Monday, February 16, 2015

Presidential Visits to Antietam

Presidential Visits to Antietam National Battlefield by John David Hoptak

President Lincoln Meets With General McClellan on the Antietam Battlefield
* * * * * * * * * *
There is a strong presidential connection to the Antietam Battlefield. . .In addition to future president William McKinley serving as a commissary sergeant in the 23rd Ohio during the battle itself, no less than eight sitting presidents have visited the Antietam battlefield.
The first, of course, was Abraham Lincoln, who spent four days travelling over the field in early October 1862, just two weeks after the guns fell silent. He met with McClellan, trying to prod his young Napoleon into action, met with other generals, and with thousands of wounded soldiers. . .both Union and Confederate. His trip was well-documented, and the photos of his visit are among the most famous of the entire war. Oh, and who can forget the 26-minute long film, "Antietam Visit," which details Lincoln's famous visit and shows on the half hour at the Antietam National Battlefield's Visitor Center?

Lincoln with McClellan. . . and George Morell, Fitz Porter, Henry Hunt, Jonathan Letterman, Andrew Humphreys, Henry Hunt, and even a young George Armstrong Custer

Lincoln with private eye extraordinaire Allen Pinkerton and Major General John McClernand
* * * * * * * * * * *
Lincoln's successor to the presidency, Andrew Johnson, was the next to pay a visit to the Antietam Battlefield. While the Radical Republicans in Congress were doing everything in their power to impeach him, Johnson journeyed out on September 17, 1867--the five year anniversary of the battle--to deliver an address at the dedication of the National Cemetery.

Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States

Dedication of the National Cemetery at Antietam (NPS)
While certainly not as famous or as eloquent as Lincoln's 1863 cemetery address at Gettysburg, Johnson's was at times stirring. . ."When we look at yon battlefield, I think of the brave men who fell in the fierce struggle of battle, and who sleep silent in their graves. Yes, many of them sleep in silence and peace within this beautiful enclosure after the earnest conflict has ceased."
Accompanying President Johnson that day was the general-in-chief of the United States Army, Ulysses S. Grant. Apparently Grant didn't get to see enough of the battlefield with Johnson, so he returned two years later. . .when he was president.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ulysses Grant, 18th President of the United States, was the third sitting president in a row to visit Antietam
Grant toured the battlefield on October 15, 1869, with his good friend William T. Sherman. I can just imagine the conversation: "Boy, if I were here, Cump, I would have pitched right in!"
* * * * * * * * * *
The trend of presidents visiting Antietam stopped for a while after Grant. . .no Rutherford B. Hayes, no James Garfield nor Chester Arthur, not even Grover Cleveland or Benjamin Harrison. But then, William McKinley made a return visit.
Sergeant William McKinley, Commissary, 23rd Ohio Volunteers
Perhaps no other president--save for Lincoln--is as closely associated with the Antietam battlefield than William McKinley. He served at Antietam as a sergeant in Company E, 23rd Ohio Infantry, the so-called President's Regiment. Just three days before Antietam at the battle of South Mountain, McKinley's regimental commander, Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, had his left arm shattered by a musket ball and was forced to relinquish command. As a 19-year-old commissary, McKinley kept the boys of the regimental well-fed, even while on the firing line. After the war, he served for many years in the U.S. House of Representatives, then as a two-term governor of Ohio before being elected president of the United States in 1896 and 1900.
President McKinley returned to the Antietam battlefield on May 30, 1900--Memorial Day--to deliver an address at the unveiling of the Maryland State Monument. Interestingly, among McKinley's guest of honors were Mr. and Mrs. James Longstreet.
William McKinley, 25th President of the United States

Having survived the Civil War unscathed, McKinley was struck down by an assassin's bullet in September 1901, in Buffalo, New York. He died on September 14, thirty-nine years to the day after his former commander Rutherford Hayes fell wounded at South Mountain. . .(I know, I know, the connection is a stretch, but still interesting).

