Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lincoln the International Hero

As I said last week ("Lincoln Statue in Canada", February 22nd, 2012), Abraham Lincoln deserves a statue in Canada because of his international reputation.  Indeed there are monuments to him in London and two other British cities, and (of all places) Mexico City.  These indicate the extent of Lincoln's fame and legacy.  I'd like to cite two literary sources that also indicate his status as a great, noble, even sainted figure.

One of the more In the February 7, 1909 edition of the New York World newspaper, famed Russian writer Leo Tolstoy revealed  a story about his encounter with the Lincoln legend.  During a visit the year before to the Caucasus Mountains region of southern Russia, he met local Muslim tribesmen (by his description).  He wrote that they knew little of the outside world, but they knew of Lincoln.  The stories they had heard were mostly myths, but all positive ones.  To quote Tolstoy:

"But you have not told us a syllable about the greatest general and greatest ruler of the world. We want to know something about him. He was a hero. He spoke with a voice of thunder; he laughed like the sunrise and his deeds were strong as the rock and as sweet as the fragrance of roses. The angels appeared to his mother and predicted that the son whom she would conceive would become the greatest the stars had ever seen. He was so great that he even forgave the crimes of his greatest enemies and shook brotherly hands with those who had plotted against his life. His name was Lincoln and the country in which he lived is called America, which is so far away that if a youth should journey to reach it he would be an old man when he arrived. Tell us of that man."

He concluded by saying:

"Lincoln is a strong type of those who make for truth and justice, for brotherhood and freedom. Love is the foundation of his life. That is what makes him immortal and that is the quality of a giant. I hope that his centenary birth day will create an impulse toward righteousness among the nations. Lincoln lived and died a hero, and as a great character he will live as long as the world lives. May his life long bless humanity!”

I must wonder about every part of Tolstoy's story.  First, it is timed for the centennial of Lincoln's birth.  The figures within - the wily Caucasian (no pun intended) and the knowledgeable Russian socialist hero - indicate a huge power vacuum between subject and recorder.  He may also have embellished the story for American readers.  So we must put this into the "Hmm...maybe" category.

A more credible source is from "When Lincoln Died" by Canadian poet Edward William Thomson (1849-1924) from the same year (1909) as Tolstoy.  Thomson was a Civil War veteran, a trooper with the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry.  He also, interestingly, served in the Canadian Militia during the Fenian Raids of 1866 (normally, the Fenians - those fighting for Irish independence from Britain - are seen as Irish-American veterans of the Civil War; now here's someone on the other side!).  In 1909, he published this poem as a tribute to his former commander in chief.


WE talked of Abraham Lincoln in the night, 
Ten fur-coat men on North Saskatchewan's plain 
Pure zero cold, and all the prairie white 
Englishman, Scotchman, Scandinavian, Dane, 
Two Irish, four Canadians all for gain 
Of food and raiment, children, parents, wives, 
Living the hardest life that Man survives, 
And secret proud because it was so hard 
Exploring, camping, axeing, faring lean. 
Month in and out no creature had we seen 
Except our burdened dogs, gaunt foxes gray, 
Hard-feathered grouse that shot would seldom slay, 
Slinking coyotes, plumy-trailing owls, 
Stark Indians warm in rabbit-blanket cowls, 
And, still as shadows in their deep-tracked yard, 
The dun vague moose we startled from our way. 

We talked of Abraham Lincoln in the night 
Around our fire of tamarac crackling fierce, 
Yet dim, like moon and stars, in that vast light 
Boreal, tannery, shifting quick to pierce 
Ethereal blanks of Space with falchion streams 
Transfigured wondrous into quivering beams 
From Forms enormous-marching through the sky 
To dissolution and new majesty. 
And speech was low around our bivouac fire, 
Since in our inmost heart of hearts there grew 
The sense of mortal feebleness, to see 
Those silent miracles of Might on high 
Seemingly done for only such as we 
In sign how nearer Death and Doom we drew, 
While in the ancient tribal-soul we knew 

Our old, hardfaring father-Vikings' dreams 
Of Odin at Valhalla's open door, 
Where they might see the Battle-father's face 
Glowing at last, when Life and Toil were o'er, 
Were they but staunch-enduring in their place. 

