Tuesday, December 30, 2008

7th Rhode Island Volunteers Blog

It has been my great privilege to become acquainted with Mr. Robert Grandchamp over the past several years. Robert is a prolific writer who has had several books published through McFarland and Heritage Books, and is the go-to-guy for anything you need to know regarding Rhode Island's Civil War history.
Robert and I share a love of the Federal 9th Corps, but his special focus is the 7th Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry. Organized and first led by a fellow with one of coolest-sounding names in the Civil War, Zenas R. Bliss (pictured on right), the 7th was attached to General James Nagle's 9th Corps' brigade in the Fall of 1862 and served gallantly--alongside the 48th Pennsylvania--in its baptism by fire at Fredericksburg where, incidentally, Bliss's actions would be recognized with a Medal of Honor.
Robert sent me an email late last night saying that he has now, at long last, entered the Civil War blogosphere. His blog, focused on and dedicated to the Rhode Island Seventh, has been added to my links and can be found here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Holidays

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Perhaps it is a little early, but I've decided to take my annual Holiday Bloggers' Break nonetheless. 'Tis the season for wrapping presents, sending out Christmas cards, decorating, spending time with friends and family, and looking back at yet another year gone by. It has been a good year, generally speaking, with many ups and some downs.
2008 marked my third year at Antietam. Everyday I donned the Gray and Green, I could not help but be thankful for the great privilege it is to be a park ranger and to appreciate just how lucky I am to have realized a lifelong dream. Yet, as a seasonal, I know these days cannot last forever. But no matter where next year may find me, I will always carry lifelong memories of at least three, and hopefully more, years at Antietam. The experience has been incredible, made even more so by my fellow rangers, who truly are some of the greatest people I have ever known.
I've kept myself busy this year writing. My introductory study of the Maryland Campaign and Battle of Antietam is finished and will hopefully hit the shelves of the Antietam Museum Store by the early Spring. I was able to complete yet another manuscript, one that I have worked on since 2005. It is currently under review, and I am hoping that 2009 will witness the publication of this work as well. . .stay tuned. My article on the forgotten life of Nicholas Biddle was published in America's Civil War this past year, and has also been picked up by Pennsylvania Heritage for publication in an upcoming issue. I have some projects slated for '09, and am hoping for a productive year. And, of course, I had a great time churning out posts on this blog. Thank you to all my readers for sticking with me and for all the comments and emails that have been (for the most part) very flattering. I truly do enjoy keeping this site updated, and am looking forward to another year, which will be my third year blogging.
This year has also witnessed the launching of my effort to restore the 48th Pennsylvania monument at Antietam by raising money to replace the missing sword from the statue of Brigadier General James Nagle. I could not be happier with the result thus far. As of today, just over $4,200.00 has been raised. Thanks to everyone who donated for your generosity. There is still a good ways to go, but I am confident we will reach our goal next year, hopefully early on.
With 2008 soon to become a memory, I look forward to 2009. Let me extend to you my warmest Holiday greetings. I wish for you good health and happiness, and everything you wish for yourself. "See" you next year. . .
Happy Holidays!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Caption Contest

This is one of the most famous images of the American Civil War.
It was taken on October 3, 1862, by Alexander Gardner and depicts President Lincoln towering over George McClellan, the general's staff, and some Fifth Corps officers including Fitz Porter and Andrew Humphreys. Gardner caught this photo op, in fact, at Fifth Corps headquarters in front of the Jacob Grove house just west of Sharpsburg (along modern Maryland Highway 34).
Yet despite this photograph's fame and its widespread use, it never really had a good title. Most refer to it simply as Lincoln with his Generals, or Lincoln meeting with his Generals. In the Library of Congress' online photograph database it has an even less imaginative title: "Antietam, Md. President Lincoln with Gen. George B. McClellan and group of officers."
I think it's time we give this photograph a proper title.
Here's what I am thinking:
"An Unwelcome Visitor to the Mutual Admiration Society."
What do you think? Send in your suggestions.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

My Favorite Books Of '08. . .

Only a few more weeks before we welcome in 2009.

So what better time to look back at some of the best (mostly Civil War) titles of 2008, or at least my personal favorites of this past year?

Below are my top ten for 2008, in no particular order. . .

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Firebrand of Liberty: The Story of Two Black Regiments that Changed the Course of the Civil War, by Stephen V. Ash.
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One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, by Eric J. Wittenberg, J.D. Petruzzi, and Michael Nugent.
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Robert Rodes: A Biography. By Darrell Collins.
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Cavalryman of the Lost Cause: A Biography of Jeb Stuart, by Jeffry D. Wert.
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This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, by Drew Gilpin Faust.
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Lincoln: President Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter of 1860-61, by Harold Holzer.

