Answering the Prayer: Greeley, Lincoln, and the fight for Emancipation

In December 1961, the Smithsonian Institution opened its grand lecture hall to be used for the first series of popular lectures ever in the nation’s capital.  One of the first national celebrities to be acquired for the series was New York Tribune editor and founder, Horace Greeley.  On January 3, 1962, Greeley made his speech on the broad topic of “The Nation” in front of a full house, including President Abraham Lincoln.  During the address, Greeley turned to Lincoln and proclaimed that the destruction of slavery ought be the “one sole purpose of the war.”  Congressman George Julian recalled that the President “greatly admired” the lecture: “I sat by his side, and at the conclusion of the discourse he said to me: ‘That address is full of good thoughts, and I would like to take the manuscript home with me and carefully read it over some Sunday.’”[1] Such strong opinion, criticism, and mutual respect forged the foundation of the relationship between two of the most influential figures of the nineteenth century.  As evidenced by the Smithsonian exchange, one of—if not the central—issues around which Lincoln and Greeley’s relationship revolved was emancipation. An understanding of these men’s personal feelings toward slavery reveals that while essentially of the same mind before the war, Southern secession pushed Lincoln and Greeley into separate ideological camps.  These differing opinions, accentuated by highly contrasting personalities, were showcased in the editorials of the Tribune and relayed across the nation as the Civil War raged.  The debate between the editor and President intensified in the months following the Washington lecture, and soon reached a boiling point in the summer of 1862.  In August, Greeley’s continued public criticism of the President and Lincoln’s shrewd legal and political skill had finally came to a head, and the Proclamation that followed would be described by Lincoln as “the central act of my administration, and the great event of the nineteenth century.”

Before reaching the events of the summer of 1862, it is useful to retreat into the foundations of both men’s feelings and attitudes toward slavery.  Horace Greeley, in his Recollections of a Busy Life, asserts that three events were central in the formation of his opinions on the matter.  Although only nine years old at the time, Greeley recalls being “an omnivorous reader throughout the progress of the great Missouri struggle, and intensely sympathized with the North in her effort to prevent the admission of Missouri as a Slave State.” Greeley, looking back, saw the defeat as a clear indicator that the North’s effort to halt slavery’s growth was conceived too late, and ought have insisted on the exclusion of slavery from the Louisiana purchase.  After the storm of the Missouri struggle came a calm from 1821 to 1835 during which Greeley remembers Northern people “generally ignored the subject of slavery.”  In this interlude Greeley held his position that slavery was most certainly wrong, but did not join any abolitionist group because he was “utterly unable to see how their efforts tended to the achievement of their end.”  Greeley asks, “Suppose the people of Vermont all converted to Abolition, how was that to bring about the overthrow of Slavery in Georgia?” With this attitude, Greeley for years “regarded with complacency the Colonization movement.”

Horace Greeley cited the murder of Elijah Lovejoy (above) as one of the formative moments of his attitude toward slavery

The martyrdom of Elijah P. Lovejoy would rid Greeley of this complacency.  Lovejoy was a young Congregational minister who set out from Maine to St. Louis in 1832 to found an Orthodox Protestant newspaper.  In said paper, slavery, like intemperance or all other social evils, was treated as a hindrance to “the spread and sway of vital godliness.” In due time, stern opposition to his editorials against slavery turned violent, and his establishment was destroyed by an angry mob.  Nevertheless, Lovejoy was “urged, if not compelled,” to relocate his enterprise to Alton, Illinois, where he trusted a religious newspaper would be tolerated.  “Vain hope!” Greeley laments in his recollections, as Lovejoy was ordered to “move on,” and when he refused to do so his printing press was thrown in the river.  Insisting that he was no abolitionist but had a right as an American citizen to express his views on slavery, Lovejoy declared, “If I die, I have determined to make my grave in Alton.”  Such would be the minister’s fate.  Standing in defense of his new press in the warehouse in which it was stored, Lovejoy was shot dead by a pro-slavery mob.  “If I had ever been one of those who sneeringly asked, ‘What have we of the North to do with slavery?’” Greeley held, “The murder of Lovejoy would have supplied me with a conclusive answer.”

What the Missouri Compromise formed and the murder of Elijah Lovejoy honed, the annexation of Texas cemented.  In Greeley’s view, “the whole business was one of gigantic spoliation, —of naked villainy—, and its beings and aim were the aggrandizement of Slave Power.” Greeley was starkly opposed to territorial expansion into Texas from the very beginning, and by the time talk of annexation reached Congress in 1845, the Tribune made sure every reader knew what such actions implied.  “The Annexation of Texas is to be driven through the House…The mask is fairly off, and the strengthening of and securing of Slavery is boldly avowed to be the main object of Annexation.”[2]