McKinley Monument (NPS)

In 1904, the McKinley Monument, which stands near the Burnside Bridge, was dedicated in memory of the slain president.
* * * * * * * * * *
The next president to visit Antietam was McKinley's successor, the old Rough Rider himself, Theodore Roosevelt. Born in 1858, Teddy was too young to serve in the Civil War, but he did vividly remember watching the Lincoln Funeral cortege make its way through the streets of New York from his parents' bedroom window in May 1865. He visited the battlefield on September 17, 1903, to deliver a speech at the dedication of New Jersey's state monuments.
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
* * * * * * * * * * *
Once again, following Teddy's visit a number of years passed before another presidential trip to the Antietam battlefield. In fact, it wasn't until 1937. On the 75th Anniversary of the battle, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered an eloquent address to an estimated crowd of some 50,000, and even spent some time shaking hands with a few Civil War veterans. 
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Roosevelt paid a second visit to the battlefield on May 28, 1944. . .just a week and a half before D-Day.
* * * * * * * * * *
Only two presidents have visited Antietam since FDR in 1944. . .John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States

Kennedy toured the battlefield with his wife Jackie and brother Ted on April 3, 1963, just seven months before his fateful ride in Dallas. . .

James Earl Carter, 39th President of the United States
Jimmy Carter was the eighth--and last--sitting president to visit the Antietam battlefield. He did so with his wife Rosalynn and esteemed historian Shelby Foote in July 1978. The story goes that as the presidential motorcade made its way from Harper's Ferry up Maryland Route 230, it was stopped for the more than 20 minutes by a herd of cattle crossing the road. . .
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Emancipation in Maryland 150: The Maryland Constitution of 1864

150 years ago today, a new constitution for the state of Maryland came into effect, abolishing slavery in the state. This article is a look at how that constitution came into being, and it places the events of 150 years ago in the context of the American Civil War...

The Maryland Monument at Antietam National Battlefield

Baltimore, Maryland. April 19, 1864…

Ladies and Gentlemen—Calling to mind that we are in Baltimore, we can not fail to note that the world moves. Looking upon these many people, assembled here, to serve, as they best may, the soldiers of the Union, it occurs at once that three years ago, the same soldiers could not so much as pass through Baltimore. The change from then till now, is both great, and gratifying. Blessings on the brave men who have wrought the change, and the fair women who strive to reward them for it.

But Baltimore suggests more than could happen within Baltimore. The change within Baltimore is part only of a far wider change. When the war began, three years ago, neither party, nor any man, expected it would last till now. Each looked for the end, in some way, long ere to—day. Neither did any anticipate that domestic slavery would be much affected by the war. But here we are; the war has not ended, and slavery has been much affected—how much needs not now to be recounted. So true is it that man proposes, and God disposes.

But we can see the past, though we may not claim to have directed it; and seeing it, in this case, we feel more hopeful and confident for the future.

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatable things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatable names—liberty and tyranny.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated.

President Abraham Lincoln delivered these remarks in Baltimore, Maryland, in April 1864. Just 19 months before, in that same state, Union and Confederate forces clashed at the Battle of Antietam, leading to over 23,000 casualties and becoming forever known as the bloodiest single day in American history. Through all the bloodshed of September 1862 at Antietam, the battle there had afforded President Lincoln an important opportunity—it was a Union victory, as Confederate forces were effectively pushed out of Maryland after the guns fell silent. Five days after Antietam, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, setting the stage for the final version to be signed, issued, and placed into effect on January 1, 1863. The proclamation declared that all slaves in those states then in rebellion would be “then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Yet, as we previously discussed on our blog, Maryland was unaffected by this document because of its status as a Border State. Thus, when Lincoln spoke in Baltimore in April 1864, there was still more work to be done to advance the cause of freedom in Maryland.

A divided Border State during the Civil War, Maryland was the scene of both military and political struggles during the four year conflict. Early in the war, in April 1861, as Southern states were banding together and the onset of war was occurring at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the people of Maryland were caught up in the middle of the great secession crisis. Maryland shared strong ties with the states of the Southern Confederacy—of the nearly four million slaves in the United States at the time of the Civil War, over 87,000 lived within Maryland’s borders.

