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Tag: discovering the civil war

Waiting All Night for a Look at History

The line to see the Emancipation Proclamation could mean a wait of six hours. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

Americans are used to waiting in line for things they really want: tickets to a rock concert, a World Series game or a controversial new movie, for example.

At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, this week some people  waited all night for a brief look at one of the nation’s most historic documents — the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The Proclamation was on display for 36 hours in conjunction with the showing at the museum of NARA’s “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit, which is on display there through September 5, before moving on to Houston and Nashville.

The Emancipation Proclamation, part of the National Archives’ holdings,  is displayed very infrequently and for short periods because of its fragile condition, which exposure to light can worsen, and the need to preserve the document for future generations.  On display in Dearborn were only two of the five pages and a replica of the front page; the document is double-sided.

Visitors had only a 36-hour window for a chance to see the document. Photo by Bob Brodbeck.

With this historic document on display, the Henry Ford Museum got one of the biggest turnouts ever.  The 36 hours began at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20, and ended at 7 a.m. Wednesday, June 22.

Press accounts reported that there … [ Read all ]

Lincoln to slaves: go somewhere else

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DC Emancipation Act, April 1862 showing money to be set aside for deportation (ARC 299814)

The issue of slavery divided the country under Abraham  Lincoln’s Presidency. The national argument was simple: either keep slavery or abolish it. But Abraham Lincoln, known as the Great Emancipator, may have also been known as the Great Colonizer when he supported a third direction to the slavery debate: move African Americans somewhere else.

Long before the Civil War, in 1854, Lincoln addressed his own solution to slavery at a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois: “I should not know what to do as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.” While Lincoln acknowledged this was logistically impossible, by the time he assumed the Presidency and a Civil War was underfoot, the nation was in such duress that he tried it anyway.

By early 1861, Lincoln ordered a secret trip to modern-day Panama to investigate the land of a Philadelphian named Ambrose Thompson. Thompson had volunteered his Chiriqui land as a refuge for freed slaves. The slaves would work in the abundant coal mines on his property, the coal would be sold to the Navy, and the profits would go to the freed slaves to further build up their new land.

Lincoln sought to … [ Read all ]

The Medal of Honor

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A letter from William Carney acknowledging receipt of his Medal of Honor (Records of the Adjutant General's Office, RG 94; ARC 594895)

According to Army Regulation 670-1, a soldier can now receive 31 military decorations “as a distinctively designed mark of honor denoting heroism, or meritorious or outstanding service or achievement.” During the Civil War, there was only one: the Medal of Honor.

The U.S. Army does not have a longstanding history of handing out awards. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington handed out exactly three awards to recognize “any singularly meritorious action.”

Certificates were handed out for soldiers who distinguished themselves during the Mexican-American War, but that was discontinued when the conflict ended. At the start of the Civil War, there was no way to recognize the merit of the nation’s soldiers.

Gen. Winfield Scott approved of this. He believed medals smacked of European affectation.

By the summer of 1861, however, Congress had approved a medal of valor for the Navy, and within a year the Army had followed suit with a medal of honor “to such noncommissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldierlike qualities, during the present insurrection.” By 1863, Congress had modified the law to include officers and expanded its tenure beyond the Civil War.

In 1862, Secretary of War Edwin … [ Read all ]

Rare photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg

The first photo discovered of Lincoln at Gettysburg

The first photo discovered of Lincoln at Gettysburg

In 1952, the chief of the Still Photo section at the National Archives, Josephine Cobb, discovered a glass plate negative taken by Mathew Brady of the speaker’s stand at Gettysburg on the day of its dedication as a National Cemetery. Edward Everett would speak from that stand later in the afternoon for two straight hours. Moments later, a tall, gaunt Abraham Lincoln would stand up and deliver a ten sentence speech in two minutes. It was the Gettysburg Address.

Lincoln delivered his famous speech 147 years ago today. His speech is revered as one of the greatest in American history, yet until Josephine Cobb looked closer at that Mathew Brady photo in 1952, it was thought that no photo existed of the Great Emancipator at Gettysburg on the day he delivered that address.

Based off the placement of people, the slight elevation of a few in the center left field of the photograph, and where the crowd was looking, Cobb bet that Lincoln would be in the photo. Photo enlargement later proved her theory true, making this the first–and possibly only–photograph of Lincoln at Gettysburg.*

Cobb estimated that the photo was taken around noontime, before Edward Everett arrived, and about three hours before Lincoln delivered his famous address. Below is the original, uncropped photo.

The original uncropped photo of the speakers stand at Gettysburg

The original uncropped

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The must-have Christmas gift of 1864

Sherman's telegram to Lincoln, offering him Savannah, Georgia, as a Christmas present (ARC 301637)

Sherman's note to Lincoln (ARC 301637)

Each year in America it seems there is one holiday gift that is heavy on demand and short on supply. In 1996, there was the Tickle-Me-Elmo fiasco. In 1983, it was the Cabbage Patch Doll. In 1864, the gift of the season was Savannah, Georgia, and one Union general was willing to do anything to obtain it.

On November 16, 1864, William T. Sherman set out from Atlanta, Georgia, with his eye set on capturing the southern port of Savannah. In his 300-mile march to the sea, Sherman wreaked havoc, employing total war and destroying a swath of land 40 miles wide in places. His intent? To break the psychological backbone of the Confederacy.

Sherman arrived outside Savannah in mid-December and conveyed the following message to its the man who had set up a defense of the city, Confederate Gen. William Hardee:

I have already received guns that can cast heavy and destructive shot as far as the heart of your city; also, I have for some days held and controlled every avenue by which the people and garrison of Savannah can be supplied, and I am therefore justified in demanding the surrender of the city of Savannah, and its dependent forts, and shall wait a reasonable time for your answer, before opening with heavy ordnance. Should you entertain

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