Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Senator Inouye to lie in state

Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who passed away Monday. From senate.gov
As many of you probably heard, Senator Daniel Inouye passed away on Monday at the age of 88. He was a decorated war hero, who earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in Italy during the Second World War. It has also been announced that Senator Inouye will be the thirtieth person to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Senator Inouye's story was featured in the Ken Burns series, The War.

Since I haven't updated in too long (December busyness will cause things like that to happen), I figured a brief history of the lying in state ceremony would be appropriate.

The first person to lie in state was Henry Clay of Kentucky, a Speaker of the House and longtime senator known as the "Great Compromiser," in 1852. David and Jeanne Heidler, in Henry Clay: The Essential American, provide a beautiful description of the ceremony in the book's first pages.

Abraham Lincoln was the second person, and the first of eleven presidents, to lie in state after his assassination in April 1865. For the ceremony, a catafalque of pine boards and black cloth was assembled:

Lincoln Catafalque. From senate.gov
 The Lincoln Catafalque has been used for every other lying in state ceremony since, and for a few other events. In July 2010, longtime West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd's remains rested upon the catafalque in the Senate Chamber.

The full list of those who have lain in state can be found here.

Senator Inouye will join Clay, Charles Sumner (1874), John A. Logan (1886), Robert Taft (1953), Everett Dirksen (1969), Hubert Humphrey (1978), and Claude Pepper (1989) as the only sitting senators to lie in state.

There are a number of war heroes who have lain in state: Admiral George Dewey (1917), the Unknown Soldiers from World War I (1921), World War II (1958), Korea (1958), and Vietnam (1984), General John J. Pershing (1948), General Douglas Macarthur (1964), and General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1969).

A few names stand out. Former President William Howard Taft was Chief Justice of the United States at the time of his death in 1930. J. Edgar Hoover, longtime director of the FBI is on the list. Also, Pierre L'Enfant, the man who laid out the city of Washington, DC, lie in state before he was reinterred from a pauper's grave to Arlington National Cemetery in 1909.

When Officers Jacob Chesnut and John Gibson of the U.S. Capitol Police were killed in the line of duty in 1998, Congress created the lying in honor ceremony to pay respects to those who do not quite meet the dignitary status for the lying in state ceremony. Rosa Parks was the only other individual to lie in honor. There are only a few differences from the lying in state ceremony. Notably, the casket does not rest upon the Lincoln Catafalque.

Hopefully this sheds some light on how rare the lying in state ceremony it is, but nobody deserves it more than the American hero and public servant, Senator Inouye.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lincoln's Second Greatest Speech

Plaque of the Gettysburg Address, Gettysburg National Cemetery, photo by Andrew Tremel
November 19, 2011 wreath laying at Soldiers' National Monument, Gettysburg National Cemetery, taken by Andrew Tremel
November 19, 1863 is a date that stands in the minds of (hopefully) most Americans--the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

Before I continue, I want to dedicate this blog entry to the memory of Tony Zusman, a coworker, historian, Civil War re-enactor, fellow fact of the day junkie, and friend. Every day at work, he provided a sheet with various "facts of the day," always highlighting something with Elvis. I always appreciated references to Mel Brooks' greatest works, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. One of his last sheets featured the birthday of Hedy (not Headly) Lamar. Tony was always positive, upbeat, caring. I can't say enough good things about the guy, and I can't express how much me and my coworkers will miss him. I couldn't find an event related to pop culture that I knew enough to blog about. Hopefully he'd be okay with me blogging about the president of the Union, as Tony was a Confederate re-enactor and long time officer in Longstreet's Corps. Requiescat in pacem, Tony.

I've actually had this particular entry in mind since I started the blog. The Gettysburg Address is Lincoln's most famous speech. It's even etched into the walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. At least when I was in school (hopefully still, but I doubt it), we had to memorize Lincoln's immortal words. The speech defined the meaning of the war:

Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

As great of a speech it was--one of the best in American history--I consider it to be Lincoln's second best speech. If it weren't for a speech he delivered more than three years earlier, Lincoln never would have had the chance to speak at the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg. The speech that I consider Lincoln's best is what he delivered at the Cooper Institute in New York City on February 27, 1860. It became known as the Cooper Union speech, about which Harold Holzer wrote an excellent book, titled Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Abraham Lincoln President.

