Historical Photo From Oregon, Wisconsin Allows Us To Ponder Masculinity

Hat Tip to Dan Young.

I saw a most interesting photo in my email Thursday morning from the Oregon, Wisconsin Historical Society.  I could not locate a precise time or listing of which team was pictured, but that was not required, since what struck me at once is that no contemporary photo staged this way would be now considered.  And that is rather sad.

Given the macho lingo so overused by many men today along with the derogatory use of the word ‘gay’ assures us that the grouping of Oregon athletes from the picture is one that could never now be photographed.  It reminds me of the Civil War photographs that men would often take (if they had the means) prior to going to war. Many of the pictures show close male bonds and even tender-type images with their buddy, brother, or fellow soldier from their local area. During the pre-war days, it was common for male friends to visit a photographer to show their love and loyalty towards each other.

Physical non-sexual intimacy between men was much more prevalent in the early years of our national story, as evidenced also in letters that allowed for emotional intimacy from the likes of Alexander Hamilton along with numerous examples of deep regard among elected officials in Washington.  Over the decades of reading and better understanding history one of the features of small-town America that forms a perfect mental image for me was summed up by online writers, Brett & Kate McKay. I pull this from my files today to make the case.

The photographer’s studio would have been at the center of town, well-known by everyone, and one’s neighbors would have been sitting in the waiting room just a few feet away. Because homosexuality, even if the thought of as a practice rather than an identity, was not something publicly expressed, these men were not knowingly outing themselves in these shots; their poses were common, and simply reflected the intimacy and intensity of male friendships at the time — none of these photos would have caused their contemporaries to bat an eye.

The photo that arrived in my email and prompted this post is a reminder of the limitations that men have constructed for themselves in our society.  Emotional distance with a limiting and unhealthily self-created definition of what constitutes ‘being male’ has stunted men and negatively impacted families. Years ago, I asked historian Stephen Ambrose, during one of his many visits to Borders Books on University Avenue about this form of male bonding and how it manifested itself during WWII, a time period he wrote about in numerous volumes.

I recall his speaking about late teenagers (boys really) who had known nothing other than their farms or villages and close families then walked into a completely new world of terror and unknowns, coming to soon realize that their lives depended on their fellow soldiers. With such a connection with strangers, it was easy for them to find bonds of intimacy and deep emotional regard for each other.  Those friendships and relationships made solid individuals, but such interactions should obviously not need to be confined to the war theater.

Some foolishly claim from a political perspective that men are losing their masculinity, but I would argue what society requires are men who understand the totality of being human and living the whole spectrum of their emotions.

Where Did President Lincoln Stand For Gettysburg Address?

Several years ago, during a 10-day trip to Washington, D.C., James and I took a bus tour to Gettysburg, the most iconic Civil War battlefield. I recall as a teenager reading about the high numbers of battlefield casualties in some of the fighting during the Civil War.  I recall my sensations upon learning for the first time about the piles of bodies at Gettysburg, reading journal entries from the townspeople about the stench and the burial trenches. Trying to process the enormity of the number of deaths is something that we all came to terms with during our history classes.

Over 50,000 Americans were killed in those massive battles that spanned for days on a plot of land in Pennsylvania. Over the decades the war, and the cause for it, have become better understood with many books and lectures.  When I had the opportunity to walk the battlefield and listen to a Civil War military expert speak of the efforts to secure a victory for the North the weight of the war from those days in 1863 when the heat of the sun and the smell of cannons along with the sound of muskets firing as men groaned in death came very much back to life.  It is impossible to stand on that ground and not feel it all.

James Wilson at Gettysburg

I had read long ago of the moldering bodies that still were present from the July battle when President Lincoln gave his address in November 19, 1863. (I write this post on the anniversary.) We passed the hotel where he stayed and saw the second-story window of the room where he finished his short speech. But to see the bluffs and hear the stories of battle and grasp how the winds blew that day and carried the smoke of cannon and musket, as bodies lay strewn about was most powerful.

