Remembering Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

November 20, 2017

 

154 years ago this week, Abraham Lincoln redefined the Declaration of Independence and the goals of the American Civil War, in a less-than-two-minute speech dedicating part of the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a cemetery and final resting place for soldiers who died in the fierce battle fought there the previous July 1 through 3.

Interesting news if you missed it: More photos from the Library of Congress collection may contain images of Lincoln. The photo above, detail from a much larger photo, had been thought for years to be the only image of Lincoln from that day. The lore is that photographers, taking a break from former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Everett’ s more than two-hour oration, had expected Lincoln to go on for at least an hour. His short speech caught them totally off-guard, focusing their cameras or taking a break. Lincoln finished before any photographer got a lens open to capture images.

Images of people in these photos are very small, and difficult to identify. Lincoln was not identified at all until 1952:

The plate lay unidentified in the Archives for some fifty-five years until in 1952, Josephine Cobb, Chief of the Still Pictures Branch, recognized Lincoln in the center of the detail, head bared and probably seated. To the immediate left (Lincoln’s right) is Lincoln’s bodyguard, Ward Hill Lamon, and to the far right (beyond the limits of the detail) is Governor Andrew G. Curtin of Pennsylvania. Cobb estimated that the photograph was taken about noontime, just after Lincoln arrived at the site and before Edward Everett’s arrival, and some three hours before Lincoln gave his now famous address.

On-line, the Abraham Lincoln Blog covered the discovery that two more photographic plates from the 1863 speech at Gettysburg may contain images of Lincoln in his trademark stove-pipe hat. Wander over to the story at the USA Today site, and you can see just how tiny are these detail images in relation to the photographs themselves. These images are tiny parts of photos of the crowd at Gettysburg. (The story ran in USA Today last Thursday or Friday — you may be able to find a copy of that paper buried in the returns pile at your local Kwikee Mart.) Digital technologies, and these suspected finds of Lincoln, should prompt a review of every image from Gettysburg that day.

To the complaints of students, I have required my junior U.S. history students to memorize the Gettysburg Address. In Irving I found a couple of students who had memorized it for an elementary teacher years earlier, and who still could recite it. Others protested, until they learned the speech. This little act of memorization appears to me to instill confidence in the students that they can master history, once they get it done.

To that end, I discovered a good, ten-minute piece on the address in Ken Burns’ “Civil War” (in Episode 5). On DVD, it’s a good piece for classroom use, short enough for a bell ringer or warm-up, detailed enough for a deeper study, and well done, including the full text of the address itself performed by Sam Waterson.

Edward Everett, the former Massachusetts senator and secretary of state, was regarded as the greatest orator of the time. A man of infinite grace, and a historian with some sense of events and what the nation was going through, Everett wrote to Lincoln the next day after their speeches:

“I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Interesting note: P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula noted in 2007 that the Gettysburg Address was delivered “seven score and four years ago.” Of course, that will never happen again. I’ll wager he was the first to notice that odd juxtaposition on the opening line.

Resources for students and teachers:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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June 20, 2017: Fly the flag for West Virginia Statehood, and remembering Muhammad Ali

June 20, 2017

Homemade West Virginia Statehood U.S. flag with 35 stars. Image from RareFlags.com

Homemade West Virginia Statehood U.S. flag with 35 stars. Image from RareFlags.com

On June 20, 1863, West Virginia joined the fractured union as the 35th state.

Yes, that was during the Civil War.  Yes, West Virginia had been the northwestern counties of Virginia.  No, I’m not sure of the history of how Congress decided Virginia had consented to be divided.

In any case, per the guidelines in the U.S. Flag Code, West Virginians should fly the U.S. flag today in honor of their statehood, 154 years ago.  West Virginia no doubt has lots of celebrations, reenactments, and general festive events planned.