Invited to speak in New York, Lincoln took full advantage of the situation and it was a make-or-break moment in his rise to the presidency (this was Lincoln's East Coast debut). Lincoln earned some national attention because of his performance in the famed debates with Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. Douglas was once again Lincoln's target in his Cooper Union address. Douglas had made the claim that the Founding Fathers supported the idea of popular sovereignty--that residents of a territory could decide the slavery question for themselves. Wrong, Lincoln argued in his hour long address. A slow, serious, and methodical researcher, Lincoln cited the congressional votes of signers of the Constitution on the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Missouri Compromise, and other measures that prohibited slavery in new territories. He denounced John Brown's raid on Harpers' Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia) and said if the South resorted to secession, the blame for disunion would rest squarely upon their shoulders. But Lincoln showed that the Republican Party's idea of barring slavery in the territories was in line with the Founders' thoughts on expansion. The Dred Scott decision and Douglas's "popular sovereignty" were a break with political and legal tradition.

He concluded emphatically, "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."

This speech likely remained in the minds of delegates in Chicago at the Republican Convention that May. Thanks to capable floor managers, Lincoln clinched the nomination and led the nation through the Civil War. If you have a free 90 minutes check out Sam Waterson recreate Lincoln's delivery on C-SPAN's website. Or, if you don't, you can read it at your leisure, here. But take a moment this weekend--look at Cooper Union or the Gettysburg Address and remember the sacrifice of those who fought in the Civil War and those who protect our Union today.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

November 10

Happy 237th birthday United States Marine Corps!

Also today in history...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Electoral Chaos

1860 Electoral Map...an election that ultimately changed the nation, nps.gov
The last thing I want this blog to become is a place for political rants. I want to stick with history, thus, in this post, I'm not going beyond the 1800s.

I'll confess: I'm sick of it all: the news, the debates, the ads, the phone calls, the yard signs lining highway medians. I have election fatigue. Yet the nerd in me wants to see a little bit of electoral chaos after the polls close. I thought it would be fun to take a brief look at some of the contested presidential campaigns in years past.

Election of 1800

In the days before the Twelfth Amendment, presidential electors cast two votes. Whoever had the most votes was president; the runner-up became vice president. It led to President John Adams having his chief rival, Thomas Jefferson, as his vice president. John Adams ran for reelection in 1800, but came in third place to Jefferson and New Yorker and future duelist Aaron Burr. Jefferson and Burr tied with 73 electoral votes.

The House of Representatives met in February to do their constitutional duty and settle the election. On February 17, after thirty-six ballots, Thomas Jefferson became president and Aaron Burr ended up as vice president. Jefferson went on to serve two terms in the White House, while Burr fought a duel with the former treasury secretary and later faced a treason trial. The country reacted to the election by ratifying the Twelfth Amendment, leaving the presidential and vice presidential candidates on separate ballots.

Election of 1824

With only factions and no organized political parties, four men ran for president: Andrew Jackson, the hero from the War of 1812, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Jackson finished first in the popular vote, but could not attain a majority in the Electoral College. Adams was second, Crawford in third. The House of Representatives would decide the election, but Clay would not be on the ballot: only the top three moved on. Crawford had suffered a stroke, so it was a two man race.

To say that Clay didn't get along with either Jackson or Adams is an understatement. He used his influence as speaker, however, and swung the election to Adams. Clay saw the secretary of state as the lesser of the two evils. Adams subsequently appointed Clay as secretary of state. While there was likely at most an unspoken agreement over that arrangement, Jackson and his cronies were able to use accusations of a "corrupt bargain" to defeat Adams in 1828.

