John McCardell is so busy as Chair of the Vermont Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, running the non-profit alcohol awareness program "Choose Responsibility," serving as a Director of the American Civil War Center, and as a trustee at Vermont Public Radio, Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia and Washington and Lee University, among his other pursuits, that he was still scribbling his closing remarks to the conference even after he finished speaking. Come to think of it, he did the same thing at the 2007 conference.
McCardell related that since Vermont had “no public funding” for Lincoln Bicentennial events, Yankee ingenuity came to the fore and found a creative way to honor the nation’s sixteenth President’s birthday. On February 12th, at twelve noon, every city, town, and hamlet throughout the Green Mountain state rang bells. I’m not casting dispersions on New Hampshire, but those neighboring residents probably thought the bells were warning of another Confederate raid on St. Albans.
Vermont, we were reminded, had the highest per capita causality rate of the war, With the smallest African-American population in the country at present, McCardlell lamented the fact that the crowd that gathered at the Vermont State House for observances was exclusively white. He pointed to the low minority representation at the ACWC conference, but said that in both cases “we tried to get it right.”
Reflecting on John's statement, the fact that those who attended the conference were overwhelming white had been a concern raised by an attendee at an earlier session. But it’s important to point out that the professional staff of the ACWC and its Board of Directors are a racially mixed group. Too, the ACWC is the only museum of its type that consciously strives to present the African-American story in balance with the Union and Confederacy.
The audience was given a brief period of time to consider this question: “If you were writing a history of the South, where would you begin?” According to McCardell, “There’s no set answer. But where one began would be based on their perception of the Civil War.”
“Unlike us, Lincoln did not know how it turned out. But we chose, each in our way, to get it right in Lincoln, regardless if we define him as demonic, a statesmen, or a reconciliationist.” Ultimately, “we hope to find him in the better nature of ourselves.”
Food for thought; enough food delivered over a three-day period to keep my mind occupied during the 135-mile drive to Lexington, Virginia. Stay tuned for an “unrepentant” Yankee’s first visit to the Confederacy’s own version of Mecca.
Books by John McCardell:
According to James McPherson
, who chaired the session, there was a marked contrast in how white Southern Unionists and whites that supported the Confederacy viewed Lincoln. Unionists deemed him “their champion,” while the majority categorized him as the “devil incarnate.” Years later, as old antagonisms gave way to reconciliation, Southerners “wanted to own part of Lincoln also.” In 1922, when the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated, “lots of Southern whites were on the platform,” while the “one black speaker was put off to the side.”
I’m an unabashed fan of David Blight
, who teaches at Yale. I’ve read a number of his books and finally discovered W.E.B. DuBois based on his recommendation. This was my third opportunity to hear him speak in person.
In 1882, an unrepentant and still defiant Jefferson Davis declared, “I would distrust any Confederate who gave an impartial account of the war.” Blight followed by saying that “Lincoln haters are sometimes more interesting in their outrageousness,” than those who reflect positively on the man.
Kate Stone of Louisiana, who had three brothers fight for the Confederacy, reflected in her diary, when the news of Lincoln’s death reached her on May 18th: “Conquered, subjugated, doomed. Submission to the Union. How we hate the word. Many in the South weep for his death. We are glad he is not alive to laud it over us.”
A former slave named “Granny,” who was sold away from her four children in North Carolina and gave birth to a fifth fathered by her South Alabama owner, had her words recorded in 1909. She said that she cried when her master’s son died in the Confederate army and that she kept a photo of Lincoln on her mantle. “I love that face. I love it. Those eyes, they follow me. I love those eyes. He was so kind. He made me and every one else free.” Lincoln’s portrait in an old black woman’s home was not unusual, “thousands and thousands of former slaves had Lincoln’s portrait over the fireplace.”
Southern memory is divided on Lincoln and Blight sorts them into four distinct categories:
The demonic Lincoln. “A savage, a widow maker, destroyer of Southern liberty, and the creator of big government.”
Lincoln the moderate: a magnanimous healer. The second paragraph of his second inaugural speeches touches on this when he uses the words “charity to all.” This category was “useful to Southern reconciliation” and for the men “who wanted to create a new South.
Lincoln the segregationist: which has been “appropriated by one group.”
Lincoln the transcendent: Woodrow Wilson was quoted as saying, “Because I love the South, I rejoice in its defeat.” Lincoln was “the supreme figure of American history,” a man admired for “rising by his bootstraps and a man of the people.”
Returning to the subject of Lincoln haters, Blight intimated they aimed at “character assassination.” Leading the charge early on was Mildred Rutherford, “a one woman wrecking crew, who took it upon herself “to destroy the image of Lincoln.” Blight related that he had combed through her notebooks at the Museum of the Confederacy and the ferocity of her attack belied the carefully crafted public image of warmth and Southern belle charm. Lyon G. Tyler, the President of William and Mary College and the son of the tenth President John Tyler, was another attack dog. He labeled Lincoln “a criminal, especially for the Emancipation Proclamation. He blamed Lincoln for everything, including lynching and the KKK.” Ironically he died on Lincoln’s birthday in 1935. “Modern haters” are led by right wing Libertarians, “primarily economists,” such as Thomas DiLorenzo. “Their target is big government,” and what better target than Lincoln, “the creator of big government.”
The questions that are important to Southerners today in Blight’s estimation include whether Lincoln started the war; what course Reconstruction would have taken had he lived; and if Lincoln fits the bill as a racist and segregationist.
, a native Virginian, teaches at the University of North Carolina. One of his favorite puzzling questions from a student was: “Did the Yankees almost lose the Civil War because they wore woolen uniforms that were too hot for the South?”
Brundage had a great-aunt who, while alive, refused to ride in a Lincoln automobile. As a child his family moved to Lincoln, Virginia, a Quaker community named after the sixteenth President. “Relatives asked why.”
In the first years after the war, “Lincoln was all black community leaders talked about.” They felt all blacks “should be attached to Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation.” That attachment was questioned in 1888 when an African-American minister speaking at Clark University in Atlanta admonished his audience to “temper their admiration of Lincoln,” that he, like other whites “had been slow to recognize the rights of blacks.” Five years later the Atlanta Constitution "mocked blacks for celebrating Emancipation Day.”
“Blacks took comfort in the image of Lincoln breaking the shackles of slavery.” By the late 1800’s and early 1900’s many accepted that slavery “had been part of God’s plan, as was the destruction of slavery.” The Emancipation Proclamation “documented God’s plan” and many were heard to say, “This is the Lord’s work.”
“Lincoln had caught the approving eye of heaven.” Lincoln was “divine will,” “God speaking in answer to our mother’s and father’s prayers;” “God was whispering his song in Lincoln’s ear.” “It matters not what is said about Lincoln freeing the slaves, we love him for it.”
Lincoln was exalted as one of the icons of African-American freedom, in league with men such as Crispus Attucks. Free men and former slaves came to believe “there has not been a historical event in this country which has lacked the handprint of blacks.”
from Boston University positioned her usual bright and cheery self behind the podium, drawing applause when she announced she was the only speaker on the morning panel not suffering from a cold, adding, “Sometimes when you’re the last speaker you wind up saying ditto.”
“Lincoln’s assassination didn’t generate the same level of grieving in the South,” which was under Federal occupation and “under pressure to keep their emotions in check, though “privately they may have celebrated.” One unnamed person vented their feelings in a letter by writing “I can see the image of Lincoln standing over the coffins of our soldiers.”
Edmund Ruffin, who blew his brains out rather than submit to Northern domination, called Lincoln “low bred” and “vulgar.” Edward A. Pollard, who coined the term “The Lost Cause,” stated that Lincoln’s legacy was the creation of a “despotic style” of government.
A more significant trend was one that emerged from those favoring the creation of a "new South." The proponents actively sought to improve the “economic climate” by seeking out Northern investment, sought a change in the “cultural climate” by forgetting sectional differences, and worked hand in hand with the North to shape the “racial climate.”
Efforts were soon underway to “makeover” and cultivate a new image of Lincoln for Southerners. Henry Grady advanced Lincoln as the “son of Puritans and Cavaliers.” Lincoln, according to Silber, “had to become more Southern,” and cheerleaders “had to separate him from the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln had to be whitened.” Writers, filmmakers, and politicians concluded that his “racially enlightened sympathies had to be stripped away.” The task was made easier simply by looking at his writings “to find support for this.” Thomas Dixon, who wrote “The Klansmen,” later brought to the screen as D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” contains no quotes by Lincoln, “yet people repeated over and over” a line born from Dixon’s imagination. Cameron, a character in the film, is heard to lament, “Our best friend is gone. What are we to do now?” when learning of Lincoln’s death.
The Lincoln Memorial dedication was “a visual showcase for Lincoln as a man of reconciliation.” Yet there is “nothing on the Memorial that makes reference to the Emancipation Proclamation.” His words at Gettysburg and second inaugural speech are both highlighted though.
John Ford’s 1939 film “Young Mr. Lincoln,” which spanned 1837 to the pre-election period, “avoids the war and questions of emancipation.” His “Southern qualities were accentuated,” such as when he’s heard whistling Dixie while riding a mule. Silber pointed out that the song was not written until after the time suggested in the film. One of Henry Fonda’s lines would have also resonated with a Pro-Southern audience, “With all the slaves coming in honest folks can’t make a living.” The film’s purpose was clear to all who viewed it; it was “a story of reconciliation.”
Some questions and comments:
Comment: “Honest white men referenced” in Ford’s film encapsulates the feeling that whites didn’t want to compete with slave labor.”
: "It’s the only time slavery is mentioned in Young Lincoln. The perception is correct though."
: Another film was “The Littlest Rebel” with Shirley Temple. Lincoln is shown in a scene in which Shirley begs for her father’s life. “Lincoln comprehends more than anyone else how terrible war is.”
Comment: In 1837 Lincoln made an economic argument against slavery. Later by the time of the Civil War he didn’t seem to have progressed.
: "Lincoln always saw slavery as a moral and economic issue. He opposed it on humanitarian grounds and reaffirmed the natural rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. He believed social rights should be determined by the states. They may seem incompatible today, but were for the times. If he had equated natural and social rights, politically he would have been dead in the water."
Question: Is there anywhere else in the world a defeated people have been so honored?
: “Confederate statues were erected in an effort to prevent the victor from writing the history. There was a sense of urgency to maintain their [Confederate] history.”
: “It’s difficult to explain Monument Avenue [in Richmond] to German friends. Their response was ‘but they lost.’ “
To view books by panel members, click "Read More"
The product of pubic education, I was the classic underachiever from the ninth through twelfth grades; a quiet kid lost in ovesized classes taught by uninspiring teachers. Ask me the names of any of my high school teachers and I can recall one, Miss Wardell, and only because she wore short skirts and had killer legs. Since then, I’ve kept a fairly close and sometimes jaundiced eye turned on public schools. While I know there are excellent public systems, including Fairfax County, Virginia, and Howard and Montgomery counties in Maryland in the DC area, I wonder why our Nation's Capitol, which has one of the highest per pupil expenditures in the country, has such a chronically lousy school system and why my own County has continued to rack up the second lowest test scores in the entire Maryland educational system. I know the issues are more complex than simply placing the burden of failure on the shoulders of teachers. But when I look an elementary school in Mt. Vernon, NY, where 80 per cent of students receive subsidized breakfast and lunches, I ask myself, if the kids there can achieve the highest academic test performance scores in Westchester County, NY on an annual basis, why can't other underperforming public schools achieve the same results. I wonder, too, why so many kids in the foster care system are prescribed psychotropic medications and are disproportionately represented in special education classrooms.
I guess my editorial position, curiosity, and love of history all worked in combination to rouse me early on a Saturday morning in order to attend Kevin Levin
’s “Teacher’s Affinity Breakfast,” billed as an opportunity for history teachers from all educational levels to eat scrambled eggs, sip coffee, and talk over their own experiences as educators in a learning environment.
Kevin, who teaches Advanced Placement history at a small Christian based private K-12 school in Charlottesville, Virginia and authors the “Civil War Memory
" blog, went around the room for introductions, asking breakfast participants to talk a little about their backgrounds and their earliest perception of Lincoln or the Civil War. He volunteered first, relating that he grew up in New Jersey with a picture of Lincoln displayed in the living room and, until he got older, thought Lincoln was a relative.
Alonzo, who teaches at a Community College, was a product of D.C.’s segregated schools and remembers that Lincoln was “a great hero” to his mother, who originally hailed from Memphis. Ray, from Petersburg, had his own childhood heroes in Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, but admitted “Lincoln is getting to be a better guy.” Laurie, who teaches at a private elementary school in Richmond, remembered little from her childhood except Confederate flags, but always viewed Lincoln as a “good guy, a noble guy, even though he was on wrong side.” Diane, whose parents were immigrants, teaches a 5th grade ESL class in Neptune, NJ, and has a recollection of visiting Gettysburg as a three- year-old, where she crawled on cannons. Frank, the Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage, was born in Canada and remembers half the boys at his elementary school wearing Union caps, the other half Confederate. He “didn’t know why” he wore gray. Mark, the Education Director at the American Civil War Center, "sensed Lincoln’s greatness" when he was "in the second grade." Paula, a native of Connecticut and currently working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum, where she’s “the resident Yankee,” related that hero worship of Lincoln was genetic, as her father admired Lincoln. Matt, her son, who teaches history at Thomas Jefferson high school in Richmond, carries that same genetic trait, relating that Lincoln was both a “heroic figure” and “a uniter.”
Kevin then threw out the question as to what they, as educators, wanted their current crop of students to come away with when teaching about Lincoln. Frank responded Lincoln Cottage staff have ninety minutes to get their message through, essentially that “Lincoln adapted to change, while maintaining his ideals.” He’s constantly worrying about the last thoughts of visitors and whether that mission has been accomplished as they conclude their tour.
Alonzo’s classes are populated by a majority of African and Caribbean immigrants who put Jefferson and Lincoln in the same category, as idealists and hypocrites. “In the world of the 18th and 19th centuries, no one could conceive of a Condoleezza Rice. It was outside their perspective and time, when most Americans saw no contradiction between democracy and white supremacy.” His African-American history students “have very strong revisionist views,” and repeatedly point to Lincoln’s negative “utterances in the Lincoln-Douglas debates and during his Presidency.”
Kevin wondered about how personal biases influence teachers. “We want to be honest with history. We’re trying to create positive citizens and want them to come away with a positive image.” Diane contrasted Kevin’s ideal to the fact her students have “very black and white ideas of who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy.” She sometimes struggles with kids who “have trouble distinguishing what side Lincoln was on.” Laurie cautioned that teachers “can foster apathy when they don’t teach with passion.” Kevin, in turn, volunteered that his passion sometimes needs to be reigned in, like the time a student, who had relocated from Chicago, muttered in a moment of exasperation, “Enough of Lee. When do we get to Grant? He saved the Union.”
What turned out to be as interesting as those exchanges was weighing the differences between a private and public school high school teacher. Kevin is allowed to develop his own history curriculum and opts out of using "a 1,000 page textbook written by five guys." Instead he selects the books for his students to read over the course of a half-year of Civil War study. Matt, following specified guidelines about what students are expected to learn, compresses the Civil War into two weeks of teaching, the same amount of time he’s obliged to devote to the Second World War. It leaves me wondering if Kevin and Matt’s students would voluntarily change places if given the opportunity.
We were all warned by Emory Thomas
, the session’s Chair and Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, never to venture into a restaurant William J. Cooper
, Professor of History at Louisiana State University, frequents; the wait staff has a tendency to congregate around his table listening to his stories, while ignoring other customers.
Cooper, who has concentrated on Jefferson Davis, opened by saying that “Asking me to speak on Lincoln causes a certain amount of trepidation with the presence of Lincoln scholars in the room.”
Lincoln, who assumed office after being elected with the smallest popular vote total since Andrew Jackson, “couldn’t believe the South would actually rebel” and thereby “missed the dangers of secession.” Lincoln would “hold firm to his principles” even with the country splitting apart. In February 1861, with the Confederacy established, Lincoln “remained steadfastly opposed to compromise.”
Lincoln “lacked understanding of the South. Secession had nothing to do with what he said or what Republicans did.” Cooper wondered aloud why Lincoln was “tone deaf” to Southerners. Perhaps because he believed a “Slave Power conspiracy” was seeking “to take control of the government.” He certainly “lashed out on the stump,” warning all within range of his voice, the U.S. Supreme Court “would make Illinois a slave State.” “No Southern leader advocated that.”
Cooper argued, “Lincoln was totally ignorant of the South.” After his boat trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans he “never traveled to the South.” He “had no one to educate him to the South,” and as a result “no understanding or comprehension of a slave society.” Following his November 1860 election Lincoln did try to reassure the South that he had no intention of interfering with their way of life or slavery where it existed.
Contrary to what is a widely accepted notion, Alexander Stephens and Lincoln had no contact after the latter left Congress in 1849. The idea that Stephens was a fire-eater goes up in a puff of smoke when hearing Cooper relate “Stephens urged Georgians to delay succession, not because he had faith in Republicans not to interfere, but because he had faith in Congress.”
While Lincoln spoke to the people in the South in his first inaugural address through his declaration “I am not your enemy,” he lacked “first hand knowledge of the South, had no friends in the South,” and lastly, there is “no evidence he was knowledgeable of Southern politics.”
, who teaches at the University of Cincinnati, doesn’t quite know where his loyalties lie; to his alma mater Georgia or to his adopted home state of Ohio. It’s a question that vexes him and leaves him bordering on the edge of neutrality, in spite of efforts by Bull Dogs and Bearcats to involve him on their side in an ongoing dispute.