West Virginia's State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, on December 11, 2011

West Virginia’s State Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, on December 11, 2011 — built in 1931. From O Palsson’s Flickr collection: “As I was traveling through Charleston, the capital of West Virgina, during blue hour (my favorite time of day) a couple of days after Thanksgiving, I happened upon this beautiful sight of the State Capitol Building reflected in the Kanawha River flowing by in total stillness, so I just had to stop and capture the scene. I didn’t have a tripod handy, so this is not a long-exposure nightshot, just a regular hand-held shot accomplished by bumping up the ISO as much as I dared to get correct exposure at acceptable shutter speed (ended up being 1/40 sec) and doing my best to keep the camera steady.”

Sunday I had a visit with a fellow who was born in western Virginia, went to school at Virginia Tech, and knew the New River geography (which was how we got into the conversation). He said the New River emptied into a river whose name he could never pronounce. Took a few minutes to realize he meant the Kanawha River, shown in the photo above. Pronouncing the river, and the county correctly is an interesting exercise. We once thought about living along the Kanawha, and I appreciated the frustration of our Virginia friend.

It’s usually pronounced in two syllables, ka-NAH; when locals have more time for a slower-paced conversation, it may become ka-NAH-uh — but they’ll look at you funny if they hear a “w” in your pronunciation. (Your mileage may vary; tell about it in comments.)

Kathryn and I have a few fond memories of Charleston on the banks of the Kanawha River.  Then-West Virginia Attorney General Charlie Brown was one of the few with enough wisdom to offer me a job, when I graduated from the National Law Center at George Washington University as an older student.  Brown promised to clean up West Virginia politics, and he had a lively, very young crew of attorneys fighting coal companies, oil companies, loggers, shady real estate people, and corrupt city, county and state officials.  One fellow in the office complained that he’d “had to argue eight cases” at the State Supreme Court that year, in his first year out of law school.

But the corrupt officials knew what they were doing.  Brown could only offer $25,000 a year, and in Charleston it was unlikely we’d be able to find any work for Kathryn.  Tough to attract crime fighters at less-than crime-fighting rates. It would have been a more than 75% cut in income.  We made a trip there to mull it over, baby on the way (pre-digital photographs buried in the archives).  Brown got a special dispensation to offer me $5,000 more.

Great tour of the Capitol, great interviews with the office lawyers.  Kathryn and I sat for a long while in the deserted West Virginia Supreme Court (sort of tucked into an attic of the Capitol) discussing how in the world we could afford to move the Charleston and take on the work.  We drove around the city, looking at houses for sale and rent; we gazed at the Kanawha River and discussed the future for the city.

We went to dinner in a tiny restaurant touted as Charleston’s finest, which was a long way from good eateries in D.C.  We discussed with our host the cultural pickings in Charleston.  We could give up the symphony but get back to fishing and practice fly fishing . . .

A few tables over, the maitre ‘d brought in a few extra chairs, and then seated Muhammad Ali and his party.  Our waiter asked that we not make a scene.

I don’t remember for what charitable purpose Ali was in Charleston, but the event was over and his hosts took him out to the good restaurant in Charleston, too.

Ali was a slower, sedate and gentle version of the fiery fighter he’d been.  Parkinson’s disease already had him in its grip.  His voice, soft as it could be at times, was still strong enough to carry across a table.  There was a young boy with the group, under five years old.  Ali had lost steps, but not spirit.  He produced a couple of balls from a pocket and proceeded to dazzle the kid with sleight-of-hand magic tricks.  He picked one of the balls from behind the kid’s ear, and the kid giggled wonderfully.  Balls appeared here, disappeared there — I remember thinking how much easier those tricks could be with hands that big; but Ali also had difficulty dealing with a knife and fork.  Working magic tricks pulled years away from Ali, and he seemed much younger, much more deft than he really was.  The little boy laughed and giggled through the meal.  It was a happy affair.

Our dinners finished about the same time.  As we got up, Ali looked over at us and said, “You wonder why I spend so much time with children?  They are the future.”