Election of 1860

This was probably the most chaotic election in history, simply because seven states reacted to the results by seceding from the Union. I put it on the list not so much because of the election itself, but because of the outcome. This election, like the 1824 contest, saw four candidates. In May, the Democratic Party split. Southern delegates bolted from the convention after a majority of Northerners and Midwesterners adopted a platform based on popular sovereignty (residents of a territory would decide slave or free status on their own). The remaining Democrats nominated Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas. The Southern Democrats held their own convention and nominated Vice President John C. Breckinridge on a platform that called for territories to be open to slavery. The Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln, a little known former congressman. The Constitutional Union Party formed to avoid most of the controversial issues and took slave holding Senator John Bell as its candidate.

Lincoln won with a majority in the electoral college and 40% of the popular vote. He won 52% of the Northern vote and didn't even appear on the ballot in most Southern states. After his election, Lincoln assured the South that he would not interfere in slavery where it already existed. Seven states ignored the threat, seceded, and in February 1861, formed the Confederate States of America.

Election of 1876

Democrat Samuel Tilden faced off with Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. As the election returns trickled in, there were three states whose electoral votes were in dispute: South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. Tilden was one vote short of clinching the Electoral College vote; Hayes needed all three states. When ballots were counted, Hayes was declared the winner by one vote, but Democrats made accusations of fraud (Tilden did win the popular vote, after all). Congress set up the Florida Commission, made of five senators, five representatives, and five Supreme Court justices. It ended up that parties were split evenly and the fifth of the justices was to be Justice Joseph Bradley, believed to be independent-minded. The commission voted 8-7 to award Hayes with the 20 disputed electoral votes. To assuage the Democrat-dominated South, Hayes promised he would remove all federal troops from the South, thus bringing Reconstruction to an end.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Today in history is back

After a month hiatus of general busyness with other projects (including dealing with copy edits and proofs for my article coming out in January), I'm finally ready to get back to blogging.

There are so many things I could blog about: John Adams' birth (October 30, 1735), the HMS Bounty (a reproduction of the ship sunk last night), or the "Perfect Storm" of Halloween 1991. All too obvious.

We also just commemorated the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The latter is related to why I started this blog. My dad loves "today in history" stuff. He'd ask us "what happened today in history?" on most nights either out of curiosity or trying to spark dinnertime conversation. Regardless of the date, my brother Josh would answer "Cuban Missile Crisis?" He was right once a year. He probably knew that, but he's a smart ass.

Still, topics too obvious.

So today, we're going to look at the life of architect Thomas U. Walter, the fourth Architect of the Capitol, who died on October 30, 1887.

from senate.gov
Born in Philadelphia in 1804, Walter's early work included the Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia, the Chester County, Pennsylvania Courthouse, and the homes of prominent Pennsylvanians, such as Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States. His better known work, however, can be found in Washington, DC.

Our country had grown rapidly by 1850. In September of that year, California became the thirty-first state. There were sixty-two senators and 233 representatives in chambers that were growing more and more crowded. Congress launched a design competition to expand the building. Walter won, and from 1851 until his resignation in 1865, he oversaw the construction of the current chambers of Congress. That, of course, wasn't his only contribution.

Late in 1851, a fire broke out in the Library of Congress, then housed in the Capitol. It burned 35,000 volumes (around 2/3 of the library's holdings) and if it weren't for nearby Marines who chopped out a staircase leading to the wood and copper Capitol dome, the dome would have gone too. Members of Congress were alarmed by fire. Walter used this as an opportunity to propose a larger, fireproof Capitol dome--one more in proportion with the new chambers of Congress. In 1855, Walter received a $100,000 appropriation to begin. When it was all said in done in the 1860s, the dome cost around $1.1 million.

Cross section of the dome, from archives.gov
He also rebuilt the Library of Congress in cast-iron, and the library remained in that facility until the construction of the Jefferson Building in 1897.

Walter's Libary of Congress, from capitol.gov
 He retired to Philadelphia in 1865 after a contract dispute, but left a lasting legacy in American architecture. Struggling financially, he took a position as chief assistant to the architect of the Philadelphia City Hall in 1873. The last years of his life also saw him reconcile with Montgomery C. Meigs, who was the superintendent of construction for the Capitol wings. The conflicts between Meigs and Walter are well documented in William C. Allen's magnum opus, History of the United States Capitol (the full text of the book can be found at the link).