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Lincoln And His Admirals, by Craig Symonds.

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General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse, by Joseph T. Glatthaar.

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A Gallant Little Army: The Mexico City Campaign, by Timothy D. Johnson.
(OK, so this one was technically published in 2007, but it was "new" to me in 2008).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History, by Gordon S. Wood.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Lincoln And His Admirals, by Craig L. Symonds

Just as Abraham Lincoln admitted to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, I, too, "know but little about ships." But when asked if I would be willing to review Lincoln And His Admirals, by Craig Symonds, I agreed, somewhat hestitantly since, admittedly, I am not too well versed in the historiography of Civil War navies or even naval operations. Nor was I very much familiar with the Union's admirals. Land battles and army commanders have always been my main focus.
I discovered almost from the outset, however, that one need not be a naval scholar to enjoy this book.
In Lincoln And His Admirals, historian and prize-winning author Craig Symonds, Professor Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy, fills a surprising void in Civil War historiography: Lincoln's management, as commander in chief, of United States naval operations and his dealings with his naval commanders. Through a masterful narrative and lively prose, Symonds charts Lincoln's trials and triumphs and steady growth as commander-in-chief--from the days leading up to Sumter to the capture of Fort Fisher and beyond--as he came to oversee the largest fleet of U.S. warships until the outbreak of the First World War while gradually becoming a perceptive and effective military strategist. Symonds presents excellent accounts of how Lincoln responded to both domestic and international crises on the water--including the infamous Trent affair and the capture of the Confederate privateer Florida off the coast of Brazil--and how he formulated his decisions in decreeing naval strategies and operations. But Symonds's greatest contribution with this work is in presenting Lincoln's interractions with and management of his cabinet officials and his naval officers, some of which, notably Charles Wilkes and Samuel DuPont, presented their fair share of headaches for Lincoln and the administration.
With Lincoln And His Admirals, Symonds has given us an excellent, meticulously researched and well-written account of an understudied aspect of both Lincoln's presidency and of the Civil War and I do not hesitate in recommending this work to anyone with even a passing interest in either the Civil War or American naval history.
Click here for more on Lincoln And His Admirals.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Raising Monuments, Writing the Regimental History, & Trying To Break Even

I was pleasantly surprised this afternoon when, after sorting through the mail, I found a stuffed manilla envelope sent from my buddy Stu .
Inside were copies of newspaper clippings from the Miners' Journal, most of which related to the 48th Pennsylvania, and all of them are entirely fascinating. (I will be posting on these at a later date).

Also included was a copy of the 1909 "Survivors' Roster of the 48th Reg., Pa. Vet. Vols." I have several of these little publications, each about 4" x 3," but never have I seen the 1909 version. These little Survivors' Rosters number less than 20 pages but each contains what I consider to be priceless information. Published annually, each contained not only the names of those veterans of the 48th yet living, but their addresses as well. (Many of the soldiers moved far, far away from Schuylkill County in the post-war years; a good number of them even listed their residences in San Francisco). In addition, a brief introduction reports the number of veterans who passed away in between publications.
The 1909 Survivors' Roster was the tenth published since the veterans of the 48th formed their "Survivors' Association." The Association was formed in 1899, wrote President Daniel Nagle, "mainly to keep alive the feeling of Comradeship engendered by service with each other on the March, the Camp and the Battlefield, and like ancient Comrades, [to] meet once a year to tell of the brave deeds by our Regiment when we were doing our share in the Great War for the preservation of the Union."

As was noted in the introduction to the 1909 roster, 130 veterans of the 48th died during the ten years since the Survivors' Association was formed. The achievements of the Association were also noted in the booklet's introduction. These achievements were important to the members of the Association, said Nagle, "so that when the next few years will pass and we, too, [will] be with the Grand Army on the other side, we will leave to coming generations a united country with monuments and history to tell of deeds well done in that time that tried men's souls."

The first of these achievements was the placing of the regimental monument at the Antietam Battlefield (1904); the second was the raising of nearly $6,000.00 from "the generosity of the good people of Schuylkill County, the School Children, and a few of the large-hearted Comrades of our Regiment," for a second regimental monument, this one at Petersburg (1907).



