Stephen Cushman on one of the quieter anniversaries of the Civil War
Over at our Civil War blog, Stephen Cushman, author of Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War highlights a Civil War anniversary likely to be overlooked in this year’s sesquicentennial observances. He writes:
It is one thing to skim, in a few distracted seconds, an online chronology of the war and think, for example, That’s right, spring and summer 1864, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, the Crater, check, check, check, check, check. It is another to observe, in any way one chooses to observe it, the anniversary of Cold Harbor on June 3, and then to discover that June 8 was the 150th anniversary of the nomination of Lincoln, at the convention of the National Union Party in Baltimore, for a second term as president. Merely to list the two events one after the other in a bare-bones chronology is to risk missing altogether what a long, overshadowed, dispiriting interval the five days between the two events must have been—for the eventual nominee, for the delegates who nominated him, for the people they represented. Yet this silent, fretful interval remains invisible amidst a procession of bigger anniversaries that sail past like parade floats.
Overshadowed, dispiriting, fretful intervals have their anniversaries, too, but they rarely get much attention, even though they took up most of the 1500 days of the war for one side or the other. For one thing, such intervals do not offer us the stuff of spectacular reenactments. How do we stage public reenactments of the epidemic tightness in the chest or roiling in the stomach, the insomnia or melancholy or panic experienced by millions after First Manassas–Bull Run or the fall of Vicksburg? For another, anxious, doubtful intervals rarely come neatly packaged in single moments or artifacts we can point to and date and commemorate on their anniversaries. But there is at least one, and its memorable form came from Lincoln’s pen.
So far in the sesquicentennial we have observed anniversaries of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg address, and early in March 2015 we will be observing the anniversary of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. But it is quite likely that Saturday, August 23, 2014, will come and go for most of us without our pausing to think about two sentences written by Lincoln 150 years earlier, on a busy Tuesday on which he also thanked the 147th Ohio Regiment for its services, recognized a new consul of Peru at San Francisco, and signed the order for the sale of valuable land in “the late Winnebago Indian Reservation, in Minnesota.” Lincoln’s two sentences, memorized and recited by very few, go this way: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”
Read Cushman’s full post, “The 150th Anniversary of Probable Failure,” at UNCPressCivilWar150.com.
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