A time for action…running the gauntlet
David Glasgow Farragut had guts…and it showed in his decision to push past the forts protecting New Orleans. For seven full days, the Union navy had shelled Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Some ships were shaken to pieces by the repeated concussions, well over 15,000 shells were fired. Farragut had enough by April 24, 1862, ordering his ships to steam past the forts at 2a.m. Aggressive action was lacking in the Union war effort through most of 1862. Farragut’s decision was precisely the type Lincoln had been waiting for.
Confederate defenses approaching New Orleans
Farragut’s fleet took damage… but the Confederates had no answer for the boldness of the move. Once past the forts, Farragut’s ships easily defeated a makeshift fleet sent to meet them at the mouth of the harbor. A desperate attempt to set Farragut’s flagship on fire was also stymied and the city was his for the taking. At noon on April 25, 1862, Farragut climbed onto the levee of New Orleans. Four days later, 10,000 Union troops occupied the city.
Forget heroics, it just takes guts
Abraham Lincoln had to sneak through… the city of Baltimore on the road to his inauguration. His election had stirred a hornet’s nest in that town as violence and secession were proving to be inseparable. Plots were discovered to kill Lincoln as he passed through the city- so much for the rule of law, republican elections, and the will of the people. Lincoln would effectively deconstruct the illogical foundation of secession in his inaugural address, the violent streets of Baltimore served as living proof of its absurdity.
A violent, pro-secession mob shed first blood… in the American Civil War. Massachusetts militiamen were assaulted on the streets of Baltimore while traveling to Washington DC. Lincoln used the provocation to suspend habeas corpus in Maryland. The city was placed under martial law and the mayor, members of the town council, and eventually one third of the state legislature were arrested. All involved, at least in part, played a role in inciting the violence. Lincoln had to enforce ALL the laws, in ALL states- Maryland wanted special treatment, in a sense to be ABOVE the Union.
In April of 1864 Lincoln returned… to Baltimore with a message. The city was still hostile, but pacified under Lincoln’s direction. He reminded the people there that liberty was not a word they owned- it had a bigger, more profound meaning. He told them, “The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty…” Self interest and narrow-minded politics influenced the violence in Baltimore- and the Civil War. Lincoln was the shepherd guiding the country toward the truth.
Lincoln gave his last public address on April 11, 1865… and reconstruction was on his mind. He was just back from Richmond, the front, and high level meetings with Grant. But, he was ready to bring his nation back together- to “heal the wounds” as he stated in the Second Inaugural.
“By these recent successes the re-inauguration of the national authority — reconstruction — which has had a large share of thought from the first, is pressed much more closely upon our attention. It is fraught with great difficulty. Unlike a case of a war between independent nations, there is no authorized organ for us to treat with. No one man has authority to give up the rebellion for any other man. We simply must begin with, and mold from, disorganized and discordant elements. Nor is it a small additional embarrassment that we, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of reconstruction.”
There was difficult work ahead and Lincoln anticipated a new battle… with members of the opposition and his own party. Three days later, Boothe’s treachery had far reaching effects no one could have foreseen.
Ageing leads to reflection… 42 years have passed and reflection reveals a life devoted to the study of history. A career in education has shown how rare academic commitment can be…. all I have ever wanted to do is history. These books inspired, taught, and frustrated me along the journey. ..
Civil War chess master
- American Heritage History of the Civil War-Narrative by Bruce Catton. Little more than a coffee table dust collector in most homes, the copy in my parents’ home was well worn. Richly illustrated with historic photos and informative maps, it was the perfect introductory course in Civil War studies. Luckily, video game consoles weren’t available during the early days spent reading Catton’s crystal clear prose.
- Band of Brothers- by Stephen Ambrose. WW2 stories from my Grandfather inspired me to learn more about the greatest generation. Ambrose showed me the power of primary sources- there are hundreds utilized in this harrowing tale of Easy Company’s combat experience. All of the vitriol aimed at Ambrose (much of it jealousy) causes us to forget what a great storyteller he was.
Uncle Steve and Maj. Dick Winters
- Red, White, and Black- by Gary Nash. The book that deconstructed the mediocre history education I received in high school, Nash’s study opened my eyes to New Left historiography. The colonization of North America was more complicated than Pilgrims, John Smith, and Ponce Deleon; Nash’s vision challenges the cereal box standard that passes for history in many high schools.
- The Killer Angels- by Michael Shaara. Historical fiction at its very best, Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about the battle of Gettysburg is steeped in history. Shaara exposes us to the battle through the eyes of its key participants, a riveting format often imitated, but never equaled. Growing up just an hour from the battlefield, this novel helped bring it to life better than any audio tour.
- Lincoln’s Virtues-by William Lee Miller. An “ethical biography” of our greatest President, Miller departs from the typical Lincoln canon. Rather than recounting Lincoln’s deeds, Miller attempts to explain the actions by examining the history of his belief structure. This book is essential in understanding the man behind the myths.
- The Radicalism of the American Revolution- by Gordon Wood. Spend enough time in college history courses and you’ll get the impression that the American Revolution was stale, conservative, and not all that revolutionary. Wood sets the record straight in a compelling study that makes a brilliant counter to the anti-Americanism of Howard Zinn. The work of Wood is so much more valuable than a passing quip by Matt Damon in “Good Will Hunting.”
Don’t believe anything Matt Damon says
- Gettysburg: The Second Day- by Harry Pfanz. Richly detailed tactical study of the crucial day at the battle of Gettysburg that is essential reading to students of the battle. Pfanz does more than explain the complicated troop movements; he brings the battle to life with the memories of the men who were there. I spent many a Summer afternoon tramping the field with a well worn copy of Pfanz’s masterpiece in my hands.
- The American Mind- by Henry Steele Commager. Trying to explain the central American consciousness seemed an impossible task, but Commager’s signature study managed to frustrate a generation of history students. He should be admired for valuing stories above statistics, personalities over presumption, and a firm belief in American exceptionalism.
One day after Union troops captured Richmond… Lincoln toured the city. He was truly a Commander-in-Chief, never letting the Army and its missions far from his personal control. So much blood and treasure had been spent capturing the rebel capital, Lincoln had to see it for himself. Lincoln had been under fire before at Fort Stevens in July of 1864, so the personal attention he paid to Richmond was not unusual.
A stroll for the ages
A crowd of freed slaves surrounded Lincoln and his guards… as me maneuvered through the burning rubble of Richmond. Lincoln toured the Confederate Congressional chambers and the notorious Libby Prison, but the transcendental moment occurred when he entered the Confederate white house and sat at Jefferson Davis’ desk. The troops outside erupted into cheers. HUZZAH!!
Take a seat here, Mr. President
Union troops marched into the Confederate capital…Richmond, Virginia after 4 long years of war. In May of 1862, the Army of the Potomac came to within site of its goal, but the poor generalship of George McClellan kept the city out of reach. Richmond stood just 108 miles from Washington, yet to Lincoln and the Union forces it seemed a continent away.
At long last
Upon learning that Richmond was finally… in Union hands, Lincoln felt tremendous relief, but was not satisfied, “Thank God that I have lived to see this! It seems to me that I have been dreaming a horrid dream for four years, and now the nightmare is gone. I want to see Richmond.”– Abraham Lincoln
I want to see Richmond
In one of the defining moments of the struggle… Lincoln was going to travel to Richmond. The blood and the treasure spent capturing this prize demanded the Commander-in-Chief’s presence to bring true closure to this chapter of history. Lincoln was that type of leader.