Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Preview: The War Outside My Window [Forthcoming]

Text authored by Harry Smeltzer: Preview – Croon (Ed), “The War Outside My Window” on April 17, 2018

Note: Bull Runnings is Harry Smeltzer's weblog on the First Battle of Bull Run/Manassas 

CWL: note the paragraph which begins 'Undoubtedly . . . '

This is a little different for Bull Runnings. The good folks at Savas Beatie sent me a digital, advance unedited galley of a unique diary, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon. The story of this diary, which I’ll describe below, has been bouncing around for quite some time – here’s a WaPo article from 2012.
9781611213881
I’ve read snippets of LeRoy’s diary, and enough of other online sources which you can find yourself to get a good idea of his back story (note this is a preview, not a review.) Here’s the gist – he was a very bright, well-read, and articulate young man, living in Macon, GA. He suffered from a disease resulting from a severe injury to his leg – when the diary opens, he’s already an invalid and would need to be pulled about in a wagon of sorts. Unlike the reader LeRoy was of course unaware that his condition was mortal, and he would barely outlive the war that understandably occupied so much of his thoughts. Our knowledge of his impending doom makes his daily writings, spanning the whole conflict and very much of and in the moment, all the more poignant in their innocence, ignorance, and wit. You’ll feel for the kid.
Here’s young Gresham’s entry for July 22, 1861, with the early news of the fighting at Manassas:
Macon July 22 1861: Another great battle at Manassas! Sherman’s Battery taken! Terrible Slaughter on both sides! The enemy retired from the field. The Fight commenced 4 oclock this morning and continued until about seven. The battle raged with terrible force and a heavy loss on both sides. There has evidently been a signal Victory at Bulls Run. President Davis’ message is out. It is not only well written, but beautiful in contrast to the boorish effort of Doctor Lincoln, Chief magistrate of United States. Raining very slightly before breakfast this morning. Sad news Gen. F. S. Bartow is killed. Macon Gaurds in the fight. President Davis commanded in person; Beauregarde + Johnson’s army both engaged 40 000 to 70 000 on a side. Beauregarde’s horse shot from under him. It will be sometime before we can get the truth of it. Dressed my back this morning and its healing though very slowly. General Wise has also gained a signal Victory in western Virginia, killing 150 federals and losing few of his men. Julia Ann is up and about again. Very heavy shower this afternoon. Uncle John, Deo Volente [God willing], leaves for Athens tomorrow. Father comes home but there are no more reliable dispatches. The battles undoubtedly sends a thrill of Anguish to many an anxious heart in the newborn Confederacy. Ave Maria Jose [goodbye].
Undoubtedly, some will latch on to the undeniable fact that LeRoy was a youth of privilege and wealth, a member of a slaveholding family with personal servants, and may argue that these are the most important, or even the only, aspects of his life with which we should concern ourselves, to the exclusion of all others. To the contrary, young Gresham’s story and personal observations give great insight into the mind of someone raised in the reality of the times, and should provide a tool for historians to interpret those times in context as opposed to retrospect. I mean, that’s their job, after all. It’s not everyone’s job. But it is that of the historian.

It’s hard to tell you what you’ll get with the final product. Of course you get the diary and detailed annotations in bottom of page footnotes; illustrations including a few of actual diary pages with what we refer to today as “metadata” (doodling, sweat stains, etc.); Hal Jesperson maps; extensive dramatis personae; and appendices related to LeRoy’s medical condition. A lot of detective work went into this.
I am perhaps dying ebook[7587][Dennis Rasbach, MD, has written an e-book (not yet available), I Am Perhaps Dying: The Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham and the Medical Backstory of his Private Battle with Tuberculosis During the Civil War. Keep on the lookout for that.]
The War Outside My Window is scheduled to drop in June, with national coverage and a feature in the Sunday Parade magazine. Advance orders or signed copies are being taken at the Savas Beatie site linked above. I think this will be an important work, and well worth your time.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

News--Confederate Battle Flags Captured by US Colored Troops Exhibited in Richmond, Virginia

An African American leader brings a provocative take to expanded Civil War museum, Gregory Schneider, Washington Post, April 15, 2018


 
Caption:   Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum, which is headquartered at the site of the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. 
 
