Lincoln and the Creation of Thanksgiving

In the midst of this, however, He, from Whom all blessings flow, must not be forgotten. A call for a national thanksgiving is being prepared, and will be duly promulgated.

Abraham Lincoln, from his last public address, April 11, 1865

Abraham Lincoln frequently throughout the Civil War called for Thanksgiving for Union victories and for prayers and repentance for national sins.  The idea however of an annual Thanksgiving did not spring from him but from Sarah Josepha Hale, a noted literary figure who, among other accomplishments wrote the child’s poem Mary Had a Little Lamb.  Born in 1788, for years she had led a movement for a national day of Thanksgiving to be observed annually.

Sir.–

Permit me, as Editress of the “Lady’s Book”, to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and — as I trust — even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.

You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.

Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

For the last fifteen years I have set forth this idea in the “Lady’s Book”, and placed the papers before the Governors of all the States and Territories — also I have sent these to our Ministers abroad, and our Missionaries to the heathen — and commanders in the Navy. From the recipients I have received, uniformly the most kind approval. Two of these letters, one from Governor (now General) Banks and one from Governor Morgan are enclosed; both gentlemen as you will see, have nobly aided to bring about the desired Thanksgiving Union.

But I find there are obstacles not possible to be overcome without legislative aid — that each State should, by statute, make it obligatory on the Governor to appoint the last Thursday of November, annually, as Thanksgiving Day; — or, as this way would require years to be realized, it has ocurred to me that a proclamation from the President of the United States would be the best, surest and most fitting method of National appointment.

I have written to my friend, Hon. Wm. H. Seward, and requested him to confer with President Lincoln on this subject As the President of the United States has the power of appointments for the District of Columbia and the Territories; also for the Army and Navy and all American citizens abroad who claim protection from the U. S. Flag — could he not, with right as well as duty, issue his proclamation for a Day of National Thanksgiving for all the above classes of persons? And would it not be fitting and

patriotic for him to appeal to the Governors of all the States, inviting and commending these to unite in issuing proclamations for the last Thursday in November as the Day of Thanksgiving for the people of each State? Thus the great Union Festival of America would be established.

Now the purpose of this letter is to entreat President Lincoln to put forth his Proclamation, appointing the last Thursday in November (which falls this year on the 26th) as the National Thanksgiving for all those classes of people who are under the National Government particularly, and commending this Union Thanksgiving to each State Executive: thus, by the noble example and action of the President of the United States, the permanency and unity of our Great American Festival of Thanksgiving would be forever secured.

An immediate proclamation would be necessary, so as to reach all the States in season for State appointments, also to anticipate the early appointments by Governors.

Excuse the liberty I have taken

With profound respect

Yrs truly

Sarah Josepha Hale,

Editress of the “Ladys Book”

There is no evidence that Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation was issued in response to this letter, but it is probable.  Here is the proclamation on October 3, 1863 by President Lincoln that established Thanksgiving as an annual event:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. (more…)

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Published in: on November 23, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Reb Marines

Born on March 16, 1861 by an Act of the Confederate Congress,  the Confederate States Marine Corps had an authorized strength of 45 officers and 944 enlisted men, increased in 1862 to 1026 enlisted men.  The Marines never had more than 600 men at one time during the War.  Throughout the War the headquarters and training facilities of the CSMC was at Camp Beal on Drewry’s Bluff and at the Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk.  The Marines were led by Colonel-Commadant Lloyd J. Beall, a former major and paymaster in the United States Army.  Much of the records of the CSMC were destroyed by a fire in Beall’s home after the War in 1887, which also killed Beall. (more…)

Published in: on November 9, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Yankee Marines

 

During the Civil War the United States Marine Corp had its authorized strength increased to 3000 men, minuscule compared to the Union Army that reached over a million men.  Marine Commandant Colonel John Harris was a traditionalist who believed that the Marines should guard ships and man artillery batteries, leaving the numerous amphibious invasions that took place during the War to the Army.  Even with this restricted scope, 17 Marines earned the newly created Medals of Honor during the War.  Go here to read a comprehensive list of Marine participation in the Civil War.

Published in: on November 8, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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November 2, 1864: Saving Private Wilson

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During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln commuted, as did Jefferson Davis, almost every military sentence of death for desertion or cowardice that reached his desk.  One of his last acts before his own death was to pardon a soldier on April 13, 1865.   As Lincoln put it,”I don’t believe it will make a man any better to shoot him, while if we keep him alive, we just may get some work out of him.”  

On November 2, 1864 he telegramed General Grant ordering him to suspend the pending execution of Nathan Wilson, who had been found guilty of desertion from the 22nd Massachusetts.  Unlike most men Lincoln pardoned, Private Wilson was politically connected.  His uncle was New York State Senator Albert Hobbs, a Republican, who had interceded with Lincoln on behalf of his nephew.  (more…)

Published in: on November 2, 2017 at 5:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Bonnie Blue Flag

 

 

(I originally posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

Donald Sutherland as Confederate General Pierre Beauregard calms a group of Confederate civilians under bombardment by Union forces in besieged Charleston by singing The Bonnie Blue Flag. This is from the 1999 movie The Hunley, a film about the Confederate proto-submarine. Sutherland has always been a Hollywood liberal, and this scene demonstrates just how recent the politicization of all things Confederate has been by the left in this country.

 

 

Published in: on September 14, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Bonnie Blue Flag  
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September 13, 1862: Special Order No. 191

George B. McClellan throughout his life up until 1862 had been a very fortunate man.  Born into a family of wealth and prestige, he had gone through the Mexican War without a scratch and had been incredibly successful in civilian life, becoming president of the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad at the age of 34.  In 1861 he had benefited from overwhelming numbers and lacklustre opposition in West Virginia, leading to Union victories which catapulted him to become General-in-Chief of the Union armies.

