By Mel Maurer
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2010, All Rights Reserved
Editor’s note: The Lincoln Forum (www.thelincolnforum.org) is an organization that “endeavors to enhance the understanding and preserve the memory of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.” Founded in 1995, the Forum meets each year in Gettysburg, PA, on the anniversary of Lincoln’s address at the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Several members of the Cleveland Civil War Roundtable are also members of the Lincoln Forum and attend its meeting each year. CCWRT past president and Lincoln Forum member Mel Maurer once again agreed to our request to provide a recap of this year’s event. (Read Mel’s reports on the 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012 Forums.)
This 14th meeting of the Lincoln Forum was held as usual in Gettysburg from November 16th to 18th. However this year we met at a new location – The Wyndham Hotel east of town off York Road just past Route 15. Our former location, The Holiday Inn near the battlefield, had become too small for the popular Forum’s growing needs. (By the way, this once “Holiday Inn” is now: “1863: The Gettysburg Inn.”) Our Roundtable was well represented again this year – attending along with me were Lou Braman, Anne Davis, Kirk Hinman, Gordon Doble, Dick Crews, Dave Edmonds, Maynard Bauer and Betty Bauer. (Thanks to Forum Photographer Hank Ballone for the use of some of his great pix. Hank also received a well-deserved distinguished service award from the Forum this year.)
The new location allowed at least 50 more people to attend – there were 294 of us there this year and while some Forum veterans missed the old place (“just not the same,” etc.) overall, the ambiance and spaciousness of the Wyndham served us well for the meetings, luncheons and dinner, not to mention cocktail gatherings.
FRANK WILLIAMS and TINA GRIM
Our session opened as usual with cocktails and dinner the first night. Our co-chair, Frank Williams, welcomed us to the Forum and our new location before dinner. After dinner we were welcomed to Gettysburg by Tina Grim from the Civil War Institute. Tina updated us on Gettysburg activities including a promo for the Train Station, which had on display the flag that Lincoln’s head allegedly rested on after he was shot – with his blood. She also told us that Gabor Borritt, who was once a speaker for our Roundtable, had retired from Gettysburg College and had received a new kidney this past summer. (We would later see Gabor at one of the dinners – looking very healthy.) Tina also told us that planning is underway for the 150th anniversary of the war (1861-2015).
Our Roundtable’s old friend (and two-time speaker) George Buss performed excerpts from Lincoln’s First Inaugural in his great Lincoln voice – a great way to begin the real work of the forum.
JAMES McPHERSON – “Lincoln and the West”
Our speaker that first night was James McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom and many other books) who told us about Lincoln’s great interest in our country’s West – the frontier states. McPherson began his talk by recalling that Mary said that Lincoln, during their last carriage ride, the day he was shot, had talked of going west once he was out of office. The West was a “geography of hope” – a land of opportunity. Lincoln believed that there was “no such thing as a free man who could not be mobile – the territories would be the future of America.” He also said that be wanted every man to have a chance, including blacks – to advance through their labors and he thought that the nature of the West would keep it free from slavery, although there were those who wanted slaves to work in mines as the mining industry was developing. There were slaves in California at one time.
He also discussed Lincoln’s role in getting the trans-continental railroad started – even picking the terminus point. He also attempted to pick the rail gauge but was overruled. McPherson also touched on the Vicksburg Campaign and the brief uprising of the Dakota Indians in Minnesota. (Did you know that Lincoln’s grandfather – Abraham Lincoln – was killed by an Indian?) A trial there sentenced 303 Indians to death finding that all were equally responsible for the killings there. Lincoln reviewed the trial transcripts and found that only 28 were actually guilty of murder – saving 265 from death. Lincoln knew that the growing movement west doomed Indian Nations and he promised to reform the Indian Management system – but did not live to do so.
In answering a question from Dick Crews, McPherson said he did not think that Burnside was the worst Union general but did think that McClellan (who, he pointed out, disparaged Burnside after Antietam) was in the running for that title.
In answering my question about Lincoln’s being indentured to his father until his was 21, he agreed that that experience did make him feel like a slave and did influence his views.
