False Witness

It’s the anniversary of the Lincoln Assassination. I saved this Knoxville newspaper’s article for today. Despite its poor research and even poorer writing, I thought it worth discussing.

The story trumpets a letter inherited by a local man from his great-great-grandfather. There’s no indication of whether he’s connected to the writer or the addressee, but as the following is transcribed without question, I suppose investigative reporting is not this paper’s strong suit:

Ohio Congressman James Morris is in the audience watching as Abraham Lincoln is shot. He documented that night through a detailed letter to a Senator friend…

Morris explained.”I saw the assassin, as he proved to be, in the President’s box making for the front. when he had reached it he placed his hand on the banister and cried out sic semper tyrannis and leaping over alighted on the stage bringing down with him some of the drapery surrounding the box. The President fell or leaned forward, and I think his head rested on the banister front.”

If there’s one thing the eyewitnesses agreed on that night, it’s that they couldn’t agree on anything. I’d picked up the book We Saw Lincoln Shot a few years ago, and it was an interesting insight into the fallacy of memory. 100 eyewitness accounts, with myriad subtle (and just as many enormous) changes between each telling.

The story recounted in this “news” item makes me wonder if the writer was there at all. It reeks of an attention-seeker trying to impress a superior. Sadly, were this modern day, I get the feeling the paper would’ve printed it with as little care for the truth as they did here.


The Blue Ridge Corps

Since the Ken Burns series rekindled public interest in the war, every diary keeper, North and South, whose writings were stashed away in attics has become a published author. Most of these accounts are repetitive or uninspiring, but I’m sure each one has at least one anecdote of interest. This account contained a term I’d not heard before, but which tickled me:

Charlie wrote about deserters and their ease of leaving the army by joining what he calls the “Blue Ridge Corps,” men who slipped over the Blue Ridge Mountains to escape army life.


To My Old Master

This letter – an emancipated slave responding to his former master’s request that he come back “home” – has made the rounds on the web, but if you haven’t seen it, it’s spectacular. I publish an excerpt just to give readers a taste – read the whole thing for the full, bitingly sarcastic effect.

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.


Letters Discovered

A lucky Tampa man has been bequeathed a collection of Civil War letters, written by several Union soldiers to a female relative in Pennsylvania.  The excerpts published in this article give a good taste of the soldier’s mindset, and appear to cover many of the biggest events of the war.  The owner indicates that his first step will be reading them all.  I hope his second involves preparing them for publication!

Well Mary, we got good news this morning that the rebel General Johnston has surrendered to Sherman. If this story is true, we will soon get home. I think the last battle has been fought. I don’t want to hear another cannon fired.