Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lincoln at Niagara Falls

In the autumn of 1848, Abraham Lincoln campaigned for Whig presidential candidate Zachary Taylor in Massachusetts.  On the way home to Illinois, he visited Niagara Falls, and found the sight so impressive that he started writing about it. His unfinished meditation on the falls probably dates from the end of September:

It calls up the indefinite past. When Columbus first sought this continent—when Christ suffered on the cross—when Moses led Israel through the Red-Sea—nay, even, when Adam first came from the hand of his Maker—then as now, Niagara was roaring here. The eyes of that species of extinct giants, whose bones fill the mounds of America, have gazed on Niagara, as ours do now. Co[n]temporary with the whole race of men, and older than the first man, Niagara is strong, and fresh to-day as ten thousand years ago. The Mammoth and Mastadon—now so long dead, that fragments of their monstrous bones, alone testify, that they ever lived, have gazed on Niagara.

Drawing of Niagara Falls by George Wallis, 1853. Library of Congress

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Second photo of Lincoln at Gettysburg?

For some time, historians have identified Abraham Lincoln’s face in a photograph of the 1863 Gettysburg cemetery dedication where he gave his famous address.  Now there is a dispute over the possibility that Lincoln might be visible in another photo taken at the ceremony, with two researchers each identifying different faces as Lincoln’s.  The new issue of Smithsonian magazine has detailed coverage of the controversy; you can read the article and examine an interactive version of the photograph by clicking here.

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“Of the killed, one Major Genl. and five Brigadiers, including your brother-in-law, Helm”

There were thousands of casualties at Chickamauga in late September 1863, but one death was particularly notable: Brig. Gen. Benjamin Hardin Helm. Although he was a Confederate officer, he was also the brother-in-law of the Union’s first family, having wed Mary Todd’s half-sister Emilie in 1856. (To add to the irony, it was fellow Kentuckian—a sharpshooter in the 15th KY Infantry—who took Helm’s life.)

Benjamin Hardin Helm (Wikimedia Commons)

David Davis remembered that he “never saw Mr. Lincoln so moved” as when he heard of Helm’s death, claiming that he “found him in the greatest grief.” On Sept, 24th, Lincoln sent this message to his wife, who was visiting New York:

We now have a tolerably accurate summing up of the late battle between Rosecrans and Bragg. The result is that we are worsted, if at all, only in the fact that we, after the main fighting was over, yielded the ground, thus leaving considerable of our artillery and wounded to fall into the enemies’ hands, for which we got nothing in turn. We lost, in general officers, one killed, and three or four wounded, all Brigadiers; while according to rebel accounts, which we have, they lost six killed, and eight wounded. Of the killed, one Major Genl. and five Brigadiers, including your brother-in-law, Helm; This list may be reduced two in number, by correction of confusion in names.

The widowed Emilie Helm came through enemy lines to visit the White House after her husband’s death, but remained a defiant Confederate.

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Obama should take the lead like Lincoln, says Pinsker

In USA Today, historian Matthew Pinsker argues that by deferring to Congress on Syria, Obama has neglected the precedent set by Lincoln.  “Lincoln demonstrated that war powers work best when the president, and not Congress, takes the lead,” he writes.  “While Congress holds the authority to declare war, it is the president as commander in chief who must make war.”

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Papers of Abraham Lincoln project getting help with digital storage

The Papers of Abraham Lincoln project has received a grant from Amazon Web Services for $24,000 worth of digital storage.  It should come in handy; the project’s collection of master files is so large that it takes up the same amount of digital space as a music file playing continually for 68 years.

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Lincoln and American foreign policy

Kevin Peraino examines Lincoln and America’s international role in an article for Foreign Policy.  The essay is adapted from his forthcoming book, Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power.

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