President Lincoln: Hero or Monster?

President Lincoln: Hero or Monster?

President Lincoln: Hero or Monster?
Attribution: Alexander Gardner (November 8, 1863)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

President Lincoln is the centerpiece of American mythology. Public schools teach us to adore him. His brilliance and leadership are hailed by historians and politicians. President Lincoln saved the Union, freed the slaves, and inspired a nation. Check out these glowing words from Roy Klabin at PolicyMic:

Abraham Lincoln is one of America’s most celebrated presidents, having led us though our most troubled times. He was made great not by the circumstances that he found himself in, but the fortitude and honor with which he navigated them. The Civil War that erupted, and the manner in which Lincoln quelled it, showed us that however varied the ideas within our flourishing democracy may become, our strongest virtue comes in sustaining our unity and resolving our differences.

Fortitude? Honor? Please. Unfortunately, the truth is far uglier. President Lincoln’s quest to “save the union” cost an estimated 750,000 lives (including my third great grandfather). He wanted to force African-Americans to resettle in Central America. And there is no evidence he helped to pass the 13th Amendment, despite what Steven Spielberg would have you believe. In fact, the only 13th amendment President Lincoln tried to pass was the Corwin Amendment, which sought to prevent interference with slavery. Here’s more on the mythology surrounding President Lincoln and the 13th Amendment from Thomas DiLorenzo at LewRockwell.com:

Steven Spielberg’s new movie, Lincoln, is said to be based on several chapters of the book Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns-Goodwin, who was a consultant to Spielberg. The main theme of the movie is how clever, manipulative, conniving, scheming, lying, and underhanded Lincoln supposedly was in using his “political skills” to get the Thirteenth Amendment that legally ended slavery through the U.S. House of Representatives in the last months of his life. This entire story is what Lerone Bennett, Jr. the longtime executive editor of Ebony magazine and author of Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, calls a “pleasant fiction.” It never happened…

There is no evidence that Lincoln provided any significant assistance in the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in the House of Representatives in 1865, but there is evidence of his effectiveness in getting an earlier Thirteenth Amendment through the House and the Senate in 1861. This proposed amendment was known as the “Corwin Amendment,” named after Ohio Republican Congressman Thomas Corwin. It had passed both the Republican-controlled House and the Republican-dominated U.S. Senate on March 2, 1861, two days before Lincoln’s inauguration, and was sent to the states for ratification by Lincoln himself. The Corwin Amendment would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with Southern slavery…

(See the rest at LewRockwell.com)

Nine Men’s Morris – A Game for the Blizzard?

Nine Men's Morris

Nine Men’s Morris
Attribution: Elembis
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The snow is falling fast in New England and could reach two feet in depth by tomorrow. Power outages are a near certainty. For those of you looking for a way to pass the time, why not try your hand at an old board game, namely Nine Men’s Morris? Nine Men’s Morris is a strategy game that dates back to the Roman Empire. It became popular in England and eventually made its way over to the New World. It remained popular in America through the Civil War.

The Rules for Nine Men’s Morris

You need pencil and paper to draw the board (see image). For playing pieces, use checkers (9 for each side). The goal of Nine Men’s Morris is to leave your opponent with just two pieces or block him from being able to make a legal move. The game has three phases: 1) Place checkers in open positions; 2) Move checkers to adjacent positions; and 3) Move checkers to any vacant position (this is only done when a player is down to just three pieces). Here are some more specific rules from Wikipedia:

Phase one: placing pieces

The game begins with an empty board. The players determine who plays first, then take turns placing their men one per play on empty points. If a player is able to place three of his pieces in a straight line, vertically or horizontally, he has formed a mill and may remove one of his opponent’s pieces from the board and the game. Any piece can be chosen for the removal, but a piece not in an opponent’s mill must be selected, if possible. Once all pieces have been placed, phase two begins.

