victory), and a winner of the Grady McWhiney Award of the Dallas Civil War Round Table for lifetime contribution to the study of Civil War history.

The lecture begins at 7 pm in the Conference Center and is free of charge, but registration is encouraged. Call 618.985.3741 for more details.

But the fun doesn’t stop there.

Jay Ungar and Molly Mason

John A. Logan Community College will also be hosting a concert on Thursday, October 18 at 7 pm.

Jay Ungar and Molly Mason achieved international acclaim when their performance of Jay’s composition, “Ashokan Farewell,” became the musical hallmark of Ken Burns’ The Civil War on PBS. The soundtrack won a Grammy and “Ashokan Farewell” was nominated for an Emmy. Jay and Molly are musicians of enormous talent who draw their repertoire and inspiration from a wide range of American musical styles: 19th-century classics, lively Appalachian, Cajun, and Celtic fiddle tunes and favorites from the golden age of country and swing, along with their own songs, fiddle tunes, and orchestral compositions. In recent years, Jay and Molly have reached an ever widening audience through their appearances on Great Performances, A Prairie Home Companion, their own public radio specials, and through their work on film soundtracks such as, Brother’s Keeper, Legends of the Fall, and a host of Ken Burns’ PBS documentaries.

$10 = Gen Admission

$5 = Students

$5 = Children under 12

For tickets, call 618.985.2828 Ext. 8287

Monday, October 8, 2007

"The Revolution of Abraham Lincoln"

CSA Map, 2007

I thought the Confederacy died in 1865. I thought the Rebel-government’s tombstone reads: “Died of States’ Rights.” I thought we all agreed it was over.

Some folks reject that narrative. They say rumors of the Confederacy’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The Confederate States of America have a website and they have even redrawn the map of the United States to reflect their position (pictured above).

They claim the “government of the Confederate States of America never officially surrendered to the Federal Union and thus still exists as an occupied government under the control of the Federal Union (UNITED STATES, INC.) in the Southern States of America including: Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, No. Carolina, So. Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia and within the Territory of Arizona and the provisional Territories including Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming.”

For a mere $50 you can apply for Confederate citizenship (I assume they will not accept Confederate scrip). Of course, not everyone is eligible. You must be able to prove that you have lived in a “gray” or “red” state for at least six months. If your application is accepted, you can vote in Confederate elections!

The Frequently Asked Questions feature on the website is definitely worth reading. The first question and answer is a real treat:


Don’t you realize that you are better off that you lost; for look at the great and wealthy nation we have become under the reunited United States of America.


This is a typical Yankee-ism we even hear among professors from Southern colleges as well as Yankees and Scallywags. It is the epitome of politically correct robotic thinking.

No, we do not realize that we are better off now under Federal Union occupation than we were while we were free under the Confederate States of America. What we realize is that we have suffered the pillaging of our homes and farms and from the economic, civil, religious and military oppression from the Federal Union under reconstruction and continued occupation for 145 years. We have all been made slaves, black and white alike to the unconstitutional and otherwise illegal I.R.S. and its personal income tax fraud against us. In this we take little solace from the knowledge that the folks up north who supported the Lincoln Marxist invasion of our southern Nation, although not having to suffer the same reconstruction as we did in the South, have become slaves to the I.R.S. as have we. But that knowledge buys no groceries for us.

We have had Washington, D.C. appoint our legislatures and governors for the State governments that they forced down our throats at bayonet point. At first we had Yankees ruling us in these Washington Satellite governments, but then they got Southerners to rule who were worse as Scallywags.

They have re-educated our kids with Federal Union half truths and outright false history with their Federal Department of Education. Our kids grow up to be welfare state minded with little or no concept of freedom and God given rights.

They have taught distorted science and humanism against our religious beliefs thereby undermining our families and confounding our children into accepting the State religion of Humanism/Darwinism. They do not allow our kids to pray nor have Bibles at school. They even are denying us the right to have the Ten Commandments. They teach that the State is the god that matters.

They send our Southern men (and women, now) disproportionately into battles all over the World which are none of our business thereby causing and fueling the hatred of the World against us.

