Bringing the Civil War Home – The Photographers (Article 56)

Bringing the Civil War Home – the Photographers (Article 56) 

The American public, both in the North and the South, had never seen anything like it. Newspapers and periodicals, which carried the images, sold thousands of extra copies compared to those that did not, and people flocked to exhibits to see the pictures first hand. The photographs were of dead soldiers, both Union and Confederate, taken as they lay, nearly covering the ground, in the distorted postures that only horrific violence against another human being can cause. A New York Times editor said; “(The photographer is bringing) home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them on our door-steps, he has done something very like it.”

Amid the chaos of the War, a few photographers became famous for telling their own stories of that conflict; not with words but with un-edited scenes of the terrible aftermath of war. Photography became a medium for an important message; war was not the grand adventure often described by Victorian era writers and artists. Until the Civil War, most manuscripts and memoirs about war, and oil paintings by artists of the day, glorified warfare as noble and even romantic. But, the photographer’s new message clearly showed that it was dirty, destructive and deadly; and that powerful message began to sway public opinion.

Photography had evolved in the thirty years before the War but was not yet seen as an art form; it was simply a fascinating new way to record events and portraits of people; although only in black and white. The first useful method, daguerreotypes, only provided a single mirror image, was nearly impossible to reproduce, and was easily damaged or completely ruined. However, by the late 1850s, improvements in the process had evolved to make photography more widespread, durable, practical, and reproducible; but it still required professional skills. And, to many, the work of a fine painter was still preferable to photography as the artist could depict a larger scale and with vivid colors. A few artists even began to add tints to photographs to make them appear more lifelike.

Even by the time of the Civil War, successful photographers had to be a combination of chemist, physicist, authoritarian, and laborer. The process required the mixing of several caustic chemicals, including sulfuric acid and silver nitrate, which was then coated onto a glass plate just moments before the photograph would be taken. The treated plate had to be protected from any light source as it was quickly inserted into the body of the large camera box, then a lens cap was removed for a precise amount of time, depending on the light of day, to allow only the correct amount of light to strike the glass plate and cause the desired chemical reaction. A good photograph also required the subject or subjects to remain absolutely still because, if anyone moved, their motion was captured as a blur. One photographer said, “I am the Captain in my studio and I tolerate no movement.” And, another who took many battlefield photographs said, “I take better images of the dead, they lie still.” The equipment was heavy and bulky which required strength and agility to set up the camera and take it down when finished. The process was also accident prone as the dangerous chemicals could spill, or the glass plate would break which usually rendered the image useless.

As a result of the effort and expense required, relatively few people learned the skill.  But those who did, began to make their mark in society. Mathew Brady became the most recognized master of his craft and built profitable businesses from his studios in New York and Washington DC. One of his most trusted employees was Alexander Gardner who was assigned primarily to the office in Washington DC and began to photograph the leading politicians of the day. At that time, Abraham Lincoln was not yet one of them.

However, in 1859, Lincoln was in New York City to present a political speech at Coopers Union, a small Manhattan college, which he hoped would be reprinted by the Eastern press and expand his recognition in the region. He visited Brady’s studio for a portrait, which he intended to use to introduce himself to the Eastern population. He knew that he had to dispel the common notion that he was a simple “western frontiersman” from Illinois. Brady posed Lincoln standing, in a new suit, which was bought and pressed for the occasion, resting his hand on a bookstand. Lincoln’s political instincts were, as usual, very good and the speech solidified his stature as a serious Republican leader. Brady’s photograph was released at Coopers Union and then reproduced in newspapers, campaign pamphlets, and in new copies of the still popular book about the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The public now had an image of Abraham Lincoln, looking presidential, confident, and, as Lincoln himself joked, not at all as ugly as some had expected.

But then the Civil War started and Mathew Brady recognized the business potential of quickly delivering photographs of the Generals and soldiers taken at the battle-front to newspapers and periodicals.  But Brady did not initially set out to be a messenger warning of the horrors of war; he just wanted to run a successful business and enjoy the profits which would be created.

To cover the wide territory of the Civil War, Brady had to first make a major financial investment. He designed a portable, but very sturdy, dark room that could safely carry all of the necessary photographic supplies, including chemicals, glass plates, and the camera. He then manufactured over twenty large covered buckboards, which would each be drawn by one or two horses. Finally, he trained other photographers who would drive the wagons and follow the Union armies from battlefield to battlefield. He and his crew of photographers, would, for the first time, bring the scenes of the battle-front to the home-front. Among those roving photographers/assistants were Alexander Gardner, Timothy Sullivan and James Gibson, who all became well known in their own right; but, of those, Gardner certainly became the most prominent.

While some of Brady’s photographers were able to cross into Confederate territory to capture images, and a few Southerners also learned the craft and took historic photographs; far more images were taken from the Union perspective. This disparity was partly because both Brady and Gardner supported the War to restore the Union and were admirers of Abraham Lincoln. However, while Brady was generally quiet about his politics, Gardner was outspoken in his advocacy for the Union, support for its use of overwhelming military force, and his respect for the courage of the individual Union soldier. On the other hand, he frequently described the Confederate forces in less complimentary terms and editors would occasionally include his comments about a battle along with his photographs. As an example, after the battle of Gettysburg, Gardner’s photographs of devastated terrain and Confederate dead were accompanied by his words; “Killed in the frantic efforts to break the steady lines of  patriots, they paid with life the price of their treason, and when the wicked strife was finished, found nameless graves, far from home and kindred.”

Abraham Lincoln appreciated the loyalty of both men and frequently gave each of them permission to take photographs of him not only at the White House, but in battle areas as well.  Lincoln understood that images of him near the battlegrounds with soldiers would “play well” in the communities across the North, where such photographs were featured in local newspapers.

In late 1863, Gardner began to realize that, while he had taken many of the more dramatic pictures of the then two-year Civil War, Mathew Brady was given (or took) most of the credit. Gardner was appreciative of Brady’s mentorship and did not resent the existing arrangement, but was ready to break out on his own. The two men reached an amicable settlement with Brady even transferring ownership of some of Gardner’s photographs; and Gardner then opened his own studio in Washington DC.

Gardner became close to Abraham Lincoln, and several of his photographs of the President have become iconic, including one of the most artful images of Lincoln which captured, in the President’s lined and weary face, the enormous toll that the War had taken on the man.

Collectively, the photographers of the Civil War era provided thousands of images of people and places from that great conflict, however, their contributions were possible because Brady and Gardner, with their extraordinary vision and talent, advanced the profession of photography.

Mathew Brady, by his professional foresight and his willingness to invest heavily in the horse drawn photographic studios and in the training and salaries of the several assistants, was critical to the extensive record we have of the Civil War. And, Alexander Gardner transcended mere images and captured the harsh reality of war with his pioneering images of the tragic loss of life, young men left with terrible wounds, and devastated farms and communities.

And both men, by developing a trusting relationship with Abraham Lincoln, left us with unique and deeply introspective portraits, taken over several years, which let us glimpse Lincoln’s heartfelt humanity and the sad evolving effect the War took on this President.

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Did President Lincoln Offer to Step Aside? (Article 55)

As Charles Allen Thorndike Rice reviewed the numerous replies he had received from Lincoln contemporaries in preparation for his 1885 book “Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln,” he noted that, occasionally, there were discrepancies between the recollections of the respondents to the same incident. Usually, he just included the writers’ statements as sent to him, preferring to let the readers sort out which version might be more accurate. However, in one instance, he decided that he must reconcile the differing remembrances of three of the respondents to a unique event in Presidential history.

Prior to the publication of Rice’s book, there had been suggestions that President Lincoln had once offered to resign or to not seek re-election; and would then throw his support behind the politician he had chosen. Biographers in the twenty years after his assassination had offered conflicting testimonies from individuals who claimed to know for certain that he did, and others that he did not, make such an offer. The key word in these speculations was “offer,” and there seemed to be no proof either way as no prominent figure in the political scene at the time had confirmed participation. It was, however, well known that Lincoln had said, at times, that if anyone would come forward who could better unite the Northern citizens and more successfully prosecute the “awful Civil War,” he would yield the office as President. Such an occasional utterance in the face of intense political opposition and a stagnant war effort would be reasonable for any President, but especially one as empathetic to his cause as Abraham Lincoln.

But, did Lincoln take any specific steps to identify, and then encourage, a potential replacement? And, if so, why would he have made such an offer?

In mid-1863, the Republican President was unsure if he would even get his Party’s nomination in 1864, let alone win a national election against a Democratic opponent.  He was concerned that the public in the Northern states seemed to have lost the will to support the fight to restore the Union. There were Democrat and Republican Congressmen, Senators, Governors and newspaper publishers calling for a peace accord with the Confederate government; even if that resulted in two separate nations and the lost opportunity to end slavery. However, Lincoln believed that only a vanquished South, defeated militarily, would ever rejoin the United States; so he wondered if another individual could re-ignite the public’s support for the war effort.

Lincoln was an astute political observer and believed that a new “blended” party would attract both Democrats and Republicans who favored efforts to force the Southern states back into the Union. Then, that new constituency would support a Unionist platform and elect as President a man dedicated to that cause; or at least a man who “said” he was dedicated to that cause.

Of course, any such offers, if made, would have to be kept confidential and could not seem to come directly Lincoln. After all, Lincoln was still the President with obligations as the country’s chief executive and Commander-in-Chief, and the War was still raging.  Also, he was also fearful that such news would be a rally point for the Confederates and such an announcement could boost their morale and likely prolong the War.

Thanks to Mr. Rice’s book, we now know that the President had approached two men, neither a Republican, and notified them that he was willing to not seek re-election and would support their candidacy as the new President; if they would commit to continue the fight for restoration of the Union.  And, the methods Lincoln devised to deliver the offers were indicative of his astute political skills.

One of the men who Mr. Rice interviewed, for his forthcoming book, was Thurlow Weed, a New York based attorney. Mr. Weed had been a political operative for many years before and after the Civil War; usually in the service of William Seward, former New York Governor, who became Lincoln’s Secretary of State. Weed thrived on political intrigue, especially if the task at hand involved a bit of misdirection and back-door negotiations. One New York newspaper declared that, “Weed is the bullet, fired from long distance by Seward.” When Seward went to Washington DC in 1861 to serve under Lincoln, Weed became a frequent visitor. Weed was excellent at his job because he never sought notoriety for his deeds and he assured there was no trail back to Mr. Seward.

And, on at least two occasions, he undertook assignments at the request of Abraham Lincoln!

