Showdown At Sumter

Only hours after being sworn in, Lincoln faced the most momentous decision in presidential history

On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln’s first day in office, a letter from Maj. Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, landed on the new president’s desk, informing him the garrison would run out of provisions in a month or six weeks. Lincoln had to make his first, and one of his most important, decisions as commander in chief. Would he keep his inaugural vow to “hold, occupy and possess these, and all other property and places belonging to the government” at the risk of starting a war that might drive the rest of the slave states into the Confederacy?Read more »

Was Jefferson Davis Captured In A Dress?

A story that the Confederate president donned a petticoat to evade capture emerged right after Union cavalrymen apprehended him in Georgia at war’s end. But is it true?

 On Sunday, May 14, 1865, Benjamin Brown French, commissioner of public buildings for the District of Columbia, left his home on Capitol Hill to buy a copy of the Daily Morning Chronicle. “When I came up from breakfast I went out and got the Chronicle,” he wrote in his journal, “and the first thing that met my eyes was ‘Capture of Jeff Davis’ in letters two inches long. Thank God we have got the arch traitor at last.” Read more »

General Lee’s Unsolved Problem

A southern writer analyzes the handicaps unwittingly laid on the general by President Davis

Long after the Civil War was over, with contemplative years for perspective, Jefferson Davis wrote that Robert E. Lee always commanded subject to his orders. The former Confederate president made quite a point of this overlordship, and held to the concept of Davis, the leader, manipulating armies and generals and the destinies of a people. Of course, Davis was right. As he made of the Confederate experiment a one-man show, technically he was Lee’s boss.Read more »

The Corps

The United States Military Academy turns 200 this year. West Point has
grown with the nation—and, more than once, saved it.

BATTALION AND REGIMENTAL leaders unsheath sabers for the issuance of shouted orders, and as drum and bugle corps thump and shrill, a great mass, 4,000 strong, moves into its mess hall of thick overhead beams below vaulting ceiling heights and the size-of-a-house painting of history’s groupedtogether Great Captains: Richard the Lion-Hearted on his charger, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Alexander, Grant, the rest.

 
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West Point In Review

The old school is alive with the memory of men like Lee, Grant, Pershing, and Eisenhower

Each year most of West Point’s three million visitors enter the U.S. Military Academy through the Thayer Gate. They drive past the cluttered main street of Highland Falls, which the historian Samuel Huntington described as a town of a sort “familiar to everyone … a motley, disconnected collection of frames coincidentally adjoining each other, lacking common unity and purpose.” A moment later the visitors are in, as Huntington put it, “a different world [of] ordered serenity….Read more »

William James Finds His Vocation

One of America s truly great men—scientist, philosopher, and literary genius—forged his character in the throes of adversity

THE YEAR IS 1890 and the place Cambridge, Massachusetts. On one of the streets leading northeast along the Harvard Yard a man in early middle age—he is, in fact, fortyeight years old, of slight build and medium height but vigorous motion—is walking with a pair of students, boy and girl, who have followed him out of his class in experimental psychology. His face is bearded and his eyes bright blue, and his features reflect the rapidity of his thought. He is William James, the scientist and philosopher.Read more »

Southern Women & The Indispensable Myth

How the mistress of the plantation became a slave

“WE’RE USED to living around ‘em. You Northerners aren’t. You don’t know anything about ‘em.” This is or was the allpurpose utterance of white Southerners about blacks. Everybody from Jefferson Davis to Strom Thurmond has said it, in some version, at one time or another. Turned on its obverse, the old saw means, “You can’t know how bad they are.Read more »

The Slaves Freed

PRESIDENT LINCOLN MOVES AT LAST
Influence of “Advanced Republicans” Seen as Crucial to the Outcome
THE UNION UNITED STILL
THE PRESIDENT’S TACT & COURAGE
HE WAITED ON THE PROPER HOUR
JUBILATION AMONG THE BLACKS
They Stand Ready to Defend With Arms the Rights Thus Gained
NEW LIGHT SHED ON THE PARTICULARS OF THE GREAT DRAMA

When the cold, fastidious Mississippian rose to speak, a hush fell over the crowded Senate chamber. It was January 21, 1861, and Jefferson Davis and four other senators from the Deep South were here this day to announce their resignations. Over the winter, five Southern states had seceded from the Union, contending that Abraham Lincoln’s election as President doomed the white man’s South, that Lincoln and his fellow Republicans were abolitionist fanatics out to eradicate slavery and plunge Dixie into racial chaos.Read more »

The Vice President Flees

Branded a traitor by the government he once served, John C. Breckinridge ran a perilous race for freedom rather than risk capture by the North

The weather in the Straits of Florida was turbulent in June of 1865. Throughout that spring the Caribbean boiled from one storm after another, but this latest one was particularly severe. Ocean-going steamers delayed their departures because of it, yet, in its very center, six desperate men bailed and prayed in a sailboat barely seventeen feet long.Read more »

Reading, Writing, and History:Jeff Davis: The Man Behind The Image

When he was reunited with his wife in 1867, Davis' face showed the strains of four years of war and two in prison. For a man of warmth and tenderness who had never wanted the responsibilities of high political office, it had been a cruel ordeal.

Jefferson Davis: Private Letters, 1823–1889 , selected and edited by Hudson Strode. Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 580 pp. $7.50. Read more »