Lincoln left no such first-hand account of his attitudes toward slavery in his early years.  As President, however, Lincoln said privately, “I am naturally anti-slavery.  If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong.  I cannot remember when I did not so think and feel.”[3] While Lincoln harbored this moral objection to slavery, the lawyer in him prevented Lincoln from translating these feelings to action against the institution of slavery.  From resolutions he helped craft in the Illinois legislature in the 1830s it is clear that Lincoln found slavery to be “founded both on injustice and bad policy,” but like Greeley he was skeptical of abolitionist tactics as he saw “abolition doctrines” to be calculated to increase rather than decrease the evils of slavery.  Lincoln was also firmly committed to the notion that Congress had no power under the Constitution to interfere with the practice in the states, and while the Constitution permitted such interference in the District of Columbia, “the power ought not be exercised, unless at the request of the people of the District.”[4] Lincoln, like Greeley, did cultivate hope for colonization as a solution to the scourge of slavery in the country.  Lincoln felt that if current or future generations succeed in freeing the land of slavery, “and at the same time in restoring the captive people to their long-lost fatherland with bright prospects for the future, and this too so gradually that neither races nor peoples shall have suffered by the change, it will indeed be a glorious consummation.”[5]

No event to date stirred both men like the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  While never accused of being shy or reserved with his paper, the debate surrounding the act and its eventual passage roused Greeley’s soul like few other events had.  The following are just some of the broadsides Greeley published against Senator Douglas and his push for the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the five months leading up to its approval in May 1854: “The Rascals in Washington,” “Traitors and Doughfaces,” “The Shame and Disgrace of America,” “Not One Reason,” “Miserable Political Funguses.”[6] Greeley called the act the “Inequity,” and argued with both with subdued reasoning and simple passion that the act ought not pass.  When it became clear that the measure would be pushed through the House, he published the same column for eleven straight says with the title “The Roll of Infamy” which listed the names of all free-state representatives who had voted in favor of the bill.[7] In his editorial, Greeley praised the men who had fought the bill in both houses, asserting that those brave few had humanity and the justice of God on their side.  Greeley confessed in his very next editorial that he was “unable to find language of condemnation too strong” to express the level of his indignation for the men who pushed the bill through.  Once the word came that Douglas’ bill had passed both houses, Greeley ran the headline: “THE REVOLUTION IS ACCOMPLISHED and Slavery is King! How long shall this monarch reign?” With the battle over the act now over, Greeley prophetically argued, “We have unswerving trust that the forces are silently maturing which shall rid our land ere many years of the scandal and crime of enslaving and auctioneering the countrymen of Washington and Jefferson[8]… we will trust that even the outrage just consummated…be made signally instrumental in hastening that glorious day when the sun shall look down on no American slave.”

Senator Stephan A. Douglas pushed the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act through Congress

Lincoln himself credited the Kansas-Nebraska act with renewing his interest in politics.  In a brief autobiography, Lincoln wrote, “In 1854 his profession had almost superseded the thought of politics in his mind, when the repeal of the Missouri Compromise aroused him as he had never been before.” His legal mind was sparked by the apparent injustice, and he wrote to a friend saying, “You know how anxious I am that this Nebraska measure shall be rebuked and condemned everywhere.” Lincoln’s law partner and eventual biographer, William Herndon, also saw this as a watershed moment in Lincoln’s life:

At this time [after his return from Congress] he despaired of ever rising again in the political world; he was very sad and terribly gloomy, was unsocial and abstracted. The Kansas-Nebraska bill was introduced into Congress in 1854 by Senator Douglas.  Lincoln saw his opportunity and Douglas’ downfall; he instantly on the introduction of that bill entered into the political field, and by the force of his character, mind, eloquence, he became our abolition leader … This repeal was his grand opportunity, and he seized it and rode to glory on the popular waves.[9]

Lincoln and Greeley, above all others “on the platform and in the press,” exposed the fallacies Douglas for which they felt Douglas was responsible, and molded public opinion over the slavery issue as tensions rose.

The next critical event for the battle over the slavery issue was John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Those in the South were quick to tie the assault to the new Republican Party and abolitionists, but both Greeley and Lincoln were quick to condemn the radical actions.  Lincoln, while admitting he shared Brown’s feelings that slavery was wrong, could not excuse Brown for treason.  “It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right,” Lincoln stated the day after the execution. “So, if constitutionally we elect a president, and therefore you undertake to destroy the Union, it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with.”[10] Herein lies the central difference between Lincoln and Greeley on the eve of the Civil War.  While he detested slavery, Lincoln’s primary concern was the Union.  He saw the United States as perpetual and could conceive of no way in which it could be broken by violence or law.  Greeley was less concerned about the Union, and simply sought to rid his country of the stain of slavery.

Emancipation was not a goal of President Lincoln as the Civil War began.  Greeley, while originally argued that the slave states out “be permitted to go in peace,” joined Lincoln’s position when it became clear that war would settle the conflict.  “This War,” Greeley proclaimed in the spring of 1861, “is in truth a War for the preservation of the Union, and not for the destruction of slavery.” However, with an eye toward the future, warned “But if Slavery should insist on making up an issue between itself and the Union, then we are sure it would do so at its peril.”[11] How the Lincoln Administration, Congress, and Greeley exactly meant to wage a war on the Confederacy without dealing with slavery is somewhat a mystery.  Apparently, Greeley and Congress became more concerned with the issue, and certainly more vocal.  With Union victories few and far between, Congress passed “An Act to Confiscate Property Used for Insurrectionary Purposes,” also known as the First Confiscation Act.  The provision allowed the Federal government to take any “property” used in the aid of the secession, including slaves.  The bill was highly ambiguous about the legal status of confiscated property, and once Lincoln reluctantly signed the Act, he did little to clarify or attempt to enforce the law.  The slow moving actions of the administration did not satisfy Greeley, and the Tribune soon asserted that slavery should die as “an insurgent and an outlaw” plotting to overthrow the nation.[12] Over the next few months, the Tribune continued to support the government in its handling of the crisis, all the while hinting at the eventual reckoning with slavery that needed to take place. Lincoln’s rather bland annual message to Congress in early December of 1861 was the tipping point for the Tribune, as Greeley broke stride with the President to declare the destruction of slavery as official policy:

That the integrity of the Union should be the paramount object of loyal Americans in this contest, is on all hands conceded.  The practical question is—can this end be promoted by further deferment to and bolstering up of Slavery? … We say, No—it is dangerous, fatal to do so: it is giving factious and unjust strength to the public enemy; it is cherishing the viper which has its fangs now fastened in the National breast. Notify slaveholders frankly that they may have thirty to sixty days more in which to lay down their arms and return to loyalty; but if they shall continue to defy the National authority…the slaves shall, as a matter of inexorable public policy—nay, as a means of saving the National life at a cost less than ruinous—be proclaimed free … Such is the policy which we believe most effective and most merciful, and we trust it will yet receive the President’s hearty concurrence.[13]

Greeley argued that emancipation was not only morally righteous, but also a strategic war measure.  It is with this understanding that Greeley would, one month later, turn to Lincoln in the Smithsonian Lecture hall to argue the same point.

While it is unclear exactly how much Lincoln was spurred to act by Greeley’s public campaign, on March 6, 1862, Lincoln gave Congress a special message recommending the adoption of the following Joint Resolution:

Resolved, That the United States ought to cooperate with any State which may adopt gradual abolishment of slavery, giving to such State pecuniary aid, to be used by such State, in its discretion, to compensate for the inconveniences, public and private, produced by such a change of system.

In an accompanying letter, Lincoln referred to his annual address in which he claimed that “all indispensible means” must be used to preserve the Union.  The letter also intimated at his future plans, saying, “Such [means] as may seem indispensable, as may obviously promise great efficiency, toward ending the struggle, must and will come.”[14] Greeley was delighted with this development, and endorsed the President’s recommendation with vigor.  He proclaimed it as “an epoch in the history of the country,” and predicted that the sixth of March would forever be a day celebrated “as a day which initiated the Nation’s deliverance from the most stupendous wrong, curse, and shame of the Nineteenth Century.”[15]

Not everyone shared Greeley’s excitement, as Representatives from the nation’s border states were made highly uncomfortable by the Joint Resolution.  These representatives professed to have gained the notion that the resolution offered only two solutions: compulsory emancipation or a rejection of the resolution altogether.  Lincoln invited delegations from Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Virginia to meet him at the White House to clear up any misunderstandings and to discuss the implications of his recommendation.  During the course of the meeting, it became clear that the border states got such an impression from the columns of the Tribune, which had understood the measure to mean gradual emancipation and that Lincoln had decided that the complete abolition of slavery was completely necessary to secure victory and lasting peace.  Lincoln reassured the delegates that the resolution meant no such ends, and that “emancipation was a subject exclusively under the control of the states.”[16] Once the delegates were reassured that no compulsory emancipation was mandated, they asked Lincoln to publish that fact.  The President refused so as not to start a quarrel with the “Greeley faction” and the Tribune—a struggle he hoped not to enter “before the proper time” and hoped to avoid altogether.[17] The emancipation with compensation issue would, in the end, quietly fizzle out as it was met with little support in the states concerned.  While the promises of the Joint Resolution were never realized, for Greeley and the Tribune, it was a step in the right direction.

Congress made the next leap, when in July they passed the Second Confiscation Act.  The bill granted freedom to all slaves resisting the rebellion in areas that succumb to Union forces, and authorized the President to utilize as many blacks as deemed necessary to promote the public welfare.[18] Lincoln saw the act as having doubtful constitutional support, so hesitated to use its most drastic provisions.  While Greeley was surely thrilled with Congress, he launched a campaign designed to get Lincoln to use the new law to the fullest extent that the legislature had intended.  On July 25, The Tribune demanded that the President issue a brief statement “recognizing the Confiscation-Emancipation Act as the law of the land, and the basis of a new war policy resolved on by the Nation,”[19] and called on every military officer to live up to the letter of the law.  “Mr. Lincoln!” Greeley’s paper cried, “favor the citizens so soon to be transformed by your call into soldiers with an edifying example of perfect obedience to the law.” Meanwhile, Lincoln had settled upon a preliminary emancipation proclamation and presented it to his cabinet on July 22.  While it met a generally favorable response, Secretary Seward persuaded the President to wait for a military victory to release the announcement, and seeing the benefits to such a strategy Lincoln set the document in his desk drawer until the appropriate moment.