Phase two: moving pieces

Players continue to alternate moves, this time moving a man to an adjacent point. A piece may not “jump” another piece. Players continue to try and form mills, and remove their opponent’s pieces in the same manner as in phase one. A player may “break” a mill by moving one of his pieces out of an existing mill, then moving the piece back to form the same mill a second time, or any number of times; and each time removing one of his opponent’s men. The act of removing an opponent’s man is sometimes called “pounding” the opponent. When one player has been reduced to three men, phase three begins.

Phase three: “flying”

When a player is reduced to three pieces, there is no longer a limitation of moving to only adjacent points: The player’s men may “fly”, “hop”, or “jump” from any point to any vacant point…

For more on Nine Men’s Morris, check out Wikipedia. Good luck to everyone in the path of the storm!

A Dinosaur…during the Civil War?

Did Union soldiers shoot down a living dinosaur during the midst of the Civil War?

Did Civil War soldiers shoot down a living dinosaur?

Did Civil War soldiers shoot down a living dinosaur?
Description: Outdated reconstruction of pterodactyls as flying marsupials
Attribution: Edward Newman (1843)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

A Living Dinosaur During the Civil War?

Take a good look at this image. It appears to show a group of soldiers standing around a dead pterodactyl. What do you think…is it real? Believe it or not, the answer is yes…with a big caveat. The photograph definitely isn’t photo-shopped. But its not from the 1860s either. Rather, it was a promotional tool for a science fiction TV show called Freaky Links. The soldiers are Civil War reenactors and the pterodactyl is a prop (incidentally, used for Episode 4, “Subject: Coelacanth This!“).

“What’s interesting is that this story was picked up by many other websites who simply repeated the information without spending five minutes to check, which all the time I devoted to this. Life is short, after all.” ~ Sean McLachlan, Civil War soldiers shoot down a pterodactyl???

That pretty much sums up the problem with cryptozoology and claims of living dinosaurs. The field is ripe for hoaxers. Heck, even the earliest claim of this specific type was nothing more than a hoax.

Perhaps the earliest ‘living pterosaur’ account dates to 1856 when, according to the Illustrated London News, a live pterodactyl with a 3 m wingspan emerged alive from within a rock dislodged during the construction of a French railway tunnel…This story is clearly a hoax: the pterosaur allegedly represented a new species dubbed Pterodactylus anas. Anas means duck; in France (where the pterosaur was allegedly found), a duck is called a canard. Canard is another word for hoax.” ~ Darren Naish, Pterosaurs alive in, like, the modern day!

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, is there any chance living dinosaurs exist in this day and age? It’s pretty unlikely. If such creatures still existed, it’s hard to believe legions of bird watchers would’ve missed them. The 1890 Thunderbird story is slightly more believable, but not by much. And Ivan T. Sanderson’s famous 1932 encounter with a possible olitiau is interesting but even Sanderson believed the creature to be a giant bat rather than a living dinosaur (with a 4 meter wingspan, that must’ve been one helluva bat!).

So, for now we have to side with the skeptics. Although I have to admit I’m tempted to trek out to the Huachua Desert one of these days and see if I can’t locate the 1890 Thunderbird’s skeleton. Anyone up for an expedition?

Civil War Soldiers…that Glowed in the Dark?

In 1862, the Union and Confederacy locked horns at the Battle of Shiloh. More than 3,000 people died and another 16,000 received wounds. As the fighting came to an end, something strange started to happen. Wounds started to glow. And this glowing seemed to have a miraculous effect, leading to saved lives and faster-healing wounds. The soldiers called it “Angel’s Glow.” But what caused it?

The Battle of Shiloh

The Battle of Shiloh
Attribution: Thure de Thulstrup (1888)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Battle of Shiloh – What was the Mysterious Angel’s Glow?

