Saturday, March 29, 2008

Teddy Roosevelt: Civil War Historian

There is no doubt that Teddy Roosevelt was a history fan and a Civil War buff. According to legend he watched Lincoln's funeral procession pass his grandfathers house. Roosevelt was only a young boy at the time but growing up he idolized Civil War heroes. On September 19, 1904 he wrote his old friend who was ironically named George McCellan Harvey. Here is what Ted wrote:

"If you will turn to what I said of Lee in my Life of Thomas Hart Benton, or to what I have said about southerners and es-confederates in speech after speech in the volume of my speeches which I enclose to you, you will see that I have been generous in speaking of them. While as a public man I expect to perserve proper reticence in what I say, yet people may as well understand that I have not the slightest apology to offer for having, as a historian, told the truth as I saw it. It is not my business now to speak of secession any more than to speak of the alien and sedition acts; but when I, in m writings, youch on secession, I shall say about it what I really feel, and I shall speak of its leaders as I think they deserve."

Teddy was defending his views as a historian and made sure to state that he didn't take sides or make himself out to be pro-Confederate.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review #8 Did Lincoln Own Slaves and Other Frequently Asked Questions About Abraham Lincoln

In my lifetime I have read a lot of books about Lincoln. Since he is my personal hero (outside of my grandfather and my dad) it is easy for me to find books concerning his life and times. I don't claim to be an expert on Lincoln because I am not one of those "distinguished scholars" who have made a career out of studying the life of "Father Abraham". In fact, I tend to learn something new everytime I read a Lincoln biography or a Lincoln book.

Historian Gerry Prokopowicz is a lesser known Lincoln expert but he is a favorite of mine because of his Civil War Talk Radio Show. His new book "Did Lincoln Own Slaves and Other Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham Lincoln" is the subject of todays blog.

The book itself is organized into twelve chapters which focus on a particular aspect or moment of Lincolns life which is important. For example "Springfield" and "Gettysburg" are chapters but so are "Martyr" and "Rail-Splitter". Prokopowicz worked at the Lincoln Museum in Ft. Wayne Ind. for several years and has researched Lincoln for most of his adult life. He has been around Lincoln tourists so much that he took special not of the questions that they would ask him. These questions usually revolved around urban myths concerning Lincoln or basic facts about his life that people have misunderstood. Each chapter deals with these important questions. For example, the "Gettysburg" chapter asks the now famous questions "Did Lincoln write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope?" Gerry then answers that question with historical accuracy and detail. This basically outlines the entire book and its title speaks for itself. By the way, Lincoln did not write the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope.

The other great thing about Mr. Prokopowicz's book is the sources that he used. Each answer to his questions is cited and this makes the book into a valuable resource. Lincoln has more books written about him than any American in American history and this one would make a great addition to any Civil War Buffs bookshelf. I really, really enjoyed this book and it is a great read for any Lincoln buff or a casual reader who just wants to read a good history book. The wording is not intimeditating and the goal of the book is straight forward.

I do not want to go into further detail because I do not want to ruin any of the answers for the readers of "Did Lincoln Own Slaves?" However here is a listing of a few questions that Prokopowicz answers in his new book:

What did Lincoln do for fun as a young man?

Did Lincoln bribe Congressmen to get them to vote for the 13th Amendment?

Whats the biggest memorial to Lincoln?

Was Lincoln responsible for the income tax?

How did his mother die?

Did Lincoln ever go to college?

If he were alive today what party would Lincoln belong to?

Was Lincoln gay?

What was his shoe size?

Did Lincoln own slaves?

What is the best photo of Lincoln?

Why did Booth shoot Lincoln?

What is the worst photo of Lincoln?

If Lincoln was born in Kentucky then why is Illinois called "The Land of Lincoln"?

These and many more Lincoln questions are throughly disucessed, cited and answers in "Did Lincoln Own Slaves and Other Frequently Asked Questions about Abraham Lincoln" by Gerry J. Prokopowicz

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Lee on Longstreet

How did Lee feel about James Longstreet? There are many opinions but here is an section from am 1866 Lee letter that might shed some light on Lee's opinion of his "Old Warhorse"

"You must remember me very kindly to Mrs. Longstreet and all your children. I have not had an opportunity yet to return the compliment she paid me. I had, while in Richmond, a great many inquiries after you, and learned that you intended commencing business in New Orleans. If you become as good a merchant as you were a soldier, I shall be content. No one will then excel you, and no one can wish you more success and more happiness than I. My interest and affection for you will never cease, and my prayers are always offered for your prosperity."
Robert E. Lee, January 19, 1866.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Hero

My Hero

Everybody has a hero. For Abraham Lincoln his idol was Henry Clay and the former Illinois resident did just about everything in his power to let people know that Clay was his man. On July 6, 1852, just one week after Clay’s death, Lincoln gave a eulogy to his fallen hero.

Lincoln began his speech by discussing the origins of Clay which began on the during the American Revolution in 1777. Like Lincoln, Henry Clay was a native of Kentucky but at that time the area was a vast woodland left untamed by Europeans. He referred to Clay as “freedoms champion” because of the political work that Clay had completed throughout his career. The career of Henry Clay is one of the greatest political resumes in American History. Other than becoming President, a post that he ran for a few times, Clay had held just about every important post within the American political system.