Weed’s second assignment for President Lincoln was in 1865 when, by offering patronage and other dubious promises, he was instrumental in securing enough votes to get the House of Representatives to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which, if ratified by the states, would abolish slavery. But, Mr. Weed’s first assignment for the President was in 1863, when he was asked to approach two men Lincoln had chosen as possible successors.

When Rice was first working on his book, he visited Thurlow Weed at his home, hopefully to hear some Lincoln stories from the eighty-year-old famous (some say in-famous) politico. Rice found Weed in excellent spirits, under the care of his daughter, and “lucid as a gold piece.” At the time, Weed was categorizing his papers, including the many newspaper accounts of his career, and dictating his recollections to add details. Weed told Rice that he had met Abraham Lincoln on several occasions and would be pleased to provide anecdotes for Rice’s new book. First, Weed spoke of Lincoln’s close relationship, both political and personal, with Secretary of State William Seward, who had introduced Weed to the President. Rice already knew of the friendship between Lincoln and Seward and sought to explore, with Mr. Weed, Lincoln’s relationship with other important figures of the day.

Rice asked Weed’s opinion of General George McClellan, who Lincoln had dismissed in 1862 and who had been Lincoln’s Democratic opponent in the 1864 election. Weed quickly replied, “He might have been President as not!” At first Rice thought that Mr. Weed was referring to the 1864 campaign but, to Rice’s surprise, Weed continued down a different path. “(In 1863) Seward telegraphed me to come to Washington, and he took me right over to the White House saying, ‘The President wants to see you.’

Weed continued, “We found the President deeply distressed. I had never seen him in such a mood. The President said, ‘Everything goes wrong. The rebel armies hold their own; Grant is wandering around in Mississippi; Seymour has carried New York. (Horatio Seymour was a popular Democratic Governor who earlier promoted a peace settlement with the Confederacy, the antithesis of Lincoln’s war policy.) If his party carries many of the Northern states, we shall have to give up the fight, for we can never conquer three-quarters of our countrymen, scattered in front, flank, and rear. Governor Seymour could do more for our cause than any other man living. If he could control his partisans he could give a new impetus to the war. Mr. Weed, I want you to go to Seymour and tell him now is his time. Tell him I do not wish to be President again and that the leader of the party, provided it is in favor of a vigorous war against the rebellion, should have my place. Entreat him to give a true ring in his Annual Message (to the New York Legislature), and if he will, I will gladly step aside and help put him in the executive chair. All we want is the rebellion put down. If there is a man who can push our armies forward one mile further or one hour faster, he is the man who ought to be in my chair.’

Then Weed went on, “I visited Governor Seymour and delivered my commission from Lincoln. When I left him it was understood that his message would breathe an earnest Union spirit, praising the soldiers and calling for more, and omitting the usual criticisms of the President’s policies. I forwarded this expectation to the President. Judge my disappointment and chagrin when Seymour’s message came out- a document calculated to aid the enemy.

This attempt to enlist the leader of the Democratic party having failed, Lincoln authorized me to make the same overture to McClellan. Lincoln said, ‘Tell the General that we only wish the success of our armies and that if he will come forward at the head of a (new) Union-Democratic party, and through that means, push forward the Union cause, I will gladly step aside and do all I can to secure his election in 1864.’

Weed continued, “I opened negotiation through Mr. Barlow, McClellan’s next (best) friend, who shortly afterward told me he had seen him (the General) and secured his acquiescence, saying ‘Mac is eager to do all he can do to put down the rebellion.’ I then suggested a great Union-Democratic meeting in Union Square at which McClellan should preside and this was agreed to by both Barlow and McClellan. I drew up some memoranda of principles to set forth on the occasion and set the meeting for Monday, June 6 (1863). Once more there seemed to be a promise of ending the war by organizing a great independent Union Democratic party under McClellan. On the eve of the meeting I received a formal letter from McClellan declining to preside, without giving any reason. If he had presided at that war-meeting, nothing but death, could have kept him from being elected President in 1864.”

Rice was astounded by the revelations that Lincoln had offered these two different men a similar path to the Presidency. Rice was aware that there had been rumors that Lincoln had possibly made such proposals but, to his knowledge, no politician had ever come forward to claim they were the person who had been approached by the President.  However, Rice was an experienced reporter and could tell by Weed’s mannerisms that he believed his recollections were factual. On the other hand, Rice wondered if the tale was true or was it the muddled thoughts of an elderly man? So, Rice made appointments with the two men Weed mentioned as potential Lincoln replacements; Seymour and McClellan.

In his meeting with McClellan, the former General and former Presidential candidate said, “No such events ever occurred. Mr. Weed is a good old man but he has forgotten. Mr. Lincoln never offered me the Presidency in any contingency and I never declined to preside at a war-meeting. I am sure I never wrote to Mr. Weed in my life.” Rice also called on Mr. Barlow, who Weed said was the messenger; and, Barlow said he could recall no such episode.  Rice then returned to Weed’s home and relayed the conversations with McClellan and Barlow. Weed laughed and said, “The General has forgotten, has he.” Mr. Weed’s daughter then presented the twenty-year old letter from McClellan to Mr. Weed in which the General had written, “I have determined to decline the compliment of presiding over the proposed meeting of Monday next.” (In the letter, McClellan did offer vociferous support for the Union and the military efforts.)

Thurlow Weed, who had spent his political life in the shadows, leaving no paper trail, had saved, at least, this one letter.

Rice made a second appointment with McClellan and showed him the letter. McClellan spent a few minutes looking at the document and finally said, “Well, that is my writing. I wrote that and had forgotten about it.” And with that, one historical puzzle was solved!

Next, Mr. Rice visited former Governor Seymour who, unlike McClellan, readily confirmed Mr. Weed’s account. In fact, Seymour said that years earlier he had once visited with Weed and they agreed as to the general sequence of events, including Seymour’s unexpected change of heart. Seymour told Rice that he changed his mind when he realized that a forceful speech to continue the Lincoln policies would have cost him too much of his support in New York. When Rice said that Weed still believed he could have become President, Seymour replied, “Well it isn’t much matter. I was not in good health and it might have killed me. It is a hard laborious, thankless office and it is just as well as it is.” However, while he passed on the opportunity to become Lincoln’s replacement in 1864, Governor Seymour was evidently in good enough health by 1868 to be the Democratic nominee for President, losing to the Republican candidate, former Union General, Ulysses S. Grant.

But, Mr. Rice now had his last piece of the 1863 puzzle. Thurlow Weed had indeed been Abraham Lincoln’s emissary for his offer to step aside and support either Seymour or McClellan as President of the United States in the 1864 election.

So how did Lincoln go from that level of despair in the summer of 1863, when he thought he could not even win his Republican Party’s nomination for a second term, to a landslide re-election in 1864? Simply put, the tides turned! He found his perfect General in Ulysses S. Grant, the Union began to win more victories, the Confederate armies began to weaken through attrition, and the Southern economy began to collapse while the Northern economy surged.  It was a perfect storm against the Confederacy, but certainly advantageous for the re-election chances of Abraham Lincoln.

However, we now know that, in 1863, Lincoln’s overtures to Seymour and McClellan were sincere, as he placed his country ahead of his own political ambitions.

Isn’t that a unique concept for a politician!

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Reminiscences of Lincoln (Article 54)

Charles Allen Thorndike Rice wanted to publish a book to mark the twentieth anniversary of President Lincoln’s death. He wrote to numerous individuals who had known and worked with Lincoln and asked if they would share their recollections of the man. The book, first published in 1885, eventually was titled “Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time.” When Rice began to read the responses he had received from some of the men who had known Lincoln, he said he was quickly moved by the kindness and fairness of the man they described. He also noticed that many appreciated his wit, integrity, and friendly nature. A few said they were not initially impressed but only began to understand his leadership qualities after they witnessed his actions and demeanor during crisis.

Although it had been twenty years since their friend died, most of these remembrances seemed, to Mr. Rice, to be eulogies. They offered numerous reflections about Lincoln’s personal attention to an individual who might not have expected it, his objectivity and political tolerance, and his astute political and diplomatic instincts. And, as would be expected, some commented on his penchant for humorous story telling as a means to emphasize a point, which one respondent called “preaching by parables.”

The book became a treasure trove to historians and other authors as soon as it was published because it offered insights into events and conversations that were not widely known at the time. However, after more than a century, many of the anecdotes have been repeated numerous times and now are part of the Lincoln legend and, unfortunately, many of those have been edited over time into more modern vocabulary.  By reading from the original editions, the reader will soon notice the differences in the use of words and phrases between the mid-nineteenth century and today.  The quotations presented herein are printed in the verbiage from Mr. Rice’s manuscript and the anecdotes which are included were chosen because they seem to have escaped multiple repetitions by historians and, therefore, are not as well known.

Kindness and personal attention: One person  recalled a widow from Tennessee, whose son, a 17 year-old Confederate private, was a prisoner of war and lay seriously wounded at Fort McHenry in a make-shift hospital. She gathered letters from friends verifying that her son had enlisted only after the urging of an overly persuasive recruiter for the Confederate army and without her permission, which should have been required as the boy was only sixteen at the time. Further, the letters were testimonies that her family was not secessionist. She had traveled to Washington DC, taking the letters in a large envelope, to appeal to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War to release the young boy to her care. However, the unsympathetic Stanton, with a brusqueness unusual even for him, ordered the woman out of his office. Through a mutual acquaintance, she was encouraged to try to see President Lincoln and, surprising to her, she was granted a meeting, which  she described in her own words. “The President received me with the kindness of a brother. He immediately rose and pointed to a chair and said, ‘Take this seat madam and then tell me what I can do for you.’ I took the envelope and asked if he would read the enclosures. When he finished reading he turned to me and with great emotion said, ‘Are you madam, the unhappy mother of this wounded and imprisoned son?’ I replied that I was. ‘And do you believe he will honor his parole if I permit him to take it and go with you.’ I replied, I am ready Mr. President to peril my personal liberty upon it. Then the President said, ‘You shall have your boy. To take him from the ranks of rebellion and give him to a loyal mother is a better investment for this government … And God grant that he may prove a great blessing to you and an honor to his country.’ Then taking my envelope, he wrote with his own pencil the order you see upon it.”

Lincoln had written, “To the Commander at Ft. McHenry. You will deliver to Mrs. Winston, her son now held a prisoner of war upon his taking the proper parole (oath) never again to take up arms against the United States. A. Lincoln”

Mrs. Winston took her son back to Nashville where he recuperated; and kept his oath to the Union.

