Tag Archives: President Lincoln

Jewish Participation in the Civil War

By John R. Sellers

This is the second year in a four year sesquicentennial celebration of the American Civil War. Across the nation, libraries, museums, historical societies, and numerous related organizations are honoring the participants in this momentous event through publications, exhibitions, lectures, symposia, and the reenactment of individual battles and skirmishes. The Shapell Manuscript Foundation (http://www.shapell.org/) is contributing to the observance with a roster of Jewish participants in the Civil War. The new roster will greatly expand the list of names provided by Simon Wolf in his acclaimed study, The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizen (1895). Through some unknown methodology, Wolf managed to identify 7,914 men he believed to be Jewish that served in the Civil War, and another 800 he described as “unidentified as to command.” The consolidation of military records in the early twentieth century, combined with the recent advantages of digital technology, has enabled researchers to significantly expand Wolf’s roster, and at the same time, eliminate duplicate names, variant spellings of the same name, as well as the names of soldiers whose religious affiliation, upon closer examination, was either Christian or cannot be established.

In his defense, Wolf faced several obstacles in confirming the ethnicity of Jewish soldiers. Jews made up less than one percent of the total population in 1861, and although anti-Semitism was less prevalent than in Europe, it was nevertheless an obstacle to their acceptance as equals in the military. Few Jews had ever fought in the defense of a country or form of government. This led many Jewish volunteers, particularly in the Union Army, to conceal their identity, either by altering the spelling of their surnames or adopting a pseudonym. And in a somewhat humorous reverse action, Christian recruits in the few predominately Jewish units, such as Company C of the 82nd Illinois Infantry, the 27th Pennsylvania Infantry, and the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, sometimes assumed Jewish names to ensure acceptance in unfamiliar surroundings.

Wolf doubtless realized his Civil War roster was incomplete. He could scarcely have missed the fact that he did not have a single Jewish soldier from the states of Minnesota and Delaware, and he must have known that there had to be more Jewish soldiers in service than the solitary names he published under the states of Maine and Vermont, or the two listed for Florida. Although the research for the revised Jewish Civil War roster is ongoing, current estimates are that as many as 13,000 Jews, North and South, may have volunteered for service in the American Civil War.

Another significant difference in the current Jewish roster and Wolf’s early work is that the update will take full advantage of the benefits of digital technology. The scientific method in historical research was in its infancy in the late 19th century, and Wolf understandably failed to identify his sources. However, it would be expensive and unnecessarily restrictive to publish the wealth of sources cited in the revised roster. Instead, the editors elected to create an online database of manuscript sources. Not only will the database have almost unlimited capacity, it will be open-ended. New sources can be inserted as they are uncovered. The bibliography for the roster will also be available online, and many readers will take special delight in the digital scans of many of the original documents consulted in the construction of the roster.

The Shapell Manuscript Foundation has spared no expense in making this updated Jewish Civil War roster as complete and accurate as possible. Anyone with information on the subject is encouraged to contact the Foundation directly or its project director, Dr. John R. Sellers at jselsr@aol.com.

Dr. John R. Sellers is the Project Director of the Jewish Civil War Roster, at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation. He is a former Exhibition Curator and Historian, Manuscript Division, of the Library of Congress, and current President Lincoln’s Cottage Scholarly Advisor Group member.


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Juneteenth: The Emancipation of Texas Slaves

By Curtis Harris

As a nation we can celebrate January 1, 1863, as the day Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect and declared freedom for 3.5 million of America’s slaves held in rebellious areas. December 6, 1865 is an occasion worthy of celebration, too. That is the day Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment thereby making this measure of abolition a part of our Constitution. These twin federal death knells for slavery are only part of the story, though. Emancipation had been an ongoing process in the United States since the Declaration of Independence.

Pennsylvania passed its Gradual Abolition Act in 1780 while the Revolutionary War was still raging. Under the Articles of Confederation, slavery was banned from the Northwest Territory. New York celebrated the final emancipation of slaves within its borders on July 4, 1827. During the Civil War, Missouri and Maryland abolished slavery via state action.

In Texas, the celebration of emancipation takes place on June 19th.

Far removed from most of the major action of the Civil War, Texas and its population were little affected by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during the war. In a curious coincidence, one of the few pitched battles of the war in Texas took place on January 1, 1863.

While Abraham Lincoln was signing the Emancipation Proclamation, the prized port of Galveston was the scene of a desperate engagement in the war. The day ended with rebel victory thus ending federal occupation of the city that had been ongoing since October of 1862.

