Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

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The “Other Lincoln Bible”

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2014 by rob schoeberlein Tagged: , , , , ,

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The “Other Lincoln Bible,” Fisk University, Franklin Library

President Barack Obama at his inaugurations in 2009 and 2013 used a Bible once owned by the Lincoln Family. Known today as the “Lincoln Bible,” it resides currently at the Library of Congress. Do you know, however, about the “Other Lincoln Bible” at Fisk University and its Baltimore connection?

On September 7, 1864, a delegation of African American Baltimoreans paid a visit to the White House. The purpose was to express their gratitude, on behalf of city’s black community, to President Lincoln for his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which they termed “the most sublime State Paper of Modern Civilization.” They also wished to thank him for allowing African American men to shoulder arms in defense of the Union.

Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.[1]  Baltimore’s African American citizens soon organized a fund raising campaign to place a tangible token of their appreciation into the hands of the Chief Executive. Unfortunately, we don’t know the names of the committee members or their decision making when it came to the selection of the gift.[2]

The committee decided that a Bible would be the most appropriate gift for President Lincoln. Yet, this was to be no ordinary Bible. Only the finest would do. Here is a period description of the item:

The book in size is imperial quarto [about 11” x 15”], bound in royal purple velvet. On the upper side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, nine and a half inches in circumference, bearing a design representing the President in the act of removing the shackles from a slave. On the lower side of the cover is a solid 18 carat gold plate, four inches long and two inches wide, bearing the following inscription:

‘To ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States, from the loyal colored people of Baltimore, as a token of respect and gratitude….’

Accompanying the Bible is a solid black walnut case with a silver plate on the lid, on which is engraved a picture of the Capitol and the words ‘Holy Bible.’ [3]

Over five hundred individuals, more women than men, donated various amounts for a total of $580 ($580 in 1864 is the equivalent of $8522 in 2013). The elaborate binding and the engraved gold plate may have been fabricated locally. The work involved to produce the Bible, according to a scholar of Baltimore’s nineteenth century book trade, was within the capacity of a larger city firm such as Lucas Brothers.

In 1916, Robert Todd Lincoln donated the Bible to Fisk University. Today it resides with the Special Collections Department at the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library.

 ***

[1] We simply do not know what the reactions of Baltimore’s citizens were to this momentous news. While some Baltimore newspapers recorded the jubilations of the “contrabands” in Washington, none featured any similar celebratory events within the Monumental City. Even the Baltimore Clipper, one of the staunchest Union sympathizing local papers, merely printed the text of the Proclamation and made no editorial comments.

[2] The Lyceum Observer, an African American owned and operated Baltimore newspaper printed from 1863 to 1866, might have provided those insights. Tragically, only a single issue has survived the ages.

[3] The New York Times, September 11, 1864.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Monuments Of Their Patriotism”: Building Baltimore’s Civil War Defenses, Summer 1863 (Part 2)

In Special Collections on July 15, 2013 by rob schoeberlein Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fort No. 1, West Baltimore

Fort No. 1, West Baltimore, Courtesy of Brown University Library

[On the 20th of June, 1863, hundreds of Baltimore’s African American men were pressed into service to build earthen fortifications to further secure the city from a Confederate Army attack.  It was very hard labor for a wage of $1 per day plus rations. ]

Payroll Slip, [July 1863] BRG41-3-1497A

Payroll Slip, [July 1863] BRG41-3-1497A

Who were the workmen? While a full accounting may be impossible, we know a few of them through some payroll slips at the Baltimore City Archives (http://guide.mdsa.net/series.cfm?action=viewDetailedSeries&ID=BRG41-3-105-10). Organized into squads under the supervision of white overseers, Joseph Barnes, a drayman from Mullikin Street and Eli Carpenter, a day-laborer from Cider Alley, toiled under the hot July sun with shovel, pick, and pounder stone. Young boys, paid a wage of .50 per day, bore water buckets from which the men would quench their thirst. It is possible that some construction assistance also came from teenagers who were paid .75 per day. Mealtime meant U.S. Army rations, which likely consisted of hard bread (hard tack) with about a pound of meat and some coffee.[1]

General Robert C. Schenck, the regional military commander stationed in Baltimore, took notice of the men and their work.  He “repeatedly urged President Lincoln to authorize enlistment of the several thousand blacks, mostly free, who labored on the fortifications around Baltimore”[2] and “to create from among them a reg[imen]t of Sappers & Miners.”[3] The President eventually agreed to Schenck’s request and Secretary of War Stanton appointed Colonel William Birney, the son of antislavery politician James G. Birney, to take charge of recruiting the workmen. Birney established a Baltimore-based recruiting office in Mid-July and in less than seven weeks filled the ranks of the Fourth US Colored Troops.