They have given so many billions of dollars away to nations who hate us that the Federal Union is near or already in bankruptcy and we are seeing run away inflation making it impossible to maintain a reasonable standard of living, and for many, without even enough bread for their families.

You, of the Federal Union, have encouraged groups to try to hang the racist label on us when we get along much better with blacks in the South than you do in the North. The Confederacy was in the process of freeing all slaves in the South at the beginning of the 1861 Northern invasion of South Carolina well prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to allegedly free the slaves in the South while not freeing them in the North. Today we embrace all races to apply for C.S.A. Registered Citizenship and certainly oppose all forms of involuntary servitude (slavery).

We can be arrested for complaining against all of this as it might be classified as hate speech. We can’t even fly our own flags and our children are not allowed to wear Confederate flags on their shirts to school.

We are told that we must allow the United Nations to run our troops abroad and to house U.N. Troops in our domestic forests. We may soon be prosecuted by other nations for violating their laws here in the South.

We have been reduced to the status of mere serfs and slaves of the occupying nation and you think we should be grateful? Ha! Only dogs appear grateful to their masters who beat them.

In what way are we better off? Should we brag about being part of the New World Order run by the Fascist Federal Empire of the United States? No thanks!

I was also surprised to learn that the official government of the Confederacy does not support The League of the South. Apparently, the Confederate Intelligence Bureau has been investigating the LOS for the past five years and has concluded that they are "a subversive organization" that actually works "against the Confederacy." They have issued a report entitled "CSA Intelligence Alert," which labels the LOS goal of a "New Nation" a "conspiracy of diversion and misdirection deliberately being perpetrated in a treasonous way against the true and still existing Confederate States of America."

One last thing. As you can imagine, these folks reject terms like the "American Civil War" and the "War of the Rebellion." Instead of using the term "War of Northern Aggression," these folks prefer to call it the “Revolution of Abraham Lincoln.” I admit it is a catchy title, but what does it mean? Their interpretation is all over the place:

Really, the Federal Union, established out of the Marxist assisted Revolution of Abraham Lincoln, is a National Socialist government absent the racial purity aspects and absent any anti-Jewish aspects and the only racial hatred that is allowed is against the White European Americans who are now a minority. (Lincoln was a strong supporter of Karl Marx in 1848 and supported his attempt to overthrow the German government.) To sum it up, the U. S. is a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations with socialism to control the people who think they elect the government and believe they have a constitution. The hapless American people have only privileges allowed by U.S.A. CORP. as controlled by the Bank of England. Ever notice has the Declaration of Independence of 1776 fit so well against the Federal Union today? The same British system of control is in effect via U.S.A. CORP.

Simply amazing.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Not all Anniversaries are Cause for Celebration

Lincoln Boyhood in Southern Indiana

Not all anniversaries are cause for celebration. Many of us have dates on our calendar that trigger unpleasant memories. Today was one of those days for Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln was seven years old when his father moved the family into the southern Indiana wilderness. He helped his father clear enough land to build a cabin and plant a few acres of crops. But it wasn’t enough to prevent disaster.

Just two years later, their cows ran out of grazing land. They wandered into the woods and began feeding on a green plant with small white flowers called “white snakeroot.”

Today, researchers are familiar with the devastating results. After digesting the plant, cattle produce a chemical called “tremetol,” which causes them to “shake and tremble.” Infected cows can pass along the poison through their milk. “Tremetol poisoning,” also known as “the milk sickness,” claimed the lives of thousands of Midwesterners in the nineteenth century.

Lincoln’s mother began to tremble with the disease. Without a doctor to offer hope or a hospital room to provide comfort, she lingered in the cabin for about a week. “She knew she was going to die,” Dennis Hanks recalled, but before she lost consciousness, she “called up the children to her dying side and told them to be good & kind to their father—to one another and to the world.”

Nancy Hanks Lincoln died on this day 189 years ago.

Lincoln helped his father build his mother’s coffin. Using a leftover log from the cabin, they sawed it into planks and, in the absence of nails, the nine year old whittled the small pegs that held the boards together. Without much ceremony, they buried Nancy on a small hill about a quarter mile from the cabin.

Not all anniversaries are cause for celebration.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

When Reenacting is Not Enough

Union Dissolved!

What happens when reenacting the Civil War is not enough? It looks like some folks have found a solution—twenty-first century secession!

Neo-confederates from around the country are rejoicing today because they have actually found an ally in their secessionist movement. New England has entered the fray. Fed-up with foreign wars and right-wing judges, the Middlebury Institute has called on liberal New England states like Vermont to secede from the Union.

New England will be sending representatives to the League of the South’s 14th annual national conference which kicks-off tomorrow in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I swear I’m not making this up—read the AP story HERE.

Though the secessionist movements in New England and the South are fueled by different elements—New England secessionists occupy the far left, while Neo-confederates inhabit the extreme right—they have several things in common.

First, they are dissatisfied with modern America. Though they highlight different issues—foreign policy, abortion, immigration, or taxation—they share a common sense of disgust with the federal government. These extremists have come to the solution that secession is their only alternative. They believe they can handle these issues better than their elected representatives in Washington.

Second, they reject the United States Constitution. They will tell you otherwise, but be skeptical. The constitution provides the mechanism for real change. It is a flexible document. The framers understood that Americans would grow weary of their government. They foresaw the rise of factions along sectional and ideological lines. However, the constitution provides a platform for these factions to air their grievances. The United States Congress is the forum to talk about American foreign policy, abortion, immigration, and taxation. If you don’t like what the Congress says about those issues, then elect other representatives. Storming out of the country is a rejection of the most fundamental promise of the constitution.

Third, these secessionist movements can each trace their lineage back to failed movements. New England Federalists discussed secession during the War of 1812—a foreign war against England they wanted no part of. The American public was outraged by the infamous Hartford Convention and the Federalist Party never recovered. Southern secessionists have a much more prominent example of failure. The Confederate government not only lost a war for their independence, but they also failed to create a viable government.

So what do they have planned for the national conference? Neo-confederates will be pleased with the program. Thomas Fleming is slated to give the keynote address. Fleming edits the Rockford Institute’s Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. In 1990 he argued that “government-imposed civil rights” was “an unmitigated disaster for everyone.”

The conference will feature additional speakers, all well-known to members of the League of the South. Franklin Sanders will no doubt talk about unjust government taxation. His views did not land him in jail, but his failure to pay his state and federal taxes certainly did.

Michael Hill is scheduled to speak as well. Not only is he a founding member of the League of the South, but his resume is very attractive to members of the organization. He studied under Grady McWhiney and Forest McDonald. In addition, he taught at Stillman College, a historically black college, for eighteen years.

Walter D. “Donnie” Kennedy is perhaps the most well-known speaker. You may have come across his books at Barnes and Noble. The South Was Right! features a confederate flag on the cover. Was Jefferson Davis Right? is a misleading title. There is no doubt in Kennedy’s mind—Davis was a good guy. Myths of American Slavery is simply mind-boggling. Give it a look.

So brace yourself New Englanders. You’re in for a real treat. You’ll hear plenty of talk about the tyrannical federal government and unjust taxation. You’ll hear dozens reasons why secession is preferable to the current state of affairs.

But take my advice New England. If you want to have a good time in Chattanooga, there are several things you must avoid. Don’t talk about the American Civil War or Reconstruction; the same goes for religion and the war in Iraq. Steer clear of anything to do with immigration policy, the courts, and abortion. When you hear things you don’t agree with, just bite your tongue. Just remember: you’re all in Chattanooga for the same reason!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Battlefield Visit Sparks Controversy

Lincoln, Pinkerton, and McClernand

The cannons were now silent. The cries of dying men had faded and the bodies were all buried. The bloodiest day in American history was already two weeks in the past.

The president wanted to see the field with his own eyes. He awoke at sunrise and walked to a nearby hilltop. He saw thousands of men wearing blue uniforms. “This is General McClellan’s bodyguard,” he said.

Lincoln was frustrated. He needed to speak with his general, but first he must see the troops. After he reviewed Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s Corps, the president was told his next stop would be Gen. Fitz John Porter’s Corps, who was stationed about three miles in the distance. The president dismounted his horse and stepped into an ambulance, along with a group of officers and aides.