Another respondent to Mr. Rice recalled that he was invited to ride on the President’s train to Gettysburg for the dedication of the new national graveyard. He was with Lincoln when a man approached and said to the President, “My only son fell on Little Round Top at Gettysburg and I am going to look at that spot.” Andrews described Lincoln’s sad face and emotional response to the grieving father: “You have been called upon to make a terrible sacrifice. But, oh my dear sir, if we had reached the end of such sacrifices and had nothing left for us to do but place garlands on the graves of those already fallen, we would give thanks even amidst our tears; but when I think of the sacrifices of life yet to be offered and the hearts and homes yet to be made desolate before this dreadful war, so wickedly forced upon us, is over, my heart is like lead within me and I feel, at times, like hiding in deep darkness.” The following day, President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, dedicating the hallowed ground to those lost, including the young boy at Little Round Top.

Political Tolerance: One respondent, E.W. Andrews, related a story which described Lincoln’s objectivity when he encountered someone who held a different political point of view. Andrews was an officer in the Adjutant’s office in Washington DC and had met the President on several occasions. As the election of 1864 neared, Andrews attended a Democratic rally where several speakers promoted the candidacy of George B. McClellan, the former union General who was the party’s nominee to oppose Lincoln. In their official duties, Andrews had also met with McClellan while he was still the Commanding General of the Army. Andrews was well known in the city and one of the speakers, recognizing that Andrews was in the audience, pointed him out to the crowd and asked for his thoughts on McClellan.  A bit embarrassed by the unwelcome recognition and question, Andrews felt he could not dodge the issue and said that he held high regard for McClellan and would vote for him. Andrews never mentioned Lincoln and said nothing disparaging about the current President; then he hurried out of the hall. Someone in attendance reported Andrews’ comments to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who then, in a rage, signed an order rescinding Andrews’ commission and mustering him out of the Union Army.

Andrews knew that Stanton would never change his mind and decided to try to reach President Lincoln. Andrews wrote a letter explaining the Democratic gathering and the context of his remarks and asked a friend who was close to Lincoln to appeal to the President. When Lincoln read the letter, he replied to Andrews’ friend. “I know nothing about this. Of course, Stanton does a thousand things in his official character which I can know nothing about and which it is not necessary that I should know anything about.” Andrews’ friend replied that he did not believe that Stanton’s retaliation against the officer was warranted and hoped that the President would over-ride Stanton’s order and restore Andrews’ commission and his position at the Adjutant’s office.  After reading the letter and listening to the friend’s explanation, Lincoln replied: “Well that is no reason. Andrews has as good a right to hold onto his Democracy, if he chooses, as Stanton has to throw his overboard. (Stanton had once been a Democrat!) If I should muster out all my generals who avow themselves Democrats there would be a sad thinning out of commanders in the Army. No! When the military duties of a soldier are fully and faithfully performed, he can manage his politics in his own way. Tell this officer he can return to his post. Supporting (former) General McClellan for the Presidency is no violation of army regulations. And, as a question of taste in choosing between him and me, well I’m the longest but he’s better looking.”

President Lincoln notified Stanton of his decision and Andrews remained in the military. He later wrote, “I resumed my service and was never afterward molested by the Secretary of War.” It is interesting to note that, in his response to Mr. Rice, Andrews did not disclose whether he voted for McClellan as President or for Lincoln, the man who stepped in to preserve his military career.

Political and diplomatic instincts: Charles Dana, an Assistant Secretary of War, related an unusual decision Lincoln made concerning a Union spy who was so trusted by the Confederates that he was asked to deliver a message from a Southern sympathizer in Canada to a Confederate official in Virginia. The letter explained activities in Canada which supported the Confederacy. The spy/courier realized the importance of the document and took it to Mr. Dana, who immediately showed it to Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War. Stanton’s instinct was to use the letter to reproach the Canadian government, but wanted Dana to first take the letter to President Lincoln for his concurrence. Immediately, Lincoln had a different idea. He told Dana to have the man “arrested” and taken to prison; however, Dana was also instructed to orchestrate an escape. Lincoln said that, if the ruse worked, the Confederates might use the man’s talents again and the Union could likely obtain another correspondence between Confederates in Canada and Virginia. The escape did not go exactly as planned as a Union soldier shot at, and slightly wounded the Union spy; an unexpected, but fortuitous, occurrence that must have helped convince the Confederates that the man had truly escaped through cunning. As a result of Lincoln’s plan, the Union kept a very useful, and courageous, spy active within the Confederacy.

Mr. Dana also recalled a conversation with Lincoln as the Confederacy was crumbling in early April 1865. Dana reported to Lincoln that he had learned, through another Union spy, that a troublesome Confederate operative named Jacob Thompson was planning to escape into Canada. Secretary of War Stanton wanted to arrest Thompson before he could get away, but again, asked Dana to first check with the President. After hearing Dana’s explanation of the situation, Lincoln indicated he did not think arresting Thompson was worth the effort saying, “When you have an elephant on hand, and he wants to run away, better let him run.” After Lincoln was assassinated, Stanton wanted Dana to arrest Thompson, if he was still in the United States, but Dana never pressed the matter. About five years after the war, Dana and Thompson met and Dana explained how President Lincoln initially prevented Thompson’s arrest; and the fact that Dana, honoring Lincoln’s stance, later chose to not pursue him.  Unfortunately, Mr. Dana did not relate what, if anything, Mr. Thompson said about the episode.

Use of humor: Titian Coffin was an Assistant Attorney General, whose office defended Army Officers against lawsuits brought in local courts by citizens either for confiscation of property or possible improper arrests. Generally, the courts found for the Army officers, and even if not, there was usually no monetary compensation awarded. Congress, wanting to show local constituents their generosity, provided a large fund for future compensation to such aggrieved citizens. Suddenly, the complaints increased dramatically and the officers began settling the cases out of court by simply paying the citizen (and his lawyer) directly from the new fund. Mr. Coffin raised the issue with Lincoln and recalled the President’s reply. “Yes, Coffin, they will now all be after the money and be content with nothing else. They are like a man in Illinois whose cabin burned down and, according to the kindly custom, his neighbors all contributed to start him again. But, they had been so liberal that he found himself better off than before the fire, and he got proud. One day a neighbor brought him a bag of oats but the fellow refused it with scorn. ‘No, said he, I don’t take oats now, I take nothing but money.’ So it is with our Officers.”

And, sometimes Lincoln could make a point; very pointedly! Mr. Coffin recalled a meeting where Lincoln was being “hounded” by three weapons manufacturers who kept arguing their case long past the appointment time, but Lincoln continued to listen to their “over-long, inappropriate and impolite” demands. Then the President interrupted and said; “You three gentlemen remind me of a poor little boy. His father wanted him to have a religious education and placed him with a clergyman. Every day the boy was required to commit to memory a Bible story. Things proceeded smoothly until the story of the trials of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. He was asked to give their names but he had forgotten them. The teacher said he must learn them and gave him another day. The next day he had again forgot them. The teacher then said ‘I will give you one more day and if you do not repeat the names I will punish you.’ The third time, the boy got to the stumbling block and said, ‘Here come those three infernal bores. I wish the Devil had them!’ At that, (Mr. Coffin wrote) the three patriots retired; the President had dismissed his untimely visitors.”

For each person who responded to Mr. Rice’s inquiry the fact that he had known Abraham Lincoln and was left with these recollections was obviously a source of personal pride.

For Charles Allen Thorndike Rice, his book “Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished men of His Time” gave him the satisfaction of helping preserve the memory of a man he very much admired. And, coincidentally, cemented his own place in history.

And for me, I am very fortunate to have an original edition of the book and have the privilege and enjoyment of reading these “Reminiscences” from pages which carry the feel and fragrance which can only be found in very old books.

But whether reading Mr. Rice’ book from an original edition or from a modern reprint, we can appreciate that he helped maintain the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

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Remembrances of Lincoln, a Deferred Eulogy (Article 53)

The young man carefully addressed the last envelope:

“Ulysses S. Grant

City of  New York”

He placed it with the fifty other envelopes which he had recently completed. Each contained a letter which, besides introducing himself and outlining his proposed project, requested either a written reply or a personal interview and posed one primary question.

“Sir, as we near the twentieth anniversary of the loss of President Abraham Lincoln, what are the remembrances of him which still fill your mind?”

He was not confident that many of the carefully chosen recipients of his letters would ever respond, and even less hope that any would actually agree to a meeting or provide meaningful observations. He was aware that some of the senior members of Lincoln’s cabinet and other acquaintances had already passed away. Further, many of Lincoln’s living contemporaries were in their seventies or eighties, an advanced age in 1885; and he was unsure if their recollections would be real or imagined.  Also, they had likely given numerous interviews over the years and might not want to indulge his request. And, for some others, the loss of their friend, although so long ago, might still stir sadness best left unmentioned. Further limiting likely responses, was the fact that a few, like Ulysses S. Grant, were writing their personal memoirs and might want to withhold information to protect the value of their own projects.

But Charles Allen Thorndike Rice was on a mission, which he deemed as sacred as those with a religious fervor. He wanted to record for posterity the recollections of Abraham Lincoln by those who were close to him, especially during his political years. He sought to offset the mythical figure created by some devoted admirers soon after the President’s death as well as the picture of a tyrant which continued to be painted by southern sympathizers, who referred to “Lincoln’s War of Northern Aggression” against their homeland.

Over the next few weeks, Rice was pleased by the responses. Although very ill, former President (and former General) Grant responded; as did Walt Whitman (poet and friend), Henry Ward Beecher (minister), Frederick Douglass (writer/orator who was born a slave), Charles Coffin (war correspondent), and Leonard Swett (friend). And, Thurlow Weed, a famous (some say infamous) political operative from New York, who served Lincoln on several confidential matters, was eager to be interviewed. In all, 44 friends, acquaintances, and even a couple political adversaries, responded with reflective commentary.

But, almost as important as the list of those who did respond, was the list of people who did not. Among those were Robert Lincoln (the President’s only surviving son), Hannibal Hamlin (his first Vice-President), William Herndon (law partner), and John Nicolay and John Hay (his two secretaries). Nicolay and Hay had controlled most of Lincoln’s personal and official papers since his death and planned to publish a comprehensive biography; which turned out to be a ten-set edition offered in 1890. William Herndon, in order to prepare for his own biography of Lincoln, had traveled throughout the North during the first few years following Lincoln’s death, to interview acquaintances. This was several years prior to Rice’s effort, and many were the same people now approached by Mr. Rice; but Herndon was also able to interview some who had died before Rice conceived his book. Herndon’s biography was finally published in 1889.