48th PA Monument at Petersburg


Finally, at the April 29, 1905 Association meeting, resolutions were passed that authorized Joseph Gould, a veteran of Company F, "to write the History of the 48th Regiment," with "one Comrade from each company to assist him in the work." (Gould's book, published in 1908 and titled The Story of the Forty-Eighth, was the "official" regimental history, but was actually the second to appear. Some 13 years earlier, in 1895, Oliver C. Bosbyshell took it upon himself to write his own "unauthorized" regimental). As was noted in the 1909 Survivors' Roster: "After much labor and at great expense Comrade Gould has given us a very complete History of our Regiment from its muster in until its muster out at the end of the Civil War."
Pleased though the Survivors' Association was at the completion of Gould's book, it apparently was not selling all too well.
Indeed, it seems as though Gould took a loss in the publishing and printing of this work. "It is sincerely hoped," wrote Nagle, "that as many of the Comrades as can afford to do so will purchase at least one copy of this book, as there are still a number unsold and the author has not as yet realized from its sale enough to cover the expense of printing."
Joseph Gould. . .I hope he was able to eventually break even, at least.

I suppose there is a lesson or two to be learned from this. . .100 years ago, with Civil War veterans still alive and very much active in commemorating and remembering their deeds on the fields of battle, regimental histories were a tough sell, even among the veterans of the regiment itself! (There is no record, however, on how well Bosbyshell's book did. . .perhaps many veterans of the 48th found the market already "flooded," if you will, and did not want to splurge on a "reinvention of the wheel").
Still. . .
Writers & Publishers, take note.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Soldiers of the 48th: Captain Francis A. Stitzer, Co. K, 48th PA



Francis A. Stitzer, a native of the small town of Cressona in southern Schuylkill County, was twenty years old in the spring of 1861. On April 17, he was painting a minister's home in Pottsville, when word spread through the borough that its two militia companies--the National Light Infantry and Washington Artillery--would be setting off for Harrisburg the following morning. As a member of the Washington Artillery, Stitzer dropped his brush--leaving his job unifinished--traveled back home and early the next morning, boarded the train cars and headed off to the "seat of war."
Arriving in Washington late on April 18, Stitzer was among the first Northern volunteers to reach the capital following President Lincoln's April 15 call-to-arms. The Washington Artillerists were assigned to quarters in the Capitol, and he remembered that he and his comrades "set up barricades. . .using barrels of flour, and behind them we awaited our new rifles." The rifles arrived late that night and the following day, Lincoln himself arrived, along with Secretary of State William Seward, who each shook hands with every one of the 575 or so Pennsylvanians who comprised the First Defenders' companies.
After an uneventful three-months in uniform, Stitzer was mustered out only to reenlist as 1st Sergeant of Company K, 48th Pennsylvania. Mustered into service again on October 21, Stitzer rose through the ranks, eventually reaching the rank of captain, and emerging from the war largely unscathed.
After the war, Stitzer was active in the Pennsylvania National Guard before settling in Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1887. He was named the state's first adjutant general four years later and from 1912 through 1916, served two terms as mayor of Laramie. The aging Stitzer then relocated to Florida where he became a newspaper publisher.
In 1938, the ninety-eight-year-old veteran attended the ceremonies commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg and, while in Pennsylvania, made a visit to Pottsville where he was serenaded by the fife and drum band.
Stitzer was the last surviving member of the five First Defender companies and wanted to make it to the century mark. In August 1939, he wrote to William A. Reid, secretary of the 48th Regiment Survivor's Association, and son of former Company G sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient Robert A. Reid. "I have entered my one hundreth year," said Stitzer, "but have neither ache nor pain. Friends tell me I must reach the 100th mark and beat Father Time to the century."
But Stitzer did not live to celebrate his 100th birthday; he died on October 16, 1939 at his daughter's home in Denver, Colorado. Following his death, only one other member of the 48th Pennsylvania yet lived. . .Charles Washington Horn, Company I, who died in Bethelehem, PA, in 1941.

Post-War Image of Francis A. Stitzer

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some Great Posts. . .

My buddy--and fellow Schuylkill County Civil War enthusiast-- Stu Richards has some great posts over at his blog, "Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Military History."

