Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lincoln Never Said These Life Lessons

There is no doubt that Abraham Lincoln wrote or said some of the greatest quotes in American history. His entire Second Inaugural Address, for example, is one of the finest speeches ever given. The Gettysburg Address is of course immortal. And his "House Divided" speech stands as a brilliant summary of the slavery struggles facing our nation in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Unfortunately, there are also numerous "quotes" which have been attributed to Lincoln for many years, "quotes" which he surely did not say. Currently there is a popular web page called "7 Must Read Life Lessons From Abraham Lincoln." It's being "tweeted" on Twitter, linked to by many other sites, and even mentioned on a museum's Facebook page.

The trouble is, that Abraham Lincoln said only two of the seven "quotes" given on the website. Some of these "quotes" attributed to Lincoln didn't quite "ring true" with me, so I checked the most indispensable source available for things which Lincoln said or wrote.

The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln consists of all the known writings, speeches, and quotes of Lincoln. The Abraham Lincoln Association published this 8-volume collection in 1953. Mr. Roy P. Basler and his staff spent five years transcribing Lincoln's letters, notes, and other writings to produce this work. I own a set of the Collected Works but the website I linked to at the beginning of this paragraph provides excellent search capability on single words or phrases Lincoln wrote or spoke.

For example, one so-called "quote" presented on the "7 Must Read" site which Lincoln supposedly said is: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend four hours sharpening the axe." Great advice, right? Preparation is key to success. Problem is, Abraham Lincoln never said any such thing. A simple search for "sharpening the axe" on the website of the Collected Works comes up empty.

I don't mean this post to be an attack on the site which provides great life lessons, because they are indeed wonderful lessons for success in life. It's just that Abraham Lincoln never said most of the quotes. (For the record, quotes #5 and #7 on the "7 Must Read" site are accurate)

Those of us who love history, be we professional scholars or amateur ones, need to guard against inaccuracies presented as "facts." I feel it's my job as an amateur Lincoln historian to alert the readers of this blog when bad Lincoln history shows up.

Friday, May 21, 2010

America The Story Of Us On History

If you've been watching the American history series called America The Story of Us on History in recent weeks, you'll understand why so many people consider it to be excellent. A combination of CGI and live action has told the story of the past 400 years of our history, warts and all. While twelve hours of television can't possibly tell the story in great depth, the ambitious reach of the effort is impressive.

Some of you may not realize that you can download previous episodes of the series onto your iPod from iTunes, Apple's proprietary source for music and videos. You'll need iTunes installed on your computer to be able to do this. You can also get a sneak peek of the upcoming episodes as well on iTunes.

The episode which covered the Civil War and Lincoln was well done, as were the other episodes. I'll be adding the DVD set to my collection once it's available. In the meantime, be sure to catch the remaining episodes on History.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Talking About Lincoln's Assassination

Two nights ago, I gave a lecture about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. I hesitate to include anything in this blog about myself, because after all, it's The Abraham Lincoln Blog and not the "Lincoln and Geoff Elliott Blog."

I was surprised this past February when a church group asked me to give a presentation about Lincoln at their monthly gathering. The group didn't give me any specific guidelines so I was stumped about what to present. I couldn't decide whether to talk about his life in general, his religious beliefs (or lack thereof), his presidency, his actions in war time, or about the man behind the myths. Then a series of snowstorms here on the Ohio tundra hit right around the presentation date and my talk was postponed until May.

I suppose it was fate, somehow, which led to my Lincoln lecture being held May 18, 2010. That day just happened to be the 150th anniversary of Lincoln receiving the Republican nomination for President Of The United States, May 18, 1860. Pretty remarkable, at least to me.

As regular readers of this blog know, I recently completed an ambitious series of posts commemorating the 145th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination and long funeral train journey back to Springfield. So I thought those two topics would be perfect for my talk.

I covered all the highlights in the lecture: the assassination; Booth; the conspirators and their fates; and then information about each of the thirteen funerals held for Lincoln. I spoke for around an hour and then opened the floor to questions.

