Civil War Fangirl

The thoughts of a (slighty eccentric & crazy) Canadian who happens to be obsessed with Abraham Lincoln, General William Tecumseh Sherman & the Civil War

Archive for the month “April, 2016”

“All felt the solemnity and sorrowed as if they lost one of their own household…”

The title of this blog comes from Gideon Welles’ diary entry from Wednesday, April 19th, 1865. He is writing of the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. It was on this day that Washington D.C. said goodbye and a nation began to mourn the loss of their beloved president. Welles’ diary gives us a glimpse into how the city mourned and just how much sorrow their was everywhere. It is quite touching to be able to read his words and see the funeral through his thoughts.

In writing of the days following the assassination, Welles describes the city as having fallen into mourning as “every house, almost, has some drapery, especially the homes of the poor”. While he describes more elaborate displays on public buildings and wealthy homes, it was “the little black ribbon or strip of black cloth from the hovel of the poor negro or the impoverished white [that] is more touching”.

In his entry from the 18th, we do get some sense of what Welles’ himself was going through, and it is evident he was feeling the loss of Lincoln immensely. He writes “I have tried to writing something consecutively since the horrid transactions of Friday night, but I have no heart for it, and the jottings down are mere mementos of a period, which I will try to fill up when more composed, and I have leisure or time for the task”. The passage that struck me the most from this entry was this: “Sad and painful, wearied and irksome, the few preceding incoherent pages have been written for future use, for the incidents are fresh in my mind and may pass away with me but cannot ever be by me forgotten”. In reading that, I felt he was probably capturing what many at the time felt. No doubt many were still feeling shock and disbelief at what had happened to President Lincoln and their was an air of sorrow that the people of the Washington D.C. and the country had never felt before.

On the day of the funeral, Welles remarks that business was suspended for the day. His words again capture the deep sorrow that was felt by most, if not all, who attended Lincoln’s funeral & the feelings of many people…

“…imposing, sad and sorrowful. All felt solemnity, and sorrowed as if they had lost one of their own household…”

Those words stick with me so much right now as I write this and try to imagine the grief that was flowing through everyone at that time.

The funeral was held in the East Room of the White House. Chandeliers were taken down or draped in black. Huge mirrors were covered in white cloth. The day before, mourners had come through to pay their respects to the slain President, with a line stretching from the White House more than a mile long.

The funeral was attended by 600 people. Robert Todd Lincoln was the representative for the immediate family at the funeral. Mary, too overcome with grief, stayed up in her room. I cannot even imagine the grief and sorrow she must have been feeling at the loss of her husband. Tad was present at first but had to be taken away because, as one person remarked, he was crying “as if his heart would break”.

Afterwards, a funeral procession was led down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capital, where again President Lincoln would lie in state, giving the people of Washington one final time to say goodbye to him. It was here, just six weeks prior on March 4th, that Lincoln had been sworn in for his second term as president and gave his second inaugural address. This is when he spoke the words that have resonated ever since the first time I read them when I was younger: “…with malice toward none…”

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The funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln

In the procession, Welles rode with Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. His entry of the procession captures the mood again of the entire city:

“There were no truer mourners, when all were sad, than the poor colored people who crowded the streets, joined the procession, and exhibited their woe, bewailing the loss of him whom they regarded as a benefactor and father. Women as well as men, with their little children, thronged the streets, sorrow, trouble, and distress depicted on their countenances and in their bearing”

Everything had “given way to real grief”.

Welles even writes of Seward, who was unable to attend the funeral due to not only injuries from a carriage accident a few weeks prior but a brutal assassination attempt upon him the same night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination:

“Seward, I am told, sat up in bed and viewed the procession and hearse of the President, and I know his emotion”.

Once at the Capitol, Welles writes that Reverend Gurley said a brief prayer in the Rotunda. The statues were all covered with black except for that of George Washington. Upon leaving, Welles’ writes an emotional sentiment: “we left the remains of the good and great man we loved so well”.

Here at the Capitol, Lincoln would lie in state for 36 hours before beginning his journey on a train to his final resting place: his home of Springfield, Illinois. The train would make many stops on its way there, the entire journey taking three weeks, giving the people of his beloved country a chance to say one final goodbye.

 

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“There was a cheerless cold and everything seemed gloomy”

“The respiration of the President became suspended at intervals, and at last entirely ceased at twenty-two minutes past seven”. This sentence was written 151 years ago today by Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of Navy, Gideon Welles. Lincoln often referred to him as his “Neptune”. He is writing, of course, of the passing of President Abraham Lincoln, who died at Peterson House in Washington DC on April 15th, 1865. The diary entry of Gideon Welles from this day is really resonating with me today and I felt I should write a post about it.

