Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Civil War Reflections

             Those of you who have been reading my column during the past ten years know that I have a particular love and interest in our American Civil War. My fascination with this period in our nation’s history is due to my love of history in general, and because of my own family’s involvement in this “War of Northern Aggression,” as my southern relatives regarded this intrusion into their lives.

My great-grandfather, the Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake, was in his mid-30s when he enlisted in support of the Confederacy. He was a member of Whitfield’s Legion, Patterson’s Brigade, formed in East Texas where he pastored a church. One of my great delights is to have in my possession his original handwritten memoirs. This document is priceless to our family as it covers his entire life (1828-1891), but more importantly, he delves into his participation in the Civil War. His actual time served was less than a year due to war injuries which were severe enough for him to be discharged, whereupon he returned home to Texas.

I also have his “spectacles,” or reading glasses which he used later in his life. When I first received these from his granddaughter, about twenty years ago, I took them to my optometrist in Turlock. He was fascinated with them and immediately checked them out to determine the quality of the magnification. They were most likely made around the 1870-80 time period. He was so impressed with the quality that he jokingly said he could personally use them as a backup pair!

One other item I cherish is my great grandfather’s saddlebag hymnbook he used in his circuit riding ministry throughout East Texas. It is such family items as this which I began to acquire about twenty-five years ago that piqued my interest in our own personal family history.

I often enjoy sitting down to read from several of my Civil War books that tell about the many odd, strange, and unusual aspects of the War Between the States. I can spend countless hours immersed in this part of our history.

Let me give you an idea of what I mean. How many names can you remember that are used in referring to the Civil War? In fact, the term, Civil War, was used during the war and subsequently by both sides in the conflict. It is the term most often used today. Here’s as complete a list of the names for the war as I have been able to compile. 1. The Civil War, 2. The War Between the States (President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the term, with some embellishment, “The Four-Year War Between the States”), 3. The War of Secession (Union troops frequently referred to their Confederate counterparts as “Secesh,” used as a pejorative), 4. The War of Northern Aggression, 5. The War of Southern Aggression, 6. The War for the Union, 7. The Second American Revolution, 8. The War of the Rebellion, 9. The War for Southern Independence (a poem written in the South referred to the war as, “The Third War for Independence,” the first being the American Revolution of 1776, the second being the War of 1812), 10. The American Civil War, 11. The U.S. Civil War (#s 10 & 11 used by foreign publications), 12. The Confederate War, 13. Mr. Lincoln’s War (referring to President Abraham Lincoln), 14. Mr. Davis’s War (referring to the president of the newly formed Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis), 15. The War Against Slavery, 16. The Anti-Slavery War, 17. The Late Unpleasantness, 18. The Recent Unpleasantness, 19. The Great Rebellion, 20. The Freedom War, used by blacks to emphasize the reason for, and the results of, the Civil War.

Let me finish my musings on Civil War reflections by speaking directly of President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Early in the Civil War he traveled to visit one of the Union camps under the command of Major General Ambrose Burnside. Mr. Lincoln was proud of his 6’4” size (although tall even by today’s standards, it is far from unusual) and always made it a point to see if there was another man who was as tall, or taller, than he. No sooner had the president arrived in camp than he spied out a strapping young man whom he quickly beckoned to stand beside him. “Turn around, young fellow,” he is alleged to have said, “and put your back against mine while I take off my hat.” Lincoln was nearly seven feet tall when wearing his top hat! As it turned out, Mahlon Shaaber, the young fellow in question, measured in at 6’6½”.

On another occasion late in the war, the president was traveling aboard a Navy ship on his way to visit other commands. It was the honor of the USS Malvern to transport their Commander in Chief. So, the captain of the ship instructed the ship’s chief carpenter with the task of reconfiguring one of the bunks so as to add an additional foot to its length, thus accommodating the comfort of the president while sleeping on board.

Next month is President’s Day, although for those my age and older, we remember when we recognized President Abe Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and then President George Washington’s birthday (February 22). These two men were of exemplary character, holding firmly to a strong ethical code and moral underpinning, uniquely qualifying them to be leaders of our fledgling nation.

In my column for next Wednesday I will look further into the character of Mr. Lincoln. It is my understanding that the recently released full-length motion picture, “Lincoln,” has a fair amount of swearing in it, even using the foulest of words. I’ve been told the character of Lincoln actually uses this word himself in the movie. This would qualify as “historical revisionism” at its worst. First-hand accounts of Mr. Lincoln recorded in history books reveal something altogether different.

See you next week!

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