Ward Hill Lamon had accompanied the president from Washington to the battlefield and now he sat beside the president in the ambulance.

The president liked Lamon. He was an old friend from the Eighth Judicial Circuit in Illinois. He had helped secure the Republican nomination for Lincoln in 1860. Lamon liked to tell people that the president-elect had written him just after the election. “Our friends have already asked me to send you as consul to Paris,” Lincoln reportedly wrote, “but it looks as if we might have war. In that case I want you here with me…If there is to be a fight, I want you to help me to do my share of it, as you have done in the past. You must go, and go to stay.”

It was settled. Lincoln appointed Lamon Marshall of the District of Columbia. His duties as Marshall included acting as warden of the prison, master of ceremonies at official receptions at the White House and, by personal choice, he became the unofficial bodyguard of the president.

Lamon clashed with almost everyone in Washington, but he remained loyal to the president. Absolutely loyal.

As the wagon bumped across the battlefield, Lincoln had a request for Lamon:

On the way, and on no part of the battleground, and on what suggestion I do not remember, the President asked me to sing the little sad song, that follows, which he had often heard me sing, and had always seemed to like very much. I sang them. After it was over, some one of the party, (I do not think it was the President) asked me to sing something else; and I sang two or three little comic things of which Picayune Butler was one.

The ambulance reached its destination and the president reviewed the rest of the troops.

The president met with Gen. McClellan that evening and posed for a half-dozen group pictures.

Lincoln ran for reelection two years later. His opponent was none other than Gen. McClellan. A nasty story began to make the rounds. A Philadelphia newspaper printed a curious letter from a citizen. It was addressed to Lamon:

Ward H. Lamon: Philadelphia, Sept. 10, 1864.

Dear Sir,---Enclosed is an extract from the New York `World' of Sept. 9, 1864:---

ONE of MR. LINCOLN'S JOKES.---The second verse of our campaign song published on this page was probably suggested by an incident which occurred on the battle-field of Antietam a few days after the fight. While the President was driving over the field in an ambulance, accompanied by Marshal Lamon, General McClellan, and another officer, heavy details of men were engaged in the task of burying the dead. The ambulance had just reached the neighborhood of the old stone bridge, where the dead were piled highest, when Mr. Lincoln, suddenly slapping Marshal Lamon on the knee, exclaimed: ``Come, Lamon, give us that song about Picayune Butler; McClellan has never heard it,'' ``Not now, if you please,'' said General McClellan, with a shudder; ``I would prefer to hear it some other place and time.''

This story has been repeated in the New York `World' almost daily for the last three months. Until now it would have been useless to demand its authority. By this article it limits the inquiry to three persons as its authority,---Marshal Lamon, another officer, and General McClellan. That it is a damaging story, if believed, cannot be disputed. That it is believed by some, or that they pretend to believe it, is evident by the accompanying verse from the doggerel, in which allusion is made to it:---

Abe may crack his jolly jokes

O'er bloody fields of stricken battle, While yet the ebbing life-tide smokes From men that die like butchered cattle; He, ere yet the guns grow cold, To pimps and pets may crack his stories,' etc.

I wish to ask you, sir, in behalf of others as well as myself, whether any such occurrence took place; or if it did not take place, please to state who that `other officer' was, if there was any such, in the ambulance in which the President `was driving over the field [of Antietam] whilst details of men were engaged in the task of burying the dead.' You will confer a great favor by an immediate reply.

Most respectfully your obedient servant,


Though Lincoln and Lamon never published a reply to these accusations, they did draft a response, which can be read HERE.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

What $61,000 Buys

Thomas Willcox

When Thomas Willcox cleaned out his parents’ house after they died, he found an old stack of papers in their closet. Instead of throwing them out, he transferred them to his car and simply forgot about them. After a few months of riding through the city with them, Willcox began to sort through the stack. He recognized one of the signatures.

The letter was addressed to the governor of South Carolina. It was dated December 27, 1861:

The strength of the enemy, as far as I am able to judge, exceeds the whole force that we have in the state. It can be thrown with great celerity against any point, and far outnumbers any force we can bring against it in the field.

