While most people look back on their childhood with fond memories, most of us would say our childhood was probably typical for the era we lived in. Of course, not every childhood is perfect, and some can be absolutely horrible. President Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1890, and spent his childhood years in Kentucky and Indiana. He personally summed up his childhood days on the frontier as “the short and simple annals of the poor.” While that is how Lincoln saw his childhood, he wasn’t the only one in that situation. The hardships he endured there as a child weren’t unique. Frontier life was harsh for most families in the early 1800s. Living and working on the frontier was hard work. In fact, sometimes the people worked as hard as their oxen and horses. According to Lincoln, his earliest memories were of life on the farm in Kentucky where he moved in 1811 with his parents, Thomas and Nancy, and sister, Sarah. She was four years old, and Abraham was two years old. His parents had been married five years.
At Knob Creek, in Kentucky, the Lincoln family lived in a one-room cabin with a dirt floor. The place was very similar to the place where Lincoln was born a mere nine miles way near Hodgenville. Steep, heavily wooded hills rose on each side of the home. Nevertheless, things were “looking up” on the Knob Creek farm, because while the place was leased, Lincoln’s father planted corn and pumpkins on wide fields with rich soil on the 30-acre farm. From the little dirt-floor cabin on the road from Louisville to Nashville, the Lincoln family watched as the “world passed” by. Pioneers with fully loaded wagons, peddlers, local politicians, slaves, missionaries and soldiers returning from the War of 1812.
Abraham’s dad, Thomas Lincoln, who was stern and often domineering, put his son to work before he turned seven. Of course, if you ask me, seven-year-olds can help out, provided that they aren’t mistreated in the process. Abraham filled the wood box, brought water from the creek, weeded the garden, gathered grapes for wine and jelly, picked persimmons for beer making and planted pumpkin seeds.
Lincoln didn’t have many opportunities to go to school, as was common in those days in rural Kentucky. For the most part he was self-taught. Mostly, he and his sister sporadically attended ABC schools—so-called “blab” schools in which students repeated their teacher’s oral lessons aloud. Usually barefoot, Lincoln walked to the one-room schoolhouse, “a little log room about 15 feet square, with a fireplace at one side.”
Two years later, Abraham’s mother, Nancy Lincoln died in the remote wilderness—the first of Lincoln’s many family tragedies. Nancy was a good mother, and her passing was heartbreaking for the Lincoln children. Apparently, she had consumed milk tainted when cows ate poisonous white snakeroot…although, some believed the cause of death was tuberculosis. She was just 34 years old. Eleven-year-old Sarah now became the woman of the house, and all domestic duties fell to her. The Lincoln children’s lives were worse than ever. That winter, the motherless children and their 19-year-old orphan cousin lived dismally in that place.
It didn’t take Thomas long to decide that he needed a new wife, so Thomas Lincoln traveled to Elizabethtown, Kentucky, where he proposed to widow Sarah Bush Johnston, whom he had known since childhood. She accepted, provided Lincoln paid off her debts. On December 2, 1819, Thomas and Sarah married and later returned to Little Pigeon Creek, accompanied by her three children: Elizabeth, 13; Matilda, 10; and John, 9. Thomas’s new wife brought along furniture (including a walnut bureau valued at $50), cooking utensils and comfortable bedding…astonishing luxuries for her new stepchildren. She also brought several books, including the Bible and Aesop’s Fables, which she gifted to Abe. Things were looking up again in the Lincoln household. At his wife’s insistence, Thomas Lincoln installed a cabin floor and plastered cracks between logs. Instead of cornhusks, Abraham and his sister slept on a feather bed. The cramped conditions were no match for the love Sarah brught with her, and the family thrived. To make him look “more human,” Lincoln’s stepmother dressed up the poorly clad Abraham.
