Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two Looks at 19th Century Mourning

Since the dawn of time people have mourned after the loss of a loved one. Grief is one of the human emotions that can reach across time and space. Despite the passage of nearly four thousand years I felt the pain and loss Tutankhamen felt just by gazing upon the mummy cases that stored the fetuses of his stillborn daughters. Through grief the past comes alive again. Through the expression of loss we can see the people of the past as flesh and blood characters that exhibited the same emotions that we express today.

Despite being universal, historians have largely overlooked the material culture of death in nineteenth-century America. True, death is not one of the “glamorous” historical topics. But to fully understand the values and outlook of nineteenth-century Americans a serious discussion of death is required. Bernadette Loeffel Atkins’s Widow’s Weeds and Weeping Veils: Mourning Rituals in 19th Century America and Karen Rae Mehaffey’s Rachel Weeping: Mourning in Nineteenth Century America are both good introductions to nineteenth-century American mourning customs. As both Atkins and Mehaffey illustrate the American Victorians were not morbid, as some critics have asserted. Rather nineteenth-century Americans were realist who recognized that they were surrounded by death. In an era with lax sanitation, poor medical care, and a massive Civil War most Americans were intimately acquainted with death. Instead of trying to brush it under the rug, like in today’s culture; American Victorians held frank, public conversations about death as witnessed through the era’s literature and music.

Bernadette Loeffel Atkins’s begins her study with a brief introduction which outlines the profound influence the death of Prince Albert in 1862 and the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865 had in establishing mourning customs that would later be associated with the era. The death of Prince Albert and the Civil War’s influence of mourning rituals cannot be underestimated. Queen Victoria made mourning fashionable, the Civil War spread death into every town on an unprecedented level. Atkins then turns toward a study of wakes and funerals. Before the Civil War most people died at home and as a result most funerals were then held in the home. After a death people not only displayed their grief through their clothing, but by also placing their home in mourning. By decorating the inside and outside of the home, American Victorians altered the community that there had been a death in the family. This was essential in an era when communication was slow. Wakes were essential in the mourning process as it assured the family that the deceased were in fact truly dead.

After the funeral the body was removed from the home and transported to the cemetery. Before the nineteenth-century most burials took place within the church yard, but by the 1830s this practice was largely abandoned in the United States in favor of the rural cemetery movement. These large, well manicured cemeteries’s were placed on the outskirts of the town and became for many community’s the first public park. (Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego, CA; Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, IL; and Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia are all excellent examples of the rural cemetery movement). Atkins then turns to the development of the role of the undertaker and the evolution of coffins which replaced caskets by the end of the nineteenth-century. Of particular importance to understand nineteenth-century America’s outlook on death the myth of the good death and the art of dying must be examined. The good death and the art of dying were perpetuated throughout popular literature and song, the most famous being Eva’s melodramatic death in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. American’s expected that on the deathbed the dying person would be able to offer inspiring message’s about what lay ahead for them on the other side. The myth of the good death and the art of dying saturated American culture to the extent that many were emotionally scarred when their loved ones died contrary to the dictates of the “good death.” Mary Lincoln is a good example; the way her son and husband died denied Mary the comfort of the classic last words adding to her grief.

Another aspect of nineteenth-century mourning that is largely misunderstood in today’s society is post-mortem photography. The idea of taking a photograph of the dead today seems morbid and creepy. But during the nineteenth-century the art of photography was just emerging, for many Americans getting a photograph taken was a luxury. The majority of nineteenth-century post-mortem photographs are of children; a sad testament to the high child mortality rate in nineteenth-century America. Looking at the selection of post-mortem photographs Atkins assembled, the reader realizes that these images might have been the only photograph ever taken of them.

Atkins does an admirable job in placing spiritualism into the narrative of nineteenth-century mourning custom. Like nineteenth-century post-mortem, spiritualism has been largely misunderstood. Spiritualism offered the consolation that it was possible to contact the dead and assured believers that loved ones would be reunited again in heaven. The majority of spiritualists were grieving parents trying to contact their dead children. The Civil War changed nineteenth-century mourning forever as Atkins illustrates. With thousands dying on battlefields far away from loved ones, grieving families were denied the comfort of the good death. The remainder of Widow’s Weeds and Weeping Veils examines how nineteenth-century Americans exhibited their grief through their clothing and jewelry.