In 2001, nearly 140 years after the Battle of Shiloh, two high school students named Bill Martin and Jonathan Curtis discovered the truth behind Angel’s Glow. It was caused by a strange luminescent bacterium known as Photorhabdus luminescens. Photorhabdus luminescens is lethal to insects and pathogens. It also, you guessed it, glows in the dark. Here’s more on the Battle of Shiloh and Angel’s Glow from Mental Floss:

Looking at historical records of the battle, Bill and Jon figured out that the weather and soil conditions were right for both P. luminescens and their nematode partners. Their lab experiments with the bacteria, however, showed that they couldn’t live at human body temperature, making the soldiers’ wounds an inhospitable environment. Then they realized what some country music fans already knew: Tennessee in the spring is green and cool. Nighttime temperatures in early April would have been low enough for the soldiers who were out there in the rain for two days to get hypothermia, lowering their body temperature and giving P. luminescens a good home.

Based on the evidence for P. luminescens’s presence at Shiloh and the reports of the strange glow, the boys concluded that the bacteria, along with the nematodes, got into the soldiers’ wounds from the soil. This not only turned their wounds into night lights, but may have saved their lives. The chemical cocktail that P. luminescens uses to clear out its competition probably helped kill off other pathogens that might have infected the soldiers’ wounds. Since neither P. luminescens nor its associated nematode species are very infectious to humans, they would have soon been cleaned out by the immune system themselves (which is not to say you should be self-medicating with bacteria; P. luminescens infections can occur, and can result in some nasty ulcers). The soldiers shouldn’t have been thanking the angels so much as the microorganisms…

(See Mental Floss for more on the Battle of Shiloh and Angel’s Glow)

How Many People Died during the Civil War?

For over a century, historians have operated under the mistaken impression that exactly 618,222 men died during America’s Civil War. That number was always an estimate, with the Confederate casualties being based largely on meager data and some rather dubious extrapolation. So, what was the Civil War death toll?

Civil War Death Toll - How many people died during the Civil War?

Civil War Death Toll – How many people died during the Civil War?
Description: Savage Station, Va. Field hospital after the battle of June 27, 1862
Attribution: James F. Gibson
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Civil War Death Toll: How Many People Died during the Civil War?

New research conducted by demographic historian J. David Hacker has upended traditional Civil War death estimates. It turns out the death toll may have been higher…much higher. In fact, Hacker estimates the Civil War death toll at somewhere between 650,000 and 850,000, using the mid-point of 750,000 as his best guess.

In order to get that number, Hacker massaged various data sets, making numerous assumptions along the way. Breaking it down between Union and Confederacy proved impossible, due to uncertainty surrounding the loyalties of border state soldiers. Overall, this new estimate leaves much to be desired. The size of the confidence interval tells us that much. But unfortunately, it’s the best we’ve got…at least for now. Here’s more on new Civil War death toll estimates from The New York Times:

For 110 years, the numbers stood as gospel: 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South — by far the greatest toll of any war in American history. But new research shows that the numbers were far too low.

By combing through newly digitized census data from the 19th century, J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University in New York, has recalculated the death toll and increased it by more than 20 percent — to 750,000.

The new figure is already winning acceptance from scholars. Civil War History, the journal that published Dr. Hacker’s paper, called it “among the most consequential pieces ever to appear” in its pages. And a pre-eminent authority on the era, Eric Foner, a historian at Columbia University, said: “It even further elevates the significance of the Civil War and makes a dramatic statement about how the war is a central moment in American history. It helps you understand, particularly in the South with a much smaller population, what a devastating experience this was.”

(See The New York Times for more on the Civil War death toll)

Shocking Civil War Photos?

In memory of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, The Atlantic is publishing an astounding collection of Civil War photos taken by war correspondents. They are, in a word, shocking.

Civil War Photos - African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed near Cold Harbor, Virginia

Civil War Photos – “Cold Harbor, Va. African Americans collecting bones of soldiers killed in the battle.”
Attribution: John Reekie (April 1865)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Shocking Civil War Photos?