On the farm, Lincoln became skillful with an ax. But Thomas didn’t see the need for the reading his son loved. He wanted him to learn carpentry, but Abraham wasn’t interested, and the matter brought tension to the relationship. Sometimes the illiterate Thomas even reprimanded Abraham for reading instead of doing farm chores. Thankfully, Sarah Bush Lincoln persuaded her husband to allow their son to read and study. “At first, he was not easily reconciled to it,” she recalled, “but finally he too seemed willing to encourage him to a certain extent.” The bond between stepmother and stepson grew. Sarah Bush Lincoln recalled years later, “Abe was the best boy I ever saw.” I think we would a have to agree, he was not just a good boy, but a great man and a great president.
The hardest part about being a commander in any war situation is that moment when you have to tell a soldier’s family that they have been killed in action. It’s even easier to tell them that their soldier is missing, because at least then they have hope. The only thing that could possibly be harder than telling a soldiers family that they have been killed is to tell sibling soldiers’ family that they have been killed. That is the lot that fell to President Abraham Lincoln, according to legend, on November 21, 1864, except it came to him in spades. On that day, Lincoln composed a letter to Lydia Bixby, a widow and mother of five men, all of whom had been killed in the Civil War. It was a completely tragic state of affairs, and so made national news when a copy of the letter was published in the Boston Evening Transcript on November 25. It was signed by “Abraham Lincoln.” Oddly, the original letter has never been found, so it continues to be “legend” to this day.
After expressing his condolences to Mrs Bixby on the death of her five sons, who had fought to preserve the Union in the Civil War, Lincoln goes on to express his regrets on how “weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming.” He then continued with a prayer that “our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement [and leave you] the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.”
Historians continue to debate the authorship of the letter, and the authenticity of copies printed between 1864 and 1891. Nevertheless, at that time, copies of presidential messages were often published and then sold as souvenirs. Many historians and archivists agree that the original letter was probably written by Lincoln’s secretary, John Hay. As to Mrs Bixby’s loss, scholars have since discovered that only two of her sons actually died fighting during the Civil War. A third was honorably discharged and a fourth was dishonorably thrown out of the Army. The fifth son’s fate is unknown, but it is assumed that he deserted or died in a Confederate prison camp. The facts in this case seem to show that sometimes Presidents are given misinformation, resulting in heartbreaking mistakes. If Mrs Bixby did receive this letter, it is my opinion that she quite likely fainted on the spot, and then to find out later that the president had been given wrong information that caused him, gentle man that he was, to feel the need to write this particular letter himself, rather than letting the commanding officer be the bearer of such bad news.
I’m sure that upon finding that there had been an error, President Lincoln was appropriately appalled, but at that point there was not much to do about it. The letter had been sent, and to bring up the additional facts, especially the son that was thrown out of the army, would have only made matters worse. In addition, they did not know where the missing son was, and possibly didn’t know for sure where the others were either, so it made sense to leave well enough alone. Still, I’m sure their mother would like to have known where her sons really were. While this situation was possibly, or at least partially, an awful mistake, it is still the hardest part of the job of commander, and one that is usually felt very deeply by those who have had to write such a letter.
When I think of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, I think of John Wilkes Booth shooting the president at the Ford Theater. I don’t think about the assassination being a part of a conspiracy, but in fact, it was. It makes sense, I guess, because it isn’t even logical that someone could simply walk into the Ford Theater and to the President’s box and shoot him. Someone had to tell Booth where the president was going to be. Someone had to clear the way for Booth to get in. Someone had to remove more than just a president. This was a plot to change history.
Lincoln conspirator Mary Surratt, who was born Mary Elizabeth Jenkins in 1823, was from Maryland. Before her acts of treason, Mary married John Harrison Surratt in 1840, when she was 17. They planed a life together an began buying massive amounts of land near Washington. Together, she and her husband had three children…John Jr, Isaac, Anna. Then After her husband’s death in 1864, when she was just 41, Mary moved to Washington DC, on High Street. To make some money, Mary rented part of her property…a tavern that her husband had built, to a man named John Lloyd, who was a retired police officer.