While I have always loved history, my least favorite part of the past is the military engagements that occurred on the battlefield. How the people of the small town felt and reacted, or how the news of the battles was sent to Washington, and of course, the simple short, and exceedingly powerful message from President Lincoln afterward are the aspects of the story that most interested me. But to see the bluffs and hear the stories of battle and grasp how the winds blew that day and carried the smoke of cannon and musket, as bodies lay strewn about was most powerful.

Like everyone else that day as our tour bus moved about and made for stops the question most asked was exactly where did President Lincoln stand when he delivered the Gettysburg Address? The speech, which ran a mere 272 words, took about two minutes. It went so fast that the three photographers in attendance, “with their clunky wet-plate cameras, missed the moment entirely”.

The most famous of the photographs is attributed to David Bachrach, who was positioned in front of the speaker’s platform. Discovered in the 1950s by Josephine Cobb, an archivist at the National Archives, it remains the only undisputed image of Lincoln at Gettysburg — seemingly taking his seat on the platform hatless, his head bowed.

The photographers may have missed Lincoln’s speech, but sometimes they inadvertently captured one another, providing clues to their exact position. During a preview of his research, Oakley pulled up one of Gardner’s shots, zooming in on a window in the Evergreen gatehouse to point out a blurred figure and a box: the photographer Peter Weaver with his camera, he said.

Since the 19th century, scholars and armchair obsessives alike have pored over every aspect of the Gettysburg Address, from the meaning of its soaring rhetoric to the kind of paper Lincoln drafted it on.

Now, a researcher claims to have settled a question that can be seen, quite literally, as foundational: Where exactly did Lincoln stand?

Since the 1990s, visitors to Gettysburg National Cemetery have been told the hallowed spot actually lies just over an iron fence, in Evergreen Cemetery, the town’s burial ground. But Christopher Oakley, a former Disney animator turned Civil War sleuth, has combined intense analysis of 19th-century photographs with 21st-century 3-D modeling software to argue that Lincoln was standing inside the national cemetery after all.

To build his 3-D model, he entered a 3-D map made from geographic information system, or G.I.S., data and a Google satellite map into Maya, and then layered in the historical photographs. After years of trial and error, he said, when he toggled between each photograph and the corresponding camera positions in his model, everything finally lined up.

His research was unveiled on Friday at the Lincoln Forum, a gathering of some 300 scholars and enthusiasts who meet in Gettysburg each year, during the run-up to the official commemoration of Lincoln’s address on Nov. 19. As he clicked through his presentation, there were whispered “Wows,” capped with a standing ovation.

A diagram by Oakley, showing where the photographers who took four of the six known photographs of the cemetery dedication were standing. The indicate the positions for Peter Weaver (1 and 2), Alexander Gardner (3) and David Bachrach (4). Oakley’s placement of the platform is visible in the center.

The skillset and determination that Oakley has employed allow for countless history buffs to take another large step forward in better understanding a question that has long been the center of debate in academic circles. There have been more books written about Abe Lincoln than any other president, and something tells me this research and its conclusions will make for yet one more. As it should!

Gregory Humphrey and his favorite president.

UW-Madison Professor Places Gun Culture Roots In Post-Civil War South

The first thing I ever wrote to be published was a Letter to the Editor of my county newspaper lamenting the lack of gun control. I was a high school teenager who found it hard to fathom the stunning number of handgun deaths in the nation.  Several decades later and the search for an understanding of our gun culture continues to vex me.  I still am not able to square the tens of thousands of lives killed each year due to guns with a legislative process impotent to enacting meaningful corrective measures.  

How the culture for gun madness was born and how it took root in such a powerful way has intrigued me since I used a Smith Corona to type (or was that pecking) my letter to the Waushara Argus. On Sunday, an insightful and thought-provoking article from Nick Buttrick, assistant professor of psychology at UW-Madison, was published in the Wisconsin State Journal which demonstrates from a data-loaded historical perspective how and where our national gun culture took birth.

