By Mel Maurer
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2007, 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 8-year Lincoln Forum member Mel Maurer agreed to our request to provide a recap of this year’s event. (Read Mel’s reports on the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 Forums.)
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable was well represented at this year’s 12th Annual Lincoln Forum, held every November 16-18th in Gettysburg at the Battlefield Holiday Inn with about 300 people attending. Dick Crews, Kirk Hinman, Gordie Noble, Lou Braman, her friend Anne Davis and Dave Edmonds were there along with me. (Unfortunately Maynard and Betty Bauer had to cancel their attendance at the last minute due to a death in the family.)
The Forum’s symposium’s theme this year was “Lincoln, Law, and Justice.” It was capably introduced in our chairman Frank Williams’ talk, “Judging Lincoln as Judge,” after dinner on Friday evening. Mr. Williams, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and a noted Lincoln scholar, defined Lincoln as judge using the times he sat as a replacement judge in Illinois and as a one-man appeal board during the war for his references. It was no surprise to learn that Mr. Williams found Lincoln to be a fair and wise judge although Dick and I thought he may have painted Lincoln a little too saintly as a lawyer.
The opening talk Saturday morning was by Tom Wheeler who wrote Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War. I was not impressed with Mr. Wheeler when I saw him on C-SPAN several years ago, but he was excellent here, conveying considerable knowledge of the era, telegraphy and Lincoln. Dick thought it was the best talk of the Forum.
Mr. Wheeler was followed by a young author, Jason Emerson, who discussed his new book: The Madness of Mary Lincoln. While his subject was interesting – he feels that Mary was actually insane – the story he told of finding the “lost or destroyed” letters that Mary wrote while confined in the asylum was really special.
Lincoln author, William C. Harris (Lincoln’s Last Months) spoke on “Lincoln’s Role in the Presidential Campaign of 1860” to end the first morning. Mr. Harris’s research shows Lincoln’s involvement – using his great political intuition and skill – in certain strategic areas of the country that helped to retain or acquire the support he needed to win the presidency.
The Forum is always especially interesting when it overlaps “Remembrance Weekend” in Gettysburg as it did this year. This is always celebrated the Saturday before November 19th, attracting hundreds (if not thousands) of re-enactors to town – most of whom then appear in an hour-long parade through town (right past our hotel) and onto the battlefield . We usually watch the parade during an extended lunch hour (this year from our room while also watching Ohio State beat that team from up north.)
The Saturday afternoon Forum sessions were led off by a distinguished and wonderful elderly lady, Eleanor Stoddard, who modestly told us of her grandfather, William O. Stoddard, who was a secretary to Lincoln in the White House (although officially a member of the Interior Department.)
There is a new book out on his life –Lincoln’s White House Secretary: The Adventurous Life of William O.Stoddard. Miss Stoddard was four years old when her grandfather died and she admits to only a few brief memories of him. The poor lady’s hand was practically worn out by those wanting to shake the hand that touched the hand that shook the hand of Lincoln – yes, I shook it too. (She thought I looked like her uncle, one of William’s son’s, but no one wanted to shake my hand.) This dear lady also just beat me to the last copy of the new book on Mary’s insanity in the Forum Book Store. (The Forum “Book Store” with a number of vendors always has the latest and greatest books, pictures, and sculpture on all things Lincoln.)
The next presentation, by Bob Zeller, was unusual and newsworthy as well as really neat – “Lincoln in 3D: The Stereo Photographic Legacy of His Presidency.” Mr. Zeller, for the speaking, and John Richter, for the technical, showed us, wearing 3D glasses, a 3D slide show made from pictures taken to be viewed in the 1800s version of “View Masters” — the two-picture one-viewer format.
The show was amazing, giving us views and depths that added new proximity to each scene. It was while they were doing this work that they discovered what may be new pictures of Lincoln at Gettysburg in a crowd scene (as announced in USA Today on November 16th). Mr. Zeller and Mr. Richter are leaving it to others to decide whether it is actually Lincoln. One picture shows a man with a beard in a stove pipe hat on a horse with his head above the crowd while another shows the man to be wearing white gloves – as Lincoln did that day. I asked if their material would someday be available on DVD and was told that it was a possibility. (See photos at CivilWarPhotography.org.)
Lincoln historians and writers, Douglas L. Wilson (author of Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln) and Rodney O. Davis (Prof. of History Emeritus at Knox College) shared the podium next with a talk entitled “Reconsidering Herndon.” They make the case that the biography of Lincoln by his long-time law partner, William Herndon, deserves more historical respect than it has received over the years. There is a new annotated version of Herndon’s biography out, Herndon’s Lincoln (Knox College Lincoln Studies Center, and a companion work, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln. Herndon did history a great service with his work.
C-SPAN was there to record the talks by authors so most of the second day’s talks will eventually be broadcast as part of the “Book TV” series – probably in December. I’ll send out an e-mail on this if and when I learn a date. You may even see some familiar faces asking questions.