John Jr, Mary’s eldest son, met John Wilkes Booth during his time as a Confederate spy. Because of this connection, when Booth was plotting Lincoln’s assassination with his co-conspirators, he felt perfectly at home in Mary Surratt’s DC residence, which had by this time, become a boardinghouse. As plans progresses Mary Surratt also became involved with the shooting of Abraham Lincoln, through these men. She even asked Lloyd to help. Her request was that he have some “shooting-irons” ready for some men that would stop by later that night…the night that they murdered Abraham Lincoln. Although drunk, Lloyd was able to provide testimony of the appearance of Booth and a co-conspirator at Mary’s tavern. For her involvement, Mary Surratt was sentenced to death, she was the first woman to be executed by the United States Government. She asked of her executioners only to, “not let her fall” in a very small voice, but as she was hanged on July 7, 1865, her request was not honored.
Lewis Powell (some accounts say Paine) was nicknamed Doc as a child for his love of nursing animals back to health. Powell’s part in the conspiracy was to assassinate Secretary of State Seward. Seward was at home sick in bed the night of the assassination. That should have made his job easier. Powell gained entry to the home claiming to have medicine for Seward, but when he entered Seward’s room, he found Seward’s son, Franklin. They got into a scuffle when Powell refused to hand over the medicine. Powell beat Franklin so badly that he was in a coma for sixty days. He also stabbed Seward’s body guard before stabbing Steward several times. He was pulled off the Secretary by the body guard and two other members of the household. Seward survived, and Powell hid in a cemetery overnight. He was caught when he returned to Mary Surratt’s while she was being questioned by investigators. Powell attempted suicide while waiting for a verdict. He was convicted and hanged on July 7, 1865.
David Herold accompanied Powell to Seward’s house. Herold waited outside with the getaway horses. After Lincoln was assassinated, Herold managed to escape DC that same night, and met up with Booth. He was caught with Booth on April 26. Despite his lawyers many attempts to convince the court his client was innocent, Herold was convicted and was hanged on July 7, 1865.
George Atzerodt was given the task of killing Vice President Johnson. He went to the hotel Johnson was staying at, but was too afraid to kill the vice president. He went to the hotel bar and began drinking, hoping to get his courage up to do his part. Instead, he got very drunk and spent the night wandering the streets of Washington DC. He was arrested after the bartender reported his strange questions the night before. Atzerodt was convicted and hanged on July 7, 1865.
Edman Spangler was at Ford’s Theater the night of the assassination. Witness testimonies were conflicting as to his role in covering up Booth’s escape, but he allegedly took down the man trying to catch Booth before he fled. Spangler was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison. He was pardoned in 1869 by President Johnson…which is odd considering the group tried to kill him. Spangler died in 1875 on his farm in Maryland.
Samuel Arnold was not involved in the April 14 assassination attempts. However, he was involved in earlier plots to kidnap Lincoln, and was arrested for his connections to Booth. Arnold was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned by President Johnson in 1869. He died in 1906 from tuberculosis.
It is unclear what role Michael O’Laughlen played in the actual assassination attempts. He was surely a conspirator to the group’s plans. He voluntarily surrendered on April 17. O’Laughlen was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He died from yellow fever two years into his sentence.
It is unclear what part, if any, Mary’s son, John Surratt Jr played in the events of April 14. He claims to have been in New York that night, but he escaped to Canada and an international manhunt ensued for him. After his mother’s execution in July, he escaped to England. He then traveled to Rome and joined the group of soldiers protecting the Pope. It was while visiting Alexandria, Egypt that he was finally recognized and sent back to the United States. Unlike the other co-conspirators, Surratt was tried by a civilian court. On August 10 the trial ended with a hung jury and the charges were dropped in 1868. He died from pneumonia in 1916, and was the last living person with ties to the assassination attempt.