I was amazed at how many questions I received, and not just about the assassination or funerals. People asked questions such as: why Lincoln grew his beard; if Mary and Abraham were Christians; what Lincoln might think of today's political situation in the U.S.; how old he was when he died; and so on. By the time the questions were asked (and answered), nearly another hour had gone by.

It was heartening to me to see the avid interest in Mr. Lincoln. He still matters to us today.

Thank you to the Dover Alliance church in Dover, Ohio for the warm welcome the folks there gave me. It was a thrill to be asked to speak about Lincoln, especially considering that I am only an "amateur historian." I hope this wasn't the last opportunity to share my passion with others about our country's greatest president. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Springfield Says Goodbye To Abraham Lincoln


(Author's Note: This year marks the 145th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. For the past three weeks, I have been writing a series of posts about Lincoln's death, as well as the mournful journey of his Funeral Train as it brought his body from Washington, D.C. back home to Springfield, Illinois. I began this series for two reasons. First, to inform others who might wish to learn more about one of the darkest periods in our nation's history. Second, and more importantly, to offer my own contribution to remembering Mr. Lincoln. To those of you who have read all or part of this series, I offer my thanks and gratitude. Hopefully you've taken from this series an even deeper respect for what Abraham Lincoln meant, and continues to mean, to our nation.)


At daybreak in Springfield, Illinois on May 4, 1865, thirty-six guns from Battery K of the Missouri Light Artillery were fired in a national salute to Abraham Lincoln. The guns, one for each state in the Union at the time (including the Confederate states), marked the beginning of the last of the thirteen funerals for the fallen leader. A single gun was fired every thirty minutes after that until nightfall, when another thirty-six gun salute was fired.

The Illinois State Capitol had remained open all night so that as many mourners as possible could walk past the remains. Below is a photo of the coffin laying-in-state in the Capitol, with the lid not yet removed. It was placed at an angle so viewers would have a better angle at which to see the remains.




Accounts I've read vary, but the Capitol doors were closed at either 10:00 that morning, or at 1:00 p.m. Undertakers then made the final "cleaning" of the burial suit and sergeants from the Union army carried the casket to the waiting hearse. The hearse, which is shown at the beginning of this post, was as magnificent as those in the other funeral cities. It had been lent to the town of Springfield by the mayor of St. Louis, Mo. because Springfield felt it didn't possess a hearse grand enough for Mr. Lincoln. The hearse was built in Philadelphia, and cost $1,000 which was a huge sum of money in those days.

On the Capitol steps that day a 250-voice chorus was waiting to burst into a hymn as the president's remains were placed into the lavish hearse. As the choir sang, a 21-gun salute was fired. Then the last funeral procession began to slowly pull away from the Capitol, on its way to Oak Ridge Cemetery and the waiting receiving tomb.

Leading the procession that day in Springfield was Major General Joseph Hooker, who had been in charge of the military during the funeral journey from Cleveland onward. Ironically, it had been nearly two years to the day since Hooker led Union forces in a disastrous defeat at the Battle Of Chancellorsville (Virginia). Lincoln had removed Hooker from command after that defeat, replacing him just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg. Hooker had been selected by Secretary of War Stanton for the duties of the funeral command, which he performed with great ability and honor.

The procession made its way from the Capitol past the Lincoln home and Governor's mansion, and finally to the road which led to the cemetery, then in the countryside outside Springfield. Behind Hooker marched one thousand soldiers. Then came the hearse, pulled by six huge matched black horses.

Behind the hearse was Lincoln's horse, "Old Bob", dressed smartly in mourning with a black blanket covering him. The horse had been used by Lincoln as he rode the law circuit in that part of Illinois, and had served Lincoln for more than ten years through the Illinois countryside. See the below image to see how "Old Bob" looked that day.



Also riding in the procession was the president's oldest son, Robert, accompanied by a cousin. As was the case with the previous eleven funerals, Mary Todd Lincoln did not attend any of the services. Indeed, she still remained in The White House, too emotionally distraught to leave her bed, let alone make the long journey to Springfield. It would be three more weeks until she could summon the strength to leave for her new (and temporary) home in Chicago, bringing along her younger son, Tad.


