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!

Thanksgiving in the Field

Another Thanksgiving weekend is upon us, and as Civil War buffs it’s worth remembering that Lincoln established the nation’s official observance of the holiday. I was surprised to read, in these soldiers’ letters, that gluttony has been a traditional part of Thanksgiving since before the war, but that so too was sombre gratitude. (Funnily enough, there’s no mention of discount shopping in any of these missives home!)

In 1864, the Union League Club of New York City pleaded for donations of “cooked poultry and other proper meats” as well as “mince pies, sausages, and fruits” for men in the field. The call brought in some $57,000 in cash donations, as well as nearly 225,000 pounds of poultry and large quantities of cakes, gingerbread, pickles, apples, vegetables, and cheese. One appreciative soldier saw the deeper meaning, writing that “it isn’t the turkey, but the idea that we care for.”

Source: Civil War soldiers celebrated Thanksgiving in the field | |

The girl who grew Lincoln’s beard

The story of Grace Bedell’s letter to Lincoln is famous, of course, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen the contents. It’s delightful to think of Lincoln growing his iconic beard after laughing himself silly at the advice of this little spin doctor.

I have got 4 brothers and part of them will vote for you any way and if you let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.

via The girl who grew Lincoln’s beard.

Who was the greatest Confederate general?

This abortive little article doesn’t give us much food for thought on its stated question, but includes this intriguing tidbit:

Culberson was 10 years old when the great conflict ended, and he had always wondered who was the greatest. He sent a survey to 43 surviving Confederate generals asking for their input. Forty completed and returned the senator’s survey. Of the seven major generals five named Gen. Robert E. Lee, one chose Gen. Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, and one was non-committal. Of the 30 brigadier generals, they all named Lee.

Anyone else curious to see all these responses, and especially to find out who remained “non-committal”?

via Who was the greatest Confederate general?.

On Stage at Ford’s

Someone has posted this amazing letter written by Harry Hawk, one of the actors performing at the play when Booth shot Lincoln. In fact, he was the only actor onstage when Booth jumped out of the box.

My Dear Parents,

This is the first time I have had to write to you since the assassination of our dear President on Friday night, as I have been in custody nearly ever since, I was one of the principal witnesses of that sad affair, being the only one on the stage at the time of the fatal shot. I was playing Asa Trenchard, in the “American Cousin,” The “old lady” of the theatre had just gone off the stage, and I was answering her exit speech when I heard the shot fired. I turned, looked up at the President’s box, heard the man exclaim, “Sic semper tyrannis,” saw him jump from the box, seize the flag on the staff and drop to the stage; he slipped when he gained the stage, but got upon his feet in a moment, brandished a large knife, saying, “The South shall be free!” turned his face in the direction I stood, and I recognized him as John Wilkes Booth. He ran toward me, and I, seeing the knife, thought I was the one he was after, ran off the stage and up a flight of stairs. He made his escape out of a door, directly in the rear of the theatre, mounted a horse and rode off…

The whole letter can be read after the click.

via How did Lincoln’s assassination affect ticket sales of “Our American Cousin” : AskHistorians.

Alexandria, Virginia

This is an interesting chronicle of life in Alexandria, Virginia – just a short walk from downtown Washington, DC.  During the war it was Confederate territory, occupied by the Union.  Citizens and returning soldiers write about their lives on the front line of the Confederate homefront.

Voices from the Past, Alexandria, Virginia 1861-1865 | Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site | City of Alexandria, VA.

Haskell’s Gettysburg

Union Major Frank Haskell served with the big name generals on the hottest part of the field during Pickett’s Charge. A few months later, he wrote this epic, vivid, picturesque description of the full battle for Gettysburg to his brother.  It’s a long read but well worth your time – beautifully written and full of detail.

The outpost skirmish that I have mentioned, soon subsided. I suppose it was the natural escape of the wrath which the men had, during the night, hoarded up against each other, and which, as soon as they could see in the morning, they could no longer contain, but must let it off through their musket barrels, at their adversaries. At the commencement of the war such firing would have awaked the whole army and roused it to its feet and to arms; not so now. The men upon the crest lay snoring in their blankets, even though some of the enemy’s bullet dropped among them, as if bullets were as harmless as the drops of dew around them. As the sun arose to-day, the clouds became broken, and we had once more glimpses of sky, and fits of sunshine—a rarity, to cheer us. From the crest, save to the right of the Second Corps, no enemy, not even his outposts could be discovered, along all the position where he so thronged upon the Third Corps yesterday. All was silent there—the wounded horses were limping about the field; the ravages of the conflict were still fearfully visible—the scattered arms and the ground thickly dotted with the dead—but no hostile foe.

Haskell’s Account of the Battle of Gettysburg. Paras. 1-25. 1909-14. American Historical Documents, 1000-1904. The Harvard Classics.

“It’s Not You, It’s Me”

Slate has titled this, “It’s Not You, It’s Me”, which I’m sure Lincoln would openly subtitle, “(It Was Totally Her)”.

Those who’ve read Team of Rivals will know about Lincoln’s sit-com worthy romantic entanglement with Mary Owens. (And those who haven’t, should!)  Here, Slate has provided a scanned copy of what Kearns Goodwin called one of the least romantic offers of marriage ever.

To her credit, Mary turned him down, and Lincoln was left to laugh with friends about how spurned he felt by the one he didn’t want in the first place.

Abraham Lincolns letter to Mary Owens: breaking off an engagement that wasnt.

The Lincoln Letters

Another week, another discovery of a trove of historical letters. This time, though, the collection is a doozy: The letters of Leonard Swett, one of Lincoln’s closest advisors.  Here’s an excerpt of the article, detailing some of the treasures within (and a great summary by one of the preservationists!)

Rose Burnham’s scrapbooks held several letters — one sent in September 1864 — on Executive Mansion letterhead from her grandfather. The name of the mansion located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was changed in 1902 to the White House.

The collection also included a letter from Col. Custer dated June 21, 1875, a year and four days before the Battle of the Little Bighorn. While much of Custer’s handwriting is illegible to anyone who doesn’t know his penmanship, the signature is unmistakable…

Another keepsake is a menu of a state dinner Swett attended, which featured little neck clams, green turtle soup, boiled salmon, spring chicken, frogs fried in crumbs and broiled woodcock.

“Isn’t that cool? These guys were having a blast traveling all over the country, going here and going there,” said Ransick, as she looked through a magnifying glass at some of the documents. “It really shows you how distant our relationships are today with e-mail, cell phones and computers. These people exchanged handwritten letters and met often. We’re much less likely to shake hands and have frog legs together than people back then.   

via Lincoln letters.

Civil War Lingo

This Yahoo user has created a series of lists that serve as a dictionary for Civil War lingo.  As you’d expect, there’s some fun to be found in here.

Multiform. A ragged uniform. A sarcastic term used by tattered Confederate soldiers.

News walkers. Soldiers who, on their own initiative, carried news from campfire to campfire.

Stray. A Union soldiers’ tongue-in-cheek term for a domestic hog or fowl that they had stolen.

via Civil War Lingo, Part 3: More Words and Phrases – Yahoo! Voices –