Hal Holbrook on Playing Lincoln

 

Hal Holbrook starred in a miniseries back in 1974 where he played Lincoln.  The series was based on Carl Sandburg’s romantic, if dubious historically take on Lincoln in his Pulitzer winning biography.  The episodes in the miniseries do not tell the entire life of Lincoln, but rather focus on vignettes from Lincoln as a young lawyer up to his years as President.  The series had its moments, Holbrook being an actor of considerable ability, but I chiefly remember it for the makeup job of Holbrook as Lincoln:

 

It simply didn’t work for me.  It struck me as fake looking, although I admit that your mileage may vary.  A decade later Holbrook would portray Lincoln in the soap operish look at the War in North and South, and I thought the makeup was much better done:

 

 

 

Playing an historical figure who has become a national icon is rough, and especially so with Lincoln who had a strikingly unique appearance and mannerisms, and who lived before the time of audio or film recording.  It is no wonder that efforts to capture the man on stage or on film so often meet with negative or mixed results.

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Published in: on January 16, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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January 15, 1864: Fall of Fort Fisher

sail-mar

 

With the fall of Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865, the last major port of the Confederacy was sealed.  After Butler’s blundering attempt to take the Fort ended in a disgraceful retreat, the Union wasted no time in outfitting a second expedition.  60 ships under Admiral David Porter made up the naval component while Major General Alfred Terry led a force of 9000 troops from the Army of the James.  Colonel William Lamb commanded the 1900 man garrison of Fort Fisher, while Major General Hoke commanded a division of 6400 men a few miles north of the fort.

On January 13, Terry landed north of the Fort, between it and Hoke’s division.  Scouting the fort on January 14, Terry decided it could be taken by an infantry assault.  The Union fleet opened an intense bombardment of the fort on the morning of the 15th.  The assault did take the fort, in the teeth of a determined Confederate defense, after fighting that lasted until 10:00 PM.  Union casualties were 1341, with the entire Confederate garrison captured in addition to 538 killed and wounded.  Here is Secretary of War Stanton’s report on the battle:

 

FROM SECRETARY STANTON.

FORTRESS MONROE, Tuesday, Jan. 17 — 10 P.M.

The rebel flag of Fort Fisher was delivered to me on board the steamer Spalding, off that place, yesterday morning, Jan. 16, by Major-Gen. TERRY.

To the President:

An acknowledgment and thanks for their gallant achievement was given in your name to Admiral PORTER and Gen. TERRY, from whom the following particulars were obtained: The troops arrived off Fort Fisher Thursday night. Friday they were all landed under cover of a heavy fire from the squadron. A reconnoissance was made by Gen. TERRY on Saturday. A strong defensive line against any of the enemy’s forces coming from Wilmington was established on Saturday, and held by 4,600 men, chiefly colored troops, and an assault was determined on. The assault was made on Sunday afternoon at 3 1/2 o’clock. The sea-front of the fort had been greatly damaged and broken by a continuous and terrible fire of the fleet for three days, and the front was assaulted at the hour mentioned by a column of seamen and marines, 1,800 strong, under command of Capt. BREESE. They reached the parapet, but after a short conflict this column was checked, driven back in disorder, and was afterward placed on the defensive line, taking the place of a brigade that was brought up to reinforce the assaulting column of troops. Although the assault on the sea front failed, it performed a useful part in diverting the attention of the enemy, and weakening their resistance to the attack by the troops on the other side. The assault on the other and most difficult side of the fort was made by a column of 3,000 troops of the old Tenth Corps, led by Col. CURTIS, under the immediate supervision of Gen. TERRY. The enemy’s force in the fort was over 2,200. The conflict lasted for seven hours. The works were so constructed that every traverse afforded the enemy a new defensive position from whence they had to be driven. They were seven in number, and the fight was carried on from traverse to traverse, for seven hours, by a skilfully directed fire thrown into the traverses. One after another they were occupied by the enemy. Admiral PORTER contributed to the success of the assaulting column by signals between himself and Gen. TERRY at brief intervals. This fire was so well managed as to damage the enemy without injury to our own troops. (more…)

January 14, 1784: Congress Ratifies the Treaty of Paris

 

Two hundred and thirty-five years ago the War of Independence officially ended with the ratification of the Treaty of Paris by Congress.  Nine states were needed under the Articles of Confederation to ratify the treaty and with the rough winter of 1783-1784 only seven states were represented in Congress meeting in Annapolis, Maryland.  The arrival of delegates from Connecticut and South Carolina on January 13 and January 14 allowed the treaty to be ratified unanimously by the delegates present.  Congress had previously on April 11, 1783 announced the cessation of hostilities with Great Britain.  The British had evacuated New York City on November 25, 1783, their last major foothold in the new United States.  Member of Congress Edward Hand of Pennsylvania, who had served in the Continental Army and risen to the rank of Major General, shared the hopes of many of the American people when he wrote:  “God grant the Peace may be perpetual & productive of every happiness to America, as I think it commences with the joint & full accord of all her good Citizens.” 