Maynard asked McPherson if Grant was demonstrating some political savvy in the process that resulted in General McClernand being downgraded to a subordinate command at Vicksburg. McPherson said that basically it was Lincoln’s decision and it did not reflect any input from Grant.
Dick and I had once questioned McPherson for over an hour on the bus that was taking us back from a tour of Antietam – so when he and his wife got on the elevator Dick and I were on the next morning – we happily told him that: “We had a few more questions.” He is now retired as a professor but still living in Princeton. (We resisted the temptation to ride him up and down in the elevator so we could ask more questions.)
After a report on the work of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission during the year by a member of the commission, briefly touching on the many events held throughout the country to honor our 16th president, Harold Holzer introduced our first speaker of the day.
RONALD WHITE, JR. – “Abraham Lincoln: Wisdom for Today”
Professor White, author of this year’s A. Lincoln: A Biography, is one of our favorite speakers – he’s also an excellent writer (thoughts and words) and a great guy. Dick and I often sit next to him in the front row – this year we sat further back at tables. Here are some words from my notes: He said as he speaks around the world on Lincoln, one question he always gets is: “What would Lincoln do?” – on any number of issues. While pointing out that we’ll never know, he recalled that scholar David Herbert Donald, when asked what Lincoln would have said about racial busing, answered simply: “He probably would have said, ‘What is busing?” The times are just too different to know (although I would add that doesn’t stop people from thinking they know what he would do.)
Why new books on Lincoln? Scholarship has advanced, and more and more material is available. He pointed out how many so-called “fragments” of Lincoln’s words are being found and collected. These are brief notes Lincoln made of his thoughts and ideas on many things such as this one: “I can’t think of one reason for slavery.” Ron pointed out that there was no such thing as good writing – there is only good rewriting. Lincoln worked on his words using his notes to frame his arguments and to reach conclusions. He said that Lincoln’s words live on like no other, saying that moral integrity was the trunk “from which his talents grew.”
ORVILLE VERNON BURTON – “Age of Lincoln”
Professor Burton, author of The Age of Lincoln, tried to cover a lot of ground in his talk and had to go too fast to do it. The topic was good but between his mellow southern accent and speaking too fast, much of it was lost on me and some others. He quoted Lincoln as saying that, “There is no more important subject than education.” And that, “Free labor insists on education,” – in a way echoing McPherson’s comments on Lincoln’s belief in the ability of free men being able to work to live and to advance in life. Burton said that Lincoln’s legacy is all about us – who we are – universal freedom and personal liberty. “The evil of slavery had to be eradicated.” There were two visions back then he said, Lincoln’s and Douglas’s: freedom vs. white supremacy, and Lincoln won.
I asked Burton during the question period if Lincoln made the age or did the age make Lincoln? He gave a considered reply and ended it by saying that he believed that Lincoln made the age.
Dick and I were able to spend a little informal time with Burton that night in our friend Mike Marlow’s “Scotch Parlor.” He’s a good guy and he’s now back in his native South after many years with us Yankees.
CATHERINE CLINTON – “Mary Lincoln Reconsidered”
Catherine, a professor and author of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life, came back to this country from her present position in Ireland to speak to us and, I think, to do a book tour. She’s a good speaker but when I saw her title, my first thought was – “Reconsidered again?” It seems to me that Mary has received a lot of attention in recent years and those who want to write a damning book on her can find the evidence to do it and those who want to write a more positive book on her can do that.
I’m not an expert on Mary but I found little in Clinton’s talk that I didn’t already know – Mary’s background, her scratchy personality, the attacks on her, her spending, not at Lincoln’s side when he died and what that meant to her. I did learn that Tad developed into a well-rounded, well-educated young man before his death. Clinton believes that overall Mary stepped outside the boundaries of her time for women, implying she paid a price for doing so. Let’s just give Mary her due for seeing the potential in Abe and enduring those war years with him – neither saint nor witch (at least most of the time) – may she rest in peace without further reconsiderations.
JOHN MARSZALEK – A Brief Update on the Grant Papers
The Forum has a special relationship to the Grant Papers. John Y. Simon, the papers’ long time editor and curator before his death last year, was a member of the Forum’s Advisory Board and frequent speaker. John Marszalek (a friend and speaker to our Roundtable), a Forum member and speaker, has replaced Simon with the move of the papers to Mississippi State University. And Frank Williams is the president of the U.S. Grant Association which oversees the papers.
John told us that the 31st – and last – volume will soon be finished, finally completing Simon’s work. All of the volumes are now in the process of being digitized and will one day be available online. John told us of one interesting item in the collection: General Buckner was one of the last people to see Grant before he died. Grant, unable to speak, wrote a brief note to Buckner telling him that, “the war was worth the cost…”
Dick visited John at Mississippi State last summer and was very impressed with what he was able to see as John showed him around. John told us he would be glad to see any Roundtable members there and would personally show them the collection. I hope to take him up on the offer. (January debaters please note: John, who wrote the definitive book on Sherman, resisted all of Dick’s efforts to get him to serve as his coach for the upcoming debate on Sherman.)
LEWIS LEHRMAN – “Lincoln at the Turning Point: From Peoria to the Presidency”
Lehrman is the co-founder of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute and author of Lincoln at Peoria. After leading off with some background – Kansas-Nebraska Act, etc. to set the stage, Lehrman focused on the October 16, 1884 Lincoln-Douglas debate in Peoria. He believes that it was this debate that publicly established Lincoln’s beliefs on slavery – “a moral wrong, slaves are human beings.” The racist Douglas of course had opposite views – Illinois, Lehrman said, was the most racist state in the North at that time. While Douglas argued for the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which he more than anyone had enacted, Lincoln argued that it must be repealed – it may spread slavery across the nation, “We can’t be an example of freedom with slavery.”
Lehrman pointed out that slaves were the second largest source of wealth in the nation at that time and that cotton was our largest export. Lincoln emphasized the value of work – the right of men to work and to be paid for it. “Work, work, work, that is the main thing,” he said. Lincoln stood on the beliefs he stated at Peoria again in his debates with Douglas in 1854 and in his campaigns.
PANEL DISCUSSION – The State of Lincoln Collecting
The panel: Moderator Dan Weinburg. Panelists: Frank Williams, Norman Boas, Don McCue and Lewis Lehrman.
Moderator Dan Weinburg is the owner/operator of The Lincoln Book Store in Chicago – very well-known dealer in books and artifacts. Dan also co-authored Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution with James L. Swanson (author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.) Norman Boas is a student of Lincoln and avid collector/dealer in artifacts. Lewis Lehrman and Frank Williams each have large collections of Lincolniana. Don McCue is the curator of The Redlands Museum in California.
A few notes from their discussion and Q&A: They described something to be collected as “Something that gets to you in a special way.” Each started in their own way. Lehrman who grew up not far from Gettysburg found artifacts on the battlefield but began his serious collecting with documents. Boas started with letters and then moved on to add other documents. Frank pointed out that collecting is really an addiction – he started with some paperbacks.
We were advised not to try to collect everything (types of items). Good stuff is still “out there” to be found and can be found in many places – also use of the internet for auctions, etc. can be productive. The future of collecting – with emails and people in public life now owning their papers – will be more challenging. Not everything collectible is extremely expensive – one suggested someone could start with historical pamphlets, etc. And another suggested keeping visuals with collected items to enhance their meanings and their values. (My attempt to corner the market on Bicentennial Lincoln pennies did not quite work out – falling short by several millions of each – but I did manage to collect a few hundred of each of the four special pennies issued this year.)
JIM GETTY – “Lincoln’s War Speech to his Springfield Neighbors” (His letter to James Conkling, August 26, 1863)
Our old friend Jim Getty did a great job performing Lincoln’s words in this often overlooked speech written as a letter. Hearing these words rather than just reading them emphasized the point made by one of our speakers that Lincoln’s words are meant to be read out loud and that he would read them out loud as part of his writing process.
RICHARD CARWARDINE – “Just Laughter: The Moral Springs of Lincoln’s Humor”
Professor Carwardine came to the Forum from Great Briton. In January he will become the president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. The professor is the first British scholar to win The Lincoln Prize for his book: Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power.
