“If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: ‘Died of a Theory.'”

February 6, 1865/2015
Volume 6, Issue 6 (226 Issues Since 15 October 2010)

Lincoln’s Life Mask Shows “Unspeakable Sadness and All-Suffering Strength”

A bronze of Lincoln's 1865 life mask by sculptor Clark Mills, courtesy Library of Congress

A bronze of Lincoln’s 1865 life mask by sculptor Clark Mills, courtesy Library of Congress

Several days after the failed Hampton Roads conference, Lincoln “sat for a life mask that sculptor Clark Mills hoped to use for a heroic statue to celebrate Lincoln’s accomplishments. Seeing it later, the president’s private secretary thought it ‘sad and peaceful in its infinite repose . . . a look as of one on whom sorrow and care had done their worst without victory.’ The overall impression was ‘of unspeakable sadness and all-suffering strength.’

“In truth, Lincoln’s astonishing vitality was fading. Thin and haggard after four years of war, he complained about circulatory problems and relentless exhaustion. And now he turned his attention to his second inaugural.”

SOURCE

Harold Holzer, from Lincoln in the Times, The Life of Abraham Lincoln As Originally Reported in The New York Times, David Herbert Donald and Harold Holzer, ed., p. 218.


Jefferson Davis: “If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: ‘Died of a Theory.'”

“[O]n February 6, the Confederate Congress gave Robert E. Lee overall command of all that was left of the Confederate armies. Hundreds of his men were deserting every day, cold, hungry, barefoot, driven by desperate letters from their families back home. ‘We haven’t got nothing in the house to eat but a little bit of meal,’ one woman wrote her soldier husband. ‘Try to get off and come home and fix us all up some and then you can go back. If you put off coming, t’wont be no use to come, for we’ll all . . . be out there in the garden in the graveyard with your ma and mine.’

“. . . Thousands fled all the way to Texas, in search of a new start. Thousands more flocked to Richmond, hoping that the Confederate government would care for them. There was little it could do; the government was falling apart.

“. . . The governor of Georgia was now threatening to secede from the Confederacy. The Governor of North Carolina refused to permit any but his own troops to wear the 92,000 uniforms he was hoarding.” (1)

When, in the face of the urgent need for more soldiers, it was proposed that slaves be freed in return for their enlisting in the Confederate army, one general protested, “If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” (2)

In response, Jefferson Davis said privately, “If the Confederacy falls, there should be written on its tombstone: ‘Died of a Theory.'”

SOURCES

1) The Civil War, An Illustrated History, Geoffrey C. Ward, pp. 356-58

2) Shrouds of Glory: From Atlanta to Nashville: The Last Great Campaign of the Civil War, Winston Groom, p. 282

– All entries were submitted by Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director Peter A. Gilbert

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Filed under Civil War Book of Days: 1865

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