Karen Rae Mehaffey’s Rachel Weeping: Mourning in Nineteenth Century America covers the same ground as Atkins study. But Mehaffey does delve into some subjects that Atkins neglected. The study of cremation and consolation literature is particularly well done. The inclusion by Mehaffey of a glossary of symbols used in mourning and other terms associated with mourning is also very helpful for the reader.

Atkins’s and Mehaffey’s illustrate their studies with images out of their own personal collections; many which have never been seen in print before. The images alone are worth the purchase price of both of these works. While Atkins includes more images in her book, unfortunately many of the images did not print out well which is the only major drawback of the book. Mehaffey’s pictures are much clearer, enabling the reader too fully appreciate the image. Both works are generally well written, though there is one major mistake in Rachel Weeping where Mehaffey accidentally spells genteel as “gentile.” I won’t be too hard on Mehaffey though, I once turned in a paper about John Brown where I spelled trial as “trail”! (My professor said it was alright since John Brown did leave a trail through Harper’s Ferry). While not intended to be a comprehensive study of nineteenth-century American mourning Widow’s Weeds and Weeping Veils and Rachel Weeping provide an excellent introduction to this fascinating facet of American society.

Widow’s Weeds and Weeping Veils: Mourning Rituals in 19th Century America. By Bernadette Loeffel Atkins. Gettysburg, PA: B. L. Atkins, 2004. Pp. 34.

Rachel Weeping: Mourning in Nineteenth Century America. By Karen Rae Mehaffey. Dearborn, MI: Moss Rose Books, LLC, 2006. Pp. 50.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Honest Abe

This is a commercial from Geico Insurance, you might have seen it on TV. I decided to post the commercial here because I thought my readers would enjoy seeinf it. There has been quite a number of commercial this summer in which advertisers are using famous individuals from American history to sell their products. Out of the group the Geico commercial with Abraham and Mary Lincoln is the best of the bunch.

The Kraft macaroni and cheese commercials portrays Thomas Jefferson as a whiny, petulant teenager (FYI ad director: Thomas Jefferson did not wear a powdered wig). It is so ridiculous to anyone who has studied Jefferson that it is not even funny. In this commercial, Jefferson comes out as a caricature. The commercial for Bud Light is just as bad; Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and John Adams are portrayed as cartoon buffoons more interested in drinking and carousing with women over declaring their independence from England. It tries to be hip with "Living in America" playing in the back ground as Washington leers at a colonial floozy asking if she wants to be the "second lady" while he is looking down her bodice (just tacky).

Besides being hysterically funny, the Geico commercial has the hint of realism that makes a really good commercial. The classic line of "does this make my butt look big?" has been used for comedy for years as we see the uncomfortable husband squirm with the wife shooting glares at her spouse. This commercial pairs Lincoln's famous honesty paired Mary Lincoln's notorious temper and love of clothes to produce a comedy gem. The faux old film with scratchy audio quality coupled with the long pause by Lincoln add to the realism that makes this commercial funny and relatable. Also I think Americans generally considered the country's historical figures as marble saints, so by having a commercial where one of the nation's greatest president's actually looks at his wife's backside reminds us all that they were in fact real people.

Magazine Update: The History Channel Magazine July/August 2010

As the temperature rises, it is time to pore yourself a glass of your favorite beverage as we turn to the latest issue of the History Channel Magazine’s History. Unlike its parent channel History is actually dedicated to the exploration of American history. (If only the History Channel would follow the example set by its official magazine—but enough fantasizing!) History is geared for the armchair historian as a result the articles are short and written in a breezy, conversational style by a collection of free lance writers. I have always considered it a shame that History has yet to employ some of the regular historians featured on its parent channel to write feature articles, since many of the cover stories are tied directly to History Channel specials.

History is everything that the History Channel is not. While in recent years the History Channel has become pre-occupied with trying to determine if ancient aliens built the Great Pyramids and who the Anti-Christ might be; History has remarkable kept itself grounded firmly in American history. The sad part is that many of the feature articles produced by History would have made better shows than the dribble that passes as “history” on its parent channel.