Walter is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. The American Institute of Architects refurbished the grave site a few years ago (Walter was a founding member of the organization in 1857).

Walter gravesite, photo taken by Andrew Tremel

Friday, September 28, 2012

Battle of New Market Heights

September 29, 1864 was the battle of New Market Heights, an attack on the Confederate lines during the skirmish of Petersburg. The reason I blog about it today? I haven't made an entry all week. No...seriously, I wrote part of my master's thesis on this battle. It was important, in my opinion, because it provided further evidence to doubtful white Union generals that African Americans made excellent, gallant soldiers. Union officers still needed more proof, but that's another blog post for another time.

By early Fall 1864, Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee had been entrenched around Petersburg, Virginia, a railroad depot south of Richmond. Throughout the nine month siege, Grant made several attempts to crack Lee's lines with only limited success. On September 29, Grant ordered General Benjamin F. Butler to assault Lee. A number of regiments of African American soldiers (United States Colored Troops or USCT), in the brigade of Brigadier General Charles Paine, were involved in the fighting. In fact, of the twenty-five African American soldiers who received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War (both army and navy), fourteen earned the award at the battle of New Market Heights.

For more on the battle, here's a link to the National Park Service's overview.

Monday, September 17, 2012

150th Anniversary of Antietam

Sunken Lane (Bloody Lane), Antietam National Battlefield. Photo by Andrew Tremel
September 17, 1862 was the bloodiest single day in American history. Nearly 23,000 Americans were killed or wounded in a single day's fighting. Places like the Cornfield, Dunker Church, Bloody Lane, and Burnside Bridge entered the national vocabulary. Matthew Brady displayed "The Dead of Antietam" in his New York City studio and made Americans understand the human cost and suffering of a war that seemed distant.

Matthew Brady, Confederate dead near Dunker Church, from nps.gov
The fighting between Major General George B. McClellan's Union Army of the Potomac and General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia ended in a tactical draw. Yet, the battle was a strategic victory for the Union, especially on the political front. That Robert E. Lee had to retreat from Northern soil was enough for President Abraham Lincoln to release the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln feared that if it became public after a Union defeat, a proclamation declaring an end to slavery in the eleven Confederate states would look like desperation. Lincoln took advantage of McClellan's claim to victory and changed the meaning of the war. Until Antietam's aftermath, the Civil War was merely to save the Union. Though the Emancipation Proclamation technically didn't free a single slave when it became official on January 1, 1863, (because it only applied to the states that seceded), the document showed that to Lincoln, the war was for Union and an end to slavery. The rest of the country would grow (slowly) to accept that meaning for the war. Some historians, such as James McPherson, argue that the 1862 Maryland Campaign marked the closest the Confederacy had been to foreign recognition from Great Britain and France. European nations likely took the Emancipation Proclamation into account when they chose to stay out rather than backed a country based on the institution of slavery.

So, pause for a moment this evening. Look back to Antietam and remember the sacrifice made by so many.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Anniversary of Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia from Maryland Heights, taken by Andrew Tremel
This coming Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Antietam, one of the most significant turning points in the American Civil War. A key moment in the Maryland Campaign took place on September 15--the capture of Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).

At the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, Harpers Ferry is best known as the site of John Brown's 1859 raid.  The sleepy town grew from industries (including Hall's Rifle Works and the U.S. Armory) that relied on water power, but numerous floods in the post Civil War years (including the great flood of 1936) destroyed any hope of reviving a once prosperous town. Now, Harpers Ferry sits as a tourist attraction along the Appalachian Trail. I'm a regular visitor--it's one of my favorite spots to visit, and I've never seen it as overwhelmingly busy as some Civil War sites.

An interesting fact: Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times during the Civil War--more than any town except for Winchester, Virginia (over seventy). One of those occasions in which Harpers Ferry was captured came just before the Battle of Antietam. As Robert E. Lee entered Maryland, he divided his army between his two chief lieutenants--Generals James Longstreet and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. Lee ordered Jackson to take Harpers Ferry and its Union garrison.

