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The Admiral and the President:


An Amazing Day
In Fallen Richmond
Testifies to the Emancipator.

O simple as the rhymes that tell
The simplest tales of youth,
Or simple as a miracle
Beside the simplest truth —
So simple seems the view we share
With our Immortals, sheer
From Glory looking down to where
They were as children here.

— James Whitcomb Riley, "Lincoln — the Boy"

By Ron Fritze from Athens, Alabama
Filed on January 3, 2013
Posted on February 21, 2013

I finally got to see the new Lincoln movie, and I’m glad I did. I was a bit late going to see it as I am always deeply suspicious of Steven Spielberg films unless they are tempered by the artistic common sense of George Lucas. Yes, I am prejudiced, but I’ve never been quite able to get the taste of cloying sweetness out of my cinematic mouth since I watched E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I like aliens to be, well, Alien. I also feared that the history in Lincoln might get Spielbergized like it was in Amistad. But at least Spielberg deserves credit for rescuing that historical episode from the clutches of Spike Lee.

Fortunately, Lincoln is very well done in terms of history and drama. It is not a biopic that traces Lincoln’s life, not even his life during the entire Civil War. Instead, viewers are plopped down with a sharp sense of immediacy into January of 1865 and the intense political maneuvering that preceded congressional approval of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution: the abolition of slavery. We are shown a compelling and dramatic view of the achievement of a high-minded goal, won through hardball politics that sometimes got dirty. It was a political milestone of profound implications, achieved by people on both sides of the issue who became willing to compromise dearly held principles to achieve the greater good. Of course, in some retrograde circles, that greater good was viewed as a terrible evil.

Civil War-literate viewers will notice that the main characters look like the historical personages they are playing. Daniel Day Lewis is a physical reincarnation of Lincoln, but the same could be said for William Seward (David Strathairn), Edwin Stanton (Bruce McGill), and to a lesser extent Ulysses S. Grant (Jared Harris). Sally Field makes a fine Mary Todd Lincoln. On the other hand, the hair of the man playing Gideon Welles (Grainger Hines) is much too curly, while the Charles Sumner (John Hurron) of the movie is correctly tall but too thin.

In Search of Truth
About the Great Emancipator

Some critics will object to the depiction of Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. During the course of the twentieth century this view of Lincoln was challenged by revisionists of various political ideologies and continues to be challenged today. Other viewers might find it hard to believe that Lincoln wielded such a common touch, or that he was so approachable, or that he was such a compelling storyteller and jokester.

What do Lincoln’s contemporaries tell us about him? Was the man we see in Lincoln someone who would have been recognizable and authentic to his contemporaries?

four major players

The Peacemakers
(from left) General Sherman, General Grant, President Lincoln,
and Admiral Porter aboard the River Queen in March, 1865
Painting by George Peter Alexander Healy, circa 1868

Let’s see what the Union admiral David Dixon Porter (1813-1891) had to say about Lincoln. Porter worked closely with Grant and Sherman to bring about the fall of Vicksburg. As a result, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral in late 1863. Porter would go on to provide the naval support for the failed Red River campaign of 1864. He also organized and commanded the successful naval assault on Fort Fisher at Wilmington, North Carolina, on 13-15 January 1865. Porter then moved up to the James River to assist with the Union army’s efforts to capture Richmond.

The Admiral Becomes the President's
Constant Host and Admiring Escort.

On 20 March, at the urging of Mrs. Grant, General Grant invited President and Mrs. Lincoln to come down to Grant’s headquarters at City Point for a visit. Lincoln sailed from Washington on 23 March for a much needed break from the pestilential entreaties of favor-seekers and the incessant kibitzing of his cabinet. On 28 March the president held his famous conference with Grant, Sherman, and Porter about ending the war with generous terms to the Confederates. Meanwhile, Mary Lincoln thought her husband was flirting with the wife of one of Grant’s generals and stomped off back to Washington, leaving a probably relieved Lincoln with his son Tad.

