Site search

Site menu:

Find Out More

Subscribe to Email Updates

Archives

Categories

Contact Us

Tag: random history

Lincoln to slaves: go somewhere else

19-2913a

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

william-carney-to-ainsworth-on-medal-of-honor-594895

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 ]

The peculiar story of Wilmer McLean

At left, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War began. At right, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War ended (111-B-4756, and 111-B-6333)

At left, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War 'began.' At right, Wilmer McLean's house where the Civil War ended. (111-B-4756 and 111-B-6333)

Today Part Two of “Discovering the Civil War” opens at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The exhibit is divided into a few sections, the last of which is entitled “Endings and Beginnings,” a reference to the end of the Civil War and the start of Reconstruction. As to the beginning and the end of the Civil War itself, there is only one man who book-ended it so literally. His name was Wilmer McLean.

On July 18, 1861, Confederate General Beauregard had sat down for supper in the home of a Manassas local when a cannonball pierced through the house and landed in the kitchen fireplace. It was something of a surprise, but not so overwhelming as to ruin Beauregard’s sense of humor “A comical effect of this artillery fight was the destruction of the dinner of myself and staff by a Federal shell that fell into the fire-place of my headquarters at the McLean House,” he wrote in his diary. Perhaps the shell would have been more of a shock had it not been just one of many volleys in the first major campaign of the Civil War: the Battle of Bull Run.

The house belonged to a man named … [ Read all ]

Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln in the same photo

Lincoln's funeral procession passing the Roosevelt Mansion in New York City (Courtesy New York Public Library)

Lincoln's funeral procession passing the Roosevelt Mansion in New York City (Courtesy New York Public Library)

History is full of strange coincidences, and the Civil War is no exception. In the 1950s, Stefan Lorant was researching a book on Abraham Lincoln when he came across an image of the President’s funeral procession as it moved down Broadway in New York City. The photo was dated April 25, 1865.

At first it appeared like one of any number of photographs of Lincoln’s funeral procession, until he identified the house on the corner as that of Cornelius van Schaack Roosevelt, the grandfather of future President Teddy Roosevelt and his brother Elliot.

The coincidence might have ended there, but Lorant took a closer look. In the second=story window of the Roosevelt mansion he noticed the heads of two boys are peering out onto Lincoln’s funeral procession.

Lorant had the rare chance to ask Teddy Roosevelt’s wife about the image, and when she saw it, she confirmed what he had suspected: the faces in the windows were those of a young future President and his brother. “Yes, I think that is my husband, and next to him his brother,” she exclaimed. “That horrible man! I was a little girl then and my governess took me to Grandfather Roosevelt’s house on Broadway so I could watch the funeral procession. But … [ Read all ]

Is West Virginia Constitutional?

Subpoena of West Virginia (Records of the Supreme Court, ARC 597545)

Subpoena of West Virginia (Records of the Supreme Court, ARC 597545)

On the creation of new states, the Constitution is pretty clear. Article IV, Section 3, reads that “no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State … without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

It appears that someone forgot to tell West Virginia about this. In 1863, the Mountain State carved itself out of the northwestern corner of the Commonwealth of Virginia, raising the question: Is West Virginia unconstitutional?

Breaking up is never easy, especially when a Civil War is under way. While the Virginia government in Richmond seceded from the Union in the spring of 1861, up in the town of Wheeling, delegates from the northwestern part of the state got together to counter-secede. These delegates said the government in Richmond had no right to leave the Union, and as such they now constituted the state of Virginia. Thankfully, to keep things from getting too complicated, they agreed to call themselves New Virginia, or more fancifully, “The Restored Government of Virginia” (Kanawha was another name under consideration).

By 1862, through some questionable electoral processes, the “Restored Government of Virginia” had written up a new Constitution and applied for statehood. After a few edits—Lincoln insisted they insert a provision … [ Read all ]