Here are some of Clay’s posts:

Elected as a Democratic Republican to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Buckner Thruston and served from January 4, 1810, to March 3, 1811; elected as a Democratic Republican to the Twelfth and Thirteenth Congresses and served from March 4, 1811, to January 19, 1814, when he resigned; Speaker of the House of Representatives (Twelfth and Thirteenth Congresses); appointed one of the commissioners to negotiate the treaty of peace with Great Britain in 1814; elected as a Democratic Republican to the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Congresses (March 4, 1815-March 3, 1821); Speaker of the House of Representatives (Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth Congresses); elected to the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Congresses and served from March 3, 1823, to March 6, 1825, when he resigned; again served as Speaker of the House of Representatives (Eighteenth Congress); appointed Secretary of State by President John Quincy Adams 1825-1829; elected as a National Republican to the United States Senate on November 10, 1831, to fill the vacancy in the term commencing March 4, 1831; reelected as a Whig in 1836 and served from November 10, 1831, until March 31, 1842, when he resigned; chairman, Committee on Foreign Relations (Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses), Committee on Finance (Twenty-seventh Congress); unsuccessful presidential candidate of the Democratic Republican Party in 1824, of the National Republican Party in 1832, and of the Whig Party in 1844; again elected to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1849, until his death in Washington, D.C., June 29, 1852.

As you can see Clay’s career spanned a long time and he helped America through several wars and prevented several others. He served under Presidents Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Tyler, Harrison, Fillmore, Pierce, Polk, Taylor and Buchanan. As of 1850 he was the most experienced politician in America. Lincoln identified his in his eulogy for his hero:

“The career of Henry Clay was a public career. From his youth he has been devoted to the public service, at a period too, in the world's history justly regarded as a remarkable era in human affairs. He witnessed in the beginning the throes of the French Revolution. He saw the rise and fall of Napoleon. He was called upon to legislate for America, and direct her policy when all Europe was the battle-field of contending dynasties, and when the struggle for supremacy imperiled the rights of all neutral nations. His voice, spoke war and peace in the contest with Great Britain.”

Clay was the main man on two great compromises that managed temporarily to tame sectional passions. These were the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the Compromise of 1850. Both postponed the Civil War and helped save America from breaking up during its adolescent years. He was truly one of the greatest Congressmen who ever took a seat in our nations capital and some historians label him as the greatest Speaker of the House in American history.

Henry Clay was everything that Abraham Lincoln wanted to be and he identified his admiration for the man by stating “Clay was without an equal, and the heaven born endowment, in the spirit of its origin, has been most conspicuously exhibited against intestine feud. On at least three important occasions, he has quelled our civil commotions, by a power and influence, which belonged to no other statesman of his age and times.”

Do you remember Henry Clay? Despite his influence on American history and Lincolns admiration few people can recall him or his time as one of our nations greatest leaders. Unlike Lincoln, he is largely a forgotten footnote in American history. His memory was most likely overshadowed by the turbulent times that came after his death and one wonders if 1860-1865 would have ever occurred as they did if Henry was around. Perhaps in 1852 Lincoln called upon all future Americans to remember the man that like George Washington had saved our country. “But Henry Clay is dead. His long and eventful life is closed. Our country is prosperous and powerful; but could it have been quite all it has been, and is, and is to be, without Henry Clay?”\

Abe Lincoln is my hero so I guess that makes Henry Clay my "grand (father) hero"??

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Lincoln's height and shoe size

Lincoln's shoe size was fourteen but his right foot was actually twelve and one-quarter inches long. A quarter inch longer than his left. Old Abe was six feet, four inches tall and he was our tallest President. Nothing like usless knowledge.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Did Lincoln Own Slaves?

To all my readers please buy this book. It totally rocks!! Help out Gerry.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Fascinating fact about my birthplace and Appommattox

I was recently listening to Civil War Talk Radio hosted by historian Gerry Prokopowicz and I found out a fascinating fact concerning my birthplace (Niagara Falls, NY) and Appommattox Court House. This fact concerns the house of Wilmer McLean where Lee surrendered to U.S. Grant

In 1891, the house changed hands again, going to Captain Myron Dunlap of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

“He was a former Union officer,” said Schroeder, “and one of his plans was to make the site a retirement community for other ex-Union soldiers.”

That gave way to another plan, to dismantle the house and ship it to the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893.

“They made drawings and took it apart, brick by brick,” said Schroeder, “but the World’s Fair decided it didn’t want the house - not for $10,000, which was the asking price.”

Then the speculators went bust in the Panic of 1893, and the house where the Civil War ended sat for 50 years as a pile of bricks.

“There were 8,000 or so bricks originally,” said Schroeder, “but people kept carrying them off as souvenirs, and only 5,500 were left when the reconstruction started after World War II.”


Here is the full article that I googled!news!archive

McLean descendants gather at Civil War surrender site
By Darrell Laurant
Monday, July 30, 2007

APPOMATTOX - More than 142 years ago, the Civil War came looking for Wilmer McLean.