From that time until 8 April, Porter was Lincoln’s host and escort. Counting back to the conference of 28 March, Porter spent ten days in very close proximity with Lincoln. The admiral wrote about it in chapter 22 of his Incidents and Anecdotes of the Civil War (1886). It is telling that Porter never mentions Mrs. Lincoln in his account.

Porter’s account of Lincoln is very complimentary. He noted that Lincoln took a detailed interest in how the war was being waged. His mere presence seemed to push Grant into moving a bit prematurely, although he never interfered with Grant’s decision making. Much of Porter’s account focuses on Lincoln’s talent as a storyteller and his humility and self-effacing manner. As Porter related it:

“I had often heard of the wonderful power of the President in telling anecdotes, but no one could form an adequate idea of his ability in this line unless he had been alone with him for ten days as I was. He had an illustration for everything, and if anything particular attracted his attention he would say, ‘That reminds me of something that occurred when I was a lawyer in Illinois,’ or ‘when I was a boatman on the Mississippi.’ He was not at all ashamed of any business he had ever been engaged in, because it was honest business, and he made an honest living by it; and he told me many stories of his earlier life, which were as creditable to him as anything he was engaged in while occupying a higher sphere.”

the admiral on his ship

Admiral Porter poses on the maindeck
of the USS Malvern, circa late 1864.
Photo by Alexander Gardner  ~  U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph

A Miracle, and then Another
On the Flagship USS Malvern

Porter housed Lincoln on his flagship, the gunboat Malvern. Although he offered Lincoln his admiral’s cabin, the President turned him down. Not designed as a flagship, the Malvern lacked comfortable accommodations. Lincoln occupied a small cabin berth, only six feet long, to sleep his 6’ 4” body. The first night Lincoln placed his shoes and socks outside his cabin. When it was observed that the socks had holes in them, both were washed and darned. The next morning, the impish Lincoln remarked, “A miracle happened to me last night. When I went to bed I had two large holes in my socks, and this morning there were no holes in them. That never happened to me before; it must be a miracle!”

Porter also ordered the ship carpenters to increase the size of Lincoln’s stateroom so he could sleep the next night without curling up. When Lincoln arose the second morning he remarked, “A greater miracle then ever happened last night; I shrank six inches in length and about a foot sideways.” As Porter observed, “I do think if I had given him two fence-rails to sleep on he would not have found fault. That was Abraham Lincoln in all things relating to his own comfort. He would never permit people to put themselves out for him under any circumstances.”

the kits

The Parable of the Three Kittens

In the movie, Lincoln is depicted several times in the great telegraph office, which was the nerve center of military news in Washington. That is true. He practically haunted the place. When he visited City Point, Lincoln frequented the military telegraph office there as well — and there he demonstrated his deep humanity in yet another way. Shortly after Lincoln learned of the fall of Petersburg to Union forces, Porter related that:

There were three little kittens running about the hut in which the telegraph-office was situated. Mr. Lincoln picked them all up and put them on his little chart on the table. This was a step from the sublime, it is true, but it showed the feelings of the man at a moment when the fate of a nation was hanging in the scales. He could find time to look at God’s creatures and be solicitous for their comfort.
‘There,’ he said, ‘you poor, little, miserable creatures, what brought you into this camp of warriors? Where is your mother?’
‘The mother is dead,’ said the colonel.
‘Then she can’t grieve for them as many a poor mother is grieving for the sons who have fallen in battle, and who will still grieve if this surrender does not take place without bloodshed. Ah, kitties, thank God you are cats, and can’t understand this terrible strife that is going on. There, now, go, my little friends,’ he continued, wiping the dirt from their eyes with his handkerchief; ‘that is all I can do for you. Colonel, get them some milk, and don’t let them starve; there is too much starvation going on in this land anyhow; mitigate it when we can.’

The welfare of three little kittens, grieving mothers losing sons in battle, and starving Southerners were all on Lincoln’s generous mind at the same time.

on a horse

In a scene from the movie, President Lincoln,
played by Daniel Day-Lewis, tours a battlefield.