As Rice began to compile the different reflections from the respondents, most seemed to him to be eulogies; but twenty years after the subject’s death. The result was a fascinating book, first published in 1885, titled “Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln by Distinguished Men of His Time.” Evidently, long titles were in vogue in the 19th century.

Critics of his book, then and over the years, complained that he edited some of the responses to fit his agenda, and failed to contact several acquaintances; especially certain political opponents who were known to grant such interviews. But, no biographer is above such criticism, as all authors will construct and edit their narrative, not only to fit a point of view, but also simply because of space limitations. Another complaint by some historians is that Rice did not require his subjects to document their recollections, so the book is almost devoid of the verifying footnotes which most historians consider almost as important as the narrative. But, Rice made no illusions that this was to be a historian’s account; he called it “Reminiscences” for a reason.

On the other hand, he did want his book to be as accurate as possible. As his respondents shared their recollections about Mr. Lincoln, Charles quickly noted differences in their descriptions of the same incident. In some cases, he just left their individual recollections alone and let the future reader sort out which was likely more accurate. In other cases, however, he contacted both parties (or multiple parties in a few instances) to try to determine which was historically the most correct. His willingness to shuttle back and forth among these acquaintances of Lincoln helped bring clarity to a few issues that had been debated since Lincoln’s death.

Since he was so involved in the publishing business, Rice was keenly aware that there were several biographies of Lincoln scheduled to be published within the next few years (1885-1890) and some critics claim that he rushed his book to assure it came to market before others. There is no question that he did move quickly to compose and publish his narrative, but there may have been a more profound reason he was in such a hurry. At the time he was approaching his subjects, Rice was not well. He completed his initial work in late 1885 and assured it would be promptly published. Two years later, although his health was rapidly deteriorating, he revised and updated a few sections and re-issued the book. Mr. Rice died in 1889 at the age of only thirty-seven.

We know he was fascinated by the life of Abraham Lincoln, however, Charles Allen Thorndike Rice, Charlie to his parents and close friends, also led an unusual life.

He was an only child and when he was five years old his wealthy parents divorced; but not amicably! Both sued for divorce and both sought sole custody of young Charlie; but after two years of court proceedings, the New York Supreme Court ruled that custody was to be awarded to Mr. Rice. In most cases the story might have ended there; however, Mrs. Rice , who was wealthy in her own right, spirited away (her words) or kidnapped (his father’s words) the boy and escaped first to Canada and then to Europe. Over the next six years, they moved several times among different countries, usually so that his mother could avoid surrendering Charlie to local authorities after his father obtained court rulings affirming his right to custody. Charlie’s father never gave up chasing his former wife and son, filing numerous appeals to the English, German, and French courts.

But she and Charlie always stayed a step ahead.

Charlie’s mother had allowed him to periodically correspond with his father, but insisted that he use the addresses of a group of European aristocrats who sympathized with her cause and who would transfer the messages. Charlie and his mother lived an elegant lifestyle in Europe and he received his early education from outstanding tutors. But, in 1866, his mother became ill and died. His father then quickly arranged for Charlie to be brought back to the United States where he spent the rest of his childhood living with his father. He was a gifted and enthusiastic student and, as a young gentleman of social stature (and wealth), was able to attend the most advanced private schools in New York. Then, at nineteen years of age, Charles returned to England and, over the next five years, received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Oxford.

He began his professional career in the United States when he purchased the “North American Review” and assumed the position of Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He became a prolific writer, often assessing the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, especially his administration during the Civil War; which had occurred while Charlie lived in Europe with his mother.  And, unusual for the times, he was not intensely partisan, often presenting counter-arguments to current popular political thought.

Mr. Rice regarded Abraham Lincoln to be the most consequential political leader of the century and supported that thesis in many of his articles, editorials, and speeches. He also realized that the acquaintances of Abraham Lincoln were aging, that many had already died, and he wanted to capture as many first- hand recollections as possible.  So, he embarked on his mission; and left us “Reminiscences.”

He took great pride in this compilation of anecdotes and he wanted it to be a gift to future generations about Abraham Lincoln’s legacy; but he must have also hoped that it might enshrine, if only in a small way, his own legacy as a writer and publisher.

It seems that Mr. Rice wanted to be remembered too.

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(Note: a future article will include a few of those “Reminiscences.”)



“But Will I be a Good Enough Officer” (Article 52)

He described his life before 1862 as pastoral and tranquil. He had grown up in an academic family, was fluent in nine languages, and had become a professor of Modern Languages at Bowdoin College in Maine. He was 33 years old, was married, and had two children, but three others died in infancy. When the Civil War started in 1861, he did not immediately volunteer to serve; although he believed in the Union cause, thought secession was anarchy, and was strongly opposed to slavery. But he, like almost every American, North and South, expected that the War would not last very long.

But then, as a new year rolled around and President Abraham Lincoln made a second call for volunteers, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain realized the war was going to last much longer, and he sent a letter to the Governor of Maine offering his services. The letter read, “I fear this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until men of the North are willing to leave their good positions and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our country from desolation and defend the national existence against treachery.” Because of his education and maturity, he was offered a commission as a Colonel in the militia, but Chamberlain replied he should receive a lesser rank as he had no military training, so he was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel.

From the day he joined the unit, he took his training seriously, read all he could about military tactics, and instilled in his men a sense of pride in their purpose. He also earned the respect of senior career military commanders who were skeptical of most new militia officers because those political appointees often only sought the prestige of a commission.

For the first six months, Chamberlain and his men had trained and had been given important assignments, but always in rearward positions, away from direct contact with the Confederate army. Chamberlain felt confident in these support missions but had concerns about his readiness and aptitude for combat, where his decisions in a ferocious and chaotic situation would determine if his men lived or died. Then, on December 13, 1862, his unit was engaged in the battle of Fredericksburg and, unfortunately, suffered their first casualties. The loss of these men, each of whom he knew so well, weighed heavily on Chamberlain, who wondered if he had made any mistakes which contributed to their deaths. But his superior officers noticed that he had demonstrated effective leadership in the battle, and he was promoted to Colonel.

Throughout the Spring of 1863, Chamberlain’s unit was again given support positions near major battles in Virginia, but not engaged directly against the enemy. Then, in June 1863, Chamberlain was ordered to march his men north into Pennsylvania, along with eighty-five thousand other Union soldiers. They were to form a buffer between Washington DC and a Confederate Army of over sixty-five thousand men, led by General Robert E. Lee, which had recently marched north from Virginia, through Maryland, and then westward into Central Pennsylvania.

Near Gettysburg!

From there, Lee planned to move south toward the Union’s capital city. There were skirmishes in the area on June 27 and 28 between scouting units, but the main Confederate force remained to the north of Gettysburg while the Union army established encampments in and around the small town. Both sides knew that a major clash was eminent, but no one knew exactly where hostilities would begin. On July 1st, the first large engagement occurred and the Union troops retreated to higher ground south of the town and began to fortify positions; effectively blocking the Confederate forces from directly marching toward Washington DC.

Colonel Chamberlain’s unit was assigned to hold a small hill, not in the center of the expected battle lines, but out on the periphery of a nearly mile long Union front. In military terms, he was on the flank. There were several larger hills with entrenched Union forces that the Northern Generals expected to be more likely strategic targets; but Chamberlain’s position was still important because it was his assignment to prevent any Confederate formation from moving around and then behind the Union lines. He did expect that small Confederate units would probe at points to determine exactly how wide (or long) the Union line was and where there might be weaknesses. He was told that he had to hold that position “at all costs” in the event of an attack by a larger force, although such an event was unexpected.

Joshua Chamberlain’s younger brother, Tom, was also an officer in the regiment and recalled a discussion between the two brothers just before the battles at Gettysburg when Joshua expressed continuing doubts about his leadership saying; “I was a good teacher and I will do my duty as best I am able; but am I a good enough officer?”

He was about to find out!

On July 1st, Chamberlain’s regiment was down to 266 men from its usual strength of 400; not so much from casualties but from a small pox epidemic which had recently struck in the Union camps. That day he was also given the task of guarding 120 soldiers from another Maine militia regiment who were accused of “mutiny” for refusing to engage in battle and who were awaiting courts-martial. They were not technically deserters, but they had essentially staged a group sit-down. Their regiment had been disbanded when the two-year enlistment for most of the men had expired and those soldiers were discharged and sent home. Unfortunately, these 120 men had signed three year enlistments, but believed they should have been allowed to return home with the rest of their unit.

Of course, the Army saw it differently and, while they awaited trial, Chamberlain was authorized to execute any of the 120 who tried to escape. But, he had a more thoughtful plan.

Since they were all from Maine, Chamberlain knew relatives of many of the men and was sympathetic to their plight. He reminded them that, if they continued to disobey orders, they would certainly face, at best, a long prison sentence, ruin their own lives and become a disgrace to their families. Instead, he asked them to join his regiment and, in return for their cooperation and willingness to fight along with his other boys from Maine, he would dismiss the charges against them. Further, while he could not guarantee the result, he agreed to write to the Governor of Maine to request his intercession on their behalf to reduce their remaining enlistment period.  After some deliberation among themselves, the 120 men agreed to put their trust in Joshua Chamberlain. His unit now had exactly 386 able-bodied soldiers.

Battle plans are drawn by Generals but they only last until there is an “unexpected event,” then commanders of smaller units make the decisions that lead either to success or to failure.  After several small exchanges along the Union lines, Confederate General Robert E. Lee decided the small hill occupied by Colonel Chamberlain would be advantageous and he ordered a large force to assemble overnight below the hill and to begin an infantry attack the following morning.

An “unexpected event” was about to happen to Colonel Chamberlain and his men.

That morning, over two thousand Confederate soldiers suddenly emerged from a wooded area at the base of the hill which Chamberlain and his men were to defend at all costs. The first attack lasted about fifteen minutes and the Confederates only made it about halfway up the hill before they retreated. Chamberlain’s casualties were few but he told his men the force that attacked them was too large to just be a probe and that he now believed the Confederates intended to try to take the hill. He sent a messenger to the Union headquarters about a mile away but was unsure if any of the Generals would react to what they might still consider only a probe, not an all-out attack. Chamberlain then walked among his men and told them that they would have to hold their position until re-enforcements could arrive.

Then, the Confederates attacked again; and again; and again. Over a two-hour period, they made five assaults on Chamberlain’s position, each one getting closer to the top of the hill before retreating. He could see the lower parts of the hill littered with dead and dying Southern soldiers and knew his men had caused a severe loss to the enemy; however, the toll from successive charges on his men was also devastating. At least 100 were dead or so severely wounded they could not fight, while another hundred were wounded but still on duty. With his ranks thinned by these losses, Chamberlain moved among those soldiers who could still fight and prepared them for what he expected would be one more Confederate assault. He and his men could see the Southern units again massing to charge at his position, but as he walked through his ranks and talked with his men, he realized that they had another serious problem.

