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Monday, June 27, 2016

The Gettysburg Address

Roots in Ripon
27 June 2016
Chuck Roots

The Gettysburg Address

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a literary pièce de résistance. This brief two-minute speech has captivated historians and all lovers America for the past 150-plus years.

It has been erroneously reported that President Lincoln wrote this speech while riding the train from Washington, DC to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In fact, he began writing the speech in the White House using White House letterhead stationary. His normal approach in crafting a speech was to work on it well in advance of the event. It is surmised by historians in this case that the Address had not been completed until after arriving at Gettysburg. The reason given that debunks his having written the Address on the train points out that his handwriting was the same as all other documents he had written – a challenging feat on a rocking and rolling train in 1863!

The Gettysburg Address was given on November 19, 1863. The crowd in attendance was well aware of the importance of the Address, and they were expecting a real stem-winder. Seeing as the definition for stem-winder is “a rousing speech, especially by a politician,” the speaker on this occasion met that criteria. He was an American politician, pastor, educator, diplomat, and orator. He served as a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator, the 15th Governor of Massachusetts, Minister to Great Britain, and United States Secretary of State. He was fluent in Greek and Latin, and was a noted historian on Greece. You may be scratching your head at this point, asking, “Lincoln?” No, not Lincoln. The keynote speaker for that day was Edward Everett. Everyone was expecting to be dazzled by the man’s brilliance, and they were. The climax to Everett’s career as an orator was the opportunity to speak at an event where the recent dead in battle were memorialized. He was invited to give this speech more than two months earlier, while President Lincoln, not to be the main speaker, was given 17 days’ notice.

Everett did dazzle the audience, speaking for two hours without notes. His oratory was not lost on President Lincoln who at the end of Everett’s speech, “shook his hand with great fervor, and said, ‘I am more than gratified. I am grateful to you.’ Then Lincoln stood up, spoke his 272 words, and sat down.” After returning to the White House Lincoln wrote a gracious letter to Mr. Everett pointing out particulars in the speech which he found especially uplifting. Edward Everett, on the other hand, wrote a note to the President which reads, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Time and space does not allow me to write the entirety of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. However, I should like to break it down for you in my own reflective way. In the first of three paragraphs which starts out, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent . . .” Lincoln, in one elongated sentence, gives us the reason why our nation, the United States of America, was formed. This new nation was “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Though it has taken a while to see this equality emerge (and we’re still working to that end), he was a visionary, seeing what needed, nay, what must take place for a nation to truly be free.

The second paragraph is a cryptic analysis of the state of the nation on November 19, 1863. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” He made a holy dedication over a portion of the former field of battle, “as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that that nation might live.” Remember: the outcome of the War was gravely in doubt at this juncture.

In humility, Lincoln states eloquently that any efforts on the part of those assembled can never begin to give these men their proper due. Rather, “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” Perhaps one of the classic ironies of history is Lincoln’s next statement. “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” The Civil War is the most popular topic in America! We the People have taken note and remembered what was said, and we will never forget what was done on that sacred ground!

Lincoln concludes this third paragraph with these challenging words to those who would heed them: “That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” For Lincoln it was always about freedom for all Americans.

Ronald C. White, Jr., wrote a biography entitled, “A. Lincoln.” He points out that Abe Lincoln came from a very strong, devout Christian family. From childhood on, young Abe “did not simply read the Bible, he began a lifelong practice of memorizing whole sections. One of his favorite portions to memorize was the Psalms.” White further writes, “The books young Lincoln read tell us he was drawn to morality tales of the triumph of good over evil. Above all, what tied his books together was the possibility that ordinary people could do extraordinary things.” It is this environment that laid the foundation for his ultimate triumph in life: the abolition of slavery.

Wow! This man from the heartland of America was truly an ordinary man who, indeed, accomplished extraordinary things. This is why I have my young grandchildren memorizing Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verse 27, we read, “All things are possible with God.”

I believe Mr. Lincoln would say “Amen!”