Our speaker after dinner Saturday evening was a crusty old professor, Jean Edward Smith, author of a number of books, including a book on U. S. Grant (simply titled Grant). His most recent book is FDR. His talk compared Lincoln and FDR, “Presidential Leadership in Wartime: Lincoln and FDR.” I was able to ask him which of these two faced the greater challenge, he said that was an “iffy question” and I said – also crusty – “that’s why I asked it.” After some words of qualification, he said that Lincoln faced the bigger challenge. (Dick and I got more out of him on several of his subjects in the bar later that night.)
The second morning’s session got us back to the Forum’s theme with a panel discussion – always a Forum favorite – featuring five distinguished panelists moderated by our vice chairman, Harold Holzer (author and editor of about 30 books on Lincoln and vice chair of the Forum.) The panelists, all of them authors, were:
- Frank Williams, Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court
- Burrus M. Carnahan, former U.S, Air Force Judge Advocate
- James F. Simon, Prof. of law and Dean Emeritus at the New York Law School
- Mark Steiner, Assoc. Prof. of Law – University of Houston
- Daniel W. Stowell, longtime editor of the Lincoln Legal Papers
The panelists discussed a number of facets of Lincoln’s legal life – over 5,200 cases handled by Lincoln including some murder cases (although, as one noted, he was no Perry Mason). The audience joined in with a number of questions – mine, on when did Lincoln decide he was going to be a lawyer, got only a fuzzy answer. (Sorry – had I known that Paul Burkholder was going to ask for this recap, I would have taken some notes on the discussion.)
The afternoon of the second day is always “Tour Day” and this year we had a very special tour as we were bussed into Washington to visit the “Lincoln Cottage” at the Soldiers’ Home – the summer residence of the Lincoln family (three miles from the White House). The “cottage” is really a large informal house.
Dick recalled visiting the cottage while on then CCWRT president William Vodrey’s field trip to Washington, DC in the fall of 2000, saying we were ahead of the times. While it was then just a somewhat cluttered office, today it has been almost completely renovated and restored to the time of Lincoln. The work is nearly finished and the home will open officially in February. Dick and I managed to get on the bus led by Matt Pinsker who wrote the definitive book on the home: Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home. Old friend, George Buss was Matt’s assistant on the bus – we sat behind them and picked both clean of their considerable knowledge – as we did with James McPherson when he led our group on a tour of Antietam several years ago.
We also stopped at the partial recreation of Ft. Stevens – which is close to the Soldiers’ Home. Ft. Stevens is where Lincoln became the only sitting President to come under hostile fire (from Jubal Early’s attacking forces). It’s also where myth has it that young Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said to the endangered President – “Get down you damn fool!” Our guide at the site, Craig Symonds, like most historians, says it never happened.
We were back in Gettysburg in time to get ready for the concluding dinner that night. As is our tradition, our friend Jim Getty spoke first – this year doing a reading entitled “Mr. Lincoln Speaks” on Lincoln on lawyers.
Our final speaker was Jeff Shaara who followed his father Michael (The Killer Angels) into novelized history with Gods and Generals, The Last Full Measure and others. Jeff received this year’s Richard Current Award. He then talked on novelized history, quietly defending the genre. I was able to ask him in the Q&A about the rumored movie to be made of The Last Full Measure. He said Ted Turner is no longer involved in these movies at all and that right now, there is nothing happening on what would be the final movie in the trilogy. Mr. Shaara has completed his first book on what will be a trilogy on WWI.
While the Forum officially ends the evening of the 18th, many participants also attend the ceremony at the National Cemetery the morning of the 19th. Jim Getty as Lincoln does the Gettysburg Address (always special), and this year Jeff Shaara was the featured speaker.
Dick and I always do at least a driving tour of the battlefield each year to see the progress being made in restoring it to it’s 1863 topography – and we’re always impressed with the progress being made. (Cold wet weather kept us in the car this year.)
While this year’s Forum lacked the “big name” speakers of some past Forums (Doris Kearns Goodwin last year, for example), it did have a variety of good talks by some very good scholars along with a great tour. (Dick did not find the program as good as I did but he was still glad he came.) The Forum celebrates Lincoln’s 200th birthday next year and promises to be a very special event. We know at this point that the tour will include the new Gettysburg Visitors Center and the dedication of the restored Wills House – where Lincoln spent his night in Gettysburg. The speaker program is still being determined but it promises to be a good one and I bet the attendees will include many scholars too.
We’ll know the complete program some time in March. The Forum usually sells out so if you are interested be sure to register early – and get a room at the Holiday Inn early too – like the Forum it also sells out every year. I’m sure all of us attending this year would be pleased to answer any questions you may have. (And I’m only charging a dollar to shake my hand – the hand that shook the hand, that shook the hand, that shook the hand of Lincoln.)
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.)
The Madness of Mary Lincoln by Jason Emerson and James Brust
Lincoln’s Last Months by William C. Harris
Lincoln’s White House Secretary: The Adventurous Life of William O.Stoddard by Eleanor Stoddard and Harold Holzer
Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson
Herndon’s Lincoln (Knox College Lincoln Studies Center) by William H. Herndon
Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L Wilson and Rodney O. Davis
Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home by Matt Pinsker
Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara