Historians uncover new Abraham Lincoln records

Documents reveal Civil War era plans to resettle freed slaves in the Caribbean

February 9, 2011 (Washington, DC) – Recently discovered Civil War records have added a new twist to the familiar story of the Emancipation Proclamation. After signing the document that freed the slaves on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spent the better part of a year attempting to resettle African-Americans in the Caribbean.

Lincoln’s proposal to “colonize” the ex-slaves abroad involved a little known agreement with Great Britain to establish freedmen’s settlements in Belize and Guyana, at the time colonial possessions of the British Empire. Though the U.S. Government investigated the sites and even made preparations for sending the first ship of settlers, the plan later faltered amidst political wrangling within Lincoln’s own cabinet.

The forgotten story of Lincoln’s little-known colonization project was recently unearthed by historians Phillip W. Magness and Sebastian N. Page. They present their findings in “Colonization after Emancipation: Lincoln and the Movement for Black Resettlement,” (ISBN 978-0-8262-1909-1) due out next week from the University of Missouri Press.

Evidence of Lincoln’s post-emancipation plans remained hidden for almost 150 years until its discovery by Magness and Page in seldom-searched consular and diplomatic files at the British National Archives outside of London, and the U.S. National Archives in Washington, DC.

“Lincoln personally pitched the scheme to the British ambassador only three weeks after the Emancipation Proclamation,” said Magness. “It was a matter of diplomatic secrecy, so it left a very sparse paper trail.”

He also explained that several of the American files were dispersed in the fallout from a budgetary dispute that ultimately resulted in Congress suspending the project’s funding in 1864, adding another complication to the search.

“Most of the documents from the American side are missing, and the British files were all transported back to London,” Magness continued. “We essentially had to reconstruct what happened from letters and transcribed copies that were spread across the Atlantic.”

Among the records found at the UK Archives is an 1863 order by Lincoln granting a British agent permission to recruit volunteers among the freed slaves and transport them to Belize.

Dr. Magness is a researcher at George Mason University’s Institute for Humane Studies, and an Adjunct Professor at American University. Mr. Page is a Junior Research Fellow at the Queen’s College, University of Oxford.

CONTACT: Phillip Magness ~ 281-923-6702 (cell) ~ pmagness@gmu.edu

Civil War History Radio Show Seeks Participation

BackStory (www.backstoryradio.org) is a nationally aired public radio show that brings historical perspective to the events happening around us today. On each show, the U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh tear a topic from the headlines and plumb its historical depths.

As part of its three-part Civil War Sesquicentennial series, BackStory is planning a show made up entirely of listener questions! 150 years after the fall of Fort Sumter, are there things about the conflict that still interest you? Tens of thousands of books have been written on the subject, but what makes the Civil War relevant to us today, in 2011? Has America’s involvement in recent wars been shaped by lessons from the Civil War? Should it be? How have Americans understood the Civil War in earlier generations, and how have historians’ interpretations of it changed over time? And finally — in what ways might discussion about the Civil War benefit from the BackStory “trans-century” approach?

Being a caller is really simple and takes about 15 minutes; it’s pre-taped, low-pressure, and a lot of fun! If you are interested in participating as a caller and posing a Civil War question to the History Guys, either email producer Catherine Moore (cvmoore@virginia.edu) or leave a comment on Civil War Call-In Show page (http://backstoryradio.org/civil-war-call-in-show/). We look forward to hearing from you!

Lincoln historian caught tampering with document

Thanks to Civil Warriors for increasing the awareness of this story. With the 150th anniversary of the war coming up and the first inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, negative news about scholarship and research on these subjects is likely to increase. According to their posting and the linked articles, Lincoln scholar Thomas Lowry admitted to tampering with a pardon Lincoln issued. The original document, which can be viewed through this article, was written on April 14, 1864, but Lowry used a fountain pen to alter the date to April 14, 1865, attempting to make it be one of the last documents written by Lincoln the day he was assassinated. As if to add more fuel to this fire, Lowry denied the falsification of the document, according to an article posted by NPR.