OAK RIDGE CEMETERY


The procession at last entered Oak Ridge Cemetery and approached the public receiving vault carved into a hillside. It was meant to be a temporary "final" resting place for Lincoln (and Willie) until Mary Lincoln could return to Springfield to pick a more suitable location in the cemetery for her husband and son. That the "burial" was happening in this particular cemetery at all was somewhat of a fluke.

Immediately after Lincoln's death, a battle of wills erupted between the president's widow and the city leaders in Springfield. They had passed a "resolution" claiming Lincoln's remains, stating that the president deserved to be buried there. Mrs. Lincoln, though, had many enemies in Springfield (as she did in Washington) and was not, at first, willing to have her husband laid to rest in the town which harbored unhappy memories for her. Her original first choice was Chicago, followed by her second choice of the crypt which had been originally built for George Washington in the U.S. Capitol.

Then she remembered that her husband had once told her that he wanted to be buried in a simple, quiet place in the country and decided that Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield would fulfill his wish. That wasn't good enough for the Springfield city fathers, who immediately moved to erect Lincoln's Tomb in the center of town. When Mrs. Lincoln heard that construction on such a tomb was underway, indeed nearly complete, she immediately fired off a telegram threatening to have her husband buried in Chicago. Finally, they relented, and Oak Ridge Cemetery was used per her wishes.

The temporary vault, seen in the print below, was in a lovely location. Surrounded by trees and with a babbling brook in front as it looked over the valley, the setting satisfied Lincoln's wish for a "quiet place."



Mourners lined the hillside above the vault as Lincoln's casket was removed from the hearse and put inside. Earlier, the casket of his dear son Willie, who had died of typhoid in 1862, had been placed in the same vault. Robert Lincoln and some of the president's closest friends and advisers flanked the doors during the placement.

The Final Services

At long last the final funeral services for Abraham Lincoln began. A huge choir (300 voices) performed hymns, prayers were offered, and an official read President Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, originally spoken only six weeks previously. Now those words took on a new meaning as they were read at this service. "With malice toward none; with charity for all;...let us...bind up the nation's wounds." Lincoln himself considered this speech to be his finest; many historians of our time agree with his self-assessment."

Now stepped forward Bishop Matthew Simpson of the Methodist Church to give the main funeral oration. Simpson, a native of the same Ohio village of Cadiz, where Stanton had worked for ten years, was a leading orator of the day in spite of his harsh speaking voice.

As he spoke that afternoon of May 4, 1865 the mourners gradually forgot the tone as they listened to the beauty of his words. Simpson described the president in this way: "He made all men feel a sense of himself - a recognition of individuality - a self-relying power. They saw in him a man who they believed would do what is right, regardless of all consequences. It was this moral feeling that gave him the greatest hold on the people, and made his utterances almost oracular."

Simpson's funeral sermon that day is considered by many to be one of the greatest eulogies ever given in American history. It moved the mourners to both applause at certain points; to tears at others. The speech may be accessed here if you'd like to read it.

When Simpson's oration closed, the Lincoln family pastor, Dr. Phineas Gurley of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, gave the final benediction. One last hymn was sung. The vault doors were closed and locked. The crowd slowly dispersed.

And with that, the greatest display of mourning this country has ever seen was over.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Springfield Welcomes Mr. Lincoln Back Home

(Author's Note: On May 3, 1865, the Funeral Train of Abraham Lincoln was nearing its final destination of Springfield, Illinois. It had covered almost 1,700 miles on its journey from Washington, D.C. to bring the remains of the president home. Washington City (as it was called in those days) and ten other cities had held funerals for Mr. Lincoln. All that remained was the final one, the thirteenth, as Springfield prepared to say a final farewell to its most famous citizen. Today marks the 145th anniversary of the arrival of Lincoln's remains in the town he had called home.)

