Tuesday, May 21, 2013
On Friday May 24, 2013 the PBS Latino series "Voces" (Voices) will premiere its latest installment, titled Rebel, a documentary about an almost entirely unknown figure from the American Civil War. Rebel is the remarkable story of Loreta Janeta Velasquez, who disguised as Harry Buford, became one of the estimated nearly 1,000 women who fought in combat in the war.
Velasquez was especially unlikely to fight in the Civil War and not only due to her gender. She was born to a wealthy family in Cuba, who expected her to become a refined, elegant woman fitting of her place in society. Her parents sent her to New Orleans, Louisiana by her early teens where she lived with an aunt who attempted to teach her the classic lessons expected of a woman of the time: dance, knitting, sewing, and so on. But as the name of this episode implies, Velasquez would have none of it. Her personal hero was Joan of Arc, the French heroine who led armies to victory against the British in the 1400's. Velasquez not only rebelled against society expectations for a lady, she went against the wishes of her family and married for love to a U.S. Army soldier from Texas. After the onset of the Civil War, her husband resigned his commission to join the Confederacy. Personal tragedy caused the ultimate rebellious behavior to her gender; she disguised herself as Harry Buford and joined the Confederate army.
Velasquez/Buford fought at the first major battle of the war, First Bull Run (or First Manassas as she would have called it), and also fought in the Battle of Shiloh. She then turned to spying for the Confederacy in various guises such as "Mrs. Alice Williams." Finally, it seems that she became at least a double-agent and spied for the Union, if not outright defecting to that side.
In 1876, Velasquez published "A Woman In Battle," her personal memoir of her life experiences, especially her service in the war. Her criticism of war profiteering and of the Confederacy itself caused a massive outcry among powerful former leaders of the rebellion, who actively worked to suppress her book and discredit her. In fact, the suppression and efforts to discredit Velasquez were so successful that she was erased almost completely from history. Many historians considered her to be little more than a myth. Recent scholarship and research have revealed her to be a real woman who was far ahead of her time.
A publicist for PBS asked me to view an advance copy of Rebel for review here on The Abraham Lincoln Blog. I'm pleased to report that the documentary is worthy of such a fascinating story. The narration, re-creations, and acting are, as with most PBS programming, outstanding. The re-creations are moving, especially given the almost total lack of dialog from the actors. As one would expect, several experts offer insight in the film, although in my opinion there are too many of them. The quality is exceptional as one would expect from PBS, which towers over the "history" programming shown on History or NatGeo.
Rebel is the project of director and writer Maria Agui Carter, who worked on the film for a decade with historians and archivists. She herself is a Latina immigrant to the United States just like the subject of the film. The story she tells in this film is important and deserves to be known. After all, Latino and Latina history in the United States helps to make up our nation's history.
Please try to watch or record Rebel on PBS on Friday May 24, 2013. It's worthy of your attention.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 7:55 PM
Friday, April 5, 2013
Interest in Abraham Lincoln is soaring these days thanks to Steven Spielberg's brilliant Lincoln film, the so-so Abraham Lincoln : Vampire Hunter movie, and of course the Lincoln birth bicentennial along with the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. New books seemingly appear every week discussing some aspect of Lincoln's life or legacy. Documentaries, some excellent, some dreadful pop up on cable television. One could say that Lincoln is "hot" right now.
In recent months, a new Lincoln website or blog has appeared that I wish to bring to the attention of my own readers. A young woman named Cassandra who lives in the American west has begun an ambitious project about Lincoln, in which she wants to post an article a day about Lincoln to her blog, which may be found at www.abeaday.com. It's a delightful mix of information, quirkiness, and fun. I've enjoyed reading her various posts, which range from her own insights about Lincoln to comical pop-culture "Abe Lincolns" that she's found while surfing on the Internet. In fact, I like her Lincoln project so much, I contacted her to ask if she'd submit to an interview, which she readily agreed to do. What follows is the interview we had via email.
1. What led to your adoration of Lincoln?
It all started as a kid, when I was visiting Disneyland for the first time. Right when you walk in the park, there used to be a "ride" (or so my dad called it) called The Hall of Presidents. Inside was an animatronic Lincoln that said a few things including the Gettysburg Address. I'm not sure why it affected me so strongly, but since that day my family started on quite the Lincoln kick. I barely remember anything else about that day with so much detail.
2. How long have you been a fan of Lincoln's?
Let's see, I was about 7 during the Disneyland event, so I guess that's going on 20 years! Yikes!