'God's Noblest Work — an Honest Man'

Lincoln made a deep impression on Porter, and it was a positive one. Porter wrote his memoirs twenty years after the death of Lincoln and the end of the Civil War. He had no particular reason to embellish Lincoln’s goodness. Lincoln’s greatness was something that remained vivid in Porter’s memory. In describing his feelings about Lincoln, Porter wrote:

To me he was one of the most interesting men I ever met; he had an originality about him which was peculiarly his own, and one felt, when with him, as if he could confide his dearest secret to him with absolute security against its betrayal. There, it might be said, was ‘God’s noblest work—an honest man,’ and such he was, all through. I have not a particle of the bump of veneration on my head, but I saw more to admire in this man, more to reverence, that I had believed possible; he had a load to bear that few men could carry, yet he traveled on with it, foot-sore and weary, but without complaint; rather, on the contrary, cheering those who would faint on the roadside. He was not a demonstrative man, so no one will ever know, amid all the trials he underwent, how much he had to contend with, and how often he was called upon to sacrifice his own opinions to those of others, who, he felt, did not know as much about matters at issue as he did himself. When he did surrender, it was always with a pleasant manner, winding up with a characteristic story.

That is pretty much the Lincoln depicted by Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln.

a proclamation

Headline from a poster issued by Brigader General R. H. Milroy
on Jan 5, 1863. The text commanded "all citizens to yield to ready compliance with the Proclamation of the Chief Executive...."

Cynics and Deniers Concoct
Disingenuous and Narrow Arguments.

Lincoln portrays its namesake as an emancipator of the slaves. Various people in the twentieth century have denied the reality of this view. One of the more disingenuous and narrowly legalistic arguments focuses on the details of the Emancipation Proclamation. Based on his war powers, Lincoln announced that he was freeing the slaves in areas that were in a state of rebellion on 22 September 1962. His proclamation exempted slaves located in the loyal slave states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. Also exempted were slaves living in Tennessee and parts of Louisiana under the control of Union forces. Cynics complain that Lincoln’s proclamation freed no slaves when it was made. Furthermore, the proclamation did not go into effect until 1 January 1863. The three-month delay was supposed to give the rebellious states an opportunity to make peace. Again, cynics would argue that Lincoln valued ending the rebellion over freeing the slaves. Therefore Lincoln was no emancipator. For the cynics, the Emancipation Proclamation was a smoke screen.

Did Lincoln’s contemporaries see him an emancipator or not? Did they regard the Emancipation Proclamation as smoke screen? Not hardly. One thing they understood was the context of the politics within which Lincoln had to operate. The nation longed for peace and restoration of the Union, and so did Lincoln. Peace and Union came first. Furthermore, Lincoln could not appear to be too much of an abolitionist as many people in the North were fearful about the effects of ending slavery. Basically, they feared that free blacks would move to the North. No one, however, seriously thought the Southern states would give up the fight because of the Emancipation Proclamation. No one also seriously thought that the rump of the slave regime in the loyal slave states could long survive the demise of slavery in the rebel states.

the abolitionist

Frederick Douglass
Photo from the Library of Congress

'A Life and Power
Far Beyond Its Letter'

The most important question, however, is what did the African American population of the United States think about the Emancipation Proclamation? The great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass left very eloquent accounts of what he thought. When the Civil War broke out, Douglass was very critical of Lincoln's failure to act against slavery. The issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation converted him to being a great supporter and admirer of Lincoln. He remained so as long as he lived.

On 14 April 1876 Douglass gave a speech at the dedication of the Freedmen's Monument to Abraham Lincoln in which he stressed the fundamental importance of the Emancipation Proclamation. He expanded on these feelings in his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1893). There he describes the anxiety that he and other African Americans felt as the deadline for the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January approached. He points out that it was not a perfect document, a sentiment held by others as well. In fact, he referred to it as "extremely defective." Douglass recognized it was a flawed product of military and political necessity. Despite his reservations, Douglass, other African Americans, and their white supporters waited for the deadline to come and to pass. They wondered: If the South does not capitulate, will Lincoln really put the proclamation into effect? When it was announced that Lincoln had activated the provisions of the proclamation, Douglass recalled the scene at the Tremont Temple where anti-slavery activists had gathered.