The assassination of Abraham Lincoln 145 years ago on April 14, 1865 caused an outpouring of grief the likes of which had never before been seen in the United States of America. From the time of Lincoln's State Funeral in Washington, D.C. on April 19 to Chicago on May 2, 1865 it was estimated that approximately one million mourners had already filed past Lincoln's remains in those cities, plus the nine others which had held official funerals for the martyred president. The Funeral Train had passed through countless crossroads, villages, towns, and cities along the way, with an estimated 25 million more Americans lining the tracks to pay homage to Lincoln.

Nowhere in the country were hearts heavier on the morning of May 3 than those in Springfield, Illinois. The nation had lost a leader, but Springfield had lost even more: a lawyer, a partner, a neighbor, a friend. As dawn broke that day, crowds had already formed at the Chicago and Alton depot on Jefferson Street, waiting for the Funeral Train to bring Mr. Lincoln back home.

As the train approached Springfield, the official mourners (numbering around 300) accompanying Lincoln's remains were surprised to find themselves moved to tears once more, for they thought their emotions were exhausted from the previous funerals over the past two weeks. Now as they saw signs and banners which read "Bring Him Back Home" or "Home At Last" or "Home Is The Martyr" in those final few miles, the grief surfaced again.

Springfield had been home to Abraham Lincoln for a quarter of a century from 1837 until he departed for Washington as president-elect in February, 1861. That day he had given his famous "Farewell Speech" to the people of Springfield, telling them that "To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything." He closed by telling them "I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return...."

As in the other cities holding funerals, Springfield had been draped in a sea of black ribbons, streamers, and crape. Lincoln's own home (seen in the image at the beginning of this post) was so decorated for mourning, inside as well as out. The home had remained in the possession of the Lincolns when they left for Washington, having been rented to a family for the previous four years. Now the Lincoln home (which of course still stands) became a place of pilgrimage for mourners and souvenir seekers alike, with people denuding the trees of leaves, stripping paint off the house, and even daring to remove bricks from the walk and foundation. It got so bad, with about 200 people visiting the home every few minutes that the renter asked soldiers for protection so something might be left.

The other major building in Springfield associated with Abraham Lincoln was the State Capitol, and it, too, was appropriately covered in mourning as the below picture shows. Lincoln served his last term as an Illinois State Representative in this building from 1840-1842. More importantly, it was in the Capitol where Lincoln gave his famous "House Divided" speech on June 16, 1858 in which he declared that the country could not continue to exist half-slave and half-free. Additionally, Lincoln used offices in the Capitol in Springfield after he was elected to the presidency. Now it would serve Abraham Lincoln one last time, for it was here where his final laying-in-state was to be held.


People began lining up hours ahead of time at the State Capitol that day, wanting to be assured of getting their chance to say goodbye to their former neighbor. They had heard the stories of mourners in the other cities losing their opportunities to see the remains when doors had closed. No one in Springfield wanted that to happen to them.

The Funeral Train pulled into the depot at 9:00 a.m. that day. As it did, many people in the waiting crowd burst into tears, some weeping uncontrollably. Within only a few minutes, Lincoln's casket was removed from the Funeral Car and transported directly to the Hall of Representatives at the State Capitol for the laying-in-state, with the crowd streaming behind.

I hate to be morbid, but some of my readers have been asking how Lincoln's remains could have been preserved for viewings in thirteen cities. The answer is with very great difficulty. The bullet wound had, of course, done damage to the president's head, which resulted in a general discoloration of the skin. Now the undertakers in Springfield were horrified to find that the face was completely black. It took thirty long minutes, much rouge, and makeup to restore Lincoln to a presentable manner.

The doors were open to the public at 10:00 a.m., which was standing six abreast as the line filed in to the Capitol. There, the single line was split in two, so that people could approach the casket on either side. The photo below is of a print which depicts how the laying-in-state appeared that day.

The Capitol remained open to mourners, some of whom had come from St. Louis, Chicago, and from points even further away, all day and through the night of May 3. The doors didn't close until around noon the next day, the day of the last funeral.