With numerous slave states breaking away from the Union in early 1861, Maryland felt the pull of her sister slave states to protect her interests and leave the Union behind. In fact, the same secession commissioners who journeyed through the South during the winter of 1860-1861 preaching secession, states’ rights, and slavery, also made their way to Maryland. In December 1860, Judge Alexander Hamilton Handy from Mississippi addressed large crowds in Annapolis and Baltimore. Handy was born in Maryland but moved to Mississippi several decades before the Civil War. Mississippi’s own declarations of secession made clear the purpose of their cause: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world."

In Baltimore on December 19, 1860, Handy spoke with similar language and purpose, declaring, “The moment that slavery is pronounced a moral evil—a great sin—by the general government, that moment the safety of the rights of the South will be entirely gone.” There was no ambiguity; when Handy spoke of Northern Republicans and their intent to “overthrow the constitution and subvert the rights of the South,” the one right above all others which was in jeopardy was that “by which one man can own property in his fellow man.”

Three years later, when Lincoln spoke in Baltimore, enough history to fill three decades had occurred, and the situation in Maryland had changed dramatically. Because of political and military actions, Maryland did not follow the call of other slave states, and it remained in the Union. Lincoln himself was involved with this, suspending Habeas Corpus in Maryland in April 1861, after Union soldiers were attacked coming through Baltimore. General Benjamin Butler declared martial law in Baltimore, and the Maryland legislature’s convention on secession was moved to Frederick, a much more pro-Union location than Baltimore or Annapolis on the Chesapeake.

With Maryland still in the Union, it was a prime target for Confederate forces. In September 1862—with the goal of possibly peeling Maryland away from the Union in mind—Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia came north looking for a battlefield victory over Union forces on Union soil. His hopes for such a victory were dashed along the banks of Antietam Creek on September 17, in the bloodiest single day in American history. After Antietam, Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, and everything changed once again.

After Antietam, pro-Unionists became increasingly powerful in the state of Maryland, taking greater control of the state government. Starting in 1861, Unionists made gains in the Maryland legislature. As a result, pro-Union representatives imposed harsh penalties on those who had Confederate sympathies, including loyalty oaths to the Union as a condition for future voting. Many pro-slavery Democrats fled for the Confederacy, leaving a mixture of conservative and radical Republicans and Unionists in Maryland. Through the course of the war, this mix led to a growing number of abolitionists—men who before the war never dreamed of abolishing slavery began to see it as a positive political move for the state. Of the two factions, two plans emerged.

The conservative plan, headed by Montgomery Blair, suggested a path toward emancipation that involved compensation for slave owners and was drawn out over time. Radicals in the legislature, led by Henry Winter Davis, favored an immediate and total emancipation of slavery in Maryland. In support of this latter plan, Davis declared that slave owners needed no further compensation for slaves, as the lands which had been farmed and cultivated for them for hundreds of years by slave labor was compensation enough. With increased gains in the 1863 elections, pro-abolition forces gained more control and power in the state. A convention was called to write a new constitution for Maryland in early 1864. President Lincoln himself weighed in on the issue, writing, “I am very anxious for emancipation to be effected in Maryland.”

The same month that Lincoln spoke at the Sanitary Fair in Baltimore, Maryland held a constitutional convention. Meeting in Annapolis on April 27, 1864, the convention lasted for several months, wrapping up its work on September 6, two years to the day from when Confederates under Lee came north on their way to Antietam. The end result of the convention was a constitution with provisions declaring the immediate emancipation of all slaves in Maryland. All that was necessary was a public vote, scheduled for October 12, to ratify the new document. Now, for over 80,000 slaves in Maryland, freedom would be determined by the ballot box.