However, with the surrender of the major rebel armies in the eastern theaters of the war in the spring of 1865, federal forces once again landed in Galveston and finally re-established constitutional authority in the Lone Star State on June 18th, 1865.

The next day, Major-General Gordon Granger stepped out on the balcony of the Ashton Villa, a home that served as the headquarters for the rebel army in the region during the war, and read General Orders No. 3:

Gordon Granger

Major-General Gordon Granger, Library of Congress (1860s)

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Ever since this momentous declaration, June 19th has been celebrated as Emancipation Day in Texas with the unique and distinctive moniker of “Juneteenth”.

Along with readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, Juneteenth, like any good summer holiday, also serves as a time for barbecue and a day spent with friends and family. Dancing, singing, poetry recitations and even beauty pageants are held as the day has grown into a wider celebration of black culture in Texas. After over a century of observance by the state’s black population, the Texas legislature officially made Juneteenth a state holiday in 1979 and remains one of the many reminders of emancipation and freedom in the United States.

Mr. Harris is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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Lincoln’s Own Flag Day

By Zachary Klitzman

Let’s face it: Flag Day — which commemorates the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777 — is not the most widely celebrated holiday in America. An informal survey of the staff calendars at President Lincoln’s Cottage revealed that only 50% of the calendars listed the “holiday” (Father’s Day, Hallmark would be happy to know, appeared on all six calendars). In fact, in a 1998 survey, only 27 percent of Americans who participated said they knew when Flag Day is and what it means, whereas 18 percent were unaware of both the meaning and timing of the holiday. (The majority of those polled could name either the date or the meaning of the celebration, but not both.)

The holiday first came to national prominence when 19-year old Wisconsin school teacher Bernard J. Cigrand had his kids celebrate the “flag’s birthday” on June 14, 1885 by writing essays on what the flag meant to them. In subsequent years he traveled around the country promoting a June 14th Flag Day.  On May 30, 1916, Cigrand’s dream became officially recognized, as President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day June 14th. Subsequently, in 1949 President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating the 14th day of June every year as National Flag Day. (Despite the legislation, Flag Day is not an officially observed U.S. Federal Holiday, and only one state, Pennsylvania, celebrates it as an official State Holiday.)

Though the holiday commemorates an event that took place during the War of Independence, the Civil War played a role in the history of the Flag. Nearly 30 years before Cigrand celebrated the flag’s birthday, Hartford, Connecticut observed Flag Day on June 14, 1861, using the commemoration to pray for the Union army and its goal of saving the country. However, the holiday did not catch on elsewhere in the country nor was it celebrated again in Hartford in subsequent years.

Lincoln himself never celebrated the holiday. Yet he made a very important decision in the Flag’s history as President. As he journeyed to Washington, D.C. for his 1861 inauguration, Lincoln spoke at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on February 22. Inside the historical building, Lincoln talked about how he was determined to uphold the legacy of the Founders and the Declaration, saying “all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn … from the sentiments which originated, and were given to the world from this hall in which we stand.” He even went so far as to say that if he could not save the Union while adhering to the principles of the Declaration, “I would rather be assassinated on this spot than to surrender” the document.

Abraham Lincoln raising a flag at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, in honor of the admission of Kansas to the Union on Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1861. Library of Congress

After giving his patriotic speech, Lincoln participated in a flag-raising ceremony outside the building to honor Kansas’ recent admission to the Union on January 29, 1861. Giving brief remarks before raising the new 34-starred flag (see image), Lincoln started by mentioning that though the flag the Founders originally raised at Independence Hall “had but 13 stars,” “each additional star added to that flag has given additional prosperity and happiness to this country.” Therefore, “cultivating the spirit that animated our fathers, who gave renown and celebrity to this Hall, cherishing that fraternal feeling which has so long characterized us as a nation … I think we may promise ourselves that not only the new star placed upon that flag shall be permitted to remain there to our permanent prosperity for years to come, but additional ones shall from time to time be placed there.” In these few words, Lincoln stated his policy that despite Southern states succeeding from the Union, their symbolic representation on the Flag of the United States would not be removed. Instead, they would continue to adorn the national symbol of unity.

Mr. Klitzman is Executive Assistant at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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A Beautiful Spring at President Lincoln’s Cottage

We couldn’t resist sharing some photos of the Cottage on this beautiful (and hot!) day. We hope you will follow in Lincoln’s footsteps and escape the heat and humidity of downtown DC by visiting the Cottage and enjoying the cool breezes and beautiful grounds – it is lovely at this time of year!

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Don’t forget about our Memorial Day activities this Monday. Will we see you there?