Phillips’ particular focus has centered on the Border States, which “provided manpower, horses, mules, and protection of waterways,” as well as “a buffer to Abolitionists.” Lincoln took strong measures to ensure their loyalty, including the promotion of generals from those states, most of whom were “Pro-war Democrats” and “awarded them considerable latitude.” While there was a grudging acceptance of the Border States initial desire to maintain neutrality, by July 1861 “a declaration of neutrality was viewed as bordering on treasonous.” Such declarations “did not help to shore up the Union,” as manpower was needed from each.
Lincoln quashed the emancipation orders of John Fremont and David Hunter, because they threatened to push the Border States into the Confederacy. Lincoln’s mantra of “To lose Kentucky is to lose the whole game,” was an assessment that the Union couldn’t afford to have regiments from Border States marching beneath the Stars and Bars.
Lincoln viewed compensated emancipation as “the cheapest and surest way to end slavery.” If the Border States accepted this proposal, then the South might follow their example and return to the fold. Lincoln was rebuffed, the Border States primary objection based on the fact “they would have to deal with a large free black population.” Lincoln later tried to “appeal to Border States to accept compensation before slavery was eradicated without compensation. Days later, after rejection, the second Confiscation Act was announced.
Excluding the Border States from the Emancipation Proclamation, in Lincoln’s mind, would allow continued stabilization. Had they been included destabilization would have followed.
If you’re an alum of any A.C.C. member school then you’ll understand “Fear the Turtle.” I don’t know though if there’s any truth to the rumor that History majors at the University of Maryland taught by Professor Leslie Rowland
have recoded it for their own use and whisper to one another “Fear the Rowland.”
Southerners and Lincoln had their own misconceptions of one another. Lincoln clearly stated he “had no designs on slavery” where it existed and reiterated this in his first inaugural speech, where he repeated, “I have no purpose or intent to interfere with the institution of slavery.”
So, where, Rowland asked, did slaves’ ideas of equating Lincoln and Republicans with emancipation come from? Rowland pointed to the slave owners themselves. If an owner was opposed to Lincoln and condemned both he and the Republican Party, slaves sensed their victory would ultimately lead to freedom. Robert Tombs of Georgia, for example, who had a number of slaves run away, declared the main purpose of the Republican Party was “to eradicate slavery” and, once free, “blacks would rise to equality” with white men. Wilson of Virginia, too, equated Lincoln’s election with social, economic, and political equality for blacks, who were “inferior and not capable of equality.”
Slave contact with Union soldiers as guides and informants of Confederate troop movements and locations also contributed to raising their consciousness of freedom. Contrabands, who initially volunteered to help with manual labor, soon “began questioning why the Union did not have them serve in the army.” One Union officer wrote home, “Negroes are our friends. We couldn’t be successful without them.”
Rowland pointed out that early in the war myths and realities intersected with the purpose and prosecution of the war. The North operated under the assumption that “Southerners’ belief in secession was shallow.” The reality was that “Unionism was not wide spread.” The Union’s initial policy of safe guarding Southern property came under the increasing criticism by soldiers, who deemed “it made no sense.” Nor did the policy of returning slaves to their owners. The help offered by slaves entering Union lines led to the “Union adopting a policy of emancipation as a war goal.”
Some questions from the audience, some answers from the panel:
In 1860 Southern Democrats walked out of the Democratic national convention, virtually guaranteeing Lincoln’s election.
: It was a tactical move to walk out that backfired on them. Southerners believed they had a Constitutional right to own slaves, which was supported by Supreme Court decisions.
Question to Cooper: You said the South was willing to compromise. Lincoln was willing to compromise by calling for a Constitutional Convention, to enforce the Fugitive Slave law, and had a conciliatory tone in his inaugural speech. What else could Lincoln have done?
Cooper: Most of what Lincoln did he did in secret and after he took office.
Question: Southerners were born with the right to vote. Their fathers and grandfathers had a right to vote. Think about the right to vote being taken away and something so dear as holding slaves being taken away.
: The extension of slavery was symbolic of the future. Northerners felt the South was trying “to tell us we have to have slaves in the territories.” Southerners felt just the opposite. "Slavery had to expand in order for it to survive. The mass concentration of slaves drove the price down." Too, Southerners had dominated the Presidency, Supreme Court, and Senate. They were "accustomed to power" and “expected to have a dominant role” in America.
: Northerners were of a mindset that the “Slave power” was "suppressing, intimidating, and influencing Southern whites by keeping information out" and that the South was “starting to move against the civil liberties of the North.
Question: What kept white Southerners in the fight, even when they were losing?
: "The idea of not letting their comrades down, the idea that they were fighting for their homes and honor"…In their darkest hour, when defeat began staring them in the face, "the Confederate soldier talked about the American Revolution," how that Rebellion was “in a terrible state,” and how the same applied to the War of 1812. Hope was maintained because of the fact that "after one major defeat the British quit"…When talk turned to enlisting slaves into the Confederate army there was "strong opposition." The Confederate soldier “couldn’t envision the South without slaves,” which would lead to “racial competition.”
Note: to see books written by panel members click "Read More"
I’m going to disappoint if you’re looking for the latest installment on the Lincoln and the South conference. I’ll be back with more summaries soon, but first, if you’ll allow me, I have to finish this cup of coffee before I roll out the door to attend the Surratt Society’s 10th annual conference. This year’s theme: “Lincoln’s Assassination: All Things Considered.” What I can tell you, I have extra vacation time and received a discount to the conference for being a member. You could have had a conference discount too if you had been willing to pay the seven dollars a year membership fee to the Surratt Society
, you cheap s.o.b.
What, no coffee? That most popular request would be met on Saturday morning and proved to be the only complaint aired during the conference.
Charles B. Dews
, History Professor at Williams College, was the Chair of the morning panel. Having heard Dews present at the 2007 ACWC conference and having read “Apostles of Disunion,” I’ve come to look forward to what he has to say on any given occasion.
