Last Friday my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to Springfield to attend the Lincoln Museum and go to the Lincoln Tomb. As we made our way though the Museum we encountered, for the second year in a row, a large number of Amish touring the Museum, the women wearing long dresses and poke bonnets that made them look as if they stepped from the 1860s. The Amish were obviously fascinated by what they were seeing and talked among themselves in “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Illinois has had a large colony of Amish in the Arthur, Illinois area, about 72 miles from Springfield, since the 19th century. (Although the Amish are as theologically as far from the Church as it is possible for Christians to be, I should note that I have a huge amount of respect for them. They take care of their own, and ask nothing from the larger society in which they live, except to be left alone, a sentiment which resonates with me.)
After the museum, as usual we had a first rate lunch at the nearby The Feed Store. (Nothing shouts Midwest more than eating in a restaurant with a name like that.) (I highly recommend their barley soup, their tuna fish salad sandwich, and any of their many variants of cheesecake.)
We finished our day at Lincoln’s tomb praying for the repose of his soul and the souls of his wife and kids.) Once again I thought to myself how nice it was that the first or second greatest President in our history, has his tomb in a cemetery open to all, where there are no guards, no charges for admission, not even for parking. You simply pull up to the small parking area next to the tomb, go in and make your way through the tomb. We owe Mary Todd Lincoln for that. After Lincoln’s murder, there was an attempt to have Lincoln buried in Washington with a grand mausoleum being erected thereafter over his remains. Mary Lincoln would have none of it. She took her dead husband, and had the remains of her dead son Willie exhumed, and traveled with them both back to Springfield for burial. She wanted nothing more from Washington except to get out of there as quickly as she could, a city where she had suffered grief that makes her such a poignant figure in American history. (An exhibit in the Museum shows her framed by a rain stained window, sitting forlornly, mourning the loss of Willie. My bride and I, sadly, having lost a son know precisely how she feels.) We made sure to rub the nose of the nose of the huge bust of Lincoln outside of the tomb. Most noses of Lincoln on metal statues and busts in Illinois are shiny due to the Illinois superstition that rubbing the nose of a bust or a statue of Lincoln brings good luck. With my son taking the Illinois bar at the end of July, it can’t hurt.
It wouldn’t be a McClarey expedition if we didn’t buy books. We bought books yesterday at the Museum and the Prairie Archives bookstore in Springfield which boasts a collection of a quarter of a million books. Most of the books were about Lincoln or the Civil War (surprise!) and here are those books:
Lincoln the President: The Last Full Measure, J. G. Ballard and Richard N. Current (1955). This is the fourth and final volume in Ballard’s study of Lincoln. At the time of his death in 1953 he had written only eight chapters. In his will he suggested either historian Allan Nevins or Richard N. Current to finish his work if he could not. Current took up the challenge, even though he had never written about Lincoln before, and completed the volume in 1955. He later became one of the great Lincoln scholars of his day, writing numerous books on Lincoln and dying in 2012 at age 100. Now I have the complete set. I think I will read it backwards like witches are said to say their prayers.
Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union’s War Governors, Stephen D. Engle (2016). I have always believed that the scholarship on most of the Civil War governors, North and South is meager compared to the important role they played in the struggle. I am eager to find time to read this new study.
Lincoln and Shakespeare, Michael Anderegg (2015). Lincoln loved the Bard and I think I will love this look at Lincoln and his favorite author.
Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, Irving Werstein (1959). An intriguing comparative study of Lincoln and Davis as presidents. Part of the avalanche of Civil War books that came out as the centennial of the War approached.
Stonewall Jackson, Donald A. Davis (2007). There can never be too many studies of Lee’s right arm. If Jackson had lived is one of the great What Ifs in American history, his death being one of the major turning points in the War.
Crucial Moments of the Civil War, Willard Webb (1961). Another book from the Civil War Centennial. A look at important points in the War taken mostly from contemporary accounts. Webb was an army Brigadier General. The preface to the book was written by Bruce Catton who pioneered the use of first person accounts in Civil War histories, and who during the Centennial was at the height of his fame.
General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West, Albert Castel (1968). The War in the Trans-Mississippi theater has always been the left handed step child of Civil War historiography, usually getting only a few confused pages in most general Civil War histories, written hurriedly by historians obviously eager to get back to he conflict in the East and what was then called the West. This is a shame because the War in the Trans-Mississippi was filled with colorful characters and had a bitter and partisan warfare quality to it that makes it worth careful study if one is to understand the era. Price was an important participant in that conflict and was largely responsible for making certain that Missouri remained an active war zone for the entire War, holding down Union troops and resources that were often badly needed elsewhere. Castel’s study was the first scholarly look at Price and almost a half century remains the best, Price still not having received the type of detailed study that his career warrants.
Richmond During the War, Sally B. Putnam (1867). Back in the 1980s Time Life produced the Collector’s Library of the Civil War, which republished contemporary accounts of the Civil War in sturdy blue bound volumes. Sally B. Putnam rubbed shoulders with the elite in wartime Richmond, and her memoir details what it was like to like in that city that became the central point in that conflict.
Campaigns of a Non-Combatant, George Alfred Townsend (1866). One of the volumes in the Time Life Collector’s Library of the Civil War-Townsend was one of the more notable Northern war correspondent’s during the Civil War.
Wellington’s Wars, Huw J. Davies (2012)-Too many studies of Wellington give short shrift to his campaigns in India where he first learned his profession and first made his name as a general. This book demonstrates how the Indian campaigns built the foundation of military experience which was essential for Wellington’s success in the Peninsular War and the fact that Wellington welded military brilliance with a keen understanding of working with civilian governments.
MaCaulay: The Shaping of the Historian, John Clive (1973). Thomas Babington MaCaulay was the greatest essayist and historian in the first half of the nineteenth century in England. That he combined this with a very active political career is remarkable. Clive’s biography is by far the best on this man who distinguished himself in two separate spheres during his life.
Temperatures in Illinois have been unseasonably cool, and weather wise this was one of our most pleasant expeditions to Springfield. A good day.