The first has to do with the combat witnessed by Schuylkill's 96th Pennsylvania Infantry at the September 14, 1862, battle of Crampton's Gap. The regiment was heavily engaged and suffered severe loss at this fight, which has been overshadowed by the larger battle of Antietam, fought three days later. Click here to read this post.
(By the way, if anyone is interested in learning more about Crampton's Gap, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Timothy Reese's Sealed With Their Lives, which ranks among the best Civil War titles. . .at least in my humble opinion. The book is out of print and somewhat difficult to find, but if you do happen upon it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. It is an excellent book and a great primer on how Civil War campaign and battle studies should be written).
Other posts by Stu include a look at the newly refinished Historical Society of Schuylkill County and some Civil War grave desecration. Click here and here.
Enjoy. . .and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Walk Through York's Prospect Hill Cemetery


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Basket business found me in dowtown York this snowy morning. My wife, Laura, is participating in a Food & Beverage show this weekend and I figured I would help her set up. The arena opened to vendors at noon, but I headed off to York early so I could spend some time tramping around the city's famed Prospect Hill Cemetery. At over 325 acres and more than 90,000 burials, Prospect Hill is an enormous "city of the dead." And being wholly fascinated by cemeteries of all shapes and sizes, I braved the elements--it was frigidly cold with snow flurries--and snapped well over 100 pictures of this truly impressive, yet at times eerie graveyard.
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Upon entering the cemetery through the main gates, one is met by a vast sea of American flags, each one representing a soldier killed in either Iraq. . .
. . .or Afghanistan.
Lining George Street, which runs parallel to Prospect Hill, are several banners paying tribute to those soldiers from York and its environs who have paid their last full measure of devotion while fighting for our nation and defending our freedoms.
Breathtaking.
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Up the hill and just several hundred yards from the main gates is this statue to a Civil War soldier, which was erected in honor and "In Memory of the Defenders of the Union: 1861-1865." Surrounding the soldier statue lie buried scores of fallen Union troops, many of them--in fact, most of them--buried here died while in the York General Hospital from wounds received at Gettysburg.
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There are hundreds of Civil War veterans buried throughout Prospect Hill's 325+ acres, including John Henry Denig, recipient of the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the battle of Mobile in August 1864. . .
and many more.
But perhaps Prospect Hill's most famous Civil War burial is Major General William Buel Franklin. Franklin, a premier civil engineer whose Civil War service left much to be desired (especially at the battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862), died in March 1903. He was one of the longest living, high-ranking Federal officers of the war.
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Prospect Hill contains burials dating to the late 18th Century. . .
. . .and there are buried within the cemetery gates, veterans from all of America's wars.
Including the Revolution. . .
. . .and the War of 1812.
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Prospect Hill is even the final resting place of one of this nation's Founding Fathers: Philip Livingston, who signed the Declaration of Independence.
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The statuary and tombstones of Prospect Hill are incredible. . .

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View from atop Prospect Hill, looking over the city of York. . .

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Props. . .from Missouri

Turns out the Antietam National Battlefield (and yours truly) got a plug this past Sunday in the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune's travel section.

The article, which dropped the "k" from Hoptak and replaced it with an "x," is copied below.

(Hoptax does sound pretty cool though. . .maybe I should develop some kind of tax software or some other kind of technological innovation?)

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Antietam: Civil War at a Crossroads
Published Sunday, November 16, 2008

ANTIETAM BATTLEFIELD, Md. - As the Civil War progressed, the North had lost a number of important battles to the outgunned and undermanned Confederate Army led by Gen. Robert E. Lee. Lee now made a move to invade the North and was headed for Pennsylvania in hopes that another victory would persuade the North to sue for peace. England and France were considering recognizing the Confederacy as a separate country, which meant trade could commence and the South could get supplies.
Thus, the battle at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, was fought at a critical period in the history not only of the United States but of the world. In the battle, 23,000 men were killed or wounded, the most of any battle of the Civil War.
McClellan, leader of the Union Army, had several factors in his favor: He had twice as many troops as Lee, and a Union soldier had found a copy of Lee’s battle plan. McClellan knew Lee had divided his troops and that it was time to strike.
A factor in Lee’s favor was that McClellan’s own officers did not have McClellan’s battle plan and had to wait for instructions, so the Union attacks were uncoordinated.
During the battle, Lee was on the heights and could see where the action was, enabling him to shift his troops to meet where an attack was occurring. McClellan was situated in a low place with no view of the battlefield and poor intelligence on what was happening.
This is a cliff-hanger of a story with many major characters. Park ranger John Hoptax, an excellent historian and storyteller, guided my tour group through this moment in time, spending more than three hours taking us through the buildup, the battle and the consequences.
The tour started in the glassed-in observation room of the visitor center, where we could see the layout of about two-thirds of the battlefield as Hoptax gave us the background. He then led the cars of 30 of us to three vantage points on the battlefield, where he gave a detailed explanation of how the battle developed. At the third point, Burnside’s Bridge, a thunderstorm commenced, and we finished the tour back at the Antietam Museum in front of large paintings of the battle scenes.
Although the battle was seen as a draw and President Abraham Lincoln was disappointed that McClellan did not follow up Lee’s retreat and end the war, the consequences were major. Lincoln now felt he could sign the Emancipation Proclamation with the goals of ending slavery and preserving the union. With the retreat of the Confederate Army, Britain and France did not recognize the Confederacy as a separate country, and no supplies were given.
Unfortunately, McClellan’s caution resulted in the war continuing for another two years, with many killed and crippled.
An excellent 30-minute film is shown about Lincoln’s visit to the battlefield shortly after the battle. Ostensibly he was there to review the troops but more likely to push McClellan into a more active pursuit of the Confederate Army. Because of McClellan’s failure to move, he was soon replaced by Gen. Henry Halleck, who turned out to be not much better.
Songs of the period sung during the movie were especially poignant, reflecting the emotions of the people on both sides during this trying time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Colonel Childs, KIA at Antietam. . .