President Lincoln said that the support of Horace Greeley (above) was worth a undred thousand men in the field

The proceedings in the White House were kept within the official circles, and were definitely kept secret from the Tribune editor, who impatiently waited for a response to his request for an executive statement.  By mid-August, Greeley’s patience for the slow-moving and unresponsive administration had run out.  Feeling that most were generally on his side, Greeley sought to thrust the weight of public opinion onto the President in the form of an open letter expressing the hopes and desires of the masses in the Union.  Back in Washington, Lincoln and his aides discussed the prudence of providing Greeley some hint of the proclamation sitting in the President’s desk as a means to ward off editorial attack.  Such actions were deemed appropriate, and Lincoln’s aid set off to New York.  However, the effort was too late, for the morning the insider reached the city, he was greeted with Greeley’s open letter to the President titled “The Prayer of Twenty Millions” on the front page of the most popular newspaper in the country.  The main appeal of the letter was not an emancipation proclamation, but argued that Lincoln ought have held onto the threat of emancipation in his inaugural address.  The bulk of the “prayer” was focused on urging the President to execute the laws as they stood, namely the Second Confiscation Act, and instructed Lincoln to make it clear to all subordinates that such statues were “to be obeyed to the letter.”[20]

Lincoln’s calculated response was nothing short of brilliant.  “My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery,” the President replied in the National Intelligencer. “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”[21] Lincoln’s reply was widely read, and the simple, direct manner in which the President addressed the subject surely had a great influence on public opinion.  Greeley soon responded with another article arguing that Lincoln had sidestepped the issues at hand, and disputed Lincoln’s attempt to restore the “Union as it was,” and forcefully argued that a only new understanding of the Union could survive.  No more could the nation be a haven for institutions that wavered from its very ideals like slavery, but instead needed to exist as a mighty power for freedom.[22] This sentiment anticipated what Lincoln would eventually endorse and argue for in the Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural, public opinion rested with the President by the end of August 1862.  Lincoln had temporarily silenced Greeley in the public eye, and his administration was permitted to move on its way.

The Emancipation Proclamation delighted Greeley, who proclaimed in the Tribune, "God Bless Abraham Lincoln!"

Within a month, however, Greeley’s “prayer” was answered when Lincoln announced his intentions to issue an emancipation proclamation.  The proclamation went into effect on New Year’s Day, and declared, “That on the 1st day of January, A.D. 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…” Greeley published the full text of the Emancipation Proclamation in the Tribune, and concluded his analysis of the document with the words “GOD BLESS ABRAHAM LINCOLN!”

In the end, both men saw their goals accomplished, as slavery was abolished from the land by due process of law.  Before the great conflict, neither man could do much of anything to incur emancipation, Greeley remarking, “as it then stood, we had the same right to deprecate and oppose it that we had to oppose drunkenness in Canada or polygamy in Turkey.”[23] The Civil War raised the stakes for the two men, and each met the challenge through a stubbornness and complete faith in their own reasoning.  Lincoln commented that Greeley’s support was worth a hundred thousand men in the field, and Greeley later reflected that the “one providential leader, the indispensable hero of the great drama, was Abraham Lincoln.”[24] Lincoln’s calm wisdom, together with Greeley’s hotheaded disposition, undoubtedly made an immense contribution to the destruction of slavery in the United States.

[1] The Lincoln Institute. “Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley.”

[2] Harlan Hoyt Horner, Lincoln and Greeley, 1953. pg 70.

[3] Horace Greeley, Recollections of a Busy Life. 1868. pg 281.

[4] Horner, 62-62.

[5] Ibid, 66.

[6] Ibid, 83-84.

[7] Ibid, 84.

[8] Greeley was certainly not unaware of the fact that Washington and Jefferson were slaver owners, so in his Recollections, he insists “all great Southrons of our purer days” were “theoretical emancipationalists.”

[9] Horner, 81-82.

[10] Ibid, 99.

[11] Ibid, 240.

[12] Ralph Ray Fahrney, Horace Greeley and the Tribune in the Civil War, 1936. Pg 114.

[13] Greeley in the Tribune, December 4, 1861. (As seen in Horner, 250)

[14] Horner 250.

[15] Tribune, March 8, 1862. (As seen in Fahrney, 122)

[16] Horner, 251.

[17] Fahrney, 122-123; Horner 251.

[18] Fahrney 125.

[19] Tribune, July 25, 1862 (As seen in Fahrney)

[20] Fahrney, 128. Full Text of the Letter can be found in Horner, 263-267.

[21] James McPherson, Battle Cry Freedom, 1988, pg 510. Horner, 272-273 (Full Text).

[22] Erik S Lunde, Horace Greeley. Pg. 40

[23] Greeley, 293.

[24] Horner, 288.

Works Cited:

Andrews, J. Cutler. The North Reports the Civil War. Pittsburg: University of Pittsburg Press, 1955.

Greeley, Horace. Recollections of a Busy Life. Miami: Mnemosyne Publishing Co, 1969.

Harlan Hoyt Horner. Lincoln and Greeley. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. 1953

Lunde, Erik S. Horace Greeley. Boston : Twayne, 1981.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry Freedom.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Ralph Ray Fahrney. Horace Greeley and the Tribune in the Civil War. Cedar Rapids, IA: Torch Press. 1936.

Williams, Robert C. “Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley.” The Lincoln Institute.

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Argument Summary

The Civil War was a total war, as no citizen of the United States was not touched in some way by the conflict.  As such, on a macro level my commonplace book looks at ways in which civilians interacted with the war.  One of the highly involved ways civilians did so was by actually joining the war effort, sometimes as scouts or spies for their country.  For the majority of the population, however, they experienced the war only in the pages of newspapers and magazines.  Such dependence on the papers gave editors substantial power, and these editors were in no way afraid to use it.  My posts argue that not only did newspaper editors report the war, but also made war.  The stories and opinions published by the various newspapers across the nation had extreme influence over the public and to an extent the government.  Horace Greeley and Henry J. Raymond, editors of the New York Tribune and Times, respectively, had regular correspondence with the President, and did not shy away from lending policy advice.  Publicly, both editors did the same, as Greeley in particular argued for a hard stance against the new Confederacy and called for war.  Near the end of the conflict, Confederate officials seemed to have thought Greeley succeeded, as the Commissioner of Exchange said, “The Tribune did more than any other agency to bring on the war.”