The National Archives turned the case over to the Justice Department, but the statute of limitations expired, so Lowry will not face prosecution. He is banned from the facilities, but the damage has been done. The document may be forever altered and raises questions of how many other documents have been similarly been damaged, which could have implications for existing research. Further, what consequences will this incident have to access for other scholars to the National Archives and other manuscript repositories.

This case reminds me of an incident my mentor Dr. James Davis recalled when we visited Washington, DC in 2004 to research at the Library of Congress and National Archives. It involved theft of documents from the manuscript reading room at the LOC, which resulted in increased security. You needed to sign in and out just to go to the restroom or retrieve something from your locker. The culprits were apparently imprisoned for many years and maybe still in jail.

The lesson from this is to be honest in your research and attempt to see the value in all documents. True, there will always be those who attempt to make a name for themselves through dishonest means, which will place greater scrutiny on scholarship, as well as make it more difficult to research in archives. However, these individuals will not destroy the passion many of us have for the past and researching new areas within that past. Until next time, keep researching and reading.

Considering the top Civil War books written

Hats off to fellow scholar and blogger Bill Caraher for letting me know about this article from Salon.com. By the way, if you are even remotely interested in the ancient world and/or archaeology, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter.

The Salon article deals with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and encourages buffs of the conflict to read a book a month for the next year and offers a list of the top 12 books on the war. I found the selections rather telling, as many were works of popular history. However, three stood out as strong works that have great influence on the historiography of the war. Among them are David Blight’s Race and Reunion, Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, and James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, all are hard-hitting monographs. The interesting observation, which Bill posed to me in a question, was that Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox landed at number one on the list. Some may wonder, why Catton?

I believe that this is an interesting placement, and am surprised that Shelby Foote did not make the list. Catton produced some great works on the war and are deserving of high placement on must read lists. He wrote around the time of the centennial of the war and still resonates within the literature. While I generally agree with the list, I am left wondering how professional historians would alter this list. So, I leave fellow scholars with a challenge that I will also dwell upon and post. What twelve books should folks interested in the war read each month over the next year?

I hope you have all had a Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season and I wish you all a Happy New Year. Until next time, keep researching and writing.

A new blog and new journal for 2011

As I mentioned in my last post, Brooks Simpson, has chosen to leave the group at Civil Warriors to pursue personal and professional projects. He has started his own blog up, called Crossroads, which is linked in the sidebar as well. I look forward to seeing what he produces in the coming months. His posting on the Dakota uprising that occurred in 1862-3, is particularly interesting to me given that I live in North Dakota and am within a couple of hours drive of sites associated with that conflict.

In addition to this new blog, a new journal will make its début in March. The University of North Carolina Press will publish The Journal of the Civil War Era, which will become the flagship journal of the Society of Civil War Historians. I look forward to seeing what this journal offers in terms of new directions on the war and the overall period surrounding it. I urge anyone with an interest in the conflict to consider subscribing to the journal and joining the Society.

All in all, 2011 will be a great year for Civil War studies, as we begin in earnest the 150th anniversary of secession, which will ignite some feelings, the anniversary of the Confederacy’s creation, Lincoln’s first inauguration, Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, etc. I hope to attend a couple major reenacting events in Missouri this coming year, but we’ll see. I have a couple of items to finish this semester before I head to Illinois for Christmas, but I will attempt to remember to post later this month on South Carolina’s secession. Until next time, keep researching and studying.

Fun last few days

From Wednesday, October 13 to Saturday, October 16, we hosted the Northern Great Plains History Conference in Grand Forks, ND. There were a number of great papers and panels on a wide variety of topics, including the Civil War. Yours truly presented a paper on the social transition in Illinois Civil War camps of instruction, and there were papers on Civil War chaplains as well. I was also able to meet several fine graduate students all doing great things at several far-flung programs from CUNY to TCU, to even New Brunswick. It was a small world as one student, Keith Altavilla, who studies the Civil War at Texas Christian University under Dr. Steven Woodworth (who I would have worked under had I gone there). It was a great amount of fun to host the conference and meet so many great scholars. I look forward to keeping in touch with those who I met.

