Impeachment, the First Time Around

There’s a new book about Andrew Johnson and his impeachment, and the New York Times has given it a rave review. I’ll have to pick it up, but I might wait to see how the current Constitutional crisis shakes out first. I’m not sure it’ll make for consolatory reading.

By February 1868, President Andrew Johnson had forced the moment to a crisis. As Brenda Wineapple recounts in her new book, “The Impeachers,” Johnson had been goading legislators with his accelerating attempts to rule by decree, daring them to “go ahead” and impeach him — which the House voted to do by an overwhelming majority, 126 to 47.

The author of award-winning works about Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson, among other books, Wineapple started to research her history of the country’s first impeachment trial six years ago; she briefly mentions Presidents Nixon and Clinton but not the current occupant of the White House. She doesn’t have to. The relevance of this riveting and absorbing book is clear enough, even if Wineapple’s approach is too literary and incisive to offer anything so obvious as a lesson.

Source: Impeachment, the First Time Around – The New York Times

Jubilation at the fall of Richmond

Nice little history column in the New Hampshire Union-Leader paper. If they ever invent a time machine, going back to April, ’65, to witness the Washington illuminations is one of the first trips I’m taking.

French was ordered to illuminate all the public buildings in Washington as part of a grand patriotic celebration to be held the next day, Tuesday, April 4. He and his staff succeeded in arranging for the Capitol Building, the White House, the State Department, the War Department, the Treasury Department, the Post Office, the Patent Office, the Library of Congress, and other federal structures to be lit up. Owners of many residences, offices and stores also lit up their own buildings. A local newspaper reported the next day that “The city after nightfall was a blaze of illumination, and the gleam of fireworks, the crash of inspiring music, and the declamations of popular speakers added to the inspiring effect.”

French wrote, “After lighting up my own house and seeing the Capitol lighted, I rode up to the upper end of the City, and saw the whole display. It was indeed glorious … I have never seen such a crowd out-of-doors in my life …” He wrote with pride that he had arranged to have a huge transparent banner hung on the Library of Congress that was lit by gaslight, with enormous letters painted on it that read, “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes,” a verse from the 118th Psalm.

Source: Looking Back with Aurore Eaton: Jubilation at the fall of Richmond | Looking Back |

Mystery Submarine

I’m disappointed that this article doesn’t have more answers as to why and when this sub was designed, but its guesses that it was an answer to the blockade of New Orleans’ port certainly fits. Strange that there’s no accompanying history to the Hunley and the David, both of which were well-known and documented.

Imagine this. It’s Bayou Boogaloo and you’re on the raft you built with your buddies. You plunge your oar into the waters of Bayou St. John and feel it scrape something hard.

What could it be? A hunk of concrete? A stolen car? Or … a submarine?

If you found a sub in these waters, it’d definitely be a story, but it wouldn’t be the first time. Because that distinction goes to a mysterious vessel discovered here way back in the spring of 1878./blockquote>

Source: Today a picturesque waterway, Bayou St. John once harbored a Civil War submarine | Entertainment/Life |

Forgetting Why We Remember

I mentioned David Blight’s discovery of the first Memorial Day yesterday. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a NYTimes article written by the historian himself that goes into detail.

Sidenote: I first heard about this in one of Blight’s speeches at historical conferences and symposiums, many of which are available on Apple’s wonderful iTunes U. His off-the-cuff speaking style can be a bit digressive, but the content of his talks is always worth a listen.

But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city’s official surrender.

Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.

Source: Forgetting Why We Remember – The New York Times

How Memorial Day began

Happy Memorial Day, my American friends! Being Canadian, I’m celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday today instead, but I’ll spare some thought for the American celebration. It’s worth remembering that it was only in the past few years that the Memorial Day origins came to light, discovered in an archive by the Yale professor David Blight.

This day has many stories of its origin, and all quite probable. Basically we know for sure it was started after the Civil War. Civil War Veterans were its main focus. In May of 1868 three years after the war, former slaves in the Charleston South Carolina area began to dig up the 257 Grand Army of the Republic solders buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison yard. Their idea was the result of an appreciation for their freedom. It took them two weeks to give these soldiers proper burial. Then 10,000 people were led by 2,800 African American children in a parade to the cemetery where flowers, prayers and singing of hymns took place.