Monday, June 20, 2016

Lessons from Lincoln

Roots in Ripon
20 June 2016
Chuck Roots

Lessons from Lincoln

I find great comfort and strength from reading the writings of our nation’s more noble characters, not the least of which is Abraham Lincoln. Often maligned today by revisionist historians who have no appreciation nor understanding of the times within which our predecessors lived, President Abe Lincoln was as plain and ordinary as a fence post.

But, oh! the depth of this man! Here was a thinking man, a man who wrestled with the hard issues of life long before the mantle of President of the United States was placed upon his shoulders.

Born in 1809, Lincoln grew up in a log cabin, working the land by the sweat of his brow. He also had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, reading at night by the glow of the coals in the fireplace. He would walk miles to borrow a book to read, and then return it again. He was a great listener, taking the time to hear people recount their troubles and woes, a practice he continued even during his time in the White House.

However, the defining event that framed Abraham Lincoln and his legacy would be the Civil War. A side note to his political career was the fact that he was the first Republican to run for president in the election of 1860. He faced two daunting issues even before he assumed the office of President. First – the issue of slavery was constantly being bandied about from the country roads of America to the Halls of Congress. This volatile topic had been discussed and debated ad nausea in America since the early 1830s. Second – several Southern states threatened to secede from the Union if Lincoln were elected. These states followed through with their threat so that Lincoln had the unenviable task of trying to keep the nation unified while supporters and supporting states wavered.

Lincoln’s goal was to end slavery, but not at the expense of destroying the nation. Above all else, the Union must be maintained. He took office intending to allow slavery to continue, but only in the states where it was legalized. The greatest impact would be on the Southern states. States that did not have laws allowing slavery could not enact them, forcing slavery to be confined to “slave states” only. Lincoln’s hope was that Southern states would eventually end slavery due to public pressure. A Civil War was not the preferred manner to handle this monstrous wrong that had been foisted upon an entire group of people simply because of skin color.

When still in his 20s, Lincoln wrote a letter to his friend, Joshua Speed who was a slaveholder. “I also acknowledge your rights and my obligations, under the Constitution, in regards to your slaves. I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down and caught and carried back to their stripes and unrewarded toils; I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841, you and I had together a tedious low-water trip on a steamboat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were on board ten or a dozen slaves shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave border. It is hardly fair for you to assume that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable.”

Later in 1855, Lincoln again writes to Joshua Speed. “How can anyone who abhors the oppression of Negroes be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.” (The Know-Nothing Party, also known as the American Party in the 1840s-1850s, opposed immigrants and followers of the Catholic Church).

In a letter to H.L. Pierce in 1859, Lincoln wrote, “This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God, cannot long retain it.”

In a very dark time, following the Union forces losing to the Confederate forces in the Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Battle of Manassas) in August of 1862, General Lee’s massive forces were moving into Northern states to strike a blow to perhaps turn the tide in favor of the Southern Cause. Union troops stopped Lee at the Battle of Antietam in September of 1862. Lincoln wrote, “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee were driven back from Pennsylvania, I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”

Ignoring the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision by the Supreme Court in 1857 in which Chief Justice Roger B. Taney decided that “slaves were not persons or citizens, but were the property of the owner, the same as their body, horse, cattle, etc., and the owner had the freedom of choice to decide what they wanted to do with their own property,” Lincoln made good on his promise and penned the Emancipation Proclamation which was to go into effect as of January 1, 1863. It stated that “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…” The document granted the right to life, freedom and citizenship to all persons regardless of race, origin, circumstance, etc.

No wonder Lincoln was revered by the people! Edwin Markham wrote a poem entitled, “Lincoln: Man of the People.” One portion reads, “Up from log cabin to the Capitol, one fire was on his spirit, one resolve – To send the keen ax to the root of wrong, clearing a free way for the feet of God, the eyes of conscience testing every stroke, to make his deed the measure of a man. He built the rail-pile as he built the State, pouring his splendid strength through every blow: The grip that swung the ax in Illinois was on the pen that set a people free.”

Next week I will delve further into the life and character of this amazing man we know as our 16th President – Abraham Lincoln.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Mad Max?