Then 1862 arrived and McClellan’s good fortune seemed to desert him.  His delay in launching a general union offensive caused Lincoln to remove him as General-in-Chief, in effect demoting him to simply being the commander of the Army of the Potomac.  His luck also seemed to go astray during his disastrous Peninsula Campaign, where his inordinate caution and meager battlefield generalship threw away a golden opportunity to seize Richmond and perhaps end the war.

After the crushing of Pope’s Army of Virginia at Second Bull Run, Lincoln reluctantly placed McClellan back in command to fight against Lee in his invasion of Maryland.  Now McClellan was lethargically following parts of Lee’s army, McClellan seemingly gun-shy after his defeat at the hands of Lee in the Peninsula Campaign.

On September 13, 1862 McClellan’s good fortune reappeared in a dramatic fashion.  At approximately 10:00 AM that day Corporal Barton W. Mitchell of the 27th Indiana volunteers found a copy of an order from Robert E. Lee wrapped around three cigars.  The order was dated September 9, 1862 and was designated Special Order No. 191.  The order presumably was lost by a staff officer of D. H. Hill’s division which had been camping on the ground  previously.  The order was a movement order which detailed how Lee had divided up his army for the Maryland campaign.  The order was quickly sent up the chain of command to McClellan.

McClellan was exultant.  With this order he knew how Lee had divided his command and where the separate pieces of the Army of Northern Virginia were marching.   “Here is a paper with which if I cannot whip Bobbie Lee, I will be willing to go home.”, he prophetically told his old friend General John Gibbon.  He telegraphed Lincoln:

The PRESDT,

I have the whole rebel force in front of me, but am confident and no time shall be lost. I have a difficult task to perform, but with God’s blessing will accomplish it. I think Lee has made a gross mistake and that he will be  severely punished for it. The army is in motion as rapidly as possible. I hope for a great success if the plans of the  rebels remain unchanged. We have possession of Catoctin. I have all the plans of the rebels, and will catch them in their own trap if my men are equal to the emergency. I now feel that I can count on them as of old. All forces of Pennsylvania should be placed to co-operate at Chambersburg. My respects to Mrs. Lincoln. Received most enthusiastically by the ladies. Will send you trophies. All well, and with God’s blessing will accomplish it.

Geo. B. McClellan

Here is the text of Special Order No. 191: (more…)

Published in: on September 13, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 13, 1862: Special Order No. 191  
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Grant Puts a Stop to Treason Trials

 

It is little remembered now, but in 1865 there was a brief attempt to conduct treason trials against Confederate generals. On June 7, 1865, U.S. District Judge John C. Underwood in Norfolk, Virginia issued indictments against Lee, Longstreet, Early and other Confederate generals on charges of treason. Lee wrote to General Grant asking if the terms granted at Appomattox were still in effect. Furious at this attempt to undo his work, Grant immediately wrote to Secretary of War Stanton:

In my opinion the officers and men paroled at Appomattox Court-House, and since, upon the same terms given to Lee, cannot be tried for treason so long as they observe the terms of their parole. This is my understanding. Good faith, as well as true policy, dictates that we should observe the conditions of that convention. Bad faith on the part of the Government, or a construction of that convention subjecting the officers to trial for treason, would produce a feeling of insecurity in the minds of all the paroled officers and men. If so disposed they might even regard such an infraction of terms by the Government as an entire release from all obligations on their part. I will state further that the terms granted by me met with the hearty approval of the President at the time, and of the country generally. The action of Judge Underwood, in Norfolk, has already had an injurious effect, and I would ask that he be ordered to quash all indictments found against paroled prisoners of war, and to desist from further prosecution of them. (more…)

Published in: on September 7, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Grant Puts a Stop to Treason Trials  
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The Entire Civil War

Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.

Shelby Foote

 

 

 

An excellent brief retelling of the Civil War by the Civil War Trust using animated maps.

Published in: on August 29, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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One People

 

Something for the weekend. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. When I read Civil War history I do not read it in an us v. them spirit. Everybody involved is an American: Confederate, Union, black slave. It is the great American epic, our Iliad. It was visited upon us by God, I believe, for the reason Lincoln stated:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

The great lesson of the Civil War is that we are one people, North and South, black and white, and when I study that period in our history I always attempt to remember that fact.

Published in: on August 26, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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One Reason We Didn’t Have Unending Civil Wars

 

 

 

 

Last Salute

One reason we didn’t have unending civil wars after the one that ended in 1865 is because of the generosity of spirit by Abraham Lincoln, Lieutenant General Grant and by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, he of Little Round Top Fame:

The choice of the two officers to oversee the surrender ceremony at Appomattox, Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Confederate General John Brown Gordon, was quite appropriate.  In a War where the vast majority of soldiers were volunteers and not regular soldiers, both these Generals were volunteers, not professional soldiers.  They both during the War saw more combat than most professional soldiers see in an  entire career.  After the War both became active in politics and both often spoke of the need for love of the reunited nation and a forgetting of the angry passions of the Civil War, while ever remembering the courage of the men who had fought it, especially the courage of those who never came back from the War.

 

 

Chamberlain helped begin the healing of the dreadful wounds to the nation caused by the War  at Appomattox.  As the Confederates passed by, Chamberlain ordered a salute to them by the Union troops. He explained why he did this:

“I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;–was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?” (more…)

Published in: on August 24, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on One Reason We Didn’t Have Unending Civil Wars  
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