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Ways of the World

Carol Stone, business economist & active Episcopalian, brings you "Ways of the World". Exploring business & consumers & stewardship, we'll discuss everyday issues: kids & finances, gas prices, & some larger issues: what if foreigners start dumping our debt? And so on. We can provide answers & seek out sources for others. We'll talk about current events & perhaps get different perspectives from what the media says. Write to Carol. Let her know what's important to you:

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

"Killing Lincoln" -- With an Elaboration

[December 17, 2011] We add to the bottom of this article a narrative by another historian about this time in American History. Our original article attracted the attention of people at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical Christian community in Richmond, Virginia. They recommended to us the volume Richmond's Unhealed History by Benjamin Campbell. We added that information as a "Comment" below our article. Then a couple of days later, Mr. Campbell himself wrote to us and shared his version of the aftermath of the fall of Richmond the week before Palm Sunday in 1865. His narrative reads very much like O'Reilly and Dugard's, and it leaves us with the same unsettled, mixed feeling that we got from Killing Lincoln. Mr. Campbell was nice enough to put his material in a Word document for our use, and we simply add it to the bottom of this commentary. We hope you will read it, and we are pleased that we can contribute an outlet for further discussion of these crucial days in our country's history. Just scroll down the page here to find Mr. Campbell's text.

We have just finished blowing through the recent Bill O'Reilly volume Killing Lincoln, and we want to commend it to your attention. We heard about it when it first came out in September and we thought it sounded interesting, but it was hardly high on the priority list. Then I wound up in the hospital last week, having my gallbladder removed. A woman in the next bed had the book and she was raving about it as a really riveting read. So on the way home, my roommate and I stopped at a nearby bookstore and picked up a copy; it sounded like just the thing for the first few days of recuperation.

Some of you may have misgivings about material authored by the well-known Fox News host. Be assured that this is a piece of straight history. O'Reilly and his co-author, history writer Martin Dugard, tell the story of those dramatic days in April of 1865. There is no ideology or political overtone; there is none of O'Reilly himself in the book.

What there is, is electrifying narrative told as much as possible in the present tense, immersing us in the events, actions and feelings: a real "you are there" sensation. We experience the famished hunger of the Confederate soldiers in the final few days before Lee's surrender, but we also grasp their fierce motivation that enables them to keep fighting on with spirit. We understand the strength of the rivalry between infantry and cavalry in the Union Army that more than once allows the Southerners to escape, undermining a clear-cut victory yet again.

We meet Lincoln, traveling all too near the battle front in Virginia and entering the tragically destroyed Richmond after its fall. We can feel his mixed emotions of joy over the imminent victory but weighty concern over the labor that will be required to put the country back together. He has a light-heartedness too, so that the night following Lee's surrender, when the crowd celebrating on the White House lawn calls out for a speech, he instead spies a Navy band standing nearby and asks them to play "Dixie". "I always thought that 'Dixie' was one of the best tunes I ever heard. Our adversaries over the way … have attempted to appropriate it. But I insist that yesterday we fairly captured it."

We get acquainted with John Wilkes Booth and his associates. We sense Booth's hatred of Lincoln and his deep-seated belief that the only proper role for African-Americans in society is serving their white masters. We hear the intricate plot to take out not just Lincoln, but Johnson, Secretary of State Seward and General Grant, presumably leaving the national leadership in vacuous chaos. Booth thinks Lincoln is so unpopular after the drudgery and loss in the protracted War that Booth will be seen as a national hero.

We learn that Lincoln was shot on the evening of Good Friday, that the young doctor in the audience that night at Ford's Theater, who so ably administers first aid, is all of 23 years old. He stays with Lincoln all night long, ministering to him by relieving the pressure on Lincoln's brain from the blood clotting around the bullet entry point. He had also directed a pair of older doctors at the Theater in an early version of CPR to get Lincoln breathing again. Far more senior physicians, including those on the White House staff, approve this work as exactly the right approaches.

We learn, too, that a sometime smuggler who harbored and abetted the escape of Booth and a co-conspirator over the Potomac from Maryland into safer Virginia went unpunished. At his trial, the damning testimony describing Thomas Jones' role was given by a "non-white resident of southern Maryland" and was thus ignored by the court. These days, we might forget how awful it was for "non-whites" in those and later years.