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Three Strokes with a Handkerchief

Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune was outspoken in support for the Union to declare war upon the succeeding Confederacy.  Three years later, Confederate authorities looked to display their displeasure with the newspaper by taking two of its writers hostage during the Vicksburg campaign.  A.D. Richardson and Junius Browne endured the starvation and struggle of being moved between seven Confederate prisons after efforts by Greeley, Secretary of War Stanton, and even Lincoln himself failed to get the Southern authorities to release the reporters.  Robert Ould, the Confederate Commissioner of Exchange, told the U.S. Commissioner that:

The Tribune did more than any other agency to bring on the war.  It is useless for you to ask the exchange of its correspondents.  They are just the men we want, and just the men we are going to hold.

In January of 1865, exciting news came from Tennessee’s capital city.  After a daring escape, the two journalists had come over 340 miles to safety in the Union lines at Knoxville with help along the way from “Negros, sometimes from Union sympathizers,” and a young Tennessee girl whom they alluded to in their newspaper accounts as the “Nameless Heroine.”

Four months after the reporters of the Tribune brought one of the most exciting and uplifting stories of the war to the public, they delivered even more exciting news from Appomattox Courthouse.

On the morning of April 9, Robert E. Lee agreed to meet U.S. Grant to discuss the terms of surrender in the small Virginia town.  When the two generals finally sat down inside the small brick house of Wilmer McLean, no reporters were allowed inside.  However, Tribune reporter Henry E. King had previously made an arrangement with one of Grant’s aids that as soon as the surrender had been agreed upon the staff officer would come out on the porch, remove his hat, and wipe his face with his handkerchief three times.

Wing patiently waited outside the house until the officer emerged alone shortly before 4 p.m.  The officer removed his hat, and stroked his face three times with a handkerchief.  Wing was immediately in his saddle pushing his horse at full speed to the nearest telegram station to beat the reporter from the Herald.  Wing arrived first, and sent a telegram to the Tribunes office in New York.  By eleven p.m. that night, before Horace Greeley could finish reading the dispatch, cheers started erupting on the streets outside the Tribune’s office as the news spread that “Lee has surrendered.” The Civil War was over.

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Scouts and Spies: Espionage in the Civil War

One of the least well-kept secrets during the Civil War were the intelligence and espionage efforts of both sides.  At the outbreak of the war, neither side had a full-scale or functioning military intelligence network.  However, as 1860 turned to 1861, the South had an embryonic spy-ring running in Washington created by former Army officer turned Confederate colonel, Thomas Jordan.  When military action looked inevitable, Jordan turned control of the ring over to Rose O’Neal Greenhow, ho would become one of the most renowned spies of the Civil War.

Photograph of Rose O'Neal Greenhow and her daughter taken by Matthew Brady

Greenhow, also known as “Wild Rose,” was a widow and passionate secessionist at at the outbreak of war.   Her station as a leader of Washington society enabled her to secure scores of valuable intelligence for the Confederacy.  Much of the information is reported to have come from Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, an eager suitor who was also the chair of the Senate Military Affairs Committee.   Using her ring of secret courriers, Greenhow was able to send a message to General P.T. Beauregard alerting him that the Union Army was marching southward toward Manassas Junction.  The intelligence enormously aided the Confederacy in the battle, and President Jefferson Davis credited Greenhow with winning the battle of Bull Run.

Pinkerton, left, is pictured here with President Lincoln

The Union took steps to create a formal espionage unit after fighting broke out.  The first secret service bureau was created in 1861 under the direction of Allan Pinkerton.  During the first months of the war, Pinkerton, working alone for General McClellan, penetrated the South as far as Jackson, Mississippi, before returning North with important intelligence about Confederate military movements and preparations.  Pinkerton followed McClellan to Washington when he was made commander of the Army of the Potomac.  Upon arrival, Pinkerton almost single-handedly broke up the Greenhow spy-ring and took her into custody.

The scout known as "Harrison." Originally, the identity of Harrison was thought to be the actor James Harrison. This identification was used in "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. After the books publication, new scholarship disproved that identification, and the identity of Harrison is now known to be Henry Thomas Harrison, a commissioned spy for General Longstreet.

The Civil War’s deadliest battle was also shaped by intelligence provided by a spy.  In the late hours of July 28, 1863, a Confederate spy simply known as “Harrison” arrived to the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, headquarters of Generals Longstreet and Lee.  The scout brought news of General Meade’s promotion to Commander of the Army of the Potomac, and that he was moving his army toward Confederate forces.  General Lee immediately rounded up his highly scattered forces and moved to take control of the small town of Gettysburg.  Without the intelligence provided by Harrison, the Civil War’s bloodiest affair might have been a surprise attack on scattered forces that ended the war in favor of the Union, or perhaps would not have been fought at Gettysburg at all.