The effect of this announcement was startling beyond description, and the scene was wild and grand. Joy and gladness exhausted all forms of expression, from shouts of praise to sobs and tears.

Douglass also dismissed those who downplayed the Emancipation Proclamation's limited geographical scope. In his view,

I took the proclamation, first and last, for a little more than it purported, and saw in its spirit a life and power far beyond its letter. Its meaning to me was the entire abolition of slavery, wherever the evil could be reached by the Federal arm, and I saw that its moral power would extend much further. It was, in my estimation, an immense gain to have the war for the Union committed to the extinction of slavery, even from a military necessity. It is not a bad thing to have individuals or nations do right, though they do so from selfish motives.

Like Lincoln, Douglass was an astute politician as well as being a great man. He had a firm grasp of the possible. He was also hardly alone in his assessment of Lincoln as a true emancipator.

entering Richmond

Abraham Lincoln enters Richmond on April 3, 1865
Drawn by L. Hollis and engraved by J. C. Buttre  ~  First Published 1866

'Kneel to God Only'

During his time with Lincoln at City Point, Petersburg, and Richmond, David Dixon Porter observed the reaction of slaves living in that region of Virginia to the idea of Lincoln as an emancipator. About his and the president’s tour of Petersburg on 3 April: “The streets were alive with negroes, who were crazy to see their savior, as they call the President.” The next day Lincoln and Porter traveled up the river on Porter’s barge to visit Richmond, the freshly fallen capitol of the Confederacy. Obstructions on the river caused Porter’s barge to become separated from an escorting tugboat. It was only Lincoln, Porter, and a dozen or so armed sailors. Adding to their anxiety, the waterfront of Richmond was completely unfamiliar to Porter and his sailors.

Spotting a landing, the admiral’s barge docked at a small house where twelve slaves were digging with shovels under the supervision of an elderly African-American man. Keep in mind, Lincoln was a man who literally stood out in a crowd with his 6’ 4” height, augmented by his iconic stove-pipe hat. The old man recognized him immediately and called out, “Bress de Lord, dere is de great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him. He’s bin in my heart fo’ long yeahs, an’ he’s cum at las’ to free his chillum from deir bondage! Glory, Hallelujah!” At that he dropped to his knees and kissed Lincoln’s feet and was quickly joined by rest of the black workers.

Touched and embarrassed by the tribute, Lincoln said, “Don’t kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy. I am but God’s humble instrument; but you may rest assured that as long as I live no one shall put a shackle on your limbs, and you shall have all the rights which God has given to every other free citizen of this Republic.”

Deeply impressed by the scene he was witnessing, Porter also needed to keep the President moving. So he asked the group of slaves to let them pass. Of course, the slaves agreed, but they also joined hands and began to sing a hymn. When Lincoln’s party landed a little while earlier, the streets at the landing were deserted except for the dozen workers. But within a few minutes other African Americans had swarmed into the streets and crowded around Lincoln. Porter ordered his sailors to fix bayonets and surround the President. He feared they would all be crushed. As Porter recalled the event,

I now realized the imprudence of landing without a large body of marines; and yet this seemed to me, after all, the fittest way for Mr. Lincoln to come among the people he had redeemed from bondage.
What an ovation he had, to be sure, from those so-called ignorant beings! They all had their souls in their eyes, and I don’ think I ever looked upon a scene where there were so many passionately happy faces.

The great throng wanted Lincoln to speak and confirm their freedom. And the president obliged them.

“My poor friends, you are free—free as air. You can cast off the name of slave and trample upon it; it will come to you no more. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as he gave it to others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years. But you must try to deserve this priceless boon. Let the world see that you merit it, and are able to maintain it by your good works. Don’t let your joy carry you into excesses. Learn the laws and obey them; obey God’s commandments and thank him for giving you liberty, for to him you owe all things. There, now, let me pass on; I have but little time to spare. I want to see the capital, and must return at once to Washington to secure to you that liberty which you prize so highly.”

