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This is the archive for April 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


If you want to fire up any high school student’s mind about history, what better place than to do it then by taking them on a field trip to Washington, D.C. Heck, take an entire group so they can share the common experience of the most historical and powerful city on the face of the planet.

Here's one such group that made the pilgrimage to D.C. with their teachers. Their guide was very animated in his story telling and, as you can readily see, these students from Massachusetts were hanging onto his every word.

"Any questions?"

"Yeah, is there a Starbucks around here?"

More on what I was doing in the city this past Sunday morning tomorrow.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

This Civil War Quiz appeared in the April 20, 2009 edition of the Washington Post. Not to put pressure on anyone, but if you get any of the eight questions wrong, or have to go online to look up the answer, then I’m going to strongly recommend you purchase “The Idiots Guide to the Civil War.” Today! Not tommorrow. Not next week.

1. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation:
a. Freed all slaves
b. Freed all slaves living in Southern states
c. Freed all slaves in areas still in rebellion against the United States
d. Promised to free all slaves when the war ended

2. The South thought that during the war Great Britain would:
a. Give it a lot of aid
b. Substantially help the North
c. Help both sides
d. Remain neutral

3. This region did not need a draft because there were enough volunteers to fight:
a. South
b. North
c. Both
d. Neither

4. African Americans accounted for what share of the Union Army by war’s end?
a. 2 percent
b. 4 percent
c. 8 percent
d. 10 percent

5. Which was the bloodiest single-day battle in U.S. history?
a. Battle of Gettysburg
b. Battle of Antietam
c. Battle of Vicksburg
d. First Battle of Mannassas

6. Which two states, in order, had the most and second most battles in the Civil War?
a. Virginia, Pennsylvania
b. Tennessee, Virginia
c. Virginia, Tennessee
d. Virginia, Georgia


7. Most of the deaths in the Civil War were caused by:
a. Battle wounds
b. Disease
c. Hunger
d. A and C

8. Which two of these states joined the Confederacy?
a. Maryland
b. Kentucky
c. Tennessee
d. Florida


If you really don't know, and need to know (although nobody's going to really admit they don't know) leave a comment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009



Aside from those in the Presidential box at Ford’s Theater, most of the 1,500 theatergoers attending the performance of “Our American Cousin” on April 14, 1865 had no idea what had happened. Even when John Wilkes Booth leapt down to the stage, dagger in hand, the largest number thought he was acting out a role in the play. That inactivity by the audience, actors, stagehands, and orchestra members, allowed Booth to push past actor Harry Hawk, who had previously stood alone on stage, rush out a back door leading to an alley, mount his horse, and gallop away into the night.

Anthony Pitch, author of a recent book on the Lincoln assassination, “They Have Killed Papa Dead,” likened the delayed reaction that night to the reaction which occurred as 9-11 unfolded. Simply put, people couldn’t or didn’t want to believe something so terrible was happening in front of their eyes. I remember my own reaction when told the north tower had collapsed: “That’s impossible.”

I was one of a group of about 300 people inside Ford’s Theater yesterday, the last group admitted for the day and the only one to which Pitch spoke. Some in the audience, though not many mind you, reacted with surprise when a National Park Service Ranger announced at the beginning of the program that it was the 144th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. Personally, I couldn’t imagine a more fitting place to mark the observance.

Pitch is an Englishman who immigrated to the United States more than 40 years ago. He’s long admired Lincoln for his intelligence, his humanity, and his wit, relating that Lincoln’s assassination, in his opinion, was the greatest tragedy to ever befall this nation. "A Lincoln only comes along once in a blue moon." He told a story, too, of taking a former Prime Minister of New Zealand and his wife on a tour of Washington devoted exclusively to sites related to the assassination. The Prime Minister had made this request of Pitch, relating that he personally mourned for Lincoln each year on the anniversary of his death.

The audience was given a capsulated summary of “They Have Killed Papa Dead,” including details on the players and events leading up to April 14th, Lincoln’s death the following day, recitations of eyewitness accounts, and the manhunt for the killers, which ultimately led to Booth’s death at Garrett’s farm and the execution of four conspirators, all told without the aid of notes and in a refined and impeccable British accent.

At some point I hope to post a review of Pitch’s book. It’s well worth reading, providing details culled from letters and diaries other assassination authors have omitted in their own books. I was able to ask Pitch how far reaching he thought the assassination conspiracy actually extended. He provided a fairly lengthy synopsis, saying that, like the Kennedy assassination, we’ll probably never know the real answer, citing, as an example, the fact that David Herold's written confession simply disappeared. He then quoted Lewis Paine, who stated, “You haven’t got the half of them.” An audience member seated next to me leaned over and told me he had asked the same question of one of the re-enactors patrolling outside the theater. That individual gave him an estimate that 300 others were involved. I have my own theory on that, just as seemingly everyone else does when it comes to Lincoln’s murder.


