Lincoln 1860

Lincoln 1860

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas From The Abraham Lincoln Blog

I want to take a few moments today, Christmas Eve 2010, to wish all of my readers a very blessed Christmas and best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous New Year. The holiday season can be stressful with so much to do; presents to wrap, trips to take, and parties to attend. Sometimes it's easy to get so buried with the work of the season that we don't often experience the love and wonder of it. My hope for each of you is that you feel the joy far more than the stress.

The most significant Christmas fact I've ever been able to find associated with Abraham Lincoln comes from his final Christmas in 1864. On December 22, General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote to President Lincoln the following message:

"I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns, plenty of ammunition, and about 25,000 bales of cotton."

The photo above is the original transcription of the telegraph which Sherman sent to the president. The capture of Savannah by Union forces marked the end of Sherman's "March To The Sea" when his forces cut a swath of destruction across Georgia, effectively demoralizing the heart of the Confederacy.

Lincoln's reply was heartfelt, expressing "many, many thanks" for the gift. He also admitted that he had been fearful of Sherman's success, especially when Sherman proposed to divide his army during the campaign. He sent the letter to Sherman on December 26, 1864.

That Christmas of 1864 saw hundreds of thousands of soldiers, Union and Confederate, away from their loved ones and families as they continued the struggle for the direction of the United States. As we celebrate Christmas 2010, let us not forget the brave soldiers of today who are far away from their families as they are stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other foreign lands.

We are forever in their debt.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spielberg Selects Daniel-Day Lewis for "Lincoln"

The major news out of Hollywood today is that director Steven Spielberg has selected two-time Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis to star in his long-delayed film about Abraham Lincoln. The story has been announced on several sites, but I'm getting the information from this site courtesy of several Twitter followers of mine.

The actor Liam Neeson had long been the favorite to portray the nation's Civil War president, but he finally withdrew from the project earlier this summer, claiming he was too old at 58 to do the role. Day-Lewis is 53, which is closer to Lincoln's age of 56 at the time of his assassination in 1865.

The movie will apparently not be a biography after all as some have long assumed, but instead will be based on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team Of Rivals, her best-selling account of Lincoln's clashes with his cabinet.

Today's news is apparently a huge surprise to Hollywood insiders, who figured Spielberg's "Lincoln" film was on the back burner with the withdrawal of Neeson. Additionally, Day-Lewis is considered to be one of the choosiest actors in Hollywood, frequently turning down scripts and going for years between acting roles.

I think Daniel Day-Lewis is a superb choice. His facial structure resembles that of Lincoln's, and his height (around 6'1") is close enough to Lincoln's. More importantly, is that Day-Lewis is a brilliant actor who does a great deal of research and preparation for his roles. He is a "method" actor who is known to stay in character even off camera while working on a film.

Spielberg is of course one of the greatest movie directors of all time. Let's hope, though, that he doesn't imbue this film with sentimentality or sappiness. One site I read has it that Disney's Touchstone label will be the distributor. Tony Kushner (Angels In America) will author the script.

With these three men teaming up for this film, there might be at long last an excellent film made about Abraham Lincoln. Filming is scheduled to get under way next year, with release in the final quarter of 2012. Let's hope it comes to fruition.

The New Battle Of Gettysburg

Seven score and seven years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln gave a brief two minute speech at the occasion of the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The 271 words he spoke in barely two minutes redefined our nation when it declared that all people are created equal, and that it stands as a symbol for freedom and democracy to the world. His Gettysburg Address is in my opinion his greatest speech, and is perhaps the single greatest speech in the English language. The story behind this speech is a poignant one, which you may read here.

Now we are engaged in another Battle of Gettysburg, only this time the fight is not between armies. Instead, the battle is between commercial interests who want to build a casino only 1/2 mile from the edge of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and those who consider such a project to be an insult to the memory of those who there gave their lives that our nation might live.

I was contacted this week by Mr. Jeff Griffith, a filmmaker who has produced and directed several videos to fight the proposed casino project. Mr. Griffith asked me to help publicize one video in particular, which enlists the talents of documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, esteemed historian David McCullough, actors Sam Waterston, Matthew Broderick, and Stephen Lang, and Medal Of Honor recipient Paul W. Bucha as they recite the Gettysburg Address. The music for this moving video was contributed by multiple-Oscar winner John Williams.

Please take the brief two minutes to watch the video and help the fight against a casino coming to the edge of the battlefield where so many men who fought for freedom are buried. The organization leading this fight is Go and register your support!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Radio Interview About Lincoln

Earlier today I was contacted by a radio program host from Atlantic City, New Jersey, asking if I'd be interested in being a guest on his show to discuss Abraham Lincoln. After thinking it over, I've agreed to be on his show on Saturday November 13, 2010 at approximately 2:05 p.m. for most of an hour.

The host, Mr. Jesse Kurtz, hosts a weekly show on station WIBG 1020-AM in Atlantic City, where he discusses a wide range of topics. The focus of his show this week will be Abraham Lincoln in the first hour, and President Andrew Jackson in the second hour. He would like to talk about how the GOP of the 1860's compares with the party as it exists today. He's also planning on examining the Democratic Party in the same manner.

Although I've spoken in person about Abraham Lincoln to various groups, this will be my first time on radio. I'm both excited and a bit nervous. It will be a discussion between Mr. Kurtz and me, with unfortunately no call-in segment.

If any readers of this blog would like to listen to the show, here is a link for listening via the Internet.

Once again, the date is this Saturday November 13, 2010. It's going to get underway at around 2:05 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. If you'd like to hear my voice and maybe learn a little bit about why I write about Abraham Lincoln, it would be great to have you "drop by."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book Review: "A Renegade History Of The United States"

In a first for The Abraham Lincoln Blog, this post departs from the usual subject matter in order to review a new, controversial book about general American history. While Abraham Lincoln obviously holds a particular fascination for me, I am also deeply interested in nearly all eras which make up the American story.

I was recently contacted by a publicist from Free Press (a division of publisher Simon & Schuster, Inc.) to gauge my interest in reviewing A Renegade History Of The United States authored by Thaddeus Russell. The title alone intrigued me and when I received the press release, I knew I had to read this book.

Russell teaches American history at Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA) and has previously taught at Columbia University and Barnard College. He was raised in Berkeley, California. After graduating from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, he achieved his PhD in History from Columbia.