The South was a very dangerous place after the war. More than half a million men, with their weapons, returned to what rapidly became one of the most heavily armed societies in the world, and one of the most violent: The murder rate in the South during the 1870s was an estimated 18 times higher than in New England — largely driven by white men killing each other.

Elite white Southerners considered the empowerment of the previously enslaved population an existential threat and worked to repress Black political power as completely as possible.

As part of that project, white Southern leaders explicitly anchored the protection of their way of life in the private ownership of firearms, arguing that guns protected white people from an illegitimate government unwilling to keep them safe. The huge supply of firearms from the war made this argument salient.

Using data from the 1860 census, nationally representative survey data from more than 3.5 million Americans, and records of every death in the U.S. from 1996 to 2016, we found that the higher the rate of enslavement in a county in 1860 — i.e., where nascent Black political power was more threatening to post-Civil War white elites — the higher the rate of gun ownership today.

In other words, counties with a historical prevalence of slavery had both the most guns and the tightest link between guns and feelings of safety. These are the places where contemporary American gun culture took root.

Mass shootings and obituaries from gun violence are now part of the fabric of daily life in this country. While it is important to place our current dilemma into a historical construct the lay of the land does not allow one to think it leads toward an enlightened and credible congressional majority that works in concert with needed gun control measures.

There was no way as a teenager to imagine that mass murder from high-powered military-type rifles of the kind used in Las Vegas when 58 people were killed could ever occur. When I sat at our family kitchen table and typed out the newspaper letter it would have been hard for me to believe that, Telemachus Orfanos, a man who escaped with his life from that mass shooting would die in another mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. The fact that a person can find themselves in the midst of two separate mass shootings in America underscores where the gun culture born in the South has placed our nation.

Qualities Voters Should Demand Of Candidates On Mid-Term Ballot

I have been thinking about the values voters should expect of candidates who ask us for our votes. I need not state the lack of character some candidates are demonstrating or the lack of any leadership being employed by party officials in making it clear there is behavior that simply can not be countenanced. Character and leadership matter in equal parts both during campaign time and also when serving in office. Those qualities can be measured and weighed within the context of history and in line with our shared American values.

“Young Abe Lincoln on Horseback” (Anna Hyatt Huntington, 1963)

Abraham Lincoln is the man I showcase below as he embodied leadership and empathy. I argue that Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War ran in sharp contrast to how Donald Trump abdicated responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. What Trump called ‘his war’. In making my points it becomes more clear what qualities candidates should embody and why voters should desire such people to be elected in the mid-term races.

Even the most jaded high school history student knows the first year of the Civil War was beset by the failures of the Union Army to marshall their military might or demonstrate a clear capacity to engage the Confederates. Bull Run was the most prominent battle in 1861 and we are very aware it was not a success for Lincoln.

The generals of the North were not always known for aggressive behavior. This led Lincoln to undertake a growing responsibility within the White House in waging war. He often changed generals and even championed a more forward-leaning engagement with the South in 1862. But how he came to the point where he felt comfortable within his own skin to use his office in such a manner is due to one factor that speaks volumes about Lincoln. And what we should desire from our elected class this fall, too.

Lincoln had limited military experience from his time in the Black Hawk War. Longtime readers know of my strong recommendation of A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal where that period of Lincoln’s life is researched and written about in much detail. So, to fill in the empty places of his education Lincoln got his hands on each and every military text he could find. He then read and studied them. He then consulted with his military advisors and learned from experts.

All of that is diametrically opposite to how Trump handled the pandemic, which killed over 1 million Americans. Those who lost their lives in 2021 were caught up in the absurdity of mocking science and adhering to the uneducated discourse which was started in the early months of 2020. By not immersing himself in the science and data, or heeding the advice of professionals in this nation we have all paid a price. What we witnessed was not only Trump’s desire to take no responsibility in dealing competently with the virus but also to not show any empathy for a staggering loss of life among the citizenry.