As he lay dying, Lincoln was surrounded by doctors, politicians, members of his cabinet and his son, Robert. Of Robert, Welles writes that “he bore himself well, but on two occasions gave way to overpowering grief and sobbed aloud, turning his head and leaning on the shoulder of Senator Sumner”. This passage captures some of what everyone in that room must have been feeling as they watched Abraham Lincoln’s life slip away. The sadness and grief that was present in the room must have been profound from the moment he was brought to Peterson House to the minutes following his death.

Upon his death, the room is said to have fallen silent for a few minutes.

Welles tells us that eventually “a prayer followed from Dr. Gurley”. The words of this prayer are not known. All of us who study and read about Lincoln know that Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War spoke next. There is some debate as to what he said and it was either “Now he belongs to the angels” or “Now he belongs to the ages”. Either way, those words have become immortalized and will forever be associated with the passing of Abraham Lincoln.

Eventually, Welles made his way home. His wife, Mary Jane, was very good friends with Mary Lincoln. While Mary Jane had not been well “and confined to the house from indisposition for a week”, after a second messenger arrived at the house and she learned the details of what happened, she went to the White House (which Welles also refers to as the Executive Mansion) to be with Mary Lincoln.

Welles, by the time he arrived home, had been up all night. He described himself as being “wearied, shocked, exhausted, but not inclined to sleep, the day, when not actually and officially engaged, passed strangely”. I felt upon reading this passage that everything must have felt very surreal to him at that time.

He makes his way over to the Executive Mansion. The weather that day captured the mood and grief of the entire city, a grief that would eventually flow through the country:

“There was a cheerless cold rain and everything seemed gloomy”. 

The gloomy, inclement weather had not stopped a crowd from gathering:

“On the Avenue in front of the White House were several hundred coloured people, mostly women and children, weeping and wailing their loss. This crowd did not appear to diminish through the whole of that cold, wet day; they seemed not to know what was to be their fate since their great benefactor was dead, and their hopeless grief affected me more than almost anything else, though strong and brave men wept when I met them”.

He describes the White House as being silent. When he went to leave with Attorney General James Speed (brother of Lincoln’s very good friend, Joshua Speed), Welles writes about Tad and captures not only Tad’s grief but his own:

“As we were descending the stairs, “Tad”, who was looking from the window at the foot, turned and seeing us, cried aloud in his tears, “Oh, Mr. Welles, who killed my father?”. Neither Speed nor myself could restrain our tears, nor give the poor boy any satisfactory answer”.

It was quite profound to read about the day of April 15th, 1865 as Gideon Welles experienced it. While the entry is short, I believe it captures some of the grief that was being felt and how surreal all the events must have been for those involved. All of this happened 151 years ago today. 151 years. And here I am writing about it. Here I am feeling sadness. A friend and fellow Lincoln fan and I were talking earlier today about how amazing it is that 151 years later, the assassination and death of Abraham Lincoln still resonates with people and moves them. We still feel grief 151 years later. It truly is remarkable and a testament to what an amazing person Lincoln truly was and that he still means so very much to us.

Source: Diary of Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy under Lincoln and Johnson

Four Words: What Abraham Lincoln Means to Me…

Since I was six years old, I have had an immense love for Abraham Lincoln. He has been a constant in my life and knowing who he is and all that he accomplished has had an incredibly positive impact on my own life. On this, the 151st anniversary of his assassination, I decided to write a post about what Lincoln personally means to me.

Four words…

Hope. Perseverance. Kindness.Laughter.

These are words that come to mind when I think of what Abraham Lincoln means to me.

Why those four words?

HOPE…

Abraham Lincoln is someone who suffered from depression. He was a melancholy person. As someone who personally battles depression and anxiety, knowing he suffered and managed to get through and do all the amazing things he did, gives me hope. Hope that I can get through the days that are rough, that I can push through and come out maybe a bit stronger than I was before. It gives me hope that we all can push through.

PERSEVERANCE…

Abraham Lincoln’s humble origins show us that where we are from matters not. We can, just like he did, rise above that which holds us back, be it people, a place or, in the case of depression, ourselves. He shows us that we can always push forward and persevere. Always. And hey, this gives us hope, too.

KINDNESS…

Lincoln teaches us to find “the better angels of our nature” and “to have malice toward none”, no matter the situation. While he applied these words to a country that was at war, they can apply to any situation, big or small. These words remind me to be a good person and treat others well.