Links helpful for this post: (This site is a link to the Duke University collection of Rose Greenhow’s personal letters and other materials)

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Battle Over, War begins…

It was to be a glorious day.  Civilians from the Washington area made the short trek to Manassas to see their Union troops trounce the Confederate soldiers, finally putting the secession to rest.

Sketching appearing in Harper's Weekly: "Hunter's Charge at the Battle of Bull Run"

When the dust settled, the outcome was not in doubt.  The Confederate army had thoroughly whipped the northern ranks, sending Union soldiers sprinting back across the Potomac.  McPherson details how the paniced soldiers became entangled with the civilian spectators, and how several Congressman who made the trip down implored the soldiers to stop treating, all to no avail.

For the South, and specifically southern editors, Manassas was “one of the decisive battles of history, and has secured our independence.”  The Richmond Whig went even further: “The breakdown of the Yankee race, their unfitness for empire, forces dominion on the South.  We must adapt ourselves to our new destiny.”

While the South rejoiced, the North felt shame and despair.  Some termed the day “Black Monday.”  Even Horace Greeley, who had done so much with his New York Tribune to spur the government to military action, sent a dejected and conciliatory letter to President Lincoln.  He said, “If it is best for the country and for mankind that we make peace with the rebels, and on their own terms, do not shrink even from that.”

Sketch appearing in Harper's Weekly: "The Rebels bayonetting our wounded on the battle-field, at Bull Run"

While such a clear defeat initially stung, the lasting impact for the North was renewed determination.  Just one day after the battle, the London Times correspondent wrote, “This prick in the great Northern balloon will let out a quantity of poisonous gas, and rouse the people to a sense of the nature of the conflict on which they have entered.” In the first issue after the battle, Harper’s Weekly ran a story titled When to Celebrate a Victory, which dictated that “every body shall keep his head and heart as cool as possible; and above all, not suppose that a single battle can conclude the war.”

Not all Southerners felt the same aura of invincibility after Manassas.  Mary Chesnut said the victory “lulls us into a fool’s paradise of conceit,” and “will wake every in of [northern] manhood.”  A Confederate clerk was outraged a month after the war, as his country had done nothing to follow up the victory, but the North was equipping hundreds of thousands of men for the war.

The clark was correct.  President Lincoln, while shaken by the battle’s result, did not panic.  Instead, he called for an additional 500,000 troops the morning after the battle (on top of the 75,000 originally called for).  Three days later he signed another bill calling for the enlistment of another 500,000 troops.

The loss had beaten but not broken the Union.  The defeat alerted the North to the true nature of the War, and set the stage for four long years of redemption.  Years later, as McPherson details, participants on both sides of the conflict agreed that that lopsided southern victory at the first major battle of the Civil War “proved to be the greatest misfortune that would have befallen the Confederacy.”

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Michigan Goes to War

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Museum Exhibit (Unit 2): Scrimshaw

“Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and Sag Harbor, you will come across lively sketches of whales and whaling-scenes, graven by the fisherman themselves on Sperm Whale-teeth” – Melville, Moby Dick, chapter 57.

This item is a fine example of scrimshaw, the art or handiwork made by sailors in their spare time from marine animal byproducts.  On whaling vessels, one of the most common forms of scrimshaw was engravings on sperm whale teeth.  I like scrimshaw as an object around which to build an exhibit because of the distinctly human aspect such a piece brings to the study of the era or whaling industry.  One can picture a sailor sitting on deck spending countless hours engraving a single tooth to create a mini masterpiece.  Scrimshaw also touches on the topic of memory, as the pieces can serve as “memory holes” of sorts to commemorate or remember certain events, ports, whales, or people along a whaling expedition.  This piece in particular serves such as purpose, as the engraving contains not only spectacular images of a ship and harpoon boat but also a description of the whale from which the tooth came, including where the whale was killed and how much oil it yielded.  Such an object also lends itself to some talk of commodification.  While the whaling industry itself is the perfect example of the commodification of nature, scrimshaw makes the whale a commodity on a more personal level.  In a sense, the scrimshaw reduces a gigantic creature of the sea into a small commemoration that can be carried around in one’s pocket.

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Why Does Ishmael Survive?

Ishmael survives because he is an outsider.  In the book’s opening paragraph, Ishmael describes how he is an outsider of sorts on shore, a feeling that pushes him to “see the watery part of the world.” Ishmael’s outsider status extends onto the Pequod, and is perhaps reinforced by the journey.    Throughout the voyage, Ishmael maintains some type of mental or intellectual distance from the whaling practice and the crew.  For the others it’s their life, whereas for Ishmael it’s a temporary journey.  This point is illustrated when Ishmael is juxtaposed with Ahab.  Ahab is consumed by his quest.  He tries to influence nature in his hunt for Moby Dick.  In his mind, Ahab takes the whale to act out of malice as opposed to instinct.  Eventually, nature triumphs over Ahab, as he is killed in a highly symbolic manner as Ahab is dragged to the depths of the sea tethered to the whale.  All of the other crew members meet a similar fate, and Ishmael is again the outsider as the lone survivor, left to tell the story of the Pequod and Moby Dick.