Lincoln, on the other hand, wore empathy on his sleeve. There could be a book on nothing other than Lincoln’s ability to put himself in the place of another, and the result would be a tome too heavy to lug around. If you want to be moved emotionally read the accounts of mothers who met with Lincoln and urged that their sons not be sent to war and how it pained him so much. Or read the words of his personal assistant, John Hay, regarding how Abe lingered long and hard over letters about those sentenced to die after a military tribunal so ordered it to be done.

What we must acknowledge is the importance that each candidate and elected officeholder must be a reader, a thinker, and have a deep well of empathy. Tribal politics has brought our nation to the dysfunctional place it now resides. Voters have an obligation to be more serious at undertaking their role in electing candidates with character and a compass pointing in the direction of reason and logic.

Donald Trump And The Second ‘Gettysburg Address’, Or Is He More Akin To James Buchanan?

I received my booster shot on Tuesday and am feeling great. The only thing noted about the past 24 hours that is a bit different is my raving hunger. Homemade chicken and rice at midnight (and pickles!) are not usual.

It was this morning as I was finishing the leftovers for breakfast–minus pickles–that I first heard a most outlandish news story.

In his new memoir, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows compared former Donald Trump’s post-COVID hospitalization speech to the Gettysburg Address.

Meadows, whose book “The Chief’s Chief” was released on Tuesday, attempted to illustrate how Trump’s brief speech urging Americans not to fear the coronavirus reminded him of former President Abraham Lincoln’s magnum opus.

“Although the prose wasn’t quite as polished as the Gettysburg Address, delivered by President Abraham Lincoln after the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, it had the same compressed, forceful quality that had made President Lincoln’s words so effective at the time they were delivered,” Meadows wrote.

Had the news not been reported on NPR I would have thought the booster had caused a bit of mental confusion. When I did a quick online search I learned the booster was not the cause for my ‘hearing’ issue, as the information was, sadly, correct.

When one has no actual understanding of history, no grounding in substance and fact….well, this type of book happens. It was shockingly ignorant for Mark Meadows to have written such lines. And for an editor to let it slide. Or a publishing house to consent to roll it off the presses.

For those who do know history, the character and wisdom of President Abraham Lincoln, and the sacred nature of Gettysburg, will quickly grasp the utter insanity of what Meadows wrote. Likewise, we know that Meadows would have a far easier time connecting Trump to President James Buchanan.

Readers might say, ‘but was not it strongly rumored that Buchanan was gay’, while Trump is a known womanizer, even when married to his third wife? And we know from reading about the man who was in the office prior to Lincoln that he was always dignified. When was Trump ever accused of that?

So how, then, the comparisons?

The reason I consider it most fair to link these two is the air of sedition and treason that was rampant in both of their White Houses. Donald Trump was the center of the most dangerous attack on our nation’s foundation since the Civil War. We know from reading that Buchanan had fire-eaters in his cabinet who were fomenting succession. Trump had an array of wild-eyed and dangerous operatives pushing forward with undermining the results of a presidential election made by the people.

Had Meadows been, at any level, a reader of history he could have better found the analogy he was seeking for his book. James Buchanan.

Meanwhile for the bottom line.

“Donald Trump’s former chief of staff has been all over the news for all sorts of reasons, but his new book “The Chief’s Chief” is barely budging on the Amazon sales chart. At last check, the book is #1,436 on Amazon — a very disappointing start for a promising title that’s generating so much press” Per CNN’s Brain Stelter earlier this week.

And so it goes.

Traitors Do Not Get Praise, Robert E. Lee Statue Had To Come Down

Today, the only option that was acceptable was applied to a Confederate statue.

The Confederate statue of General Robert E. Lee was hoisted away from its place of prominence in Charlottesville on Saturday. While its placement for a very long time was one of deepest disappointment, the passionate call for its removal grew louder in the last few years following the 2017 white supremacist rally held in Charlottesville.

