The Little Giant

Stephen Arnold Douglas made a name for himself well before the Civil War.  His views would become very controversial and his debates all across the state of Illinois against a tall, lanky up-and-coming lawyer-turned politician named Abraham Lincoln put them both on the map.  He was “vertically challenged” as some would say about a less-than-tall person, but his stature grew by leaps and bounds in the years preceding the Civil War.  He was admired by President Lincoln and called upon during the beginning of Lincoln’s presidency for valuable advice and counsel.

Born on April 23, 1813 in Brandon, Vermont, his name was actually Arnold Douglass.  He took his father’s name as a youth and would eventually drop one s from his last name.  He aspired to teach first and moved from Vermont at the age of 20 for a teaching position in Illinois. He opened his own private school, charging $3 per pupil.  Enjoying the space and freedom that Illinois afforded him, he put his roots there and began to study law.

Douglas would marry twice, his first wife, Martha Martin, dying in childbirth, with the child to follow.  Two sons had been born healthy and were heartbroken at the loss of their mother.  Soon after, Douglas married Adele Cutts. It is worth noting that Stephen Douglas and Mary Todd were an item before she began seeing Abraham Lincoln.

The Little Giant, Stephen Douglas
Born in Brandon, Vermont

Douglas’s political career started early.  He was appointed Illinois State Attorney at 22 and became an Associate Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court by 27.  After working tirelessly on an expansionism ticket, he was elected a United State Senator in 1846. He saw himself as President but lost to Franklin Pierce for the presidential nomination in 1852.

His fight was always “for the people” and truly believed a good Democrat left matters of importance to the people, not the central government. So it was no surprise when the lines divided the Kansas and Nebraska territories, Douglas screamed “Popular Sovereignty” must decide the issue.  It was up to the people, he declared, to determine whether to come into the Union as pro-slavery or anti-slavery.

Popular Sovereignty among other things sparked a series of very well-publicized debates in 1858 between Abraham Lincoln and Douglas, both vying for the same Senate seat.  Heated in some cities but gaining an audience throughout, Douglas won the seat but he knew he was only thrusting Abraham Lincoln into a spotlight he deserved. And Stephen Douglas was intuitive enough to step aside to let Lincoln be seen.

This is the statue that stands at the site of the Freeport, IL debate between Douglas and Lincoln in 1858

Douglas worked diligently during the Election of 1860 to get his name on the ticket, but as Northern and Southern Democrats began to fracture, much like the country would by the end of the year, the Little Giant knew that Lincoln would become President and did all he could to make that happen and stand behind his former adversary.  He always hated the extremists and constantly spoke against abolitionists in the North and disunionists in the South.

After Lincoln’s election and the call for troops, Stephen Douglas spoke in the border states to rally support for the Union cause. He was not destined to remain long as a shadow behind Lincoln.  He contracted typhoid and died in June 1861. He was buried on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Today, the Brandon Museum sits on the site of Stephen A. Douglas’s birthplace in Brandon, Vermont. It is a new museum, only opening in 2010. The museum tells the story of anti-slavery in New England and recounts Douglas’s very active and important life in the political scene of ante-bellum America.

Birthplace of Stephen Douglas
Now the Brandon Museum
Brandon, Vermont

The Stephen A. Douglas birthplace is located on Route 7, next to the Baptist Church at the corner of Routes 7 and 73 West. The street address is 4 Grove St. The Brandon Museum is open daily from mid-May through mid-October from 11 am – 4 pm. For more information, contact them at info@brandon.org.

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Frederic and Jennie

Here is a letter transcribed by the Connecticut Historical Society.  Frederic Lucas and Sarah “Jennie” Wadhams exchanged many letters during the Civil War.  The Connecticut Historical Society amazingly has over 100 of these letters in their manuscript collection.  Lucas enlisted with the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery in 1862.  Through this correspondence, we watch Frederic and Jennie grow from friends to two people obviously in love.

Wounded at Cedar Creek, Lucas, in a wonderful twist, survived the war to marry Jennie in 1867.  The couple had two sons and lived in Goshen, CT.  This letter mentions that wound and is a revealing insight into the life of a Civil War soldier longing for home.