According to Russell, "college students are normally taught a history that is the story of struggles between capitalists and workers, whites and blacks, men and women." Text books and traditional professors teach that our "freedoms" were achieved by the Founding Fathers, handed down by the U.S. Constitution, further fought for in the Civil War, and finally guaranteed by WWII and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's.

A Renegade History turns this traditional story on its ear. In this book, Russell claims that most of our true freedoms come from the "renegades," the people who lived on the fringes of American society. He states that slaves, immigrants, gangsters, prostitutes, pirates, drunks and "flamboyant gays" (or "drag queens") challenged the conventions of their day with the way they lived. They were the ones, claims this compelling book, that implemented real change in America and created the country that we know today. If it weren’t for them, we’d have no jazz, legal alcohol, weekends, birth control, Hollywood, and civil rights. In short, the struggle for freedom really occurs between these "renegades" and those who try to control society through laws, unwritten rules, social norms, and "polite behavior."

I wrote earlier that this book is controversial. For example, Russell claims in this book that white Americans envied enslaved blacks. He presents statistics which show that white farmers worked longer and harder hours than slaves. Whereas white Americans wore simple "homespun" clothing which reflected "sensibility," it was the slaves who wore bright colors. White America was told through societal pressures that dancing was evil and even a mortal sin, while slaves performed their traditional dances, while singing joyously. In Russell's view, this "freedom" that slaves had was the main reason why minstrel shows were immensely popular during the days of slavery. The minstrel shows allowed whites to experience, even briefly, the "freedom" that slaves had to "let go." And yes, Lincoln supposedly enjoyed the shows at times, too.

According to Russell, many of our sexual freedoms, including birth control, come directly from prostitutes from the earliest days of America. I won't delve into most of the facts concerning this topic he presents in that chapter of the book since this is a site used by many students. But a family-friendly example I will use is the fact that more than 100 years ago, only prostitutes wore red dresses. Now, even First Ladies such as Nancy Reagan and Michelle Obama were that color as a fashion statement.

Still another section of A Renegade History which is controversial points how out closely related the New Deal era under the (Franklin) Roosevelt administrations was to the Nazi and fascist regimes in Europe. He points out that even posters urging Americans to work for the collective good of society were very similar to those used in Nazi Germany. Russell writes that its absurd to fail to recognize the similarities between America and socialist/fascist Europe in the 1930's, but is also careful to point out that it's equally ridiculous to state that they were identical. After all, the United States did not round up millions of people in death camps in order to exterminate them. Of course, the U.S. did round up thousands of Japanese-Americans for fear that they supported Japan, and put them into "relocation camps."

Closer to our own era, Russell has yet another contentious point of view about the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. In his view, it wasn't the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. which achieved most of the rights eventually granted to African-Americans. Russell uses ample evidence to show that it was the more violent actions, such as riots, which achieved the freedoms.

Russell is quick to point out that he is not advocating a "renegade revolution." In the foreword to the book, he writes "Were the heroes of this book to take control of society, it would be a living hell. No one would be safe on the streets, chaos would reign, and garbage would never be collected. The social guardians are enemies of freedom, but there is no claim here that they are morally wrong."

Not only is A Renegade History controversial, Thaddeus Russell himself is as well. In a recent article on the Huffington Post internet site, Russell tells the story of why he was fired by Barnard College, a sister institution of Columbia University. Apparently, his very ideas challenged the "status quo" of the history department, and he was let go. His students call him "Bad Thad" due to his demeanor, use of language, and indeed, his "radical" approach to American history.

I loved this book. It is absorbing, well written, and thought-provoking. Above all, it is never boring, as far too many books about American history can be. The reader may not agree completely with some of Russell's points, but he presents them in a manner which forces the reader to rethink all he or she has learned about American history. That is the hallmark of an excellent, intelligent book. Very highly recommended.

"Bad Thad"? The history field needs more like him. And the history book genre desperately needs more works ike A Renegade History Of The United States.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Presidential Election of 1860 150th Anniversary

It was 150 years ago today that Abraham Lincoln was elected as the 16th President Of The United States on November 6, 1860. The Presidential election of 1860 was contentious to be sure, but it remains the most momentous vote in our nation's history, because it began the chain of events which led to the U.S. Civil War.

The major issue facing Americans as they voted that day in 1860 was, of course, slavery. For decades the slavery debate had been simmering in the country, but it had boiled over in the preceding few years. In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its infamous Dred Scott decision, in which the court ruled that Congress had no right to interfere with slavery anywhere in the states or U.S. territories, indeed that slaves themselves were technically not persons as recognized by the law. Then in 1859, John Brown's raid on the Federal Arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) where he hoped to cause a slave insurrection, further fanned the flames of the slavery argument roiling the United States.

As the election of 1860 approached, the major political parties held their conventions. The Democrats met in Charleston, S.C. on April 23 and almost immediately split into two parties, the Northern and Southern Democratic parties. The issue even within the party was slavery. The Northern Democratic delegates wanted the notion of "Popular Sovereignty" in which people in a U.S. territory (such as Kansas and Nebraska) would hold a vote to determine if slavery would be permitted or not. The very idea of the people deciding was anathema to Democratic delegates from the Southern states, and those delegates walked out of the convention. They wanted the Federal government to protect slavery where it already existed and to guarantee the right for its spread into the territories, no matter if the majority of the people wanted it or not.

With the collapse of the Democratic convention in Charleston, the Northern delegates met again in June at Baltimore, Maryland. There they nominated U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who had been Lincoln's chief political rival for many years. Lincoln and Douglas had of course held a series of debates (7 in all) across Illinois two years earlier in 1858 as they debated the slavery issue during the U.S. Senate campaign. Douglas went on to win election to the Senate, but the debates thrust Lincoln into the national spotlight. The photo below is of Senator Douglas. Nicknamed the "Little Giant" (he was just 5'4" tall), he was a masterful politician and an early suitor of Mary Todd Lincoln.
The Southern Democratic delegates met at the same time also in Baltimore and nominated as their candidate John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who had been James Buchanan's vice-president. Breckinridge was the youngest-ever U.S. vice-president, serving at just age 36. He strongly supported the demands of the Southern Democrats for the protection of slavery throughout the U.S. territories. The photo below shows Breckinridge.

Another political party appeared on the scene in 1860. Calling itself the Constitutional Union Party, it's sole goal was to preserve the Union. Baltimore was a popular convention city in late spring 1860, and the delegates from this party met there as well. The Constitutional Unionists did their best to appeal to both sides of the political debate. It nominated a former Speak of The House, John Bell of Tennessee. It's only platform point was to adhere to the Constitution. Below is a photo of John Bell.

