In Retrospect: Lincoln’s War

Abraham Lincoln at the front.

Abraham Lincoln at the front.

“I expect to maintain this contest until successful, or till I die, or am conquered. Or my term expires, or Congress or the country forsakes me.”
– Abraham Lincoln, 1862

A glance or two backward at Geoffrey Perret’s Lincoln’s War:

The Monitor and the Merrimac

“Lincoln believed in ironclad warships before the Navy did. In 1848, during his sole term in Congress, he met with Uriah Brown, a man who had devoted over thirty years to thinking about and designing ironclad ships. Here, Brown told him, is the key to the oceans, the warship that will rule the waves; but the Navy considered Brown a crank and a pest.

“Even so, Lincoln took Brown and his ideas seriously, and the time seemed propitious: the United States was currently at war with Mexico. What better chance for a new kind of warship? Lincoln petitioned the House for a grant that would enable Brown to build a large-scale working model. Before the petition could make any progress, peace shattered Brown’s hopes.

“By 1861, however, the navies of Britain and France had built ironclad warships; Italy and Spain were about to follow suit. The only question when the Civil War began was which would build its own ironclad first, the North or the South.

“When Congress convened on July 4, that question had been answered: the Confederates had begun to construct an ironclad using a former United states warship, the Merrimac, now renamed the Virginia . . . .”


“By August 18 the Army of the Potomac was on its way back to Alexandria, from which it had set sail ten weeks and ten battles earlier. Lincoln would hold on to McClellan while hoping for better; the general probably realized that his chance of joining the great captains had come and gone. Over time it became something of a cliche to describe McClellan’s military career as ‘meteoric.’ The term could not be more apt: meteors do not rise; they descend, spectacularly, burning to ashes as they fall.”

Lincoln’s Will to Fight

“Great military countries do not admit defeat: they have to be destroyed. It was always going to be that kind of war – a fight to the death. Lincoln knew it, accepted it and drove on, even while aching for – almost physically at times – field commanders who understood that fact as he had come to understand it during the Bull Run summer of 1861.

“Lincoln’s will to fight was the North’s great invisible weapon; a will that was more than adamantine – it ramified into every aspect of American life. Without the liminal nature of that will, the war would have ended, and so would the Union and its destiny. Any other politician capable of winning the presidency in 1860 or 1864 would have sought a compromise.”

A Great General

“Seeing the egotism that gold braid and stars brought out in a man, Lincoln developed a wry appreciation of ‘my generals.’ On one occasion, he remarked to a visitor that he had recently realized a particular general was something of a philosopher. ‘He has proved himself a really great man,’ said Lincoln. ‘He has grappled with and mastered that ancient and wise admonition, ‘Know thyself.’ He has formed an intimate acquaintanceship with himself, known as well for what he is fitted and unfitted as any man living. This war has not produced another like him.’

“The visitor asked what had brought about this sudden appreciation of the general’s merits. ‘Because,’ replied Lincoln, amusement gleaming in the light of his deep gray eyes, ‘greatly to my relief, and to the interests of the country, he has resigned!’”

The Scholar

“The argument [Lincoln] was looking for did not come from anyone within the government, or even among his friends, still less from the radicals such as Horace Greeley who had been demanding since Fort Sumter that he free and arm slaves, It cam from a Boston shoe and leather merchant. On July 10, 1862, George Livermore presented a paper at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Despite a life in business, Livermore’s deepest interests were scholarly and literary.

“His paper was called ‘An Historical Research Respecting the Opinions of the Founders of the Republic on Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens, and as Soldiers.’ Three months later, Livermore’s presentation – along with the documents it drew upon – was published as a book that went through five editions. A pamphlet presenting its conclusions sold more than one hundred thousand copies.

“Most of Livermore’s book was devoted to black soldiers in the Revolutionary War and included numerous observations such as this, from a Hessian officer: ‘No regiment is to be seen in which there are not Negroes in abundance; and many of them are able-bodied, strong and brave fellows.

“Livermore’s friend Charles Sumner presented Lincoln with a first edition of the book, which Lincoln read, deeply impressed. When he mislaid his copy, Lincoln asked Sumner to send over his own. Edward Bates, the Attorney General, was equally taken.