LAUGHTER…

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You can see a slight smile in this photo of Lincoln. Thanks to one of my Twitter friends for sending this to me the other day. It brought a smile to my face on a day in which I needed to remember to smile 

I can’t remember Lincoln without remembering his sense of humour. It is so very much apart of who he was. He has taught me to always remember to laugh, even in the face of depression. That laughter is good.

Hope. Perseverance. Kindness. Laughter.

It is these four words that are what Abraham Lincoln means to me. For me personally, this is his legacy. He has been a part of my life since I was six. That is 27 years now. Besides these four words, knowing who he is has brought me so much. Through him, I developed a lifelong love and passion for history. In developing a passion and love of history, I decided to pursue an education in the museum field and become an artifact conservator. It is also because of him I have met many wonderful, amazing, and caring people, especially in the past year. I’m so happy that I can call many of these people friends. I’m so grateful to have them in my life. I’ve learned so much from them.

As we remember Abraham Lincoln on the 151st anniversary of his assassination, it will be in different ways; it all depends on what he personally means to us. That is truly one of the things that is amazing about him. What he means to each of us, and what we believe his legacy to be, may be different from person to person. I am sure, however, that one thing we can all agree on is what an amazing, inspiring person he was and really, what he continues to be. It is because of this, he will never be forgotten and that his spirit lives on in us.

So, Lincoln, where ever you, thank you for all you did and continue to do. Thank you for giving us hope, for inspiring us, for helping us persevere and for making us remember to smile and laugh.

We will continue to remember you. Always.

 

 

It happened under a tree in the rain…

…my favourite moment between General Grant and General Sherman, that is. Yes, it happened under a tree in the rain after the first day of the Battle of Shiloh. Oh, and just to warn you, this post contains profanity.

Civil War BFF’s. If I had to pick between the two though, I’m Team Sherman….

I’ve always been fascinated by the friendship between Grant and Sherman. From Shiloh to the end of the war, they were BFF’s. Sadly, their friendship did not remain as strong after the war and I believe this is mainly to do from Grant’s time as President (I’m not laying the blame solely on Grant but I think he did a few things that pissed Sherman off). During the Civil War, however, they had quite the friendship. One can gather this from how they spoke of each other.

Speaking of Grant, Sherman said “he stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk and now sir, we stand by each other always”. And vice-versa, Grant wrote to his father, “I know him well as one of the greatest and best of men. He is poor and always will be, but he is great and magnanimous”. The bond that was forged quickly at the Battle of Shiloh would carry through the war. Taking place 10 months into the war, Flood states that “the relationship as superior [Grant] and subordinate [Sherman] began when they moved towards Shiloh” (Flood 4). It was here Grant and Sherman were brought together on the field, taking “each other’s measure under fire and [beginning] two years of successful cooperation and friendship” (Flood 4). It has been argued by many that it was this friendship that was a huge factor in the Union victory. Robert L. O’Connell, author of the very awesome Sherman biography “Fierce Patriot” states that “it was this alliance that eventually won the Civil War in the field” (O’Connell 94). There is a even a book devoted to their friendship, “Grant & Sherman: The Friendship That Won The Civil War” by Charles Bracelen Flood (I’m currently reading it and it’s quite good so far!).

It just so happens that today marks the 154th  anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Shiloh. This is when my favourite Grant-Sherman moment happened.

A little about Shiloh…

The Union side was led by Grant and Don Carlos Buell.  Sherman, along with Stephen Hurl, Benjamin Prentis, John McClernand & Lew Wallace (side note: Heard of the book “Ben Hur”? This guy is the author. Spoiler alert: he makes it through the war. Also, he got a little held up on his way to Shiloh and wasn’t there until the end of the day) are also there. Leading on the Confederate side, there is Albert Sidney Johnston (the south’s oldest general at 58 years of age),& P.G.T Beauregard (herein known simply as “Beau”). Braxton Bragg, Leonidas K. Polk, John C. Breckinridge and William J. Hardee were also there.

The battle was named after a church that was at the top of a hill nearly at the center of the Union line. It is also called the Battle of Pittsburg Landing. Shiloh is located in the far southwestern corner of Tennessee close to the Mississippi border. The eastern boundary of the battlefield was the Tennessee River. To the west, the boundary was the Owl and Snake creeks. The site had lots of forest with ridges, deep ravines, swaps and there were very few cleared areas. In other words, it was a shitty place for a battle (but nothing is perfect, especially in war. Grant and Johnston didn’t get together prior to the battle and have a discussion like this: “You know, man, this is a shitty place to fight a battle” “I know, dude, like look at a these frickin’ trees, ravines and damn swamps. There’s maybe what, like 40 acres of cleared land?” “Yup. Shitty place. Let’s find somewhere better to kick each other’s asses” “Yeah, that sounds good”). Even the best generals would struggle to control troops on this terrain. And struggle they did, on both sides, but especially the Union side on the first day.