The Republican Party met in Chicago in May 1860, in a huge structure called "The Wigwam." Lincoln was not the front-runner or favorite to win the nomination. That designation fell on William H. Seward of New York, a former Senator and Governor of that state. Lincoln's handlers or "men" were brilliant behind the scenes and out-manoeuvred Seward's. For example, Lincoln's supporters had counterfeit admission tickets printed for entry into the Wigwam and packed the building with "Lincoln men" when Seward's were out attending other functions. By the time the Seward supporters returned to the building, they found their seats already occupied. The first ballot of the convention had Seward in the lead, but without enough to reach a majority. Finally with much effort and a lot of "horse trading" Lincoln's supporters enabled him to clinch the nomination on the third ballot. The photo at the beginning of this article shows Lincoln as he appeared in summer 1860, just after the nomination.

According to most historians, the election of 1860 ended up becoming almost two contests: Lincoln vs. Douglas in the Northern states, and Breckinridge vs. Bell in the Southern states. In fact, Abraham Lincoln's name was not even placed on ballots in nine states in the South.

Douglas broke with tradition and actively campaigned around the country (until 1860, candidates for President did not campaign on their own behalf), wearing himself out so much that he would die on June 3, 1861. He toured the Northern states to be sure, but he also traveled throughout the South. There he asked the Southerners to accept any outcome of the election, even if Lincoln would be elected. Of course, his pleas went unheeded as a state of extreme agitation existed in the South, increased by harsh attacks by the Southern newspapers on Lincoln, even months before the election.

The results of the 1860 presidential election revealed that for the first time in U.S. history, the country had divided along sectional lines. Lincoln won the Northern states while Breckinridge won most of the Southern states. Bell carried Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Poor Stephen Douglas won just the state of Missouri and 3 electoral votes in New Jersey. It comes as a surprise sometimes to people when they first learn that Lincoln won just 39.9% of the popular vote in the 1860 election. His three opponents combined to earn approximately 1 million more votes than he did!

Of course, as we remember from the 2000 presidential election, a president doesn't win based on the popular vote. In the 1860 election, Lincoln was the clear winner in the Electoral College, outdistancing those electoral votes earned by his three opponents combined. Below is an excellent image which shows the election map of 1860. Lincoln states are in blue; Breckinridge states are green; the states Bell won are yellow; and the states Douglas won are in aqua.

It's said that when Abraham Lincoln discovered that he had been elected the 16th President Of The United States on November 6, 1860, his face suddenly showed a heavy burden and concern, almost as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. He walked slowly back to his home, gently awakened his wife Mary, and simply said "Mother, we are elected."

Within weeks of Lincoln's election, the firebrands in the South began agitating for secession from the Union. Lincoln himself was nearly silent, not giving any speeches to try to calm the tempers which were running rampant throughout the country. Instead he preferred working behind the scenes in numerous letters to friends and supporters throughout the country.

Unfortunately, Lincoln's election 150 years ago today became the catalyst for the greatest war ever fought by the United States of America. In a sense, today also marks the sesquicentennial of the beginnings of the Civil War era.

Over the next few months, indeed, four and one-half years, won't you follow along with The Abraham Lincoln Blog as we remember the important events and anniversaries of Mr. Lincoln and the Civil War? There are countless fascinating facts and stories to tell. I would be honored if you joined me for the journey.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Celebrating Three Years Of The Abraham Lincoln Blog

Today is the third anniversary of The Abraham Lincoln Blog. I began writing about Lincoln on October 31, 2007 not knowing if anyone would ever find this site. Additionally, I had no idea if people would actually enjoy the blog or find it useful should they even stumble upon it. Above all I wanted people to take it seriously as an important source of information about the 16th President of The United States.

Sure enough, people found the blog. Sometime this week, the site will achieve it's 200,000th page view or "hit," which is amazing to me. I had no idea it would receive that much attention. I am grateful for that single measure of success. Since it's inception three years ago the blog has received an average of just over 180 views per day. The average has been nearly 200 hits per day over the past 18 months, so more people are finding it.

Through this blog I've made some wonderful friends, meeting people who share my fascination with Lincoln or my love of American history in general. That's the most thrilling part of this effort I've put in, meeting some great people.

It still remains to be seen just how seriously the blog is taken by the community of Lincoln fans. I'd like to hear from more readers. And I would love to be asked to speak in public about Lincoln. Not because of money or attention, but because I have a passion for Lincoln's story and would love to share it with more people.

Thank you for dropping by, no matter if you're a long-term reader of The Abraham Lincoln Blog, or if you're here for the first time. It's because of you that I keep this blog going.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Library Of Congress "Gateway To Knowledge" Traveling Exhibit

The Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, D.C. has recently taken to the road across the United States with a special rolling exhibit called "Gateway To Knowledge." Via this exhibition, the LOC has been bringing facsimiles of many of its top treasures and information about the millions of resources in its unparalleled collections to the heartland of America. This exhibit travels inside a specially equipped 18-wheel truck as it visits small towns.

Founded in 1800, the LOC is the nation's oldest cultural institution (yes, older than the Smithsonian). It houses rare books and maps, even rarer documents pertaining to American and world history, the earliest motion pictures, and priceless photographs.

The LOC also holds incredible items associated with Abraham Lincoln. It holds the original Bible used by Lincoln during his first inaugural on March 4, 1861 (and later used by President Obama). It also contains in its collection the contents of Lincoln's pockets the night of his assassination on April 14, 1865. The hoods that the Lincoln conspirators wore while in prison and on trial are also in the LOC collection. Of course, the Library of Congress has been staging the truly magnificent "With Malice Toward None" Lincoln Bicentennial exhibition, currently entering its final week in Atlanta, Georgia.

The "Gateway to Knowledge" exhibit tells the story of the LOC and features high quality facsimile reproductions of some of its unique treasures. It relates how former president Thomas Jefferson "rescued" the Library when it was burned in the War of 1812 by the British, losing it's valuable collection of books. Jefferson sold his own extensive collection to the LOC, thus permitting it to once more serve as a repository for information for everyone.

Visitors to this exhibit can see reproductions of a 1455 Gutenberg Bible; a 1507 map which is the first known to contain the word "America"; the rough draft of the Declaration Of Independence; videos of the earliest movies; and copies of the original artwork for the first Spider-Man comic book. The originals to these items are held by the LOC in its collection.