The day of the scheduled vote—when the people of Maryland went to the polls to decide the future of freedom in their state—a major figure who had influenced national policy on slavery for decades passed from the scene. Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Roger Brooke Taney died on October 12, 1864. The author of the infamous Dred Scott Decision, it was Taney whose words had spelled out the increasing plight of sectionalism and slavery in the years before the Civil War. In the 1857 case, Taney declared that property rights of slave owners precluded any restrictions on where they could and could not take their slaves, seemingly opening the door for slavery to spread throughout the land. Taney’s court had also ruled that blacks were never intended as citizens of the United States, and thus had no right to sue for their freedom. Taney passed at the age of 87—he was born the year after the Declaration of Independence—and his passing served as a reminder that the old Union, one where the Dred Scott decision was issued, was quickly fading, giving way to a new Union that was made possible by the sacrifices of soldiers on the battlefield and political advances throughout the nation.

On October 12 and 13, Marylanders went to the ballot box. Across the state, in the varied political climate of wartime Maryland, individuals decided the fate of the new constitution. In Washington County, where the Battle of Antietam was fought just two years before, the constitution received significant support, with 2,441 for and 1,633 against. Washington county had seen a sharp drop in the number of slaves in the years prior to the Civil War: in 1820, out of a population of 23,075, there were 3,201 slaves and only 627 free blacks. Forty years later, when Lincoln was elected and the secession of the South began, out of 31,417 people, there were 1,435 slaves and 1,677 freed blacks. Clearly, Washington County was a strong example of Maryland’s trend toward being a Unionist state.

Elsewhere, the vote totals did not go as well for the pro-emancipation side. Overall, of the civilians voting in Maryland, the tally was 27,541 for, 29,536 against the new constitution. Based solely on this, the 1864 Constitution would have failed.

However, much as would happen in the presidential election just a few weeks later, the soldier vote made a tremendous impact on the final count. Maryland sent nearly 80,000 men off to war in between 1861 and 1865, many of whom fought for the Union. Of the nearly 60,000 votes that were ultimately cast for the 1864 Constitution, roughly 3,000 were absentee ballots from soldiers in the field. Of that number, 2,633 were in favor if its passage, and only 263 were against. This made the final count 30,174 in favor, and 29,799 against. The 1864 Maryland Constitution passed with a margin of fewer than 400 votes.

On October 29, Governor Augustus Bradford, who had only until recently been opposed to emancipation in his state, declared that the new constitution passed. The document was to take effect on November 1, 1864. On October 31, 1864, Frederick resident Jacob Engelbrecht recorded his feelings in his diary, proclaiming, “The foul blot of slavery will be stricken from the Constitution of Maryland, Huzzah for Liberty!”

The reaction to the new Constitution reflected its importance for the state. In Baltimore, the act was greeted with proclamations and a salute of five hundred guns. The Baltimore American and Commercial Adviser editorialized on the magnitude of the occasion:

This is the birth-day of Maryland freedom. This day the shackles fall from the oppressed within our borders. The bonds are broken forever, and the captive is set free. This is a proud day for Maryland. It is the day of her regeneration. It is the dawn of a new regime and a healthier existence. The triumph of justice is consummated; the aims of a sound economy are satisfied. Henceforth the first of November will be a blessed day in the calendar. It will be commemorated with thanksgiving and praise.

Later that month, Frederick Douglass—a man who was born in Maryland, lived in slavery in Maryland, and successfully escaped from Maryland—spoke in Baltimore on the coming of emancipation within his native state.

What a wonderful change a few short years have wrought! I left Maryland a slave; I return to her a freeman! I left her a slave state; I return to find her clothed in her new garments of Liberty and Justice, a free state! My life has had two crises—the day on which I left Maryland, and the day on which I return… The Common Council and city authorities have promised to be present at the next meeting in Baltimore. I shall be glad to see them. I shall return to them with freedom in my hand, and point to her Free Constitution, and as the olive branch was a sign that the waters of the flood were retiring, so will the freedom which I shall find there be a sign that the billows of slavery are rolling back to leave the law blooming again in the purer air of liberty and justice.