Because History exclusively focuses on American history, the Civil War is a common subject—much to my delight. The latest issue of History (July/August 2010) proves to be no exception as a number of Civil War related articles are sprinkled throughout its pages. With next year marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War greater attention has been given to the tumultuous political climate of the 1850s; particularly seen through the political career of Illinois lawyer Abraham Lincoln. As part of the “This Day in History” section the start of the Lincoln-Douglas debates on August 21, 1858 receives top billing as one of the most important events that occurred during July and August (pg. 10). Perhaps the most famous example of American political theater, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were more about Lincoln’s attempt to get national press coverage than to sway potential voters. But the Lincoln-Douglas debates deserves it’s place in American political history as it demonstrates clearly the divided nature of American politics on the eve of Civil War through Lincoln’s opposition to the spreading of slavery versus Stephan Douglas’s support of popular sovereignty. The brief feature on the debates is a clear and concise summary of the debates and the outcome. While Lincoln lost his bid for the United States Senate, Stephen Douglas was never able to repair his image within the Democratic Party. Douglas’s nomination for president in 1860 was one of the contributing factors to the sectional splitting of the Democratic Party that allowed Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party to win the Presidency in 1860.

As part of the “Save Our History” section writer Rick Beyer contributes a wonderful, but brief article on Civil War era illustrated envelops (pg. 12-13). Usually overlooked, Civil War illustrated envelops are fascinating window into 1860s material culture. Illustrated envelops, largely produced in the North, were used by civilians and soldiers alike to express their patriotic feelings. Flags, political slogans, camp scenes, popular generals and politicians were the main subjects featured on illustrated envelops that were used in both the Union and the Confederacy. The heyday for illustrated envelops occurred during the euphoric early days of the war. By mid-1862 it became clear to both sides that the Civil War was going to be a protracted struggle, the original patriotic frenzy subsided as bodies piled up and resources dwindled. Beyer article recounts the history and production of illustrated envelops accompanied by several examples of the wide diversity of subjects featured on illustrated envelops.
The July/August edition of History magazine’s feature article explores the evolution of America’s national image Uncle Sam in David Hawley’s article “Yankee Doodle Dandy: We’re All Real-life Nephews (and Nieces) of Our Universally Recognized Uncle Sam” (pg. 20-24). Known today as the stern image accosting viewers in World War I and World War II recruiting posters and the fodder of political cartoonists, Uncle Sam has had a number of makeovers since his appearance in the early nineteenth-century as the stand in for the United States. The Uncle Sam that we recognize today owes his likeness to Thomas Nast who turned illustrated journalism into an art form during the nineteenth-century. Nast not only transformed Uncle Sam for the readers of Harper’s Weekly, but also turned Santa Claus into the jolly old elf we see every Christmas, he also created the donkey and the elephant as symbols for the Democratic and Republican parties. Hawley traces Nast’s part in Uncle Sam’s long and storied history and even includes an informative side-bar highlighting Nast’s artistic accomplishments. The main problem with the article is that Hawley or the editors who assembled the collection of images to go with the article failed to include a representation of Nast’s Uncle Sam. This makes absolutely no sense—the majority of the article is dedicated to Nast! Instead the reader gets an entire page devoted to the many images of Uncle Sam which consist of World War I and World War II propaganda posters.

The final Civil War related topic covered in this month’s issue of History is the discovery of a rare Lincoln film (pg. 40). While not made during the Civil War, but of interest nevertheless to the Civil War community and early film enthusiast was the discovery of the only known copy of the film made in 1913. Titled When Lincoln Paid the thirty minute movie was made by and stared Francis Ford (brother of John Ford), and is about a dead Union soldier’s mother who pleads with the president to spare the life of a Confederate soldier she had turned in. Basically it’s an example of traditional silent film melodrama. Ford produced eight silent films in which he stared as Abraham Lincoln, but this is the first known copy of these films. Fortunately for Lincoln scholars this film has been re-discovered and restored. With the discovery of the long lost When Lincoln Paid, it gives hope that perhaps the other seven films will eventually be discovered in a long forgotten trunk tucked away in an attic.

History: The History Channel Magazine can be found at selected Borders and Barnes and Noble Bookstores.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Civil War Soap Opera

I thought I would share this with my readers. Last Saturday, I had this idea: if there were Soap Operas during the Civil War era what would they be called? You have to relieve that this thought crossed my mind after I had consumed an entire Costco cupcake. Well this is what I have come up with so far:


• As the Hoop Skirt Sways
• Northern Light
• All My Generals
and finally:

• Port Hudson

But wait there’s more! I began to think of prospective plot lines and I came up with instead of the modern story of a character coming “out of the closet,” the 1860s version would have a character coming out as an abolitionist.