My third great grandfather fought for the Union during the Civil War. He was mustered in during 1862, was captured at the Second Battle of Ream’s Station in 1864, and died three years later, presumably from war-related injuries. Even when looking at these photos, it’s hard to fathom the horrors and destruction he must’ve seen during the Civil War years. For some terrific insights on the war and more Civil War photos, check out my friend Sean McLachlan’s blog at Civil War Horror. And here’s more Civil War photos from the Atlantic. Make sure to click on over to check out the rest of these startling photos:

Last year marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War…Although photography was still in its infancy, war correspondents produced thousands of images, bringing the harsh realities of the frontlines to those on the home front in a new and visceral way. As brother fought brother and the nation’s future grew uncertain, the public appetite for information was fed by these images from the trenches, rivers, farms, and cities that became fields of battle.

(See The Atlantic for more Civil War photos)

The Plot to Assassinate Jefferson Davis?

On March 2, 1864, William Littlepage was searching the pockets of a dead Union officer just outside of Richmond, VA. But instead of a pocketwatch or other baubles, Littlepage discovered two mysterious documents. These papers, now known as the Dahlgren Papers, cast light on a plot designed to bring an end to the Confederate States of America. Were Union leaders planning to assassinate President Jefferson Davis?

Jefferson Davis

Jefferson Davis
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Dahlgren Affair?

By March 2, 1864, the Union had taken control of the Civil War and Confederate hopes of victory seemed increasingly dim. Ulysses S. Grant was just a week away from taking over the responsibilities of Commanding General of the United States Army. And President Lincoln, along with his top generals, had reached the conclusion that the only way to break the South was to wage total war.

It was with this backdrop that 13-year old Littlepage found himself searching the dead body of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who’d been killed earlier that day in a failed raid on Richmond, VA. After discovering the documents, Littlepage took them to his teacher, Edward Halbach. Halbach quickly examined the papers and realized he had a veritable bomb in front of him.

The papers described a plan to raid and torch Richmond, VA. The idea for the attack had originated from Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick was known as “Kill-Cavalry” due to his willingness to sacrifice his own troops as well as Confederate troops in order to achieve his goals. The plan was for Dahlgren’s cavalry to enter the city from the south. After stopping to free Union prisoners and meet up with Kilpatrick, the enlarged force would descend upon Richmond in order to “destroy and burn the hateful city.”

The Plot to Kill Jefferson Davis?

A second set of orders, which were probably intended for Captain John Mitchell (Dahlgren’s second-in-command), provided more detail on the plot.

“We will try and secure the bridge to the city, (one mile below Belle Isle,) and release the prisoners at the same time. If we do not succeed they must then dash down, and we will try and carry the bridge from each side. When necessary, the men must be filed through the woods and along the river bank. The bridges once secured, and the prisoners loose and over the river, the bridges will be secured and the city destroyed. The men must keep together and well in hand, and once in the city it must be destroyed and Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed.” ~ Dahlgren Papers, as published in the Richmond Sentinel (3/5/1864)

Although the Civil War was horrendous and bloody, it had been fought as a sort of “Gentleman’s Affair” up until that point. However, the Dahlgren Papers appeared to change that by targeting Jefferson Davis for assassination.

The papers were swiftly transported up the Confederacy’s chain of command. And by March 4, they’d reached President Jefferson Davis. Jefferson Davis agreed to release them to the press and by March 5, the Richmond Daily Dispatch was blaring the headline, “The Last Raid of the Infernals.”

Northerners were skeptical of the papers and declared them to be fraudulent. But the Confederacy was not swayed. Angered by the assassination plot, President Jefferson Davis decided to release Confederate prisoners into Northern cities. He hoped that this would create fear and chaos, thus buying valuable time for his fledgling nation.

Were the Dahlgren Papers Authentic?

On March 30, General Robert E. Lee sent a copy of the Dahlgren Papers to Northern General George Meade and expressed his desire to know if the orders had been authorized by the U.S. government. Meade asked Kilpatrick to investigate. Kilpatrick responded that he’d endorsed the Papers…or at least part of them. He claimed that the sections about burning Richmond and killing President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet had been added after the fact. With that, the official investigation pretty much came to an end.