Mourners looked for things to do after viewing the remains. So pilgrimages of sorts were made to landmarks associated with Lincoln throughout Springfield. His law offices were visited, and even the homes of his physician, or friends, and other associates. As I briefly described earlier, many made their way to the Lincoln home.

Now a special guest awaited the visitors at the home. The Lincoln's former pet, a mixed-breed dog named "Fido," had been brought by in an attempt to help the mourners cheer up. Fido had been left behind with a kind family four years earlier when Lincoln decided that the dog would never be able to tolerate the loud noises and lurching of the trains. Fido was easily startled by such noises, and Lincoln thought it better if he could be given to another family. Such a family had been found, who had promised to let the dog have his favorite treats, not to be scolded too much, and be permitted to have his favorite sofa taken from the Lincoln home and left with his new owners. Fido was in good spirits that day, no doubt happy to be back in his former home, but quite probably seeking out his former master. The dog was taken later that very day to a photographer, who took the photo below. (By the way, original photos of Fido often sell for higher prices than do some photos of Lincoln himself!)



So went the day of May 3, 1865 when Abraham Lincoln at long last came home to Springfield, 145 years ago today. The next day would be his final funeral, the subject of my next post.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chicago's Huge Funeral For Lincoln

(Author's Note: More than two weeks ago, I began a series on this blog dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, in commemoration of his assassination and ensuing funerals which occurred 145 years ago in 1865. Each blog post thus far has coincided on the anniversary of the particular event associated with one of the worst periods of time in American history. This post discusses the magnificent services for Lincoln held in Chicago, Illinois on May 1 and 2, 1865.)

Abraham Lincoln was at long last back in Illinois, which had been home to him since 1830, when he moved there at the age of 21. It was here on the prairie where he first struck out on his own in New Salem, along the banks of the Sangamon River. Springfield next became his home in 1837, a city which remained home until he left for Washington in 1861 after his election to the presidency. But until he could finally return to Springfield, the American Midwest's largest city of Chicago needed to say goodbye to Mr. Lincoln.

The city of Chicago was no stranger to Abraham Lincoln, nor he to it. He argued many cases there as a young lawyer, including his first major case in 1856 pitting a railroad company against a bridge company. It was also in Chicago where Lincoln and his rival Stephen A. Douglas spoke in 1858, just prior to beginning their series of debates for the U.S. Senate election of that year, which thrust Lincoln into the limelight. Most importantly, however, was that Chicago was the scene of the Republican Convention of 1860 at "The Wigwam." It was in that building where Lincoln's campaign managers brilliantly out-maneuvered those of his opponents, securing the presidential nomination for The Rail-Splitter on May 18, 1860.

Now almost five years later, Chicago played host to Abraham Lincoln for a final time. At approximately 11:00 a.m. on May 1, 1865 the Lincoln Funeral Train pulled into Chicago, where hundreds of thousands of mourners waited to pay their respects. Rather than pull into the main depot, however, the train stopped on a trestle built a short distance into Lake Michigan. The train remained still, with only its bell tolling its arrival. The below photo shows how the scene appeared that morning.


Lincoln's remains were removed from the train shortly after its arrival to a platform which rested underneath a spectacular arch. The Gothic structure was magnificent, beautiful, and soaring. The city had spent $15,000 on it and the decorations in the Cook County courthouse, where Lincoln would lay-in-state. That total was half of what Washington had paid for the entire funeral for Lincoln! Below is a photo of that stunning arch.


The funeral procession which took place from the arch to the courthouse in grandeur and size rivaled those in Washington and New York. I've included a photo of a print of the procession as it traveled along Michigan Avenue. There were thousands of soldiers, trade union members, the requisite dignitaries, and ordinary people taking part, including 10,000 school children. The hearse itself was flanked by six pall-bearers who were personal friends of Lincoln's from Chicago. Pulled by eight matched black horses, the hearse was as ornate as the ones in the other cities.

People clamored along the procession route to find the best viewing opportunities. If a good spot in a building couldn't be found, then a ladder or even trees would do. Some trees were so full of people that they appeared in danger of snapping in half, such was the weight they bore. Mottoes and banners where everywhere, including "The Heavens Are Draped In Black" written on many. Indeed, there was so much black crape everywhere for so many days, that it seemed as if Heaven itself was mourning.