According to Porter, when Lincoln spoke, the crowd quieted so that one could have heard a pin drop. And when he concluded, they parted to let him and his party proceed into the center of Richmond.

For a Shining Moment,
The Crowd Unites the Races
In Adoration of the President.

What was more remarkable, as Lincoln’s party advanced into Richmond, whites joined the crowd, but they were friendly, too. At one point a pretty seventeen-year-old girl presented the president with a bouquet of flowers that included a card inscribed, “From Eva to the Liberator of the Slaves.” One white man approached Lincoln so rapidly that Porter thought he might have to defend Lincoln with his sword. Instead, the man stopped ten feet away, removed his hat and exclaimed, “Abraham Lincoln, God bless you! You are the poor man’s friend!” Keep in mind, many white Southerners had come to consider the war to be “a rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight.” In other words, it was viewed as a war of, by, and for the two percent of the Old South.

Lincoln would go on to visit the notorious Libby Prison, Jefferson Davis’s house, and the Confederate capitol building. Porter managed to get him back to the barge and eventually back to his flagship the Malvern safely. Once they were settled on the Malvern, various suspicious strangers attempted to board the ship to see Lincoln. Porter, in retrospect, even speculated that one such would-be intruder — “a tall man with a black moustache, wore a slouch hat with a long cloak, a regular theatrical villain, one of the stereotyped play robbers” — was John Wilkes Booth.

Looking back on what he had witnessed, Porter mused,

Twenty years have passed since that event; it is almost too new in history to make a great impression, but the time will come when it will loom up as one of the greatest of man’s achievements, and the name of Abraham Lincoln — who of his own will struck the shackles from the limbs of four millions of people — will be honored thousands of years from now as man’s name was never honored before.

the postmodern

The Primacy of Objective Evidence

These days there is a postmodern belief that history is really just opinion and that every opinion is equally valid. It’s a viewpoint that ignores the use of evidence as well as the objective weighing of evidence. I defer, then, to the evidence recorded by credible eyewitnesses with no political agenda to advance. I think it is safe to say that the African-American residents of Richmond, along with many of the whites on that 4th day of April in 1865, would have agreed with Admiral Porter’s conviction about the great achievements of President Lincoln. And this is the Lincoln portrayed in Spielberg's Lincoln. It is an image of Lincoln based on the testimony of historical evidence that no honest and true student of history can ignore.

If history is going to be scientific, if the record of human action is going to be set down with that accuracy and faithfulness of detail which will allow its use as a measuring rod and guidepost for the future of nations, there must be set some standards of ethics in research and interpretation.
— W. E. B. Dubois (1935)

PS:  No vampires were killed in this movie. That said, I am pretty sure that Alexander Stephens (Jackie Earle Haley) was a vampire. I have my doubts about Fernando Wood (Lee Pace) too!

the admiral

Admiral David Dixon Porter

from our readers. . . .

Take No Prisoners

Historian Gregory J. W. Urwin of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, offers his insight into the opening battle scene of Spielberg's Lincoln. Gregory is Professor of History at Temple University, vice president of the Society for Military History, and Academic Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. We're also pleased to reveal that Dr. Urwin is a longtime reader of Planet Clio. He writes:

I enjoyed your review of Lincoln, Ron. I deeply admire that film.  Spielberg and Kushner achieved a rare feat by turning the legislative process into compelling drama — but they did that by pulling Lincoln and his contemporaries off their pedestals and demonstrating that history is made by human beings, not demi-gods.

I received a pleasant shock from Lincoln’s opening battle scene — the 2nd Kansas Colored engaged in a fierce, rain-soaked battlefield at Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas, April 30, 1864.  I am the historian who exposed the extent to which the 2nd Kansas refused to take Rebel prisoners — in retaliation for the Rebel massacre of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry at Poison Spring, Arkansas, April 18, 1864.  It was gratifying to see Lincoln use those two relatively obscure engagements to symbolize the savagery of the Civil War.  My findings have been filtered through other histories since I published them in Civil War History in 1996, so I don’t know if Kushner actually read my work.  But it’s always good to see one’s research impact on popular culture.