The statuary of those who worked to destroy our government, split the Union, and undermine our Constitution should never have been lionized. To have allowed their images to remain standing only served to further the Lost Cause charade that was meant to blunt the racist and hateful underpinning not only of the Civil War, but also the Jim Crow South.

It needs to be noted that many of these statues were placed not in the 1860s, but rather in the first years of the 1900s. The message they were intended to give was not lost on Blacks at the time.

Nor on those today who look back and grasp the meaning of that racial behavior.

The only way to view Confederates is the same way we look at any treasonous group. Call me old-fashioned but treason bothers me deeply.  The statues can stand in museums and be placed in historical context. But they must not be allowed to be placed in any public square.

To think that Robert Lee should sit, for instance, on any courthouse square when blacks of his time had no role whatsoever in any sense of the justice system, makes as much sense as placing a bust of Hitler into libraries in the international studies department. For him to been placed in a location of honor in Charlottesville was a slap to decency nationwide.

The Civil War is unique in that the winning side did not punish the losing one. Though there was a discussion of charging Confederate leaders with treason, in the end, the Union decided that it was better to be lenient and focus on reuniting the country. It was an error in judgment that impacts us yet today.

An unexpected consequence of this can be demonstrated with the Confederate leadership living to write their own ‘glorious’ stories in an effort to rewrite history.  It should surprise no one that they attempted to make themselves seem as noble. The Lost Cause is a distortion that is so laughable, if it were not so painfully absurd. And dangerous.

But Lee and all those who worked to undermine the union were not noble.  They were traitors to the United States. The leaders and fighters in that effort to destroy the Union must not be regarded with an appraisal other than treasonous.  Their statues must be hauled down and carted away.

Today on Facebook when I posted the news from Charlottesville a friend commented with a tone-perfect summation to this matter. He stated statues such as the one removed today should be placed in an area with proper context. Then added the following.

Next to others who scored major military victories when taking up arms against the United States. Maybe the generals who attacked Pearl Harbor and the bin Laden who planned the September 11th attacks. Also large plaques with the original language from the Confederacy’s founding document, explicitly spelling out that the Confederacy fought first and foremost to preserve slavery. Draw direct lines from the states’ rights to enslave Black Americans to states’ rights to reject Brown v Board & Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Acts. Not a big leap to today’s disenfranchisement efforts. If Robert E Lee & company always stands next to fellow enemies of America, then the statues can stand. Maybe throw in a Derek Chauvin for good measure.

And so it goes.

Raft of Reads

Over the holiday month, I spent time with the Wisconsin Hospital for the Insane near Madison. Notice I didn’t write inside the facility! I ventured into the question of whether Lincoln belongs to the ages or to the angels. And I once again ventured with George Smiley where it all began on the printed pages. As the New Year starts I am in the heart of the Whiskey Rebellion.

In other words, our home is still abiding by the stay at home guidelines during the pandemic as Amazon continues to deliver books on the front stoop. From those boxes, James and I venture far and wide as we pick from the reading nooks here where James drinks tea, as I have my mug of coffee. One of my reading nooks is this window seat.

While I read The Best Specimen of a Tyrant because it had a Madison storyline, and the history of the Civil War is of interest, I was left wishing for a more compelling method of writing. Thomas Doherty did his research, which is not to be doubted. The first chapter swings hard and makes an impact as one can feel the mental health problems of a man, and the stresses placed on the family as they seek medical advice. But the Civil War writing in the book simply does not sparkle.

The story of Wisconsin soldiers in Louisiana and the methods of transport and illness suffered by them is a compelling story. I only wish it had been presented in a more entertaining narrative. But when it comes to portraying Dr. Abraham Van Norstrand there is no doubt Doherty allowed for a multi-faceted and accurate measure of the man. He became the superintendent of the state’s first hospital for the insane. There is no way not to utterly despise the man for his greedy actions.

A Wisconsin legislator from the early days of our state spent over 30 years in the state insane hospital In Madison. Page 154 is intriguing with this story, though I can not locate more information about him online.