Eventually, the Cook County courthouse was reached. Lincoln's casket was removed from the hearse and placed inside the building as the courthouse bell rang so loudly it could be heard throughout the city of 300,000. The building like all the others in the city was covered in mourning. The photo below shows how it appeared that day. Look at the blurred line of visitors streaming down the steps after they had paid their respects to the president.

The doors didn't open to the general public until 6:00 p.m. that day. Inside visitors were presented with a colorful patriotic display tempered by mourning as they approached the president's remains. It was dimly lit, but enough of Lincoln could be seen so as to both gladden and shock the mourners who filed past. Below is an image of a print which gives a general idea of how it appeared.



The doors to the courthouse remained open through the entire night and until late in the evening the next day, May 2, 1865. Roughly 7,000 mourners per hour saw the president's remains.

At 8:00 p.m. on May 2, the funeral procession reformed to travel the route in reverse. Three thousands torches lit the way in the darkness as the hearse carried Lincoln's remains back to the Funeral Car. The eleventh funeral was over now. There was one funeral remaining, to be held in Springfield, when Abraham Lincoln would at last come back home.

An Unscheduled Funeral For Lincoln

(Author's Note: For the past sixteen days, I've been running a series of posts in commemoration of the 145th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, April 14, 1865. The journey which his Funeral Train took over nearly 1700 miles from Washington to Springfield was remarkable as thirteen cities held funerals for the murdered president in displays of grief and mourning which have never been duplicated in our nation. Today marks the 145th anniversary of an unplanned funeral held for Mr. Lincoln in a small Indiana town.)

The capital city of Indianapolis, Indiana had only hours before bade a final goodbye to Abraham Lincoln when his Funeral Train left late in the evening on April 30, 1865. The next scheduled funeral for him was a massive one planned in Chicago, as his home state was preparing to welcome him home at last. But an unplanned stop in the small town of Michigan City, Indiana resulted in an impromptu tenth funeral for Abraham Lincoln, complete with a viewing of his remains.

The schedule for the Funeral Train called for a non-stop run from Indianapolis to Chicago, with a planned arrival in the Windy City of 11:00 a.m. on May 1, 1865. Even in those days, though, "important" people felt the need to be in the presence of greatness. So the Lincoln Funeral Train pulled in for a stop at the station in Michigan City at 8:00 a.m. while it waited for 100 men from Chicago to board where they would escort it into their city.

Like so many of the small towns along the funeral route, Michigan City had constructed a temporary arch at its depot, featuring pictures of the president, mourning displays, and words of grief. Now it became the scene of a brief, but moving funeral as town residents made the most of their unexpected opportunity. The scene at the depot that day maybe viewed in the photo at the beginning of this post.

Officials in charge of the Funeral Train decided on the spot to open the coffin to display the remains, breaking the rule which had stated that the coffin would be opened only in the cities holding official funerals. Then townspeople were permitted to board the Funeral Car to file past the coffin while the people who had been riding the train were breakfasting inside the depot.

Quick prayers were said and hymns were sung as the smallest funeral for Abraham Lincoln began inside the Funeral Car. It was later said that the grief shown by the Michigan City townspeople was as palpable that day inside the car as it was in the other cities where the official funerals had been held.

The entire ceremony that day was also the shortest as the unexpected stop lasted barely an hour. The service was over in just thirty-five minutes.

The image below also depicts the funeral arch which stood that day in Michigan City. Look at the attention to detail which had gone into constructing it! Keep in mind, if you will, that it was built simply to straddle the tracks as the Lincoln Funeral Train passed under it.


By 9:00 a.m. the day of May 1, 1865, it was over as the Funeral Train chugged out of Michigan City, heading to Chicago. In just an hour, the citizens of that small town on the shores of Lake Michigan seized their opportunity to become part of history. They would remember it as the thrill of a lifetime.

 
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