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Celebrating United States Citizenship at President Lincoln’s Cottage


The children take the Oath of Allegiance as they become citizens of the United States.

By Alison Mitchell

April 24, 2012 was an especially exciting day at President Lincoln’s Cottage as we hosted our first Naturalization Ceremony at the site. 23 children from 16 countries were sworn in as United States citizens during this special ceremony in the Emancipation Room. Sarah Taylor, Washington District Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), administered a special Oath of Allegiance and presented Certificates of Citizenship to the children, ages 6-14.

Erin Mast

Director Erin Mast congratulates one of the new U.S. citizens.

Cottage Director Erin Carlson Mast gave congratulatory remarks to the children. “Lincoln believed the United States could be a symbol of hope for people around the world seeking liberty, justice, and equality. Each one of you is part of that hope,” Mast said. Following the ceremony, the children and their families received a tour of the Cottage. What a special experience it must have been for those children to hear about how Lincoln rose up the ladder and lived the “American dream” through hard work and perseverance. It is so rewarding to know that those children will now have the same opportunity!

View Erin Mast’s full remarks here.

Ms. Mitchell is the Development Coordinator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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Former First Lady Laura Bush Endorses Cottage Exhibit

Mrs. Laura Bush visiting the Cottage in 2007.

By Alison Mitchell

Mrs. Laura Bush, a Trustee and vocal supporter of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, first visited President Lincoln’s Cottage in November 2007 prior to our Grand Opening. Mrs. Bush recently endorsed our latest exhibit, Can Your Walk Away?, stating: “This is the ideal year to visit President Lincoln’s Cottage, the very place where Lincoln nurtured and developed the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago. The Cottage’s current exhibit, Can You Walk Away?, provides an invaluable lens through which the public can view our country’s ongoing struggle with slavery – both in the historical context and in present day trafficking.  Exhibits like this are evidence of the way historic places can shape the way we live in the present.” We are grateful for Mrs. Bush’s continued work to raise awareness about both historic preservation and the modern crisis of slavery.

Alison Mitchell is the Development Coordinator at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

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The Power of Partnerships

partners in exhibit

In the exhibit, from left to right: Callie Hawkins, President Lincoln’s Cottage Curator of Education, Elizabeth Eubank, Content Developer at Howard + Revis Design Services, Tracy Revis, Principal at Howard + Revis Design Services, and Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project.

By Kerry Plunkett

What is a partner? From the time of kindergarten arts and crafts projects to marriage, it’s one of those words that we hear all of our lives. From spouses, to superheroes, and now historic sites, partners are those who share and support each other in a joint endeavor or cause. Historic sites can take a cue from our favorite childhood superheroes, because now we all have a chance to stand against a silent problem.

This past February, the special exhibit, “Can You Walk Away? Modern Slavery: Human Trafficking in the United States,” opened at President Lincoln’s Cottage. This exhibit is an expression of the power partnerships can give to historic sites. We hear all the time that two heads are better than one, right? With the help of Polaris Project, the world’s leading organization working to combat human trafficking, “Can You Walk Away?” offers visitors a call to action. Polaris Project CEO, Bradley Myles, described his hope saying “we believe strongly that with a big enough movement and enough actors joining this fight while using the right strategies to intervene, we can eradicate human trafficking.”[1] Using the inspiration of President Lincoln, we too can now become a partner in working against modern slavery.

But, why consult and collaborate with partners to meet this goal? It’s no secret that teamwork is an important aspect of life, from school projects, to marketing teams, to museum leaders. President Lincoln’s Cottage and Polaris Project can serve as an example for what goals and legacies successful partners can achieve. Slavery has taken on a modern and more hidden life since the time of President Lincoln. It is difficult for Americans to believe such acts still happen in our country today. How can we end the silence? By building on the hope visitors leave the Cottage with, and gathering as many voices as we can to speak out. Not only is 2012 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but President Obama declared this past January Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

Voices are what make the difference. President Lincoln used his oratory to speak against the issue of slavery. Today, Polaris Project and President Lincoln’s Cottage invite visitors to use their voices to do the same. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little more powerful, maybe even the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Have you discovered how many slaves work for you? Take the online survey to discover how widespread and pervasive modern slavery is at: http://slaveryfootprint.org.

Ms. Plunkett is a Historical Interpreter at President Lincoln’s Cottage.

[1] The interview with Bradley Myles, and Callie Hawkins, President Lincoln’s Cottage Curator of Education, is available online at http://www.lincolncottage.org/canyouwalkaway.html.

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