  Christy Coleman spends a lot of time among artifacts of the Civil War, and two that touch her deeply are a pair of tattered Confederate battle flags. This seems odd for an African American woman, until she explains.
One banner has a single word stitched on it: Home. The white material of the flag, it turns out, was cut from a wedding dress. The other flag is a traditional Stars and Bars, like you’d see on a T-shirt or shot glass. But this one was captured at the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg by United States Colored Troops.
Both relics hint at deeper human stories, and that’s where Coleman finds meaning in her job as chief executive of the American Civil War Museum, an institution created from the ruins of this city’s Confederate ironworks.

As the nation wrestles with its heritage of racial discrimination, and as the symbols of the Civil War show fresh power to divide, no place has a deeper stake than Richmond — a majority-black city where Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson still cast long shadows. And no one is more on the spot to figure it all out than Coleman.“To have someone, a woman, who’s African American, at one of the most important museums in the former capital of the Confederacy — you can’t underestimate how important that is,” said Kevin Levin, a Civil War historian. “She really stands out.”

Coleman is using that position to look for a new way to tell the story of the Civil War, a conflict so easy to render in stereotypes. With a major expansion of the museum underway, her goal is to show the conflict from multiple points of view — not just North and South, but through the eyes of women, Native Americans, enslaved blacks, immigrants. If you can change perspectives, the thinking goes, issues begin to look different. Assumptions waver. 

That premise will be put to the test long before the expanded museum opens later this year. Coleman is helping lead a commission appointed by Richmond’s mayor to recommend what to do with five enormous statues of Confederate leaders along the city’s grandest residential boulevard, Monument Avenue.
Those statues are as fundamental to Richmond’s identity as Thomas Jefferson’s Capitol building. Coleman is conscious of the violence that has ripped other communities, such as nearby Charlottesville, over the same issue. But it’s not the first time she has confronted the nation’s most troubling legacy in a controversial and public way.“America’s reckoning with her sin and her trauma,” Coleman said, “is really what we’ve got to get to.” 

Coleman, 53, grew up in Williamsburg, in the workaday city behind Ye Olde Colonial Facade. Her neighborhood and church were filled with the tradespeople who groomed the gardens, sheared the sheep or ran the printing press in the historic area.  Most of the costumed interpreters didn’t look like Coleman, despite the fact that in Colonial times more than half the residents of Williamsburg were of African descent.
But she was captivated by them and won an audition for a reenactor role when she was only 17. The other historic interpreters worried about her. “They were preserving trades,” she said. “I was portraying an enslaved person.”

She saw something horrible overcome visitors who encountered her in that role. The modern veneer slipped aside and out came racial epithets or crude sexual comments. As a young woman, she struggled to process those situations. But she stuck with it, the thrill of giving voice to the voiceless more powerful than the revulsion. By the mid 1990s, after starting at William & Mary and graduating from Hampton University, Coleman became Colonial Williamsburg’s director for public history. She oversaw all of the historical interpreters.

One of her first big events was an annual market day, reenacting the way Colonial Virginians auctioned cattle and land. A staffer pointed out the obvious: The real market would have sold slaves, too.Coleman decided it was time to do something radical. She took a plan to upper management to stage a live slave auction. And she would be one of those on the sale block.The idea touched off a national debate. “Black and white folks thought that . . . it was going to stir up stuff that didn’t need to be stirred up in America,” Coleman said.
A massive crowd and international media showed up. Plainclothes police stood among the onlookers, just in case. And Coleman and three other African Americans let themselves be sold to the highest bidders.

Today, that event is viewed as a landmark success in the modern retelling of American history. After generations of avoiding the topic, other major institutions — such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Madison’s Montpelier — now confront enslavement as a major component of their interpretation.
But it exacted a heavy price on Coleman. The emotional stress brought on panic attacks that stuck with her through years of therapy.

