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Archive for the 'USH: Civil War' Category

‘The Slaves Dread New Year’s Day the Worst’: The Grim History of January 1

Monday, May 11th, 2020
A circa 1830 illustration of a slave auction in America.

Americans are likely to think of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as a time to celebrate the fresh start that a new year represents, but there is also a troubling side to the holiday’s history. In the years before the Civil War, the first day of the new year was often a heartbreaking one for enslaved people in the United States.

In the African-American community, New Year’s Day used to be widely known as “Hiring Day” — or “Heartbreak Day,”

Read on from Time Magazine

Fake news almost destroyed Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Abraham Lincoln was more than just a foe of slavery. He was also a mixed-race eugenicist, believing that the intermarriage of blacks and whites would yield an American super-race.

Or at least, that’s what newspapers in 1864 would have had you believe. The charge isn’t true. But this miscegenation hoax still “damn near sank Lincoln that year,” in a tough re-election campaign amidst a bloody civil war when he and his Republican party were blindsided.

The “leading Republican journal of the country is the unblushing advocate of ‘miscegenation,’ which it ranks with the highest questions of social and political philosophy,” wrote the New York World, a Democratic paper. The miscegenation pamphlet was perhaps American history’s most successful fake news campaign.

The parallels to today are easy to see. Back then, telegraphs and other technological changes let news spread swiftly and gave rise to more starkly partisan newspapers. Public trust in government was in tatters. With little consensus or authority over the truth, the purest gauge of veracity was gut feeling. And in an America so deeply divided—especially over differences about race—what tended to feel real were stories that confirmed fears and biases.

A Scientific Analysis of Civil War Beards

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

How Civil War commanders wore their facial hair, in one chart:

More than 90 percent of commanders studied had some kind of facial hair, most sporting either the long beard or the short beard. Very few went with muttonchops or a goatee. However, there were some significant differences between North and South here.

Meddling Ex-Presidents during the Civil War

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

When Abraham Lincoln became president in 1861, five former presidents were still alive.Chris DeRose tells how this ex-Presidents’ Club maneuvered, plotted, advised, and aided during the Civil War. DeRose’s book The Presidents’ War: Six American Presidents and The Civil War That Divided Them explores the stories of the ex-presidents who remained active, influential, and occasionally treacherous as the Union sought to save itself.

Donald Trump in an Historical Perspective

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

We are currently enjoying a master class in the art of political stupidity. Donald J. Trump has been schooling us for some time, but the Iran nuclear deal has touched off a new race to the bottom. Mike Huckabee said the agreement with Iran would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Ted Cruz called the Obama administration “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” Let’s not even get started on the Affordable Care Act, which Ben Carson once called “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”

It’s tempting to rail against the media’s ability to elicit and amplify such stupidity. But none of this is new. Politicians have always resorted to dumb claims, blatant insults, bold exaggerations and baldfaced lies to gain press coverage and win votes.

Historian Joanne Freeman takes the long view on political shenanigans and tomfoolery in America. 

The Unlikely Paths of Grant and Lee

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

To millions of Americans, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, Lee is a role model and Grant is—despite his gifted generalship and consequential presidency—an embarrassment. What happened? How did the hero of the war become a quasi-ignominious figure, and how did the champion of Southern slavery become, if not the war’s hero, its most popular figure?

Jamelle Bouie tackles this vexing question.

What Did Gettysburg Smell Like?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Smith’s book forces us to set aside our lofty notions about the war and regard it from a human perspective. “This war was a war about some of the greatest and most noble ideals in American history,” Smith told me in an interview. “This was about freedom, questions of national identity, questions of sovereignty, questions of personal liberty. And I’m not denying all of that. What I am saying is that we have to be very careful not to elevate those noble questions so much that they cloud or occlude our understanding of war.” Sensory history, Smith said, is one way to help us understand how it would have felt to be there

Linclon’s Letter to Albert G. Hodges

Friday, December 12th, 2014

This letter is a summary of a conversation which President Abraham Lincoln had with three Kentuckians: Governor Thomas E. Bramlette, Albert Hodges, and Archibald Dixon. Hodges was the editor of the Frankfort Commonwealth and Dixon served in the U.S. Senate from 1852 to 1855. Bramlette had protested the recruiting of black regiments in Kentucky.

The letter offers an excellent glimpse into Lincoln’s thinking about his constitutional responsibility and why he changed his inaugural position of non-interference with slavery to one of emancipation. He said, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.”

Lincoln closed with a reference to slavery that is reminiscent of his second inaugural address of 1865: “If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.”

The significance of the Gettysburg Address

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

IN THE AFTERMATH of the Battle of Gettysburg, both sides, leaving fifty thousand dead or wounded or missing behind them, had reason to maintain a large pattern of pretense—Lee pretending that he was not taking back to the South a broken cause, Meade that he would not let the broken pieces fall through his fingers. It would have been hard to predict that Gettysburg, out of all this muddle, these missed chances, all the senseless deaths, would become a symbol of national purpose, pride, and ideals. Abraham Lincoln transformed the ugly reality into something rich and strange—and he did it with 272 words. The power of words has rarely been given a more compelling demonstration.

Historian Garry Wills explores The significance of the Gettysburg Address

Civil War Helped Make Christmas a Permanent American Tradition

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Thomas Nast was perhaps the most famous artist to marry Christmas and the Civil War [PDF], but other commercial artists of lesser distinction followed suit. This large engraving, by popular Boston publisher Louis Prang & Company, opts for a more positive, universal vision of Christmas spirit across the land. The overflowing frame holds domestic scenes of boys and girls in bed, a tabletop Christmas tree “within” the house and a sleigh-ride “without,” and a smiling Santa Claus holding a steaming figgy pudding and what might be a bowl of warm punch.