I took advantage of the Fourth of July falling on a Thursday this year and closed the law mines down on Friday. My family and I on the 5th took our annual pilgrimage to the Lincoln sites in Springfield. The most striking new feature at the Lincoln Museum is a 31 foot statue of the Great Emancipator at the entrance to the museum. It has become a favorite spot for taking photographs and videos. Lincoln is shown standing next to a modern man holding a copy of the Gettysburg Address. This is a temporary addition until September 20 of next year. The statue has already appeared in Chicago and Peoria. (Yeah, the love that Illinois has for its favorite son cannot be overstated.)
After the Museum we went to eat at The Feed Store, our normal place for lunch when we are in Springfield. We were dismayed when we found that they were closed until Monday, they also taking advantage of having a long Fourth of July weekend. We ate at a local pizza joint, whose name I shall mercifully omit. The decor was tacky, the air conditioning was malfunctioning, the service was snail-like and the food was barely adequate. Ah well, trips are for experimentation and most experiments fail. On to the Lincoln Tomb and our usual prayers for Lincoln and his family. The coolness of the Tomb was appreciated, as the weather was hot and humid, and the mildness of our Spring this year has left us unacclimated to typical Central Illinois early July weather.
It would not be a Lincoln pilgrimage without a book haul:
- Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction, Allen C. Guelzo (2009)-I love this series. The volumes are on one topic and enlist a top scholar to write about 140 pages. I have dozens of books in this inexpensive way to build a library on varied subjects. Guelzo is a noted Civil War scholar who has written extensively on Lincoln.
- Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln, George R. Deckle, Sr. (2017)-Lincoln did not have a long career at the Bar, only 24 years, with substantial interruptions when he served in Congress for two years, his Senate race against Douglas in 1858 and his race for the Presidency against Douglas in 1860, but during that time he handled almost 5,000 cases, including fourteen murder trials. Lincoln earned a reputation as a skilled trial attorney, making use of his good memory for the facts of a case, his quick wits and his eloquence. No wonder that Lincoln perhaps had the most enjoyable times in his life when he was practicing law.
- Lincoln’s Pathfinder: John C. Fremont and the Violent Election of 1856, John Bicknell (2017)-One may have pardoned the glee of Democrats in the early 1850’s as they viewed the immolation of the Whig Party. However, their glee turned into dismay as the Republican Party was born, filled with Whigs and disgruntled Democrats, united in opposition to slavery. In its first presidential election in 1856, the new party gained a third of the votes and 114 electoral votes. Thoughtful Democrats noted that if the Republicans were able to gain the votes cast in the North in 1856 for former President Millard Fillmore running on the Know-Nothing Party, they could sweep the North and win the next Presidential election contest without gaining a single electoral vote from the Border States or the South and that is just what happened in 1860.
- The Election of 1860 Reconsidered, A. James Fuller editor, (1860)-A series of essays looking at the Presidential election of 1860. A momentous election, the Republicans would hold the White House until 1912, with the exception of the non-consecutive terms of Grover Cleveland, and Andrew Johnson serving out Lincoln’s second term. It was a reversal of the Democrat dominance of the White House for three decades with two Whig interruptions. For such a momentous election it didn’t have much drama. Once the Democrats split, Mary Lincoln could begin planning her shopping lists for the White House. When political power shifts in this country, the results tend not to be a surprise, which is why the 2016 election results were such a stunner.
- Yankee Blitzkrieg: Wilson’s Raid Through Alabama and Georgia, James Pickett Jones (1976)-This was the first book length study of Wilson’s cavalry raid, more than a century after the raid, which culminated in the capture of Selma, Alabama. The lack of scholarly attention is understandable since by the ending months of the War the Confederacy was completely used up, and Wilson’s raid merely demonstrated that 13,000 Union troopers armed with repeaters could go where they wanted to, and that even the raw military genius of General Nathan Bedford Forrest could not make this a contest.
- Lincoln and the Preachers, Edgar Dewitt Jones, (1948)-A pioneering work when it came out, looking at Lincoln’s contacts with Protestant ministers, Catholic priests and Jewish rabbis. Lincoln and religion is an absorbing topic as Lincoln, surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, for a man who began his adult life as a sceptic of religion, had a lifelong fascination with religion, and thought more deeply about God than any other American president.
- Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi, Michael B. Ballard (2004)-Since the Sixties of the last century there has been a lot of good studies on the Vicksburg campaign which had been largely ignored by Civil War scholars up to that point. That is fortunate. I rate the Vicksburg campaign as the most fascinating of the War. A combined operation, involving both land and river fleets, Vicksburg presented Grant with a military problem that appeared insoluble. That Grant solved it, at the critical portion of the campaign with forces numerically not much larger than the total Confederate forces he was confronting, would cause me to rank him among the top commanders of the Civil War, even if he had accomplished nothing other than winning this campaign.
- Abraham Lincoln Association Papers, 1932 and 1835. One of the treasures of the Prairie Archives bookstore in Springfield is the many volumes of the Abraham Lincoln Association Papers, consisting usually of two papers on Lincoln delivered at their annual meetings. These volumes look at Lincoln as a constitutional lawyer, his youthful environs, Lincoln and the campaign of 1864 and an analysis of Lincoln’s humor. These volumes are true treasure troves for students of Lincoln. I am pleased to say the Association is still in operation. Go here to look at their website.
- Jefferson Davis: Private Letters 1823-1889, Hudson Strode, (1966)-One of the weaknesses of Civil War scholarship are the gaps in it. One of the most glaring gaps is Jefferson Davis who has received shockingly little serious study. The late Hudson Strode was one of the first to attempt to remedy this with his three volume biography. Biased in favor of Davis, and superseded by subsequent biographies, see William C. Davis’ Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour, the work still stands as a pioneering effort.
- Soldiers of the Cross, David Power Conyngham, (2019)-Conyngham was a veteran of the Irish Brigade and an Irish Catholic journalist. He wrote this manuscript but died in 1883 before it was published. The manuscript found its way into the archives of Notre Dame. Editors David J. Endres and William B. Kurtz prepared it for publication, and Notre Dame Press has just published it. A study of the heroism of Catholic clergy on both sides in the Civil War, a long delayed tribute to those men and women who chipped away at much anti-Catholic prejudice by their valor and mercy.