With Abraham Lincoln’s birthday just behind us…he was born on February 12, 1809. Most of us know that Lincoln had no formal education. We know that he gave amazing speeches and that he freed the slaves. We also know that he was assassinated, but there are a number of other Lincoln Facts that I didn’t know, and maybe you didn’t either. One sad fact is that Lincoln lost his mother at the tender age of 9 years old, when she drank poison milk. She wasn’t poisoned, but it turns out that many people died of a strange “milk sickness” that was caused by a cow eating a “poisonous to humans” plant called White Snakeroot. I’m sure it was a horrible time for Lincoln, but his father remarried, and the widow, Sarah Bush Johnston was a kind woman, who got along well with her step-son.
At the age of 21, Abraham Lincoln became a champion wrestler. I don’t know how he would have fared in WWE, but then that is a lot of drama and show too. Nevertheless, he wrestled in approximately 300 matches, and only lost once. It is thought that his long legs helped him lock his opponent down. Lincoln reportedly talked a little smack in the ring too. According to Carl Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln, “Honest Abe once challenged an entire crowd of onlookers after dispatching an opponent: ‘I’m the big buck of this lick. If any of you want to try it, come on and whet your horns.’ There were no takers.” Lincoln’s grappling exploits earned him an “Outstanding American” honor in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Lincoln is also the only president to have personally test-fired rifles outside the White House, including one by my ancestor, Christopher Spencer who was the inventor of the Spencer Repeating Rifle. When Spencer signed his new rifle up for adoption right after the Civil War broke out, it was not well received by the Department of War Ordnance, that felt soldiers would waste ammunition by firing too rapidly with repeating rifles. The unit was also more expensive than Springfield Model 1861 rifled musket in use at the time. Nevertheless, shortly after the famous Battle of Gettysburg, Spencer was able to gain an audience with President Abraham Lincoln, who invited him to a shooting match and demonstration of the weapon on the lawn of the White House. President Lincoln was so impressed with the weapon that he ordered General James Wolfe Ripley to adopt it for production. Unfortunately, Ripley disobeyed the order and continued to use the old single-shooters.
President Lincoln is also responsible for the safety of the presidents that followed him. Yes, there were failures, but without Lincoln’s decision to create the Secret Service on April 14, 1865, just hours before he was assassinated, many presidents in the future would not have had the quality of protection they did. The Secret Service did protect President Lincoln after his death, when grave robbers attempted to steal his body and hold it for a ransom of $200,000 and the release of one of their gang from prison. Their attempt was foiled by the Secret Service that President Lincoln had initiated.
Imagine being a witness to a part of history. Of course, we all are. We witness our part of history, because history happens all around us. It’s just that some events are more. More what you might ask. More devastating, more tragic, more exciting, just more. One such event was the assassination of President Lincoln. I can’t begin to imagine what it would have been like to go out for a night at the theater only to have the evening shattered be gunfire…and then to look up and see that your President was slumped over, bleeding, and dying. Now imagine you were just a child at the time.
That was the situation Samuel Seymour found himself in on April 14, 1865. On April 14, 1865, Seymour was five years old, when his godmother, who was the wife of his father’s employer took him to see Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater in Washington DC. They were sitting in the balcony across the theater from the Presidential box. Everyone knew President Lincoln. I don’t know how star struck people got back then. Not nearly as much as today, but everyone knew him. A while later, says Seymour, “All of a sudden a shot rang out…and someone in the President’s box screamed. I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat.” Suddenly, John Wilkes Booth jumped from the box to the stage. What five year old boy wouldn’t remember those two events. Of course, Seymour didn’t understand what had happened to President Lincoln, but he was very concerned for Booth, who broke his leg in the jump. He was just a child.