Most of his men were out of ammunition! The few men who still had one or two rounds could not possibly defend against the coming attack. But, his orders were to never retreat and, if he simply tried to stand his ground, the Confederates would certainly over-run his position. Either way, he would have failed to carry out his mission to hold the line.

Then, Chamberlain made his unorthodox decision which would give the Confederates an “unexpected event.”

He ordered his men to fix their bayonets to their rifles and to prepare to leave their defensive positions and charge the Confederates.  He hoped to inflict as many casualties among the Southern soldiers as possible in the first few moments of advantage that the surprise attack might provide.  Chamberlain said later that neither he, nor his soldiers, had any expectation except death, but hoped that they might buy enough time for re-enforcements to arrive who could then keep the hill from falling to the enemy.

Chamberlain moved to the front of his men, yelled “bayonets” and leapt over the crest of the hill down toward the approaching enemy. Later he said he could not remember why he did not yell out the more tradition order of “Charge!”

One of Chamberlain’s men recalled, “The sight of the Colonel running headlong at the rebels, yelling ‘bayonets’ again and again, sword waving and pistol firing, made us all join in. There was no thought, just legs running, and yelling, everyone was yelling.”

Startled by the line of blue charging at them, the Confederates began to fall back and Chamberlain and many of his men actually ran so far and so fast down the hill that they pushed through the front of the enemy formation. Suddenly, Chamberlain came face to face with a Confederate Colonel who had a pistol pointed at his head; but the gun misfired. The Confederate officer then dropped his gun, handed Chamberlain his sword, and surrendered. With that, the daring charge began to subside. As the fighting ended, Chamberlain realized there were over a hundred Confederate soldiers stranded behind his position; but they were so disorganized, they dropped their weapons and put up their hands to surrender. He and his men herded the new prisoners back up the hill while the rest of the Confederate troops retreated. Unknown to their prisoners, Chamberlain’s men guarded the captured southern soldiers with empty rifles.

When his position was finally relieved by reserve units, Chamberlain learned that the small hill he had held was named “Little Round Top.” To his great relief, Chamberlain found that his brother also survived the battle and he said later that his brother’s life was more important than his own because he feared his mother would never recover from the loss of her youngest son.

Most historians believe the Union victory at Gettysburg was critical to the outcome of the Civil War. And, the stand at Little Round Top made by the small band of men in Chamberlain’s unit, including the 120 “other Maine boys,” was a turning point in the Battle of Gettysburg.

As the war dragged on, Joshua Chamberlain led his men into seven other major engagements and was severely wounded in 1864; but recovered sufficiently to be at Appomattox Court House for the surrender of Confederate forces in April, 1865. He then went back home to his family and his “tranquil and pastoral” life as a teacher. But, soon after, he was encouraged to enter the race for Governor of Maine; to which he was then elected to four consecutive terms!

Chamberlain later wrote of the bravery of his men that day at Gettysburg in July 1863, and said he was also in awe of the courage of the Confederates who charged his position time after time; despite having seen so many of their ranks fall in previous attacks.  But, others noted Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s own gallantry and leadership on that day as well, and, in recognition, he received his Nation’s highest award for valor, the Medal of  Honor.

His personal question had been answered. The good teacher, when tested, had certainly become a “good enough” officer!


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Lincoln’s Eagle Quill Pen (Article 51)

Abraham Lincoln had been recently, and surprisingly even to him, elected to become the next President of the United States. This night in early January,1861, he was fretful. For the last several days he had been forced to find quiet working space in the back of a relative’s general store in his home town of Springfield, to avoid the chaos from well-wishers and office seekers who streamed to his office and his home. He needed the privacy to complete the task at hand. He held the latest version of what would certainly be one of the most important speeches he would ever give; and arguably, at that time, the most important speech in American history.

It was to be Lincoln’s first inaugural address.

South Carolina had already declared secession from the country and several other southern states had announced plans to follow. There were fifteen states in which slavery was legal and neither Abraham Lincoln, nor the rest of the nation, knew exactly how many of the slave-holding states would eventually secede. He believed at least seven, but thought probably more, primarily because they feared a new Republican administration would not support expansion of slavery to new territories; and might even try to restrict slavery in the states where it was then currently permitted under the U.S. Constitution.

Lincoln had clearly stated in earlier speeches and writings that he would have no constitutional authority as President to interfere with slavery where it existed, but he believed secession was unconstitutional and illegal; and he intended to so declare in his speech. However, he also wanted to impress upon those states which had already decided on, or were contemplating, secession, that he did not threaten their way of life and wanted to hold open the door for their peaceful reconciliation within the United States. That evening he had considered a few changes to the draft and began to make the corrections which he felt strengthened his message. He dipped the long feather quill into the black inking solution and crossed out a few words and added others. By midnight, he finished, not quite satisfied, but unable to think of any better phrasing. He could do no more, and he put the quill down on the table.

Perhaps he took a moment to admire the long eagle feather, perfectly trimmed to make it a fine writing instrument. At the time, most handwriting was done with quills made from goose or turkey feathers which were dipped into an inkwell; and there was even a new-fangled “fountain” pen made of brass which still used a quill tip but held a reservoir of ink.

But Lincoln was a traditionalist in many ways. He liked the feel of quills and thought the regular pauses to re-ink helped with reflection when writing. And, this pen was special.

The eagle feather quill pen which Abraham Lincoln used to write portions of his first inaugural address was a gift from an Illinois admirer and political supporter, Rufus W. Miles. In one of those many ironies of history, in his letter which accompanied the gift, Mr. Miles seemed to write a eulogy for the new President, four and a half years before his assassination.

Two years earlier the Democratic controlled Illinois legislature had appointed Stephen A. Douglas to a third six-year term as a U.S. Senator, narrowly rejecting the bid by Republican Abraham Lincoln. A few days after Lincoln’s opponent won the appointment, a group of Lincoln supporters met at the State Capitol Library. Among those present was Mr. Miles, a local businessman and ardent abolitionist, who had hoped Mr. Lincoln’s message that slavery should not be expanded to new states in the West would resonate with the Illinois legislators, regardless of party affiliation; and Lincoln would become the new Illinois Senator. After all, Miles reasoned, slavery was prohibited by the Illinois constitution and Douglas, during his previous two terms in the U.S. Senate, was referred to as “The Great Compromiser” for his willingness to extend slavery to new states. However, even though several Democrat legislators did vote for Lincoln, it was not enough for him to be selected.

The men who gathered at the Capitol Library intended to discuss the future of the Republican party in Illinois and had invited Lincoln to attend. On the other hand, some had a very specific agenda for the meeting; to encourage Abraham Lincoln to run for President of the United States.

As Miles later recalled, Mr. Lincoln assured the group that he remained committed to the principals of the Republican party and would willingly support future Republican candidates. At some point in the discussion, one of the attendees declared that he “intended to bring Abraham Lincoln out as a candidate for President” in an editorial in a local newspaper.  After a murmur of approval was heard in the room, Lincoln said, “For God’s sake, let me alone. I have suffered enough.”

To some in the room and a few historical observers, Lincoln, while appreciative of the show of support, was sincerely declining another campaign. However, others present at the meeting, and most historians, believed that Lincoln was mildly protesting only as a courtesy and had an unstated interest in seeking the Republication nomination.

In the latter view, Lincoln believed a new campaign might lead to a Vice-Presidential nomination, or improve his chances if he chose to run for Governor of Illinois; but he did not believe there was even a remote possibility he could become the 1860 Presidential nominee at the Republican National Convention. The Party already had three formidable politicians under consideration, all with more political experience and broad based support than Lincoln; William Seward, former Governor of New York, Salmon Chase, Governor of Ohio, and Edward Bates, Governor of Missouri. Lincoln’s experience as an office holder included four terms in the Illinois Legislature and one term in the U.S. Congress, but he had not held political office for ten years.

Proof for those who believed then, and still believe, that he did indeed hope for his name to be advanced, was the rigorous speaking schedule which he now planned until the Republican convention, including a tour of heavily populated New England. Lincoln may not have called it a “campaign” but it certainly had all of the hallmarks.

And it worked!

One year after that meeting in the Library of the Illinois Capitol, Abraham Lincoln, who had won his party’s nomination in June, was elected President of the United States. After the election, and after the Electoral College vote, Rufus W. Miles wrote a letter to the President-Elect on December 21, 1860, and included as a gift an eagle feather quill, proposing that Lincoln use the pen to write his inaugural address. The letter read in part:

“Hon. A. Lincoln,

Please accept this eagle quill I promised you. The bird from whose wing the quill was taken was shot by Mr. John Dillon, in February 1857. Having heard that James Buchannan (Lincoln’s Democrat predecessor as President) was furnished with an eagle quill to write his inaugural with, and believing that, in 1860, a Republican would be elected to take his place, I determined to save this quill and present it to the fortunate man, whoever he might be. Report tells us that the bird which furnished Buchannan’s quill was a captured bird, a fit emblem for the man who used it. (Mr. Miles believed President Buchannan was another “compromiser” of principles).

But the bird from which this quill was taken, yielded the quill only with his life – a fit emblem of the man who is now expected to use it; for true Republicans believe that you will not think life worth the keeping after the murder of principle. Great difficulties surround you; traitors to their country have threatened your life; and should you be called upon to surrender your life at the post of duty, your memory will live forever in the heart of every free man; and that is a grander monument than can be built of brick or marble.

‘for if our hearts may not our memories keep, oblivion haste each vestige sweep, and let our memories end’

Yours truly,

R.W. Miles”

This letter must have seemed to be a strange and morose reflection upon what was a celebratory occasion; the election of Lincoln as President. Perhaps Mr. Miles, better than most, realized the dangerous waters into which the United States, and President Lincoln, were headed.

That first inaugural address did become one of the most famous speeches in American history and the concluding lines can still stir us today.

“We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as they surely will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

On April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln died; and as Mr. Miles wrote, Lincoln surrendered his “life at the post of duty.”

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and hundreds of schools which bear his likeness and/or his name, are tangible testaments in “brick and marble” as Mr. Miles suggested. But, most Americans today also have, in their own memories, an image of Abraham Lincoln and some understanding of his lasting value to our nation.

It is up to us to assure that, as Mr. Miles also wrote, his “memory will live forever in the heart of every free man.”

I sincerely hope we are up to the task.