But privately, General Meade was suspicious. He thought that the Dahlgren Papers were authentic. And since Kilpatrick was Dahlgren’s superior officer, it stood to reason that Kilpatrick might’ve been the one to issue the order. Thus, as Stephen Sears said in his book Controversies and Commanders: Dispatches from the Army of the Potomac, relying on Kilpatrick to handle the investigation was “equivalent to ordering the fox to investigate losses in the henhouse.”

What happened to the Dahlgren Papers?

In July 1864, Dahlgren’s father went public to declare the Dahlgren Papers “a bare-faced atrocious forgery.” He based this upon a photographic copy of the original orders, in which his son’s signature was misspelled as “Dalhgren.” Others pointed out that the orders had been written on both sides of thin paper. Thus, the misspelling might’ve been nothing more than ink leaking through the paper. Unfortunately, it was impossible to say for certain…

…because the Dahlgren Papers had vanished.

At the end of 1865, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton requested the Dahlgren Papers from Francis Lieber, who headed up the Confederate archives. In 1879, Lieber requested the papers back. But they had gone missing. In his article, “The Dahlgren Papers,” James Hall sums up current opinion on the fate of the papers.

“Perhaps it is an uncharitable thought, but the suspicion lingers that Stanton consigned them to the fireplace in his office.” ~ James Hall, “The Dahlgren Papers,” Civil War Times Illustrated (November 1983)

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

While the origin of the orders remains in question, there is a growing consensus, led by historians such as Sears, that they were probably authentic. And if this is the case, there is a decent chance that President Lincoln himself was aware of the assassination attempt on Jefferson Davis. Interestingly enough, this may have indadvertedly led to his own death.

The targeting of President Jefferson Davis was, in effect, a declaration of total war upon the South. The South, led by the mysterious Confederate Secret Service, responded in kind. As reported in Come Retribution: The Confederate Secret Service and the Assassination of Lincoln, this shadowy organization set out to kidnap President Lincoln in order to sue for peace. But when that effort fell short and General Lee was forced to surrender in April 1865, the Confederate Secret Service enacted one final operation…the assassination of President Lincoln.

“Judson Kilpatrick, Ulric Dahlgren, and their probable patron Edwin Stanton set out to engineer the death of the Confederacy’s president; the legacy spawned out of the utter failure of their effort may have included the death of their own president.” ~ Stephen Sears, The Dahlgren Papers Revisited

Civil War Flying Machines?

During the Civil War, the Confederate States of America invented and deployed a number of secret weapons against Union forces. They created the the first steam-powered ironclad warship and built the H.L. Hunley, the first combat submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel. But the strangest secret weapon of all was the one they didn’t create…just how close did the Confederacy come to building its own Air Force?

A Civil War Airplane?

Image of R. Finley Hunt’s Proposed Flying Machine
Source: RR Auction

Civil War Planes?

On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made what is often considered “the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.” It wasn’t until the Italo-Turkish War in 1911 that aircraft were first used for military purposes. However, if one man had his way, both those achievements would’ve been reached decades earlier.

In 1863, R. Finley Hunt was a dentist by trade. But he exhibited an unusual “passion for flight.” During the Civil War, both sides used balloons to perform aerial reconnaissance. Hunt envisioned something more dramatic…nothing less than full-blown “Flying Machines” raining terror down on Union forces.

Hunt prepared “pencil drawings of wings, propellers, and a multi-cylinder steam engine” and contacted CSA President Jefferson Davis. But Confederate engineers doubted the feasibility of the project, especially the ability of a steam engine to keep the plane aloft. They also described another error as “so obvious on reflection that no discussion is required.” As far as I’ve been able to determine, the nature of this error remains unknown.

Hunt continued to seek an audience and even requested the temporary assistance of one N. Hays, who was apparently an accomplished armory machinist. However, Hays was too valuable to be spared and ultimately, the Confederacy passed on the project.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Hunt’s plans recently surfaced at a rare book dealer’s shop. They are being auctioned by RR Auction with a minimum bid of $1,000. Here’s the preview page for “Civil War Airplanes.”