Black Flag

Black Flag Over Dixie:
Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War

was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2005.

Speaking of Lincoln, attached please find my recent modest addition to the ever-growing mountain of Lincoln literature.  It derived from a lecture I was conscripted to deliver at a one-day conference at Philadelphia’s Union League after James McPherson canceled his appearance.  (Having three weeks to prepare a lecture to replace a Pulitzer-Prize winner — not much pressure in that!)  Randall M. Miller edited the three Lincoln lectures into a book, Lincoln & Leadership, which Fordham University Press released last summer.  Having taught Civil War and Reconstruction since 1984, it was kind of fun to finally put my take on the man into print.

Thanks for keeping me on the Planet Clio mailing list. I do enjoy your posts.

From: Gregory J. W. Urwin []
Sent: Monday, March 04, 2013 8:22 AM
To: Ron Fritze
RE: Lincoln — The Man The Movie and The Admiral

E D I T O R ' S    N O T E :
Professor Urwin's essay, "Sowing the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind," appears in Lincoln and Leadership: Military, Political, and Religious Decision Making [ed. Randall M. Miller - Fordham University Press 2012].  Fordham Scholarship Online provides a thorough overview of the book.

from our readers. . . .

The 'Men of '62'

While reading Ron's essay, Jon Hittle from the hinterlands of South Dakota thought of the "Men of '62," stalwart pioneer patriots who answered the Union's call to arms in the War Between The States.  Author of Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain's Counterinsurgency Failure, Jon (J.B.E.) served his country for over 30 years in the intelligence service.  He writes:

I read CornDancer all the way through with pleasure this afternoon. Of particular interest is your elucidation of the historical debate on Lincoln as Emancipator.

As you well-know by now, I have been an amateur civil war researcher for many years and lately have again taken up research work on the Iowa 36th Infantry Regiment — the regiment of my great-great-great-grandfather Jacob and his son, my great-great-grandfather Michael. The very interesting thing that I am learning in this research is that these "Men of '62" were a completely different breed of soldier than those teenagers who answered Lincoln's call to arms in the spring of 1861. By and large the regiments raised in Iowa in the winter, summer, and fall of 1862 were much older men, a high percentage of whom were married with children, and men who had been well-established in their trades, be it farmer, carpenter, mail carrier, postmaster, bricklayer, or whatever. Having seen the disastrous results of an ill-prepared volunteer force getting whipped soundly at First Manassas (Bull Run) and elsewhere in the east, it was apparent to these citizens that they, too, would have to answer the call, place their jobs on hold, and head toward the front, if this rebellion was to be put down.

Another thing about these men: They had a distinctive, solid pioneer outlook on life and saw themselves as the most noble of all Americans for the simple fact that while many of them were born in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, they had gone farthest west, broken prairie sod with their ploughs, and risked their very lives and that of their loved ones to carve out a civilized society in what had been, only 20 years earlier, a wilderness inhabited by Godless and bloodthirsty savages. If you will permit an analogy, it was an outlook or attitude like that expressed in the soliloquy of Rufus Ryker in the 1954 western "Shane" — by the way, my all-time favorite western and close to my all-time favorite film. When you hear crusty old Ryker explain why he has a "right" to the land, having been one of the first settlers and having fought the Indians, for a moment you almost feel sorry for Ryker — or at least momentarily you begin to see his point of view. And I conclude that the Union soldiers who volunteered in '62 were a special breed of proud, tough, and mature men, absolutely trusting in God and sure of their right in a cause. But what was that cause for a private in the 36th Iowa (or the 43rd Illinois, or 28th Wisconsin)? It most certainly was not to abolish slavery.