This week, with his descendants, it was the reverse.

McLean and his family were upstairs in their two-story house when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant signed the agreement that ended the four darkest years in American history. The oft-repeated irony is that McLean, who lived in Manassas, had moved to Appomattox after the first Battle of Bull Run to escape the war.

“He used to say that the war started in his front yard and ended in his parlor,” said Patrick Schroeder, a historian with the Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park.

Four generations of McLean descendants toured the historic park and the restored house on Monday, a first for the family.

According to Charlotte Lageman, McLean’s great-granddaughter, “a family story is that a cannonball came through the chimney and fell into a pot of soup he was cooking in Manassas. That’s when he said, ‘This war is getting too close.’”

Of course, McLean was also a successful businessman, Schroeder pointed out, “and part of his reason for moving to Appomattox was business. He sold supplies to the Confederacy, and Manassas was often behind Union lines.”

The McLean descendants had been planning Monday’s home tour for a while, said Diane Brower, Lageman’s daughter, “but it’s hard to get everybody together at one time.”

Samantha Scott wasn’t all that excited when it finally happened. The great-great-great-great granddaughter of Wilmer, she’s only 5 months old.

“Since she’s been born, I’ve gotten more interested in our family history,” said Dawn Scott of Leesburg, Charlotte Lageman’s granddaughter.

Lageman has been to the McLean house on a number of occasions with Joyce Abbitt, another family member who lives in Appomattox. But it was Dawn Scott’s first time.

“We don’t have any family heirlooms from my great-grandfather,” said Charlotte Lageman. “It’s all here. My mother donated his spurs and some of his family’s baby shoes to the park.”

After the war, McLean and his family moved back to Northern Virginia. The Appomattox house was purchased at auction by John L. Pascoe, then sold to the Ragland family. In 1891, the house changed hands again, going to Captain Myron Dunlap of Niagara Falls, N.Y.

“He was a former Union officer,” said Schroeder, “and one of his plans was to make the site a retirement community for other ex-Union soldiers.”

That gave way to another plan, to dismantle the house and ship it to the World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893.

“They made drawings and took it apart, brick by brick,” said Schroeder, “but the World’s Fair decided it didn’t want the house - not for $10,000, which was the asking price.”

Then the speculators went bust in the Panic of 1893, and the house where the Civil War ended sat for 50 years as a pile of bricks.

“There were 8,000 or so bricks originally,” said Schroeder, “but people kept carrying them off as souvenirs, and only 5,500 were left when the reconstruction started after World War II.”

The house was opened to the public on April 9, 1949, and officially dedicated in an April 16, 1950, ceremony that included direct descendants of Grant and Lee.

According to Schroeder, the McLean House draws more of the park’s visitors than the restored courthouse.

“That’s what everybody wants to see,” he said.

As for the McLean descendants, Wilmer isn’t the only family member with a high profile. Jeff Lageman, the son of Leon and Charlotte Lageman, was a star football player at the University of Virginia and a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets. He played 10 years in the National Football League and is now a successful businessman and color commentator for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ network.

“He’s the runt of the family,” said Leon Lageman with a smile. “6-foot-7, 290 pounds.”

Wilmer would be proud.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A new President is elected

Today, 147 years ago President-elect Abraham Lincoln walked up to the podium and above him the construction was still incomplete. The states of South Carolina, Alabama, Flordia, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana had already seceded and the new president was about to make a speech to a divided nation. In typical Lincoln fashion, he introduced his speech with a relaxed opening paragraph.

"Fellow citizens of the United States: in compliance with a custom as old as the government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly and to take, in your presence, the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States, to be taken by the President "before he enters on the execution of his office."

Two sentences later he calmly reassured his Southern brothers:

"Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension."

Later he honored the men before him and he even spoke of his own new position:

"It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our national Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have, in succession, administered the executive branch of the government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief Constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted."

Even later on he used the analogy of a marriage to discuss the issues that the country face in 1861:

"Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced, and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other; but the different parts of our country cannot do this."

Then he closed his speech with one of the greatest inaugural speech endings in American history:

"In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

I am loathe to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Lincoln had a magical way with words. Although it is well known that several people including William Seward helped him edit this speech I think that it remains as one of his best. President Lincoln was extending an olive branch to the South and clearly reminded them that we don't have to go to war. Historians have argued that the war was inevitable or that Lincoln forced the South into the fighting. Wherever you stand on this issue this speech shows that Lincoln was trying to quell the passions of the future Confederacy. It didn't work and over 600,000 men lost their lives. Oh the horrors of war.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Finished reading

I have just finished reading Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative. It was wonderful and I am proud to finally say that after 23 years of Civil War readership that I have finally read Shelby's work. Stay tuned for my book review! My next quest is to read the newly published "Did Lincoln Own Slaves?" written by Gerry Prokopowicz. I've been waiting for this book to be published and finally got my copy a week ago. I am totally looking forward to reading it and sharing its insights with my readers. This one is going to be a lot of fun. Stay tuned to my Civil War blog for further updates!