It was a violent, bloody battle and those that fought had difficulty describing it: “I cannot bring myself to tell you of the things I saw yesterday” (Shiloh 15). It is described “as the first great and terrible battle of the Civil War”, setting the stage for what was to follow (Shiloh 15). Sherman states it was a battle that “began with extreme fury” (Sherman 213) and that what he witnessed “would have cured anybody of war”(from a letter Sherman wrote to his wife Ellen).

The battle began with a surprise attack on the Union troops, which Sherman was witness to:

“Shortly after 7am, with my entire staff, I rode along a portion of our front, and when in the open field before Appler’s regiment, the enemy’s pickets opened a brisk fire upon my party, killing my orderly, Thomas D. Holliday, of Company H, Second Illinois Cavalry. The fire came from the bushes which line a small stream that rises in the field in front of Appler’s camp, and flows to the north along my whole front” (Sherman’s Memoirs)

Despite the surprise attack, Sherman, and the rest of the Union army, held their own on that first day. Yes, they did get driven back from where they started but they did not lose the battle. O’Connell argues that it  was Prentiss who saved the day, by getting his men into shelter along a sunken lane and turning it into what the Confederates called, with no affection whatsoever, a hornet’s nest (O’Connell 99). While Prentiss did end up surrendering, with Beau getting 2200 men from this, what he did helped the Union to hold their own even while the Confederates pounded them with their artillery, driving them further back.

The Confederates had bad luck of their own though. In mid-afternoon, General Albert Sidney Johnston, struck by a musket ball that severed the artery in his leg, died.This left Beau to take over command. While he tried his best to keep the news from the men eventually word got around  that Johnston had died(Flood 111). Upon seeing  his tired troops (who were no doubt also demoralized too at losing their commander),  Beau decided that maybe, just maybe, he should call it a day. Grant was thinking along the same lines as him (O’Connell 100). The end of day 1 looked like this:

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That night, Beau ended up sleeping in Sherman’s tent since he had captured where Sherman had been that morning (Flood 113). I’m picturing Sherman just seething at this. At 10pm, just to add insult to injury, mainly for the Union at this point because…NO TENTS…it starts to rain.

It is at this time, General Grant is riding around his own camp. His troops were sleeping in the rain without shelter. He could hear agonized moans from the wounded (Flood 113).

Sherman paints a bit of prettier picture in his official account of the battle:

“It rained hard during the night, but our men were in good spirits, lay on their arms, being satisfied with such bread and meat as could be gathered at the neighboring camps, and determined to redeem on Monday the losses of Sunday” (Sherman’s Memoirs).

Really, you probably aren’t going to say “it was a really crappy night, it was f&*^ing raining, and a damn rebel general is sleeping in my f&*^ing tent”. Nope, you have to be official. And official Sherman was.

To top it off with the rain, Grant had a sore, swollen ankle that was result of the fall from a horse the Friday before the battle. His ankle was swollen, bruised and painful to the point where he knew he wouldn’t be able to rest (Grant’s Memoirs). Did I mention it is f&*^ing raining? Grant went back to a log house for shelter. It was being used a make-shift hospital to treat the wounded. He found the site “more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire, and I returned to my tree in the rain” (Grant’s Memoirs).

This is where my favourite Grant-Sherman moment happens. Under the tree. In the rain…

Sherman, his arm in a sling and hand sore from a buckshot wound (O’Connell 100), wanders over to where Grant is. What Sherman does not mention in his official report is that, at this point, he is ready to retreat. He doesn’t think they should fight the next day. And he’s about to tell Grant his plan for retreat (O’Connell 100). He thought it best to put the river between them and the enemy in order to recuperate (Flood 114). Both men know how high the casualties are going to be from the day. Of the 40,000 Union soldiers who had started the day, 10,00 would be listed as wounded, killed or missing. He sees Grant there standing under the tree, a lantern in one hand, supporting himself on a crutch, rain dripping down the brim of his hat and cigar clenched in his teeth. In seeing Grant there, Sherman decided to shut-up and not say a thing about the retreat.

Instead, he says to Grant: “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day of it, haven’t we?”. To which Grant replies “Yes. Lick’em tomorrow though”. O’Connell says at this point “Sherman rose to the occasion. The chatterbox shut himself down, bit the proverbial bullet, and got ready for the next day’s attack” (O’Connell 100). And that exchange between the two men is my favourite Grant-Sherman moment. I don’t know why. It just is. Just something about it. Perhaps because Shiloh was such an important battle for them both and it was the beginning of their friendship. A friendship that ultimately had a strong role in the Union victory.