Iowa had only become a state 15 years before the war. Most if not all of the citizens of Monroe County, Iowa, had either been among the initial 50 families who arrived in a wagon train in 1844, or had come into Monroe County, a second-tier border area less than 50 miles from the Missouri line, between 1844-1848. They braved horrible winters, Indians, and lots of brigands roaming that area to establish towns, elect government, and civilize the prairie. They were all connected to the land in some way or another — and this land, in particular, was some of the best anyone had ever seen: six feet of virgin topsoil that was as black as coffee.

Some of them had already spent time in Missouri, Arkansas, and other Southern states and territories, and they were proud of the fact that they and their industrious neighbors had transformed raw prairie ground into thriving communities in a mere 15 years, whereas Southerners appeared to them to be less industrious, less clever, and less educated. That may seem like a stereotype, but any research into Civil War Mississippi or Arkansas reveals it to be a correct assessment. So they were proud, proud, proud to be a part of the Union. Countless Iowa and Illinois and Wisconsin sons were named after American heroes — "George Washington Jones," "Thomas Jefferson Barnard," and so forth. The very thought of these under-developed, even backward Southern states threatening the survival of the United States was something that they took personally. If it meant they had to risk death or horrible injury to restore the Southern rebels to the Union, then they fatalistically volunteered to put themselves on the line. Their very strong religious faith in a life hereafter eased their decisions to volunteer.

By September 1863, they had already been in the Vicksburg campaign and had fought the bloody (and hand-to-hand) Battle of Helena, suffering significant casualties. And hundreds more died of disease as they lay encamped in the mosquito-infested Arkansas delta. Although Helena, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg had all been Union victories on the same day, 4 July 1863, the war and the misery continued. They had even captured the Rebel capitol of Little Rock — and still the Confederates in Arkansas continued to fight on.

Weariness and depression began to set in among the troops. The Emancipation Proclamation was read to the entire 7th Army Corps, drawn up in formation on dress parade on the grounds of the old State Arsenal at Little Rock on a miserable, cold ,and rainy day in late September. One private soldier of the 36th Iowa remarked in a letter, "Well now at least we have something to fight for."

This did not mean that Federal soldiers sympathized with the plight of Negroes who, in Arkansas, started to flood into their lines as "contrabands." Most did not think that drafted blacks could fight. White officers and non-commissioned officers who were selected from volunteer regiments to take charge of the new colored regiments were mocked and derided by their former colleagues.

Lieutenant Benjamin Pearson, whose lengthy, day-by-day diary I have been going through painstakingly now for more than a month, was an elder in the Methodist-Episcopal Church back home in Iowa, and next to Chaplain Hare of the 36th Iowa, was probably the "preaching-est" soldier in Arkansas at the time. Pearson began a private ministry among the black Christians at Little Rock, going into the city to hold meetings on Friday nights and Sundays. The Association of [U.S.] Army Chaplains in the Department of the Trans-Mississippi finally recognized Pearson's volunteer ministerial work among the Negroes of Little Rock and eventually appointed Pearson as an official Chaplain to the Colored residents of the city.

Nevertheless, Pearson continued to view the black man as an inferior being. His diary is chock-full of references to the "darkys" — and the "N" word is used occasionally. One gets the impression that Pearson was opposed to slavery more because he viewed it as a backward Southern institution rather than a civil rights issue, for he recorded while in garrison at Helena — months before the Emancipation Proclamation — that, "I am no abolitionist, but what I witnessed today nearly made me one. I saw a White overseer whip a colored woman with a cat o' nine tails on the street and her child standing there beside her." Neither Pearson nor any other Union soldier in the vicinity of the incident made any move to stop it, or to punish the white man responsible.

These, then, were the Men of '62, the loyal volunteers from Iowa — older, wiser, well-off citizens of a Union they fought to preserve. Whipped up into a war frenzy by the likes of General John McLernand, who had barnstormed all over Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa that year to raise new volunteer regiments, these pioneer-American soldiers answered the call of their country.

Thanks again for the Lincoln essay, Ron.

From: Jon Hittle []
Sent: Sunday, February 24, 2013 7:02 PM
To: Ron Fritze
Subject: Re: Lincoln

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