On the 20th of July, hundreds of African American laborers from the various project gathered together for a special ceremony.  They assembled at Fort No. 1, also known as Fort Davis, on West Baltimore Street (in the area of today’s Bon Secours Hospital) for the purpose of a flag presentation. The laborers had pooled together their money to purchase a very large, garrison-style flag for the use of the soldiers stationed at the fort.

Some special guests were also present. Two companies, about 160 men, of the newly formed Fourth United States Colored Troops, stood at attention, the gold buttons of their new blue uniforms glinting in the waning afternoon sun. It would be  sometime in late August before they would be issued any firearms. These soldiers, likely constituting Companies “A” and “B,” had been in army dress for only five days.

The workmen chose Colonel Birney to make the presentation speech on their behalf.  Here is an excerpt:

The flag they present you to-day, is in token of their loyalty. Their hearts are true. Whoever else may be swayed from duty, the black remains firm. Pluck him from the very core of rebeldom and he is a true man. You may trust him. All his aspirations are for the success of the right, the triumph of the nation. For him the success of traitors is his own degradation, the dishonor of his family, the doom of his race to perpetual infamy.

You may regard, sir, the presentation of this fine flag, as implying the readiness of the men of color to defend it. You have witnessed their alacrity in springing to the lines of these fortifications when Baltimore was menaced, their cheerfulness in volunteering their labor, their patience in its prosecution. These forts around the city will be monuments of their patriotism. [emphasis added] With equal alacrity, sir, do they respond to the call of the country, “To arms!” When the Goddess of American Liberty hands them the musket, they accept it with stalwart and ready arms, thankful to Providence that their frugal diet has prepared them for the soldier’s rations, that their life of continuous labor in the open air has inured them in advance to the hardships of campaigning, and that they have not now to learn patience and obedience, these two virtues of the soldier.[4]

Some of the workmen did step forward to join the ranks of their brothers and shoulder a musket for the Union cause. In the ensuing months some 1,000 African American men, from Baltimore and elsewhere in Maryland, would fill the ranks of Colonel Birney’s command.

By the end of August, most of the work on the fortifications had been completed.[5] The forts served their purpose but were never actually tested in battle. The closest Confederate incursion came in July 1864 when Major Harry W. Gilmor with 135 men from the First and Second Maryland Cavalry (CSA) regiments traveled down the York Road as far as Govanstown (Govans), then a part of Baltimore County.

With the Civil War’s end, the fortification sites themselves became immediately obsolete and a hindrance to future city development.  Rather than the forts being “monuments” to the patriotism of African American men, the work soon commenced to obliterate them in their entirety.  All buildings were first auctioned off as surplus US Government property.  Next, though it took several years, the city passed ordinances calling for the dismantling of certain earthworks.  Fort No. 8, just south of Greenmount Cemetery, was leveled in 1869 while the Fort Federal Hill breastworks remained until 1879. But unlike the vast majority of the forts, both locations would eventually be designated as public parks, Johnston Square and Federal Hill, respectively. Most became the building sites for Baltimore’s famed row houses.  Fort No. 1 finally succumbed to development in the 1890s.[6]


[1]A Union soldier was entitled to receive daily 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of fresh or salt beef; 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour, 1 lb. of hard bread, or 1 lb. 4 oz of cornmeal. The marching ration consisted of 1 lb. of hard bread, 3/4 lb. of salt pork or 1 1/4 lb. of fresh meat, plus the sugar, coffee, and salt.

[2] The Black Military Experience , Ira Berlin, editor ; Joseph P. Reidy, associate editor, Leslie S. Rowland, associate editor. (New York : Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 184.

[3] Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), p. 317.

[4] Christian Recorder, July 26, 1863.

[5] Sun, August 28, 1863.

[6] Sun, November 24, 1903.