The exhibit pulled into Oberlin, Ohio a few weeks ago for a two day visit on the grounds of the liberal arts school Oberlin College. It was there where I went to see it for myself.

Here are some photos from my visit:

I wrote above that the "Gateway To Knowledge" exhibit travels on an 18-wheel truck. Once the truck is parked, the sides of the trailer expand to more than twice it's original width, thus permitting a much larger space for the displays. Quite remarkable. Below is a photo which shows the trailer in its expanded state.

This LOC exhibit is driven around the country by two young docents who are quite knowledgeable about the Library and the exhibit. The husband and wife team of Josh and Abigail Van Gelder are on the road approximately 300 days annually as they tour our nation bringing special exhibits to the masses. I've been fortunate enough to meet them via blogging and am now honored to have them as my friends.

Abigail writes a guest blog for the Library as she and Josh travel through the heart of America. Here's a link to her article about the visit to Oberlin, Ohio. She also blogs about their lives on the road on another blog which you can find here.

"Gateway To Knowledge" is currently in Iowa and will next head to Minnesota. The schedule is maintained on the LOC website. Over the next year, it will make approximately 60 stops in the mid-west and southern U.S.

It's a fascinating exhibit. If it comes to a town near you, drop by for a visit. Admission is free. And if you do, please tell Abigail and Josh that I said hello!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Abraham Lincoln Portrait Series

Most works of art depicting Abraham Lincoln are realistic, whether the medium is paint, ink, or sculpture.  This was of course especially true with works done during his lifetime or in the immediate years after his death.  Now one can see the occasional abstract piece, the most famous of which is Salvador Dali's painting which only at a distance of 20 meters becomes a portrait of Lincoln.

I was contacted yesterday by a current "abstract" artist named Lola Dupre' who hails from Glasgow, Scotland, asking me if I would consider featuring her series of Lincoln original portraits here on the blog.  After a look at her work and her description of the pieces, I have decided I will do so.  Disclaimer: I am not being compensated in any way for featuring her works. 

Ms. Dupre' works mainly with paper and scissors, according to her website.  She takes images of the famous, including Lincoln, then distorts them in unique and unusual ways.  As she told me in her email, she enjoys working with images of the famous, who are already known to us and who have achieved some measure of fame.

Before you see her images below, please know that she in no way intends disrespect to Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, I made sure of that before I consented to feature her works in this forum.  She told me that the "abstractions in the features are in themselves meaningless. It is when associated with the emotional in the viewer, that interesting interpretations may be made."  After all, isn't that what "art" is all about?  Some people love works by Picasso, while others adore Gauguin.  Art does affect our emotions and means different things to different people.  Here is the first work of Lincoln from Ms. Dupre':

I admit that when I first saw the above image, I didn't much like it.  But when I re-read her descriptions of her art, and especially how the abstractions can mean different things to different people, I began to understand.  For example, this is a distortion of the famous portrait of Lincoln taken November 8, 1863.  That image is my personal favorite.  It shows his determination, his resolve, and strength.  It also is one of the first portraits which shows how the war was wearing him down. 

Artist Dupre's abstraction (and the others which follow below) speak to me about the numerous "directions" in which Lincoln was being pulled while president.  Abolitionists were angry that slavery had yet to be ended.  He had political rivals within his own party, and of course in his own cabinet.  The war weighed heavily on him.  His wife was most likely bi-polar.  He had lost two children by the time this portrait was taken.  He had yet to find a general who would consistently fight the enemy and fight it well.  Lincoln had so many issues affecting him, that he at times surely felt how these portraits by Ms. Dupre' depict him.

This final portrait in Ms. Dupre's series of five on Lincoln is my favorite one.  To me it appears that poor Mr. Lincoln's head has been placed in a vise.  He must have felt like it at times, if not all the time.

Unfortunately, none of these originals by Lola Dupre' are available as they have each been sold.  Perhaps I and the readers of The Abraham Lincoln Blog can encourage her to create more.  Please check her website for other unique and interesting pieces.  Please do NOT grab her images from the website without her express permission.  I had her permission to share these images in this post.  Respect her work and copyright.  And please do NOT grab these images from this blog, either. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review: The First Assassin

One of the things I most enjoy in writing about Abraham Lincoln is the opportunity to inform my readers of new or noteworthy books about him. While most of the books I write about in this forum are nonfiction, I just finished a novel about an assassin stalking President Lincoln in 1861. It's one of the best thrillers I've read in recent years. The following paragraphs do not contain any spoilers as they are taken from the synopsis on the book's back cover.

The First Assassin opens just weeks before Abraham Lincoln is to be sworn in as the nation's 16th president. The southern states have of course begun to secede from the Union, with South Carolina especially a hotbed of anti-Lincoln sentiments. A plantation owner, Mr. Langston Bennett, outraged at Lincoln's election and his strong anti-slavery position, hires an assassin to kill Lincoln before slavery is ended.

Meanwhile in Washington City (as the nation's capital was called then), Colonel Charles Rook is determined to protect the president at all costs. He receives no support from the head of the U.S. Army, General Winfield Scott (of course a real person), in his mission to protect the president-elect. Nonetheless, Rook defies orders and organizes his own small team of spies consisting of U.S. Army soldiers to track various death threats to Mr. Lincoln. As certain murders happen in the city, it gradually dawns on Rook that he is up against a cold-blooded killer who will let nothing and no one get in his way in his attempt to kill Lincoln.

Along the way, the reader is introduced to Mrs. Violet Grenier, a resident of Washington City, who harbors strong pro-Southern sympathies. She uses her feminine wiles and standing as a dame of society to spy on Lincoln and help in the conspiracy against him.

The key to saving the president is a runaway slave named Portia who holds vital information about the assassin's identity. It remains to be seen if she can provide it to the authorities in time.

As I wrote earlier, this book is historical fiction, a crime thriller. It's serious, as opposed to the recent "mash up" novel Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. While this account in Assassin is fictional, it is based on real-life death threats Lincoln faced upon his election to the presidency. Lincoln continued facing threats throughout his presidency, of course falling to the final conspiracy.

I found The First Assassin to be very enjoyable. It is well-written with excellent character development. The female spy, Violet, is based on real-life women who spied for the Confederacy, who were not beneath using their "charms" (including sex) to obtain information they sought. It's easy to understand the frustrations and tension Colonel Rook feels as the killer draws closer to Lincoln. When the assassin's movements are followed by the reader, a chill occasionally rises as his cold-blooded murders take place. All quite gripping.