I turned down the offer from West Virginia.  A job I’d hoped for at American Airlines fell through, but a position opened up at the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) at Bill Bennett’s Department of Education.  A year or so later I saw small item in the Washington Post that Charlie Brown had been indicted on some charge.  Coal companies still have a lot of clout in West Virginia.

This is an anniversary day for Ali, too:  June 20, 1967, Muhammad Ali was convicted in Houston, Texas, of evading the draft.  That conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fly those flags in West Virginia.

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Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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Getting ready for Memorial Day, where it counts

May 19, 2017

From the Andersonville National Historic Site Twitter account: Our Avenue of Flags went up today in celebration of Memorial Day! You can view these rows of American flags in the cemetery until May 31.

From the Andersonville National Historic Site Twitter account: Our Avenue of Flags went up today in celebration of Memorial Day! You can view these rows of American flags in the cemetery until May 31.

The Andersonville NHS is in Andersonville, Georgia. Memorial Day grew greatly after the U.S. Civil War, as people worked to commemorate those who died in the war, on both sides. Andersonville contributed many of those deaths.

Memorial Day is Monday, May 28, in 2017, a day for all Americans to fly the U.S. flag.

A view from the cemetery at Andersonville NHS. NPS photo.

A view from the cemetery at Andersonville NHS. NPS photo.

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Millard Fillmore’s letter to Abraham Lincoln, December 16, 1861: The Trent Affair

December 16, 2016

First page of Millard Fillmore's letter to Abraham Lincoln on the Trent Affair, sent December 16, 1861, 155 years ago today. Library of Congress image.

First page of Millard Fillmore’s letter to Abraham Lincoln on the Trent Affair, sent December 16, 1861, 155 years ago today. Library of Congress image.

Sometimes ex-presidents get the bug to offer advice to the person holding the office at the time.

Most of the time they let the urge pass.

But on December 16, 1861, former President Millard Fillmore shot off a letter to Abraham Lincoln, 7 months into the Civil War, warning Lincoln that a breach of relationships with Britain was to be avoided. Britain complained when U.S. warships stopped a British ship and arrested two Confederate diplomats.

It’s known as the Trent Affair, after the name of the British ship that was stopped.

It’s an example of a foreign nation interfering in domestic affairs of the U.S. Do we ever face such circumstances in the 21st century? Do we expect different results today?

Fillmore’s letter, in transcript:

Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress. Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College. Galesburg, Illinois.

Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, Monday, December 16, 1861 (Trent Affair)

From Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, December 16, 1861

Buffalo, Dec. 16. 1861.

Sir,

I have never, under any circumstances, presumed to offer any advice, as to men or measures, to those who have succeeded me in the administration of the Government; and I beg of you to consider the few crude suggestions which I am now about to make, as mere hints from one who will feel no mortification, personally, if they should be wholly disregarded.

I can in some measure appreciate the difficulties with which the administration of the Government is now embarrassed by this unholy rebellion; for I heard the muttering thunder, and viewed the gathering storm at a distance in 1850; and while I approve most cordially of the firm stand which you have taken in support of the constitution, as it is, against insane abolitionism on one side and rebellious secessionism on the other, and hope and trust that you will remain firm; yet, it was not to speak of this that I took up my pen, but of a new danger which threatens more immediately our Northern frontier, but in its consequences, most fatally, the whole country. You of course must anticipate that I refer to a threatened rupture with England;1 for if we are so unfortunate as to be involved in a war with her at this time, the last hope of restoring the Union will vanish, and we shall be overwhelmed with the double calamities of civil and foreign war at the same time, which will utterly exhaust our resources, and may practically change the form of our government and compel us in the end to submit to a dishonorable peace.