Source: How Memorial Day began – News – Nebraska City News-Press – Nebraska City, NE – Nebraska City, NE

Courting Mr. Lincoln

I gave up on fiction a few years ago, but I’m curious about this new book. Lincoln’s live-in friendship with Joshua Speed is a topic I find endearing, and a great novelist can often make fiction feel like real history. (See also: Gore Vidal’s Lincoln.)

Abraham Lincoln is irresistible to writers. Historians have delved into Lincoln’s depression, his team of rivals and the hunt for his killer. Now, more than 150 years after Lincoln’s assassination, novelist Louis Bayard weighs in with “Courting Mr. Lincoln,” a rich, fascinating and romantic union of fact and imagination about young Lincoln, the woman he would marry and his beloved best friend.

Source: Book review | Abraham Lincoln, his suitors give heart to warm tale – Entertainment & Life – The Columbus Dispatch – Columbus, OH

Montana’s reaction to news of Lincoln’s death

I was on the fence about this link, as the article it leads to is rife with ads, and won’t let anyone with an adblocker access it before the adblocker is disabled. But it’s beautifully designed, and I like that the newspaper is making use of its archives to give citizens a glimpse of their state’s past.

The accounts of the assassination hit The Montana Post in its Saturday, April 29, 1865 edition…

The Montana Post, squarely Republican in its leaning, was doleful and respectful in tone, chronicling the reaction of the community. Yet, the Post and its politics were almost certainly in the minority. Virginia City had originally been named “Varina” after Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ wife. Vigilante, tax assessor and first superintendent of Yellowstone National Park Nathaniel Pitt Langford recalled that most people around Virginia City were secessionists, “more disloyal as a whole than Tennessee or Kentucky ever was.”

Source: ‘Our hearts bleed as we write’: Montana’s reaction to news of Abraham Lincoln’s death | State & Regional |

The insane victory that inspired the Confederate army’s only medal

A short but intriguing (but questionably written) article about the only government-sanctioned medal struck for Confederate soldiers.

The Confederate Army had better things to do than decide how it would award medals to its fighting men. In that era, Americans weren’t really into medals and ribbons, as it was considered a very European military tradition. The Civil War changed all that. The brutality of the war, combined with the feats of heroics performed by those who fought it inspired the need for such awards.

That being said, the Confederacy had its heroes as well, but aside from a Confederate Congressional “Roll of Honor,” nothing much was ever done in terms of awards and decorations – until the Second Battle of Sabine Pass.

Source: The insane victory that inspired the Confederate army’s only medal – We Are The Mighty

Marx to Lincoln

I did a cursory search a few years ago when I heard Karl Marx had authored… something on the US Civil War. A book? Essays? Opinions? I wasn’t able to unearth the results on But it seems from this article that he also wrote letters – this not-particularly-stirring one was sent to Lincoln, to congratulate him on his 1864 election win.

To mark the May 5, 1818 birthday of Karl Marx, Fight Back News Service is circulating a work he authored in 1864, a statement of congratulations to President Lincoln upon his reelection.

To mark the May 5, 1818 birthday of Karl Marx, Fight Back News Service is circulating a work he authored in 1864, a statement of congratulations to President Lincoln upon his reelection.

Source: It’s Karl Marx’s birthday, read his letter to Abraham Lincoln | Fight Back!

Heavily Abridged ‘Slave Bible’ Removed Passages That Might Encourage Uprisings

A deeper dive on the Slave Bible, courtesy of the Smithsonian.

“This can be seen as an attempt to appease the planter class saying, ‘Look, we’re coming here. We want to help uplift materially these Africans here but we’re not going to be teaching them anything that could incite rebellion,’” Anthony Schmidt, the Museum of the Bible’s associate curator of Bible and Religion, tells Martin.

That meant the missionaries needed a radically pared down version of the Bible. “A typical Protestant edition of the Bible contains 66 books, a Roman Catholic version has 73 books and an Eastern Orthodox translation contains 78 books,” the museum says in a statement. “By comparison, the astoundingly reduced Slave Bible contains only parts of 14 books.”

Gone was Jeremiah 22:13: “Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour’s service without wages and giveth him not for his work.” Exodus 21:16—“And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death”—was also excised. In their place, the missionaries emphasized passages that encouraged subservience, like Ephesians 6:5: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

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Source: Heavily Abridged ‘Slave Bible’ Removed Passages That Might Encourage Uprisings | Smart News | Smithsonian