Some of the book is a tad predictable, especially a certain disguise the potential assassin uses. But that is the only quibble I have. I read the book (446 pgs) in just a few days, because I couldn't wait to see how it ends.

Lincoln himself does appear briefly in the novel, as does his private secretary, John Hay. Lincoln's actions of not wanting a lot of security are factual, as are some of the words he speaks.

The First Assassin is authored by John J. Miller, a frequent writer for Wall Street Journal, the National Review, and other publications. He has written books of nonfiction, but Assassin is his debut novel. The book was published just last week by AmazonEncore (yes, that Amazon as in the giant online seller). According to its site, AmazonEncore "identifies exceptional yet overlooked books and works with the authors to introduce or re-introduce their books to readers." Mr. Miller originally self-published The First Assassin and it was readers of that edition who brought attention to AmazonEncore about the novel. The book may be ordered here.

I agree with those early readers and AmazonEncore. This is indeed an exceptional debut novel.

My rating:

5.0 out of 5.0 "Rebel Rose" Greenhow, a real-life female spy for the Confederacy.

Abraham Lincoln and Egypt?

I've been home for just a few days now from a trip to Egypt to see the wonders of the pyramids, the Sphinx, the temples at Luxor, and the great temple of King Ramesses II at Abu Simbel. The trip was a surprise gift from my wife this past Christmas, and it fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine to see the splendors of ancient Egypt.

Of course, this blog is not about my travels to the Middle East; it's about Abraham Lincoln. So I had to do a bit of research to find out what connections, if any, Mr. Lincoln might have had to Egypt either before or during his presidency. There of course aren't many, but I did learn about some dealings his administration had with Egypt during the Civil War.

Egypt in those days was technically still part of the Ottoman Empire, which was based in Constantinople (Istanbul). However, thanks to an invasion of Egypt by Napoleon III in the early 18th Century, that country was more or less autonomous of the Ottomans. Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, realized at the outbreak of the Civil War that it would be important to assure the neutrality of the Ottomans, just as it was important to keep France and England neutral.

Seward's efforts resulted in a treaty signed with the Ottoman Empire in 1862 which guaranteed continued trade between the U.S. and the empire. Even more importantly, it guaranteed to the U.S. that any Confederate pirates preying on U.S. trade vessels would be apprehended and detained.

Lincoln also wrote a letter to the "Wali" of Egypt (similar to a governor) during his presidency protesting the harassment and abuse of a U.S. missionary in that country. In response, Egypt promised to punish those who had abused the missionary and again assured Lincoln that Confederates would not be permitted in Ottoman waters (Mediterranean, Black Sea, Red Sea, etc.) This action by Lincoln had the additional effect of deeply impressing religious Christians in Europe, which further helped to keep England and France out of the Civil War.

This post was based on two different sources. The primary source is a speech titled "Lincoln and The Middle East" given by Mr. Austin Knuppe at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. It's a learned and fascinating look at how America's involvement in the Middle East actually developed in earnest during the Lincoln administration. Very worthwhile reading.

The second source for this posting is The Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln, an indispensable reference for all of Lincoln's known letters, speeches, and other writings. Lincoln scholars both professional and amateur use this source in their research.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Enhancing Lincoln's Legacy In Washington, D.C.

The scene of Abraham Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865, Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., has been undergoing an expansion project since 2007. The theater itself reopened last year after months of renovation added a new museum and other features which cost an estimated 35 million dollars.

That was only the beginning. Work continues on the Ford's Theater Center For Education and Leadership, which has the goal of enhancing the Lincoln experience for visitors. A 10-story building located across 10th Street from the theater will house various exhibits about the aftermath of the assassination and will explore Lincoln's continued legacy. The center will be run jointly by the National Park Service and the Ford's Theater Society. The target opening date is February of 2012.

Some of the planned displays include a replica of the barn where John Wilkes Booth was shot at the end of the 12-day manhunt, and the story of the 20 day journey of the Lincoln funeral train from Washington to Springfield. Still another feature will be a 3-story tall sculpture of "books" to help people fathom just how much has been written about the 16th president.

Lincoln was a complicated man and his legacy has continued to evolve in the 145 years after his death. For some, he remains the Great Emancipator. To others, he was a tyrant who began this nation on the path to greatly expanded powers of the federal government. The director of the Ford's Theater Society, Mr. Paul Tetreault, hopes that visitors will be able to draw their own conclusions after touring the center.

This posting was based on the original article from the August 21, 2010 edition of The New York Times.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Glenn Beck Dishonor At The Lincoln Memorial

By now many, if not most, of you have heard about the "Restoring Honor" rally to be held tomorrow (August 28, 2010) by Glenn Beck at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In addition to Beck, people who have been invited to speak are former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre, and gun enthusiast and singer Ted Nugent.

Although Beck claims that this rally is not to be political, news reports are stating that most of the attendees tomorrow will be Tea Party activists. No surprise here, for most of Beck's and Palin's disciples also identify themselves as members of the Tea Party, that loose collection of groups which are simply angry at, well, just about everyone. Well, everyone except for Beck and Palin.

"Restoring Honor" of course implies that this nation has lost its honor. What honor has the United States lost? Honor for the troops? There have been no massive protests against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the nation experienced in the 1960's against the war in Viet Nam. Soldiers are honored for their service and sacrifice to our nation, unlike when they were called "baby killers" by many people forty years ago. Today when a soldier falls, communities across our nation honors him or her with solemn and mournful services and processions. The honoring of our troops does not need to be restored.

I can help Mr. Beck to recognize some of the honor he and his fellow speakers need to restore. For starters, Beck can find the personal honor (if he knows what that means) to not call the President Of The United States a "racist with deep-seated hatred of white people." He can in the future find all the facts before he runs a person out of government as he did with Shirley Sherrod a few weeks ago, claiming she was racist when she really wasn't. He can further restore his own honor if he quits comparing his rally tomorrow to the rise of Abraham Lincoln.

Sarah Palin can help restore honor to the nation as well by promising to never again quitting an elected position in the middle of her term as she did as Alaska governor. That shows a lack of commitment, dedication, and personal integrity. In short, a total lack of honor.

The Tea Party protesters can aid in the restoration of honor by eliminating the racist overtones of their protests. Yes, the majority of the protesters do not carry signs with vile names, but there have been enough of them to give the movement a threatening tone.

