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Tag: National Archives Official Blog

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 ]

Facial Hair Friday: “Howe” do they do it?

We may be a litttle short-staffed on this quasi-holiday, but I couldn’t let Facial Hair Friday go by without a nod to some historic beards. Today’s honoree is Gen. Albion P. Howe, veteran of the Mexican War and the Civil War.

Gen. Albion P. Howe (111-B-4713; ARC 528831

Gen. Albion P. Howe (111-B-4713; ARC 528831)

When a captain in the U.S. Army,  Howe served under Col. Robert E. Lee at Harper’s Ferry in the action against John Brown. During the Civil War, he served in the Army of the  Potomac and led his division in the Battle of Fredericksburg. After the war he was a member of the honor guard that watched over Abraham Lincoln’s body and was appointed to the military commission that tried the Lincoln conspirators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elias Howe, Jr. (208-PU-86a-2)

Elias Howe, Jr. (208-PU-86A-2)

I came upon the general serendipitously. I was actually looking for information about sewing machine inventor Elias Howe, Jr.,  when I chanced upon the general’s flowing mustachios. Further research into Howe brought me back to Facial Hair Friday for June 25, 2010, when Hilary presented Col. Marshall Howe’s amazing neck beard.

What is it about Howes and facial hair? One even sees a progression of hair upward, moving from Marshall’s neck to Elias’s lower chin to Albion’s extravagent mustache and full beard. Keep your eyes peeled. If you come across any more Howes with noteworthy facial hair, let us … [ Read all ]