Now scrolling: The Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas from Bill Sherman

As the holidays approach, be grateful it isn’t Christmas, 1864. William Sherman’s army was making its march through Georgia, living off plantations, burning them and twisting railroad ties so that they could never be used by the Confederacy again. Sherman knew how crucial the railroad connections were in Georgia.

Prior to November, Lincoln’s outlook for a second term was so bleak that he wrote to a friend, "this administration, I fear, is doomed."

All were sick of war and ready to accept Presidential candidate George McClellan’s offer of peace, allowing the South to secede and maintain slavery. Sherman knew better. He said that "if we allow the South to secede, there would be no end of rebellion."

The Pacific states were considering secession, so was New York and some of New England. A few states in the South wanted to secede from the Confederacy. This continent might have been a group of independent nations with no common Constitution. There would have been no United States of America.

Lincoln won his second term that year, supported mostly by the army vote. But he knew that he desperately needed a victory to keep morale alive. Sherman gave him that victory at a terrible cost.

To learn how high that cost really was, read General Sherman’s Christmas, by Stanley Weintraub. And if you are able to travel the Country in any direction without a passport this Christmas, remember those who paid the price to make it possible.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Opera Highlights Lincoln's Young Life

Enjoy opera? Love Lincoln?
Then listen up. Last weekend, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre performed River of Time, a presentation of young Lincoln’s life set to music.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reviewed it as a fine tribute to Lincoln with great songs, strong performances, but perhaps a thin plot of vignettes.

The opera spans the years before Lincoln’s presidency, focusing on his commitment to end slavery, his relationship with Ann Rutledge, and his sometimes overwhelming depression. Even though I question the Ann Rutledge account, you have to admit, sad love stories make great opera.

I haven’t seen this performance, but I would like to if it makes the rounds. After all, this is still Lincoln’s birthday anniversary year and the more tributes the better.

For more information on this, check out River of Time. And the next time you go South without a passport, remember who made it possible.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Three Worst Quotes of the Civil War and Why Lincoln Never Said Any of Them

Eloquence is made perfect by time, but so is folly. Take a look at the following quotes and see if time hasn’t added a certain irony to all of them:

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance"- Union General John Sedgwick spoke these words just moments before being shot dead by a confederate sniper at Spotsylvania.

Uh-oh. Just when you think it’s safe to brag. Now Lincoln would never have made a statement like this. Though he took risks, coming under sniper fire at least once at a fort in Washington, he knew his tall frame was an easy target and usually kept silent about the abilities of the enemy to shoot straight.

"Why not bury the dead in Lee’s backyard?" - Gen. Montgomery Meigs made this statement in a last spiteful effort to keep the Lees from returning to Arlington. His goal was to populate Mrs. Lee’s rose garden with the bodies of Union soldiers, making the grounds unlivable. What made him think that by burying corpses, he wasn’t helping out with the rose garden?

Lincoln would never have made this statement because he understood the ways of botany. Meigs himself supervised the burial of 26 Union soldiers in Mrs. Lee's rose garden. In October of 1864, Meigs' own son was killed in the war, and he too was buried at Arlington.

"That old man had my division massacred at Gettysburg." -George Pickett said these words about Robert E. Lee to John S. Mosby shortly after paying Lee a visit in Richmond. Perhaps the best answer to this was Mosby’s – "Well, it made you famous."

Lee was distraught over the failure of Pickett’s charge and blamed himself. Pickett’s effort to pass along more blame somehow doesn’t sit well. Lincoln would never have said this quote about his top general, because for a great part of the time his top general was George McClellan, who never had anybody massacred. In fact, when McClellan excused his lack of action in the fall of 1862 due to tired horses, Lincoln contributed his own infamous quote:

"Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigues anything?"

McClellan was removed from command shortly thereafter.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Celebrate Summer with Mr. Lincoln

If you’re looking for a great way to honor Abraham Lincoln during the Summer months, consider planting and cultivating the rose named after him – “Mr. Lincoln.”

Mr. Lincoln is a hybrid tea rose, but if that term sounds too delicate for you, catch a glimpse of the actual rose itself. The bloom is one of the truest shades of red in the business with a sturdy stem and a strong fragrance that won’t quit. I have one in the back yard that is doing quite well despite me.

Originally bred by Swim & Weeks in 1964, Mr. Lincoln was introduced into the United States by Conrad Pyle/Star Roses in 1965, just in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death.

Located in West Grove, Pennsylvania, Conrad Pyle is also a distributor in the United States for Meilland, the prominent French rose breeder. Conrad Pyle has a long history and at one time sold roses to the artist Claude Monet.

Many celebrities have roses named after them, but now so can you. Even as we speak, roses are waiting in the nursery to be named and loved by the right person. The process of breeding and naming a commemorative rose is not as off-limits as you think. I found a website that I thought was interesting, so here it is. Name That Rose. The process begins at 795 euros (about $1,113 American dollars), so make sure you really love yourself before doing this.

In the meantime, enjoy one of the finest tributes to Lincoln ever commissioned, and take time to stop and smell the roses.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Behold the Tecumseh Curse

So you don’t believe in curses. Consider this one. Every president elected in a zero year between 1840 and 1960 has died in office, some by assassination. Lincoln was one of these.

What’s so strange about this? Shawnee Chief Tecumseh’s brother is credited with making it happen. It all started with the Battle of 1811, when William Harrison successfully attacked Tecumseh’s village along the Tippecanoe River in an attempt to gain territory for white westward expansion.

Supposedly, Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet, set a curse against Harrison and future White House occupants who became president with the same end number as Harrison.

The result? Harrison, elected in 1840, died in office of pneumonia; Lincoln, elected in 1860, was assassinated; Garfield, elected in 1880, was assassinated; McKinley, elected in 1900, was assassinated; Harding, elected in 1920, died of a heart attack while in office; Roosevelt, elected in 1940, died of a stroke while in office; Kennedy, elected in 1960, was assassinated. But wait, what happened to Reagan, elected in 1980? Though he was attacked, he lived. According to some, he broke the curse.

This curse is also known as the curse of Tippecanoe, the zero-year curse, the twenty-year curse, and the twenty-year presidential jinx. Why in the world isn’t it called the Tenskwatawa curse, if he’s the one who pronounced it?

Also, how strange that one of Lincoln’s favorite generals, William Tecumseh Sherman, was named for the Prophet’s brother. What could that possibly mean? Nothing really, but I couldn’t resist bringing it up. If you want to know more about who really killed Lincoln (and all this time you thought it was Booth), check out The Tecumseh Curse and More Tecumseh Curse.

And remember, choose blessings, not curses.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Story Inside Lincoln's Watch

“Thank God we have a government.” These were the words watchmaker Jonathan Dillon secretly inscribed inside Lincoln’s gold pocket watch as he repaired it at the beginning of the Civil War.

Apparently unknown to Lincoln, these words stayed hidden until the watch was opened recently at the Smithsonian Museum to verify the story told by Dillon’s great-great grandson, Douglas Stiles.

Were the words there? Yes, they were, but Dillon had remembered them differently, embellishing the text for his progeny with a few more sentences – "The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try." That wasn’t in the watch at all.

So, the next time you need to repeat an important secret message, remember that even Lincoln’s jeweler got it wrong. To read the whole story, check out Lincoln' watch

Thanks to my usual great source for supplying me with this gem!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Two Presidents, One Temperament

Lincoln ranting and swearing? That’s hard to believe. And guess who drove him to it? George McClellan.

Lincoln had issued a war order calling for a movement of all land and naval forces on Washington 's Birthday, February 22. What a nice way to celebrate that day.

But instead of a frontal attack at Manassas Junction, McClellan wanted to float his army down the Chesapeake Bay, and march overland to Richmond before the Confederates could block him. Only trouble was, the canal boats carrying the men through a lock on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal were six inches too wide. When McClellan discovered the error, he did nothing.

According to journalist William O. Stoddard, Lincoln was beside himself. (Read all about it in Daniel Mark Epstein’s Lincoln’s Men). Addressing McClellan’s father-in-law, Lincoln yelled "Why in hell and damnation, General Marcy, couldn’t the General have known whether a boat would go through that lock, before he spent a million of dollars getting them there? I am no engineer but it seems to me that if I wished to know whether a boat would go thru a hole, or a lock, common sense would teach me to go and measure it."

I have this vision of McClellan getting off the boat with a tape measure, stringing it across the Chesapeake and Ohio canal lock and calling out "Six inches too short. Oh well."

But did George Washington ever lose his cool? Oh yes, and right on the battlefield. When Major General Charles Lee lost his nerve in pursuit of British troops at Monmouth Courthouse, Washington gave him a virulent "tongue lashing" right on the spot, questioning his loyalty, character and bravery. According to one soldier at the scene, he swore at him until the "leaves on the trees shook."

So what does all this say? Both men were low on patience when it came to commanders hesitating under pressure, but while Washington questioned Lee’s loyalty, Lincoln never did question McClellan’s. He only asked to borrow his army.

Happy President’s Day to you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Happy 200th Birthday, Abe

So how does it feel to be 200 years old? Fine, apparently. In 2009, Lincoln is looking more alive than ever. Who could have predicted that on this special birthday, we would have a President in office so devoted to Lincoln’s memory and ideals that the 1861 Bible would be re-used in an inauguration ceremony? In fact, Obama’s dedication to all things Lincoln has inspired new markets for memorabilia, leading right up to Christie’s auction house.

On February 12th, Christie's will put up for sale Lincoln's handwritten 1864 re-election victory speech, at an estimated value of $3 to $4 million. That’s right up there with Van Gogh’s Irises. See Christie’s Sells Lincoln.

In Kentucky, an artist has created a 200-tile mosaic of Lincoln out of his photos, portraits and images. Inspired by seeing a 1909 poster of Lincoln made out of 100 images to celebrate his centennial birthday, Jim Erskine, who lives near Hodgenville, decided to create a 200-tile poster for the bicentennial. Will a 300-tile poster appear in 2109? Check out 200 tiles.

To top it off, the U.S. Postal Service released four commemorative stamps on Feb. 9 to celebrate Lincoln’s 200th birthday. The stamps depict Lincoln as a rail splitter, lawyer, politician and president. See four stamps.

But maybe the best way of all to celebrate Lincoln’s 200th is by keeping alive the values he stood for. And remember, 200th birthdays are fun as long as you don’t have to blow out the candles.

Happy birthday, Abe!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Whatever Happened to John?

Back to the Surratts. And why not? Few families are shrouded in more mystery.

Perhaps the most mysterious member of that family was John. Where was John while Lincoln was being assassinated? In Elmira, New York, shopping apparently. He was such a sharp dresser, that clothing stores in Elmira competed for the honor of being his alibi – a sort of "John Surratt shopped here" advertising opportunity.

After Elmira, he was protected by a network of Catholic priests in – where else – Canada, until he could be hustled off to Europe. It is fair to say that there was more anti-Lincoln intrigue going on in Toronto and Montreal than in all the Southern States put together. In fact, if the St. Lawrence Hotel alone had closed its doors, the entire assassination conspiracy might have folded on the spot – to say nothing of the Confederate Secret Service Bureau going homeless.

In Rome, John became one of the Zouaves at the Vatican, until Pope Pius IX summarily kicked him back to America for trial – a wise decision considering the anti-Catholic feeling of the times.

Two trials followed, with John Surratt acquitted at both of them. Because he was in Elmira at the time of Lincoln’s assassination, he could not be linked to the scene of the crime. Now Vincent Bugliosi would have gotten around this nicely. Remember, Charles Manson wasn’t at the scene of the crime either and accurately claimed he "never killed anybody."

Where did John go with his new-found freedom? To South America, and ultimately to Baltimore, where he found a comfortable job at the Baltimore Steam Packet Company until his retirement at seventy-one.

Where did I get all this stuff? From Andrew Jampoler’s book, The Last Lincoln Conspirator. If you’ve got Surratts on the brain, as I obviously do, check out this book for some surprising facts about John’s life after Lincoln.

Jampoler, just as troubled as most historians by the fact that John did not stand by his mother during her trial and execution, grimly reminds his readers that if he had, there surely would have been a 5th body on the scaffold, and a mother-and-son execution even more disturbing than Mary’s alone. Some things are best left the way they stand.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Let's Do Lincoln's Lunch

As Inauguration Day approaches, more and more of Obama’s choices surface, and they are all about Lincoln. Not only has the president-elect chosen the same Bible Lincoln used for the swearing in, but he is selecting a luncheon of Lincoln’s favorite foods. This includes an impressive array of seafood appetizers such as shrimp, lobster and stewed oysters, followed by a main course of duck breast with sour-cherry chutney -- all served on replicas of Mary’s best china. See The full course and more full course.

Thank goodness he didn’t choose Lincoln’s favorite breakfast while in the White House – an egg with a biscuit and sometimes a glass of milk. Amazing what a war can do to your appetite.

The original burgundy velvet Bible he will be using was purchased and inscribed by William Thomas Carroll, clerk of the Supreme Court. It will be on display at the Library of Congress February 12 to May 9 as part of an exhibition titled "With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition." That exhibit will then travel to five other American cities in commemoration of the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth on Feb. 12, 1809. More on Lincoln’s Bible.

Other good stuff – Obama is also tracing the train route that Lincoln took and holding a welcome event at the Lincoln Memorial the Sunday before his inauguration.

Anything else? Oh yes! It's rumored that Obama intends to wear a top hat and grow a beard, but only time will tell if this is true.
Until then, enjoy the "new birth of freedom," complete with calories and recipes from the caterer.