As a child, Seymour was the youngest person in the theater. Most, if not all of the people there were adults. Two months before his death, Seymour appeared on the February 9, 1956, broadcast of the CBS TV panel show “I’ve Got a Secret.” Seymour was hurt in a fall prior to the show, and the show’s producers had urged Seymour to postpone his appearance on the show. Seymour’s doctor left the choice up to Seymour, Seymour chose to go on. During the panelists correctly guessed that Seymour witnessed the assassination of Lincoln. Seymour died on April 12, 1956, and with that, the last witness to Lincoln’s assassination was gone.
On September 22, 2016, I was contacted by a man on Ancestry.com who told me that we were researching some of the same people. He said they were people who had signed the famous Snyder Friendship Quilt. Well, since I had never heard of it before, I wasn’t too sure how famous it was, but his question intrigued me, so I had to check it out for myself. I looked at the site he sent me to, and I was very intrigued. The quilt was a known as a friendship quilt, and they were quite popular in times past. This quilt, called the Snyder Quilt, is made with varying red floral tones and white contrast. It has 72 blocks in it. The thing that makes it a friendship quilt is that the friends of the quilter write their name on the blocks. On this quilt, 63 of the 72 blocks have signatures.
For me, there were two things that I found exciting. The first was that eleven of the signatures had the last name Shaw, which is one of the family names in my mom’s family history. I knew that I would be researching those people to see if we are related. The second thing that was exciting is that there were three signatures of famous people…”Abraham Lincoln President of US America 1865″, “Mrs Abraham Lincoln”, and “General US Grant” had each signed a quilt block. At this point, my mind was racing. I wondered if the Shaws on the quilt could be family, and how well they knew President Lincoln, who has always been a man who interested me. That was almost a year ago.
The names that are repeated several times are Snyder, Shaw, and Readon. Some of the other last names on the quilt are Thomson, Russell, Fuller, Suderly, and Schoonmaker. The name Snyder is on the quilt thirteen times and the name Shaw appears eleven times. All of the different names on the quilt got my family history wheels turning, and I knew I would have to get busy and find out if any of the people who had signed the quilt were people who were related to us. My research would prove quite fruitful, but as with any research of one’s ancestry, the going was slow. I really expected to find the connection to the Shaw side of the family, and I think I will at some point, but what really surprised me was that I found out the Abraham Lincoln is my 7th cousin, 3 times removed; and that Mary Todd Lincoln is my 4th cousin 4 times removed; both on the Spencer side of my family!!
There is some speculation as to whether the Lincoln signatures are authentic, and I can see why. On the quilt, Abraham Lincoln is spelled Abraham Lincon. I’m not going to try to debate the authenticity, but I will go so far as to say that since my job requires me to sign my name multiple times during the day, I have actually signed my name so quickly that I have misspelled it, and had to insert a letter into it. I know that sounds odd, but try signing your name over and over for years, and see if you don’t make a mistake or two. By this time, Lincoln was the President of the United States, and so had to sign his name a lot too. You can believe what you want to, but I have chosen to believe that the Snyder Quilt is authentic, because I can’t see any purpose in the Snyder family lying about it. Their friends would know the truth, and the quilt would have had no real value.
When we think of the White House, we seldom think of death. Oh, there have been presidents who were assassinated, or died while in office, but mostly not in the White House. It is too well guarded, and an ill president usually was taken to a hospital. Nevertheless, death has visited the White House, and the case I am referring to was not a president, but rather his son. Abraham Lincoln is my 7th cousin thrice removed, making his children, my 7th cousins 4 times removed. Lincoln married Mary Todd on November 4, 1842, in Springfield, Illinois. They were the parents of four sons Robert Todd Lincoln was born in 1843 and Edward Baker “Eddie” Lincoln in 1846. Edward died on February 1, 1850, in Springfield, probably of Tuberculosis. William Wallace “Willie” Lincoln was born on December 21, 1850, and died of a Typhoid Fever on February 20, 1862. The Lincolns’ fourth son, Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, was born on April 4, 1853, and died of heart failure at the age of 18 on July 16, 1871. While three of the four boys died in childhood, only one, Willie passed away in the White House.
