Dickinson College / Gilder Lehrman Institute

Author: aforss

Men in Black

No, not Tommy Lee Jones and Johnny Cash. The Bureau of Military Information, the BMI! I am intrigued by them. Did not know anything about these  sharp (no pun intended) men who were gathering intel long before the CIA made it popular.

Figured I would find out about the BMI. First search yielded intel on how to measure my body fat. Nope. Not that BMI. I already knew from Matt’s lecture that George H. Sharpe was the lawyer/man running this stealth organization. But, then I read an excerpt on the 70 operatives employed by the BMI. I saw someone’s name, a familiar one, a person well known in Omaha, Nebraska. Grenville Dodge.

Usually known in the history textbooks as the engineer who masterminded the Transcontinental Railroad, Dodge also designed the siege of Vicksburg. But that wasn’t what caught my eye. Dodge created spy networks. Heck, he even employed two women spies, Jane Featherstone and Mary Malone. Dodge protected his well paid sleuths by always refusing to devulge their names. Well, almost always. He once yielded to U.S. Grant. It did not turn out well for the apprehended spies. Not Grant’s fault. But that’s another story.

After the Civil War, Dodge became an Iowa congressional politician and then went on to textbook railroad fame. So, why was I diverted to Dodge? Iowa borders Nebraska (where I reside) and Dodge’s house still exists for tourists (me included) to visit. Today, the main street through Omaha is Dodge Street. Nope. Not for Grenville Dodge, but for one of his relatives, Augustus Dodge.

I started looking for Men in Black and I am far from done. But, I found a Dodge instead. Not bad for an evening’s historical hunting.

Constitutional Firewall

Constitutional Firewall. What an interesting phrase. I rolled it around on my tongue a few times and I liked it. Wish I’d coined it, but that credit goes to Allen Guetzo.

Did not know about Guetzo except he delivers internet lectures in an arresting fashion. Searched for more about him and found a few tidbits and a presidential appointment. Which is excellent, because I took what he said as solid historical documentation. His GL lecture explained a good deal of the political intrigue behind Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Washington, D.C. was a tough town for Lincoln. He did not have as much support from his fellow republicans as I presumed and surprisingly, one of his military generals, was bent on telling him how to run the country. On top of two prominant snakes waiting in White House front lawn grass, Lincoln’s hands were bound by the constraints of the U.S. Constitution. Firewall indeed. Lincoln had to color within the lines while maintaining the founding fathers’ war powers. But, he did not necessarily have to live by them.

According to Guetzo, Lincoln devised a modern day “buyout” plan. A golden parachute he wanted to offer to border states willing to accept $700 thousands dollars. It was insurance money for Delware, Kentucky, Maryland and Missouri to stay on the side of Union and even better, entice the rebel states back home. It was not a cheap plan. Lincoln needed something though to outmaneuver Roger B. Taney. The US Chief Justice and brother-in-law of Francis Scott Key, was determined to stop Lincoln from declaring maritial law, civil war, his love for his country, heck, he did not want Lincoln doing anything that helped the cause against the South. Taney was not Lincoln’s biggest problem child at the beginning of the war. That honor went to Major General George Brinton (love the middle name) McClellan.

It seems “Little Mac” or “Young Napoleon” was pretty sure of himself during his tenure as Lincoln’s General-in-Chief of the Union Army. At this point in his lecture, Guetzo reminded his audience of a fact I did not know existed. McClellan wrote a missive to Lincoln. Told the chief executive Washington, D.C. would be best run by a military man, a dictator rather than the president! I can see why Lincoln dismissed McClellan’s fanciful notion and then dismissed (now lower case) major general as well. Although, presidents could not afford to fire military leaders, they just reassigned them elsewhere, way elsewhere, so they were no longer important. As Douglas MacArthur, in his famous bitter last words, stated these type of “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”  These “mac” militaries had more in common than I thought!



Looking for Harriet

Ready for the adventure to begin! I typed “Harriet Robinson Scott” into the rectangle marked “search” and nothing. Really, it said “zero”. How could that be? I know she’s in the G L database somewhere. Hmm, well, let’s try “women black history” and see what that yields. Okay, more like it. Lots of choices, but Harriet is not among the them. There are lots of goodies though. I’m like a small child wanting to grab the shiny images and click on the weblinks. Even though my mind is chanting history, history, I have to steady my hand away from the mouse. Regroup. Focus. I know Harriet is in here. But she’s not, even when I type in “Adam Arenson” the author of Freeing Dred Scott. The search still says “zero”. I am going to do like my students. Google. Sure enough. There is the article I saw Professor Pinsker discuss twice (I watched the video of the recap session.) Where is the “web guide” he put together for us? Oh, well, time to focus on Harriet. Here’s what I learned from the Arenson essay:

Harriet Robinson Scott (I like referring to people with their whole names–especially those enslaved!) was born in PA, was illiterate, she was Dred Scott’s second wife (interesting!!) she was proud of making a living separate from her husband (early feminist–I like her already) and when a reporter asked her to encourage her husband to go on a speaking tour after the trial, she replied, “Why don’t white man ‘tend his business, and let dat n—– ‘lone?”

She was quite the power house! But, there’s a mystery in Arenson’s article. He mentioned when Harriet died in Missouri on June 17, 1876, she was buried, next to her famous husband, in Greenwood Cemetery’s unmarked grave section.

Huh? Didn’t I have an image of her gorgeous tombstone in my last post? It seems in 1957, the 100th year anniversary of the Dred Scott, the granddaughter of Scott’s owner, donated the monies for a gravestone for Mr. Scott, but nothing was mentioned about Mrs.’s maker. Did the tombstone appear during the 150th anniversary in 2007? Google to the rescue again. Seems the grave yard was abandoned land by 1994, but a group of historically minded folks pitched in time and money to revitalize it. “Harriet’s Hill” complete with the tombstone and pavillion was dedicated in 2010.

Funny how the scavener hunt to find Harriet yielded the most information on her grave, but doggone it, not her. Still looking for Harriet.


Civil War Journey

Reflecting is beneficial for me. It helps when uncovering layers of historical documentation. Except the amount of sources and resources in the Gilder Lehrman collection might set a record for weblinked interactive media! So, my blogging posts will be a Civil War journey of commenting on what I already know, exclaiming about discovered items/concepts and designating new information spaces within my pre-existing history courses. As an African Americanist with a tendency towards Women’s history, I am intrigued by Harriet Robinson Scott. She’s that behind every good man there’s a woman figure. And yet, she does not possess a historical voice. Or did she? I plan on tying her story into other female narratives, women who history may not have recognized as powerful per se, but who made the proactive difference.

I’ll be back to post. Not too far away, just far enough to ponder….

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