“Livermore made a convincing case that black men would fight effectively under white officers. Just as important, perhaps, was his reassurance that in arming black soldiers, Lincoln would be doing as George Washington had already done.

“In mid-November, Lincoln acted like a man who suddenly realizes he has wasted valuable time. He almost certainly expected that raising black regiments would follow emancipation, if it happened at all. Now, having read Livermore, he authorized the revival of Hunter’s experiment, the 1st South Carolina Infantry. Black soldiers would precede the Emancipation Proclamation, as if carrying it on their bayonets . . . .

“The morning of January 1, 1863, as the White House buzzed with preparations for the annual New Year’s reception, Lincoln wrote out the Emancipation Proclamation, but was forced to leave it unfinished while he went to greet some of his more important guests. More than two hours passed before he returned upstairs. The signing ceremony was scheduled for noon, in his office, but his right hand was too swollen and numb from shaking hands for him to write the last paragraph. He dictated it to John Nicolay.

“Lincoln feared his hand might tremble as he signed. ‘I have been shaking hands since nine o’clock this morning, till my arm is stiff and numb,’ he told Seward, but he was determined to produce a bold, firm signature. The willed result was a firmer, bolder signature than usual.

“Seward attached the Great Seal of the Union to the proclamation and countersigned. Two days later, the pen that Lincoln had signed with (and almost certainly the one used to write it) was on its way to Boston, in a white wrapper on which Lincoln had written ‘Emancipation Pen.’ It was going to George Livermore.”

Published in: on December 20, 2008 at 12:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Global Time Travel Map


The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the World Bank have released a new map of Global Time Travel to Major Cities as part of a broader effort to define and understand the process of global urbanization. Developed at the EC Joint Centre’s Institute for Environment and Sustainability and published in the World Bank’s just released World Development Report 2009, the map helps to summarize data which elucidate a variety of economic, physical and social challenges we face in the rapidly changing global human environment.

Science Daily, in Urbanization: 95% of the World’s Population Lives on 10% of the Land, summarizes some of the key findings illustrated by the map:

* we passed the point at which more than half the world’s populations live in cities around the turn of the Millennium (2000) – much earlier than the 2007/8 estimate

* more than half of the world’s population lives less than 1 hour from a major city, but the breakdown is 85% of the developed world and only 35% of the developing world

* 95% of the world’s population is concentrated on just 10% of the world’s land; but only 10% of the world’s land area is classified as “remote” or more than 48 hours from a large city

For the full text of the World Bank report, look here.

Published in: on December 19, 2008 at 2:04 pm  Comments (2)  

Natural Hazard Mortality Map Update

LiveScience offers an interesting perspective on yesterday’s Risk of Death: Natural Hazard Mortality Map post.

In the article “US Death Map: Where and How Nature Kills Most”, Senior Writer Jeanna Bryner observes that “Overall, during the study period, nearly 20,000 people died due to natural hazards. For comparison, here are the top five causes of U.S. deaths in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Heart disease: 652,091 deaths
Cancer: 559,312
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 143,579
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 130,933
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 117,809”

Published in: on December 18, 2008 at 6:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Snooze, Don’t Lose

A recent study of a county-wide Kansas school district published in the latest edition of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluded that a one-hour delay in the start time for classes led to significantly reduced traffic accidents involving middle and high school students, improved sleep time, and reduced daytime drowsiness.

As described in a press release from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “average crash rates for teen drivers in the study county in the two years after the change in school start time dropped 16.5 percent compared to the two years prior to the change, while teen crash rates for the rest of the state increased 7.8 percent over the same time period.”

For further information about the study, see this article in Science Daily. For an abstract of the study itself, “Adolescent Sleep, School Start Times, and Teen Motor Vehicle Crashes”, look here.

Published in: on December 18, 2008 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

2009 Calendar

One of several variants of the Aztec calendar

One of several variants of the Aztec calendar

Speaking of your photographs, this coming Tuesday December 23rd the Haysville Community Library will welcome all members of the community to the Annual Holiday Open House celebration (more about this in a later post) at which the Friends of the Library will be offering a 2009 Haysville Calendar, illustrated exclusively with photographs of Haysville taken by citizens of Haysville. It’s a wonderful opportunity to support your library and enjoy the pleasures of Haysville scenes throughout the coming year.

(Oh, and for more information on the Aztec calendar, see Rene Voorburg’s Aztec Calendar.)

Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Your Shot

Abandoned railroad tracks near the former site of the Berlin wall, in Berlin's Zehlendorf district.

Abandoned railroad tracks near the former site of the Berlin wall, in Berlin's Zehlendorf district.

Have a treasured photo that you think might capture the interest and attention of others? Consider submitting it to the National Geographic. Every month, beginning on the 15th day of the month, the magazine is accepting up to 5,000 submissions (one per person only) for posting on the National Geographic website in their Daily Dozen display – and for possible publication in an upcoming issue of National Geographic.

For all the details, and more, see National Geographic’s Your Shot. How to enter? See the photo submission rules here.

Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Risk of Death: Natural Hazard Mortality Map


Using nationwide data collected since 1970, two University of South Carolina researchers have created a map of natural hazard mortality in the United States for publication in the open access International Journal of Health Geographics.

The map represents the likelihood of dying as a result of such natural events as floods, earthquakes and weather extremes, at the county level, throughout the United States. Other useful graphic displays summarize the basic information in the study by region and by cause of death.

The single greatest natural hazard causing death is heat or drought (19.6% of deaths), closely followed by severe weather (18.8%) and winter weather (18.1%), then flooding (14%), tornadoes (11.6%) and lightning (11.3%). Hurricanes and tropical storms, despite widespread perceptions, contribute to less than 2% of deaths.

A preliminary version of the document, complete with interesting graphic displays of the basic information and a reduced map of the results, can be found here in provisional form, and should soon be available in its final publication version at the International Journal of Health Geographics. For a quick abstract summarizing its contents, look here. For a somewhat more expanded brief on the basics of the study, see Science Daily’s report United States Death Map Revealed.

For further interesting information and resources on disaster deaths, see Ilan Kelman’s website item Disaster Death.

Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 2:01 pm  Comments (1)  

Lincoln: President-Elect — A Postscript


On December 7th, we reviewed Harold Holzer’s excellent work Lincoln: President-Elect. Herewith a further pair of illuminating excerpts from this perceptive volume:

On the Politics of the Time (and our anachronistic perspective):

“The long-accepted notion that Lincoln detested the burdensome process of filling minor jobs and granting favors to lower-level Republican loyalists deserves serious reappraisal. Likely invented to bolster the notion that he rose above petty politics during the interregnum, and afterward in the White House, the durable legend suggests that Lincoln loathed the patronage process and wished he could have avoided it entirely.

“To say the least, this is an exaggeration. As surprised and oppressed as he was by the volume of requests and the persistence of undeserving applicants, Lincoln had no reason to want to avoid office-seekers or abrogate the right of making federal appointments. Quite the contrary this was precisely the privilege he had hoped (and Republicans had campaigned for him) to enjoy. Democrats had controlled the federal bureaucracy without interruption for eight years – ever since Pierce’s inauguration in 1853 – and, for that matter, for much of the century. The Republicans, a new political organization, had waged two national election contests before electing its first president, and now had every reason to expect their full share of loaves and fishes.

“A consummate politician who believed in the concept of out with the old and in with the new, Lincoln understood that he now had the opportunity – indeed, the obligation – to reward supporters and thus guarantee the loyalty of the federal bureaucracy during the difficult years sure to come. In the bargain he was also expected to purge Democrats – some of them not only political foes but perhaps treacherously sympathetic to secession – from the federal payroll. Lincoln demonstrated his political and public relations genius by fulfilling this role diligently, while making himself appear, to both neighbors and the press, overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion by the sordid exercise of power.”

On ‘Helpful’ Predecessors:

“No previous chief executive ever came to office with more ex-presidents alive, well, and seemingly unwilling to grant their successor the chance to lead without their advice. There were five hearty survivors on the scene in all: Van Buren, Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Pierce, and soon, Buchanan. Their admirable survival rate, Lincoln soon learned, was a prescription for trouble. None of these former White House occupants seemed ready to assume the mantle of silent elder statesman. Instead, revived by the disunion crisis, most attempted to exert new influence over policy. The most obvious culprit, incumbent chief executive Buchanan, continued to argue virtually until Inauguration Eve that the best way to save a country he had done so little to keep united was to shackle the incoming administration with legislative compromise, even if it included the extension of slavery.