Goshen, Conn Dec. 22, 1864

My Dear Jennie

Yours of the 19th came in due time and I am much pleased with its contents.  In regard to your suggestions I will say that after leaving you at N. B. I concluded to see your father at his house and have a long, plain talk with him.  Yesterday was the time I intended to see him, but it stormed hard before I could get away from home and my wounds having now broken out again I dared not risk so long a ride in such a storm.  Jennie I shall write your father a plain, candid letter before many days, telling him everything and asking a frank reply from him.  He must be well aware of the feeling existing between us Jennie, for our long continued correspondence, my visits to you, and the terms of the letter you read to him about a year ago – all must have been seen and noticed by him.  It is right and proper that I should see him and tell him all: but as circumstances prevent this I will write him plainly at an early date.  You can talk with him on the subject when you get home if you wish – if you do write me all about it Jennie.  It is a cold, tedious morning and the snow flies hard, piling our road with large drifts.  I cannot leave now until tomorrow.  My wounds are very sore and painful today – I hope when I return to hospital that I shall be able to keep quiet and give them a chance to recover.  I intended to have called at several places where I have not been, and at Aunt Anns also, but this hard storm prevented me from doing so.  Jennie I hope you will conclude to remain at school a good while yet.  I wish you to do so for good reasons and if your father is willing and anxious as you tell me that you should continue at school I wish you would do so.

I shall start for Baltimore tomorrow.  Please write me soon & as often as convenient.  My life in hospital will be lonely and monotonous and I shall very often look back towards home and friends wishing I could look at them again.  Your letters have ever cheered and encouraged me and I trust ever will while absent.

The few months now before me are full of dangers and uncertainties yet I am prepared for whatever is before me and shall ever strive to meet my duty cheerfully and manfully wherever it may come.

I dread the Good Bye tomorrow and wish I were well away already.  Jennie, I must be brief with this letter and close soon.  Father is going to the center and I must send this by him that you may get it this week.

I regret very much that I cannot see you again Jennie.  But as you say “never mind” – we will be patient and abide the time of my return.  With my best wishes for your welfare and future happiness I bid you a Good Bye for the present.

A kiss and God Bless you.

Your true friend

Frederic A. Lucas

Sergt. Maj. 2nd Conn. Artillery

Civil War Letter from Frederic Lucas to Sarah Wadhams found at the Connecticut Historical Society.

From their website:

The Connecticut Historical Society has an extensive collection of Civil War related material: private letters of soldiers and their families, stationery, weapons and firearms, uniforms, photographs, and prints. The envelop shown to the left illustrates one way in which women on the homefront were encouraged to help the war effort.

During the first two weeks of July, the Historical Society will be doing renovation work and will have no air conditioning.  The hours are as follows:

Museum: 
Tuesday-Friday: 12:00 – 5:00 pm
Saturday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Library & Research Center: 
Thursday: 12:00 – 5:00 pm
Friday – Saturday: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

The CHS is located at One Elizabeth Street in Hartford CT

The CHS is closed every Sunday and Monday, New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

Prices:

Admission is FREE for CHS members and children 5 and under. Admission to the museum galleries is FREE the first Saturday of the month.

One-day admission prices:

$8 Adults
$6 Seniors (65 and over)
$4 Students (with valid college ID) and Youth (6-17)

Call them at (860) 236-5621 x230 or visit their website for more information.

Thanks to Karen DePauw, Elizabeth Abbe and Rich Malley at the Connecticut Historical Society.

The Lincolns at Home

Although it was not in the Lincoln family during the Civil War, Hildene has become known as a piece of Civil War history. More specifically, a piece of the life of Abraham Lincoln–since his eldest son Robert Todd Lincoln, built the home and stored papers and articles belonging to his late father inside.

In 1864, Mary Lincoln took Tad and Robert to The Equinox Hotel nearby and the landscape of Vermont remained long-lasting for Robert.  The house was built by Lincoln almost forty years later while he was president of The Pullman Company.  He purchased 500 acres with the plan of keeping the home for his descendants.

Robert Todd Lincoln in his later years

A Georgia-style revival home, Hildene was designed by Boston architects, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge and built at a cost of $63,000.  Construction began in 1903 and Robert, his wife Mary and their children moved in the summer of 1905. The house has a large pipe organ (valued at $11,500) given to Mary Harlan Lincoln by Robert as well as a formal garden and carriage house.  The carriage house houses the Visitor Center today.

The house stayed in the Lincoln family until 1975 when it became a 501c3.  Hildene is now open to the public and the pipe organ played every day.  For more information, including hours, directions and tickets, visit. their website.