It was signed by Robert E. Lee.

When Willcox realized he was sitting on a small fortune, he had the documents appraised and authenticated. The old pile of papers contained three letters from Lee, including another letter describing how Lee planned to use slave labor to bolster his defenses.

According to this story, the rest of the collection features letters written by local residents asking for help, either in defending their communities or in returning runaway slaves.

Still another letter, this one written by Sgt. Maj. William S. Mullins of the 8th Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, describes the horror of war. Dated August 6, 1861, a little more than two weeks after the First Battle of Bull Run, Mullins wrote:

But shall I tell you now of the battlefield? Of the dead hideous in every form of ghastly death: heads off, arms off, abdomens protruding, every form of wound, low groans, sharp cries…convulsive agonies as the souls took flight. It is useless to write. I know something of the power of words to paint and I tell you that a man must see all this to conceive it.

Willcox arranged for the letters to be auctioned off in 2004, but the state of South Carolina objected. They claimed the letters were written as part of official state business; thus, they were state property. A federal judge recently rejected their position and awarded the letters to Willcox.

Willcox had his auction last Saturday. Though the results have not been made public, the three Lee letters went for $61,000.

David Ellison of Columbia, S. C. paid $27,000 for the Lee letter that talked about using slave labor to construct his defenses.

“I’m not sure what his letter says,” remarked Ellison. But any letter written by Gen. Lee in which he mentions slave labor must be “a document of some historical importance.”

Monday, October 1, 2007

Lincoln's Substitute: John Summerfield Staples

John Summerfield Staples

Twenty-year-old John Summerfield Staples was strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue with his father when a well-dressed gentleman approached them.

“I am looking for a young man to represent the president in the army as a recruit,” the gentleman explained. “Will you accept?”

“If my father consents,” Staples replied.

His father nodded. It was settled.

Respectable men were sometimes unable or even unwilling to serve in the Union Army. Instead of dodging the draft or enduring the ridicule of their neighbors, such men often hired substitutes to serve in their place. The going rate for such substitutes was $300, which roughly translates to about $5,000 in today’s currency.

Even though he was not subject to the draft, President Abraham Lincoln decided to hire a soldier to serve in his place. The task of finding a suitable substitute fell to Noble D. Larner. Larner was a well-known politician, but lately he had been serving as president of the Third Ward Draft Club, an organization founded to secure substitutes for citizens who had no desire to be drafted.

It was not the first time Staples had been asked to serve as another man’s substitute. A Pennsylvania man had hired him for that purpose two years earlier. It was not a good experience. Within six months, Staples was discharged for “great disability and a broken down constitution, result of typhoid fever of nearly four months continuance.”

Since that time, Staples and his father had been working as carpenters in the Washington, D. C. area. But now Staples had a chance to redeem himself.

Staples and his father went to the White House and met President Lincoln 143 years ago today.

Lincoln shook his substitute’s hand and told him he hoped he would be “one of the fortunate ones.”

Staples was indeed one of the fortunate ones. For the next eleven months, he served in Company D, Second District of Columbia Infantry. Staples received $500 from the president for agreeing to serve as his substitute and another $66.67 bounty from the government under the Act of July 4, 1864.

After the war, Staples found employment as a laborer, but his health was never very good. In July 1882, he applied for a Civil War pension. His application stated that he suffered “with disease of the head, catarrh, disease in one eye producing partial blindness, and partial paralysis of the whole system.” Staples declared that he was “one-half disabled from obtaining subsistence by manual labor by reasoning of injuries…received in the service of the United States.”

His application was rejected.

Six years later, Staples died of a heart attack at the age of 43.

In 1933, some forty-five years after his death, the cemetery where he is buried placed a bronze plaque on the new “John Summerfield Staples Bridge.”

Two years later the bridge was destroyed by a flood and the plaque disappeared.

Today, there is a tablet on the gatepost to the cemetery honoring Lincoln’s substitute.

For more information, see W. Emerson Reck, "President Lincoln's Substitute," in Lincoln Herald, 80(Fall 1978):137-39.