Happy (belated) Birthday, Tillie!

yellow rose

On March 11, 1848, Matilda Jane Pierce was born to James and Margaret Pierce at 301 Baltimore Street in Gettysburg, PA. This year, we celebrate her 165th birthday! I hope she’s happy that her story will be reaching lots of young readers this year. If I lived near Selinsgrove, PA, where she is buried, I would put flowers on her grave today. Instead, I have put flowers on Tillie’s Find-a-Grave page. Sadly, her death anniversary is also this week, on March 15, 1914.


(I wanted to post this yesterday, on Tillie’s real birthday, but illness kept me away.)

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Inauguration Day, March 4, 1861

Before the 20th Amendment, which moved Inauguration Day to January 20 following any presidential election, presidents had to wait until March 4 to be sworn in. After the election of 1860, those months from November to early March were filled with fear, anger, impatience, and even threats of assassination. It didn’t help that lame duck president James Buchanan continued his practice of taking the path of least resistance as he still occupied the White House.


Lincoln in 1861 (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

South Carolina had already seceded from the Union, and its leaders were determined to push all Federal troops out of the state—especially the troops who stood at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay. Buchanan had already told the Federal leader, General Robert Anderson, to simply surrender if the South Carolinians tried to take the fort. Lincoln, and most of the other Republican leaders, were astounded by this, and hoped no incident would occur before the transfer of power out of Buchanan’s hands. In fact, if the South Carolinians did attack the fort, the action would be high treason and should not be treated as a minor issue. It would be treated as an aggressive act—as an open act of war. Lincoln knew this. And he hoped his inaugural speech could calm the waters:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to “preserve, protect, and defend it.”


I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, wil yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Unfortunately, the “better angels of our nature” did not prevail. One month later, the Civil War began at Fort Sumter.

cwpt-on-facebookTo read the full text of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, check out The Civil War Trust website and “Like” them on Facebook.

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A Sad Date to Remember

George2_editedOn this date, February 27, 1864, Andersonville Prison Camp in Sumter County, Georgia, officially received its first Union prisoners of war. One of the prisoners, a seventeen-year-old, wrote that it was “a hole cut in this wilderness.” The fence was barely finished, few shelters existed, and no clean water flowed into the camp. More than 2,000 prisoners arrived by the beginning of March. One of them was George W. Shriver.

The men built lean-tos and huts as best they could. Some used blankets to make tents. Even before the heat and humidity of summer was upon them, the men were exposed to harsh elements. The water they had to use for bathing and drinking was contaminated because it was being used as a latrine, too. They received rations twice a day, usually corn meal and salted beef. The men were allowed to gather wood for fires. At first. Then a new commander came to the prison—Captain Henry Wirz.


Andersonville Prison, Camp Sumter, Ga., as it appeared August 1st 1864 when it contained 35,000 prisoners of war/Library of Congress

“During the 14 months it existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure to the elements.”*

Nearly a quarter of all the prisoners died. Henry Wirz was the only man tried and executed for war crimes in Civil War—for the atrocities committed under his command.

*To read more about Andersonville, check out the Civil War website’s page here: http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/warfare-and-logistics/warfare/andersonville.html

I also highly recommend Catherine Gourley’s book, THE HORRORS OF ANDERSONVILLE, from Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner.


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January 1863: The Emancipation Proclamation

emancipation proclamationAfter months of preparation and progress, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation is issued, as it had been expected, on January 1, 1863. Today most Americans think this is the document that freed the slaves. That is only partly correct—and is much more complicated. (It was the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that freed all slaves and ended slavery in the U.S.) In fact, Lincoln would not have issued the Proclamation if the Confederacy had returned to the Union before the end of 1862. This document, which the South knew was coming, put pressure on them to reconsider. If the war had ended in late 1862, the South would have kept its slaves, the Union would have been preserved, and the battle over slavery would likely have continued for many years to come—but in the legislature, not on the battlefield.

reading the EP

Slaves reading the Emancipation Proclamation, hoping for their deliverance.

Simply, the Emancipation Proclamation declared free only those slaves in Confederate states or territories. Slaves in border states, such as Kentucky, were not freed—yet. Lincoln used his power as Commander-in-Chief to declare slaves contraband, or illegal property. He used the South’s own label for slaves against the slave holders. Lincoln himself never believed that slaves were “property.” But if he had to label them as such to declare them free, to in effect seize them from the Southern owners and thereby cripple the South’s economy, then that’s just what he’d do. It was a military decision as much as a moral one. In truth, Lincoln wasn’t sure he even had the power to enforce the decision. In the end, however, slaves in the South swarmed toward Union troops when they arrived in various towns and locales, claiming their freedom and the males even enlisting in the Union Army (at lower pay that white soldiers, sadly). It is estimated that about 200,000 black men fought for the Union, helping an already war-worn army become rejuvenated.

As a note: You must see LINCOLN, the movie, and pay attention to the scene in which the President explains the complexities and contradictions of issuing the Proclamation to his Cabinet in early 1865. It’s absolutely masterful.


[Photos courtesy of The Library of Congress]


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Gettysburg Is Gearing Up

Here’s the official National Park Service page about the events taking place in Gettysburg in 2013:


150-GETTjrangerpatch-100X103Families and kids will find plenty of things to keep them busy and engaged. Did you know your youngster can earn a badge at Gettysburg? If I were a kid, I’d love to have this badge to show off! Find out more here.


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A Gettysburg Journal

I’ll be traveling to Gettysburg this year, probably several times, and I want to share what I see and hear and learn with you. I’ll also share news of events regarding the 150th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg. So many great activities are planned. And I’ll be doing book signings at various bookstores and museums. Hope you’ll come by!

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