Roots in Ripon
13 June 2016
Chuck Roots

Mad Max?

In the history of warfare there are always oddities that make a person scratch their head in amazement. Such was the case with many of the Southern soldiers and sailors of the Civil War. These Confederate warriors believed their cause was just, and that given enough time, men, resources, supplies and leadership, they could still prevail over the Northern Aggressors despite the fact that General Lee and most every other Confederate commander had surrendered.

From the beginning of the War, a great hindrance to the Confederacy was its hampered attempts at opening sea lanes so that ships from southern ports could send and receive supplies, weapons and other goods from beyond their borders. At the start of the Civil War President Lincoln ordered a blockade of all the southern states from Virginia to Texas. The results of this blockade were devastating to the South. This included the capture of New Orleans which allowed the Union army to control traffic on the Mississippi River. It has been estimated that one out of every four ships attempting to leave or dock in southern ports was captured or destroyed by Federal war ships. That may not seem like a lot, but that’s a considerable amount of food, material and weapons that did not get into Confederate hands.

Another major problem suffered by the South was a rail system that was nowhere near effective enough in getting troops and supplies to the Confederate armies in the field, often requiring such material to be dropped at train depots and then loaded onto wagons driven by teamsters in hopes of finding the men in the field who needed the food, uniform items, and shot and shell to carry on the fight. The massive rail system in the Northern states had no such problem.

One of those oddities was the Confederate acquisition of Navy ships. In particular, the CSS Shenandoah (CSS stands for Confederate States Ship, in the same way as USS stands for United States Ship). This ship was built in Scotland in August of 1863 and originally named the Sea King. The ship was purchased by the Confederate Navy and was given the singular purpose of capturing and destroying Union merchant ships. The Shenandoah, under the capable leadership of her captain, Lieutenant James Waddell, wreaked havoc in the performance of her duties. The Union Navy was never able to stop her aggression against the merchant ships which were no match for a heavily armored man-of-war. LT Waddell heard of the surrender of Lee in late June of 1865 but refused to acknowledge this news since there was also a story about Confederate President Jefferson Davis promising to carry on the fight, despite having abandoned the capital of Richmond, Virginia.

In August of 1865 Waddell learned of the truth that the Southern Cause was lost. He feared returning to the United States knowing he and his crew would be tried as pirates and more than likely hanged. Instead, he sailed to Liverpool, England, and surrendered the CSS Shenandoah to the British Navy. Over the next several years most of the crew returned to the United States without repercussion. Even the ship’s captain, LT Waddell, “returned from England to the United States in 1875 to captain the San Francisco for the Pacific Mail Company. He later took command of a force that policed the oyster fleets in the Chesapeake Bay. In 1886, Waddell died of a brain disorder and was buried at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Maryland.”

 So, who’s Maximilian? He was known as Maximilian I, or by his Spanish name – Maximiliano. He was born Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph in 1832 and a younger brother of Francis Joseph I, ruling monarch of Austria. Maximilian had a distinguished career in the Austrian Navy after which he entered into a scheme with Napoleon III of France to conquer Mexico. Maximillian was soon established as Mexico’s one and only monarch in 1863. Upon arriving in Mexico, Max declared himself Emperor of Mexico. Mexico’s dethroned president, Benito Juarez, took umbrage with being ousted by this European upstart. He and his forces battled against Maximilian over the next several years, ultimately prevailing in removing Max by force in 1867, and reestablishing himself once again as Mexico’s president.

In his few years reigning over Mexico he took advantage of the American Civil War by extending an offer to Southern soldiers to join him in his battle to retain power in Mexico, with the promise that he would support these Southerners in returning to the United States to carry on the war. Max also frequently reneged on his promise to pay these soldiers for fighting for him. Despite Max’s failed promises, these soldiers from the South held out hope that perhaps their dreams of returning to the U.S. as a military force were dashed when Maximilian was captured and executed before a firing squad in 1867. His last words were, "I forgive everyone, and I ask everyone to forgive me. May my blood, which is about to be shed, be for the good of the country. Viva Mexico, viva la independencia!" His body was returned the following year to Vienna, Austria where he is buried in a crypt for public viewing.