She never repeated the auction. A few years later, she was wooed to Detroit to run the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Nearly a decade into that job, Coleman was married and had two small children and wanted to slow things down a bit. She got word of a small museum back home in Virginia that was looking for a shake-up. Richmond long portrayed its past in a one-sided way. After the Civil War, widows and wives of Confederate veterans gathered memorabilia and displayed it in the old Confederate White House. From that collection, arguably the most extensive of its kind anywhere, grew the Museum of the Confederacy.

The full text of the story is continued at----Full Text: Washington Post

Monday, April 16, 2018

News--Lincoln's Last Hours and a Mary Lincoln's Guest at The Peterson House

photgraphic portrait of President Abraham Lincoln News--Lincoln's Last Hours and a Mary Lincoln's Guest at The Peterson House,  National Institute of Health


This week, Circulating Now marks a pivotal event in American history with a short series of posts. 150 years ago on April 14, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in a crowded theater in Washington DC. On April 15th he died and an autopsy was performed. Several doctors supported Lincoln in his last hours but no medical intervention could prevent his death and bystanders could only watch and wait.

On the night of April 14, 1865, a lone assassin shot the President of the United States at point-blank range during an evening performance at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.  That evening, John Wilkes Booth made his way into the theater and to the box where President Abraham Lincoln, his wife Mary Lincoln, and two guests, Major Henry Rathbone and Miss Clara Harris were enjoying a performance of Our American Cousin.  Pulling out a single-shot, derringer pistol, Booth aimed the gun, pulled the trigger and fired a bullet at the President’s head.   Many of us know the details of what occurred at Ford’s Theater that night, but what transpired after the fatal shot was fired and during the many hours before the President succumbed to his wounds?

Among the many accounts of that evening is one by physician Charles Leale,  an assistant surgeon with the U.S. Army and the first physician to reach Lincoln after he was shot.  Seated in the dress circle of the theater, not far from the Presidential box, Leale heard the gunshot and saw assassin John Wilkes Booth leap to the stage snagging his spur on the draped flag.  As shouts rang out that the President had been murdered, Leale rushed from his seat to the President’s box.  “When I entered the box,” Leale recounts, “Mr. Lincoln was seated in a high-backed arm-chair with his head leaning towards his right side supported by Mrs. Lincoln who was weeping bitterly.”   Leale took charge of the President’s medical care and immediately began to assess his injuries.  He was soon joined by physicians Charles Taft and Albert King.   After consulting together about the President’s condition, the three physicians decided it was best to have Lincoln moved from the theater to the nearest house.

Full Text continued at :
 
News--Lincoln's Last Hours and Mary Lincoln's Guest at the Peterson House

Image Source:  Taken by Alexander Gardner in February 1865, two months before Lincoln’s assassination.      Courtesy National Portrait Gallery

Friday, March 02, 2018

News: Thomas Nast's First Sketches of Lincoln Found

Uncovering Thomas Nast’s First Drawings of Abraham Lincoln, Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, March 5, 2018.


On Lincoln’s first visit, in 1860, he stopped to have his picture, now indelible, taken by the photographer Mathew Brady. Less well known is that, on his 1861 trip, the other great New York image-maker of the time, the cartoonist Thomas Nast, saw him, too—for the first time—and made a series of drawings that are startling in their intimacy and alert observational power. The series has been known by scholarly rumor, but recently, tucked among the sketches in a Civil War notebook, two small images that Nast made of Lincoln’s face have been uncovered for the first time. This discovery we owe to the historian Ted Widmer, who came upon them in the archives of Brown University.

“I’ve been working on a book about that train trip from Springfield to Washington,” Widmer, who worked as a speechwriter in the Clinton White House, explained the other morning. “Presidents had never been as exciting to people before as Lincoln was at this moment. He was performing his part—the part of the President-to-be, and even the part of the savior of his country. He started off with a couple of so-so speeches, but he got his game going and was giving great speeches by the time he got to New York.”