They fought the next day, with the Beau and his Confederate Army finally retreating mid-afternoon. It was actually Beau’s chief of staff who hinted that maybe they should GTF out and gave a good analogy on the state of things (O’Connell 101):

Do you not think our troops are very much in the condition of a lump of sugar thoroughly soaked with water, yet preserving its original shape, though ready to dissolve? Would it not be judicious to get away with what we have?

Beau listened, taking the army back towards Corinth. This is a map of the second day, April 7, 1862:

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The two day battle at Shiloh produced more than 23,000 casualties, ended as a stalemate and was the bloodiest battle in American history at its time.The Civil War Trust gives quite a good summary of the battle here.

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“Battle of Shiloh” by Thure de Thulstrup

Sources

Flood, Bracelen Charles. “Grant and Sherman: The Friendship That Won The Civil War”. New York: Harper Collins, 2005.

Groom, Winston. “Shiloh 1862”. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2013.

O’Connell, Robert L. “Fierece Patriot: The Tangled Lives Of William Tecumseh Sherman”. New York: Random House, 2014.

I also used the Memoirs of both General Grant and General Sherman

 

 

 

DC or when I say “We don’t need a map”, don’t listen to me…

On the same road trip we went on in 2012, we also went to Washington, DC. We literally had less than a day there. So, we each picked one thing we wanted to do. The rest was a bonus…

Jeremy picked Arlington National Cemetery. JFK is his favourite President so he wanted to see where he was buried. While I was there, I wanted to see where Gus Grissom was buried. And my famous “last” words: “I’ve been here before, Jere. We don’t need a map…”. It was kind of like Doc Brown in Back To The Future: “Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads”.  I was like “We’ll be fine!”. I get a smile and nod from Jere and off we went to have an adventure. Too bad I  inherited my dad’s sense of direction, which is ZERO. If the goal of the day there was to get lost at Arlington National Cemetery, I achieved it! We totally laugh about it now.

The day started off promising. We found JFK’s grave. Mind you, there are lots of signs. And, I did remember the way there from before. Okay, yes, the signs helped…

This is a photo I took from JFK’s grave. We walked all the way to the Washington Monument (and past it…). I’d do that again. It was a great walk across the bridge into DC.

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Things kind of went downhill after that in a way that makes us laugh now. We went to see the Unknown Soldier and after that, we got lost. For about an hour. Or maybe more. At least it was a nice day.

We finally found our way back and we managed to see the Challenger Memorial. This was a great experience for both of us since we both love the space program and the history of it. Kennedy Space Center is another of our favourite places to visit.

But back to the day in DC…

When we got on the bridge, I thought “I’m almost home!”. I say that because I’ve always felt very at home in DC.

YOU GUYS! YOU GUYS! YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHERE I PICKED TO GO! NOT IN A MILLION YEARS! HAHA! I’ll give you a big hint if you haven’t guessed yet. I literally ran up the steps at this point…

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Luckily, Jere knew exactly where to find me…

 

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Photo with my second favourite man in the entire world…

Of course I took a bazillion photos. I won’t upload them all…

And I think this is one of my favourite photos from the entire trip…

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Me with my favourite guy in the whole world. Second favourite guy is sort of in the  background

After being dragged off akin to a child leaving Magic Kingdom leaving the Lincoln Memorial, we’d been able to see what we had each wanted to in our one day in DC. But we did manage to see a few other things…

I wanted to go to Ford’s Theatre but we didn’t have time. We ended the day by going to Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian. We had 45 minutes to look around since they were closing. We just wanted to be able to say that Jeremy had been to the Smithsonian. I’d been there twice before…

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Our day in DC was fantastic. We can’t wait to go back and hopefully that happens soon! Next time, we plan on spending about a week there. I’ve already started making a list of places to see, both in DC and in the surrounding area.

On my list so far: Ford’s Theatre, the Lincoln Memorial (yes, again…), the Lincoln Cottage, the Smithsonian, this restaurant called the Lincoln (at least, I think that is what it’s called). Of course we’re going back to Gettysburg. We plan on going to both Alexandria (I’m a huge fan of Mercy Street) and Richmond, Virginia. Jere wants to see the Confederate White House (and so do I). We also are going to Baltimore to see where John Wilkes Booth is buried plus a few of the Confederate Generals. We’re definitely going back to Arlington again.

Is there anywhere else we should make a point of going to? What’s your favourite place to visit in DC or the surrounding area? Let me know by leaving a comment! I don’t know when exactly we’re going back yet but it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about it and planning it out.

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