Adam Gopnik, a noted and gifted writer in The New Yorker, wrote a series of essays for a slim but thought-provoking read about Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Angels And Ages was a book that required reading and reflection–at times in almost equal measure. He offers reflections about these essential men in the lives of mankind.

With richness in writing Gopnik offers a view about how freedom and democracy were presented by Lincoln and the grand design of life itself from Darwin. The way they spoke and wrote as they articulated their views to the masses is quite a story. With monosyllables and step-by-step logic building, we watch Lincoln make his case. Meanwhile, Darwin writes so anyone with an inclination can read his Origin Of Species and come to a comprehension of the complicated theory of evolution. What binds these men are not only that they were born on the same day but also the family ties that engaged them, and personal tragedies that befell them as men. And of course the massive footsteps they left for all of us over the ages.

One of the saddest losses in 2020 was the death of John le Carré. To honor him and also take me back to a book I read decades ago I again picked up Call for the Dead. This is not only le Carré’s first novel, but it is also the start of the character the world came to love. George Smiley. The slim book is a fast-paced story about East German spies inside Great Britain.

As the New Year starts I am now reading for the first time a book by David Liss. Many have raved about his historical novels. With one-fifth of The Whiskey Rebels finished I can state his first-person writing for each of the two main characters is drawing me into the plot. I am enjoying not only the historical time frame of President Washington and his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton but also the financial aspects of the overall plotting. The reader is dropped into the harsh society of western Pennsylvania at the same time the wealthy of Philadelphia are made part of the mystery and intrigue. The ‘two-halves’ are presented marvelously.

There is no better way to start another year of blogging than to write of books!

Night Two Of Republican National Convention 2020: Featuring Abraham Lincoln

abrahamlincolnvisitingsoldiers

Each night of the Republican National Convention I will feature a Republican from the pages of history who acted in exactly the reverse of Donald Trump.   Tonight Abraham Lincoln is the man I showcase and the topic is leadership and empathy.  (Monday night I focused on the need for character, and shone a light on Gerald Ford.) Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War ran in sharp contrast to how Donald Trump has abdicated responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.  What Trump calls ‘his war’.

Even the most jaded high school history student knows the first year of the Civil War was beset by failures from the Union Army to marshall their military might and demonstrate the capacity to engage the Confederates.  Bull Run is the most prominent battle in 1961 and it was not a success for Lincoln.

The generals of the North were not always known for aggressive behavior.  This led Lincoln to undertake a responsibility within the White House in waging the war.  He often changed generals and even championed a more forward-leaning engagement with the South in 1962.   But how he came to the point where he felt comfortable within his own skin to use his office in such a manner is due to one factor that speaks volumes about Lincoln.

Lincoln had limited military experience from his time with the Black Hawk War.  Earlier this year readers might recall my recommendation of  A Self-Made Man by Sidney Blumenthal where that period of Lincoln’s life is researched and written about in detail.  So to fill in the empty places of his education Lincon got his hands on each and every military text he could find.  He then read and studied them.  He then consulted with his military advisors and learned from experts.

All of that is diametrically opposite of how Trump has handled the pandemic, which as of this writing, has killed almost 178,000 Americans.  By not immersing himself in the science and data, or heeding the advice of professionals in this nation we have all paid a price. While having 4% of the world’s population we have 25% of the world’s COVID-19 cases.

What we have witnessed is not only Trump’s desire to take no responsibility in dealing competently with the virus but also to not show any empathy with a staggering loss of life among the citizenry.

Lincoln, on the other hand, wore empathy on his sleeve.  There could be a book on nothing other than Lincoln’s ability to put himself in the place of another, and the result would be a tome too heavy to lug around.  If you want to be moved emotionally read the accounts of mothers who met with Lincoln and urged that their sons not be sent to war and how it pained him so much.  Or read the words of his personal assistant, John Hay, regarding how Abe lingered long and hard over letters about those sentenced to die.

What we lack today in the White House is a reader, a thinker, or any semblance of empathy.  The end result, as we have witnessed, is a lack of leadership.

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