We talked of Abraham Lincoln in the night. 
Oh sweet and strange to hear the hard-hand men 
Old-Abeing him, like half the world of yore 
In years when Grant's and Lee's young soldiers bore 
Rifle and steel, and proved that heroes live 
Where folk their lives to Labor mostly give. 
And strange and sweet to hear their voices call 
Him " Father Abraham," though no man of all 
Was born within the Nation of his birth. 
It was as if they felt that all on Earth 
Possess of right Earth's greatest Common Man, 
Her sanest, wisest, simplest, steadiest son, 
To whom The Father's children all were one, 
And Pomps and Vanities as motes that danced 
In the clear sunshine where his humor glanced. 

We talked of Abraham Lincoln in the night 
Until one spoke, " We yet may see his face" 
Whereon the fire crackled loud through space 
Of human silence, while eyes reverent 
Toward the auroral miracle were bent 
Till from that trancing Glory spirits came 
Within our semi-circle round the flame, 
And drew us closer-ringed, until we could 
Feel the kind touch of vital brotherhood 
Which Father Abraham Lincoln thought so good. 

Thomson also penned "Father Abraham Lincoln," a semi-autobiographical work about his time in the War.  They appear in his 1909 book "When Lincoln Died and Other Poems."  Many of his poems portray the Victorian era's Anglo-Saxon prejudices quite well - about the white man's rule being so benign.  We now know that is far from true.

Nonetheless, I think that both are fascinating examples of 19th Century foreigners mind thinking about Lincoln.  Tolstoy's and Thomson's views are colored by distance, time, and politics.  Yet in each, he is the ideal hero.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies

This year, it seems, will have three Abraham Lincoln movies.  In June, Timur Bekmambetov's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, reaches theaters.  Based on Seth Graham-Smith's novel, it portrays the Great Emancipator as a man with a secret life of killing vampires.  The very premise will make me see it.  Alan Tudyk of "Firefly" fame appears as Stephen Douglas, a historical figure who rarely appears in film.

In December, Steven Spielberg's Lincoln debuts, based on (inspired by is perhaps more accurate) Doris Kearns-Goodwin's book Team of Rivals.  Its distinguished cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis as the President, Sally Field as Mary, David Strathairn as Seward, and Jared Harris as Grant, among many others.  How can any Civil War historian not like what this movie offers?  Ace director, great script (caveat above), and authentic Richmond locations - it's a treasure.

Yet the first to come out is the lesser known Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.  Independent director Richard Schenkman's film comes to theaters on May 22nd and to DVD on May 29th.  Made for $150,000 and shot in Savannah, Georgia, it promises to go unnoticed compared to the other two films.  Clearly, it is derived from the Graham-Smith book.  Still, I'll buy it.

I wonder how many in the Civil War blogosphere know about this.

I hope that the DVD people use the interest from these films to finally release Robert Sherwood's Abe Lincoln in Illinois and other Civil War films to the market.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Scandinavians in the Civil War

I have become interested in Scandinavia over the past few years, thanks to my sister's marriage to a Swedish man.  The links between the region and the Civil War are considerable.  Near my hotel at Djugarden in Stockholm, I discovered a monument to naval engineer and inventor John Ericsson.  His creation, the USS Monitor, helped the Union Navy win the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862 against the CSS Virginia.  Here's a picture of it.  

Many thousands of Scandinavians fought in the the war, mostly for the Union.  One of the more notable ones was Colonel Hans Heg.  Originally from Norway, he emigrated to the US.  He commanded the 15th Wisconsin Infantry, a unit comprised of Scandinavian men.  This must have been an interesting arrangement given tensions between Norway and Sweden at the time.  The two countries had been united, unhappily, into a single kingdom in 1814, lasting until 1905.  Danes and Finns had issues with the two as well.  I'm also sure other regiments with Scandinavians had similar situations.  Heg led the 15th wish distinction in the western theater,  Shortly after being promoted to brigade command, he was killed in action at Chickamauga in September 1863.  Here's a picture of his memorial on the battlefield.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lincoln Statue in Canada

