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,, January 23, 2018.

Relying on historical records and accounts from old timers, 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

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

New and Noteworthy: The Minds of the Soldiers

Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War,  R. Gregory Lande,  McFarland Publishing Company, 2017, pp. 256, $35.00. 
Review at Michigan War Studies, by R. Gregory Lande,

The American Civil War transformed the social and political fabric of the United States. It destroyed slavery, expanded the federal government, and mobilized over three million men for military service. In Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War, independent scholar R. Gregory Lande explores how a society fractured by war "confronted the lingering psychological consequences that followed four brutal years of deprivation, distrust, and death" (1), as its civilians and veterans struggled to make sense of the war's carnage and destruction. The book's subjects, including substance abuse, fraudulent physicians, depression, spiritualism, patent medicines, and crime, demonstrate the challenges facing postwar Americans.

Lande states that his "personal experiences in forensic psychiatry and addiction medicine have contributed insights that collectively informed my analysis of the social forces shaping America's postwar period." With an audience of general readers in mind, he uses a fluid writing style, short, punchy paragraphs, and extended narration. He takes little notice of previous scholarship on his subject, but promises a work different in "scope and analysis" from that of "many other eminent historians" (2). In the absence of any specific mention of those historians in his main text, readers are left to wonder just what makes his account distinctive.

The book comprises a preface and seven thematically organized chapters. Lande moves briskly from event to event and person to person, guided by a central theme that carries across several fronts. Chapter 1, "Sadness and Suicide," for example, describes how wartime homesickness morphed into debilitating nostalgia and a concomitant "rash of suicides" (34). Chapter 4, "Intemperance," concerns the spike in postwar alcoholism, while 5, "Carnival of Crime," explains how "Depression-driven dissipation" (151) drove up crime rates. The author maintains that "The riveting impact of a war now concluded left society rudderless, drifting toward a reflective introversion and anomie. Against this backdrop, brooding intensified, cynicism increased, and social outlets dried up. For an increasing number of individuals, the nihilistic spiral ended in suicide" (29).

This is not an argument-driven work but rather a broad investigation of a pervasive American postwar social malaise: "Emotional turmoil from four years of civil war contributed to decades of mayhem, misery, and malevolence on a scale unprecedented in America's short history" (193). To bolster such assertions, Lande canvasses census data, newspaper articles, personal correspondence, medical journals, and popular periodicals. While the resulting study contains interesting stories and makes some solid claims, it also postulates several tenuous connections between the Civil War and postwar upheaval. Chapter 4, for example, adduces census data showing that higher mortality rates in postbellum America were attributable to "venereal diseases, alcoholism, … diseases of the liver, … accidents of all kinds, and suicides" (100). Yet, as Lande himself notes, "the full impact of intemperance during the Civil War and in the following decades is nearly impossible" (99) to assess.
In this case, the inferred causal link between wartime and postwar alcohol abuse and higher death rates is entirely plausible. Lande's treatment of spiritualism in chapter 2, "A Loss of Faith," is less compelling. It dwells so long on antebellum-era spiritualism and famous practitioners like the Fox family and Cora Hatch as to overshadow the author's stated aim to show how the Civil War created "fertile ground for the rapid growth of Spiritualism" (39). Lande concedes that, though the war produced many easily preyed-upon "disillusioned victims" (75), "only skimpy evidence documenting Civil War soldiers' feelings about Spiritualism seems to exist" (59). Presenting a string of incidents and stories, however fascinating, does not effectively explain how the war changed Americans' spiritual thinking, a subject well elucidated by others.
Finally, certain claims suffer from lack evidence or ignorance of relevant scholarship. For example, Lande uses Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in his discussion of intemperance. Grant famously developed a drinking problem during his antebellum military service and the press often criticized him for drunkenness, correctly or not, during the war. Relying on a nineteenth-century biography, Lande describes Grant as too drunk to participate in the battle of Shiloh (6–7 April 1862), in order to set up his narrative of the general's conquest of his intemperance later in the war (113). In fact, Grant spent the night of the sixth with his troops in the field and personally coordinated the counterassaults that routed the Confederate forces the next day.

The gripping, often troubling tales told in Psychological Consequences of the American Civil War shed welcome light on the effects of the "furious forces unleashed by four years of war" (10) long after Appomattox. R. Gregory Lande's lively investigation of the world created by the Civil War will intrigue and instruct a wide general audience, if not specialist readers.

Review Source: Michigan War Studies

Thursday, December 21, 2017

New and Noteworthy: After Gettysburg, The Flight and The Pursuit

After Gettysburg: Lee Retreats, Meade Pursues, Joe Mieczkowski, Pedia Press, 154 pp. 17 maps, 31 images, 21 charts, bibliographic notes, bibliographies, index, $24.90.

In the social sciences, a case study is a research and presentation method which focuses upon a close-up, detailed examination of a subject.  Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guide, Joe Mieczkowski's After Gettysburg offers a welcomed case study style handbook to the Gettysburg Campaign's July 4 through mid-October segment. 

Divided into three parts, After Gettysburg details the Army of Northern Virginia's retreat to the Potomac River and the Army of the Potomac's pursuit from Gettysburg to the Rappahannock River. A third part describes seven notable generals and their unique strategic impact on the campaign.

 After Gettysburg; Lee Retreats, Meade Pursues encourages further study by offering references, books and internet links for each segment.  Mieczkowski includes GPS coordinates for each skirmish and battle. Printed 8.5 inch x 5 inch with a sturdy and flexible spine allows the book to be easily used in the car. Clear, concise narration combined with citations for further study,  After Gettysburg; Lee Retreats, Meade Pursues is accessible to readers high school and up.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Forthcoming in 2018--Where Valor Sleeps: Fredericksburg National Cemetery

 Where Valor Proudly Sleeps: A History of Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 1866-1933, Donald C. Pfanz, Engaging The Civil War Series, Southern Illinois University Press, 248 pages, $26.50 [March 2018]

From the Publisher: Many books discuss in great detail what happened during Civil War battles. This is one of the few that investigate what happened to the remains of those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Where Valor Proudly Sleeps explores a battle’s immediate and long-term aftermath by focusing on Fredericksburg National Cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries created by the U.S. government after the Civil War. Pfanz shows how legislation created the National Cemetery System and describes how the Burial Corps identified, collected, and interred soldier remains as well as how veterans, their wives, and their children also came to rest in national cemeteries. By sharing the stories of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, its workers, and those buried there, Pfanz explains how the cemetery evolved into its current form, a place of beauty and reflection. 

Donald C. Pfanz has written five books, including Richard S. Ewell: A Soldier’s Life and War So Terrible: A Popular History of the Battle of Fredericksburg. In his thirty-two-year career with the National Park Service, he worked at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park, Petersburg National Battlefield Park, and Fort Sumter National Monument.
"This might be the best book ever written about a national cemetery. With a depth of knowledge born of decades of work, Donald Pfanz tells in vivid form and in close detail the story of how, over time, a place of struggle became a place of remembrance."—John J. Hennessy, author, Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas

"Pfanz reveals the horrors of war and the tragic tales of sacrifice that involved incredibly high percentages of unknown dead. Anyone interested in the funeral practices of the Union Army, or in better understanding the sacrifices for freedom, will find this book enlightening."—William A. Blair, author of With Malice toward Some: Treason and Loyalty in the Civil War Era