Slavery was woven into fabric of the South, influencing its economy, politics, and labor system, which was “worth billions.” Slavery was not only vital to the Southern economy, but also employed as a “means of social control.” However, fear permeated throughout; fear of “Abolitionists” who “had to be guarded against to prevent them from infiltrating thoughts” and a “palpable” fear of slave insurrection.
, a History Professor at Anderson University is currently writing a book on Lincoln and race, scheduled for publication in 2010. He’s solely responsible for the content of the A. Lincoln blog
, including what constituted Lincoln’s greatest “flubs.”
Convention dictated that a candidate seeking out the office of President didn’t campaign. Lincoln’s letters, however, quite clearly “show him itching to speak out.” In one he asked the intended recipient “would people lynch me?” Later, thinking better of the remark, he said he intended it as a joke. Lynching might have been a real possibility had he ventured south with his views, because “what people feared was that Lincoln was a Black Republican, who threatened the racial order.”
Biographers have pointed to Lincoln’s father, Thomas, as being an early influence on his son’s anti-slavery stance. Lincoln claimed his father moved from Kentucky due to land titling issues, not as a result of his abhorrence to slavery. In fact, as Dirck points out, very little is known about Thomas Lincoln’s worldview. By virtue of his Kentucky roots, Lincoln would have been necessarily exposed to anti-slavery ministers, but even their impact is questionable due to the fact he was only eight when the family moved. Nothing, however, would have set him apart as a child with regard to his views on slavery.
Lincoln’s family would have tagged with the label of “white trash.” According to Dirck, slaves first coined the term. There are references to its use among Baltimore dockworkers and this slang even found its way into an early American novel. It generally came to mean “extremely poor white farmers living in the back country, who had no motivation to improve,” drank whiskey freely, and exhibited “odd mannerisms and odd dress.” Lincoln’s upbringing has been widely “romanticized” as the story of the “country boy who makes good.” The reality was that “Lincoln rebelled against all facets of white trash,” admittedly hating farm labor. He was ambitious with a burning desire to “get off the farm” and seek his fortune as a riverboat pilot. He “worked to shed the image of his past.” Dirck speculated that Lincoln’s lifelong abstention from the use of alcohol “stemmed from his desire to get away from the stereotypical image of the hard drinking hillbilly.”
, Professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts, is working on a book about one of my personal heroes, Charles Sumner. Catching up to her during a break, we agreed that David Donald’s 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning biography “Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War” paints a very unflattering portrait.
Lincoln had “a consistent anti-slavery record, believing it was founded on injustice.” As a Congressman he voiced opposition to the Mexican-American War on the grounds that it was “a land grab” aimed at the extension of the peculiar institution. “If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.”
The South equated the end of slavery with racial amalgamation. Lincoln, remarking on this fear, during his debates with Stephen Douglas, argued, “While he wouldn’t want a female slave, he wouldn’t take one for a wife.” Whereas Democrats “denied the manhood of slaves,” Lincoln countered that the Declaration of Independence “embraced slaves and blacks,” that they had a right to labor as free men and eat of the bread earned by that labor. Still, while he believed in emancipation, he supported the colonization of blacks, based on his belief the “country couldn’t support the two races living side by side.”
The evolution of the man is readily apparent when considering that Lincoln 's views progressed from favoring colonization, to issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, to speaheading what would eventually turn out to be “the largest confiscation of property in U.S. history;” three billion dollars worth of confiscation. Lincoln's evolution would ultimately transform him into "an icon of black freedom.”
That the North had undergone its own evolution is found in the words of Wendell Phillips, a leading abolitionist lost to the pages of history, who, reflecting on the 1864 election, stated “slaves for the first time elected the President of the United States.” Manisha closed by rightfully concluding, “Lincoln was the first American President to endorse black Civil Rights.”
, a former History Professor at Connecticut College and Co-Chair of that State’s Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, conceded readers would need a forklift to help tote his two volume biography “Abraham Lincoln – A Life.”
Frederick Douglass declared in an 1865 speech that Lincoln was “the black man’s President.” Burlingame concurs, declaring that Lincoln “can be considered as much a martyr to the Civil Rights movement as 1960’s Civil Rights workers.”
Through his research, Burlingame has identified over 200 anonymous letters Lincoln wrote to editors in the 1820’s and 30’s, a fair number devoted to “belittling Democrats” for being soft on the issue of slavery. In 1836, however, he wrote “a number of pieces against Van Buren, damning the President’s support for limited black suffrage. The irony, as Burlingame sees it, is that he got on Van Buren for something he himself would later be murdered for.
Burlingame believes that Lincoln “unconsciously identified with slaves.” The property of his father until he turned twenty-one, he was subjected to backbreaking labor without material reward for that labor. Endowed with an “unusually sensitive conscience and offended by cruelty to animals,” it would necessarily follow that Lincoln, in combination with his own life experiences, would oppose an institution that failed to reward work and was inherently cruel.
Books by Charles B. Dews
Books by Brian Dirck
Books by Manisha Sinha
Books by Michael Burlingame
The conference’s only scheduled full day kicked off Friday morning with welcoming remarks from the American Civil War Center’s President Christy Coleman. On the off chance she might read this I’ll throw a bouquet her way by saying she’s poised, enthusiastic, and knows how to embrace an audience. She related a story in which a Letter to the Editor in a Richmond newspaper asked “why the fuss” over the 16th President. A week later a second letter appeared in response, in which the author wrote, “Here’s why,” and then went on to list the reasons. Christy summed up the two letters by remarking, “It’s amazing the debate is still going on today.”
You should know the name Edward Ayers, who was given the honor of delivering the Keynote address. Currently President of the University of Richmond, he’s been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and was awarded the Bancroft Prize in 2004 for his “In the Presence of Mine Enemies.” He also helped blaze the digital history trial by creating “The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War”
on the Internet.