He opened by reminding us of Lincoln telling friends that, “If I did not laugh I should die,” and how Lincoln once said of someone who never laughed at his jokes, “It would take an operation to get a joke in him.” Lincoln loved to laugh and to tell jokes – he enjoyed reading humorous material out loud to friends and others, and was often criticized for his humor while fighting a war. His reply: “I laugh because I cannot cry” And he said that a joke to him was like a strong drink of whiskey to someone else.
The speaker focused on Lincoln’s love of a writer named Locke who wrote of a character named “Petroleum Nasby.” He said that, “Nasby is funny, of course, satirically racist – often using the ‘N’ word while Locke used him for what was morally right.” The speaker described him as “a devastating satirical voice, telling political truth backwards.” Lincoln thought that Locke had a genius for writing, saying “he would give up his office to have it.”
What did Lincoln admire in the writing? Verbal inventiveness, mangling of Shakespeare, exaggerated situations, simple jokes and their satirical savagery. I got the impression from what was described that Lincoln would have also loved Monty Python in our time.
In the question period, I asked the British Carwardine to compare Lincoln with Churchill. He seemed to struggle a bit with his answer, saying that you really can’t compare them although they did have some common traits – mentioning war, some depression and a love of language. During answers to other questions, he quoted Lloyd George who said that “Lincoln ceased to be an American when he died – he now belonged to the world.” The speaker also said that American history is widely taught in the UK at universities and at high schools – mostly 20th Century, Civil Rights, etc.
FRED KAPLAN – “Lincoln’s Genius with Language”
Professor Kaplan is a noted biographer with highly praised biographies of Mark Twain, Gore Vidal, Henry James, Charles Dickens and Thomas Carlyle (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.) His most recent book is: Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer. My notes for this talk and the following panel discussion were somehow lost so this will be very sketchy. (Could Dick have taken them to begin a collection of Maurer Memorabilia?) Kaplan focused on two examples of Lincoln’s writing – actually one since time ran out before he got to the second example. He showed us the care that Lincoln used in selecting his words and reminded us that he was not a good extemporaneous speaker – (or maybe he just chose not to be once he was president – after all, he had to be extemporaneous in court.)
PANEL DISCUSSION – “Family Matters: Looking at the Lincolns”
Co-chair Harold Holzer was the moderator for this panel. Its panelists were: Catherine Clinton, Jason Emerson (author of The Madness of Mary Lincoln), and Charles Lachman (author of The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family.) It may have been my imagination but it seemed to me that, when we were told that Lachman’s day job was executive producer of “The Insider” TV expose show, Maynard and Betty looked a little nervous.
This is another sketchy report without my notes, but from memory most of this discussion focused on Mary with some on Robert. We learned that the Todd Family was involved in how Mary was perceived after her death (adding the “Todd” to her name with “Lincoln”) in an attempt to see her treated well by history.
Robert, as we know, had a distinguished career as an attorney and in government service and business. Tad, who spent much time in Europe with his mother, receiving a good education, including a fluency in German (also a slight German accent when speaking English) died at age 17. (All too often Tad is just portrayed as a slow learner with a speech defect who died young.)
Emerson is working on a biography of Robert. Lachman’s book – the rest of the story – sounds interesting. There are no more “Mary-Abe” descendants left.
When I got in line to ask a question, there was a short, mostly bald guy with short white hair just ahead of me. Harold introduced him, saying we would hear from him that evening – he was the actor, Richard Dreyfuss. Harold told how they met some years back after Dreyfuss, who is a student of the Civil War, attended one of Harold’s talks. Our scheduled speaker. Sandra Day O’Connor, had to cancel her talk following the death of her husband the previous week. Dreyfuss was this year’s scheduled speaker at the annual ceremony on the 19th at the National Cemetery – a friend of Harold’s, he agreed to fill in at our last dinner.
My question, or attempted question since I was shot down before I completed it, was: “I read that Lincoln once said that Robert was more of a Todd than a Lincoln”… and before I could say, “Do you think he was?” Emerson stopped me and said that it wasn’t true that Lincoln said that. But then he did eventually answer the rest of my question, saying that he thought Robert was a good mix of both parents, reminding us that Lincoln, in establishing his law practice in his early days of marriage, did not spend as much time with Robert as he would later with the other sons. (Robert and Mary had a very close relationship for most of their lives – but there’s nothing like putting someone in an asylum to ruin a relationship.)