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Finding Places in the National Narrative

The United States during the first half of the nineteenth century was a place of substantial change.  America was rapidly expanding physically, both in population and in land as country began to expand westward.  Additionally, America was changing intellectually, as a second great awakening led to a transcendentalist movement.  Taken together, the United States was a complicated mix of social forces.  However, the picture can be clarified and analyzed if viewed from the angle of place.  The notion of place on its own has multiple different definitions and connotations, making it a useful starting point from which to build a relevant web of analysis.  Place will first be useful starting with The Volcano Lover as an entrance to the ideas of Emerson and Thoreau.  After enlightening the thoughts of Emerson and Thoreau, the notion of place will then be useful to discuss two emancipation accounts that further advance the national narrative.  Through using place as an entry to these texts, a clearer and perhaps more unified picture of America can be gained.

Susan Sontag’s The Volcano Lover, when viewed through the lens of place, is an interesting gateway to the world of Emerson and Thoreau.  One of Sontag’s apparent goals in the romance is to dispel or dissuade the reader from the prevailing belief or practice of a wall of separation between keeping a distance from art.  More specifically, she seems to caution the reader from seeing art only as art, completely estranged from the realm of real places and events.  The clearest example of this warning is in Emma’s performances.  When in Naples, Emma stuns her audiences by being able to communicate emotions she could not have known in the ancient Greek tragedies of such characters as Iphigenia and Ariadne.  The true power of these tales becomes apparent later in the romance, as they seem to repeat themselves in the lives of Emma and the surrounding cast.  Through such a turn of events, Sontag shows the reader that such classic stories are bound to repeat.  As such, there is danger in keeping an aesthetic distance from art.  In effect, Sontag is arguing for us all to rethink our relationship with art and past stories, urging us to accept and embrace a new place alongside the works, and to eliminate all barriers.

Just as Sontag argues for a new place in relation to art, Emerson and Thoreau argue that through a new relationship with nature Americans to attain a new place in the world.  In order to understand Emerson through the lens of place, we must first understand place as meaning place in time or in history.  In his introduction to Nature, Emerson claims, “Our age is retrospective.”  Emerson feels that all of our experiences and contributions are a type of secondary relationship.  Emerson feels we view God through our forefather’s eyes, and that we only write “biographies, histories, and criticisms.” He finds this deeply disturbing if not incorrect, and asks, “Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?”  For Emerson, there are new experiences and revelations to be had in America later writing that “America is a poem in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagination, and it will not wait long for metres” (The Poet).  If we can rid ourselves of the traditional notion of our secondary place in history, we can to an extent transcend our place in time.  In order to transcend this place, we must return to nature.  Emerson’s nature is more like a philosophical idea, consisting of all that is “NOT ME.” Fundamentally, Emerson believes that humans are continuous with nature, and that one spirit unifies the “me” and “not me.” Emerson argues that most Americans are unaware of this relationship because of the increased materialism or even commoditization of nature that existed in his era.  Through a different understanding of the world through reason, humans can attain a new place in the world with a close relationship with nature.

Thoreau takes Emerson’s philosophy on nature and puts it to practice.  In what some have called his autobiography, Walden; or; Life in the Woods, Thoreau takes to the forest because he “wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” (59).  Throughout the book, it becomes clear that living deliberately meant living very simply, performing labor, and having ample time for self-reflection.  It becomes clear that Thoreau believes he has transcended to a new place or reality in the world through his close interaction with nature.  One way his new place becomes clear is in his description of a hawk.  He says, “It appeared to have no companion in the universe, – sporting there alone, – and to need none but the morning and the ether with which it played.  It was not lonely, but made all the earth lonely beneath it.”  While he may be describing the hawk, it can be asserted that Thoreau sees himself as having achieved a similar place in the world.  This assertion is further supported as Thoreau assumes a god-like status as he watches over an ant war, and in his description of his encounter with an Irishman named John Field.  Field is representative of those who cannot properly live life according to Thoreau, yet different in that his status as an Irishmen seems to prevent Field from ever transcending in Thoreau’s eyes.  This apparent determinism complicates our understanding of who can reach a transcendent place in life according to Thoreau.

The concept of place is also very helpful in exploring Robert and Olson’s account of the Alamo.  In particular, place is useful in a discussion of the Alamo’s most famous figure, Davy Crockett, as well as how the site is used and remembered.  Roberts and Olson first introduce the reader to Crockett as he sits in a Washington D.C. theater to take in a play.  The reader is immediately thrust into Crockett’s personal dilemma about his place in the public consciousness.  He is first and foremost known as Davy Crockett, heralded frontiersman of the West.  That night in Washington, the play was called The Lion of the West, and was certainly modeled after Crockett.  He had reached a position of national fame due to books about his western exploits written by himself and others.  However, Crockett was in Washington because he was a newly elected Congressman.  Olson and Roberts argue that Congressman David Crockett “yearned to be a respectable gentleman,” and his election to Congress was a start to such a goal.  However, David Crockett could not outlast or escape from the legacy of Davy Crockett, as he lost his bid for a fourth term and decided to go to Texas to seek a better life and possible fortune.  Roberts and Olson then detail how Crockett has been posthumously perceived.  While attaining celebrity status during life, Roberts and Olson claim that in death “Crockett became what he never was in life—a politician who transcended party squabbles and represented an American ideal.” Crockett’s current place in history was truly shaped by Disney in the 1950s.  Roberts and Olson detail how the Disney Corporation, spurred by the Cold War, felt America needed heroes.  Crockett became that hero, and has since occupied a place in American culture that is seemingly known to all.  While the Disney image of Crockett the frontiersman no doubt still exists, it is interesting to note how the latest film portrayal of Crockett and the Alamo alert the viewer to Crockett’s awareness and dilemma of being both David and Davy.  After Crockett, played by Billy Bob Thorton, is captured, he is given the opportunity to surrender to the Mexican generals.  He laughs and mutters “Davy Crockett” under his breath, signaling that he cannot sacrifice his image.  He refuses to surrender, and is killed.  While the factual soundness of the scene can be called into question, it is interesting to consider why the filmmaker wanted to make the audience aware of such a personal conflict over Crockett’s place in history.