According to Ayers, Lincoln was “trying to reconcile the push and pull between Union and ending slavery.” It was a difficult juggling act and one which leads to the conclusion that “Lincoln never had an easy day in office.” Simply put, he “had to try to keep the North from breaking apart” and had to contend with abolitionists and Radical Republicans on one side of the Congressional aisle versus Democrats, who were opposed to emancipation, on the other. In a pre-electronic age public opinion mattered and the public took it upon itself to make their views known to Lincoln through their votes and letters. If he wasn’t reading a letter and was further interested in ferreting out public sentiment on issues, he only to had to consult a newspaper, the press being a “good indicator of what people were thinking.”
Those millions of words that appeared in Civil War era newspapers have been analyzed for patterns of thought in a digital scholarship laboratory. In the North, regardless if a paper were a Republican or Democratic mouthpiece, there was consistent use of the word “rebels” when referring to the South, while Southern papers used the less conciliatory “enemy.” However, what emerges from the analysis is “the idea that separate cultures and philosophies” thought to have existed between the two regions “is not borne out.” North and South of the Mason-Dixon line people touched on “honor, loyalty, and sacrifice.” Each spoke “the same language of war,” unwittingly directing their hatred “at people just like themselves.”
Democrats were of a mind that Lincoln “handed the Confederacy a great gift” when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, convinced the South would put up a more unified front. Abolition would destroy the country by bringing “equal status to blacks. Support for their position was evident in the 1862 off year elections when Democratic majorities were sent to Congress from New York, New Jersey, and Ohio. “If Lincoln had stood for re-election in 1862 he would have lost the bid.”
In 1863 taxes, the loss of life, and government spending to support the war effort became the primary Democratic targets. Lincoln attempted to deflect criticism by pointing out the Union had gone to war to prove to the world the American political experiment could stand. A year later, even though the party was splintered between War and Peace Democrats, there was still wide spread general support. Lincoln and his administration were in a sense propped up by soldiers, three quarters of whom voted for his re-election in 1864. As Ayers noted, Lincoln was otherwise unable to mobilize the civilian vote, in spite of passage of the Homestead and Morrell acts in Congress. With the North more divided about war in 1864 than in 1861, there was little perceptible change in how Lincoln was supported between his two presidential campaigns.
The use of the word Negro was also analyzed in Republican and Democratic papers. Democrats were more apt to focus on black issues than Republican issues. The issue of slavery was “totally omitted” in Southern papers. Quoting Frederick Douglass, Ayers stated, “Slavery is the deformed child who’s sent out of the room at dinner time.”
While “white Southerners forced slavery to be destroyed,” Republicans “grew during the war,” reaching an understanding of slavery as the war progressed. That understanding of all the system’s evils “grew by action and commitment.” In Ayers opinion “one had to be courageous to advocate for an end to slavery.”
Books by Edward Ayers:
I repeat my orders that you arrest all people, male and female, connected with those [Roswell ] factories, no matter what the clamor, and let them foot it, under guard, to Marietta, whence I will send them by cars to the North…
William T. Sherman
Make them yelp, make them cry Uncle, cripple their spirit, and the rest will crumble. Burn their factories, burn their homes. Leave no stalk of corn or shaft of wheat swaying in the wind. Take their cows, horses, and pigs and destroy what you can’t carry away. Leave them nothing but the rags on their backs, Leave them no milk for their children and let the fathers bear the news in their army encampments. Become deaf to pleas; steel your hearts to tears. Bring them to their knees and place a pillow over the faces of all who chose to make war upon you until they are left gasping for breath. It is the shortest path to achieve our end and return us to our homes.
400. 1,000. 1,500. Those are the estimated number of Roswell women, from a variety of sources, who, with their children, watched Federals pile the floors of the cotton and woolen mills with oil soaked cotton. This was not Sherman’s order, it was Kenner Garrard, commanding the Second Division Cavalry Corps, who gave his own to a Colonel, who passed the order to a Major, who passed the order to troopers from Ohio and Pennsylvania. While flames licked at Roswell King’s dream and some women wept at the loss of their livelihood, others of their sex were bent over, unable to stifle their laughter. Top rail meets bottom rail, both now equal in their ruin.
All that once was now gone. Soon too were the women, their children, and a sprinkling of men, loaded into wagons over a three day period and trucked over 13 miles of bad road to the Georgia Military Institute in Marietta. There they waited and their wait soon had the companionship of laboring sisters from the Sweetwater mill in New Manchester. The Roswell women were silent in their shame and shielded from their minds those who were overpowered and felt Union sperm swimming in their vaginas.
In time they became human cattle packed into freight cars that would leave red clay Georgia and roll toward a foreign land to the north. The fate of the mills, the fate of the fine brick homes, and the fate of the women all reached the ears of Roswell King, safe from Sherman’s path. He damned Sherman, he damned the Federals, and most of all he damned those women and those men who had toiled for him, and the few, to thereafter be consigned to a life in hell.
Mary Deborah Petite did her best to trace the fate of those Roswell women and children who rode iron rails into Louisville and illustrated those findings in the pages of “The Women Will Howl.”
Theirs was a story of death, starvation, poverty, and some small triumphs over all these, but all mostly undocumented, except through a sprinkling of pictures, Census records, newspaper appeals for contributions of public aid, and oral traditions passed through generations that were first spoken by illiterate women. Theirs was a story of further migration to Cincinnati and Evansville, New Albany, and Jefferson, Indiana, where the lucky few found work in textile mills and tried to rebuild their lives. Most were fated to anonymity, too poor, too far from home to attempt a return to uncertainty and, most probably, nothingness. Those few who made their return to Roswell met with the backs of “the Royals” facing their front.