Visit Hildene, the Lincoln Family home in Manchester, Vermont

Gideon Welles

New England had one of its own serving in President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet.  Gideon Welles held the post from 1861-1869.  Nicknamed Father Neptune, Welles was a good friend to Lincoln and his wife spent a good deal of time with Mary Todd Lincoln, even being one of the first to go to her after President Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865.

Born on July 1, 1802 in Glastonbury, Connecticut to Samuel and Ann Welles, he attended school at Cheshire Academy and the Military Academy at Norwich (Norwich University).  Welles became a lawyer, but soon turned to newspaper reporting and founded the Hartford Times in 1826.  Throughout the 1830s and 1840s, he held various Democratic government posts.

Connecticut Native and Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Gideon Welles

He married Mary Jane Hale in 1835 and they had six children.  By the 1850s, due mainly to the slavery question, Gideon Welles became a Republican. He supported Abraham Lincoln early on and with two newspapers to his credit (he founded the Hartford Free Press in 1856), and his familiarity with the government, it seemed he was the natural New England choice for the President’s new cabinet.

Welles’ first project as Secretary of the Navy was to make the current navy a modern fleet.  He worked hard so the Union navy would be a competent fighting force against its growing Confederate counterpart.  Through his time with President Lincoln, the Secretary was disheartened by the lack of respect his fellow cabinet-members gave their posts.  He wrote later:

The President was in very good spirits at the Cabinet. His journey has done him good, physically, and strengthened him mentally and inspired confidence in the General and army. Chase was not at the Cabinet-meeting. I know not if he is at home. But he latterly makes it a point not to attend. No one was more prompt and punctual than himself until about a year since. As the Presidential contest approached he has ceased in a great measure to come to the meetings. Stanton is but little better. If he comes, it is to whisper to the President, or take the dispatches or the papers from his pocket and go into a corner with the President. When has no specialty of his own, he withdraws after some five or ten minutes.

After the assassination, Welles remained in the post of Secretary of the Navy through President Johnson’s term.  He could not watch Johnson’s version of Reconstruction so he resigned in 1869 and returned to the Democratic Party.  During his retirement, he went back to his roots as a writer and authored many books, although his own memoirs would not be published until 1911.

At the age of 75, at the end of a long winter, Gideon Welles passed away from a severe case of strep throat.  He is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford.

The Grave of Gideon Welles, who died February 11, 1878, Photo courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

The Tragedy of Mrs. Bixby

In 1864, a woman lost all five of her sons to the American Civil War.  Her name was Lydia Bixby and she and her family hailed from Massachusetts. President Lincoln was made aware of Mrs. Bixby’s circumstances thanks to the wartime governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew. So touched by this mother’s devastating loss, Lincoln felt he had to write her a personal letter of condolence.  It read:

Executive Mansion, Washington, November 21, 1864.

Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Massachusetts:

Dear Madam: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,

Abraham Lincoln

Lydia Clark Bixby who lost her sons during the Civil War, was reportedly so angry by the letter she received from President Lincoln that she destroyed it.

Descendents of Bixby said years later that she was no fan of President Lincoln and was so angry by the words she received that she destroyed the letter immediately.  Others say Mrs. Bixby was a Confederate sympathizer.  That has never been proven.  What history has told us is that only two of Mrs. Bixby’s sons died in battle, while one deserted, one died in a prisoner of war camp and one finally returned home, honorably discharged from the Union army.

It is hard not to think that maybe her anger toward the President and the government didn’t come from a deeper place, a more personal place, where her family was torn apart and where even three dead children would take its toll.

This sad story has been remembered through the movie Saving Private Ryan and through The Civil War: The Musical with Frank Wildhorn’s haunting lyrics to “Five Boys.”  With Betty Buckley (playing Mrs. Lydia Bixby) singing the song, you know it must be amazing.  When the song ends with with the phrase”…five boys…waiting in a field…for me,” it is enough to bring tears to your eyes.

Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Bixby, November 1864

Lincoln Symposium

This past weekend, a seminar called Lincoln: The Evolution of a President was held at the Fifth Maine Museum in Peaks Island.

According to the organization’s website: “The Fifth Maine Regiment Memorial Hall was built in 1888 as the ‘Headquarters’ of the Fifth Regiment Maine Volunteer Infantry 1861-1864. For nearly sixty years the veterans and their families summered here, enjoying the cooling ocean breezes and magnificent view from the verandah of their beloved cottage. Under the stewardship of the Fifth Maine Regiment Community Association, the Hall is maintained as a Civil War and local history museum and a cultural center.”