From a military standpoint, Harpers Ferry is virtually impossible to defend. Jackson understood this and divided his three divisions among the three hills overlooking the town: Loudon Heights in Virginia, Maryland Heights in Maryland (duh), and Bolivar Heights in present-day West Virginia (near the National Park Service visitor center). On September 13, troops under Generals Joseph B. Kershaw and William Barksdale drove a regiment of Union troops from a small fort on Maryland Heights. He moved troops to the base of Loudon Heights on the 14th and by the 15th, was ready to move in from Bolivar Heights. With the town surrounded, Union Colonel Dixon S. Miles opted to surrender. He was mortally wounded, however, before he could personally do so.

The Union surrendered 12,500 troops, artillery, wagons, and military supplies--the largest surrender in U.S. army history until the Philippines in 1942. Jackson was able to capture the garrison quickly with very few casualties of his own (less than 300). It was a brilliant victory for Jackson. "Stonewall" then marched his men to Sharpsburg, Maryland, in compliance with Lee's orders, for a showdown with Union General George McClellan.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Battle of Lake Erie

Battle of Lake Erie, William H. Powell, 1873. From senate.gov
This year marks the beginning of the 200th anniversary celebration of the War of 1812. Militarily, there were few bright spots for the United States. One of them took place today in 1813, the Battle of Lake Erie. Near Put-in-Bay Ohio, American Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry defeated British Commander Robert H. Barclay. It was a strategically important victory that allowed Americans to hold on to Lake Erie until the war's end. Thus, states bordering the lake were protected from British attack. The picture, from the Senate's art collection, shows Commodore Perry leaving the damaged Lawrence (his flagship) for the Niagara.

For more on next year's bicentennial of the Battle of Lake Erie, click here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Philip Kearny at Chantilly

"General Kearney's Gallant Charge," loc.gov
Major General Philip Kearny is one of the somewhat forgotten figures of the Civil War. He is remembered as one of New Jersey's statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol and that there's a fort named for him in Wyoming, and a few other honors. He also has one of only two equestrian statues at Arlington National Cemetery. September 1 marks the 150th anniversary of his death at Chantilly, Virginia, after the debacle at Second Bull Run.

Kearny, born in 1815, distinguished himself during the Mexican War, particularly at Churubusco, just outside of Mexico City, in 1847. There, while leading his troops, he was wounded in the arm (the arm was amputated).

Kearny took command of a brigade at the beginning of the Civil War. He quickly became popular with his troops. He instituted the idea of unit insignia (it was later adopted throughout the Army of the Potomac), ordering all his officers to wear a red patch on their cap. The soldiers in his brigade adopted the practice as well. During the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, Kearny was a fierce and vocal critic of George McClellan, the army commander, for not aggressively pushing toward the Confederate capital of Richmond. The publication of his attacks on McClellan earned him the ire of the army, but greater respect from his brigade. The unit bravely followed Kearny at the Battle of Williamsburg, where Kearny led his troops with his sword in his only hand and the reigns of his horse in his teeth. After the Peninsula Campaign, Kearny was promoted to major general.

He took part in the disastrous defeat at Bull Run on August 28-30. During the Union withdrawal toward Centerville, Virginia, Kearny engaged Confederates under Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart at Chantilly. On a rainy day, he rode along the Union line, finding a break. He ended up among Confederates, who demanded that Kearny surrender. Kearny tried to return to Union lines, but was shot and killed. Robert E. Lee returned the body to Union lines under a flag of truce, along with a condolence note. Kearny was buried in New York, and in 1912, reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery.

It is always important to remember the gallant men who fought in the Civil War--and the officers who inspired and led them. There were rumors that Kearny could have taken McClellan's job. Would an aggressive commander been able to bring the war to a quicker conclusion? Unfortunately for tens of thousands who gave their lives for the Union or Confederacy, that wouldn't be answered for over two more years.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Happy birthday, National Park Service

from nps.gov

One of the problems with being new to this whole blogging thing is simply forgetting to post. Yesterday (August 25) marked the anniversary of the National Park Service. The organization, founded in 1916, preserves and protects this nation's resources and does a great job.