Disease was a scary thing in those days, because many serious diseases, which we have cures for now, were a death sentence in those days. Little Willie Lincoln had contracted Typhoid Fever. Typhoid fever, also known simply as typhoid, is a bacterial infection due to Salmonella Typhi that causes symptoms which may vary from mild to severe and usually begin six to thirty days after exposure. The disease was all over Washington DC, and even the White House was not safe from it’s deathly grip. In fact, Willie was not the only one to have it. His brother, Tad was in bed just down the hall, with the same illness. Tad would survive, but I have to wonder if his heart was not severely weakened by the disease, because he passed away just nine years later of heart failure. On February 20, 1862, little 11 year old Willie succumbed to the Typhoid Fever at 5:00pm. His parents were with him, and Abraham Lincoln said, “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!” Mary watched him bury his head in his hands, “his tall frame convulsed with emotion.” At the foot of the bed she stood “in silent, awe-stricken wonder,” marveling that so rugged a man could be so moved. “I shall never forget those solemn moments — genius and greatness weeping over love’s idol lost.” President Lincoln then walked down the hall to his secretary’s office. He startled the half-dozing secretary with the news: “Well, Nicolay, my boy is gone — he is actually gone!” John Nicolay recalled seeing his boss burst into tears before entering his own office. I think I have to agree with Mary. When we think of Abraham Lincoln, we think of a strong man, but if we think about it, he also had a softer side, and he loved children.
Willie Lincoln was a favorite around the White House. In the words of a government official’s wife, “The White House is sad and still, for its joy and light have fled with little Willie. He was a very bright child, remarkably precocious for his age, and had endeared himself to every one who knew him.” Mary Lincoln’s cousin said he was “noble, beautiful…a counterpart of his father, save that he was handsome.” Mary herself called him the “idolized child, of the household.” It’s somewhat strange to think that such a large household as the White House, with all of it’s staff who work there, could be so changed by the death of a child, but Willie Lincoln was not an ordinary child. Had he been, he might not have come to the attention of everyone in the White House. Most of us know who the first children are but the White House staff knew Willie Lincoln and dearly loved him. As dates in history go, while this little boy was not an important man is the way we think of that today, he had a impact that went far beyond his short time on this earth, and his dying day was one that saddened a nation.
Those who have studied the Civil War, or know much about the United States at all, know that the Civil War was won by the Union, but that does not mean that there weren’t battles that they lost. There are very few wars that are lopsided in their battle field victories. One such battle was the Battle of Fredericksburg. On December 11, 1862, Ambrose Burnside, newly placed in command of the Army of the Potomac, planned to cross the Rappahannock River in Virginia with over 120,000 troops. When he finally crossed it, two days later, on December 13, 1862, he confronted 80,000 troops of Robert E Lee’s Confederate Army at Fredericksburg. With 200,000 combatants, this was the largest concentration of troops of any Civil War Battle. It was also one of the battles the Union Army would lose. In a crushing defeat, the Union Army suffered nearly 13,000 casualties, while the Confederate Army only lost 5,000.
People might think that Burnside was not much of a commander, but it should be mentioned that this was the first time he had commanded an army. He was a graduate of West Point, had risen quickly up the ranks, and had seen action in several battles prior to this fateful day. Abraham Lincoln had approached him about taking control of the Union’s Army. He hesitated, partly out of loyalty to the current commander and former classmate, and partly because he was unsure of his own ability. In the end the prior commander’s failure assured that he was on the way out, and rather than have Major General Joseph Hooker, a fierce rival, pass him up, Burnside accepted the commission on November 7, 1862.