This decade marks the 150th anniversaries of the Civil War and of Confederation.   Indeed, the creation of the Dominion of Canada was one of the consequences of the war.  Yet there are few Civil War memorials in Canada, the most famous being one in Kincardine, Ontario to Dr. Solomon Secord.  The great-nephew of War of 1812 heroine Laura Secord served in the Confederate States Army.  But this is to one man.  Otherwise, therefore, almost no reminders exist north of the border of the great conflict in which thousands of British North Americans fought and which spawned their own country.  The time has come for more action.

I propose that a statue of Abraham Lincoln be constructed in Canada, preferably at a prominent site such as Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  As far as I know, only two US presidents have memorials in Canada.  In the wake of his tragic death, ones to John F. Kennedy appeared in several places.  More recently, and much belatedly, Quebec City has one to Franklin D. Roosevelt in honor of the great Allied conference there in 1943.  It appears that there's a certain indifference in Canada to implanting American figures on their landscape, despite nearly two centuries of peace.  In fact, in the 1850s, the town of Almonte, Ontario was named for a Mexican general who fought against the United States.  Surely one of the great Lincoln would remedy this deficit.

I'd select the style like that of the Lincoln monument at Parliament Square in London.  A standing figure, left hand on his lapel, as if he was just about to give one of his famous speeches.  On the front "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: President of the United States of America 1861-1865." On the rear: "Friend to Canada."  On each side, citations from the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural.  An alternative style would be his sitting pose in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

I'd like for such a monument should spark debate on the importance of the Civil War in Canada as well remind people of the need to maintain the binational relationship carefully maintained since.  For the first half of the 19th Century, cooperation mixed with tension, leading to considerable anti-Union and pro-Confederate sentiment in Canada.  From 1867 onwards, peace has prevailed in North America, to the point where the 49th Parallel has been called 'the longest undefended border in the world.'  Lincoln had a large part in the creation of this situation, one that should not be forgotten or taken for granted.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Politics of Memorialization

Many criticize the United States for whom it honors on monuments.  They point to memorials to Confederate figures such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and most of all Nathan Bedford Forrest, controversial for alleged massacres of black Union troops.  Even presidents who owned slaves, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, come under attack.  Some of these critics are right: memorials lend themselves towards valorization and glorification of these particular individuals, and their actions as slaveholders including rebellion do not sit well with us today.

Well, you're not the only ones to do this.  Case in point: Many Canadian schools are named for British imperial heroes, some of whom are definitely not 'politically correct.'  I've seen schools up there named for Kings and Queens, but also Earl Kitchener, 'victor' at the Battle (read: Massacre) of Omdurman in 1898, General Gordon school ('hero' of Khartoum), Lord Roberts of Kandahar (won the Victoria Cross in the Indian 'Mutiny'), and most incredibily, Cecil Rhodes.  This one is just as heinous as Nathan Bedford Forrest with one exception: more people criticize Forrest than Rhodes.  Several people to whom I have related this information have laughed in amazement at such a school name.  There are some good ones though: John F. Kennedy High School in Montreal, Nelson Mandela School in Toronto, and Ecole Apollo-XI in New Brunswick.

My other example is Trafalgar Square in London.  A statue of Lord Nelson stands proudly overlooking the city.  Surely he ranks among the greatest of British heroes for stopping Napoleon's fleet off the Spanish coast in 1805, giving his life in the process.  The square, however, also honors other British heroes whom the casual observer may see as approaching Nelson's status.  They are: Charles James Napier, conqueror of the Punjab  (the Sikh part of India) in 1850 and Sir Henry Havelock, who died suddenly in 1857 while fighting the Indian 'mutineers' in 1857.  Are these men still 'heroes' today?  Some will disagree.  Previously a statue to Charles Gordon sat there.

Most astonishingly, but unrelated, a statue to George Washington is also in Trafalgar Square.  I cannot think of another occasion when someone put a monument to their greatest enemy in the very shadow of one to their greatest hero.  Go figure!