On July 8, 2000, the city of Roswell
, now grown to over 100,000 residents, unveiled a monument to the forgotten in an act of remembrance. These words are carved into the granite base:
Honoring the Memory of
The Four Hundred Women, Children, and Men
Millworkers of Roswell
Who Were Charged with Treason
And Deported by Train to the North
by Invading Federal Forces
Picture from the Roswell Visitor Bureau's Web site
Roswell King, a transplant with an eye toward money, sought space in the wilderness 23 miles north of Atlanta, in a land where the power of the untamed Chattahoochee could be harnessed to drive the machinery and dreams of a textile industry that would rival the output and quality of his native New England. Beginning in 1838 he’d construct a cotton textile mill, lay out a town bearing his first name and patterned after those in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, with wide streets, fine brick houses for family members and investors, and import workers from hardscrabble scratch earth farms, who grabbed at the opportunity for low pay, long hours, and goods offered by the company owned store. Cotton was followed by wool, when a second factory rose higher up the hill, followed by more women and children to fill the top three floors of each, while on the first the men, far fewer in number, possessed the skills necessary to run the enormous machinery, all toiling six days of seven, from the ringing of an early morning bell, until darkness declared all occupations dangerous.
Roswell grew to mirror the mill towns of the North, with the few holding the most, and the most shackled into a life without dreams or further ambition for themselves or their children. The few who reaped the harvest of profit ensured their children comfort and an education. The most hurried their own through childhood until they could be pushed through the doors to stick tiny hands into the hidden recesses of the machinery to clear them of debris. The few would clothe themselves in imported fabrics; the most would wear homespun and plug their nostrils to keep the lint-filled air from browning their lungs, while chewing on tobacco plugs to keep the same from their throats. The women were used up by thirty and replaced by the replaceable.
The Kings and allied families, nicknamed “the Royals” by the most, were practical at the least. They made no distinction in class between slaves and their workers. There was an equality between the two in the Royals’ eyes, except whites were cheaper to employ and required less careful handling. Slave owners who hired out their chattel required them to be housed, clothed, and fed; darkness set white workers off into the world to fend for themselves.
It was a world that continued to operate, that spun out fabric for uniforms, tents, and other essentials required by a rebellious army, until July 1864, when the Royals and militia fled before the approach of Sherman’s army, leaving the most at their spindles and spinning machinery with a directive to protect the personal property of the few.
While there’s conflicting evidence over the date the transaction occurred, by some accounts as late as March 1864, the Kings transferred a half interest in the cotton and woolen mills to a French national named Roche, who was employed as a weaver. In what amounts to little more than chicanery, as the Kings aimed to reclaim the full value of their holdings after the safety of the mills was ensured, Roche raised the French flag over the mills as smoke from burning buildings in the distance announced the approach of the Union hordes. The ruse was to convey neutrality, but the odor of the intended deceit was sniffed out by Sherman himself, and, like a match fueling his Irish temper, in turn, fueled his order that would shatter the lives of the most and reduce the mills to ashes.
To be continued...
While the 5th Massachusetts encamped, the Third Brigade swept through Burkeville, fifteen miles from Farmville, reaching Nottoway nine miles further on. By the 21st they were at Wilson’s Station, and finally on the 22nd, eight days after leaving Appomattox, within easy reach of Sutherland. One day beyond Sutherland lay the city of trenches and bombproofs that had shielded them for ten months from everything Petersburg had to throw at them, except snipers. Beyond that, after four long years for some, Richmond, and beyond that, a mere hundred miles away, the dome atop the Capitol building. Beyond that home, and children never seen before, wives who had gone without an embrace, fathers and mothers who had grayed, and younger siblings who had grown more than a foot taller in their absence. Those thoughts buoyed their every step through the Virginia countryside.
On Sunday the 23rd, dirty, dissheveled, and stomachs growling, the Third Brigade stacked arms at Sutherland Station. Men of the 118th Pennsylvania took quick note of the 5th Massachusetts camped in their front. They were put off by the cleanliness of the cavalry uniforms and the perception, real or imagined, that they were being looked down upon by black men. Some of Philadelphia’s best immediately began itching for a fight and looking for an excuse headed for the tent of the 5th’s sutler. None had money to pay for what they wanted, they simply began taking it and were joined by more comrades in the taking. Three of the 5th, assigned to guard duty, ordered the 118th to back off. That demand only drew more of a crowd, until the corporal of the guard, “a big black fellow, wishing to magnify his office, came up and undertook to arrest our men for disobeying orders.”
Sergeant Charles Brightmeyer of the 118th threw the first punch, knocking the corporal to the ground, and then all hell broke loose. Knives sliced through ropes holding up the sutler’s tent and a rush began for boxes of canned peaches, canned tomatoes, sardines, tobacco, cheese, and every other item that someone could pick up and run with. Soldiers from the 20th Maine and 1st Michigan joined in the pillaging. While a distraught sutler looked on, buglers could be heard in the distance sounding “Boots and Saddles.”
Officers from the 5th Massachusetts, brandishing swords and intent on making arrests, were immediately set upon and became participants in an all out brawl. Swords went flying into the air, while tassled hats were kicked around like balls. Samuel Chamberlain, acting Colonel of the 5th in place of Charles Adams, raced to the scene on his horse, the rest of his command in close pursuit. Fists froze in mid-punch. Chamberlain demanded officers from the three white regiments arrest those responsible and hold them strictly accountable, threatening to take action himself if his demands weren’t met. The troopers, under Chamberlain's direction, formed a line in front of the sutler's tent, ready to spur their horses forward if signaled to do so. There was no mistaking the now steeled expressions and open contempt that registered in the eyes of white men who looked at black men led by white men. An unidentified Third Brigade colonel ordered them to fix bayonets, six to eight of which were then thrust into the chest, belly, and flank of Chamberlain’s horse.
Major General Alfred L. Pearson, commanding the Third Brigade, finally arrived on the scene to restore order. Chamberlain launched an immediate protest and looked for justice, not only for his men, but his horse that was later destroyed due to its wounds. Pearson quickly sized up the situation and ordered Chamberlain to withdraw his men, cautioning the Colonel that unless he complied some of them were certain to be killed.
A month later, on May 23rd, the Third Brigade stepped out into the line of march and proudly paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue with the rest of the Fifth Corps and the triumphant Army of the Potomac, in lock step, arms swinging upward, eyes right when they passed the reviewing stand, the cheers of the crowd deafening in their ears.