I perceive that the telegram of this morning announces the fact from semi-official sources that, the law officers of Great Britain have given it as their opinion that the arrest of Messrs. Mason & Slidell and forcibly taking them from the Trent, a British merchant or transport vessel, was not justified by the law of nations; and that the British Cabinet were united in sending a despatch to Lord Lyon,2 protesting against the act, and demanding satisfaction by the restoration of the prisoners and a suitable apology for the insult to the British Flag. I still cherish the hope, however, that this statement may be greatly exagerated– But suppose it be true– What then? It may be said that one of two things must happen– Either, this Government must submit to the demand thus made upon it by Great Britain, or take the hazards of a war at a most inconvenient time to settle a point of international law by resort to arms. This alternative should be avoided it it can be with honor, and I venture to suggest that it may be, by urging in a firm but conciliatory argument in reply to the demand of Great Britain, our views of the Belligerent right to arrest these men, but conclude by saying that although we feel assured that we are right, yet if Great Britain after weighing our argument still adheres to the opinion that we are wrong, then as this is a purely legal question, where no insult was intended to the flag of Great Britain, nor any intention to invade her rights, and as the point in dispute is one of international law in which all maritime nations are interested, we propose to submit it to one of the crowned heads of Europe for arbitrament, agreeing to abide its award. It seems to me that Great Britain can not refuse so fair a proposition. But if she does, and insists on an unconditional compliance with her demand or war, all Christendom will then hold her responsible for the consequences.

I trust you will pardon these suggestions, which are made on the spur of the moment, without consultation with, or the knowledge of, any one; and may remain in confidence between us if you prefer that they should.

I am with sincere respect &

great haste, Truly yours

Millard Fillmore

[Note 1 On November 8, 1861 Captain Charles Wilkes of the U. S. S. San Jacinto intercepted the Trent, a British ship, and arrested James Mason and John Slidell who were on their way to Europe as representatives of the Confederacy. This violation of Britain’s neutrality nearly led to a war with the United States.]

[Note 2 Lord Lyons was the British minister to the United States.]

Could students today translate that letter, written in cursive? Maybe, for the sake of knowing history, we need to teach students how to read cursive, if not write it. Is it possible to teach reading without the writing?

Page 2, Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, on the Trent Affair. Library of Congress image.

Page 2, Millard Fillmore to Abraham Lincoln, on the Trent Affair. Library of Congress image.

 

Page 3 of Fillmore letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

Page 3 of Fillmore letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

 

Page 4 of Fillmore's letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

Page 4 of Fillmore’s letter to Lincoln. Library of Congress image.

 

Page 6, the last page of Millard Fillmore's letter to Abraham Lincoln about the Trent Affair. Library of Congress image.

Page 5, the last page of Millard Fillmore’s letter to Abraham Lincoln about the Trent Affair. Page 6 shows only the author and topic.  Library of Congress image.

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July 21, 1861: First Battle of Bull Run shows war is no piece of cake, hints of hell to come

July 21, 2016

Only after the Civil War did Gen. William Tecumsah Sherman become famous for telling military academy graduates that “War is hell.”

In the summer of 1861, both Unionists and Confederates expected a short fight to settle what would come to be known as the American Civil War.  South Carolina fired on the Union Ft. Sumter in April.  But the first major action did not sully history until July.  Confederate forces and Union forces massed for a battle near Manassas, Virginia, at a little creek called Bull Run.

Spectators came out from Washington, D.C., bringing the family and picnic lunches, expecting a great drama to unfold — but they were surprised by the actual carnage.  What did they expect?

This battle gave rise to the famous, true story of farmer Wilmer McLean.  His house backed up on what would become the battlefield.  His summer kitchen took a cannonball.  Hoping to avoid further entanglement in the war, McLean moved his family and his farming farther south, to the unlikely-named town of Appomattox Courthouse.

There, in 1865, Gen. U.S. Grant’s entourage asked to borrow McLean’s parlor, for the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee.  McLean was able to say, with some high accuracy, that the war began in his back yard, and ended in his front room.

