Confederate Monument in Mechanicsburg

Courtesy of Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau

Courtesy of Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau

There is a monument honoring Confederate general Albert Jenkins in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania –paid for by donations from local residents and organized by the Camp Curtin Historical Society. It is the northernmost memorial for any Confederate officer and probably the only one paid for by northerners.  Yet Jenkins was one of the most controversial Confederate officers, one who destroyed northern civilian property and whose men conducted what they called a “slave hunt,” kidnapping black people during the Gettysburg campaign and hauling them into slavery in the South.

The text of the obelisk reads:

“BRIG. GEN. ALBERT G. JENKINS, C.S.A. Born November 10, 1830 in Greenbottom, Virginia. He was a graduate of Jefferson College and studied law at Harvard University. Albert Jenkins served as U.S. Congressman from 1857 to 1861 and then resigned to serve the Confederacy. Thereafter, he served as a Congressman for in the … Read the rest

Music Parody by Patrick Horan

Below is a musical interpretation of Abraham Lincoln’s letter to William Seward, April 1, 1861, written and performed by Patrick Horan (Dickinson ’15) with Isabel Burlingame (Dickinson ’15). Lyrics can be found below the video.  For more information on the exchange between Lincoln and Seward, go to Lincoln’s Writings.

On the first day of April, 1861
Seward wrote to Lincoln
About Ft. Sumter’s guns
He told dear Whitman’s captain
In language frank and keen,
“Who really leads this union,
It remains to be seen!”

Lincoln gave his rival in March of ’61
A seat in the cabinet
State Department #1
“Administration needs a policy
Domestic and foreign, you see
Here is what I would do
Were it up to me!”

O Seward, a Republican
Thought he would be the one
To take hold of the Union
So for office he did run
But Lincoln won the primary
And stormed upon … Read the rest

Where was William Lloyd Garrison?

US flag flying again over Fort Sumter, April 14, 1865

Exactly four years after he had surrendered Fort Sumter to the Confederates, Union officer Robert Anderson returned to Charleston to help once again raise the U.S. flag over the now-ruined harbor fortifications.  Following an emotional mid-day ceremony, hundreds of men and women, included dozens of notable figures like abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, gathered on Friday afternoon, April 14, 1865 to hear the Reverend Henry Ward Beecher deliver a commemorative speech from what he memorably called, “this pulpit of broken stone.”  Beecher spoke at length about the meaning of the war, offering President Lincoln in particular his “solemn congratulations” for his “disinterested wisdom” during the long conflict and for having maintained “his life and health under the unparalleled burdens and sufferings of four bloody years.”   Yet that very night, of course, the president was shot at Ford’s Theatre.  Lincoln died the next morning … Read the rest

Underground Railroad and Coming War

The Underground Railroad was a metaphor. Yet many textbooks treat it as an official name for a secret network that once helped escaping slaves. The more literal-minded students end up questioning whether these fixed escape routes were actually under the ground. But the phrase “Underground Railroad” is better understood as a rhetorical device that compared unlike things for the purpose of illustration. In this case, the metaphor described an array of people connected mainly by their intense desire to help other people escape from slavery. Understanding the history of the phrase changes its meaning in profound ways.

Even to begin a lesson by examining the two words “underground” and “railroad” helps provide a tighter chronological framework than usual with this topic. There could be no “underground railroad” until actual railroads became familiar to the American public–in other words, during the 1830s and 1840s. There had certainly been slave escapes before

Read the rest

Lincoln’s Fremont Problem

General John C. Fremont

According to historian Louis Masur, Abraham Lincoln was “upset” by Union General John Fremont’s decision on August 30, 1861 to announce from his headquarters in St. Louis the general emancipation of rebel-owned slaves in Missouri (p. 28).  Yet, in his first letter to Fremont requesting changes in this proclamation, which he sent by special messenger from Washington just a few days later, Lincoln doesn’t sound so upset.  He claimed only that two points in the fiery August 30 directive (which had also declared martial law) had given him “some anxiety.”  The president dealt with the first matter regarding the shooting of people under the terms of Fremont’s martial law in blunt fashion, saying effectively, don’t do it without my approval, but then addressed the second matter concerning emancipation in a more subtle fashion.  He asked Fremont to modify this part of the order “as of your own motion,” so that … Read the rest

William Still

New York Times, July 15, 1902

New York Times, July 15, 1902

Who was abolitionist William Still and what did the New York Times say about him in his obituary?  It turns out that Still was a leader in the fight against slavery.  The Times coverage of his death, from July 15, 1902, actually called him the “Father of the Underground Railroad.”  Yet today he is almost totally obscure.  Students seeking out information about Still can pretty easily discover information about his life with any typical Google search, but actually obtaining an image of the obituary itself would normally require using a subscription database, either direct from the New York Times or from a service such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers (available via the Dickinson College Library databases).  However, the House Divided Project has posted a transcript of the obituary for anyone to see.

Still was important for many reasons, but foremost among them was his collection of … Read the rest

Meade’s Description of “Round Top Ridge”

Gen. George Meade

Students in the “Civil War Era” class recently found themselves assigned with the following challenge:  “Find a copy of General Meade’s official description of the fighting on Little Round Top during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.”  How does a modern-day student accomplish this in the most efficient way possible?  Searching combined key words like “Meade” “Round Top” and “Gettysburg” in Google yields almost countless website entries, starting with Wikipedia.  Using “Meade” and “official description” helps, but still doesn’t provide a clear and quick result.

Instead, this question forces the digitally savvy student to think about how evidence was organized in a pre-digital age.  A quick study of Civil War military research will yield the information that following the conflict, the War Department organized a massive compilation of official military correspondence and after-action reports filed by both sides. This collection, known as the OR, … Read the rest

Images of Henry “Box” Brown

As part of the initial webquest for History 288, “Civil War Era,” students had to try to identify three different historical images of Henry “Box” Brown.  The nickname refers to a slave who escaped from Richmond, Virginia in March 1849 inside of box that was shipped to Philadelphia via Adams Express over the course of about 24 hours.  The “Box” Brown escape became the most sensational of the Underground Railroad stories in the years before the Civil War.  There are no known photographs of Henry Brown, but the publicity surrounding his remarkable “resurrection” (as abolitionists quickly called it) produced a number of popular book illustrations and lithographic prints. All of them can be tracked down with a simple Google “Images” search.  Here are some examples below.

The best discussion of these early images comes from Jeffrey Ruggles, The Unboxing of Henry Brown (2003).  That excellent monograph, however, is not available online.   To … Read the rest