New online resource for Civil War primary sources

Hats off to my colleague Stuart Lawrence for sending me information about this source. I posted about the site SoldierStudies.org three years ago, which provides transcriptions of letters written by the men who fought the war. Now, Alexander Street Press has put together an online database of memoirs, diaries, and letters from Civil War soldiers and others. It looks pretty interesting, but the one drawback is that a 30-day trial is available, but then a subscription is required, which limits its availability. The scope of the collection, as described on the website, is as follows:

Perhaps the most exciting descriptions of events during the Civil War are to be found in first person accounts. Detailed firsthand descriptions of historical characters and events, glimpses of daily life in the army, anecdotes about key events and personages, and accounts of sufferings at home written for private consumption, provide an immediacy and a richness that are unmatched in public sources.

The Civil War was responsible for an unprecedented displacement of Americans, and this in turn resulted in an unprecedented number of letters. This also was the last time a major war was fought without significant censorship.

The American Civil War: Letters and Diaries knits together more than 1,000 sources of diaries, letters, and memoirs to provide fast access to thousands of views on almost every aspect of the war, including what was happening at home. The writings of politicians, generals, slaves, landowners, farmers, seaman, wives, and even spies are included. The letters and diaries are by the famous and the unknown, giving not only both the Northern and Southern perspectives, but those of foreign observers also. The materials originate from all regions of the country and are from people who played a variety of roles.

Using a thesaurus of Civil War terms we’ve built specifically for the task, researchers can quickly find references to individuals, battles, theaters of war, and activities. A chronology of key events allows the user to see multiple perspectives surrounding a particular event. This level of indexing is unprecedented. Questions such as “Give me all accounts of letters written about hospital conditions by Union soldiers in the Western Theater” can be answered in seconds.

The collection includes approximately 100,000 pages of published memoirs, letters and diaries from individuals plus 4,000 pages of previously unpublished materials. Drawn from more than 1,000 sources, the collection provides in-depth coverage of all aspects of the war. More than 1,000 biographies will enhance the use of the database.

The collection includes one of the most comprehensive bibliographies of Civil War letters and diaries yet published. It lists over 1,000 published and unpublished items from a variety of sources, including online resources and microform. Subscribers to the collection are encouraged to participate in the maintenance of this bibliography by calling our attention to omissions, suggesting additions, and notifying us of newly discovered materials.

I will check this source out more in the coming days, but wanted to put it out there for readers to consider. On a side note, we are closing in on 100,000 hits and I would really like to do that today, so help me out and thanks for your support.

Review of So You Think You Know Gettysburg?

Gindlesperger, James and Suzanne. So You Think You Know Gettysburg?:  The Stories Behind the Monuments and the Men Who Fought One of America’s Most Epic Battles. Winston-Salem, NC:  John F. Blair Publisher, 2010.

This book is an interesting take at the park where the bloodiest battle on American soil occurred. While other books focus on the tactics, men, and other aspects of the real battle, James and Suzanne Gindlesperger chose to look at the history of the many monuments that dot the battlefield park. It represents the growing influence of both history and memory and public history.

The title is quite proper, as while most may think they know everything about the battlefield, there are many places and monuments included in this book that readers may not be aware of. The coverage of the work goes beyond the park area and includes several sites and locations in and around the town of Gettysburg. Each chapter is devoted to a specific section and area of the Gettysburg, which allows readers visiting the park to use each chapter as a guide to areas including Culp’s Hill, Little Round Top, Gettysburg, etc.

Three key things stand out that make this book great. First is the wonderful use of maps. The authors included an overview map of all areas covered, then incorporated into each chapter a map of the area covered, with locations of each monument or spot numbered on that map. Second is the abundance of photographs, one of each spot. This allows those visiting the park to know which monument they are looking at, and, allows readers unable to visit Gettysburg to view one of the more striking features of the region. Finally, the descriptions are quite detailed, incorporating latitude and longitude coordinates, which is good for users of GPS touring the park, as well as providing brief, but detailed descriptions of the site or monument and the people that motivated the particular item covered. The only thing that would have been great to include was a suggested reading section, as well, as a notes section to give background to where information on locations featured was found. Though a minor issue, it does not really detract from the overall value of this work.