The same day the new constitution took effect, President Lincoln also offered his thoughts on what the day meant for both Maryland and the nation. Addressing a group of free blacks who had gathered at the White House, Lincoln spoke in broad terms, both expressing his joy at the occasion and his desire to see the end of slavery:

It is no secret that I have wished, and still do wish, mankind everywhere to be free. And in the State of Maryland how great an advance has been made in this direction. It is difficult to realize that in a state, where human slavery has existed for ages, ever since a period long before any here were born—by the action of her own citizens—the soil is made forever free. I have no feeling of triumph over those who were opposed to this measure and who voted against it, but I do believe that it will result in good in the white race as well as to those who have been made free by this action of emancipation….

Lincoln’s words described the magnitude of the event, placing it in historical context. An institution which had held people as slaves for generations had been eradicated by the people of a slave holding state. Certainly, the vote was close, and it had required the soldier vote to push over the margin of victory, but the political process had resulted in a move toward freedom in Maryland.

Yet, while these oft quoted remarks are indeed a reminder of how important the Maryland Constitution was, perhaps Lincoln’s remarks the day before, on October 31, 1864, while addressing the soldiers of the 42nd Massachusetts, are yet an even more fitting summation to the story of freedom finally arriving in Maryland. As Lincoln spoke to the men from Massachusetts, soldiers whose enlistments were coming to an end, he praised them and those like them who had served in the long and grueling war. Lincoln was sure to note the link between service and sacrifice on the battlefield and the advance of freedom across the nation. Without battles such as Antietam, fought within the state of Maryland, the momentous occasion would not have occurred. Lincoln said as much when speaking to the soldiers:

Tonight, midnight, slavery ceases in Maryland, and this state of things in Maryland is due greatly to the soldiers. Again I thank you for the services you have rendered the country.

Without the measures to keep Maryland in the Union, the bloodshed of Antietam, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the political maneuvering by radicals and Republicans, the new constitution of 1864 would have never been possible in the state of Maryland. The constitution was not perfect—it still only allowed while males the right to vote—but it was a major step in a state that just a few years before had seriously considered joining the Confederate States of America, which itself had a constitution forever protecting the institution of slavery. The Maryland Constitution was in some ways a precursor for the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865. It reminds us that the long road towards freedom and progress is always complicated, never easy, and only made possible through hard work and sacrifice.


Burlingame, Michael. Abraham Lincoln: A Life. Volume 2. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.

Dew, Charles. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

Flood, Charles Bracelen. 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009.

Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2010.

Levine, Bruce. The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South. New York: Random House, 2013.

Mitchell, Charles, ed. Maryland Voices of the Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Oakes, James. Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2013.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! Maryland Emancipation Day at Antietam, this Saturday, November 1st!

Hello again everyone, just a reminder that this Saturday will be our Maryland Emancipation Day at Antietam, where the park will be hosting several speakers to discuss the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Maryland, which occurred on November 1, 1864, when a new state constitution took effect in Maryland.

We have published the schedule on this blog before, but if you haven't seen it yet, please check it out here.

Also, we have noted that our keynote speaker will be best-selling author and journalist Todd Brewster. Mr. Brewster will be speaking at 7 p.m. that evening and signing copies of his latest book, Lincoln's Gamble, at the Antietam Visitor Center.

Today, we want to highlight two of our speakers for the morning of November 1st: Edie Wallace and Dr. Tom Clemens.

Edie Wallace will be our first speaker of the day at 10:00 a.m. Her program will discuss local African Americans in Sharpsburg and Washington County, Maryland, and how freedom came for these individuals, and what their experiences were like during the war.

Ms. Wallace is a historian with a Masters of Arts degree in Historic Preservation from Goucher College, where she received the 2003 Hiram McCullough Award for her thesis on preserving African American historic resources in rural Washington County.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Delaware and a Certificate in Historic Preservation from Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Ms. Wallace leads historical research and historic context development services for Paula S. Reed and Associates, Inc. in Hagerstown, Maryland.  She currently serves as President of the non-profit Friends of Tolson’s Chapel, dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and interpretation of the historic Tolson’s Chapel in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Ms. Wallace will also be speaking and taking part in the events at Tolson's Chapel in Sharpsburg that afternoon. The website for Tolson's Chapel can be found here. They will be having events from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m.

