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.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Run Silent, Run Slow; 2 Trains, 2700 Miles

During the month of April, two very famous trains made their way through history, one in 1865 and one in 1945. Both were carrying the bodies of presidents who lead the country through wars and both carried the grief of an entire nation.
Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train, known as "The Lincoln Special," made a 1700-mile journey from Washington, D.C. back to Springfield, Illinois, from April 21st to May 4, and carried not only Lincoln’s body, but that of his son Willie, who died at age 11 of typhoid.

Mary, who was too distressed to make the trip, insisted that Willie’s body be disinterred and sent along to join his father in Springfield. Robert Todd Lincoln and some 300 other people accompanied the two coffins on board. The train consisted of 9 cars and stopped for 11 national funerals en route to Springfield.

In April, 1945, FDR’s funeral train made a 3-day journey from Friday, April 13th, to Sunday, April 15th over some 1,000 miles from Warm Springs Georgia to Hyde Park. The train needed two locomotives to pull the 11 cars and broke down three times from the sheer weight of hauling some very luxurious Pullmans.

So many wreaths and flowers were given by cities along the stops that soldiers guarding the casket had little room to stand.

In Robert Klara’s book "FDR’s Funeral Train," the atmosphere and secrets of that troubled passage are hauntingly documented, and though he does not spend time making comparisons between Lincoln’s train and FDR’s, he does point out that Eleanor Roosevelt was chillingly aware of the timing of the two trains. Part of her sad journey was on the very day of Lincoln's assassination.

Other than that, the two trains keep separate lives. While Lincoln’s train has achieved phantom status, reportedly making its run every anniversary, so far FDR’s train has had no such repeated sightings.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"No man ever chooses to be a slave"

The Lincoln Traveling Exhibit has reached my local library! Launched in 2009 to coincide with Lincoln’s 200th birthday celebration, the exhibit continues to travel through 2010, bringing a chilling story to the eyes of anyone willing to take the time to look.

"Forever Free: Abraham Lincoln’s Journey to Emancipation" chronicles Lincoln’s life and career through an illustrated timeline on a series of sturdy, free-standing panels.

In just a short walk, you can see how closely Lincoln’s life paralleled the life of slavery in America. In fact, from his first political speech to his last conscious thought at Ford’s Theater, Lincoln’s life can be told almost solely through the landmark decisions leading up to the abolition of slavery.

But the journey is much more than that. It is about Lincoln’s own growth from someone who was willing to tolerate slavery to keep the Union together, to someone who deeply understood that no Union could survive while any of its citizens were not free. This realization was ultimately Lincoln’s own emancipation. But reaching that conclusion, which seems so obvious to us today, was a hard personal and national struggle.

The most vital quote for me was Lincoln’s response to those who claimed that slavery had some good in it, especially for the slave. Lincoln reminded his listeners that we are creatures who know how to choose good things for ourselves, yet no man has ever voluntarily put himself under the yoke of slavery. His bleak reminder still speaks from the wall of a silent panel in the 21st Century: "No man ever chooses to be a slave."

How wonderful it is to have access to this exhibit now, just as Lincoln’s birthday approaches in 2010. It is a fine reminder not to take for granted what others fought so hard to define – the value of freedom.

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.