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Archive for the month “February, 2013”

How Did Lincoln’s Widow Survive Financially His Sudden Death?

This past weekend we visited several Lincoln historical sites in Springfield, Illinois.  We toured his home, office, and the Lincoln Museum and Presidential Library.  There is never enough time to learn all that is to be known about the President. 

One of the aspects I came to appreciate was the financial predicament Mary Lincoln found herself in after his death.  Abraham Lincoln, the lawyer, who had worked on countless wills for others over the 23 years he spent practicing the law, never took the time to prepare a will for himself.  He died intestate. How many of us are in the same condition?

The Lincoln’s had spent personal funds during the White House years  as was normal at that time.  So without his salary how was she to live? 

Initially Congress appropriated one year of his salary for her care.   Later she was granted a pension for life of $3000 per year.  Benjamin B. Sherman, a New York grocer and stock broker, established The Lincoln Memorial Fund for Mrs. Lincoln and took in small contributions from across the country which were turned over to Mrs. Lincoln in the amount of $10,747.77 in May 1866.  In today’s dollars that is about $400,000.  Ultimately she was to be alright.  But what of the rest of the country that could have a used a few more years of his gentle but determined leadership?

A close family friend, Supreme Court Justice David Davis, whom Lincoln had appointed, was designated as the executor of the estate.  Davis had been Lincoln’s campaign manager for the 1860 presidential election.  He and their son Robert looked after her as best they could. 


The St. Louis Legacy of the Jesse Scouts

St. Louis, Missouri is not usually regarded as a major player in the Civil War.  But that reputation deserves reconsideration.  In addition to Eads’ City Class Gunboats, and the stubbborn determination to preserve Missouri’s position in the Union, there are other legacies St. Louis has to savor.  One is the Jesse Scouts.

The Jesse Scouts were an irregular Union unit formed in St. Louis by Gen. John C. Fremont and named after his wife, Jesse ann Benton Fremont.  The first commander was Captain Charles C. Carpenter and the unit numbered about 60 men throughout the war.  They wore Confederate Gray uniforms and operated behind enemy lines.   They frequently wore a white cloth around their shoulder so as to be identified by Union units.  Major Henry Harrison Young was the Jessie’s commander in the East under Gen. Sheridan after the unit had been brought East by Fremont in 1862. Some famous scouts were Ike Harris,;Arch Rowand (MOH), who led the raid that captured West Virginia train raider Harry Gilmore; Joseph McCabe; Tom Cassidy; George Valentine (who assassinated the partisan leader Hanse McNeil who had made a reputation raiding the b&O Railroad); Jim White, who diverted Lee’s supply trains at Appomattox, and Jim Campbell.  The jesse Scouts had set a high mark for counterterrorism operations by eliminating many of the Confederacy’s toughest irregulars. 

Some Points About Abraham Lincoln – American Hero

Abraham Lincoln was a spectacular human being and was courageous Presidential Hero.

Lincoln was the first president born outside the thirteen original states.

Lincoln is the tallest US President, at age 55 he was 6 feet 3-3/4 inches tall.

Lincoln is the only US President to hold a US patent.  No. 6469 was issued May 22, 1849 entitled Buoying Vessels Over Shoals

Lincoln is one of only two presidents to have served in the military as an enlisted man.  He volunteered with other Illinois citizens in the Black Hawk War, three times. He was once elected captain of his company.

Lincoln was baptized by a Baptist minister, regularly attended Presbyterian services with his wife, Mary, but never officially espoused any particular religious denomination.  He did believe in a Divine Creator.

Lincoln was a speaker at the 1856 Republican Convention and his remarks were so captivating that no one wrote them down-they were too enthralled with listening.  The speech is referred to as Lincoln’s Lost Speech.  Those remarks brought this backwoods attorney to National attention. 

Lincoln read from two books every day: the Bible and Shakespeare.

Lincoln loved to tell stories (parables if you will) to make a point and to entertain. He loved to laugh!

Lincoln was the first modern President because of his understanding of the importance of  the most modern communications and his use of the telegraph in the conduct of the Civil War was monumental.

Lincoln was a devoted family man. The Lincolns had four sons, Edward died before his Presidency in 1850, William died while he was in office in 1862 , Tad died in 1871 at age 18, and only Robert, the oldest, lived out a full life.

Lincoln was determined to keep the Union whole.  By his force of will and the sacrifice of over half a million citizens it was.