According to review comments on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Killing Lincoln has been criticized for inaccuracies, which O'Reilly maintains have been corrected in later printings [it's been out about 12 weeks, and my copy is part of the eighth printing!]; it's been criticized for the "thriller" style and it's been criticized for not offering up "new insights" into this major event for historians. Well, first of all, the book is not aimed at professional historians, it's aimed at the general public, whose comments on those bookseller websites indicate are quite taken with it, as we were. We ourselves would wish for more than the cursory bibliography, and we could imagine a "scholars edition" distributed online with footnote-type references to show the sources of specific events and descriptions. But the main consideration is that O'Reilly and Dugard have heightened the interest of ordinary people in a very important period in the United States of America and encouraged them to read. May they do this again.

Finally, we guess that perhaps a review of Killing Lincoln might not be what you'd expect from Ways of the World at the present time; you want to know what's going on with the never-ending crisis in Europe and perhaps something about recent jobs developments. With a very recent hospital stay – I'm indeed recovering just fine, as you can see – I might even have something to say about health-care. We'll get to those things. But, as you can also see, I learned a lot and suggest that you too – or especially a high-schooler you know – might well get something out of it. Have a good read!

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From Benjamin Campbell, author of Richmond's Unhealed History:

When Petersburg, under siege for the entire winter of 1864-65 and 30 miles south of Richmond just off the James, fell on the morning of Passion Sunday, two weeks before Easter of 1865, word was sent to Richmond that the Confederate army was in flight to the west, along the Appomattox River. A soldier came into St. Paul's Church at the 11:00 service, where Jefferson Davis was seated in his usual pew on the center aisle, and told him. The Rev. Mr. Minnegerode was preaching. The President left the service. The order was given to evacuate the entire city.

By evening all the Confederate government and treasury was gone across the river, on the Southside railroad toward Danville. The last Confederate troops to march south across the river were given orders to set fire to the warehouse that held tobacco. They did so. The next-door warehouse held munitions, and a third neighboring warehouse held kegs of whiskey. As the troops withdrew across the footbridge, the winds fanned the flames and the munitions warehouse blew up. Then the whiskey warehouse was engulfed. Perhaps 30 blocks of the city, the entire industrial center between the Capitol on the hill and the river, were destroyed. Whiskey was running in the gutters and the populace was said to be on its hands and knees during the night, lapping it up. Two warships at the dock were scuttled and exploded with terrifying concussions.

The next morning, Monday, Mayor Mayo rode his carriage to the east through the burning city to the Yankee lines four miles away and asked the troops to come in and put out the fire. They did so, "colored" and white troops racing each other to get to the city.

Tuesday morning, President Lincoln, who had been staying on a ship at Grant's headquarters downriver at City Point near Petersburg, came upriver to the city. The sidewheeler Malvern couldn't get through obstructions in the James seven miles south of Richmond, so Admiral Porter, Lincoln, and his son Tad continued upriver on a launch that was rowed by twelve sailors. They landed at the city docks, and Lincoln was met by African American dock workers. He and Tad walked with the sailors, armed only with carbines, 15 blocks up Main Street, amid silent crowds and still smoldering ruins, then turned and went up the hill to the White House of the Confederacy. There he met General Weitzel, the Yankee commander who had lately learned of his arrival, and sat in President Davis' chair. Then, followed by a cheering crowd of freed slaves, he rode in a carriage to the Capitol. Then he visited the still smoldering Burned District and the notorious prisons where Yankee soldiers had been kept. Finally he returned to the docks and boarded the Malvern, which had made it up the James, to spend the night. Wednesday morning he went back to City Point, then continued on down the James to the [Chesapeake] Bay and back up to the Potomac and Washington, arriving in time to celebrate the surrender at Appomattox on Palm Sunday.

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Blogger Carol S. said...

A reader Stephen suggests that we might also find "Richmond's Unhealed History", brand new from Ben Campbell, of interest.

We have only done a cursory Google on this title. It's come out just in the last month, underwritten by Richmond Hill, an ecumenical fellowship and residential community in the Richmond area. See this reference for more

According to "Killing Lincoln", Richmond was burned by its own residents on the night it fell; they apparently didn't want the incoming Union forces to have anything. The destruction was dramatic, encompassing much of the historic city.

A quick look at the Richmond Hill website yields up someting else of interest. It contains a prayer for the community for its healing and for its moving forward. A response to Occupy Wall Street is hardly the intention, but this seems a quite suitable way to do that, too. See what you think.

12/09/2011 3:38 PM  

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