Knowing that he had to have the element of surprise, Burnside came up with a plan to confront Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg. He planned to move his forces to the banks of the neighboring Rappahannock River, and then transport his men across by way of hastily assembled pontoon bridges, and surprise the enemy. Lincoln was impressed with the audacity of the plan and approved it, but expressed doubts about its potential for success. Burnside swung into action, reaching the banks of the Rappahannock by November 19, 1862. We will never know if the plan might have succeeded, if some Union generals, including Winfield Scott Hancock, who believed the river could be crossed without the boats, had sent the boats…but instead, they urged Burnside to act without them. Burnside, who believed the river was too swift and deep, refused. They waited a week for the boats…unfortunately, under the watchful eyes of the Confederate scouts.
The element of surprise was gone. When they finally began building the pontoon bridges, the Confederate Army opened fire. Burnside began a massive bombardment of Fredericksburg, in the first shelling of a city in the Civil War. They were able to hold back the Confederate Army long enough to finish the bridges, and then they rushed across the river. Two days later, Burnside ordered his left flank to attack Lee’s right, in the hopes that Lee would have to divert forces to the south of the city, leaving the center and Marye’s Heights vulnerable. For a few hours, it looked like this might actually work. General George Meade broke through “Stonewell” Jackson’s line, but the Union failed to send in enough reinforcements to prevent a successful Confederate counterattack. Lee was able to keep James Longstreet’s men in position at Marye’s Heights, where they decimated Union forces. Burnside lost eight men for every Confederate soldier lost there. Though Burnside briefly considered another assault, the battle was over. The Union had suffered nearly 13,000 casualties while the Confederates lost fewer than 5,000. They needed to regroup before attacking again.
Burnside was an unpopular commander, partly I’m sure, because he felt the need to rush into things without really planning them out. His feelings of inadequacy proved to be his downfall. As he was planning his next attack, some of his leaders went to President Lincoln to voice their concerns. In the end, Lincoln halted the attack. On January 20, 1983, Burnside was ready to go again, but again the pontoon bridges were delayed. The weather didn’t help things either. What had been a dry January turned rainy, and the roads were all but impassible. Troops that had covered 40 miles a day on their way to Fredericksburg now struggled to get further than a mile. For three days, Burnside’s troops continued their disastrous slog on what would become known as the “Mud March,” accompanied most of the way by jeering Confederate forces taunting them from dry land. Five days after his offensive began, it was over…and so was Burnside’s brief, six week stint as commander of the Army of the Potomac. Lincoln immediately removed him from command, replacing him with the very person he feared it would be…Joseph Hooker.
Fredericksburg was the low point in the war for the North, but the South was ecstatic. Burnside probably should have stuck to his side career…weaponry design. And that was what he went back to. He retired in 1853 and in 1856 received his first patent for a .54 caliber breech loading firearm. Impressed with the carbine’s performance, the U.S. Army awarded the Bristol Firearm Company in Rhode Island…where Burnside worked…with a $100,000 contract. The order was soon rescinded, however, under shady circumstances. It’s believed that a rival munitions company bribed the army ordinance department to switch suppliers. Burnside’s bad luck continued the next year when a failed bid for a Congressional seat, followed closely by a fire that destroyed the Bristol factory, forced the financially strapped Burnside to sell his patents. Others would reap the rewards when, at the start of the Civil War, demand for his creation soared. By 1865, more than 55,000 carbines had been ordered, and the Burnside had become one of the most popular Union weapons of the war, second only to the Sharp carbine and my ancestor, Christopher Spencer’s Spencer carbine.
Burnside would eventually have a claim to fame, but it would not be for war or weapons. Burnside liked to wear his facial hair in what was an unusual way for the times. He had a bushy beard and moustache along with a clean-shaven chin. These distinctive whiskers were originally dubbed “burnsides,” but later the term would be altered and would become “sideburns.”