The Fifth Massachusetts moved from Sutherland to City Point, where on June 16th they loaded their horses onto trains to begin a 1200 mile journey to Clarksville, Texas. They would stand vigil along the Mexican border until mustered out of service on October 31, 1865.
On April 23, 1865 in a small town twelve miles west of Petersburg, VA, disparate cymbals crashed against one another, part of a symphony orchestrated by bigotry and hunger and a demand for respect. It was a clash in which two opponents forgot they were part of a common cause, part of a fraternity of triumphant soldiers, and were each ready to draw the blood of comrades in blue.
For two days following the Confederate surrender of arms at Appomattox, regiments of the Third Brigade of the First Division of the Fifth Corps had drawn the unenviable task of collecting weapons, munitions, and stores left behind in the Rebel camps. According to John Smith, historian for the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry, “whole battalions had stacked their arms and left for home, taking no part in the surrender, not even signing their parole.” It was also a task performed on nearly empty stomachs, as rations had been exhausted. Railroad bridges had been destroyed preventing supply trains from reaching the area, while road conditions kept wagons from moving. Foraging parties were sent out, but pickings were slim. Beef was scarce and what little was found was “poor and tough.” Some scavengers picked the ground for corn that had been fed to horses and mules and, according to Smith, ate it “with great relish.”
Eleven days earlier and 90 miles to the east, one thousand Black troopers of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry had followed Col. Charles Francis Adams, the great-grandson of John Adams and grandson of John Quincy Adams, into Richmond. Lt. Edward J. Bartlett would write home “Today, is the most glorious in the history both of the country and our regiment.” Fannie Walker, a Richmond native, would react with “horror” at the sight of the “Negro” cavalrymen singing “John Brown’s Body” in the streets of the fallen Confederate capitol.
The Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry had been mustered into service over a three-month period, from January to May 1864. Twenty-one of its white officer cadre was drawn from the 1st and 2nd Mass. cavalries, three from the ranks of the 44th Mass. Infantry, while 12 had no prior military experience. The enlisted ranks were overwhelmingly filled by free blacks hailing primarily from Massachusetts cities and towns, including Boston, Framingham, Rehobeth, Amherst, Springfield, Marshfield, Waltham, Roxbury, Duxbury, Provincetown, Dorchester, and Middleboro. The barbers, laborers, waiters, farmers, sailors, painters, and blacksmiths from the Old Bay State were joined by enlistees from such distant locales as Pittsburgh, Raritan and Jersey City, New Jersey, New Orleans, Newbern, Goldsboro and Plymouth, North Carolina, St. John’s in New Brunswick, Cleveland, Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania, Frankfort and Logan County, Kentucky, Wellsville and Cincinnati, Ohio, Chicago, Batavia and Elmira, New York, South Kingston and Providence, Rhode Island, the West Indies, and Valparaiso, Chile.
Assigned to the 18th Corps in the Army of the James, they had initially performed picket and reconnaissance duty and then became part of the general troop movement toward Richmond in June. The regiment had been engaged at the battle of Baylor’s Farm, where three of its members were killed and another eighteen wounded. They would not be allowed to further their combat record, however. In late June the regiment was reassigned to supplement companies drawn from the Veterans Reserve Corps and stand guard over Confederate prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland, the largest of all Northern POW camps. There were reports of rough treatment of prisoners by members of the 5th and after five prisoners were shot dead in three separate incidents, including two for supposedly talking in their tent after dark, James Barnes, commanding the military district of St. Mary’s came down hard and warned the regiment that unwarranted or unjustified discharge of weapons would meet with harsh consequences.
The warning served its purpose and a cavalry regiment that wasn’t a cavalry regiment performed their duty as required. Like any regiment they had their good and bad elements, drunks, slackers, two who were found guilty of striking their sergeant, others who verbally abused their officers, or were found to be mutinous by disobeying orders, but as a whole performed well and the majority without incident. They’d continue this duty through Thanksgiving, when they sat down to a traditional New England repast, afterwards chasing a greased pig and engaging in wheelbarrow races, then Christmas, on into the fading winter, when finally, in March 1865, the regiment joined the siege at Petersburg, occupying the extreme right of Union lines at Deep Bottom as part of the 25th Corps.
On April 6th, three days after their entry into Richmond, Adams was given orders to shift the regiment to Petersburg. They remained a day before receiving additional orders to move twelve miles to the west, to Sutherland Station, to guard the Southside Railroad. Adams own stay at Sutherland Station lasted only nine days. On the 16th of April he was summoned to appear before Major General Edward O.C. Ord, then commanding the Army of the James. There Adams was arrested and charged with neglect of duty in “allowing his command to straggle and maraud,” and was further ordered to report to Fortress Monroe for trial. The charge of marauding was leveled because of complaints from Richmond citizens alleging members of the 5th Mass had appropriated horses for their own use.
The Third Brigade began its march back to Washington on April 14th. Spirits were dampened and there was no sense they were a conquering or triumphant army. Hunger and rain will do that. Officers used a carrot and stick approach, urging the men toward Farmville, 27 miles away, where rations were said to be waiting. After two days of marching through mud, the strung out column finally reached its first milestone destination and found the promised supplies waiting. As Smith recalled, “We stacked arms and laid around, and for the first time realized that the war over.” The whole scene was brightened further by the clearing of rain clouds overhead, but any feelings of contentment were shattered at 4 p.m. when a dispatch was read aloud announcing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln had won the love and devotion of the Army of the Potomac. In a display of mourning the color bearers from all regiments draped their flags in black, dyeing white handkerchiefs and any other fabric available in ink obtained from the ranks.
On April 20th the Third Brigade, which included veterans of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spottsylvania, would break camp and resume its eastward trek along what is now Rt. 460. They had 55 miles to go before they would reach Sutherland Station and make their acquaintance with the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry.
To be continued…