I am certain, though, that other countries have their own strange politics of memorialization.  Americans should not feel unique or alone.  I'd say everyone cleanses and purifies their past to make it palatable, regardless of the damage it does to public consciousness.

Monday, February 20, 2012

General Grant Car

I saw this on Brooks Simpson's blog Crossroads yesterday.  Someone in the video game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" came up with a different take on the car from the 1980s TV series The Dukes of Hazard.  Rather than an orange car called the General Lee, sporting the Confederate flag on the roof and playing "Dixie" on the horn, "The General Grant" is blue, has the American flag on top and its horn plays "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  Classic.  Now answer this: to what do the numbers "01" refer for the General Lee.  The numbers "76" appear on the General Grant, a link to the Revolution of 1776.

Much has been said about Civil War movies, but little about a more recent development: Civil War video games.  Since the 1980s, many titles have appeared on a number of different computer systems from the Nintendo ES to the PC.  I recall playing "North and South" for the NES in the early 90s, but it wasn't very good.  Better designed were Sid Meier's Gettysburg and Antietam.  I used to play Age of Rifles which allowed one to recreate any late-19th century battle including ones for the Civil War.  These games, and many others which I have not played, involve a chess-like format where one moves around the battlefield in a certain number of spaces at a time.  That comes close to how Civil War battles were fought, though these games are always at a tactical level rather than the theater-wide level.

More recently, the trend in games has been towards "First Person Shooters" where the player serves as an individual soldier using his weapons.  Titles like Medal of Honor and the Battlefield series (1942, Vietnam, 2 and now 3), and Call of Duty (WW2 and Modern Warfare) are intense, frantic action using automatic weapons.  This does not lend itself towards the Civil War where single shot rifles slow down the action.  The one attempt to do so, a movie tie-in with Gods and Generals, failed spectacularly.  Gamespot, a game reviewing website, gave it a 1.2 out of possible 10 point rating, its lowest ever.  Watch the video, it's not hard to see why.

Hopefully someone comes up with a better game, though admittedly the slavery issue will not be addressed - it's simply too controversial.  Could you imagine a slavery video game?  The NAACP and SPLC would have a few things to say about that.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Lt. Simeon Cummings, CSN

 One of my favorite stories from Civil War Memory is that of Lt. Simeon Cummings of the Confederate States Navy.  He holds the unique distinction of being the only Confederate serviceman to be buried abroad during the war - others may have been buried at sea.  Cummings, born in Connecticut, raised in New York and lived in Louisiana when the war began, died as a result of an accidental gunshot wound while hunting.  His ship, the raider CSS Alabama, was in South Africa at the time.  (See my previous blog "Daar Kom die Alibama" for more on that.)  His remains were buried him in a local family plot near Saldanha, north of Cape Town.

And there he lay for the next 130 years, until some American neo-Confederates discovered this 'forgotten' kin of theirs.  In 1992, they arranged with the then-Apartheid government of South Africa to disinter Cummings' remains and 'repatriate' them back to his country.  With an honor guard provided by the South African Navy, these people extracted him from his grave, transported him first to Cape Town Airport, then to Columbia, Tennessee.  Why there?  He wasn't from there.

According to a debate held earlier this year on Kevin Levin's blog, the Sons of Confederate Veterans did so because they found no survivors of Lt. Cummings.  This may be true, but it hardly justifies their actions.  I say that the whole exercise was simply to expand the neo-Confederate agenda.  They dishonored this poor man's remains in order to show how 'honorable' they were toward those who served the rebel cause.  Truly shameless.  They're intent on their narrow perspective on the war, and dismiss any other as "liberal" or "leftist" or "revisionist."  While they're not as strong as in years past, the neo-Confederate program is eroding under the weight of its massive contradictions.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Great Rebellion in India and the American Civil War

Last year, I purchased a book titled A Tale of Two Revolts: India 1857 and the American Civil War by Rajmohan Gandhi.  This professor at the University of Illinois is the grandson of the great Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.  I have taken an interest in the Great Rebellion in India because of its place in the history of the British Empire.  The uprising of Hindu and Muslim soldiers in the British Indian Army in early 1857 sparked the largest revolt against British rule since the American Revolution.  But there was more.  Massacres of whites, particularly women and children at Cawnpore (Kanpur) in July, provoked such fury from the British population that reprisals became especially vicious.  White and loyal Indian soldiers (Sikhs, Gurkhas and others) killed as many rebels as possible. 