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Word to the wise: Ford's Theater has timed entry tickets, with tours scheduled between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Free tickets can be obtained at the theater box office. However, if you're really smart, you can order in advance by going online to the Ford’s Theater Web site. There’s a small service fee imposed by Ticketron, but you won't risk the disappointment of not being able to get in on the day you set aside to visit the theater. That happened to the family standing behind me in the line which had formed on the sidewalk, all waiting for the 4 p.m. tour to be admitted to the building. By the time they realized they needed tickets to get inside, needless to say, all tickets had been dispersed. Additionally, if you want a short wait and don't mind sitting in the back of the theater, arrive with tickets in hand as close to the starting time of your tour as possible. Trust me, you'll still get through the door and, if it's really crowded, you might have the opportunity to sit in the balcony, Presidential box excluded of course; even sitting Presidents aren't given that priviledge.



Wednesday, April 08, 2009


This article is from the February 5, 1895 edition of the Washington Post

Slayer of Stonewall Jackson


Maj. McDonough, of Boston, Said to Have

Shot the Southern General


Maj. John McDonough, assistant superintendent of delivery at the Boston post-office, who was arrested on Saturday for stealing letters from the mail, and whose downfall has caused a great shock to his multitude of friends, is a favorite among Grand Army men, and well known by every member of the G.A.R. in the New England States. Maj. McDonough is a member of the Loyal Legion, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, and a Mason of the 32d degree.

While awaiting the arrival of a bondsman on Saturday McDonough had a conversation with Commissioner Swift, during which the fact was elicited that the defendant is the Maj. McDonough who with his men, standing some distance from the rest of Hooker’s division at Chancellorsville, attacked Gen. Stonewall Jackson and staff, and despite the version of the Southerners that the general was shot by a stray shot from his own army, the major is believed to have shot and killed Stonewall Jackson.


And this from the June 11, 1901 edition of the New York Times

A much more respectable testimony is that of Gen. John B. Gordon, who never believed that the bullets of the Confederates killed the Sheridan of the Confederacy. Gordon was a general officer in Lee’s army at the battle of Chancellorsville, having been put in his new command only a short time before that great fight was fought.

Gordon doubted all his life long that the Confederates killed Jackson, although he admitted that they were firing at the moment the great General fell. It must be remembered that the night was dark, that the Union and Confederate armies were only a few yards apart, that they were firing in a wood, and that shots from both armies were being fired all the time. Gordon thought the shot that killed Jackson came from one of the bushes that were separated by an invisible line from the thickets in which Barry’s command lay.

And this belief of his – not a conviction – was strengthened by what Federal officers told him, men who were lying scarcely fifty yards distant from Jackson at the moment when his figure suddenly loomed up murkily out of the gloom and afforded a fair mark for both sides.

One of the most striking indications of the possibility of confusion is that the very moment after Jackson was shot, and while Gen. A.P. Hill and other officers were trying to bind his wounds and keep the knowledge of what had happened from his near-by men, two Federal skirmishers rode up and were captured by Hill, to their vast astonishment, for they believed that they were still within the Federal lines.

That single incident shows the way in which the two lines were confused, and how difficult it is to tell, even now, which were the Union and which were the Confederate volleys that were fired when Stonewall Jackson fell.

But here is what Gordon says:

“As to whether he fell by the fire of his own men or from that of the Union men in his front will, perhaps never be definitely determined. The general, the almost universal, belief at the South is that he was killed by a volley from the Confederate lines; but I have had grave doubts of this raised in my own mind by conversations with thoughtful Union officers who were at the time in his front and near the point where he was killed.”

"It seems to me quite possible that the fatal ball might have come from either army. This much mooted question as to the manner of his death is, however, of less consequence than the manner of his life. Any life of such nobility and strength must always be a matter of vital import and interest.”

However, in spite of Gordon’s doubts, and in spite of the claims of the Maine soldier, of the veterans of the Seventy-third New York, and of those of the First Massachusetts, the historic version of Jackson’s death will be that he was killed by his own men, and Wild John, Rosenthal and the other conscience-smitten Confederates who have gone mad or gone to their graves under the load of his death are not relieved from responsibility.

And history is doubtless right. At the time Jackson was shot he was directly in front of the Confederate lines. Major Barry’s command fired at him, meaning to kill him. Whatever shots were fired by the Union soldiers at the same time were scattering shots, aimed at nobody in particular. It is only right to assume that the shots fired at Jackson hit him and that the shots fired at nobody in particular struck nobody in particular.

The situation was just this, as history tells it, and as it doubtless happened, in spite of the vague doubts of Gen. Gordon and the various scattering Union skirmishers.