Beck claims that this rally is also to "reclaim civil rights." It is an insult that this rally is being held on the anniversary of the defining moment of the civil rights struggles of the 1950's and 1960's. Tomorrow is the 47th anniversary of the immortal "I Have A Dream" speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the March On Washington in 1963. A speech in which he professed the hope that one day his children would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

The location of this rally is especially an insult to the memory and legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln deeply believed in the words of the Declaration of Independence, especially in the words that "all men are created equal." He spoke of tolerance, equal rights, and freedom. He wrote in his message to Congress in 1862 "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history.....The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation."

Our nation is going through a fiery trial of divisiveness and turmoil. The question is, will this era in our history light us down in honor, or dishonor to the next generation(s)? As long as we have people like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin holding such sway with their appeal to raw emotions of fear and hatred, I believe that dishonor is in our future.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Another New Lincoln Statue

New statues of Abraham Lincoln keep springing up seemingly every month or two. The latest is going to be dedicated in Galesburg, Illinois on September 6 during the annual Labor Day celebration in that town.

I found the information about this statue on the Galesburg Register-Mail website. According to the article, the monument to Lincoln weighs in at nearly five tons and measures eleven feet tall. Impressive to be sure. No city money has been spent on this statue; the entire cost of $30,000 was raised and donated by a local group of armed forces veterans. There is some local controversy over the location of the statue, some wanting it in a local park. Instead, it's to be erected near the local Amtrak depot, where nearly 99,000 people travel through annually.

Galesburg was the site of the fifth (of seven) debate held between Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 1858. On October 7, Lincoln and Douglas met on the grounds of Knox College to argue their positions mostly on slavery. Lincoln was, of course, anti-slavery and against its expansion while Douglas was for "popular sovereignty," i.e., letting the voters decide in the new territories whether or not to permit it. While Lincoln lost the election (held in the state legislature which was controlled by Democrats), he burst onto the national stage with his reasonable, well thought-out arguments. The debates led to his election as president in 1860.

The town of Galesburg has deep connections with Lincoln. The "Old Main" part of Knox College is the only surviving structure that served as a site for the debates between Lincoln and Douglas. Knox is home to the Lincoln Studies Center, one of the leading institutions in the country dedicated to studying the life of Abraham Lincoln. In addition, Galesburg is also the birthplace of the poet Carl Sandburg, winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, two for his poetry and one for his monumental biography of Lincoln.

It's of course easy to understand why the local veterans' group chose to honor Lincoln and his presence in Galesburg with a statue. I wonder, though, if the $30,000 might have been better spent in remembering Lincoln's legacy. Lincoln always lamented his lack of a formal education and worked hard his entire life to make up for it. The money spent on this statue could have been used to establish scholarships in Lincoln's name for Galesburg students wishing to pursue higher education. It could have been donated to the local school system for a library or new computers. The Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College could have used it for further research into his life or for preservation of important papers.

No one wants to honor the life of Abraham Lincoln more than I. However, I am of the personal opinion that we can remember his contributions to our nation in better ways than erecting yet another statue. I am interested in my readers' opinions. What do you think?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lincoln Is A Bit Too Honest

Many, probably most, people have seen the latest GEICO car insurance commercial featuring a "film clip" of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln as she asks him about her dress. The "gag" is that perhaps in this case, Honest Abe is a bit TOO honest for his own good. Here's the commercial in case you've not yet seen it. I find it to be very funny. I hope you do, too.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lincoln Expert's Collection Donated to Lincoln Library

A collection of hundreds of books owned by the late Lincoln scholar and expert David Herbert Donald has been obtained by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) in Springfield, Illinois. According to the article in the Chicago Tribune, at least thirty of the books were ones the ALPLM had not previously had in its collection.

Donald was the author of perhaps the best single-volume biography of Lincoln, published originally in 1995. The more recent "A. Lincoln" by Ronald White is equally outstanding. Donald also wrote other books about Lincoln. He was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biographies of Senator Charles Sumner (a friend of the Lincolns) and the novelist Thomas Wolfe. It's strange to me that Donald did not win the Pulitzer for any of his Lincoln works.

Dr. Donald was the recipient of the only lifetime achievement award the Lincoln Library and Museum has given thus far, being honored in 2005.

If you read only one book about Abraham Lincoln, you can do no better than Donald's "Lincoln" book. Dr. Donald passed away last year (coincidentally the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth, of course) at the age of 88. He is missed in the Lincoln community.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Liam Neeson Drops Out of Spielberg's Lincoln Film

Many Hollywood Internet sites are reporting today that famed actor Liam Neeson has dropped out of the role of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's biographical film. Well, shall we say "proposed film" because this project has been "planned" for at least five years with no progress on it whatsoever.

Neeson, according to the website Monsters And, feels as though he's now too old to portray Lincoln. The actor is 58, while Lincoln was 56 when he was assassinated.

I disagree. Look at any recent photo of Neeson and compare it to the ravages of age on Lincoln's face towards the end of his life. Neeson looks far younger even today than Lincoln did at 50.

Other sites are speculating that Neeson simply tired of the lack of progress or even movement on this project by Spielberg. It's a shame, because I think Neeson would have been brilliant in the role.

Please don't confuse this proposed Lincoln film with the "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" film to be based on the book by the same title. This film would be serious while the vampire film will be classic camp.

At any rate, who knows if Spielberg will ever bring this project to the screen? He missed a golden opportunity last year during the bicentennial celebrations of Lincoln's birth. I wonder if it would even find an audience.

Update: Lincoln Birthplace Memorial Remains Closed

Nearly one year after renovations began on the building which enshrines Abraham Lincoln's symbolic birthplace cabin, it remains closed to visitors. I originally posted an article in August 2009 which discussed the repairs which have been taking place on the Memorial Building located in the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Park, located near Hodgenville, KY.

Now the News-Enterprise (Hardin County, KY) reports that the Memorial Building may not open until Labor Day this year. Apparently the repairs to the century-old Memorial Building required much more work than first estimated by engineers. Plaster in the ceiling is being replaced, upgrades to the cooling and heating system have been required, and a new skylight is being added to permit natural light. The roof on the building is also being replaced. Original plans called for the Memorial Building to be re-opened this past April.

I wrote about this site in one of my first posts on The Abraham Lincoln Blog back in 2007. This cabin is certainly not the one in which Lincoln was born. At best, it might contain a log or two from the original one. The National Park Service does not hide the fact that this cabin is not really the actual birthplace of Lincoln. The story of this particular cabin is somewhat involved. You can read more about it in the book "Lies Across America." Still, the cabin does gives us an idea of how the original one probably appeared.

