Tag Archive | Lincoln

Circus Trip 2018: Lincoln’s Home

Day 21, Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lincoln lived and worked in Springfield, Illinois for 17 years.  It is where he established his law practice with William Herndon, and where he purchased his only home.  The home he owned, and several of the neighboring homes, have been preserved as the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.

Sign posing…

When Lincoln first purchased the home, it was a one and a half story cottage, with three rooms on the first floor and three sleeping lofts above.  Even though the home was only five years old when he bought it, Lincoln did extensive renovations, raising the roof to make a full second story, adding an addition on the back, and probably removing a large columned front porch.

After Lincoln’s death, the home was rented to a series of tenants, who began charging visitors to take a tour of the home.  This, and the fact that they did not leave the home in good condition, prompted Robert Lincoln to donate the home to the state of Illinois in 1887, with the stipulation that the home be available to the public at no charge. The home was restored to the period when Lincoln last lived in the home – 1861, so the home looks today like it did in the photographs taken at the time.

Ownership transferred to the National Park Service and it became a National Historic Site on August 18, 1971.  The site preserves the home and other period structures within a four block area around the home.

 

You have to sign up for a tour in order to see the home, but as agreed, it is free of charge.  The rangers take you through both levels of the home, from the public living areas to Lincoln’s and the children’s bedrooms.  The rugs and wallpapers are so loud and busy!  Most of the furniture is not original to the Lincoln’s time but is period.  However, Lincoln’s writing desk is the one he used, and it is humbling to see.  This is the desk where he wrote letters, studied and did his legal work at home.

 

I visited Lincoln’s Home once before, over 10 years ago, and really enjoyed the tour.  It was no less incredible this time around.  The rangers are great about telling the story of the home and answering questions.  The tour moves fairly quickly, because Lincoln’s Home is always a popular tourist attraction, so depending on the size of the group and the time of day you may feel a bit rushed.

A neighborhood home

 

Homes in the neighborhood

Be sure to take some time to wander the neighborhood as well; there are several other historic homes that have been preserved as a part of this historic site, and some interesting exhibits.

If you love Lincoln, you have to visit!

Virginia 2015: The Soldier’s National Cemetery

Day 2, October 5, 2015

It is called the Soldier’s National Cemetery – officially.  But like me, perhaps you have always thought of it as Gettysburg National Cemetery.  We took the time to visit when we visited Gettysburg. The cemetery already existed as the town cemetery at the time of the Civil War, but after the battle work began to designate one cemetery for the Union dead. Immediately after the battle, the dead had been hastily interred at several nearby sites, including churchyards, on the grounds outside hospitals, and on the fields of the battlefield itself. Some corpses were not found until much later, and had begun to decompose without being buried.

As land was acquired adjacent to the town cemetery, the remains were reinterred. They first had wooden markers, but then flat stone markers were laid in 1865. The Civilian Conservation Corps set the gravestones in concrete in 1934. The Civil War graves are set in concentric semi-circles radiating out from The Soldier’s National Monument, begun in 1865 and dedicated in 1869.  Today, the remains of 6,000 servicemen are buried here, including about 3,500 Civil War soldiers.  Over half of the Civil War burials belong to unidentified soldiers.  Later burials include servicemen extending up through the Vietnam War in 1972, in a later acquired annex of land.

 

Gettysburg National Cemetery. The flat markers in the foreground are the Civil War graves.

Gettysburg National Cemetery. The flat markers in the foreground are the Civil War graves.

 

A view of the Soldier's Monument, with Civil War graves in the foreground.

A view of the Soldier’s Monument, with Civil War graves in the foreground.

Of course, the cemetery is also famous for the speech that was given here. Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is one of the most recognizable speeches in U.S. history, although Lincoln didn’t think at the time that it would be long remembered. He even said so in his remarks.  In fact, his speech here was mostly an afterthought. Edward Everett, Massachusetts statesman and orator, had been chosen to give the dedication at Gettysburg. The cemetery committee asked the President at the last minute to give “a few appropriate remarks,” after Everett finished speaking. Here’s what Lincoln came up with:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Lincoln only spoke for about two minutes – far less than the two hours that Everett spoke. In fact, there are no photographs of Lincoln speaking – historians believe it is because the photographers capturing the event were surprised by the brevity of his remarks. But the speech brings tears to my eyes every time I hear or read it, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one so affected.