These days, when a new president makes the move from their current home to the White House, it is a huge production. Very little of the packing is actually done by the first family. Things were much different in 1861, when President Abraham Lincoln was moving to Washington DC. When Abraham Lincoln moved to Washington DC, he packed his family’s belongings himself. His wife Mary was in Saint Louis on a shopping trip, so she would join him later in Indiana. It was on this day, February 11, 1861 that Abraham Lincoln boarded a two car private train…probably the only special thing about this transition. After an emotional speech to his fellow Springfield, Illinois citizens, Abraham Lincoln moved to Washington DC. The day was cold and rainy…much like the mood as Lincoln left his friends. He spoke to a crowd before departing: “Here I have lived a quarter of a century, and have passed from a young man to an old man. Here my children have been born, and one is buried. I now leave, not knowing when, or whether ever, I may return, with a task before me greater than that which rested upon Washington. Without the assistance of that Divine Being…I cannot succeed. With that assistance, I cannot fail. To His care commending you, as I hope in your prayers you will commend me, I bid you an affectionate farewell.” One of the people who attended the speech, said that the president-elect’s “breast heaved with emotion and he could scarcely command his feelings.”
It’s hard to say if Lincoln had an inkling that he was not just saying “goodbye for now” to the citizens of Springfield, Illinois, or not, but there is no doubt that he knew that his presidency was going to be difficult…to say the least. Since his election, seven southern states has seceded from the Union. The nation was in the middle of a national crisis. President Lincoln knew that the nation was quite likely heading for a civil war. In short order, he was proven to be correct, when our nation embarked on one of the most bitter wars it ever fought…waged against its own people, over slavery.
When Lincoln said that it was possible that he would never return to Springfield, he was ironically very correct. While he returned in body, he did not return in life…as we all know, because he was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865, and died at 7:22am the morning of April 15, 1865. Booth opposed Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves, and maybe felt like killing him would somehow change that. Of course, it did not. After his passing, Lincoln’s body made a two week train trip back to Springfield, Illinois for burial, taking a route that would allow the people to pay tribute along the way. Memorial services were held at different towns when the train passed through them. It was the only time he rode in the new private train car that had been built just for him.
The years in American history during which people held slaves, were in my opinion, sad, dark years. I don’t like the idea of anyone being a slave to another person. Nevertheless, it is a part of our history, that ended when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves effective January 1, 1863, which also brought about his own death be assassination.
As a girl in junior high school, I read a book about Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad. The book so impressed me, that I have never forgotten it. Harriet was a conductor, as they were known, on the Underground Railroad. The conductors lead slaves who had escaped, along designated trails, in extreme secrecy, mostly at night, from the south to the north, and often into Canada. Harriet’s code name was “Moses” and she was one of the most famous conductors in history, although there are several others too.
One of the other conductors was Samuel Burris. Burris was a free African-American, who was caught helping a slave try to escape from Delaware in 1847. Burris was caught, tried, and found guilty of “enticing slaves” to escape. As part of his sentence, he was sold into slavery for seven years. Instead, a Pennsylvania anti-slavery society raised the money to purchase him and set him free. Burris went right back to helping slaves escape.
From what I read, and from what history has told us, these conductors were very committed to this, and that makes sense when you think about the fact that they held the very lives of their cargo or passengers, which is what they called the escaped slave, and their own life in their hands. Harriet Tubman made 13 trips on the Underground Railroad bringing seventy people to freedom. She was able to say that she had “never lost a passenger” in all that time. I don’t know how many Samuel Burris helped to escape, but I’m sure it was quite a number too.
Samuel Burris family has been working for years to have him pardoned for the crimes he was convicted of, and finally, today, November 2, 2015, Samuel Burris was pardoned. His grand niece, Ocea Thomas of Atlanta was interviewed for television Tuesday, and she said that she received a phone call last weekend letting her know Delaware Governor, Jack Markell has decided to posthumously pardon Burris for his conviction that was 150 years ago. I think that is awesome, and I think all the conductors who were convicted of crimes concerning the freedom of slaves should also be pardoned. After all, the crimes they were convicted of aren’t even crimes anymore.