I'll post an update when the Memorial Building re-opens, hopefully in just a few more weeks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Desecration Of A Lincoln Artifact

I'm normally very good about keeping up with current news about anything to do with Abraham Lincoln, be it a new exhibit, book, or findings of new documents as my previous post describes. So I'm a bit upset with myself today that I did not realize that when Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) died last month, his remains lay in state in the U.S. Capitol on a very important artifact associated with Lincoln.

The Lincoln Catafalque, or bier, was constructed upon the death of President Lincoln. It was on this catafalque, draped in black mourning cloth, that Lincoln's casket was placed for the official laying in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on April 19-21, 1865. It has since been used for other U.S. Presidents in this capacity, including John F. Kennedy and most recently for Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. It has also been used for other distinguished Americans such as Hubert Humphrey, General Douglas MacArthur, and the Unknown Soldiers of WWI, WWII, Korean War, and Viet Nam. When the catafalque is not in use, it is on display in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

The motion to have Byrd's remains rest on this catafalque was made by Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and was passed in the Senate with no opposition.

I am personally appalled that Robert Byrd was granted this honor which is normally reserved for only the most deserving of people. In his youth, Byrd not only was a member of the Ku Klux Klan; he recruited an estimated 150 people to join it. While a member of the U.S. Senate in 1964, Byrd organized the second-longest filibuster in that chamber's history in opposition to the Civil Rights Act. He voted against the U.S. Supreme Court appointments of both African-American justices Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas. Though Byrd later apologized for the Klan membership and his Civil Rights Act filibuster, I wonder if he was truly as "rehabilitated" in his racial views as today's politicians such as Bill Clinton claim. Yes, people can change in their lifetime, but Byrd's actions on race outweigh his late-in-life apologies in my opinion.

As a student of Abraham Lincoln's life and especially as an American, I am reminded how Byrd's actions during his lifetime of opposing equal rights contrast with those of Lincoln. Lincoln fought against the spread of slavery and later helped to eradicate it from our soil. He fought for the 13th Amendment which abolished it completely. He believed in equal rights for everyone. Robert Byrd fought to withhold rights from people based purely on the color of their skin.

Robert Byrd is now the longest serving member of Congress in our nation's history. But he surely did not deserve to lay in state on the Lincoln catafalque.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lincoln Documents Found In Donner Party Papers

A couple of days ago, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPM) in Springfield, Illinois announced to various news sources that Abraham Lincoln's writing had been found on documents which were carried by a member of the infamous Donner Party.

The Donner Party was the ill-fated group of pioneers who tried to reach California in a wagon train in 1846. The party was delayed by unfortunate circumstances and ended up being snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains over the winter of 1846-1847. About half of the roughly 90 members of the party died and some survivors apparently resorted to cannibalism to remain live. Much more detailed information about the Donner Party may be found on this excellent website.

James Reed, pictured above, lived in Springfield, Illinois in the 1840's. He was one of the organizing members of the Donner Party (sometimes called Donner-Reed Party). He served with Abraham Lincoln during the Black Hawk War in Illinois in 1832. Lincoln and Reed both served as privates in their particular company, which saw no action in the war. (Lincoln later jokingly said the only battles he saw were those against the mosquitoes.)

On the muster rolls included in this James Frazier Reed Papers collection at the California State Library, Lincoln's name is plainly found. Reed's name is listed immediately below Lincoln's. Researchers from the ALPM found two lines written in Lincoln's hand, which helped to identify that he had a horse worth $85.00 and equipment worth another $15.00. I believe I've read in the Papers Of Abraham Lincoln that Lincoln's horse was later stolen upon his discharge on July 10, 1832.

As I earlier wrote, these muster rolls and other papers were carried by James Reed while the Donner Party tried to make its way to California. Researchers think that the papers were carried to California by Reed's wife, but Reed himself was kicked out of the party for killing a man during a fight while on the journey.

The entire report may be found at this website from CNN. It's always news when a "new" Lincoln document comes to light. This helps historians fill in another piece of Lincoln's military experience. And of course the association with the Donner Party makes these documents even more prized.

What an amazing story. Just goes to show that there is always something more to learn about Abraham Lincoln.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some New Features On The Abraham Lincoln Blog

The above photo shows results of the efforts of some unknown "artist" who tried to update Mr. Lincoln's "look" for today's modern era. I don't know if he would approve of the look or not, but he was never averse to change.

Since I've decided to continue The Abraham Lincoln Blog, I feel as though it needs a new feature to help keep up with rapid changes in technology and social networking. Beginning today, readers will be able to use "share buttons" at the end of every new post (or any previously existing one) to bring attention to anything they find worthy on this blog. The reader may email a post, use Blogger to include it in their own blog, or share it to Twitter, Facebook, and Googlebuzz. It will cut down on the time of copying and pasting a URL to another site.

Another new addition to the blog is a section titled "Upcoming Lincoln Events And Other Fun Stuff," which is located on the right side of the page below the Abraham Lincoln Blogs and Links section. This new section will include links to upcoming symposia, lectures, and exhibits associated with Lincoln. Other links will be for "fun" things related to Lincoln, such as websites selling Lincoln souvenirs and apparel. I'm not being paid by any site listed in this new section. It's simply a way to bring attention to things my readers might enjoy.

As always, thanks for taking time to read this blog about Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Abraham Lincoln Blog Resumes

After weeks of thought about what the future holds for this blog about Abraham Lincoln, I have come to realize that it must continue. I had contemplated deleting the blog or ending it, but now I understand that it would be a mistake to do either.

The past few months have been discouraging for me in regards to the effort I put into writing about Lincoln. At the beginning of this year, I was contacted by a museum (the name of which will remain unmentioned) in the Midwestern United States which was interested in having me speak in conjunction with a Lincoln exhibition. In fact,the original plan was to have me speak at the museum on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's First Inaugural Address. Needless to say, I was thrilled beyond belief that this museum wanted me, an amateur historian, to give a lecture on an important anniversary associated with Lincoln. Months went by and the museum was still interested, perhaps even expanding my role into a second engagement.

I was informed in June that the museum directors had chosen to go in a different direction and the invitation was withdrawn. I understand the reasons given. To say I am disappointed is an understatement. It has made me doubt both my knowledge and efforts I put into this blog.

I've also been contacted by many other organizations requesting that I give their Lincoln event or website free publicity. I never ask to be paid for publicity, but it would be kind if a discount to the event would be offered in return. And many times, even a simple "thank you" in return would be welcome. Too often, I never hear again from the organization after giving it a "shout out" on the blog. That is also quite discouraging because I don't want this blog to become commercialized.