Along with those who fought inside it, the Alamo can be analyzed through the perspective of place.  Namely, the Alamo can be seen as a location that orients America to some of its core ideals.  Within days after the massacre, newspapers across the country were reporting on the bravery of the Alamo defenders and the righteousness of the Texas struggle for independence.  Roberts and Olson assert how while before the Alamo was lost there was a great divide among Americans who were for or against the revolution, yet after the Alamo fell nearly all united in support of Texas’ struggle.  Over one hundred years later, Disney picked Crockett as the centerpiece of a show not only to make him a hero but also because of the Alamo could be used to instill national pride.  In the century after the battle, the Alamo became mainly a Texas story, but Disney elevated the account back to the national narrative.  Americans could unite over the small mission in San Antonio because men died there fighting an oppressive force in the name of freedom and independence.

The theme of place is a constant thread throughout the first half of Fredrick Douglass’s narrative.  Place serves two distinct roles during the section, referring to both physical location and social standing or position in the world.  While these functions of place can be viewed separately, they can also be seen as intertwined, with one having implications on the other.  This dual nature of place in Douglass is highlighted by three distinct locations in his account—Lloyd’s garden, the Lloyd plantation, and Baltimore. Douglass describes the garden as being a renowned attraction, with visitors from all over the state coming to see it’s abundant fruits.  However, the garden is an interesting place because of the obvious temptations it presents to the hungry slaves.  Douglass describes how “scarcely a day passed, during the summer, but that some slave had to take the lashing for stealing fruit” (52).  Lloyd’s garden teaches Douglass the distinct lesson of what is a slave’s and what is a master’s. Everything inside the garden is manicured, lush, and succulent.  Outside the garden is the rest of the plantation, the slave’s domain, full of hunger and work.  This place, full of forbidden fruits, sends Douglass a clear message, as slaves that get too close to the surrounding fence are severely punished.  While place can then be used to discuss the plantation and Baltimore separately, it is most illuminating when comparing the two locations.  Obviously, Douglas is aware of his slave status and the poor treatment of slaves when he lives on the Lloyd plantation.  However, he only truly understands the totally debased and horrible life of slaves on the plantation after spending time in Baltimore. Douglas describes, “A city slave is almost a freeman, compared with a slave on a plantation” (64).  One of the immediate and most noticeable differences in the city is the kindness of his mistress. Not only is Douglass provided with lots of food—a new luxury in Baltimore—but his mistress also begins to teach him how to read.  However, his new master chastises his wife for the action and forbids her from continuing.  While he no longer is able to benefit from the reading lessons, Douglass gains a keen understanding from the master’s rhetoric that learning to read will make it easier for him to escape slavery.  In essence, learning to read will allow Douglass to achieve a new place in life or society, a place unacceptable to a slave owner.  With this newfound understanding, he sets out to learn to read and write, and accomplishes his goal with the help from local poor white children. Douglass makes it clear that his ability to read was both a blessing and a curse, as he was now more aware of the depravity of slavery.  This message is cemented when he is forced to return to the plantation for “valuation.”  Coming from Baltimore, Douglass “had now a new conception of my degraded condition” (71).  At the valuation, the slaves are lined up with all of the horses, pigs, and sheep, making discerning one’s place in the world a fairly simple task.  Douglass’ move to new places in terms of location and intellectual ability both afford him new opportunities while at the same time exposing him to the harshness and true inequalities of slavery.

These five texts help to illuminate the complex web that was nineteenth century America.  Through analyzing the texts through the prism of place, we can gain a unique perspective on the intellectual, societal, and historical factors that shaped the national narrative of the period.  With Sontag, Emerson, and Thoreau, place is useful in recognizing the authors’ argument for an original relation to art, history, and the world by breaking or reshaping the common intellectual framework and practices.  In discussing the Alamo, the keyword allows us to explore Davy Crockett’s place in American history and memory, while shedding light on the Alamo itself as a place through which Americans can locate a national identity.  Finally, Fredrick Douglass’ account lends itself to a dualistic interpretation of place, as the relation between location and social status cannot be ignored.  By tracing place through these five texts, we are afforded a valuable perspective on the national narrative.

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Reporting the War

Within the past week two of the NYT Disunion blog posts have dealt with newspapers and the media.  Wartime journalism is an interesting topic because such a study can provide a glimpse into what the citizens of the times were hearing, and perhaps feeling, about the war in real time.  Additionally, newspapers were by no means unbiased, so looking at the type of stories covered and the way such stories were covered could reveal interesting connections or leanings of the newspaper and perhaps region.

Below is a link to the two posts dealing with covering the war and/or newspapers on the Disunion blog.

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