Our next speaker at the battlefield that morning will be Dr. Tom Clemens. At 11:00 a.m., Dr. Clemens will discuss emancipation in Maryland from a state perspective, looking at how the process occurred and how the state constitution of 1864 came to be. 

Tom earned a B.A& history at Salisbury State University and a Doctorate of Arts, at George Mason University where he studied under Dr. Joseph Harsh, author of the trilogy on Confederate strategy through the Maryland Campaign of 1862. He taught at Hagerstown Community College for 34 years, retiring recently as Professor Emeritus. He has published numerous articles and book reviews in various Civil War magazines, and has recently done an edited version of Ezra Carman’s Maryland Campaign of September 1862: South Mountain published May 2010 by Savas Beatie LLC; Vol. II, Antietam in September of 2012. Both volumes received the Army Historical Foundation’s Distinguished Writing Award. He is currently working on Vol. III which will include the battle of Shepherdstown Ford.

Tom appeared in several documentary films including the National Park Service film Antietam, A Documentary Film, shown daily in the Visitor Center, and has been featured in MD & DC Public Television programs as a historical commentator. He was an on-screen historian for: two episodes of A & E’s Civil War Journal and other History Channel programs.

In addition to his teaching career Tom is a Licensed Antietam Battlefield Tour Guide, and a 30+ year volunteer there, including several years of doing cannon-firing demonstrations. He is a Founder and current president of Save Historic Antietam Foundation Inc., which has preserved in perpetuity three structures and hundreds of acres of land around Antietam Battlefield. Tom is also a board member of Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association.

We here at Antietam are very excited and thankful to have Edie Wallace and Tom Clemens taking part in our commemoration of the 150th anniversary of emancipation in Maryland on Saturday, November 1st. We hope to see you this Saturday!

The Maryland Monument at Antietam

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mark Your Calendars! Todd Brewster Speaking at the Antietam Visitor Center for Maryland Emancipation Day on November 1st!

On November 1, Antietam National Battlefield and Tolson's Chapel in Sharpsburg will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of Emancipation in Maryland and the 1864 Constitution which abolished slavery in the state. We will be hosting speakers and events at both the Antietam Visitor Center and Tolson's Chapel in Sharpsburg. Our keynote speaker on the evening of November 1 will be Todd Brewster, best-selling author, a journalist from ABC News, Time and Life magazines, and a distinguished lecturer at several universities. 

Mr. Brewster will be speaking on "The Politics of Emancipation", discussing Abraham Lincoln and the decisions relating to the Emancipation Proclamation and the expansion of freedom in the United States. His lecture will cap a day full of speakers and events, the schedule for which can be found here

The evening program will be in the Visitor Center theater at Antietam, and it will begin at 7 pm. Mr. Brewster will be available to sign copies of his latest book, Lincoln's Gamble, after the program.

Below is a full biography of Todd Brewster. We hope to see you at his program on the evening of November 1st!

Todd Brewster is one of America’s most respected journalists. Over a thirty year career that has included stints at Time, Life, and ABC News as well as the publication of two best-selling books, Brewster has broken page one stories and produced award winning documentary series. He is also a sought after lecturer and academic, having served as Distinguished Visiting Professor at Wesleyan University, as Knight Fellow at Yale Law School, and as the Don E. Ackerman Director of Oral History at the United States Military Academy, West Point.

Brewster graduated from Indiana University. He was an editor at American Heritage, then at Life for over ten years. In that time, he also wrote for Time, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and Sports Illustrated.

In 1994, he moved to television when he became the Senior Editorial Producer of ABC News. While there, he was responsible for the largest documentary project in the network’s history, “The Century,” a multi-episode history of the twentieth century, which was the winner of multiple Emmy awards.

Brewster was co-author, with Peter Jennings, of the companion book to “The Century” (The Century), which spent 48 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and sold more copies than any book of its class in American publishing history. In

2002, the team produced a second major documentary, “In Search of America,” and Brewster was the co-author, with Jennings, of another bestselling volume.