5. Do family members/friends ever tell you that you're talking too much about him or are obsessed with him?
I am very lucky to have supportive friends and family that encourage my love of Lincoln. If anything, it has made us all closer because as soon as anyone finds a new Lincoln fact, we get in touch. Now we have an excuse to socialize, and I think everyone benefits. Friends and family have been active members in blog helping in many ways from creating crafts, forwarding me information, to the endless amount of creative ideas they send my way. For people that aren't aware of the Lincoln thing, I think the first time they come into my house can be a bit disconcerting. As soon as I explain the blog and the interest, they begin to look at it as a hobby instead of some crazy person who may have a shrine to Abraham Lincoln in her house. Hahaha, it's made for a lot of interesting conversation.
(end of interview)
Thank you, Cassandra, for agreeing to the interview about your really wonderful Abe-A-Day blog. Readers, please check it out at www.abeaday.com. I know you'll enjoy it as much as I do.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 9:47 AM
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 1:24 PM
Sunday, March 10, 2013
On March 10, 1863, 150 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation which ordered soldiers who were absent without leave (AWOL) back to their units. The "Proclamation Recalling Soldiers To Their Regiments" offered a mixture of amnesty and a threat of punishment to such troops.
The Civil War was not going well for the Union at this point in 1863. Lincoln still had not found even a competent general for the Army Of The Potomac, having recently relieved the hapless Ambrose Burnside of command and replacing him with Joseph Hooker, who had openly schemed against Burnside. Thanks to the demoralizing defeat for the North at Fredericksburg and in other battles, numerous soldiers had begun deserting from the armies. The number of volunteers had also been on a downward trend, so on March 3, 1863 Lincoln signed into law the Enrollment Act, which required the conscription (or draft) of all male U.S. citizens from the age of 20 through age 45. This "Recalling Soldiers To Their Regiments" was the follow up.
The proclamation stated that if any troops then AWOL from their regiments would report back to designated points on or before April 1, 1863, they would be readmitted without threat of punishment. They would only forfeit pay missed while AWOL. However, it stated that anyone not reporting on or prior to the deadline would be arrested as deserters and fully punished as the law provided at that time. Such punishment could (and sometimes did) include execution.
Finally, this proclamation also called on civilians to avoid tempting troops to desert and to stop aiding them in the effort as well. It didn't specifically threaten civilians with arrest and punishment if found guilty, but military authorities could do so.
Much has been written about Lincoln's compassion toward soldiers and it's true that he often pardoned those he felt deserved a second chance. But as this proclamation reveals, there were limits to his patience as the war dragged on.
You may read the entire text of the Proclamation Recalling Soldiers To Their Regiments here.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 3:58 PM
Monday, March 4, 2013
Today is a huge day for celebration in the state of Idaho! 150 years ago today on March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Congressional Act which created the Territory of Idaho. There are celebrations going on throughout that state today and throughout this year as it celebrates its sesquicentennial.
"Territories" were formed by the United States government beginning as early as 1787 with the Northwest Territory (now Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, parts of Wisconsin) in order to organize, settle, and govern huge sections of land controlled by the government. Territories had a governor and other officials, including legislatures, judiciary, marshals and so on. Once a territory had enough population, it could petition the U.S. government to officially become a state and enter the Union. Idaho was admitted as an official state on July 3, 1890.
The original Idaho Territory consisted of remnants from the old Oregon Territory and comprised most of the present day states of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Over the decades of its existence, parts of the Idaho Territory were taken by the Wyoming Territory. By the time of its admittance to the Union in 1890, the modern day boundaries of the state of Idaho had been determined.
As I mentioned earlier, today is a big day in Idaho. To help honor the memory of Abraham Lincoln and his signing of the Act which formed Idaho Territory, the state legislature there has named an auditorium in the state house for him. A handsome plaque dedicates the auditorium in his memory. Here's a photo of the plaque unveiled just today:
I owe special thanks for this information to my friend Tara who happens to live in the Idaho capital of Boise. I would have completely missed this anniversary were it not for her letting me know of this special day for all Idahoans.
Idaho. One of the many parts of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, which continues to resonate throughout our nation nearly 150 years after his death.
Happy Birthday, Idaho! If you'd like to read more about the events going on in that beautiful state this year, please click here.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 7:49 PM
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Two years ago this month in February 2011, I reviewed the first in a trilogy of science-fiction books featuring Abraham Lincoln and other icons from that era in history. The trilogy titled A New Birth Of Freedom is the story of a time traveler who has come from the very distant future to seek the help of Lincoln, the Union, and even the Confederacy against alien invaders who threaten to annihilate our planet. The first book, "The Visitor," is the story of Mr. Edwin Blair, who returns to introduce himself to Abraham Lincoln in the year 1849, hands Lincoln a letter, and asks him to keep it until 1863 at which time the visitor (Mr. Blair) will return to tell Lincoln in detail what he is asking of him. That book was hard for me to put down and I eagerly waited for the second in the trilogy.