Charles Dickens typified the British reaction.  The great author whose novels spread word of the plight of the poor in Industrial Victorian Britain spared no mercy for the Indian rebels.  He wrote to Miss Burdett Coutts in October 1857 what he would do if in command in India:

"The first thing I would do to strike that Oriental race with amazement (not in the least regarding them as if they lived in the Strand, London or in Camden Town), should be to proclaim to them, in their language, that I considered my holding that appointment by the leave of God to mean that I should do my utmost to exterminate the Race upon whom the stain of of the late cruelties rested."

Forceful words.  Yet Mary Chestnut managed to best Dickens' words.  The famed South Carolina diarist who book ranks among the most important primary sources on the Confederacy, actually started it before the war.  She had this to say about the Indian rebellion after reading William Howard Russell's dispatches:

"Read Russell's India all day.  Saintly folks those English when their blood is up.  Sepoys and blacks we do not expect anything better from, but what an example of Christian patience and humanity the white "angels" from the West set them." 

Yikes. Sadly, the myopia extends to this day.  Canadians proudly say how a black man was one of their first recipients of the Victoria Cross, the British Empire's highest decoration for bravery.  They ignore where William Hall won it: the Siege of Lucknow in 1858.  He won it oppressing others.  There truly are two sides to every story.

Gandhi's book, sadly, doesn't work.  He's comparing two different events that have little to do with each other.  At length he discusses Indian intellectual leaders that only specialists could know about.  American readers would be lost in this morass.  Actual connections between the two, like Mary Chesnut's quote above and Russell's dispatches, are cited rarely.  I would have liked to see accounts of soldiers who fought in both conflicts, surely there were a few.  The issue of race also could have been addressed since both the Civil War and the Great Rebellion hinged upon it.  In this sense, Kanpur and Fort Pillow are linked.  The book is also written in a dense format typical among Indian intellectuals whose grasp of English still holds Victorian-era concepts within it. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Canada and the War of 1812

As the United States is in the midst of the sesquicentennial of its Civil War, its northern neighbor has its own public history event at the moment.  Canada is revisiting the War of 1812, during which its population faced US troops attempting to annex its territory.  Many so-called 'nationalists' (more like anti-US racists) are using the occasion to show how grateful they are not to be 'American.'  This poll from CTV News shows as much:

It is true that US troops failed to overcome small armies of British regulars, white militia, some Indians and even a few black soldiers.  It is also true that British soldiers and sailors attacked and burned Washington DC to the ground.  The war also ended in a stalemate that left the northern part in British hands, later to be handed over to the new Dominion in 1867, while the southern part stayed in United States control.  The real losers in the War of 1812 were the Native Americans, whom both countries marginalized to the point of annihilation to make way for more European settlers.

Yet these 'nationalists' completely ignore what happened in between then and now.  Since then, the two countries have coalesced and generally cooperated in virtually every sphere of activity.  As Britain and the US began to ally in the late 19th- century, so did too Canada.  All three became allies in the 20th and now 21st centuries, in each other's wars - from the Spanish-American and Boer Wars, the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, both Gulf Wars, Afghanistan and Libya - and goodness knows where else.  Yes kids, Canada was involved in Vietnam and the Second Gulf War.

Economically, it is no longer tenable to see Canada and the US as separate markets - they are one, and both have prospered because of it.  The two live virtually identical lifestyles in urban, suburban and rural ways, shop for the same goods in the same ways, and enjoy the same TV shows, movies, music and literature.  Variations on these themes do exist, such as language (French in Quebec, Spanish in parts of the US, many others), region (American South, Canadian West, etc) and race, but I argue the general trend stands firm.  Notions that the US is 'coming for' Canada are ridiculous for two simple reasons: 1) they already have you; and 2) your own population handed themselves over to them. 