In 2004, Brewster left ABC News to become Knight Fellow at Yale Law School. In 2005, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor in Government at Wesleyan University. In 2006 and 2007, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor in Constitutional Law at Western Connecticut State University. He joined West Point in

2008 where he established the Center for Oral History and led symposia on “Counterinsurgency: Old Doctrine or New?” on PTSD, and on “Race Relations in the Modern Army.” His book, Lincoln’s Gamble, on Abraham Lincoln’s prosecution of the Civil War, was published in September 2014.

Brewster lives in Ridgefield, CT, with his wife, Sylvia, and sons, Jack and Ben. On November 1, at 7 pm, he will be speaking at the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center on “The Politics of Emancipation”. Copies of his book will be available for purchase at the talk.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Emancipation in Maryland 150: Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation

150 years ago today, the people of Maryland went to the polls to vote on a new constitution that would abolish slavery throughout the state. This post is the first of a series on freedom in Maryland. Today, we look at Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation, and why there was a need for a new state constitution 150 years ago.

The Maryland State Monument at Antietam National Battlefield

The Battle of Antietam, fought Sept 17, 1862, was a epochal moment in American history. Its claims to fame and notoriety are numerous, ranging from the human cost of the battle—over 23,000 casualties in one day, being the bloodiest day in American history—to its impact on the nation at large.

On July 22, 1862, during a Cabinet meeting in Washington, President Abraham Lincoln introduced a potential emancipation proclamation, freeing the slaves in the southern states in rebellion. Lincoln presented the document by stating that he had decided to issue it, but was open to advice on when and how to declare the slaves to be free. After much discussion, Secretary of State William Seward suggested that the president wait for a military victory; the summer of 1862 had many setbacks for Federal forces, and issuing such a measure amidst defeat, Seward suggested, could give the proclamation an appearance of a desperate move. Lincoln thought this advice to be wise, and thus decided to wait for a Union victory before issuing his proclamation.

During the Maryland Campaign, in the weeks leading up to Antietam, President Abraham Lincoln was awaiting the outcome of the impending battle with great anxiety. Lincoln had made a solemn promise to himself and to God.  He decided that should Union forces successfully push Confederates out of Maryland in September 1862, he would then have the military victory necessary to issue his proclamation freeing the slaves in the South. As the armies of Lee and McClellan closed in on the town of Sharpsburg and the banks of Antietam Creek, much more than the fate of the soldiers in the field was at stake. For Lincoln, and for the nation, the future of freedom in the United States hung in the balance. 

On the 17th of September, over 23,000 men fell as casualties in the Battle of Antietam. On the evening of September 18th, Confederate forces began to withdraw from Maryland. Once news reached Washington of the final Confederate withdrawal, Lincoln made some final edits on his proclamation, and decided to go forward with emancipation. Two months to the day from when Lincoln first announced that he would issue the document, he finally went ahead with the measure. On September 22, 1862, as a direct result of the bloodshed at Antietam, Lincoln issued his preliminary proclamation.

In what is arguably the greatest single presidential action in American history, Lincoln’s proclamation declared that, as of January 1, 1863, when he signed the final version, all slaves in those states then in rebellion against the federal government would be “then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

The proclamation was a landmark event, signaling that the war—and indeed the nation—had crossed a point of no return. There was now no possibility of going back to the country as it once was. The Union of 1860 had died alongside the soldiers who were slain at Antietam. Now, the war would be fought for a new and better Union. It would be a Union without slavery. The war had a higher purpose. The link between these events and Antietam give all the more meaning to the casualties who fell on that fateful September day. As one Antietam veteran, Colonel Ezra Carman, said at a monument dedication speech upon the battlefield years later, “On this field died human slavery.”

While all of this is true, the story of the Emancipation Proclamation has another side to it, a more complex one. Throughout the decades, many historians have questioned the efficacy of the proclamation. Its language does not appeal to our hearts and minds, as Lincoln did on other occasions such as the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863. Rather, the Emancipation Proclamation was a legal document with precise and somewhat dry specifics. Esteemed historian Richard Hofstadter noted that the proclamation had “the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.”