Well there goes my reputation as a serious scholar…

Remarkable Stories of the Lincoln Assassination

First, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has sent me such positive feedback from my last post. Now with the official business, it is time to turn our attention to the next book.

Generally, I am not a huge fan of human interest books, even when they deal with the Civil War. A collection of badly edited and questionable stories usually leaves my searching for a way out after ten pages. But Michael Kanazawich’s Remarkable Stories of the Lincoln Assassination breathes new life into the historical human interest genre. Kanazawich serves the history community as a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg National Military Park along with conducting tours along the escape route John Wilkes Booth took after the Lincoln assassination. To become a Licensed Battlefield Guide is quite an accomplishment as the training is rigorous and all perspective tour guides are required to be experts in their field. Kanazawich uses his skill as a battlefield guide and as a talented storyteller in his brief but engaging look at America’s most notorious murder.

Remarkable Stories of the Lincoln Assassination is not a traditional study of the events of April 1865. Rather Kanazawich has pieced together relative unknown stories that shed new light on the major individuals’ involved. The book starts with John Wilkes Booth plan to kidnap President Lincoln in an attempt to force the Union to exchange Confederate prisoners of war back to the beleaguered South. Kanazawich briefly outlines Booth’s recruitment of the conspirators which included Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen, Dr. Samuel Mudd, John Surratt Jr., Mary Surratt, David Herold, George Atzerodt, and Lewis Payne (Powell). With the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, the kidnapping plot was disbanded. Within a few days a despondent Booth resolved that if he could not affect the outcome of the war he could still enact revenge upon the North by murdering Abraham Lincoln. Within the space of three pages Kanazawich offers a clear and concise summary of the assassination of President Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre and the attempted murder of Sectary of State William Seward at his Washington residence, the arrest of the conspirators, the death of John Wilkes Booth, and the military tribunal that sentenced the remaining conspirators to death or life imprisonment.

With the central facts regarding the events of the assassination established, Kanazawich delves into Lincoln’s lack of personal security throughout his term in office. Despite the threats Lincoln received throughout the Civil War, Lincoln turned a blind eye on these threats and was determined to live his life as freely as he did in Springfield—much to the chagrin of Lincoln’s aides. There was nothing unusually for Lincoln and his party to go relatively unguarded at public gatherings. Kanazawich sets the events of April 14, 1865 into context by examining the numerous times Lincoln became a target for assassination.

The next section of Remarkable Stories of the Lincoln Assassination delves more into folklore than established historical facts. After the assassination myths and legends spread that both Lincoln and Booth had premonitions that something evil was going to happen to them. Recounted is the myth of Lincoln’s dream in which he stumbles into his own funeral. More rooted in the historical record is Lincoln’s belief in dreams, as recorded by Sectary of the Navy Gideon Welles at Lincoln’s last cabinet meeting. Lincoln was expecting good news from General Sherman because the previous night he had the same dream that he had before all major events in the war. It should not be surprising that Lincoln had some interest in dreams. Even though Lincoln was interested in science and mechanics the nineteenth-century presented a paradox between rational belief and Old World superstitions. Both Abraham and Mary Lincoln were superstitious by nature as both grew up in the West were traditional Christian religious belief blended easily with folk beliefs inspired by European, African, and Native American traditions. Kanazawich then examines the lesser known stories surrounding John Wilkes Booth that come from his devoted sister Asia Booth. When Asia was sixteen she wrote a poem for her mother Mary Ann Booth is which the narrator speculates about the future of her baby son. This has been used by some amateur historians as proof that Mary Ann and Asia Booth were concerned that the impetuous Wilkes would eventually do something rash. In actuality the poem is a classic example of the melodramatic form of poetry that was favored by American Victorians during the mid-nineteenth-century. The poem is dark and atmospheric, steeped in Romantic imagery. The Booth family were actors and leaned toward being slightly over dramatic in their personal lives, it is not surprising that this type of poem was written by a sixteen-year-old girl as a gift for her mother. The second story, also spread by Asia Booth held that a gypsy predicted a dark future for the teenage Wilkes Booth is also questionable. Asia Booth was hopelessly devoted to her older brother and did everything in her power to try to soften the image of her beloved brother.