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More To Do Than Fight This Awful War (Article 50)

All Presidents face numerous challenges during their term in office, but, historically, most are remembered for, and identified with, only one or two significant issues they faced and whether or not their efforts succeeded. President Thomas Jefferson is remembered for the Louisiana Purchase and the Lewis and Clark expedition, although his effort in writing much of the Declaration of Independence twenty years earlier remains a hallmark of his pre-presidential legacy. President Monroe is remembered for establishing the “Monroe Doctrine” and President Polk is most identified with the Mexican War. In the more modern eras, Hoover is synonymous with the Great Depression, Roosevelt gave us the New Deal and faced World War II, and Truman ordered the use of the atomic bomb. President Kennedy left us the space program, but is also remembered by most for the assassination; and Nixon’s legacy was overshadowed by Watergate and resignation. For those more recent Presidents of the last forty (or so) years, we can still recall, or have been taught about, more of the domestic and diplomatic matters in which they were involved; however, if history is any indicator, over time, they too will become identified by only one or two issues.

Abraham Lincoln is now most identified with the Civil War and for his efforts to end slavery; and, of course his assassination. Certainly, an historic era. But, President Lincoln, as all Presidents, served as the Chief Executive of a vast nation whose citizens had numerous interests and he had to give his time and attention to more than the ongoing Civil War. Every President has found a myriad of problems, issues, and opportunities with which he had to cope.

Lincoln was no exception.

The Civil War began within 5 weeks of his inauguration as President and, for the next four years, the war consumed most of his time; but, certainly other matters also required his attention. There were international problems which needed resolution, domestic issues that deserved attention, and opportunities for future enhancements for the United States that should be seized; while, at the same time, he was engaged in a devastating Civil War.

And Lincoln, his key cabinet officers, and a few Senators and Representatives assured these other matters were not neglected.

In his Report to Congress in 1863, referred to today as a State of the Union Address, Lincoln outlined the numerous topics his administration worked on during the year. Of course, the status of the War held priority and Lincoln first presented a separate report from the Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, which detailed each of the significant engagements with the Confederacy and concluded that the Union forces would have control over most of the Southern region within the next year.

All in all, an optimistic report from the War Department.

But as Lincoln went through the rest of his report, it became clear that other international and domestic issues would seem to have been enough to occupy a President, even if a Civil War were not raging.

In his report in December 1863, Lincoln mentioned the following diplomatic matters the country faced the prior year.

  1. Reached a treaty with Great Britain to formalize a permanent end to the African Slave Trade and to create a cooperative effort to combat violators.
  2. Made progress with Great Britain over border issues between Canada and the territories in the Northwest; which paved the way for Washington, Idaho and Montana to become states a few years later.
  3. Announced the successful arbitration of a dispute with Chile over the seizure of American assets in South America.
  4. A similar arbitration was announced to settle disputes with Peru.
  5. A travel agreement was reached with Nicaragua for U.S. troops to cross through that country from Atlantic to Pacific (fifty years before the Panama Canal was built).
  6. Established diplomatic relations with Columbia
  7. Organized an international conference to establish postal treaties to set rates which would be accepted by all participating nations and permit the unrestricted flow of mail using the postage mark of the originating country.
  8. A continuing issue with Japan was explained resulting from an internal Japanese conflict challenging the authority of the Emperor. Lincoln was clear that the United States would not choose sides.
  9. A joint memorandum with Russia had been completed which would allow a telegraph line to connect the eastern coast of that country with the western coast of the United States. (The actual telegraph line would take another twenty years).
  10. Perhaps most important, Secretary of State William Seward managed to assure that England, France and Spain would remain neutral during the Civil War and not give official recognition to the Confederate States of America.

The first nine diplomatic successes were important and had to overcome interference from the Confederate government, which hoped to cause international distractions and/or incidents for the Union.  However, it was the tenth objective which certainly affected the outcome of the Civil War. The Confederate government kept up a relentless diplomatic effort to become recognized by European Capitals as a separate and sovereign nation, and to, hopefully, receive financial support and armaments to press the war against the North. Secretary Seward and his Ambassadors to each foreign country were able to thwart those efforts. If they had not been successful, the progress of the Civil War would have been more problematic for President Lincoln and the Union. What makes these diplomatic successes even more remarkable is that they were reached without the instant two-way communications which would later become available with telegraph lines. In 1863, a diplomatic message to an overseas Capital was sent by courier ship, with a travel time measured in weeks, then any reply (including questions and/or critical counter offers) required a similar time before received. It was a process that resulted in numerous “fits and starts” before results were achieved.

In addition to these diplomatic issues, President Lincoln, and his cabinet, faced these significant domestic matters on the home front.

  1. Although there had been a telegraph line laid across the Atlantic in 1856, it had failed after a few months. Lincoln proposed that Congress authorize another attempt and add several underwater lines along the Atlantic coast.
  2. He discussed the ongoing Indian disputes in the central states and in the western territories, which were not yet settled; and some of these had proven deadly to both settlers and the local Indian tribes.
  3. He called for steps that would increase immigration westward, including the Homestead Act which would give parcels of federal land to those who chose to move west.
  4. He called for a national immigration policy to increase the number of workers available for specific labor pools, primarily from Europe. The country needed coal and mineral miners, agricultural workers, and people to work in foundries. He even called for some aid for individuals as an incentive to migrate to the United States.
  5. He announced a review of immigrants who had settled in the United states several years earlier who had benefited from life in the United States but had never applied for citizenship. Lincoln thought some might be purposefully failing to apply to avoid paying federal duty taxes (if they were wealthy or operated a business) and/or to avoid military service. He said either reason to not seek citizenship was reprehensible.
  6. He urged completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, which was underway. He also was pushing the northern states to require the adoption of a universal gauge (track size), to simplify connections.

And, while the separate report from the Secretary of War was paramount, Lincoln still touched on some issues related to the War in his commentary.

  1. He called for the building of major Naval ship yards along the Atlantic coast with the capacity to service the hundreds of new and converted Navy ships. He stressed that this was not just a war-time need, but would help assure the United States could protect shipping lanes and participate fully in ocean trade long after the War was over.
  2. He announced that the Military academies, which since their founding had recruiting quotas from all of the United States, had fallen short of new recruits in 1862 because the seceded states sent no candidates. By Lincoln’s executive order, the Secretaries of War and Navy had increased the quotas from states remaining in the Union; and the academies’ classes were again filled.

Then, to address a matter on the mind of almost every person in 1863, whether they were in the north or south, he also discussed the perplexing questions that had arisen since the Emancipation Proclamation had become effective a year earlier.

Lincoln gave a report on the status of emancipation of slaves in Union held territories, and the initial reconstruction processes for several former Confederate states whose citizens were ready to rejoin the Union. He expressed concern that the Emancipation Proclamation would be ruled a war-time measure and feared there would be attempts to re-instate slavery in some states, even to those individuals earlier emancipated. He declared that he would work with Congress to remedy that issue. (Note: a few months later, in 1864, the Senate passed the proposed 13th Amendment to the Constitution which would make slavery illegal, the House of Representatives passed the proposed Amendment in February 1865, and the necessary number of states ratified the Amendment in November 1865, making it part of the U.S. Constitution).

His concluding remarks, of that 1863 “State of the Union” address, are not often quoted, but ring true today.

“Our chief care must still be directed to the Army and Navy, who have thus far borne their harder part so nobly and well; …we do also honorably recognize the gallant men, from commander to sentinel, who compose them, and to whom more than others the world must stand indebted for the home of freedom … regenerated, enlarged, and perpetuated.”

As all Presidents who served before and after him, Abraham Lincoln had numerous matters with which to contend. In his case, he was leading the nation through a destructive and deadly war between Americans, but was also addressing these other important issues.

And,  he was looking to the future and planning for the time when the “Awful Civil War” was no more.

That is Presidential leadership!

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The Reflections of Private Sam Watkins (Article 49)

“The die was cast, the war declared, and every person, almost, was eager for the war and we were afraid it would be over and we were not in the fight.”

So said Private Sam Watkins of Columbia, Tennessee, after he enthusiastically volunteered to join the new Confederate Army. Sam was twenty-one years old and had been raised on a family farm where he worked beside five slaves owned by his father. This was a simple farm, not a plantation, so everyone pulled their share of the necessary work. That said, he noted that he was hopeful slavery would end “in time” and that he was unsure about secession; however, he believed the Southern states had other valid grievances against the federal government in Washington and felt honor bound to support the Confederacy.

So Private Sam Watkins marched off to what he expected would be a brief, but necessary, and very exciting, war.

He arrived with his Company H of the First Tennessee Regiment at Manassas Junction (called Bull Run by the Yankees) two days after the first great battle of the Civil War; which was a resounding Confederate victory. He said; “We felt that the war was over and we would have to return home without even seeing a Yankee soldier. Ah, how we envied those who were wounded…so we could have returned home with an empty sleeve.  Our courage on display for all to see. But the battle was over and we were left out.”

Like many soldiers before him, Sam Watkins seemed disappointed that he had somehow missed out on the grand adventure of going to war. However, also like almost all soldiers before him, his first taste of battle quickly changed his perspective.

On April 6, 1862, Sam Watkins found himself on the banks of the Tennessee river, near the Mississippi border. He could hear Union pickets on the other side a few hours before dawn, but on orders, Sam and the other Confederate scouts kept silent. About an hour later, at day break, Watkins’ unit charged at an unsuspecting Union encampment.

The place was called Shiloh, Hebrew for “a place of peace” after a small white church in the area; however, the battle of Shiloh had nothing to do with peace, and became one of the bloodiest of the war.

At first Sam was optimistic and excited. “The fire opened, the air was full of balls and deadly missiles. The litter corps carried off the wounded. We were driving them!”

Sam was right. The Confederate forces pushed the Union army back and the first day was a decided victory for Sam and the other southern boys; but they did lose their respected leader, Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was mortally wounded. Sam Watkins wrote about the scene. “We saw (him) surrounded by his staff, but we did not know he was dead. The fact was kept from the troops.” Sam and the other Southern soldiers revered General Johnston and his staff was concerned his loss might demoralize the men who, at the time, were successfully pressing the Union forces.

At the close of the first day, even Union General Ulysses S. Grant admitted that the Confederates had gained the upper hand, but he added, “We will lick ‘em tomorrow.”

Sam Watkins wrote; “Now those Yankees were whipped, and according to all the rules of war, they ought to have retreated. But they didn’t.” The following day, Grant drove the Confederate forces back and claimed the battles at Shiloh as a Union Victory. One hundred thousand men had fought over those two days and the casualty rate (dead, wounded and missing) was horrific, at over 25 percent of all combatants. And Sam saw many of them fall!