After the war, Hunt traveled to Washington D.C. and received a patent for his invention. He proceeded to build a few working models of his Flying Machine. However, he was short on financing and his creation never got off the ground, so to speak.

“It’s incredible for someone who loves early aviation, because it poses the great question of ‘What if? What if planes had appeared above the wilderness when [Union general Ulysses S.] Grant began his campaign in the Shenandoah Valley?” ~ Bobby Livingston, RR Auction, Vice President of Sales and Marketing

I hope that whoever buys this piece of history uses the plans to reconstruct the Flying Machine. For all we know, Hunt was far ahead of his time. If it had worked and had been put into production, the Civil War might’ve ended in a far different manner than it did.

President Lincoln’s Greatest Nemesis?

If you were to ask the typical American about President Abraham Lincoln’s greatest enemy, he or she would most likely answer with Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America. But recent scholarship suggests that Lincoln faced a far more hated enemy much closer to home…Judge Roger Taney, the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. In 1861, Lincoln’s hatred of Taney nearly exploded into a Constitutional crisis of epic proportions.

Photo of Roger Taney, Abraham Lincoln's Nemesis

Roger Taney (Sometime between 1855 to 1865)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Judge Roger Taney versus President Lincoln?

On May 25, 1861, a Confederate sympathizer named John Merryman was arrested and charged with treason. He petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus, a judicial order forcing the Union Army to appear before a judge and justify his imprisonment. Judge Roger Taney granted the writ.

But General George Cadwalader refused, stating that he was under no obligation to do so since President Lincoln had ordered the suspension of habeas corpus. This led to the famous Ex parte Merryman ruling, in which Judge Taney stated that only Congress had the power to suspend habeas corpus.

“And if the President of the United States may suspend the writ, then the Constitution of the United States has conferred upon him more regal and absolute power over the liberty of the citizen than the people of England have thought it safe to entrust to the Crown–a power which the Queen of England cannot exercise at this day, and which could not have been lawfully exercised by the sovereign even in the reign of Charles the First.” ~ Judge Taney, Ex parte Merryman

President Lincoln orders Roger Taney’s Arrest?

The judgment was an embarrassing repudiation to President Lincoln and Confederate sympathizers seized upon it as an example of Lincoln’s tyranny. In either May or June 1861, President Lincoln’s anger inspired him to call for the arrest of Judge Roger Taney.

“After due consideration the administration determined upon the arrest of the Chief Justice. A warrant or order was issued for his arrest. Then arose the question of service. Who should make the arrest and where should the imprisonment be? This was done by the President with instructions to use his own discretion about making the arrest unless he should receive further orders from him.” ~ Ward Hill Lamon

According to his own words, Ward Hill Lamon, who was a friend and bodyguard to President Lincoln as well as a United States Marshall, was given the warrant and ordered to arrest Roger Taney. Strangely though, the warrant was never served.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Nobody knows for sure why Lamon never followed through with the arrest. President Lincoln certainly wasn’t above arresting his political opponents, as the cases of Clement Vallandigham and Judge Merrick have shown. But we do know that the two men continued their bitter feud over Lincoln’s efforts to curtail civil liberties for several additional years.

I should point out that Lamon is the sole primary source for this story. Interestingly enough, most current Lincoln scholars consider it ridiculous. They dismiss Lamon as an alcoholic and point to the fact that he didn’t include the story in any of his published books (which, by the way, are highly treasured by these same scholars). Still, there is some corroborating evidence. Records indicate that Roger Taney himself as well as a colleague named Judge Curtis were aware of the near-imprisonment.

We may never know for certain how close President Lincoln came to arresting Judge Roger Taney. But we can all be thankful that he didn’t follow through on it. The ramifications might have been disastrous.

“It would have destroyed the separation of powers; destroyed the place of the Supreme Court in the Constitutional scheme of government. It would have made the executive power supreme, over all others, and put the President, the military, and the executive branch of government, in total control of American society. The Constitution would have been at an end.” ~ Charles Adams