In spite of these disappointments in recent months, I've also been receiving a great deal of encouragement and support from readers I never knew I had. They've all been asking me to not end the blog and to continue writing, because they are interested in learning more about Mr. Lincoln. There has been a lot of response to my previous post and I'm grateful to everyone who has written.

I was still leaning toward no longer writing about Lincoln until yesterday. I went to see a small but excellent Lincoln exhibit in a tiny village in Northeastern Ohio. There was the typical Lincoln re-enactor to help answer questions of visitors. Then I heard that this little museum has been setting attendance records while the Lincoln exhibit has been on display. It seems that people simply cannot get enough of learning about Mr. Lincoln. People of all ages were there yesterday, children typically showing the most interest. Adults were asking to have their photo taken with "Mr. Lincoln," the re-enactor. Everyone present wanted to be in Lincoln's presence, whether through photos and artifacts, or "in person."

Then it dawned on me. It doesn't matter if I get to speak about Lincoln at a museum. Rude organizations wanting free publicity from me don't matter. What matters is that there is a thirst for knowledge about Abraham Lincoln. Helping people to obtain that knowledge is worth the efforts I put into my writing. That is the sole reason I'm continuing The Abraham Lincoln Blog. Thank you for dropping by.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Random Thoughts On Blogging About Lincoln

In this famous painting by artist George A.P. Healy, Abraham Lincoln appears to be thinking about what to do next. I can relate as I'm pondering in recent months about what to do with The Abraham Lincoln Blog.

Readership of the blog has been declining for a few months now. There aren't nearly as many comments coming from what readers remain. I don't know how to interpret this. I'm not sure if readers are bored by my posts, if interest in Lincoln is waning now that the era of his birth bicentennial is over, or if it's something else entirely. Whatever it is, it's distressing to have declining interest in something I put a lot of time into.

Something which has bothered me for a long while now is that I can write in-depth about Lincoln's speeches, his presidency, and his assassination, but all people seem to be interested in are his dog and his favorite meals. I wrote a three-week series of posts about the 145th anniversary of his assassination and thirteen funerals, a series which required a lot of work and received almost no notice at all. But people keep finding my blog by searching about his dog, Fido, and Lincoln's favorite food. I don't understand the interest in those topics. Perhaps I should write about Lincoln's dog's favorite food? I have posted about those two topics previously, but I sorely wish the more serious things I write about Lincoln would attract attention as well.

About the only "recognition" this blog has received in recent months is numerous contacts by publishers wanting me to read their books and then review them in this forum. While I'm thrilled to receive free books about Lincoln, I don't want this blog to become commercial in any way. I'm now receiving requests to publicize Lincoln t-shirts, websites, and the like. The purpose of this blog is to educate people about Lincoln, not to sell merchandise with his image on it.

So there you have it. I'm pondering my next steps about writing about Lincoln. I don't know if I should keep the effort going, stop writing any new posts and leave the blog as is, or simply delete the blog entirely.

At the very least, I believe I need to step away and take a break from blogging on all things related to Abraham Lincoln. I hope the break won't be long or permanent. But for now, it makes no sense to spend a lot of time writing when it seems that fewer people are dropping by.

Book Review: Call Me Kate: Meeting The Molly Maguires

I was recently contacted by Tribute Books a small publishing firm based in Archbald, Pennsylvania to ask me to review a short novel written for young teens (and older) set in 1860's coal mining country in the eastern part of that state.

Call Me Kate: Meeting The Molly Maguires is the story of 14-year-old Katie McCafferty, a young Irish immigrant, who lives in a coal mining town called "The Patch" at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. The town has sprung up around the local underground coal mine and is a true company town. Most of the houses are owned by the coal company, as is the main store. The mine itself is dangerous and deadly and true to history, has boys as young as 7 or 8 years old working it. Many boys and men are injured or killed at the mine in "The Patch" because the mine owner refuses to install basic safety controls or even adequate ventilation in order to save money.

When Katie's dad is seriously injured in the mine, she has to quit school where she was doing quite well and go to work as a domestic. This eventually leads to her employment in another town working for a wealthy owner of the very mine where her father and friends have been toiling.

Through a friend, Katie is drawn to involvement with the Molly Maguires, a secret group made up of Irish coal miners and formed to combat the brutal working and living conditions. The group was a very early attempt at forming a miner's union to demand better safety conditions and higher pay. The Molly Maguires also strongly opposed the military draft imposed by Abraham Lincoln while the Civil War raged. Their main point of contention was that wealthy men could pay $300 and avoid serving in the war, while the poor Irish and other immigrants were forced to serve in combat.

This group was of course opposed strongly by the mine owners and operators. Both sides resorted to violence and other dirty tricks to advance their cause. Eventually in the 1870's, ten of the Molly Maguires were hanged in Pennsylvania for their involvement in the movement.

Call Me Kate is authored by Mary Roe, a native of the anthracite coal region in Pennsylvania. It is targeted mostly to young teens, but I found it a very enjoyable read. It's descriptive of the horrors of coal mining and the injuries and deaths which result even today, as we unfortunately saw a few months ago in West Virginia. The characters ring true, especially Katie herself and her friends who begin trying to fight the conditions they are forced to toil in.

If I might be permitted a personal note, I have many ancestors and relatives who labored in the coal mines and coal fields of southeastern Ohio. My grandfather quit school in the 8th grade in the 1920's in order to support his family by working the mines beginning at age 13. He and my grandmother lived in a real coal company town and had to buy their items at the company store for exorbitant prices. Other more distant relatives of mine were seriously injured in mining accidents, including a great-uncle who was partially paralyzed by a cave-in. While I've never had to work in a mine, I am proud to be the grandson and nephew of men who have. Please note the below photo taken in 1911 in Pennsylvania of child coal miners. Be grateful that we live in a society which would never permit our own children to work like they and my grandfather had to.

Call Me Kate: Meeting The Molly Maguires brought me closer to the experiences of my family. I could almost feel the grime and coal dust the author describes. The heartache which Katie feels when her father is severely injured is felt by the reader. The struggles that the other families face are felt as well.

I recommend this book highly. It helps the reader understand what coal country was like back in the 1860's (and to some extent, even today). It chronicles what terrible conditions workers dealt with in helping to make America great, a story which is unfortunately often overlooked.

The book is available from the publisher or at

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