So, was Max mad? Probably not in the sense of being psychologically off kilter, but he certainly thought more highly of himself than he should have, causing him to prove a poor leader.  

As the effects of the Civil War lessened following the War’s end in 1865, Confederate soldiers and sailors were able to return to their families, taking up their lives once again in rebuilding the greatest country that has ever graced this old world.

This July 4th is her 240th birthday. Rejoice, America!

Monday, June 06, 2016

Maximilian's Men

Roots in Ripon
6 June 2016
Chuck Roots

Maximilian’s Men

Unless you’re a Civil War buff you won’t know who Maximilian is, and even then, you may not. It’s stories like this that keep me intrigued with the history of our nation’s bloodiest conflict.

The War of Northern Aggression as Southerners like to sometimes refer to the Civil War, was a slug-fest for most of four years before the outcome was determined. But even after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant there were numerous Southern combat units that either had not received word yet of the surrender, or they chose not to surrender and continued to carry the fight to the enemy.

Among the groups and units that chose to ignore the surrender of the South are names you might be familiar with such as Quantrill and his raiders. But here’s a listing of the Confederate forces that surrendered as they realized the War was over. “While the war in the East was over, there were still Confederate armies under arms elsewhere.  When Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox he only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederacy itself could not surrender because by now there was no ‘Confederacy.’  Richmond had fallen, the government officials had fled, and many of the papers had been burned.  It would be up to each commander in the field to surrender his army as the news from the East reached him. (

First, of course, is General Lee meeting General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia on April 9, 1865. The two generals met and discussed the terms of surrender. Once settled, it is touching the manner in which these two warriors honored each other. They had served together prior to the War and had respect for each other’s military prowess and character. Riding back to his lines, Lee was swarmed by his adoring troops, many nearly hysterical with grief. Trying to soothe them with quiet phrases—‘You have done all your duty.’ ‘Leave the results to God...’ -- he rode slowly on, followed by many who wept and implored him to say that they should fight on. The next day he issued his eloquent farewell to his army. On the morning of 11 April, following a Spartan breakfast and tearful good-byes from his staff, the general mounted his warhorse, Traveler, and with a Union honor guard left Appomattox for home.”

As word made its way west that the War was in effect over, various Confederate forces surrendered their commands to Federal commanders. General Joseph E. Johnston met with Major General William T. Sherman in North Carolina to hammer out the surrender of Johnston’s army on April 26.

In Alabama, Lieutenant General Richard Taylor surrendered to Major General E.R.S. Canby on May 4.

Lieutenant General E. Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Confederate forces, was still fighting the war well through the month of May. Even after hearing that Lee had surrendered, and that Richmond had fallen, Kirby was still attempting to rally forces to carry on the fight. He rode to Houston to see if he could get support for his efforts in rallying a remnant of forces only to hear that morale was so low that there was no longer a Trans-Mississippi Army. However, “Not all of the Trans-Mississippi Confederates went home. Some 2,000 fled into Mexico; most of them went alone or in squad-sized groups, but one body numbered 300. With them, mounted on a mule, wearing a calico shirt and silk kerchief, sporting a revolver strapped to his hip and a shotgun on his saddle, was [Lieutenant General E. Kirby] Smith.”

The last Confederate commander to surrender was Brigadier General Stand Watie, leader of the Confederate Indians. Watie was also a chief of the Cherokee Nation. Other Indian nations that were part of the Confederate Indians besides the Cherokee were the Creek, Seminole, and the Osage. “Dedicated to the Confederate cause and unwilling to admit defeat, [Brig. Gen. Watie] kept his troops in the field for nearly a month after Lt. Gen. E. Kirby Smith surrendered the Trans-Mississippi May 26.”  On June 23 Watie surrendered his forces to Federal authorities.

All of this is to lay the groundwork for the next article where I will introduce you to those Southerners who continued to fight the War, and to be introduced to Maximilian and his men.