During his Presidency in 1862 the Homestead Act was passed, the Trans-Continental railroad was begun, the national banking system was created, and slavery was forever ended with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Had Lincoln not been martyred, it is possible that our African-American community and the rest of us, would be much better off  today.

The Other John Pemberton Still Has An Effect On Our Lives

Most Civil War enthusiasts are familiar with General John Clifford Pemberton, Confederate commander of The Army of the Mississippi who surrendered Vicksburg. But have you ever heard of Confederate Lieutenant Colonel John Stith Pemberton? 

John S. Pemberton was a cavalry officer in the Third Georgia Cavalry Battalion and received a painful slash wound across his chest at the Battle of Columbus, Georgia (a.k.a. Battle of Girard Alabama) on April 16, 1865, which is widely regarded as the last battle of the Civil War.  He, like many other wounded veterans, became adicted to morphine because of his painfully slow healing saber wound.  He became determined to find a way to remove himself from the drug addiction and, as a very capable pharmacist, began experimenting with coca and coca wines and even developed a kola version called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

When the temperance movement took hold in Atlanta in 1886 he was forced to find a non-alcoholic alternative to cure his addiction and its resulting depression.

He relied on an Atlanta druggist named Willis Venable to help him with the new formulation which they perfected by trial and error. The product they concocted was a syrupy mix which when added to carbonated water became a product that we all know today.  A gentleman named Frank Mason Robinson came up with the catchy name.

The tonic they invented was advertised as being particularly beneficial to “ladies, and all those whose sedentary employment causes nervous prostration, irregularities of the stomach, bowels and kidneys, who require a nerve tonic and a pure, delightful diffusible stimulant”.  Pemberton also claimed that his tonic was “delicious, refreshing, pure joy, exhilarating, invigorating” and touted it as a “valuable brain tonic”.

The next time you enjoy a Coca-Cola think of John Stith Pemberton, the Civil War veteran who made it possible.

St Louis Civil War Roundtable Trivia Quiz Questions for February

Each month a trivia quiz is used as a discussion stimulator before the meeting.  Answers are read and discussed briefly during the meeting.  The answers are published in the following issue of the Roundtable newspaper, The Bushwacker, in the The Roundtable website. Please see for the answers to the February 27 quiz which will be posted after the meeting.

  1. What was the reaction of President Davis to the Union’s Emancipation Proclamation?
  2. What was the first black regiment in the US Army?
  3. What Territory was added to the Union on February 24, 1863?  
  4. What national organization was born in February 1863 when Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells approved formation of a consulting body to review inventions and technology developments for the Union war effort?
  5. Which former U.S. Navy lieutenant and veteran of the Mexican War commanded the CSS Sumter and made 18 captures of Union ships in 6 months?  And, which more famous vessel did he later command?  Extra Credit: Which 3 professions did he dabble in following the war?
  6. On February 13, 1863 President and Mrs. Lincoln hosted a White House reception for what famous “general” and his wife?
  7. Union Brigadier James W. Shields holds two unique distinctions.  One was military occurring in the Shenandoah Valley in 1862, the other is political.  Name these two unique circumstances.
  8. What is the unique distinction of Union soldier Private Avery Brown?
  9. Who were the only two US President’s that served as army enlisted volunteers?
  10. Who was the only US President to be under enemy fire while in office? Where did this occur?

                                     Copyright© 2013 John A. Nischwitz

Could Robert E Lee Have Decisively Defeated the Union Army of the Potomac?

Recently I read an article that said that General Robert E. Lee never felt he could decisively defeat the Federals because he was always short of the combat power to bring them to the point of surrender.  He never had the reserves to push his advantage get behind or around the enemy and bring them to the surrender point.  His largest force was the Army of Virginia he took over on the Peninsula after Joe Johnston was wounded where he had several chances to severely damage the bluecoat force.  But alas, there were communication problems and command problems that denied the opportunity.  At Chancellorsville had Jackson found a way to cut off the Union force from the escape route at US Mine Ford possible The Army of Northern Virginia could have surrounded the Federals and brought about a surrender by Hooker.  Possibly but the Union army always had so many uncommitted troops that the question is always in doubt.  But in all the other encounters it seems, where he held a strong defensive position and inflicted severe damage on the Army of the Potomac, he did not have the reserves to counterattack and finish off his opponent.  Certainly that was the case at Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, and Second Manassas. At Antietam he was fortunate to be able to extract his force only because of the timidity of General McClellan.  Of all the army surrenders that occurred only Jackson at Harpers Ferry saw a Confederate force decisively defeat and capture the enemy.  That was what was needed to justify a Confederate cry of victory. 