Details from the Library of Congress; teachers, you should have LOC sites bookmarked:

The First Battle of Bull Run

Bull Run, 1st battle of, map from LOC

Battle field of Bull Run, Va. July 21st 1861, Showing the positions of both armies at 4 o’clock, P.M.,
Map Collections: Military Battles and Campaigns

On July 21, 1861, a dry summer Sunday, Union and Confederate troops clashed outside Manassas, Virginia, in the first major engagement of the Civil War, the First Battle of Bull Run.

Union General Irvin McDowell hoped to march his men across a small stream called Bull Run in the vicinity of Manassas, Virginia, which was well-guarded by a force of Confederates under General P. G. T. Beauregard. McDowell needed to find a way across the stream and through the Southern line that stretched for over six miles along the banks of Bull Run.

McDowell launched a small diversionary attack at the Stone Bridge while marching the bulk of his force north around the Confederates’ left flank. The march was slow, but McDowell’s army crossed the stream near Sudley Church and began to march south behind the Confederate line. Some of Beauregard’s troops, recognizing that the attack at Stone Bridge was just a diversion, fell back just in time to meet McDowell’s oncoming force.

First Battle of Bull Run- Bull Run, Virginia

Bull Run, Va. Matthews' or the Stone House. Library of Congress image. George N. Barnard, photographer, March 1862. Selected Civil War Photographs

Bull Run, Va. Matthews’ or the Stone House. Library of Congress image. George N. Barnard, photographer, March 1862. Selected Civil War Photographs

 

Cub Run, Va. View with destroyed bridge. Library of Congress image.

Cub Run, Va. View with destroyed bridge. George N. Barnard, photographer, March 1862. Library of Congress image, Selected Civil War Photographs

These photographs of First Bull Run were not made at the time of the battle on July 21, 1861; the photographers had to wait until the Confederate Army evacuated Centreville and Manassas in March 1862. Their views of various landmarks of the previous summer are displayed here according to the direction of the Federal advance, a long-flanking movement along Sudley’s Ford.

When Beauregard learned of the attack, he sent reinforcements to aid the small group of Southerners, but they were unable to hold back the oncoming tide of Union troops. As more Union soldiers joined the fray, the Southerners were slowly pushed back past the Stone House and up Henry Hill.

The battle raged for several hours around the home of Mrs. Judith Henry on top of Henry Hill, with each side taking control of the hill more than once. Slowly, more and more Southern men poured onto the field to support the Confederate defense, and Beauregard’s men pushed the Northerners back.

At this point in the battle, Confederate General Barnard Bee attempted to rally his weary men by pointing to Brigadier General Thomas Jackson, who proudly stood his ground in the face of the Union assault. Bee cried, “There stands Jackson like a stone wall!” From that moment on, Thomas Jackson was known as “Stonewall” Jackson.

As the day wore on, the strength of McDowell’s troops was sapped by the continuous arrival of fresh Southern reinforcements. Eventually, the stubborn Confederates proved more than a match for McDowell’s men, and the Northerners began to retreat across Bull Run.

The Union pullout began as an orderly movement. However, when the bridge over Cub Run was destroyed, cutting off the major route of retreat, it degenerated into a rout. The narrow roads and fords, clogged by the many carts, wagons, and buggies full of people who had driven out from Washington, D.C., to see the spectacle, hampered the withdrawal of the Union Army. The Southerners tried to launch a pursuit, but were too tired and disorganized from the day’s fighting to be effective.

The morning of July 22 found most of the soldiers of the Union Army on their way back to Washington or already there. It was more than a year before the Northerners attempted once again to cross the small stream outside of Manassas named Bull Run.

Beauregard Bull Run Quick Step
Beauregard Bull Run Quick Step
J. A. Rosenberger, music,
1862.
Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920

Tourists in Virginia today enjoy the sights, probably-sunny days and air-conditioned restaurants. It may be difficult to remember why Sherman later told military cadets that “war is hell.”

