November 18, 1863 The Gettysburg Address

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address. Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process. That working copy is lost.

Have you ever crossed that field at Gettysburg? The site of the final assault on the third day? You can feel the sense of history, stepping off Seminary Ridge. Only a mile to go. You are awe struck at the mental image of thousands of blue clad soldiers, awaiting your advance. Halfway across and just coming into small arms range, you enter a low spot on what seemed like a flat plain. It’s almost imperceptible but the “copse of trees”, drops out of sight. You can’t help a sense of relief as you cross the draw. If you can’t see them they can’t shoot you. Right?

Then you look to your right and realize. Cannon would have been firing down the length of your lines that day, from Little Round Top. From your left, the guns of Cemetery Hill tear into your lines. Rising out of the draw you are now in full sight of Union infantry. You quicken your pace as your lines are torn apart from the front and sides. Fences hold in some spots along the Emmitsburg Road. Hundreds of your comrades are shot down in the attempt to climb over.

Finally you are over and now it’s a dead run. There’s a savage struggle to possess an angle in a stone wall, but it is not enough. The Bloody Angle. You have reached the “high water mark of the Confederacy”. The shattered remains of that splendid Multitude you joined only moments before, retreat. It is over.

The hill from which the Union center repulsed Longstreet’s assault of the third day was selected for a national cemetery, within the four months following the battle of Gettysburg. Work began to re-inter the dead from the carnage of July, on October 27.

Three weeks later, Abraham Lincoln boarded a train in Washington.  He’d been asked to make “a few dedicatory remarks” on the following day, consecrating the new National Cemetery at Gettysburg where, even now on this day in 1863, workmen yet labored.

Lincoln was the President of a country torn by Civil War, a war so terrible that, before it was over, would kill more Americans than all the wars from the Declaration of Independence to the Global War on Terror, combined.

November 18, 1863. President Lincoln takes a break at the Hanover junction Station (PA), waiting to be joined by Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Curtin’s train was late and the President moved on, without him. The Governor would have to find find another route to join the President, the following day.

Lincoln had been feeling poorly the day of the train ride, telling his secretary John Hay, he was feeling weak.  He would feel worse before that day was over. Hay noted that Lincoln’s face was ‘a ghastly color’, the day of the address.  No one knew it at the time. The President had entered the first stages, of smallpox.

His was not the keynote address.  That would be a 13,607 word, two-hour oration delivered by Boston politician Edward Everett.

gtsburgaddress2
“A rare photo of the ceremonies. A group of boys stand at the fringe of a crowd. In the distance, several men wearing sashes can be seen standing on the speakers’ platform. Analysis of an enlargement of this photo reveals the image of Lincoln sitting to the left of these men”. Tip of the hat to http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com, for this image

After Everett’s speech, photographers began the careful preparation and setting, of glass plates. Each an thought he had all the time in the world. He did not.

There is no photograph of President Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg address.

The 16th President of the United States stepped to the rostrum and delivered 271 words, in ten sentences.  In just over two minutes, Lincoln captured an entire vision of where the country was at that moment in time, where it had been, and where it was going.

Lincoln himself thought his speech a flop, but Everett later wrote to him, saying “I wish that I could flatter myself that I had come as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.”

Then as now there were haters, a peanut gallery firing spitballs, from secure positions on the sidelines.  The Chicago Times described Lincoln’s remarks as “silly, flat and dish-watery utterances”. It all came out in the end.  Lincoln’s address is remembered as one of the finest English language orations since Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, at Agincourt.  The names of those croaking tree frogs at the Chicago Times, are all but forgotten.

Oddly, we don’t know the precise form in which the President delivered his address.  Lincoln wrote his own speeches, lining out words and writing into margins as he developed his thought process.  That working copy is lost.

objectathand_dec08_631
“The only known image of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg was uncovered in 1952 at the National Archives. It was taken by photographer Mathew Brady. (Library of Congress)” H/T Smithsonian.com, for this image

There are five known copies of the Gettysburg address, written in Lincoln’s own hand. Each varies slightly in wording and punctuation.  He wrote two after the address, giving them to his two personal secretaries, John Hay and John Nicolay.  He sent one to Edward Everett early in 1864 and another to George Bancroft, the former Secretary of the Navy turned historian.  Lincoln wrote a fifth copy in February known as the Bliss copy, for Colonel Alexander Bliss, upon learning the Bancroft version was unsuitable for publication. Preproduction technologies were unsuitable at that time, for documents written on both sides of the same page.

images (11)

Lincoln signed, dated and titled the Bliss copy.  This is the version inscribed on the South wall of the Lincoln Memorial.

One of my stranger childhood notions, was the idea that sounds never disappeared. They only diminished as they spread outward, like ripples on a pond.  If that was true (thought my nine-year-old self), could we not somehow capture and listen to the Gettysburg address, as it was actually delivered?

It’s a funny thing how some ideas, even the goofy ones, never completely die away.

October 31, 1883 The President’s Ghost

An historical ghost story, for your Halloween enjoyment. But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

An historical ghost story, for your Halloween enjoyment.   But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Albany, New York businessman Jared Rathbone passed away in 1845, leaving a considerable fortune to his widow Pauline, and their four children.

New York Supreme Court Justice Ira Harris, himself a widower, joined his household with hers when the couple married, in 1848.  There were now eight kids.  A regular 19th-century “Brady Bunch.”

Pauline’s son Henry and Ira’s daughter Clara became close friends and later, more.  Much more.  They were step-siblings, yes, but there was no “blood” between them.  Such a relationship seems not to have been so ‘odd’ then, as it may seem, today.

With the incoming Lincoln administration, Ira Harris was elected to the United States Senate, replacing Senator William H. Seward who’d been picked to serve in the new administration.

By the time of the War between the States, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone were engaged to be married.

udvwxyoa

Rathbone served the Union army for the duration of the war, becoming Captain in the 12th Infantry Regiment and participating in the battles at Antietam and Fredericksburg.  By the end of the war, Rathbone had attained the rank of Major.

Meanwhile, Senator Harris’ daughter Clara had conceived a friendship with the First Lady of the United States, Mary Todd Lincoln.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, before and after photographs tell of the burdens, born by the chief executive of a nation at war with itself.  Making matters worse, the Lincolns had lost two of their four boys in childhood, by war’s end.  In April 1865, a night out must have seemed like a welcome break.  An evening at the theater.  The play, a three-act farce by English playwright Tom Taylor.  “Our American Cousin”.197030-Abraham-Lincoln-Before-And-After-Civil-War

The Lincoln’s companions for the evening were to be General Grant and his wife, Julia, but the General had other plans.  It was probably convenient, because the ladies didn’t get along.  Mary suggested her neighbor Clara Harris, of whom she was quite fond.  And besides, didn’t her fiancée cut a dashing figure, in his blue uniform.

The story of that night is familiar, the assassin creeping up from behind.  The mark of the coward.

John Wilkes Booth was himself one of the great actors of his day, with the actor’s impeccable sense of timing. The assassin chose his moment, carefully.  Raucous laughter and applause could be expected to follow the line “Don’t know the manners of good society, eh? Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdolagizing old man-trap!

The bullet was fired at point-blank range, entering the President’s skull behind the left ear and coming to rest, behind the right eye.  Rathbone sprang to the attack but the assassin was ready, the dagger slashing the major nearly bone-deep, from shoulder to elbow.  Rathbone made one last lunge, knocking Booth off balance as he leapt to the stage, below.  Witnesses remembered that he cried out “Sic Semper Tyrannis”.  Thus always, to tyrants.  And then, he was gone.

In the President’s box, all was chaos. The first lady was inconsolable, sobbing, apoplectic, shrieking like a wildcat. Rathbone was losing blood at a prodigious rate, a major artery severed in the fight.

John_Wilkes_Booth_dagger
John Wilkes Booth dagger, used to attack Rathbone

Clara’s new dress was drenched in the blood of her fiancée, her face splashed and clothing soaked through layers of petticoats to the skin, beneath.  The small group was taken across the street to the Peterson house, the President laid out on a bed.  Henry Rathbone faded in and out of consciousness due to blood loss, raving in his delirium how he should have caught the assassin, his head on Clara’s lap, her handkerchief stuffed into the void where the bicep used to be.

She didn’t even have time to wash her blood-spattered face. Mary Lincoln would just begin to calm down when she’d see Clara and fall apart, wailing “My husband’s blood!”. It wasn’t, but, no matter. Perception is reality, right?. The death vigil lasted this way, for nine hours. The 16th President of the United States passed away at 7:22 the following morning, April 15, 1865.

Lincolns-Death

Major Rathbone would heal in time, but he never came to terms with his failure to protect the President.  He was tormented, distraught with guilt, unable to understand what he could have done differently, but, What!? Surely there must have been…Something.

Clara Harris couldn’t bring herself to wash that dress, nor to burn it.  She hung it in a guest room closet, blood and all, in the family’s vacation home in New York.

What demons afflicted the mind of Henry Rathbone can only be guessed at, as a mental illness which had no name, crept into his soul.  He was possessed with that night.  Was I not quick enough?  Or brave enough?  Or Strong enough?  It was MY fault.  A Better Man would have taken that bullet.  Or Stopped that man.  No he wouldn’t…yes he would…but…I…what, the, hell, is WRONG WITH ME???!!!

clara-harris
The dress

Washington DC was saturated with All Things Lincoln in April 1866, and Clara fled to the family home in Albany, to get away.  There in that closet hung the bloody dress.  On the anniversary of the assassination, she heard laughter, she knew she did, coming down the hall.  Lincoln’s laughter.

Others reported the same thing in the following years.  The sound of laughter.  A single gun shot.  

But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

Major Rathbone and Clara Harris were married in July 1867 and the couple had three children, Henry rising to the rank of brevet Colonel, in 1870.  That was the year he resigned from the army, but work was hard to come by, due to increasing mental instability.

Rathbone convinced himself that Clara was unfaithful, that she planned to take the kids away.   He would fly into rages, with little or no provocation. She considered divorce but couldn’t bear the thought, nor the stigma.

Clara went so far as to have the closet bricked up with that dress inside, like Edgar Allen Poe’s Montresor bricked up Fortunato.  That changed, precisely, nothing.  The family traveled to Europe and back in search of a cure, but Rathbone’s condition only worsened.

Vault_ag1982_0119x_085_1_opt
US Capitol as it looked, in 1872

Despite all this or possibly because of it, President Chester A. Arthur appointed Rathbone US Consul to the Province of Hannover in Germany, in 1882.

“Trick or Treating” had yet to take hold by this time, back in the United States.  For most, October 31, 1883 passed pleasantly enough:  Fall festivals, children bobbing for apples, young women consulting mirrors or tossing nuts into fires, to see whom they would marry.  Not so, Henry Rathbone.  He had Monsters in his head.

Two months later, December 23, Henry Rathbone shot his wife, and stabbed himself, in the chest.  Six times.  He lived.  She died.

He said he was defending his wife, against an attacker.

The three children, Henry Riggs, Gerald Lawrence and Clara Pauline went to live with relatives. Henry Reed Rathbone was convicted of their mother’s murder and committed to an asylum for the criminally insane in Hildesheim, Germany, there to spend the next twenty-eight years.

Henry Reed Rathbone died on August 14, 1911 and was buried, next to Clara.

In 1922, Henry Riggs Rathbone would be elected to the United States House of Representatives.  Twelve years earlier he unbricked his mother’s closet and burned the hated dress, the dress that had stolen his childhood, murdered his mother, and cursed his father.  

But there are no such things as ghosts…Right?

loudoncottagetoday
“The modern day home where Union Army Officer Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris resided”. Hat tip, HISTORIAN’S OFFICE, TOWN OF COLONIE.

Afterward

Burial customs are different in Germany, than in the United States.  Grave plots are generally leased for a period of 20 to 30 years, with an option to renew.  In 1952, officials with the city cemetery at Hanover/Engesohde looked over visitation records and determined there was no further interest, in Clara Harris or Henry Rathbone.  The couple was exhumed and their remains burned, and disposed of.  Like they had never even lived.

But there are no such things as ghosts.

Right?

July 28, 1866 The President’s Sculptor

Every year, millions of visitors to the Rotunda of the Capitol stop to admire the work. Few possess so much as the foggiest notion that the artist, was an 18-year-old girl.

She was about 5-feet tall when her parents moved to Washington, a mere wraith of a girl of 14 summers, as yet unable to tip the scales at 90 pounds.    Her father Robert was a surveyor, come to the capital for a job in the cartography office.

Her brother Robert headed south to Arkansas, to join with Woodruff’s Battery in service to the Confederate Army.  The year was 1861.  The District of Columbia was the capital in name only, of a nation at war with itself.

The elder Robert took ill and times got tough for the Ream family.  Despite her diminutive stature, Lavinia Ellen, “Vinnie“ to friends and family, took a job to help with family finances.  She was working in the dead letter office at the post office, one of the first women ever hired by the federal government.

Missouri Congressman James Rollins introduced Vinnie to sculptor Clark Mills in 1863, the artist who produced that statue of President Andrew Jackson, the one we’ve heard so much about recently, there in Lafayette square.

Washington, DC - June 02, 2018: Andrew Jackson's statue in Lafay
Washington, DC – June 02, 2018: Andrew Jackson’s statue in Lafayette Square and the White House.

The artist was amused when the young girl remarked “I can do that myself” and handed her a pail of clay with an invitation to try.  He was delighted when she returned a month later, this time with a surprisingly good likeness of an Indian Chieftain.  It wasn’t long before she became Mills’ apprentice.

Stories spread concerning the remarkable abilities of this young artist.  Vinnie’s talents blossomed and she left the post office to pursue her art, full time.  Senators and Members of Congress were her subjects.  Her faithful likeness of the glowering visage of that fierce opponent of slavery Thaddeus Stevens, the Pennsylvania Republican Congressman who would one day lead the impeachment effort against President Andrew Johnson, earned her an important and powerful ally.

It must have been an exciting time for a young girl in Washington DC, the horse-drawn ambulances, the ever-present blue-clad soldiers and more than anything, the raw-boned figure of the President of the United States, his carriage invariably accompanied by a squadron of brightly caparisoned, mounted Army officers.  Vinnie was interested in the figure of Abraham Lincoln.  The desire to sculpt the man’s likeness blossomed to an obsession as the titanic weight of office and crushing grief following the death of Lincoln’s 12-year-old son Willy, seemingly etched themselves across the President’s face.

Raised as she was on the western prairies of Wisconsin, Kansas, and Missouri, Vinnie was unacquainted with the “way things were done” in the nation’s capital.   Petite, quick with a smile and not a little ambitious, she could often get to “yes” where others hadn’t so much as a chance.

So it was in 1864, Vinnie was granted permission which would have been denied, to an older artist.  She herself explained “Lincoln had been painted and modeled before, and when friends of mine first asked him to sit for me he dismissed them wearily until he was told that I was but an ambitious girl, poor and obscure. … Had I been the greatest sculptor in the world I am sure that I would have been refused.”

Every day for five months, Vinnie Ream had a private half-hour with the President of the United States, the two speaking but infrequently as she set her hands about the work.  She was performing the final touches on the bust you see below, the morning of April 14, 1865.  General Robert. E. Lee had surrendered to General Ulysses Grant only five days earlier.  The most catastrophic war in American history was winding to a close.  That night, the President planned a welcome break from the cares of office, at a place called Ford’s theater.

Vinnie_Ream_with_her_bust_of_Abraham_Lincoln

A nation was stunned following the Lincoln assassination.  Vinnie herself, prostrate at the death of her friend and hero.

There arose a movement in Congress, to honor the Great Man with a full-length statue, to be placed in the Rotunda of the Capitol.  A competition would be held, to determine the artist.  Washington was then as it is now, but Vinnie had learned a political lesson or two since those naive days of five years earlier.  The petition attesting to her talents and worthiness for the project was signed by Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, 31 Senators and 110 members of the House of Representatives.

SAAM-1917.11.1_1Then as now, Washington was a “Swamp” and a cesspit for the venal and self-interested. Now grown to an attractive young woman, Vinnie Ream was not without critics.  Kansas Senator Edmund Gibson Ross boarded with the Ream family during Johnson’s impeachment trial and cast the one vote absolving the President of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”.

Imagine how THAT must’ve sounded.

There were sleazy insinuations that she was a “lobbyist” or even a “Public Woman” (prostitute).

Newspaper columnist Mrs. Jane Grey Swisshelm sniffed about how Vinnie “carries the day” with members of Congress: “Miss .… Ream … is a young girl of about twenty who has been studying her art for a few months, never made a statue, has some plaster busts on exhibition, including her own, minus clothing to the waist, has a pretty face, long dark curls and plenty of them. … [She] sees members at their lodgings or in the reception room at the Capitol, urges her claims fluently and confidently, sits in the galleries in a conspicuous position and in her most bewitching dress, while those claims are being discussed on the floor, and nods and smiles as a member rises…

e05a173b8e8f1c1360a5e523c3ec3604One editor had the last word, however, printing Swisshelm’s column under the headline “A Homely Woman’s Opinion of a Pretty One.”

Ouch.

On this day in 1866, Vinnie Ream was awarded by vote of Congress, the commission to create a full-size statue of Abraham Lincoln. She was 18 years old, the first woman to receive a such a commission as an artist and the youngest of either sex, to create a statue for the United States government.

Even then, Vinnie was not without detractors.  Michigan Senator Jacob Merritt Howard remarked, “Having in view the youth and inexperience of Miss Ream, and I will go further, and say, having in view her sex, I shall expect a complete failure in the execution of this work.”

Miss Lavinia Ream survived an effort to have her removed from her own studio by a vindictive House of Representatives, to enjoy the last word.  Her depiction of the Great Emancipator sculpted from a flawless block of Carrara marble stands in the Rotunda of the Capitol where it is seen by millions of visitors, from that day to this.

Ream-Lincoln