I love the national parks...not that I've visited that many. I've been to a number of mid-Atlantic Revolutionary War and Civil War sites and regularly bike the Mount Vernon Trail. I biked a lengthy section of the trail the other day--one of the reasons that I forgot to update. We were planning on visiting Prince William Forest Park, a great place for hiking, biking, and New Deal and World War II history, but rain interfered (I love the park, but I'm biased--I spent a couple summers there as a seasonal ranger).

So, visit a park...or better yet, several parks and thank the rangers for all they do to protect some of our nation's richest treasures.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Counting the dead

"Dead Confederate Soldiers in 'The Devil's Den'," loc.gov
 Reviewed article: J. David Hacker. "A Census-Based Count of the Civil War Dead." Civil War History 57, no. 4 (December 2011): 307-348.

"Why are there historians?" "Hasn't everything in the past been written about?" These are questions I always feel like I need to be prepared to answer as a public historian. There are historians because it is always important to remember where we came from. In addition, interpretations and methodologies change; new sources may come to light. Part of passing along our past is visually and orally, through our national parks and museums.

J. David Hacker, a professor at Binghamton University, SUNY, made answering these questions a lot easier. His article “A Census-Based Count of the Civil War Dead” was published in Civil War History last December. It took longer than I planned to get a hold of it and read it, but it was well worth the wait. Hacker uses quantitative methodology to argue that the traditional estimate of Civil War dead was likely underestimated by about twenty percent. The original count of 620,000 was calculated in the 1880s and Hacker adeptly demonstrates why the figure was wrong—low numbers of deaths in muster out rolls, destroyed or lost records, and faulty assumptions (i.e. that Union and Confederate soldiers were equally susceptible to disease. The truth is that Confederates didn’t have a built up immunity because they lived in rural, rather than urban areas, nor did they have medical care equal to the Union troops.).

The author uses a two-census approach to estimate the war dead: “If a population was fully and accurately counted in two censuses separated by a span of years and experience negligible in- and out-migration between the two censuses, then changes in the size of birth cohorts (defined by age group) can be assumed to be due to mortality” (318). In other words, he looks at men aged 20-29 in one census and looks at how that portion of the population changed ten years later. This requires calculating what the mortality rate would be if there was no war in the 1860s. Hacker estimated the normal mortality rate by averaging the death rate in the 1850s and 1870s—the decades surrounding the Civil War. “Excess deaths” among white men of military age could then be attributed to the Civil War.

While this method is not perfect, it is important to note that there is no way to know the exact count of Civil War dead. Even the 620,000 number was an estimate. There are, however, better ways to get an accurate count. The census-based method does require some assumptions. A few of them are:

1. The U.S. was closed to migration—the arrival or departure of citizens has virtually no impact.
2. Hacker worked primarily with statistics for native-born white men of military age, but worked with the idea that foreign-born men had the same level of excess mortality.
3. The census is traditionally undercounted, especially in the nineteenth century. The net undercount was between 3.7% and 6.9%, with a preferred undercount of 6%.
4. The War Department’s estimate on the death of 36,000 African American soldiers is correct.
5. Excess male mortality is exclusively a result of the Civil War.

Taking these assumptions into account, Hacker states that the range of Civil War deaths was between 650,000 and 850,000 (depending on the undercount). Using the preferred undercount of 6%, the tally comes to 750,000. Hacker included not only soldier deaths, but the 50,000 civilians (including 9,000 Southern women) and those who died between 1865 and the 1870 census of war-related causes. The author concludes that while the census method is not perfect, it is the preferable method in calculating Civil War dead. Though I’m not a statistician and don’t have the demographic knowledge that Hacker demonstrates, the assumptions are reasonable and the conclusions are reasonable. Historians have known for years that 620,000 was likely a low count of war dead.

So, what does all of this mean? As Hacker concluded, “The human cost of the Civil War was greater than historians have long believed” (348). To put that in context, the great James McPherson wrote in the article’s preface, “The figure of 750,000 soldier deaths would translate into 7.5 million American deaths in a war fought in our own time by the United States, with its tenfold greater population than during the Civil War” (310). This could change the way that we look at post-Civil War society—mourning and memorial practices, the South’s coping with defeat, Reconstruction policies, and more.

As far as the antebellum period (the area of my current research), I see some level of impact. There was no way for nineteenth century politicians to know what the cost of war would be. A number of figures predicted that only war could solve the issues dividing North and South (primarily slavery and its place in the territories). Abolitionist John Brown’s final words indicated as much: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood." Did Brown know how bloody a civil war would be? Did the Fire-Eaters know how much economically, demographically, and personally war would cost when they pushed for secession? They might have known they had to sacrifice some, but I don’t think anyone knew that one in ten white men of military age (North and South) would not return home. They didn’t know that there would be 200,000 war widows. After Fort Sumter in 1861, very few expected a long war. Most believed there would be one battle and then it would be over. Hacker’s research is a grim reminder of the consequences of prewar political failures.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Transatlantic Telegraph

From aoc.gov- "Marine," The Apotheosis of George Washington, Constantino Brumidi, 1865.

August was a big month for the telegraph. If you don't know a lot about the invention, or technological advances of the nineteenth century in general, I highly recommend Daniel Walker Howe's What Hath God Wrought (it won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2008). Howe begins the book with a look at Samuel F.B. Morse's public demonstration of the telegraph at the U.S. Capitol on May 24, 1844, in which he wired the message "What Hath God Wrought" to his assistant in Baltimore. Not long afterward, the telegraph brought news to a pro-Henry Clay (that year's Whig presidential nominee) crowd that the Democrats nominated former Speaker of the House James K. Polk for that year's presidential election. Howe adeptly navigates his study of early antebellum America with a focus on technology and social change.

There were several attempts at running a transatlantic telegraph cable. The first successful cable was completed on August 5, 1858. The month before, the Agamemnon, Valorous, Niagara, and Gordon, all British and American ships, met in the Atlantic Ocean to connect a telegraph wire. The North American end was placed at Trinity Bay, Newfoundland and it ran to Valentia, Ireland. The cable ran almost 2,000 miles and at times, reached depths of two miles.

August 16 (this coming Thursday) marks the anniversary of President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria exchanging pleasantries over the newly completed wire. However, the transatlantic cable failed by September.

When Constantino Brumidi painted the Apotheosis of George Washington at the top of the Capitol dome in 1865, he included Venus, the Roman goddess of love, laying a new transatlantic telegraph cable in a scene titled "Marine." As Brumidi painted, workers were preparing a new wire across the Atlantic. The cable was completed in 1866.

Daniel Walker Howe wrote of Morse's 1844 experiment, "The invention they had demonstrated was destined to change the world. For thousands of years messages had been limited by the speed with which messengers could travel and the distance at which eyes could see signals such as flags or smoke.... Now, instant long-distance communication became a practical reality" (What Hath God Wrought, 1). Not only could news be spread through remote areas of the United States, but information could now reach places around the world. And to think how far we've come since Morse's day!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ask the Historian

This is the first ask the historian column (something that will hopefully take off). It comes from a question from my friend Joey on the Declaration of Independence post last week.

Question: Are there any remaining drafts of the Declaration of Independence? Do the drafts really include a reference to slavery?

I believe the Library of Congress has one? I could be wrong. So far, I've been striking out on an answer I'm happy with.

We do know the text of the original draft, however, from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. What is here might be similar to what Jefferson, et. al. submitted to the Continental Congress. And yes, there was a reference to slavery. The Virginian wrote:

"[King George] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."

The Continental Congress voted to remove the passage--considering that slavery existed in most of the colonies, it isn't a surprise.

A little more (which, I think, clarifies another question I got via email):

On July 4, the Continental Congress adopted a heavily edited version of the Declaration. It went to John Dunlap, a Philadelphia printer. Though it is unknown exactly how many copies he produced, there are twenty-six remaining: twenty-one in American institutions, two with the British, and three in private hands.

I didn't note that time that on the July 4 vote, New York abstained. By July 9, however, the delegation had the colonial assembly's permission to support independence. There were some minor changes and on July 19, the Continental Congress ordered an embossed copy on parchment. The likely scribe was Timothy Matlack, as I mentioned in the last post. Most of the 56 signers signed this on August 2. A few signed days later. This is the copy that is currently on display at the National Archives. It traveled around quite a bit, thus, if you visit the Archives, you'll see that it is quite faded. The travel and the poor preservation methods in the nineteenth century have done their damage.

If you're interested in more of the Declaration's travels, click here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My First Thank You Post

Thank to my mom, Joyce Tremel (my mom) and her fellow fiction writers at the Pittsburgh Sisters in Crime for driving up my hit count.

From what I've heard, there was some interest in sending questions my way. I'd be glad to help out with anything I can answer off the top of my head, with minimal research, or with a trip to the library (though if there's extensive research, I take payment in cash and/or alcohol). I finally figured out how to add a contact page, so click up above and send your questions!

Though my specialty is on American history (particularly 1820-1877 with a Civil War focus), I do have an interest in all areas and could possibly help. I know enough to get by with history outside of the U.S.

Note that if you send a question, I may use it for an "ask the historian" post. If you don't want your answer posted, I will respect that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

This Week in History

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence (aoc.gov)

This year marks the 236th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. The above painting, by Revolutionary War veteran John Trumbull, is commonly confused to be the signing of the Declaration. It actually shows an event that took place weeks earlier: the presentation of the first draft.

On June 2, Virginian Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution in favor of independence from Great Britain. It was a huge step, fourteen months after the war began at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. But was the Continental Congress ready to formally declare their break from the mother country? They tabled Lee's resolution and instead, appointed the Committee of Five: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Partly because of his writing ability, the work of creating a draft went to Jefferson (it is still up for debate whether it was Adams, another committee member, or the Congress that had Jefferson author a declaration of independence). He produced a draft in about two weeks; much of the editing fell to Adams and Franklin.

The above image is Trumbull's glorified portrayal for what happened on June 28, 1776: Jefferson and the committee presented their draft to the Continental Congress. They tabled it, however. John Hancock and the other delegates wanted a unanimous vote on Lee's resolution. After Caesar Rodney rode overnight through a thunderstorm to break a tie (as seen on the back of the 1999 Delaware quarter), on July 2, the Continental Congress adopted Lee's resolution. Then, they went to work on the Declaration. Jefferson called the edits "depredations."

The edited document was copied, likely by Timothy Matlack (that name should sound familiar if you've seen National Treasure) and the rest is history.

But what does it all mean? In short, fifty-six men committed treason. Note that in the Trumbull painting there are no American flags on the wall. You can see the red and white flag of England and the Union Jack for Great Britain. The men believed in a cause greater than themselves and by affixing their signatures to the Declaration, they risked their lives for the freedoms they found valuable. As Benjamin Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately." The Declaration expressed the very cause that the colonies had been fighting for since April 1775--the king and Parliament abused the power of taxation, dissolved colonial representative bodies, forced colonists to quarter British troops, interfered with trade, and refused to hear previous petitions: "Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

Thus, the delegates to that solemn assembly in Philadelphia deemed it necessary to declare themselves as representatives of "Free and Independent States"--the United States of America. It was on August 2 that the delegates began to sign the great Declaration.


Welcome! I'm Andrew Tremel, a public historian who has worked for the National Park Service and the Architect of the Capitol. This Fall, my first article will be published in Pennsylvania History, the journal of the Pennsylvania Historical Association, titled "The Union League, Black Leaders, and the Recruitment of Philadelphia’s African American Civil War Regiments."

My focus is on America from 1820-1877, though I have a strong interest in all of America's past. I'm hoping to use this blog to provide some occasional book reviews and reminders of anniversaries of key historical events. Hope you enjoy reading!