Both North and South would now begin to realize the real cost of Civil War.

While Sam Watkins survived to fight again, his enthusiasm was now gone. He said that he saw one very young Confederate soldier deliberately shoot himself in the hand to escape the tumult and added, “I now knew this war would last, and last, and last.”

After Shiloh, the Confederate Army was faced with the end of the original one year enlistments for over 200,000 of their soldiers and the Southern government took two controversial steps to keep the forces viable. First, they unilaterally extended all enlistments and then also instituted a draft. But, in a move that infuriated Watkins and other poor soldiers, exemptions were granted to anyone who owned more than twenty slaves and permitted wealthier soldiers to pay a substitute. Sam wrote; “…. a soldier was simply a machine, a conscript. All our pride and valor had gone, we were sick of war and cursed the Southern Confederacy. There was raised the howl of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”

By the end of 1862, Watkins found himself in Tennessee under the command of General Braxton Bragg who became notorious for the poor treatment of his men. Watkins wrote “not a single soldier in the whole army ever loved or respected him.” Bragg often had soldiers flogged, held on display in shackles, and even executed, with only a whisper of a courts martial.” Another Confederate General, Nathan Bedford Forrest later said of Bragg, “He is a damned scoundrel” and refused to serve under him.

But Sam Watkins and his fellow soldiers did not have that choice.

Watkins wrote, “We were crushed. He (Bragg) loved to crush the spirit of his men. We were on less than half ration. At the acme of our privations, we were ordered into line to be reviewed by Jefferson Davis. When he passed, he was greeted with ‘send us something to eat, Masa Jeff, I’m hungry’ and other unwelcomed comments. I see no prospect for peace. The Yankees can’t whip us and we can never whip them.”

While still in Tennessee, on November 24, 1862, Union and Confederate forces again clashed but Grant had overwhelming strength and caused sections of the Southern lines to break into retreat. Watkins wrote; “A column of Yankees came right over where I was standing, I was trying to get out of their way but the more I tried the more in their way I got.” Somehow, Sam Watkins again survived to fight another day.

By June 1863, Bragg had finally been relieved of command and Watkins was serving under General Joseph E. Johnston; who was loved by his troops but was despised and only tolerated by Jefferson Davis. Sam Watkins, in contrast to his mistrust and dislike for General Bragg, now wrote of General Johnston; “I do not believe there is a soldier in his army but would gladly die for him; everything was his soldiers and he would feed his soldiers if the country starved.”

The mission for General Johnston, and therefore the mission for Sam and his fellow soldiers, was to keep General Sherman’s Union forces from capturing Atlanta, Georgia. General Johnston fortified his positions at Kennesaw Mountain, which was on a direct route to Atlanta, and Sam Watkins waited for what was expected to be fierce battle.

General Sherman considered skirting Kennesaw and marching on to Atlanta by a much longer route; however, he decided to attack then and there and made an unwise series of charges that became a killing field. Sam Watkins was positioned on a rocky point which became known as “the dead angle” because the Confederate riflemen were able to fire down on the exposed Union forces. Sam wrote; “I have heard men say that if they ever killed a Yankee they were not aware of it. I am satisfied that on this day every man killed from twenty to a hundred each. All that was necessary was to load and shoot. My pen is unable to describe the scene of carnage and death that ensued for the next two hours. Yet still the Yankees came.” But Sherman’s attacks ultimately failed and Sam’s unit had held their position.

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was a clear Confederate victory; inflicting serious losses on General Sherman’s forces and delaying his planned assault on Atlanta. However, the victory did not diminish Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s dislike for General Johnston and the General was removed from command.  Davis either did not realize, or did not care about, the demoralizing effect it would have on soldiers like Watkins who revered Johnston. Sam recalled, “The news came like a flash of lightening, staggering and blinding everyone. Old Joe had taken command of the Army of the Tennessee when it was crushed and broken. He was more popular with his troops every day. Farewell old fellow. We privates loved you because you made us love ourselves.”

Sam Watkins later marched from Georgia back into Tennessee in late 1864 under the command of Confederate General John Bell Hood, who Watkins respected for his battlefield courage, but wondered if Hood’s army had much fight left. “We were willing to go anywhere or follow anyone who would lead us. We were anxious to flee, fight or fortify. I have never seen an army so confused and demoralized. The whole thing seems to be tottering and trembling.”

Sam also witnessed the constant desertions by young Confederate soldiers who simply walked back home where they knew their families were desperate. Sam understood and sympathized but stayed with his unit. “My head and my feet said to go home, but my heart said to stay”

Then on December 5th, Union forces attacked Hood’s weakened army at Nashville and the end was chaotic. “The army was panic stricken. The woods everywhere were full of running soldiers. Our officers were crying ‘Halt, Halt’, but no one stopped.” When he finally rejoined with other stragglers, Watkins recalled, “The ground was frozen and our soldiers were poorly clad, while many, yes many, were entirely barefooted. Everything, and nature too, worked against us.”

On April 26, 1865, Sam Watkins First Tennessee Regiment surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina. “The day we surrendered our regiment…was indeed a sad sight to look at. A mere squad of noble and brave men gathered around the tattered flag that they had followed in every battle through the long war. It was so bullet riddled and torn that it was but a few blue and red shreds.”

For Sam Watkins, and other young men on both sides, the great war was ending and they could head home. However, for too many others, the war had ended earlier as nearly one million soldiers perished. Of the 120 men who enlisted with Sam in 1861, only seven survived the war and, of the 3,200 who became part of his regiment throughout the war, only sixty-five came home without major wounds. Sam returned to Columbia, Tennessee and rebuilt his family farm. He wrote a memoir and, in a play on the spelling of his unit Company H, titled his book “Co. Aytch; A Side Show to the Big Show” based on his many vivid memories.

He later wrote; “Were those things real? Did I see those brave and noble countrymen of mine laid low in death?  Did I see our country laid waste and in ruin? Did I see the ruins of smoldering cities and deserted homes? Surely they are the vagaries of mine own imagination. But, if only they were!

Our Cause was lost from the beginning. Our people were divided upon the question of Union and secession. Our Generals were scrambling for who ranked. The private soldier fought and starved and died for naught. Other pens than mine will have to chronicle their glorious deeds of valor and devotion. We shed a tear over their flower strewn graves. We love their memory yet.”

But, then, concluding, he wrote; “The United States has no North, no South, no East, no West. We are one and undivided.”

One hundred and fifty years ago, after a horrible conflict of region against region, Sam Watkins affirmed the values of one nation of United States.  It is left to our generations to assure that Sam Watkins’ conclusion, that “We are one and undivided” remains true. Time will tell if we are up to the task.

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Battle Hymn of the Republic (Article 48)

It would be impossible to estimate how many people have been stirred by a resounding choral and/or symphony rendition of “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Certainly millions!

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, The Army Chorale, The Choir of the National Cathedral, and many other talented groups have produced modern versions with the accompaniment of grand pipe organs or symphony orchestras (or both). Even Elvis Presley had a unique rendition. The song is a treasure from the Civil War era and is a fixture at patriotic events.

But, during the Civil War, it was often sung acappela or with minimal accompaniment, sometimes with a piano, a trumpet, or perhaps a small military band. In those days, people often sang together in social gatherings and the song quickly became popular; however, at the time, perhaps the words were even more inspiring than the music.

At least to those in the North!

This was after all, a call to arms for those who supported the Union of the States and opposed the Confederacy and slavery. Therefore, it was only appreciated by, and patriotic to, that portion of Americans in the Northern states who favored the Union cause; including President Abraham Lincoln who heard it many times.

But the genesis for the heroic “Battle Hymn of the Republic” involved a rather ignoble ballad titled “John Brown’s Body” about a violent abolitionist. A Massachusetts militia unit had added words about John Brown to an old and familiar tune and the song quickly became a rousing, sometimes boisterous, rallying call for the men who were fighting the Confederates. While soldiers often sang together as a form of entertainment, they also used songs to reinforce their common bond of courage to their mission. This particular ballad lionized Brown, who had been executed for a raid on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry; a bold, but failed, plan to ignite a slave rebellion throughout the South. While the song quickly gained favor in both military and civilian circles, as soldiers often do, they soon added other words, many of which were not acceptable in more polite civilian society.

So, two distinctly different types of “John Brown’s Body” emerged. The first was one sung by soldiers (and frequently by tavern patrons) who often spontaneously changed verses to add more coarse language. The second version stayed closer to the original and could be heard in homes and community gatherings, especially among abolitionists. But, both types maintained the pro-Union and anti-slavery message.

However, as often happens in a broad culture, to the chagrin of many, the ever changing and less respectable versions, became more popular. In late 1861, during a dinner at the Willard hotel in Washington DC, a few friends who were committed to the abolition of slavery, lamented that versions of “John Brown’s Body” often heard in public no longer portrayed the somber message they appreciated. That night, they decided to re-form the verses and create their own anthem.

The result is the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” we know today.

At the dinner that evening was Julia Ward Howe. Mrs. Howe and her husband, Samuel Howe, were committed abolitionists who also opposed to the formation of the Confederacy; which they deemed unconstitutional.  They were not early supporters of Abraham Lincoln, preferring William Seward, the former Governor of New York who shared their disdain for slavery and slave-holders; however, after the nomination of Lincoln in 1860, they actively promoted his election.

Mr. Howe was a well-known scholar who had developed techniques for the education of the blind; while Mrs. Howe had gained fame, and a substantial income, from her poetry which was regularly published in the major periodicals of the day. But Mr. and Mrs. Howe did more than just speak against slavery, they financially supported several related causes. And, Mr. Howe was one of the “Secret Six” who funneled funds to John Brown for his anti-slavery campaign which led, ultimately, to the ill-fated attack on the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal.

At that dinner in the Willard hotel, Mrs. Howe had expressed hope that President Lincoln would use the might of the Union armies, not only to repair the fractured Union, but to end slavery for all time. Mrs. Howe had long believed that the South would not give up their “peculiar institution” without the use of force; so, to her, the ongoing Civil War was not unexpected. Her friends asked if she would compose words to a similar tune as “John Brown’s  Body” which would convey the folly of secession and the hope for a restored Union without slavery. They agreed that they wanted a “resolute march” which would “be a joy to sing and hear.” During her stay in Washington, she had heard several versions of “John Brown’s Body” and, after the dinner and her friends’ request, she retired to her hotel room. She later said she awoke with “words swirling in my head” and began to write and, by mid-day, the verses were finished. After she completed the poem, a trio of composers/arrangers were provided with a copy of her words and they modified the “John Brown” tune to fit the longer verses Mrs. Howe had written. The result was essentially a new musical work. “Battle Hymn of the Republic” was published in February 1862 in the popular magazine, Atlantic Monthly and quickly became the anthem of the Union.