Published in: on January 14, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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January 13, 1862: Letter From Mudd

 

 

 

Orestes A. Brownson, a Catholic convert, was the greatest Catholic writer of mid-Nineteenth Century America.  He published Brownson’s Quarterly Journal, an influential and popular magazine which examined the political, cultural and literary scene of the America of its time.  One hundred and fifty years ago one of his subscribers sat down and wrote him a letter.  Dr. Samuel Mudd was an unknown figure at the time, but just over three years hence all of America would know his name as the physician who  treated the assassin John Wilkes Booth after he had slain President Lincoln.  Mudd was arrested in the aftermath of the assassination.  Mudd claimed to be completely innocent.  However, at his trial evidence was presented that established that Mudd had contacts with Booth in late 1864.  What they talked about is lost to history.  Evidence by Mudd’s former slaves helped establish that Mudd had been part of the conspiracy.  He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, escaping the death penalty by a single vote.

Mudd was held for four years at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas.  During a yellow fever epidemic in 1867 the prison doctor died and Mudd volunteered to take his place.  His efforts helped stem the outbreak and the soldiers at the fort wrote a petition to President Johnson asking for clemency for Mudd:  He inspired the hopeless with courage and by his constant presence in the midst of danger and infection…. [Many] doubtless owe their lives to the care and treatment they received at his hands.  Due to this, and the ceaseless efforts of his defense attorney Thomas W. Ewing, Jr. who was influential with the Johnson administration, on February 8, 1869 Johnson pardoned Mudd.  Since Mudd’s release there have been continuing efforts to clear his name.  In 1992 my former Congressman, Republican Thomas Ewing, co-sponsored with Steny Hoyer, Democrat Maryland, House bill 1885 to overturn the conviction of Mudd.  The bill failed in committee.

Here is the text of Mudd’s letter to Brownson: (more…)

Published in: on January 13, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Just For Fun

 

Something for the weekend.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Rube Goldberg devices, and the Swedish musical group Wintergatan has constructed one of the most amusing, running on 2000 marbles.

Published in: on January 12, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Benjamin Franklin on Religion

There is a letter quoted on many internet sites as being from Benjamin Franklin to Thomas Paine.  Actually it was written on December 13, 1757 from Franklin to an unknown author who had sent him a manuscript.  Here is the letter:

Dear Sir,

I have read your manuscript with some attention. By the argument it contains against a particular Providence, though you allow a general Providence, you strike at the foundations of all religion. For, without the belief of a Providence that takes cognisance of, guards, and guides, and may favor particular persons, there is no motive to worship a Deity, to fear his displeasure, or to pray for his protection. I will not enter into any discussion of your principles, though you seem to desire it. At present I shall only give you my opinion that, though your reasons are subtle, and may prevail with some readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general sentiments of mankind on that subject, and the consequence of printing this piece will be, a great deal of odium drawn upon yourself, mischief to you, and no benefit to others. He that spits against the wind spits in his own face.

But were you to succeed, do you imagine any good would be done by it? You yourself may find it easy to live a virtuous life, without the assistance afforded by religion; you having a clear perception of the advantage of virtue, and the disadvantages of vice, and possessing a strength of resolution sufficient to enable you to resist common temptations. But think how great a portion of mankind consists of weak and ignorant men and women, and of inexperienced, inconsiderate youth of both sexes, who have need of the motives of religion to restrain them from vice, to support their virtue, and retain them in the practice of it till it becomes habitual, which is the great point for its security. And perhaps you are indebted to her originally, that is to your religious education, for the habits of virtue upon which you now justly value yourself. You might easily display your excellent talents of reasoning upon a less hazardous subject, and thereby obtain a rank with our most distinguished authors. For among us it is not necessary, as among the Hottentots, that a youth, to be raised into the company of men, should prove his manhood by beating his mother.

I would advise you, therefore, not to attempt unchaining the tiger, but to burn this piece before it is seen by any other person, whereby you will save yourself a great deal of mortification by the enemies it may raise against you, and perhaps a great deal of regret and repentance. If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?

Note that Franklin does not wish to get into a religious debate, but merely notes the social utility of religion and advises the author that the world would be a worse place without it.  His last sentence is striking:    If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it?  Sadly, the last century thumpingly answered that query. (more…)

Published in: on January 11, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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Living Photographs

 

The things you find on the internet!  Fascinating background on photographs consisting of thousands of people with way too much time on their hands.

Published in: on January 10, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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January 8, 1863: Second Battle of Springfield, Missouri

An unusual example of urban combat during the Civil War, the hard-fought Second Battle of Springfield, Missouri on January 8, 1863 was one of the endless engagements that made Missouri one of the most fought over states during the Civil War.  The Union had heavily fortified Springfield and used it as linchpin of Union control of southwestern Missouri.

The Union garrison numbered only 1324 Union veteran troops, but four strong forts surrounded the city and Missouri Union militia swelled the number of the defenders to slightly more than 2000 men.  Brigadier General Egbert Brown, the commander of the garrison decided to stand and fight.

The Confederates consisted of about 2000 veteran cavalry under General John S. Marmaduke.  The standout unit among the Confederates was the Iron Brigade led by Colonel Jo Shelby, one of the more talented Confederate cavalry commanders of the War. (more…)

January 8, 1919: Theodore Roosevelt Buried

 

 

“Both life and death are part of the same great adventure.”

Theodore Roosevelt

 

Theodore Roosevelt was buried in Youngs Memorial Cemetery,   Oyster Bay a century ago after a simple funeral service at Christ Church, the Episocopalian church he and his family attended.  His son Archie was present, his son Quentin having been killed in the War, and his sons Theodore, Jr, and Kermit, still being on active service in Europe.

His grieving widow, Edith, would outlive her husband by nineteen years, she living to see 1948 and being 87 at the time of her death.  She campaigned briefly for Herbert Hoover in 1932, to emphasize that Franklin Roosevelt was not her son, a ridiculous fable being pedaled by some Democrats.  (She despised Eleanor Roosevelt.)  Prior to her death she destroyed almost all her correspondence with her husband, a loss to history, but she lived at a time when the division between private and public life was much better honored than it is at present.

The simple funeral of Theodore Roosevelt was striking at the time.  As newspaper accounts indicated, he was buried as a private citizen.  No eulogy and no music was part of the church service, and only 500 people were allowed to attend the funeral.  His wife was prostrate with her grief and remained at their home, neither attending the funeral service nor the burial.  Vice President Thomas Marshall represented the US government.

Such was the funeral of the greatest American president, up to his time, since Abraham Lincoln.

Published in: on January 8, 2019 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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No World War I

Farewell the plumed troop, and the big wars,
That make ambition virtue!

Othello, Act 3, Scene 3

 

 

Alternate history has always fascinated me, and Andrew Roberts, a great contemporary historian, I heartily recommend his recent biography of Churchill, does a good job of pointing out the traumas that arose in the wake of the grand blood-letting we call World War I, and how they may have been avoided if World War I had not occurred.  Do I think  World War I could have been avoided?  Well, certainly the crisis over Sarajevo could have been settled peacefully if a modicum of common sense by Austria-Hungary and Germany had prevailed.  However, Europe had enjoyed an unprecedented, up to that time, peace since Waterloo in 1815, interrupted only by relatively brief wars between the Great Powers, but by 1914 this vacation from history was manifestly breaking down.  The Balkans had produced, since the closing decades of the 19th century, a series of minor wars that were always threatening to get out of hand and involve the Great Powers.  For good reason Otto von Bismarck, the man who created Imperial Germany, had predicted the year before his death:“That one day the great European War would come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”   In the decades leading up to the Sarajevo Crisis, Europe had weathered a series of crises that threatened great power clashes.  Below the surface of the stability of the Great Powers were revolutionary movements, waiting impatiently in the wings of contemporary history for their forthcoming moment on center stage.  In retrospect it is not of note that the Great War came, but that its outbreak had been delayed so long by jury-rigged emergency diplomacy, a general hesitation among the Great Powers to risk all on a roll of the iron dice of war and, above all, good luck.  When peace depends primarily on luck, sooner or later the good luck will run out.

 

 

Darryl Bates : What started it?

Published in: on January 7, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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