The author now turns to the conspirators; Kanazawich does not believe that Mary Surratt was an entirely innocent victim. Mary Surratt frequently welcomed the conspirators, including her son, in her boarding house and even ran errands for John Wilkes Booth. It can be debated if Mary Surratt knew about the assassination before hand, but she was clearly involved in the kidnapping plot. The stories Kanazawich presents about Edman Spangler, Dr. Samuel Mudd, George Atzerodt, and Lewis Payne adds new light into their character and role in the conspiracy. For instance Edman Spangler felt more grief over not being able to eat a meal than almost being sentenced to hang. Kanazawich easily disputes the myth of Samuel Mudd as the simple, innocent country doctor. Mudd knew Booth and met him several times before he arrived at the “good doctor’s” doorstep in the middle of the night with a broken ankle. George Atzerodt’s family truly represented a “house divided,” while Atzerodt served as a courier for the Confederacy his brother John served as a deputy for the Maryland provost marshal. One of the reasons Atzerodt was captured so quickly after the assassination was because of the information supplied by John Atzerodt to his superiors. Unfortunately the story about Lewis Payne provides no new information; it is a simple recitation of his arrest at Mary Surratt’s boardinghouse.

Kanazawich now moves to the trial of the conspirators by a military tribunal. The trial is traditional presented by historians as a kangaroo court set out to revenge the death of the martyred president. The military tribunal attempted to incorporate the fledging theory of police science into the trial through the entry of Lewis Payne’s boot as evidence. From the trial the author moves to the execution of Mary Surratt, David Herold, Lewis Payne, and George Atzerodt on July 7, 1865. The author includes the chilling story on how the youngest witness to the execution was thirteen-year-old John Collins. Kanazawich then recounts the tragic effects Lincoln assassination had on those who were with him that night. Mary Lincoln and Henry Rathbone were never the same. Tragically Henry Rathbone would end his life in a German mental hospital after murdering his wife Clara Harris who was also with the Lincoln’s at Ford’s Theatre. After the loss of her husband, Mary Lincoln lost her anchor and the remaining years of her life were tragic. Mary Lincoln finally left this world a bitter, lonely woman in her sister’s Elizabeth Edwards home in 1882 never fully recovering from the loss of her beloved husband. These stories show that Lincoln was not Booth’s only victim. Michael Kanazawich ends his study with anecdotes and an exploration of some of the myths and ghostly lore that surrounds the locations and people central to the assassination.

Michael Kanazawich’s Remarkable Stories of the Lincoln Assassination is an entertaining look at one of the nation’s darkest events. I thoroughly enjoyed the time it took me to read this short, fun book—and normally I don’t like human interest books. The best thing about this book is that Kanazawich sources were he gets his information from. This made it easy while reading to see exactly where the author got his stories from and most came from reliable sources. Kanazawich employed primary sources and some of the best historical literature in the Lincoln assassination field. Most history books written by amateur historians don’t source their work, to the frustration of the reader. While not every story in the Remarkable Stories of the Lincoln Assassination is trustworthy, Kanazawich presents the stories and lets the reader decide for themselves. The best part about Kanazawich’s book is that even the expert in the Lincoln assassination can find something new within its pages. I recommend this book for both the novice and experienced history reader.

Remarkable Stories of the Lincoln Assassination. By Michael Kanazawich. Orrtanna, PA: Colecraft Industries, 2008. Pp. 102.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Mrs. Lady President" and the Women of Washington Society

Greetings! Hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful first day of summer. With the summer season many are embarking on the annual rite of the season: summer vacation. I just returned last week from a fantastic nine-day trip to Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. The purpose of the trip was a mix of fun (touring the many wonderful museums and historic sites) and homework (researching my master’s thesis). In the coming weeks as I unpack and recharge I will be posting some of pictures along with my impressions of some of the sites I visited which included the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Oak Ridge Cemetery (the Lincoln Tomb), and Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Park. Besides touring, and taking lots of pictures, I also made my contribution to the local economy by sampling the best of the museum gift shops.

For the meantime, dear readers, you will have to be satisfied with my thoughts and impressions on some of the titles I came across during my travels. The first work to be reviewed is amateur historian Peggy Dunn’s “Mrs. Lady President” and the Women of Washington Society. Dunn’s work is a simple examination of the fashion of Washington, D. C.’s high society during the Civil War. Central to this story is Mary Lincoln’s transformation from Illinois housewife to the First Lady and the cold reception she received from the society dames (in other words “snobs”) of the nation’s capital.