Lee I believe could only hope that a political victory could be achieved.  That is, the Union for one of several reasons would just gives up and let the Confederate States have their independence. 

I don’t know…just some idle speculation on my part. 

It is interesting that our modern history paints a similiar picture.  After the defeat and surrende of Germany and Japan in WWII, no US enemy has been decisively defeated and maybe that is why the world today is in such fearful condition. 

St. Louis Symphony Schedules Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”

The St. Louis Symphony is just now beginning to publicize the 2013-14 program.  Included will be a treat for all of us history buffs who have a thing about President Lincoln, the Lincoln Portrait, slated for September 20,21,and 22 at Powell Hall. 

American Composer Aaron Copland was commissioned to prepare a tribute to martyred President  Abraham Lincoln by popular conductor Andre Kostelanetz shortly after the US entry into WWII.  He completed the work in April 1942 and it premiered in Cincinnati, Ohio May 14, 1942. 

The iconic orchestral work is a narrated piece with excerpts from Lincoln’s writings and congressional speeches including The Gettysburg Address and from popular melodies of  Lincoln’s era like his favorite tune, Camptown Races.   Included as well is a ballad known as Springfield Mountain .  The popular piece has been performed with narrations in Spanish, Portuguese, German, French and other languages.

The Lincoln Protrait, a 15-minute piece, is powerful even without the narrative.  Normally a popular celebrity is invited to be the narrator.  One can only wonder who the St. Louis Synphony will invite.  Previous celebrity narrators in St. Louis were Paul Newman in 2009 and General Norman Schwarzkopf.  The Symphony, which frequently utilizes the large screen on the stage of Powell Hall, will in all probability use a panorama of vivid photo’s.  Nothing the Symphony does is less than spectacular!!

Make a date and go to the Symphony.  You will not regret it and it may be for you a new and very fulfilling experience.  Other pieces on the program will be the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 and Three Places in New England by Charles Ives.  David Robertson will conduct with Kirill Gerstein as piano soloist. 

I will keep you posted as the narrator is announced.             

A Minor 1863 Cavalry Action Has Numerous Interesting Trivia Issues

The Affair at Hartwood Church, 23 February 1863, began as a small cavalry raid by 400 troopers under Confederate Fitzhugh Lee, who sought to develop tactical intelligence regarding Union dispositions and intentions.  The raid was motivated by the improved performance of Union cavalry as a result of Hooker’s organizational changes and the resulting lack of information desired by RE Lee.  Hooker, however, was just beginning to experiment with his changed cavalry structure and was having some growing pains in the process.  One was the extreme thinness due to the extended length of his picket lines north of the Falmouth encampments east of the Rappahannock and across from Fredericksburg that were manned by Union Generals Pleasonton and Averell. 

Fitzhugh Lee’s raid would penetrate Averell’s line and reach past Hartwood Church to within a few yards of Sickles’infantry sentinels.  Having achieved his objective of determining that the Union force had not moved, Lee headed back to his own lines but not before leaving a note for Averell saying, “I wish you would put up your sword, leave my state and go home.  You ride a good  horse, I ride a better.  Yours can beat mine running (referring to the speed with which the pickets gave way).  If you won’t go home, return my visit and bring a sack of coffee”. Averell intended to do just that!

Fitzhugh Lee was a 28 year old Confederate Major General.  BG William F. Averell was 30.  They were friends West Point and old army days.   Averell was in the class of 1855 and Lee 1856. Both carried indian arrow heads in their backs from 1859 battles with Comanches. So Lee’s jibe to his friend deserved a proper response.

That response came in a return raid which culminated in the engagement at Kelly’s Ford on 17 March 1863.  Averell’s troopers acquitted themselves well in this small action but it was rather costly to the Confederates in an unusual way.  There were two southern officers who went to observe the performance of Fitz Lee’s force.  JEB Stuart and his Chief of Artillery, Major John Pelham.  Stuart sat his horse and observed while Pelham became so excited to participate that he joined in a cavalry charge as a volunteer and was killed.  His loss was duly noted and mourned throughout the Confederacy.