Searching for material at Brown—which has an exceptional Lincoln archive, including the collection of John Hay, Lincoln’s secretary—Widmer came upon a Civil War notebook with sketches in it ascribed to Nast. Turning the pages, he found a series showing Lincoln arriving at 30th Street train station, the precursor to New York’s Penn Station. Nast, only twenty, was already drawing regularly for Harper’s Weekly and other papers (although his first cartoon of Santa Claus, whose now iconic shape and beard were largely Nast’s invention, was about a year off).
“Nast was waiting in the train station in New York. He made all these drawings of the big crowd waiting for the train—and then you see Lincoln in his top hat, coming through! And in the middle were the two unknown sketches that I went crazy about: one is a pretty good side view—Nast got up close to Lincoln. There was another piece of paper Scotch Taped to the back of the page, and I was overcome with curiosity and looked on the back side, and there it was, this incredible frontal sketch of Lincoln’s face. Sixty seconds of looking, I suppose, but so strong.”

One of the striking things about the drawings is the exceptionally free and vivid shorthand with which they’re done, and the informality of their approach. Nast was still working largely in a finished, ceremonial vein common to cartoonists of the period. Most of the images he went on to draw of Lincoln were of that kind; one, an allegorical vision of a “false peace” between North and South, was widely credited with helping Lincoln get reĆ«lected. But, in these 1861 sketches, we see Nast’s mastery of the living thing, the face seized from life, which gives tensile strength to his more elaborate tableaux.

The other striking aspect of the sketches is the beard, which Lincoln had grown a year earlier. “The beard is endlessly fascinating,” Widmer said. “It’s true that a young girl did write to Lincoln suggesting that he grow one—that’s the old story. But the historian Adam Goodheart has a theory that the beard was a kind of rebellion against the crappiness of the compromising politicians of the preceding period, Buchanan and the rest, which was exemplified in the starchy way they dressed—a professional way of looking. Lincoln wanted to look Western, with a soft collar and a beard. Almost like Whitman—forging his own identity. I also have a theory that he may have been inspired by the great Hungarian liberal leader Lajos Kossuth, whom he keenly admired.”

Widmer has returned to the sketches often. “He looks so strong in these drawings—like a real force of nature, coming at the darkest moment to save the country, and even global democracy. With all its imperfections, the United States was still the largest democracy. If we didn’t make it, democracy didn’t. That was his point. And you see its outer surface here.

Full Text Source: The New Yorker

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Wondering: Did Abraham Lincoln Have a Will?

Wondering:  Did Abraham Lincoln have a will?


. . .  did our 16th president have a plan for his money after death? The answer is no; Abraham Lincoln died intestate, meaning without a will. These days, any major figure of state is certain to have a proper will, but in Lincoln's day, this was not so common. So what happened?

By noon the day Lincoln died, his oldest son, Robert, had sent a telegram to Justice David Davis of the United States Supreme Court asking him to get at once to Washington in to take change of his father's affairs. Mrs. Lincoln and Robert then penned a letter to the county court in their home state of Illinois to recognize Davis as the administrator of Lincoln's estate.


In the end, there was over $110,000 to be divided from the estate. Justice Davis did not take any payment, and had handled the estate administration entirely on his own, without even hiring an attorney. With record-keeping as common to the time and the devotion to the late president, much is known about his estate. For example, Lincoln's unpaid debts only totaled $38.31 at his death -- far less than most could imagine in today's age, even with inflation.
Bearing in mind that Davis was a Supreme Court Justice, it is no surprise that he was able to manage it on his own. Estate administration is not a simple process, and typically, the person charged with it hires and attorney. An experienced attorney can be an irreplaceable resource for families and individuals in need of estate planning or administration.

Text Found at Berman and Aspell, LLP 
Image:  Civil War Librarian

Friday, February 02, 2018

New and Noteworthy--Lincoln and Churchill: Statesmen at War

Lincoln and Churchill, Lewis Lehrman, Stackpole Books, 544 pages, bibliographic note, illustrations, 2018,  $34.95

A portion of a book review from the January 26, 2018 Wall Street Journal

Both leaders had not only a genius for waging war but a gift for explaining why it must be waged.