The first verse and chorus are well known to many, but Mrs. Howe’s full message is found in the complete poem. Also, the accompanying music did (and does) resonate with the public; and most find it impossible to read the words without finding the music swirling in their heads.

Verse (1)
Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the vintages where the grapes of wrath are stored.
He hath loose’d the fateful lightening of His terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.

Each verse is followed by three rounds of the famous chorus: “Glory, Glory Halleluiah,” but in an unusual change from other songs of the time, Mrs. Howe repeated the last phrase of the prior verse as closing line for the following chorus; so, the first chorus ends with “His truth is marching on”.

She continued.

Verse (2)
I have seen Him in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps.
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps.
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
His day is marching on.

Verse (3)
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel.
As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal.
Let the Hero born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel.
Since God is marching on.

Verse (4)
He sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat.
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgement seat.
Oh, be swift my soul to answer Him, Be jubilant my feet.
Our God is marching on.

Verse (5)
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea.
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.
While God is marching on.

Verse (6)
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave.
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succor to the brave.
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of time His slave.
Our God is marching on.

Verses one, two, four and five are found in most modern arrangements but verses three and six are often not included; perhaps a space and time consideration, but also perhaps the religious references were too pointed. Also, in verse 5, “let us die to make men free” was changed in most versions over time to “let us live to make men free.

So, from that gathering of abolitionists in December, 1861, a grand and lasting musical masterpiece was created. The “Battle Hymn of the Republic” became so universally appreciated that Winston Churchill requested the song be played at his funeral. However, it is likely today that, while some of those performing and some of those listening appreciate the music and the flow of the verses, they do not realize that Mrs. Howe’s underlying message is of Divine leadership toward the abolition of slavery and opposition to what she considered the “slaveocracy” which controlled the South.

But, in the 1860s, Southern political leaders and clergy clearly understood, and vilified, the anthem’s message, primarily because of phrases in verse (3). For the previous two centuries, the southern clergy had crafted a theological argument that slavery was biblically supported and consistent with their view of Christianity; and as a result, major denominations had split into northern and southern factions. Therefore, many Southerners were offended by the line which reads, “As you deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal,” because it implied that God would reward those who fight against slavery (and for the Union); and conversely that those who are pro-slavery are His “contemners” who hold God in contempt or scorn. And, continuing with her theme, Mrs. Howe then called for the pro-slavery “serpent” to be crushed.

Even some northern worshipers must have thought those characterizations were a bit harsh.

But, Mrs. Howe believed the oppression of slavery must end and hoped her “resolute march would ring true” with the people of the North as they fought to conquer the Confederate states, end slavery, and re-unify the nation. She was pleased that her “Battle Hymn of the Republic” became the anthem for the North throughout the Civil War, but probably would have been surprised at the wider audience her song has reached over the last 150 years.

However, as we enjoy the beauty of the music, we do a disservice to Julia Ward Howe if we do not remember the fundamental message of her poem; oppression of one person by another is wrong, and we have a Sacred duty to fight against it.

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Lincoln on Reconciliation (Article 47)

At a time when our country faces deep political divisions, a review of Abraham Lincoln’s messages of reconciliation may provide a starting point for our own healing.

While the political campaigns in our time are rough, in fact, the campaign rhetoric in the 19th century was even worse. Abraham Lincoln was a target of some of the most vile, and untrue, charges ever aimed at any candidate. To his credit, he rarely responded to such attacks, but when he did, his comments were concise, reasonable, and sometimes humorous. While there was no mass electronic media in the 1800s, newspapers were prevalent and almost always partisan, promoting one candidate and one ideology over others and eviscerating opponents and different political philosophies. Many newspapers and political groups also distributed handbills, usually one page diatribes against a politician or some government policy. Most publishers considered politicians free game in editorials, in articles, and especially in political cartoons.

Truth was not a journalistic objective.

In March 1861, Lincoln began his Presidency with his country literally torn apart. Over the preceding decade, a war of words had become a war of secession, death and destruction. In the 1860 Presidential election, nine states refused to even place Lincoln’s name on the ballot, and this was before the first secession by a state had occurred. The South’s largest newspaper, in Richmond, Virginia, editorialized; “ ..whether the Potomac is crimson in human gore and Pennsylvania Avenue is paved ten fathoms deep with mangled bodies, the South will never submit to such humiliation and degradation as the Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.”

Throughout his political career, Lincoln tried to remain above personal enmity and he consistently demonstrated graciousness in defeat and magnanimity in victory. Further, Lincoln sought to reconcile different factions; whether the debates were centered on Illinois governmental issues, or the more national disagreements over secession and slavery. For years before the Civil War, he held some hope the Northern and Southern differences could be settled without conflict. Even after the Civil War began, and until the day of his death four years later, Abraham Lincoln continued to wish and pray for, and work towards, re-union; and wrote and spoke of forgiveness.

His willingness to try to reconcile political differences, however, began much earlier. For example, in 1838, when he was twenty-nine and an Illinois legislator, he implored several angry colleagues to settle their differences through compromise and said, “There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law.”

In 1854, Lincoln decided to campaign to become a U.S. Senator, although he knew it would be an uphill battle. At that time, the Constitution required that Senators be selected by state legislatures, not by citizen votes; and his political party did not hold a majority in the Illinois legislature. But Lincoln was a popular figure across party lines, so he had some reason to believe that enough Democrats might vote for him; but his opponent was selected by a slim margin. On the evening of the vote, Lincoln went to the Springfield home of the victor, Lyman Trumbull, warmly congratulated him, and stayed around to tell a few of his humorous stories. The next day, Lincoln simply went back to work at his law office and his partner, William Herndon, later remarked, “A person could not have known from Mr. Lincoln’s words or demeanor whether he had won or lost.” He then lost a similar Illinois legislative vote four years later to Steven A. Douglas by an even closer margin. But the losses did not keep Lincoln from pressing his ideas for political change; he just maintained a civil dialogue while doing so, and began to build a constituency. It paid off in 1860!

After he won the election for President in November 1860, but before his inauguration in March 1861, Lincoln planned a trip to New England to meet that region’s political leaders. In particular, he wanted to get to know Hannibal Hamlin, who would be his Vice-President-Elect, and who he had not yet met. To the surprise of many, he asked Senator Lyman Trumbull, who had defeated him in the 1854 race, to accompany him on the tour; because Lincoln respected his knowledge of the Washington DC political scene and trusted his advice. A true example of reconciliation!

Then, as Lincoln began the process of selecting men to serve in his Cabinet, he put aside the rhetoric of the campaign and offered positions to all three of his Republican opponents for the nomination; each of whom initially had a higher expectation of victory than did Lincoln. He also included Democrats in several of these critical offices and, in another clear display of personal forgiveness and reconciliation, he said, “I am determined to seek the best men for the country, not the best men for Lincoln.”

On March 4, 1861, Lincoln gave his First Inaugural Address, two weeks after Jefferson Davis was sworn-in as President of the Confederate States of America. In this conflicted setting, Lincoln spoke directly to the people of the South when he said; “ I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Those passions may have strained, but must not break, our bonds of affection.” However, his pleas went unanswered and, five weeks later, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter beginning a four-year Civil War.

With members of his wife’s family serving on both sides of the War between the States, Lincoln did not hold personal animosity toward those who chose the different path. During the Civil War, on several occasions, Lincoln visited the Washington hospitals which cared for Confederate prisoners. In one famous exchange, he said; “You, as I, are in this place through uncontrollable circumstances. Would you accept my hand in sympathy and respect.” Several, but not all, shook the President’s hand. In another instance while visiting severely wounded Confederate officers, Lincoln said; “If I were to tell you who I am, would any of you shake my hand? I am Abraham Lincoln.” A nearby Confederate officer replied; “Would you shake my hand if you knew I was a Confederate Colonel who has fought against you for four years?” To which Lincoln replied; “Well, I hope a Confederate Colonel will not refuse me his hand.” The two men shook hands and several others also came forward to greet Mr. Lincoln.

By the time of the Second Inaugural in March 1865, it was clear to most reasonable observers that the war would end soon and the Confederacy would be vanquished. Lincoln directed most of his remarks at that Inauguration to reconciliation and re-union. He urged the citizens of the North to ..”be sympathetic to our friends in the South….let us judge not, that we not be judged.” And he concluded, “With malice toward none, with charity for all,..let us bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for those who have borne the battle, and for his widow and orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves.”

To Lincoln, these were not just words, but a plan of action. To assure that his wishes for generous peace terms for Confederate soldiers and officers were carried out by his military commanders, Lincoln met in March with General Grant, General Sherman, and Admiral Porter. He directed, “Let them once surrender and reach their homes…Let them go, officers and all, I want no more bloodshed. I want no one punished; treat them liberally all around.” Lincoln’s message was clear and military historians over the years have marveled at the magnanimous terms of surrender which the Union military leaders provided to their former adversaries. Essentially, they just “let the boys go home.”

In the late evening of April 11th,1865, in a short speech from a White House window, Lincoln addressed the surrender of Robert E. Lee’s Confederate army.  He said, “Let us welcome the Southern states, back into the fold, without divisive argument over their behaviors, indeed without deciding, or considering, whether their status have ever been out of the Union.” And, he urged the crowd to “embrace our former rivals.”

Then, at his last Cabinet meeting on the day of his assassination, Lincoln said: “Indeed I hope there will be no persecutions, no bloody work after this war is over.” Speaking of the Confederate leaders he said; “None should expect that I will participate in hanging or killing of these men, even the worst of them. Enough lives have been sacrificed. We must extinguish our resentments if we expect harmony and Union.”  An attendee at the meeting later said that Lincoln spoke kindly of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and suggested he might be helpful in the re-construction of the southern states because, “He is so universally admired.”

It is most remarkable that, at his final cabinet meeting, he was referring to people who had sought to destroy the Union, and fought a war against his government for four years at a cost of over a million lives. Still, with forgiveness and reconciliation foremost in his mind, he said, “We must extinguish our resentments!”

My hope is that, going into 2017, after this turbulent election, we can heed Lincoln’s appeal when he said, “Though passion may have strained, it must not break, our bonds of affection.”

So, let us begin our own reconciliations. But first, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated over one hundred and fifty years ago, “we must extinguish our resentments.”

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