Another view of the Soldier's Monument

The New York State Monument at the Soldier’s National Cemetery

For a long time, Lincoln was believed to have given his speech near the Soldier’s Monument, but more recent historians studying photographs place the dais within the existing town cemetery, Evergreen Cemetery. The ranger was kind enough to point out where to stand and look through the fence to get a rough idea of where Lincoln stood.  If we hadn’t spoken to the ranger, we wouldn’t have known, as the signage at the cemetery still gives the old location.

To the right of the cannon, there is a small tree. Behind that is a mausoleum believed to be near the site where the dais was placed for the cemetery dedication.

To the right of the cannon, there is a small tree. Behind that is a mausoleum believed to be near the site where the dais was placed for the cemetery dedication.

The cemetery is beautiful – with historic wrought iron fences and brick work, and pathways. The various trees are marked with their species names, and the squirrels and birds clearly enjoy it.  We wandered among the graves and the trees for a little while, reflecting on the incredible sacrifice of these men, and the importance of this place.

Some of the World War I graves at Gettysburg

Some of the World War I graves at Gettysburg

 

Spielberg’s Lincoln

Last Saturday night, my mom, Jon and I all went out to see the new Spielberg movie – Lincoln. I have been looking forward to this film since I first found out it would be released.  That was over a year ago.  Several months ago, I marked my calendar when I found out when release weekend was going to be. Since I’m ordinarily not much of a ‘see it in the theater’ type, you should be able to tell how excited I was.  We got there fairly early, but after we sat down, the theater got pretty full. We waited through all the obligatory previews. The new Oz movie looks pretty neat! Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger? Not so much… And then finally, there it was. On the big screen!

If you want to see the preview, click here.

For those of you who may not be familiar – this movie is based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals. If you haven’t read it – you should. It is a fantastic book, but not a quick read. But, back to the movie. It is set during the last four months of Lincoln’s life, from January 1865 through his assassination in April 1865. And it focuses primarily on Lincoln’s attempt to keep working toward a peace that would preserve the union, while passing the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery. The movie only covers a small portion of a comprehensive book, so watchers will better understand the movie if they have read the book and understand what comes before.

After Lincoln was elected, he set about constructing a cabinet of the best political minds, men who were skilled at negotiating the complex political environment, and who could get things done. He didn’t just pluck supporters, because he understood that he would need buy-in from the naysayers as well if he was going to be successful at getting his agenda implemented. So he made sure his political opponents were close to him.

While it was a genius strategy, it did mean that he had to work tirelessly to sell his ideas to others, get input, give input and ultimately get others to see his point and agree with him. It also meant he had to be willing to compromise. And undoubtedly as a result of being surrounded by differing views all day long, he found some of his own views and opinions changing over time. The movie does a great job of showing that he wasn’t just taking advice from people who agreed with him, and actually, most of the time, they disagreed. But in the end, after carefully weighing all of the considerations, he needed everybody to be willing to support the agreed upon course.

150 years after the fact, our collective memory had faded, and most people who haven’t studied Lincoln or the Civil War probably have no idea that he frequently toed, and undoubtedly crossed, the line of Presidential authority. He was accused of being a tyrant, a dictator, and of stripping the free speech rights of the young nation’s people. He was willing to do all of these things because he believed it was required to hold a fragile nation together. He didn’t always tell the whole truth. The movie barely touches the surface of this issue, but the nuance is there for the savvy viewer.

The actors are amazing. Daniel Day Lewis captures Lincoln in a way that I believe will become the standard for my generation. He is strong yet fragile, fiercely determined yet loving, tormented by anguish yet he delights in the simplicity of an off-color story. In sum, his performance captures the nuance of an incredibly complex man. The other actors hit their parts as well. Tommy Lee Jones is brilliant as Thaddeus Stevens. And Sally Field truly shows Mary Lincoln’s fragile mental state as well as her uncompromising loyalty to her husband. I will be disappointed if all three of them don’t receive Oscars.

Of course, as with any film, there is some artistic license.  I’m sure there will be people who will discount the movie because it doesn’t always stick exactly to history.  Some scenes most likely didn’t happen the way they did in the film, but I don’t think it makes it any less powerful.

And just so you know if you are unfamiliar with Team of Rivals – this is not a war movie. There are only a few battlefield scenes, and they are not the primary focus of the film – instead their purpose is to support a point that needs to be made. So if you are expecting something more like Gettysburg, or Glory, you won’t see it. But I do believe that this film will be the closest I will ever come to seeing Lincoln as he was in life.

And this other time it snowed…

This snow that has been taunting us for the last several days and never actually appearing got me thinking about a trip I took a few years ago to Maryland and Pennsylvania, to visit the Antietam and Gettysburg Civil War Battlefields. It was February then, and it also snowed on that trip. I always thought that people in Washington State were kind of wimpy about snow – it creates an amazing amount of chaos for a few inches. I thought it would be different in Maryland, but apparently not. I flew in and went to the hotel, and watched the news reports about the Snow-mageddon of 2008. So, figuring I was either going to be stuck or not, I went to bed and slept in the next morning. In the morning, the reports were all about the snarled commute and the various repercussions of the post-apocalyptic snow event. I was in a hotel room with a sliding door looking out onto an indoor courtyard where the pool was, and no outside window.

So, I slowly got prepared for what would be a horrible driving experience, and went outside – to find a quarter inch of snow on the grass and absolutely nothing on the roads or sidewalks. “Hey,” I thought, “it all melted – on with the day!” I drove out to the Antietam Battlefield, about 20 miles away, with clear roads and no issues the entire trip – only to find the Visitors Center closed due to snow. Someone had neatly taped a sign to the inside of the door telling visitors of the closure. Ok, so you mean some employee actually managed to get down to the Visitor’s Center (at significant risk of death or serious maiming – I’m kidding here if you couldn’t tell), opened the door, taped up the sign, and went home. Hello, you’re already there, why not just open? So, my trip to the Antietam Battlefield Visitor’s Center was thwarted, but I wandered around the battlefield anyway. Because, hey I was already there, and there really wasn’t much snow, as you can tell by this photo. I had a good time.

See, no snow on the sidewalks (or the roads)

During that same trip, I also headed over to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to see the site where the historical battle occurred. If you haven’t been there, you should go, even if you are not a Civil War history buff. There is something deeply humbling about standing on the sites where tens of thousands of Americans died for their respective causes. The town of Gettysburg is still fairly small and is unravaged by time and the development that has plagued so many other towns and cities. The buildings and fields where the battle was fought still look today like they did during that time, and in a fit of bureaucratic genius, the US government saw the need even back then to do what it could to preserve the area for the education of future generations. You can look out from Little Round Top and imagine the Confederate charge that Joshua Chamberlin defended against on Day 2 of the battle. You can imagine the sheer insanity of Pickett’s charge on Day 3, across more than a mile of open field, over fences and rock walls, and back up the hill into a heavily fortified waiting Union Army (I’m still amazed that anyone lived through that).

The view of The Devil’s Den from Little Round Top

And the cemetery, what could I possibly say about that? To stand on the site where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address months later, and to see the countless rows of graves marked with numbers instead of names – it really makes you wonder about whether the political infighting we experience today is really worth it.

Gettysburg Cemetery

When I was there, the new Gettysburg Visitor’s Center was not yet open (it was scheduled for its opening in April, and I was there in February). The old one was open though, even though there was actually more snow in Gettysburg. They had exhibits on the weapons that were used during the Civil War, artifacts, and a lighted battlefield map that took you through the Union and Confederate positions on each day of the battle. I believe that this map was created in the 1920’s so any child today would groan at the sight of it, but I thought it was pretty cool. Apparently others did as well, because the plan was to save it, rather than trash it when the new Visitor’s Center opened. In another 150 years, history buffs and scholars will really appreciate the foresight.