“But older ex-presidents proved no less vexing. After supporting fellow Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas for the White House, the seventy-eight-year-old Van Buren, though bowed down by gout and constant colds, still summoned the nergy to vigorously support the Crittenden Compromise and to propose a constitutional convention to address the slavery issue. Lincoln could take some solace when he learned that ‘the Sage of Kinderhook’ had drafted a resolution for the New York state legislature asserting that secession ‘receives no countenance from the Federal Constitution and is founded neither on reason or justice . . . .

“Fillmore, who in 1856 had won 21 percent of the popular vote in a vain, third-party attempt at a comeback four years after leaving the White House, inexplicably began emphasizing the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, a highly unpopular position in his native Buffalo (a mere boat ride away from the safe shores of Canada), not to mention an issue that Lincoln preferred to keep in the recesses of the national debate over compromise. Still open to conciliation, Fillmore nonetheless refused to attend the Peace Convention, and predicted it would fail.

“Democrat Pierce made no secret of his own disdain for Lincoln’s Republicans, and in 1860 had briefly entertained hopes that the splintered Democrats would turn to him as a compromise candidate for the presidency. More recent, he had sent a message to the Alabama secession convention urging patience, but concluding: ‘If we cannot live together in peace, then in peace and on just terms, let us separate.’ Lincoln could not be pleased that a New England-born former president, even a Democrat, was so openly willing to countenance secession.

“But no former president did more to undermine the transition than John Tyler. As an accidental president two decades earlier, the pro-slavery Virginian could count few accomplishments save for validating the law of succession on the death of a chief executive. Now seventy, with two wives and fourteen children his most notable achievements, he reemerged onto the national stage in late 1860, praising Buchanan’s dodgy leadership as a ‘wise and statesmanlike course’ and supporting compromise even after Lower South states began declaring their independence from the Union.

“Tyler’s efforts to shift the national conversation were just beginning . . . .”

Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 5:53 pm  Comments (3)  

Building Home Equity

Updating a study they first performed in the spring, the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the National Low Income Housing Coalition released a follow-up 17-page report in late October on The Changing Prospects for Building Home Equity. Subtitled An Updated Analysis of Rents and the Price of Housing in 100 Metropolitan Areas, the report examines the deflation of the “housing bubble”, and attempts to project “the potential for new home buyers purchasing today to acquire equity in the near future.” In truth, the report should be of interest to renters, homeowners and policymakers as well as prospective homebuyers.

In 64 of the 100 metropolitan areas they examined, a home buyer’s prospects for building equity declined, but the authors conclude that “while many communities have yet to hit bottom and significant price declines must still be reckoned with in many areas, recent price declines mean that many communities are moving back toward the historical track of modest equity increases for home buyers.”

Even more significant for residents of the Wichita metropolitan area is the report’s continued assessment of the region as a “non-bubble” market, and their projection that the area is already in position to experience those modest equity increases over the next four years.

Published in: on December 14, 2008 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Student Guide to Community Service

This past week’s featured publication of the week from the Federal Citizen Information Center focused on ideas and information to aid young people in helping to make their community a better place to live: Catch the Spirit: A Student’s Guide to Community Service is a seven page brochure that offers answers to the questions “Why Volunteer?”, “What’s Right for Me?”, and “What Can a Volunteer Do?”, along with “Do’s and Don’ts of Successful Volunteering”, “Local Resources for Volunteer Ideas”, and a listing of “National Organizations with Information for Young Volunteers.”

Community volunteering is an excellent way to make a difference, to develop new skills, to explore a career, to prepare for college, and to have fun working with friends while doing something positive that helps your community while making you feel good about yourself.

If you need more information about community volunteer work – or if you’d like to volunteer – stop by the Haysville Community Library and “Catch the Spirit.”

Published in: on December 13, 2008 at 12:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Today at the Library

Snowfall — but warm and cozy inside.





Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 10:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Library Construction Update





Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 1:34 am  Leave a Comment