The authors, though not trained historians, according to the description, do have great credentials for writing this book. They live in Pennsylvania and are members of the Friends of Gettysburg Foundation, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Civil War Preservation Trust. Though not an academic book, this is a must have for anyone interested in public history, history and memory, or Gettysburg in general. If visiting Gettysburg in the near future, pick up a copy of So You Think You Know Gettysburg? and see how it changes your visit.

Shelby Foote’s wit and commentary

Thanks to Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory for finding this unique video featuring various segments from the late Shelby Foote, featured in Ken Burns’ The Civil War. Having watched the series a couple of times and planning to use it in my own classes in the future, I enjoy the unique presentation by Foote, including his deep, calming voice. Enjoy.

Recording of the Gettysburg webcast

As I stated earlier, I missed the live Gettysburg webcast, hosted by American Military University. Well, here is the link to the webcast, so you can listen to it and enjoy. Overall, the series was a good first time at hosting webcasts on the war. I hope there will be many more in the future.

Rare Civil War book collection donated to UND’s Chester Fritz Library

The University of North Dakota’s Chester Fritz Library received a cool gift recently. Their website reported it today that Robert Henry, UND alum from the Class of 1960 donated several rare Civil War books to the Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections. I had the opportunity to see them a few weeks back, while up in the department doing research and they were really something. One book was an original work of George B. McClellan from 1864. Needless to say, it was hard not to drool over such unique finds. Thank you Mr. Henry for your gift to UND. We appreciate it.

New blog on a new book

Thanks to fellow blogger Kevin Levin for noting this new blog by Dr. Tom Clemens, called The Maryland Campaign of September 1862, which focuses on the book of the same name written by Ezra Carman, a veteran of the Civil War, and edited by Dr. Clemens. I am going to look into getting a review copy of it, as it looks interesting, but wanted to make you aware of this recent blogging development.

Listen to webcast on the Battle of Shiloh

Last week, I participated in a webcast hosted by American Military University. If you were unable to take part, you can listen to the webcast, download the Q & A, and find the link to the last webcast, which will be on Tuesday, May 18, and will be on the Battle of Gettysburg. Click here to listen and join the Gettysburg webcast.

First meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Roundtable

Tonight was the first meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Roundtable, held at the VFW Post in East Grand Forks, MN. Fellow graduate student, and the founder of the group, Stuart Lawrence gave a presentation, including slide show and soldier equipment, on the Zouaves in the Union Army. The presentation was quite detailed, as Stuart talked about several regiments of Zouaves, providing a great introduction to the subject of Zouaves in the Civil War. Nine of us gathered together for this first meeting. I will post pictures of the first meeting in the next day or so. We will begin creating a newsletter, which will be available via email and in print. We will also be setting up a Youtube account and hope to begin posting meetings online for those interested that are unable to attend to take part in the group. The next meeting of the Northern Plains Civil War Roundtable will be May 25 at 7:00 PM at the East Grand Forks, MN VFW Club. More information will be forthcoming.

Here is a link to Stuart’s Power Point presentation.

More information about the roundtable can be found at its website.

A new Civil War Roundtable

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that a colleague and I have decided to form a physical Civil War Round Table. I have mentioned in the past my wish to create a virtual one, due to our remote location in North Dakota. Well, fellow doctoral student Stuart Lawrence put together the organizational materials, with me helping plug the group and offer moral support, and we have created the Northern Plains Civil War Roundtable. We are constructing a web-based home (will link that very soon). Anyway, if you live in the Grand Forks area and read this blog, please consider joining us at the E. Grand Forks, MN VFW Club this Tuesday, April 27 at 7:00 PM. Stuart will present the first paper, which will deal with the Zuoves in the Union Army. This blog will give coverage of the first meeting and I will explore how to put presentations on Youtube. I hope you will support us through encouragement and suggestions of ways we can reach those physically unable to join us at our meetings.

Click here to download an info. sheet on the group.