Visit the Fifth Maine Museum in Peaks Island, Maine

The Museum has exhibits about the Fifth Maine flag, about the Fifth Maine regiment itself as well as other military and local history exhibits.  They have a great expanse of events as well–all the way through the summer and into the fall.

Lincoln: The Evolution of a President discussed the Civil War president from his “Humble Beginnings:  Lincoln’s Early Life and Relationships” to “The Young Eagle:  Lincoln the Whig” and finally, the “Evolution of a President:  Race, Slavery and Emancipation.” Museum consultant, Erin Bishop, led the workshop.  She runs Clio Museum Consulting.  Other seminars she leads include: The Marriage of Abraham and Mary Lincoln, The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, Titanic: A Century of Myth and Memory.

You can purchase a cap, tshirt, books and other items at the Fifth Maine Museum gift shop

The hours for the Museum are as follows:

Memorial Day thru June 30 ~Saturday & Sunday   11 am – 4 pm

July 1 thru Labor Day ~ Monday – Friday    1 – 4 pm & Saturday & Sunday  11 am – 4 pm  

Labor Day thru Columbus Day ~ Saturday & Sunday  11 am – 4 pm

For more information, call 207-766-3330.

From New England to Gettysburg–John Bachelder

New England artist, lithographer and photographer John Bachelder felt a near-obsession with the Gettysburg battlefield.  His determination and persistence helped document for future historians a field that saw some of the most horrific fighting of the Civil War.

Bachelder was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire in September 1825.  He went to a military academy and eventually would teach at one in Reading, Pennsylvania.  He became the principal of the Pennsylvania Military Institute which bestowed upon him the rank of Colonel a decade before the Civil War.

He married Elizabeth Stevens and returned to New Hampshire, where he began his artistic career.  His fascination with the military gave him a desire to paint the definitive battle scene.  He desired to see a battle in order to paint one and when the Civil War began he joined the Army of the Potomac in hopes of witnessing action.

Bachelder interviewed soldiers to paint accurate scenes of the Civil War, especially Gettysburg.

General John Caldwell wrote about Bachelder in 1863, “At Fair Oaks, Virginia, I frequently met Mr. Bachelder, at that time making sketches of various phases of the Battle of Seven Pines and Fair Oaks. Several of the sketches were shown to me, and I think them by far the most accurate of any I have ever seen.”

Gettysburg affected him deeply and he would spend the rest of his life interviewing officers, sketching the battlefield and talking to each and every regiment that fought July 1-3, 1863 to determine troop movements and areas of action. He was named the Superintendent of Tablets and Legends by the Gettysburg Battlefield Monument Association and helped to place the markers and monuments seen on the field today.  He designed the High Water Mark monument on Cemetery Ridge.

Designed by John Bachelder
(photo by Kristie Poehler)

Once of his biggest achievements was a series of topographical maps, still utilized.  He wrote, “I desire to call your attention to my Gettysburg Publication, particularly the Government Topographical Map of that battle-field. The survey for this map was ordered by Gen. A.A Humphreys, Chief of Engineers U.S.A. and was made under the direction of Gen’l G.K. Warren U.S.A. Chief Engineer at the battle. It was commenced in 1868…”  He also painted a monumental work about Longstreet’s Assault, better known as Pickett’s Charge–it measured 7.5 x 20 feet.

Bachelder and his wife, taken at Gettysburg in 1890

In 1880, President Hayes signed a bill into law commissioning Bachelder to write a detailed history of the Battle of Gettysburg.  He utilized the Official Records but Southerners of the time criticized him for omitting the Confederate point of view. However, former South Carolina general Wade Hampton recorded, “It appears that Mr. Bachelder, having the advantage of a military education, and love of history, went to the front early in 1862, more than a year before the battle of Gettysburg, to be in a position to collect data when the most important battle of the War was fought. After working up the details of several engagements, he reached the battlefield of Gettysburg before the dead were buried, remaining for eighty-four days, making plans of the field, visiting the wounded in hospital, and by permission taking the convalescent officers over the field, by whom their positions and movements were pointed out and established.”

Bachelder died in 1894 of pneumonia while in the Boston area.  He is buried in the Bachelder plot in Nottingham, New Hampshire.  We will be forever grateful for all he did to memorialize this battlefield and begin the painstaking work used by generations of people studying Gettysburg.