Articles

President Lincoln’s April 1864 Visit to Baltimore

In Special Collections,Uncategorized on April 12, 2013 by rob schoeberlein Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Interior of the Maryland Institute, April 1864

Interior of the Maryland Institute, April 1864

Acting upon the invitation of the women organizers, President Abraham Lincoln agreed to preside over the opening ceremonies for the Maryland State Fair for U.S. Soldier Relief, also known as the Baltimore Sanitary Fair.* Lincoln’s appearance in Baltimore held symbolic importance for city Unionists, and perhaps, to himself. For loyal citizens it offered both a chance to display their devotion to the man who embodied the Union and cast off doubts about Baltimore’s predominant political sympathy. For the President, coming to Baltimore presented an opportunity to make amends for a past indiscretion. In March 1861, en route to his inauguration, Lincoln secreted himself through Baltimore’s darkened streets in response to the rumor of an alleged assassination plot. Already held in low regard by his affiliation with the perceived anti-Southern Republican Party, many residents regarded the President-elect’s distrustful action as an affront to their city’s honor; even Unionists expressed bewilderment. Later, the President “was convinced that he had committed a great mistake.” By opening the Maryland Fair, Lincoln could both mitigate his wrong and express his confidence in the city’s national loyalty.

The city’s population and the Fair officials received President Lincoln with great warmth during his April 18 visit. Upon his 6 PM Camden Station arrival, “the President was loudly cheered by the people at the depot.” The freshly repainted and refurbished great hall of the Maryland Institute hosted the event [located downtown near the inner harbor at this time].  With her arm taking his, Elizabeth Bradford, fair co-chair and wife of Maryland’s Governor, led the President to the speaker’s platform amid the “waving of handkerchiefs and continuous cheers.” While his main speech concerned the deliberate massacre of African American U.S. troops at Fort Pillow, the Chief Executive’s initial remarks at the opening ceremony revealed the significance of his presence. Surveying the faces of the three thousand Baltimoreans before him, and perhaps, reflecting upon the city’s past hostility toward himself and Union soldiers, Lincoln remarked that “the world moves. . . . Blessings upon those men who have wrought this great change, and the fair women who have sustained them.”  The outpouring of the Unionists’ enthusiasm towards him, Maryland’s recent movement toward emancipation, and the remarkable setting of the relief fair provided ample evidence for the President’s perception. At the ceremony’s conclusion, “large numbers of ladies and gentlemen made a rush for the privilege of shaking hands with the President.”

The fair site appeared at its peak of splendor the night of Lincoln’s visit. With red, white and blue being a favored color scheme, U.S. flags, carved eagles, framed portraits of Union heroes, and evergreen boughs characterized the general decor. A thousand flickering gas lamps made the great hall’s rectangular space “one grand flood of light.” In the center, just behind the speaker’s platform, rose the Floral Temple. Inside, a gently cascading fountain held numerous varieties of fragrant water flowers within its basin. The White House gardens, through the auspices of Mrs. Lincoln, furnished a continual supply of fresh flowers. At either end of the building space stood a large ornamental arch “gaily decorated with national flags, and surmounted by jets of gaslight.” The German Ladies Relief Association featured a tableau from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale “Old Woman in the Shoe.” The Fish Pond, with mirrors for “water” and potted ferns lining its “bank,” captivated eager anglers of all ages with the chance to haul in “a big one.” With a rustic fishing pole one hooked up a small prize package containing, perhaps, a knitting needle, a ring, or a small doll.

Lincoln toured the main hall for two hours with an entourage of fair officials and Washington dignitaries. At the “German Ladies” stand, the member costumed as “‘the Old Woman who lives in a Shoe’ presented President Lincoln with a beautiful bouquet, and was kissed by him in payment.” Though most tables also offered gifts of flowers, the Baltimore County contingent proffered an expensive vase. The Central Relief Association of Baltimore bestowed a prize afghan, valued at one hundred dollars, as a gift for the First Lady. While viewing the Fish Pond, “the President seemed half inclined to bait a line and try his skill.” Leaving the site around 11 PM, the evening culminated at the Mt. Vernon Place brownstone mansion [702 Cathedral Street] of William J. Albert, the fair’s co-chair and Unconditional Union Party leader, where the President was regaled by “a handsome supper at midnight.” He retired at the Albert residence that night.

The Chief Executive boarded a train to Washington the next morning. This time he departed from Baltimore’s Camden Station in full daylight. Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House, who had accompanied the Chief Executive to the Fair, believed that Lincoln “was delighted with his visit.”

*An overview of the entire Fair (April 19-30, 1864)  is featured in this on line exhibition: http://msa.maryland.gov/msa/speccol/sc5400/sc5494/html/title_page.html

Digital image from the Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 5477, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 14, 1864.