Dunn begins her book with Mary Lincoln’s hasty departure from Springfield, Illinois with her young sons Willie and Tad. The threats against the President-elect life had convinced Abraham Lincoln’s aide’s that it was safer if he traveled to Washington in the company of his wife and children. From this point Dunn jumps back to the period immediately after Lincoln’s election where the rise to the first office in the land convinced Mary Lincoln that she needed to update her wardrobe. Traveling to New York City in January 1861, Mary was courted by the city’s department stores while being snubbed by New York’s high society. This began a pattern that would plague the First Lady for the remainder of her stay in the White House. Mary Lincoln was viewed by the eastern elite as a social outsider. While socially and politically prominent in Illinois the Lincoln’s were social nobody’s in the entrenched world of East Coast society and politics. Despite winning the Republican nomination and the Presidency, many still viewed Abraham Lincoln as an uncouth, uneducated country hick—his wife was guilty simple by association. To make matters worse, Mary Lincoln was unwilling (or unable) to play by East Coast society rules which dictated that all newcomers must make an alliance with one of the accepted matrons who would then, when she dictated it was time would then introduce the newcomer to her wealthy friends. Mary Lincoln was the ultimate social outsider, who was resented because she was an outsider.

The Lincoln’s received a warm reception during their twelve day journey to Washington, D. C, as Dunn illustrates, until the rumored assassination plot in Baltimore, Maryland put a damper on the President-elect’s entry into the nation’s capital. While Mary Lincoln received enthusiastic praise in the press, once in Washington, Mary was again given a cold shoulder by the city’s high society. The reasons were simple: she was viewed a social outsider and her southern ancestry and family raised questions regarding her loyalty to her husband and her nation. Mary Lincoln desperately tried to seek legitimacy as the head of Washington society, by over dressing and over spending on herself and the White House. While the press applauded her refurbishment of the dilapidated White House, Washington’s social matrons derided her for her style and overspending during a war. Instead of rising above the cruelty of Washington’s elite, Mary Lincoln got consumed in her desperate need for approval and acceptance. The reader is left with the impression of a very sad, lonely, and deeply insecure woman.

This is a unique book, rather than attempting an over reaching narrative, Dunn provides a series of sketches of Washington society and 1860s fashion that gives the reader a better understanding of the world Mary Lincoln lived in. Of note is the examination of the fascinating relationship between Mary Lincoln and her seamstress Elizabeth Keckly. On this level the book succeeds, Dunn’s work is geared for the general reader. The book is well illustrated, with images of all the main players and a liberal use of 1860s fashion plates—so the reader actual can see what the author is talking about. The main drawback of the work is that some of the writing is unpolished, which is seen in many works done by amateur historians. All that is simply needed if this work is updated is the skilled hand of an editor to smooth out some of the more awkward phrases. Also there is one factual error that this reviewer found, on page ten Dunn has listed Mary Lincoln’s first known photograph taken in either 1846 or 1847 as being taken in 1864 by Matthew Brady. Despite this error Peggy Dunn’s “Mrs. Lady President” and the Women of Washington Society is an enjoyable book and is a must read for Civil War living historians.

“Mrs. Lady President” and the Women of Washington Society. By Peggy Dunn. Springfield, IL: History on Fire, 2005. Pp. 120.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Lincoln Conspirators and Lincoln, Life-Size

As promised, in this posting I will be reviewing two of the books I was able to purchase at the AHA conference in San Diego last month. The first is The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators: Their Confinement and Execution, as Recorded in the Letterbook of John Frederick Hartranft edited by Edward Steers, Jr. and Harold Holzer. This book is a must have for anyone who is interested in the Lincoln assassination. Hartranft had the unenviable job of overseeing the Lincoln conspirators from their confinement, trail, and execution at the Washington Arsenal in the spring of 1865. While at times dull and repetitive, Hartranft's letter book does shed light into the workings of a military prison and proves that the care of the Lincoln conspirators was not excessively cruel as has been asserted by some historians.

The second book, Lincoln, Life-Size by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt, and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr. is a beautiful coffee table book featuring every documented photograph of Abraham Lincoln reproduced in its original size and in a life size format. The Kunhardt family are the leading experts in Lincoln photographs and in this latest work the family does not fail. Each photograph comes with the approximate date and location in which it was taken along with a quote from Lincoln or those who surrounded him from around the time the photograph was taken. This is truly a book that the reader can get lost in, each page we see the progression of Lincoln from frontier lawyer to war ravaged President.

I hope my faithful readers will forgive the brevity of this posting, I am back in grad school and the demands of my studies most top that of my pleasure reading!