Indeed, I'd say that Canadian views of their history are shaped by American influences, though in misleading ways.  "Confederation" in 1867 becomes Canada's independence day - even though it's still not independent from the British Crown.  That the two days fall close together - July 1 for Canada, July 4 for the US - adds to the confusion.  "The Fathers of Confederation" become equivalent in status and reputation as the "Founding Fathers."  How someone like Sir John A. MacDonald becomes the George Washington of Canada is beyond me.  Having lived in both countries myself for prolonged periods, I appreciate just how good the US is at heart despite the heavy burdens placed upon it - providing for a huge population while preserving world peace is not easy.  So, to these 'nationalists', I say "Read some real history."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Lincoln in Canada

A little known fact is that Abraham Lincoln visited Canada twice in his life.  In 1848, he visited Detroit and crossed over to Canada West (modern Ontario) for undisclosed reasons.  In 1857, he and Mary visited Niagara Falls for part-vacation and part-work.  Exactly what he thought of the British colonies to the north is unknown.

Jefferson Davis also visited Canada upon his release from Federal prison in mid 1867.  His family had been living there during that time, so he went north to visit them.  He arrived in late June of that year, just in time to see Canada's Confederation start on July 1.  It was as close as he would ever get to seeing his independent Confederacy, albeit without slavery.

Happy 203rd Birthday, President Lincoln!

On this day in 1809, the American Messiah entered the world.  Hodgenville, Kentucky may not be Bethlehem, and no three Magi came to see the newborn child, but they might as well be given the reputation Abraham Lincoln enjoys in history.  I am well aware of the literature about his life and presidency, from Lerone Bennett's furious attacks on his racial views, Barbara Fields' more measured criticism of his emancipation policies, Stephen B. Oates' and David Donald's biographies, to Merrill Peterson's brilliant analysis of the changing view of Lincoln in memory.  Yet I cannot help but admire the man who, as if by miracle, emerged from obscurity to save the Union in the War of the Rebellion. Little in his background could suggest that he would amount to much.  Becoming a lawyer was itself a major achievement for someone of such humble beginnings.  He was a Whig in a strongly Democratic state; his one term in Congress was as much a payoff to his party as an endorsement of him.  After two years in Washington, he abandoned politics for several years until the Kansas-Nebraska Act propelled him back into the fray.  All those years as a rival to Stephen Douglas paid off.  Though losing the 1858 Illinois Senate race, Lincoln's national reputation as a critic of the expansion of slavery rose to make him a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860.  And yet, as the dark horse candidate, he prevailed over better known (and more controversial) men for that post.  That he won owed more to the sectional crisis developing over the past decade.  That he succeeded in that office is nothing short of a miracle.

The story of the Lincoln presidency is well known.  He had to contend with numerous, dangerous and overlapping issues at the same time.  Not only had seven, and later eleven, states seceded from the Union, but even the loyal viewed him with disdain if not hostility.  Even his own cabinet, termed the "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, had their reservations.  Yet Lincoln pressed on to assert his way on others.  Working eighteen hours a day, he sought to deal with people directly.  Sometimes they worked, other times not so.  Lincoln's search for winning generals lasted for years, particularly the troublesome George McLellan, but he ultimately found them.  He wavered on slavery, famously saying to Horace Greeley in August 1862 that

"I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. 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. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views."

Doing so required multiple policies, first protecting slavery everywhere, then punishing the disloyal by seizing them.  The enslaved themselves, inspired by their view of the war as a struggle over their condition, influenced his actions.  The Emancipation Proclamation had only a partial effect, ending slavery only in areas not under Union control.  That said, Lincoln encouraged exempted areas, like West Virginia for example, to abolish slavery on their own terms.  I argue that West Virginia's slaves had already ended it by self-emancipation, but other areas like Kentucky had a much harder time with it.  And yet many say that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery!  After four years of struggle and devastation, the Union won the war.  My personal favorite moment in the entire history of this important era is Lincoln's visit to Richmond on April 4, 1865.  While whites closed their doors to avoid seeing him, the freedmen greeted him like he was the Messiah - a true Biblical moment come true.  Yet it was not to last.  Five days later, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, starting the end of the war.  And five days after that, Lincoln made his fateful trip to Ford's Theater where he became the great martyr for the war.  It is unsurprising that the Reverend C. B. Crane of Hartford compared Lincoln to Christ Himself in a sermon delivered on April 16.  Since then, Lincoln's very name has become synonymous with honesty, tolerance, and the democratic ideal.  There are statues to him in London and Mexico City, streets and places in other parts.  The Lincoln Memorial in Washington is my personal favorite monument where above the grand statue of the man is etched into the wall:


Yes, I admit to hero worship here, with good reason.

Here's my Lincoln joke.  Lincoln's last Tweet, Facebook post or Text message was: "OMG why does Mary make me come to these boring plays!  FML!  Somebody shoot me." 

A good friend of mine called it "Hilarious and totally perfect, but wrong."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Grand Army of the Republic in Canada

It's a little known fact that the first veterans organization in Canada was not Canadian at all.  Instead it was the Grand Army of the Republic, the association of those who fought in the United States Army during the Civil War.  As far as I know, veterans of the War of 1812 did not organize this way, if at all.  Also, British veterans of imperial wars, everything from Napoleonic Wars through the Crimean War, the Great Rebellion in India, up to Northwest Rebellions in the Canadian west, do not appear to have organized in Canada.  The GAR had a significant presence, with eight posts in all, each associated with a US state organization.  Four were in Ontario, the William Winer #77 in Hamilton, the Hannibal Hamlin #652 of NY in London, the W. W. Cooke #472 of NY also in Hamilton, and the J. S. Knowlton #532 of NY in Toronto.  Quebec had three, the Joseph Bernard #77 of New Hampshire, the General Hancock #73 of Vermont in Montreal, and the Quebec #117 also of Vermont in Quebec City.  Winnipeg, far out in the west, had the Manitoba #592 of Pennsylvania.  While these constitute just .1% of the 8,000+ GAR branches in the US, and two more abroad in Mexico and Peru, they nonetheless indicate the extent that the Civil War had on North America. 

To my knowledge, no research has been done on these posts or the men who belonged to them.  Were they Americans who came north or Canadian veterans who returned home?  Were any black, or English or French?  What about any Confederate veterans since no branches of the UCV existed outside of the United States or even the South?  It would be interesting to see how their presence and public role affected the society around them.  Nineteenth Century Canada had a strong anti-American sentiment in it.  While Civil War veterans spread around the world, they did not organize in the same way as in Canada, Mexico and Peru.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Commenting now working

Commenting is now available on my posts.  All are subject to moderation and approval by yours truly.

Daar Kom Die Alibama

Here's an interesting find from South Africa.  Down there, a popular song is "Daar Kom Die Alibama" or "Here Comes The Alabama".  It appears that the Cape Malay population, brought from Indonesia by the Dutch in the 18th Century, started this song when the Confederate raider CSS Alabama visited Cape Town in 1863.  It became commonplace to the point it is in today's South African Manual of Scouting ( complete with endorsement from Nelson Mandela himself.  This song says a lot about the implications that the Civil War wrought on the rest of the world.  Here are the lyrics, first in Afrikaans and then in English.  Here's a Youtube video of an American choir, the Choralaires singing the song.  (

•Daar kom die Alibama,
•Die Alibama, die kom oor die see,
•Daar kom die Alibama,
•Die Alibama, die kom oor die see...

•Nooi, nooi die rietkooi nooi,
•Die rietkooi is gemaak,
•Die rietkooi is vir my gemaak,
•Om daarop te slaap...

•O Alibama, die Alibama,
•O Alibama, die kom oor die see,
•O Alibama, die Alibama,
•O Alibama, die kom oor die see...

•There comes the Alabama,
•The Alabama, it comes o'er the sea,
•There comes the Alabama,
•The Alabama, it comes o'er the sea...
•Lass, lass, the reed bed calls,
•The reed bed it is made,
•The reed bed it is made for me,
•To sleep upon...
•Oh Alabama, the Alabama,
•Oh Alabama, it comes o'er the sea,
•Oh Alabama, the Alabama,
•Oh Alabama, it comes o'er the sea...