Now for the trivia.  The rebel cavalry was dressed in Union blue overcoats when they encountered the Union pickets and were able to capture about 150 prisoners without firing a shot.  Lee’s approach was difficult because of the very deep snow. He only had 400 troopers but the Hooker’s response was to telegraph for non-existant reinforcements believing RE Lee had bigger plans and would intercept the telegram and cancel his plan based on the belief that a corps would be dispatched into his rear. Had the Union Cavalry leaders reacted aggressively they may have bagged Gen Lee and his entire force. In his excited state Hooker telegraphed Secretary of War Stanton but there is no record that anyone awakened President Lincoln regarding the perceived threat to the Army of the Potomac.

The Union cavalry continued to improve from this point onward while due to logistic and manpower reasons the Confederate cavalry began its decline.

Hooker’s Re-organization Efforts After The Fredericksburg Debacle Were Very Forward Thinking

General Joseph Hooker, an artillerist, assumed command of the Union Army on 25  January 1863.  The army he directly commanded, as well as the Union Army in total, suffered from several major problems that Hooker identified and corrected.  His reputation as a chronic critic of his superiors and his fondness for liquor are legend.  But what is not commonly known are the major renovations he instituted to the Army of the Potomac, that eventually spread to the entire Union Army, which proved to be very beneficial to the prosecution of the war under his successors and the overall morale of the troops.

 Hooker recognized that the morale of the army as reflected in the desertion rate was scandalous.  As of February 15 over 85,000 officers and men were AWOL.  His remedy was to institute a liberal furlough system which proved very effective.  He also assisted subordinate commanders in rounding up stragglers and deserters and returning them to their units which was facilitated by his creation of individual corps insignia.  Deserters brought back to military custody received prompt court martials before being returned to their units.

He improved the soldier’s rations.  Flour and soft bread were issued four times a week to replace hardtack.  Fresh potatoes and onions were issued twice weekly which reduced scurvy that had been a constant problem.  Regular cooks were detailed at unit level with two assistant “undercooks of African descent” as well.  Tobacco and occasionally whiskey were also issued. 

Higher sanitary standards were required which lowered the complaints of dysentery, typhoid,and a variety of other diseases.  He got the men out of the filthy mud and brush dugouts and required regular airing of bedding.

“Fightin’ Joe” established an effective Military Intelligence gathering agency and created what today we would call an active counter-intelligence program, denying the Confederacy information as to Yankee strengths and operational plans. hed effectively plugged information leaks.

He reorganized the Federal cavalry consolidating all the cavalry assets into on Cavalry Corps under General George Stoneman.  He improved the quality of the horseflesh and the equipage of the mounted fighter.  Prior to his changes the quality of horseflesh was not nearly equivalent to Confederate mounts.  As the war progressed the southern horse quality declined as the Union improved.

One of the areas that did not fare so well was that of the field artillery.  Interesting because Hooker was himself an experienced artillerist.  The deficiency in his reorganization of the artillery under General Henry J. Hunt was evident by their performance at Chancellorsville.  Henry Hunt served as Army of the Potomac Chief of Artillery during the entire war but due to Hooker’s lack of support and interference his performance at Chancellorsville was not up to his normal exceptional standard.

I will expand on some of these improvements in future blogs. 

Credit Chancellorsville: Lee’s Greatest Battle by Edward J. Stackpole 1958.


The Deal That Ended Reconstruction

My interest in the Civil War includes all aspects of the War from the cause and the road to secession and war to the end of the Reconstruction period that allowed the defeated South to get back on its own two feet and get on with a normal life.

I recently stumbled on an interesting summation that included a political deal in the 1876 election of Rutherford Birchard Hayes which involved the removal of Federal troops from three carpetbag states, thus ending the Reconstruction period.

When Hayes only received 4,036,298 votes to his Democrat opponents 4,300,500, and neither candidate received the necessary majority of electorial votes, the election was eventually thrown into the US House of Representatives.  When this august body could not reach a decision, the issue was referred to a bipartisian electorial commission consisting of seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one independent.  The independent was supposed to be Supreme Court Justice David Davis.  But he unexpectedly retired and was replaced by a Republican, Justice Bradley.  The vote along party lines was therefore not a surprising victory for Hayes.  The Democrats agreed to accept the decision only in return for the removal of all troops from the last three carpetbag states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Ergo end of Reconstruction.

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