Fellow blogger and Civil War historian extraordinaire Eric Wittenberg has a great post on a forgotten Union cavalry leader, Colonel James Childs of the 4th Pennsylvania. Childs was one of just a handful of Federal cavalrymen to fall at Antietam, and was among the eleven regimental officers in the Army of the Potomac to lose his life during America's bloodiest single-day battle.
Click here to read more about the life of Colonel Childs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Letters Home: George Gowen Wants Out. . .

While doing a bit of organizing this evening, I came across an interesting letter penned by George W. Gowen in early October 1862, just a few weeks after Antietam. At the time of this letter, Gowen, a civil mining engineer before the war, was serving as a lieutenant in Company C. He would soon be promoted to captain, and near the end of the war was the commanding officer of the 48th Pennsylvania. On April 2, 1865, one week before Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Gowen was struck in the face by a Confederate shell and killed instantly during the Army of the Potomac's final assaults on Petersburg. Gowen's body was taken to his native Germantown, Pennsylvania, for burial. It is interesting to note that one of George Washington Gowen's brothers was none other than Benjamin Franklin Gowen, the lead prosecuting attorney of the Molly Maguires.
Gowen led a fascinating life, and established a stellar wartime service record and in future posts I will focus more on Gowen's life and career(s). But for now, here is the contents of the early October, post-Antietam letter, in which he does not have too kind words for his fellow soldiers in the 48th Pennsylvania.
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Camp Near Anteitam Creek, Md
October 2nd 1862
Dear John!
I have been intending to write to you every day for a week, but ever since we have been in Camp, I have felt so miserably that I could not get up energy enough to do it. The lime stone water of this region does not agree with the troops and there is a great deal of sickness in Camp. The greater portion of the Army is on this side of the Potomac, yet I do not think it will be very long before a general move across the river will be made.
I passed through the late engagements at South Mountain and Antietam Creek safely--at the latter place our Division carried the stone bridge. Genl. Sturgis is our Division sommander now. We lost Jesse Reno at South Mountain--he was a gallant officer. Wherever the fray was thickest there was Reno to be found. He was always with us on the battle field. The soldiers became very much attached to him. When he fell he was just in rear of our Regiment. I am getting along pretty well, and expect to be made a Captain within a short time. Yet I often feel that I could be situated more pleasantly and have regretted a thousand times that I did not get a position in the Regular Army a year ago. You cannot imagine the difference between the two branches of the service--the four months I spent with Co "C" 1st [U.S.] Artillery were by far the pleasantest of the campaign--there are two or three very fine fellows in my Regiment, but when that is said, all is said. A position on a Staff is my ambition, as it is of most young officers. I notice by the papers that General Cadwalader has been made a Major General and is at present a member of the Court Martial about to convene at Washington. He has not yet been given a command--do you think there could be any prospect of my getting a position on his Staff? . . .
With much love to all
I remain your Affectionate Brother
George

Thursday, November 6, 2008

2009 Inaugural Theme: "A New Birth of Freedom"


Abraham Lincoln takes the Oath of Office for a second time in March 1865. . .

The theme for the inauguration of America's 44th President will be "A New Birth of Freedom," in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Said Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairperson of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies: "At a time when our country faces major challenges at home and abroad, it is appropriate to revisit the words of President Lincoln, who strived to bring the nation together by appealing to 'the better angels of our nature'." And, as she reminded, it "is especially fitting to celebrate the words of Lincoln as we prepare to inaugurate the first African-American president of the United States."
More information on the selection of "A New Birth of Freedom" for the upcoming, January 2009 Inauguration can be found here.