The enduring fame of Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill rests chiefly on their leadership during existential conflicts. And while the American Civil War and World War II differed in scale, strategic difficulty and technological complexity, the two leaders indelibly stamped their respective causes in similar ways, as Lewis E. Lehrman observes in his penetrating new book, “Lincoln & Churchill: Statesmen at War.” Decades and much else divide the two men, but the qualities they share inspire all who defend the cause of freedom.

At first glance, their contrasts seem to loom larger than their similarities. Lincoln was born in a frontier cabin, Churchill in a ducal palace. The American president was nearly monkish in his asceticism, eating little and drinking not at all; Churchill relished fine food and champagne (and whisky and brandy). “My tastes are simple,” Churchill said, “I am easily satisfied with the best.”
Lincoln was an enigmatic figure even to his closest associates; his longtime law partner called him the most “shut-mouthed” man that ever lived. Churchill was ceaselessly voluble, pouring out his thoughts and opinions in an endless geyser of rhetoric, publishing more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined.

Their martial experience, too, could hardly have been more different. At about the age when Churchill was charging with the British cavalry in the Sudanese desert, Lincoln waged “bloody struggles with the mosquitoes,” as he self-mockingly put it, during the Black Hawk War in Illinois. Pacific by nature, the young Lincoln refused even to hunt game, while Churchill lunged into conflicts from Cuba to India to Africa. 

Ultimate power came to Churchill late. He was 65 when a reluctant King George VI appointed him prime minister. By that time, he had held every high cabinet post save that of foreign secretary. Lincoln was inaugurated a few weeks after his 52nd birthday, one of the youngest presidents yet elected, having served only a single term in Congress.

Full Text of this review is found at Wall Street Journal, January 26, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

News: Low Tides During Bomb Cyclone Reveals Slave Transport Vessel at Mobile, Alabama Found on Alabama Coast

 Wreck Found by Reporter may be Last American Slave Ship, Ben Raines,  AL.com, January 23, 2018.

Relying on historical records and accounts from old timers, AL.com may have located the long-lost wreck of the Clotilda, the last slave ship to bring human cargo to the United States.

What's left of the ship lies partially buried in mud alongside an island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, a few miles north of the city of Mobile. The hull is tipped to the port side, which appears almost completely buried in mud. The entire length of the starboard side, however, is almost fully exposed. The wreck, which is normally underwater, was exposed during extreme low tides brought on by the same weather system that brought the "Bomb Cyclone" to the Eastern Seaboard. Low tide around Mobile was about two and a half feet below normal thanks to north winds that blew for days.
"I'm quaking with excitement. This would be a story of world historical significance, if this is the Clotilda," said John Sledge, a senior historian with Mobile Historical Commission, and author of The Mobile River, an exhaustive history of the river. "It's certainly in the right vicinity... We always knew it should be right around there."

This reporter, Ben Raines, used the abnormally low tides to search for the ship after researching possible locations. The remote spot where the ship was found, deep in the swampy Mobile-Tensaw Delta, is accessible only by boat. During my first trips after discovering the wreck, I documented it with photographs and aerials shot with a drone. Over the next week, I ferried a shipwright expert in the construction techniques used on old wooden vessels and a team of archaeologists from the University of West Florida to the site.

All concluded that the wreck dated to the mid 1800s (the Clotilda was built in 1855), and featured construction techniques typical of Gulf Coast schooners used to haul lumber and other heavy cargo, as the Clotilda was designed to do. The vessel also bore telltale signs of being burned, as the Clotilda reportedly was. In later years, the slavers bragged of burning the ship at the conclusion of their voyage in July of 1860 in an effort to hide proof of their human trafficking. Evidence of a fire on the wreck included a distinctive patina on wrought iron chain plates used to hold the masts and bowsprit in place, and charred beams and timbers in the ship's interior.

"These ships were the 18-wheelers of their day. They were designed to haul a huge amount of cargo in relatively shallow water," said Winthrop Turner, a shipwright specializing in wooden vessels. "That's why you see the exceptional number of big iron drifts used to hold the planking together. That's also why the sides of the ship are so stout. They are almost two feet thick. The construction techniques here, no threaded bolts, iron drifts, butt jointed planking, these all confirm a ship built between 1850 and 1880."

Full Text and Video at Alabama.com