After a two year wait, the second book has arrived. "The Translator" picks up where the first left off. The Battle of Gettysburg has ended prematurely as the Union and rebel forces had combined to help combat the invaders. Some of the invaders had been captured, which raised huge ethical concerns about the treatment of prisoners of war, especially if those prisoners are bent on destroying your planet. By the end of that first volume, a rudimentary way of communicating with the aliens had been discovered, that communication revealing the creatures to be intelligent. In turn, that raised even more ethical and humanitarian concerns.
In "The Translator," the focus shifts from the reasons why Mr. Blair has come from the far future to the young man (and others) who can communicate with the alien prisoners. The aliens tell him they need to communicate with "White Hat" and "Big Mouth," a soldier and a Native American, respectively. No one knows where these two men are, let alone why the creatures need them to be found. Even the aliens themselves aren't entirely sure why.
As in the first book, "The Translator" skillfully blends history, alternate history, and science-fiction into an interesting and fun book, while also raising important questions about how compassionate people must (or should) be toward their enemies. That the author, Robert G. Pielke, holds degrees in ethics, theology, and history, it's understandable why this trilogy asks important questions of the reader.
Overall I enjoyed "The Visitor" more than I did "The Translator." But it's understandable as the first features a battle, the mystery of why Mr. Blair is in Lincoln's time, and the shock of finding out why. "The Translator" just doesn't have the same swift pace and gripping narrative, but it's obviously setting the stage for the concluding volume. It's still well-written, entertaining, and hard to put down.
Yes, the entire premise of A New Birth Of Freedom is ridiculous. But if you like science-fiction in addition to history (you must, or you wouldn't be reading this post), then I'd highly recommend this trilogy.
Both books are published by Tribute Books and may be purchased on Amazon or at Whiskey Creek Press in paperback format. eBook versions are available for Kindle and Nook, as well as through Whiskey Creek Press.
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 4:13 PM
Thursday, February 21, 2013
The long running Public Broadcast System (PBS) series Antiques Roadshow has "uncovered" a previously unknown letter written by Abraham Lincoln barely a month after his nomination as the Republican candidate for the 1860 U.S. Presidential Election.
The woman who brought the letter in for appraisal at the Roadshow's stop in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, found the letter in a desk she inherited from her parents. They were collectors of antique furniture and had purchased the desk many years ago. The letter, written to William Jones, is pictured in the photo above. As you can see, it's in wonderful condition with some light foxing around the edges. A paper conservator will be able to preserve the letter and keep it from further damage.
William Jones was basically Abraham Lincoln's first employer. He lived in Spencer County, Indiana and was a well-to-do businessman. Lincoln did odd jobs for him as he grew up. Today you can visit the home of William Jones in Indiana.
The letter from Lincoln to Mr. Jones is a little illegible in the photo, but is a "thank you" to his old mentor and boss for the congratulations Lincoln received from him after the nomination. Lincoln mentions Spencer County in the letter, saying that he misses his old neighbors there. Lincoln's signature is strong and clear, signed "A. Lincoln" as he typically signed his other letters. I wrote in the opening paragraph that this letter is previously unknown as it's nowhere to be found in the "Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln," a standard reference for Lincoln scholars and historians.
The appraiser of this Lincoln letter was Dr. Martin Gammon, director of the Rare Books & Manuscripts department for Bonhams and Butterfields in San Francisco. What value did he place on this Lincoln artifact? You'll have to tune in and find out. Let's just say that it's enough for the owner to take a very special vacation should she desire to sell. His appraisal of this wonderful find may be seen in the next episode of Antiques Roadshow, scheduled for Monday February 25, 2013 on PBS at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). Check your local listings as local stations often show PBS programs at different times.
An account executive with the series contacted me back in November to tell me about this wonderful discovery. She asked if I'd publicize it for WGBH (Boston), the producer of the series. I'm thrilled to do so for two reasons. I'm obviously an Abraham Lincoln enthusiast. And Antiques Roadshow just happens to be my favorite television program of all. I love antiques and also collect Lincoln memorabilia. So this discovery and appraisal are very exciting for me.
In addition, the executive with the show has asked me to join her, Antiques Roadshow appraiser Arlie Sulka, and perhaps another person or two, in a "Live Tweet" session on Twitter while the show is broadcast on Monday night. I'm honored to be part of my favorite show. I am "Mr_Lincoln" (@Mr_Lincoln) on Twitter, so I hope you'll join me and the others on this week's Antiques Roadshow!
Here is a link to a preview of this episode:
Posted by Geoff Elliott at 8:00 PM