While the proclamation was a broad, powerful, and important statement, it still left some questions unanswered and did have some limitations, as any legal document would. Lincoln issued this document as a result of his authority as commander-in-chief. Along these lines, Lincoln was freeing slaves according to their status as “rebel property” during the war. Therefore, the proclamation was in a sense limited to the scope of the war. Once the war was over, questions would emerge regarding the status of those impacted by the proclamation. Slavery itself still needed to be abolished throughout the Union—a task that was completed in 1865 with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus, the constitutional status of these slaves was still to be determined. Lincoln wrote in the proclamation that the government would “recognize and maintain” slaves’ freedom, but more work was still needed in that regard.

Perhaps the greatest issue of limitations with the Emancipation Proclamation has to do with where it applied and where it did not. Because the proclamation was issued as a war measure, President Lincoln could only apply it to areas that were actually in rebellion against the Union. Thus, those portions of the South that were held by Union forces on January 1, 1863, were excluded. The presence and movement of the Union army would ultimately bring freedom to those in these territories, as the proclamation ultimately empowered the armed forces of the Union to become armies of liberation.

Also excluded from the direct impact of the proclamation were the slave holding states that remained in the Union during the war. Known as Border States, Missouri, Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland were a collective source of great consternation, frustration, and worry for both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Each leader watched the actions of these states carefully, hoping and wishing that they would influence the war one way or another. In fact, one of the primary reasons why Lincoln did not declare emancipation sooner was that he was terribly worried over the impact a proclamation could have on the Border States. With slavery still present in these areas, and with their geographic locations being crucial to the outcome of the war, Lincoln had to walk a fine line regarding his policies in theses states. If Lincoln were to act too soon or too strongly in bringing freedom to slaves, a state such as Maryland could break away from the Union and join the Confederacy. In that event, Washington D.C., the Federal capital, would be located between two Confederate states, and the war—and the Union—would surely be lost. Thus, throughout the war, Lincoln had to create his policy regarding slavery with one eye towards his personal goal of emancipation and the political realities of the Border States.

And thus, one of the great ironies of the battle of Antietam was that it was perhaps the single most important battle of the war when it came to influencing national policy regarding slavery and freedom, yet there were still limits. Antietam was the battle that led to the Emancipation Proclamation, a document which did not apply to the state where the battle was fought—Maryland.
Is all this to say that the Emancipation Proclamation was unimportant? Certainly not. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation still remains a tremendously important document in American history. It set a standard for expanding freedom throughout the nation during the Civil War, a standard that ultimately led to forever eradicating slavery in the United States. Yet, just as the Declaration of Independence declared the thirteen colonies to be free and sovereign states, the job was not yet finished. George Washington and the Continental Army still had to endure the long, grueling, and perilous war to finally secure the independence and freedom of the United States of America. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation Proclamation promised freedom to millions—more work was still needed in each case to turn that promise of freedom into the reality of freedom. That work involved Union forces continuing on in the war, the government continuing to pass legislation expanding freedom for slaves and free blacks, and the various states enacting measures impacting slavery within their own borders.

This work, as Lincoln saw it, was crucial not just for those who were held as slaves, but for the nation as a whole. In December 1862, at the conclusion of his annual message to Congress, Lincoln included a plea to the nation to continue with the struggle for freedom during the war.

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We -- even we here -- hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free -- honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

Thus, even with the Emancipation Proclamation, more work was still needed. While the events of 152 years ago at Antietam led to the Emancipation Proclamation, the events of 150 years ago within Maryland carried the mission of freedom the rest of the way for the slaves in this crucial Border State. In 1864, an event occurred in Maryland which overcame the legal and practical restrictions of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it happened in a way that was reflective of politics during the Civil War. 150 years ago today, citizens in the state of Maryland voted to either approve or reject a new constitution which would abolish slavery within its borders. 

Let’s learn more about how this amazing event came to occur 150 years ago, and how it fits in with the broader story of slavery and freedom during the Civil War. Stay tuned to our blog for more on this historic anniversary of emancipation in Maryland.