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

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New Yorkers laud Lt. Gen. Grant at Cooper Union, June 7, 1865

June 7, 2016

    Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; Illus. in: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, v. 20, no. 508 (1865 June 24), p. 209.

Ovation to Lieutenant General Grant at the Cooper Institute, New York, on the evening of June 7 – Grant saluting the audience Digital ID: (b&w film copy neg.) cph 3c28383 (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c28383) Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-128383 (b&w film copy neg.) Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA; Illus. in: Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, v. 20, no. 508 (1865 June 24), p. 209.

People of New York idolized Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant. They gave Grant and his family a home. On June 7, 1865, he spoke at Cooper Union and got a rousing ovation in return.

In the spring of 1865, Grant made an appearance at Cooper Union in New York; the New York Times described the reception for the war hero: “…the enhanced and bewildered multitude trembled with extraordinary delight.”[3]

Looking for details on that speech. Holler if you have some.


Thomas Nast in 1864: “The Union Christmas Dinner” pushed reconciliation in time of war

December 23, 2015

Thomas Nast may have done as much as Abraham Lincoln to invent the Republican Party.

Nast’s illustration for Harper’s Weekly for the issue of December 31, 1864, expressed his great desire for an end to the Civil War, and offered a vision of what could happen when arms were put down.

Image by Thomas Nast, in Harper's Weekly.  White House History @WhiteHouseHstry Tweeted: “The Union Christmas Dinner,” an illustration which symbolically depicts the reconciliation of the war-torn nation.

Image by Thomas Nast, in Harper’s Weekly. White House History @WhiteHouseHstry Tweeted: “The Union Christmas Dinner,” an illustration which symbolically depicts the reconciliation of the war-torn nation.

We were alerted to the image by a Tweet from White House History; the image above comes via SonoftheSouth.net.

An explanation of the illustration comes from The New York Times Learning page (for teachers — you’re invited):

As the Union military advanced across the South in December 1864, making Confederate defeat seem to be only a matter of time, artist Thomas Nast drew a holiday illustration betokening mercy for the vanquished and sectional reconciliation for the nation. Under the Christmas proclamation of “Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men,” President Abraham Lincoln is the gracious host who generously welcomes the Confederates—President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee, and state governors—in from the cold, and gestures for them to return to their rightful seats at the sumptuous feast of the states. Seated at the table are the governors of the Union states, and on the wall behind them appear portraits of leading Union generals.

Framing the main banquet scene are four circular insets that convey the message that if the Confederacy will lay down its arms, surrender unconditionally, and be contrite, then the Union will be merciful and joyously welcome them back into the fold. Viewing them clockwise from the upper-left, the symbolic figure of Victory, backed by the American Eagle, offers the olive branch of peace to a submissive Confederate soldier; the forgiving father from the biblical parable embraces his wayward son, whose sorrow for his past rebellion prompts the father to honor his son with a celebratory dinner; under the tattered American flag, the ordinary soldiers of the Union and Confederacy reunite happily as friends and brothers after the Confederate arms and battle standards have been laid on the ground; and, General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate commander, bows respectfully and offers his sword in unconditional surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant, the commander of the Union troops. In the lower-center is a scene from a holiday table at which a Northern family drinks a toast to the Union servicemen.

While Nast could be partisan, as in his portrayal of Democrats as mules kicking down a barn, or Republicans as noble elephants, and Nast could be subject to bigotry, as in his frequent jabs at Catholics and his portrayal of Irish immigrants as near-gorillas, much of his work in illustration for Harper’s and other publications offered a vision of a much better America which welcomed everyone — as his later portrayal of “Uncle Sam’s Thanksgiving” in 1869 demonstrated.

We could use more Republicans, and newspapermen, like the hopeful Nast, today (leave the bigotry behind).


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