"U.S." Grant

I'd like to thank Kevin Levin and Keith Harris for publicizing something I found in West Virginia newspaper. The cool kids like me!!!  They are different versions of the "U. S." in the name of Ulysses Simpson Grant, first published in the New York Times of July 19, 1863.  Some are amusing, others insensitive to modern sensitivities on race, others downright odd.  All reveal the esteem that many held Grant as a hero in the wake of his victory over the rebels at Vicksburg, which cut the Confederacy in two.  Here it goes:

At a torchlight procession in Belleville, Illinois, last week, one of the transparencies contained the following:
Major-Genernl U. S. Grant.
Unconditional Surrender Grant.
Uncle Sam Grant.
United States Grant.
Unparalleled Success Grant.
Unabridged Seizure Grant.
Union-Saver Grant.
Uudenlably Superior Grant.
Uuflinching Surmounter Grant.
Undaunted Soldier Grant.
Understanding Secession Grant.
Use Sambo Grant.
Unshackle Slave Grant.
Ultimate Subjugation Grant.
Uncommon Smart Grant.
Unequaled Smasher Grant.
Utterly Solid Grant.
Utmost Safety Grant.
Unrivaled System Grant.
Unexceptionable Scientific Grant.
Undertake Sure Grant.
Unbounded Spunk Grant.
Universal Sanative Grant.
Unadulterated Saltpetre Grant.
Uniform Succeeder Grant.
Undisputed Sagacity Grant.
Unabated Siege Grant.
Unbending Superexcellence Grant.
Unexampled Skill Grant.
Undoubtedly Spunky Grant.
Usually Sober Grant.
Unprecedented Sardine Grant.
Go in, U.S. -- I see it now !

Why am I blogging?

Hi there!  My name is Scott MacKenzie, and I am working on my PhD at Auburn University in Alabama.  My field is United States History with particular emphasis on the Civil War Era.  I'm from Alberta, Canada originally.  Now, you're probably asking why a Canadian would study the most American of events, its legendary Civil War.  I'm amazed too.  I never considered it until about ten years ago.  Before that, all I knew about the war was from movies (I saw Glory in the theater in 1989) and from high school history class.  They taught me that Canadian Confederation began in response to a perceived threat from the United States in response to British support to the Confederacy during the war.  I now realize how much Canadian leaders grossly exaggerated the menace.  It appears to me that the American threat is a common theme in Canadian history, but that's another story.

My route to Civil War history was a long and circuitous one.  After graduating from the University of Manitoba with a history major and a classics minor, I went to Queens College, City University of New York to pursue an MA and, I hoped, a PhD in European History.  That fell through for a number of reasons that I won't disclose here.  However, I struck up a friendship with a Civil War historian who encouraged me to return to graduate school.  After several years in the real world, I did so at the University of Calgary, graduating with my MA in 2007.  My thesis dealt with the civil war in Kanawha County, West Virginia.  How did this topic interest me?  Simple: I went there once.  Never did I realize that a road trip in 2002 would become my life's work.  I'm now continuing my research at Auburn, home of the 2010 National Champions.  War Eagle!

I'm starting this blog after subscribing to others dealing with the Civil War.  Some like Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory (, Brooks Simpson's Crossroads ( and Keith Harris' Cosmic America ( have sterling work in starting discussions of important Civil War era topics.  They debate new books, the so-called Neo-Confederates, the allegations that enslaved persons willingly fought for the Confederacy, the politics of Civil War commemoration, and popular media.  Everyone owes these Olympians a debt of gratitude.  My goals are similar but more modest.  Like them, I abhor bad history, particularly that which excludes the role of race, slavery and emancipation in the causes, prosecution and consequences of the war.  As such, I aim to raise Civil War related topics from Canada and abroad, as well as popular culture and current politics.  I encourage comments from others but please keep things civil.  I reserve the right to limit debate and ban those who abuse the privilege.  Welcome all.

First Blog

Hi there, this is my first post on my new blog.  More to come later.