Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mr. Lincoln Visits the Kansas Territory

Abraham Lincoln achieved national prominence as a result of the series of debates with Senator Stephen Douglas in the fall of 1858. Lincoln was unsuccessful in defeating the Senator so why did he travel to four states and the Kansas Territory on speaking engagements in 1859? Again, it was to counter Douglas as he stumped for Democratic candidates. Lincoln arrived in Ellwood, Kansas Territory, on December 1st, just five days before the territorial elections. While in Ellwood, Lincoln gave a speech and purchased “12 pounds sugar and five pounds [of] coffee” according to Lincoln Day by Day (p. 266). The next day he gave speeches in Troy and in Atchison; he also purchased a peck of apples. On December 3rd, and again on the 5th, he presented speeches in Leavenworth and then left Leavenworth after the territorial elections for his return to Illinois. The December 1st date is notable as it was just one day before the execution of John Brown in the State of Virginia. According to biographer Ronald C. White, Jr., Lincoln “offered his first public comment on the former Kansan” in the Ellwood speech. Lincoln denounced the John Brown Raid as illegal and “ ‘futile’ in terms of its effect ‘on the extinction of a great evil’ ” (White, 304).

We are left with a bit of a mystery though…why did Lincoln purchase so many apples and so much sugar and coffee? He also purchased “hats, shoes, [and] comforters” on his Kansas trip…


Miers, Earl Schenck, ed. Lincoln Day by Day: A Chronology, 1809-1865. Dayton, OH: Morningside, 1991.

White, Ronald C., Jr. A. Lincoln: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2009.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Handwriting: An Historian Sounds An Alarm

The document below is admittedly a rather prosaic one drawn from the compiled service record of Theophilus Perry, a soldier in the 28th Texas Cavalry. It is included for a simple reason; namely, can you read it?

Some of my students this semester have stated that they find it extremely difficult to read handwriting, not because they have vision problems, but because they have little experience writing in cursive or deciphering cursive handwriting. On top of this, I have read recently that there are public schools that will no longer be teaching cursive handwriting. Regrettably, this means that future historians will have a difficult time if they wish to study our “early” history. Will the contents of handwritten documents be more likely to be ignored if they can’t be easily read? Will historians decide to concentrate on the more recent past as a result? Will history departments add a special course someday on how to decipher cursive handwriting? Perhaps special software will be developed to aid in the process of decoding that handwriting? 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

New Indian Territory Book!

Earlier today, I attended a reenactment of the battle of Honey Springs near Checotah, Oklahoma. One of the sutlers had a table set up with a display of a book that is “hot off the press.” Mary Jane Warde’s When the Wolf Came: The Civil War and the Indian Territory (University of Arkansas Press) is a book that I have been eagerly anticipating, and when she arrived later in the day, I purchased a signed copy from her.

In the preface, T. Michael Parrish and Daniel E. Sutherland wrote “Mary Jane Warde has
devoted many years to researching and preserving the history of the old Indian Territory. Built on a solid foundation of published and unpublished sources, including such rich archival collections as the records of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Creek Nations, the present work demonstrates the impressive scope of her knowledge. From the removal acts of the 1830s to the post-Civil War readjustment of the western tribes, her sweeping narrative explores both the signal public events that marked the tumultuous era and the consequences for the territory’s tens of thousands of native peoples.” Weighing in at 404 pages, the book also includes a ten page bibliographical essay. I’m looking forward to digging into this book!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Railroads in the Pelican State

There were not many railroads in the trans-Mississippi during the war; railroad development in that region would be one of the major events of the late nineteenth century. Scholarly works on trans-Mississippi railroads during the war are limited in
number, but one of the better ones is Lawrence E. Estaville, Jr.’s, Confederate Neckties: Louisiana Railroads in the Civil War (1989). The author packed a lot of information in just 123 pages. The Confederacy, according to Estaville, had 8,800 miles of railroad tracks when the war started with 395 of those miles in Louisiana. There were a dozen railroad companies in the State ranging from only a half mile for the Southern Pacific to the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern’s eighty-eight miles of track.

Based on a solid array of primary sources, Estaville shows how some of these railroads played an important role in the Confederacy’s supply network. Others, such as the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern became targets of military raids. Former Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard became the railroad’s superintendent after the war and did a remarkable job of rebuilding that line. Confederate trans-Mississippi railroads faced many challenges such as a lack of iron railing. When General E. Kirby Smith wanted a rail line to be completed between Marshall, Texas, and Shreveport, Louisiana, the Southern Pacific took up some their track in east Texas and began building the line eastward from Waskom, Texas, toward Shreveport. Eleven miles were completed before the effort was abandoned due to the Union’s Red River campaign in the spring of 1864. Enhanced by twelve maps, Estaville’s book is a solid recounting of its subject.