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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, seated, with 2 of his officers, photographed by Mathew Brady in April, 1865, following Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Richmond, Virginia.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, seated, with 2 of his officers, photographed by Mathew Brady in April, 1865, following Lee's surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House in Richmond, Virginia.

At daylight on April 10, 1865, the firing of 500 cannons spread the news throughout Washington, D.C.,  that the War Between the States was over and the Union preserved. The cannons were so loud that they broke windows on Lafayette Square, the neighborhood around the White House. (1) “Guns are firing, bells ringing, flags flying, bands playing, men laughing, children cheering – all, all jubilant,” wrote Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells. (2)

Expecting the president to make a speech, several thousand people gathered outside the White House. President Lincoln was not sure what to say as he was planning on giving a formal address the following evening.Just then, his twelve-year-old son Tad appeared at a second-floor window, waving a captured Confederate flag. It gave the president an idea. He asked the Marine Band to play a favorite tune of his, “Dixie,” the unofficial Confederate anthem.

“I have always thought ‘Dixie” one of the best tunes I ever heard,” he told the surprised crowd. “It is good to show the rebels that with us they will be free to hear it again.”

True to the promise he made in his second inaugural address, Lincoln was already trying to bind up the nation’s wounds.
 
Now let’s hear Elvis Presley sing “Dixie.”

(1) White, Ronald C. A. Lincoln. (New York: Random House, 2009)

(2) Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. (New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2008)

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Willie Lincoln

Willie Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was deeply interested in psychic phenomena. Following the death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, (1850-1862) of typhoid fever, Lincoln was consumed with grief. He was persuaded by wife Mary to participate in several séances held in the White House. Mary believed that professional mediums could pierce the veil between this life and the next, thus allowing her and her husband to communicate with their dead son. Once Lincoln attended a seance in which a piano lifted up and moved around the room. It was in the opinion of the mediums who worked with President Lincoln that he was definitely “the possessor of extraordinary psychic powers.” (1)

Séances became popular during and after the Civil War as Americans longed to reconnect with their many loved ones killed in the violence of the Civil War

Séances became popular in the mid-to-late 19th Century as Americans longed to reconnect with their many loved ones killed in the Civil War.

The day after his first election to the presidency in 1860, Lincoln called his good friend journalist Noah Brooks (1830-1903) into his office. He had been startled by a vision of seeing two of his faces at once in a mirror and wanted to tell Brooks about it. Brooks made a written record of the conversation, later including it in his White House memoirs, Washington in Lincoln’s Time (1895). Adapted from Brooks’ work, these are Lincoln’s words:

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Mathew Brady, February 27, 1860

It was just after my election in 1860, when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day and there had been a great “hurrah, boys,” so that I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it (and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position), and looking in that glass I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time, plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler — say five shades — than the other.

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner, February 5, 1865

Abraham Lincoln photographed by Alexander Gardner, February 5, 1865

I got up, and the thing melted away, and I went off, and in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home again that night I told my wife about it, and a few days afterward I made the experiment again, when (with a laugh), sure enough! the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a “sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term. 

(1) Wallenchinsky, David and Wallace, Irving. The People’s Almanac (New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1975)

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Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869)

Lincoln's Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (1814-1869)


Much has been made of Democratic President Obama’s attempt to incorporate a Republican into his cabinet, a move that today’s political pundits liken to an overture made by the President Lincoln when, in 1862, he appointed Democrat Edwin Stanton as secretary of war in his Republican administration. Stanton was not just Lincoln’s political opponent, he was one of his most scathing critics, referring to the “imbecility” of the Lincoln administration’s handling of the Civil War. Not only that, he and Lincoln had met on another occasion – in a courtroom six years earlier – and Stanton had treated Lincoln with surly condescension.

During that case, Stanton headed a team of lawyers that included Lincoln that challenged Cyrus McCormack’s patent on the reaper. Nationally-renowned patent lawyer George Harding was another member of that same team. Harding never forgot the first time he caught sight of Abraham Lincoln arriving at the Burnet House in Cincinnati where the lawyers were lodged. Lincoln approached Harding and Stanton. Harding described Lincoln as a

“tall, rawly-boned, ungainly back woodsman, with coarse, ill-fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle.” (1)

Lincoln introduced himself to the two men, saying,

“Let’s go up in a gang.”

Both Stanton and Harding were shocked that this country bumpkin was part of their team. Stanton pulled Harding aside, whispering,

“Why did you bring that d____d long armed Ape here?”

Though the three of them spent a week together in trial and stayed at the same hotel, neither Harding nor Stanton asked Lincoln to join them for a meal or go with them to or from court. The brief Lincoln prepared for use in the trial was never even opened by Harding and Stanton. The judge presiding over the trial hosted a dinner for both teams of lawyers yet Lincoln was not invited.

Yet, in 1862, Lincoln set aside his ego and offered Stanton “the most powerful civilian post” – the post of secretary of war. Stanton accepted the position only to “help save the country.” While Stanton was hot-tempered and brusque, Lincoln recognized his brilliance and ability. Over the three years of their working relationship, Stanton and Lincoln grew close.

On the night of Lincoln’s assassination, Edwin Stanton was alerted. When he arrived at the Petersen boardinghouse across from Ford’s Theatre, he found that the president had been placed diagonally across a bed to accommodate his large frame. Lincoln was stripped of his shirt. “His large arms were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance,” noted Stanton’s companion. Edwin Stanton and the other cabinet members except for Seward were present when President Lincoln was pronounced dead at 7:22 a.m. on April 15, 1865. Stanton’s tribute at that moment is still with us today.

“Now he belongs to the ages,” Stanton said of Lincoln.

Death Bed of Lincoln

Death Bed of Lincoln

Throughout that long night when the president had lingered between life and death, the task had fallen to Secretary of War Stanton to alert the generals. Coolly and with self-possession, Stanton dictated numerous dispatches. But when the president was pronounced dead, Stanton could bear his grief no longer. He could not stop the tears from flowing down his face. No one could control his grief that long night. One witness observed, “there was not a soul present that did not love the president.”

But “Stanton’s grief was uncontrollable,” recalled Horace Porter, “and,” some time later, “at the mention of Mr. Lincoln’s name, he would break down and weep bitterly.” (1) Stanton later wrote that he came to love Lincoln more than any other person outside of his immediate family.

(1) Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

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