The American Civil War Museum, a new institution formed out of a merger between the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy, sits on the banks of the James River. If, as the museum’s CEO Christy Coleman says, the Civil War “saved and redefined what the American republic would be,” the new museum redefines the war’s legacy as perpetually bound to our always-fraught present.
Pre-reading, my knowledge of Ulysses S. Grant was largely limited to his Civil War career. Post-reading, I can now drone on about his presidency, death from a baseball-sized throat tumor, and childhood spent riding horses while getting whacked about the head by a circus monkey. Get ready school groups!
It’s birthday week here at the Historic America Journal - but not for me and Rachel. Instead, we’re looking to honor a trio of historic Americans with February birthdays. We begin the week with a real “A”-lister.
Abraham Lincoln (get it? … A-braham is an A -lister! amiright?!) came into the world on February 12th, 1809 in Hogedenville, Kentucky. Yes, he was ACTUALLY born in a log cabin. He’s also known for other exploits like the Emancipation Proclamation and shepherding the nation through a catastrophic Civil War.
For generations, Americans have been making a fuss about Lincoln’s big day. The very first commemoration of Lincoln’s birth was held in Buffalo, New York in 1874. It’s a strangely sweet story.
A local drugstore owner named Julius Francis was besotted with the memory of Lincoln, so he began holding an annual event to honor the Abe’s life & legacy. Francis went to great personal expense; he rented a hall, recruited the aid of speakers & musicians, and charged no admittance fee as he believed Lincoln’s memory was a gift every American should enjoy. He even tried lobbying Congress to create a federal holiday in Lincoln’s honor (you can read all about the story here).
In subsequent years, celebrations of Lincoln’s birth were often paired with commemorations of another February baby - Frederick Douglass. Ultimately these celebrations expanded and metamorphosed into February’s designation as Black History Month. In the 1960s, President’s Day was born - a fusion holiday celebrating the birthdays of both Lincoln & George Washington.
I know what you’re thinking, “How can I honor Abraham Lincoln today, on the 208th anniversary of his birth?” How about going to see his memorial? We’ve got just the tour …
Peter Richards is a 5th generation family ancestor of mine who fought in the 34th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. He would be considered my Great Great Great Uncle. I've long been curious to know more about him. This past weekend I fell down an internet rabbit hole researching the story of his regiment. During this search, I came across some wonderful photographs that I wanted to share. One in particular really captured me...