Volume 5, Issue 36 (204 Issues Since 15 October 2010)
Congressman Thaddeus Stevens Makes the Case for Lincoln’s Re-election and Against McClellan
On August 31, 1864, the Democrats had nominated former General George McClellan as their presidential candidate to run against Abraham Lincoln. The Democrats’ campaign platform called for a convention of the states to secure a peace that would preserve the Union by allowing the seceding states to return with all their rights, including the right to hold slaves, “unimpaired.” Of course President Lincoln and the Republicans advocated for a very different policy.
On September 7, 1864, Congressman Thaddeus Stevens accepted the Republican nomination to run for reelection to the House of Representatives in a speech at the County Union Convention in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Stevens, a Radical Republican, one of the most powerful men in Congress, and a native of Danville, Vermont, made the case for Lincoln’s reelection and against McClellan’s election. Stevens said in part:
“The time long predicted by the prophets of evil, and desired by the enemies of republican governments, when dissensions should arise in our midst which would test the stability of our form of government, has come. The result of this contest will prove the capacity of man for self-government, and his power to maintain freedom for all. If the rebels succeed — if the loyal States succumb and allow this Union to be dissolved, [t]hen the sublime ideas of our fathers, embodied in the Declaration of Independence, instead of being the offspring of profound wisdom and patriotism, will prove to be but the ‘baseless fabric of a vision. Shall this terrible catastrophe happen and bring darkness and despotism upon the human soul? . . .
“The friends of the rebels [by which he meant McClellan and the Democrats] hope to delude the people by pretending to advocate peace. I know of no party in the North which is not in favor of peace, if it can be had on honorable terms. Peace, with the preservation of the Union, and the extinction of human bondage, is the wish of every republican. But peace with dishonor we scorn. He who would consent to peace with the dissolution of the Union and the re-establishment of Slavery, is a traitor to his country and a disgrace to his species . . . .
“Elect McClellan, and the Republic has ceased to exist. On its ruins will spring up numerous petty empires, whose future condition will be one of perpetual wars and of grinding Slavery. Reelect the calm statesman who now presides over the nation, and he will lead you to an honorable peace and to permanent liberty. If this goal is to be reached through suffering and blood, remember that before the Lord permitted his chosen people to enter the Promised Land, he compelled them, for their sins, to pass through the Red sea, and wander forty years in the wilderness. When we shall have expiated our great National sin, and purified the public heart, we also shall enter into the land, which, politically and materially, flows with milk and honey.
“. . . As I believe that a just God punished national as well as individual sins, I cannot see how we can expect that the Destroying Angel will stay his hand until we obey the high behest ‘to let the oppressed go free.'”
Lancaster Examiner and Herald, September 14, 1862: 2 in The Selected Papers of Thaddeus Stevens, ed. Beverly Wilson Palmer and Holly Byers Ochoa, (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), 500-03.
Private Suffers Gunshot to Jaw: “I Shall be a Dreadfully Homely Man”
On September 6, 1864, Private Daniel Parvin, from Iowa, wrote his wife from a hospital in Marietta, Georgia and told her about his gruesome wound, which he received on August 20 outside of Atlanta: “I shall be a dreadful homely man when I get well for they took out so much of my jawbone that it will let my cheeks and lips settle in and my teeth are all about gone, and there is various other ailments too numerous to mention now.”
His letter of September 12 describes how he received his wound and the medical care he received:
“. . . I am improving just as fast as a man can with such a wound as I have got (so says the Doctors). I will try to give you a history of myself as I remember from the time that I was shot until now.
“When the ball struck me, I was squatting down close to the breastworks. When the ball first struck me, I thought that my head was gone, and then the boys commenced to collect around me. And then I got over on my knees and put my hand up to my face. And I could hear the boys talking and I could think. And I know by that, that I was not shot through the brain and they asked me if I could walk. I told them yes. And they took hold of me and led me back around two hundred yards, and there we met the boys coming with the stretcher. And I got into that and they carried me to the division hospital. And there was three or four doctors there, but most of them shook their heads when they saw me and did not seem inclined to do anything for me.
“But finally, as they had nothing else to do, they thought that they would see if there could be anything done for me. So they got me on their chopping block and gave me chloroform, but it had but little effect on me for I knew all that was going on all the time. And they took out several loose pieces of bone and one good big piece of my jawbone, it having four teeth on it. After that, they let me go back to my bunk. I believe that they thought I would bleed to death, and I guess that I did come pretty near it. Well, I laid there and bled all night.
“And the next day they sent me here. And they fed me with a stomach tooth [tube?] for two or three days, but I found out that I was a-going to starve if I did not find out some other way besides that. So I concluded that I would try some other plan. And I found that by holding my nose that I could drink a little and that is the way that I have to do yet. And I cannot eat anything, only what I can drink, but I can drink almost anything now. But the most of my living is gruel, but I can drink that quite thick now. My appetite is good.
“They have taken my name for a furlough, but how soon it will come I cannot tell, but I hope as soon as I am able to travel. As I have filled my sheet full, I close ever remaining yours
Danl. J. Parvin”
Parvin was 35 when he enlisted in September 1861; he was discharged on February 25, 1865, and died in 1880 at the age of 53 from cancer of the mouth related to his wound.
An Iowa Soldier Writes Home: The Civil War Letters of Private Daniel J. Parvin (2011), Phillip A. Hubbart, author and editor, p. 55-56.
– Submitted by Vermont Humanities Council executive director Peter A. Gilbert.