FIELD TRIP – The Wills House on the Square in Gettysburg
Our field trip this year was to the newly restored David Wills House. This, as you know, was where Lincoln spent the night before he gave his Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863. (The Forum set up a rotating bus line to take attendees into town and to return them allowing them the time to also experience the shops, etc. in town.)
I had visited the Wills House in September so I knew what to expect when I went there with Maynard, Betty and Dick. My second visit didn’t impress me anymore than the first. While it’s neat to be in the room where Lincoln slept (and the bed he slept in) and where he may have polished his talk, the rest of the experience – a short film, some exhibits, Wills’ office, etc. – adds little or nothing to the knowledge of folks like us.
However, for those casually interested in the war and the Gettysburg Battle, etc. it may be worth a visit. It’s always been possible to see the Lincoln room – even in the run-down building – but while the added features may not help us much, they may be helpful to tourists. (I can hear one asking – “Is that the elevator Lincoln took to his room?”)
After our visit, we did a quick tour of the battlefield to pay our respects and see what further changes have been made in trees, etc. While on Little Round Top, we were joined by two buses of students from Medina High School. Maynard and Betty are graduates of Medina High and spent some time talking to students and teachers.
FRANK WILLIAMS – Presentation of the Annual Richard Current Award
This year’s award was made to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and was accepted on her behalf by noted Lincoln sculptor John McClarey.
RICHARD DREYFUSS – A Reading of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address
Dreyfuss, while not trying to portray Lincoln in any way, gave a very good and very moving presentation of these words of Lincoln as he began his second term as president. He then talked about what he is calling, “The Dreyfuss Initiative,” intended to be a national program to encourage the teaching of civics and history in schools. He then took our questions.
Dick – after reminding him of Lee’s chagrin in the movie Gettysburg when he learned he had to rely on an intelligence report from an actor (and having Dreyfuss look at him as if he were a great white shark) – asked him if the Founding Fathers created public education so we would have an educated electorate to manage our democracy. Dreyfuss, using a lot of words, basically agreed and said that civics was being neglected for high test scores in math and science. In the course of the questioning, some teachers in our group took exception to his overall premise, saying their schools did teach civics and history.
Many of the questioners seemed to think this was some kind of Town Hall event, making long statements rather than simply asking their questions. Dreyfuss, saying that he prided himself on not being glib, answered most questions with extended replies to the point of rambling at times.
I took pride, as I told Dick (a long questioner), in asking the shortest question when, knowing that he had done programs with Holzer reading Grant’s words (“U.S. Grant Seen and Heard”) I asked if he would like to play Grant in a movie. He said he would “give his right arm” to play Grant in a movie about Appomattox, going on to describe how the movie would play out on the screen. (I knew, being a liberal, that Dreyfuss would not have given his left arm for anything.)
The Bauers and I did not attend the closing ceremony this year – mostly because it was raining that morning. Dick also planned to miss it but when he, a former Marine, saw the Marine Band there he stayed for the event and then sent me this report:
“It was a great event. The rain slowed and was not a factor. The governor of Pennsylvania was there with the usual officials from town. Jim Getty was good as always doing the Gettysburg Address as Lincoln. Dreyfuss was excellent in his talk. There was a lot more coverage – TV cameras, etc. – than in prior years. A special feature this year was swearing in of 15 new citizens who then received a standing ovation. The Marine Band then played, “My Country ’tis of Thee” which was played by a Marine Band for Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863.”
I hope the above gave you some information on our program and speakers, and the information they gave us – along with a laugh or two. Next year we’ll celebrate the 15th Anniversary of the Forum. It’s sure to be a special one.
Books referenced in this article (Click the book title to purchase from Amazon. Part of the proceeds from any book purchased from Amazon through the CCWRT website is returned to the CCWRT to support its education and preservation programs.)
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr.
The Age of Lincoln by Orville Vernon Burton
Mrs. Lincoln: A Life by Catherine Clinton
Lincoln at Peoria by Lewis E. Lehrman
Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution by Daniel Weinberg and James L. Swanson
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power by Richard Carwardine
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan
The Madness of Mary Lincoln by Jason Emerson
The Last Lincolns: The Rise & Fall of a Great American Family by Charles Lachman