If Lee Had Won At Gettysburg

    There has been lots of discussion and comments on blogs and Facebook regarding the THC Gettysburg program (see here, here , here, here, here, and here). For the most part the reaction has been negative. Despite having read numerous books on the subject, I am no expert on Gettysburg. I have only visited the battlefield once. With that disclaimer, I will say that I thought the program could have been a lot better.  One commenter on Brooks Simpson’s blog pointed out something that struck me as well:

   “and the usual the Rebs always ‘almost succeeded” followed by all the dire results this would engender, Isn’t “almost succeeded” just a fancy way of saying failed? but then the Rebs never fail on the History Channel. Then they move on to the Rebs taking Culp’s Hill and again all the dire scenarios of disaster are mentioned that were sure to follow “if”…”

   Gettysburg, in the popular narrative, was the “high water mark” of the Confederacy; the time when the Army of Northern Virginia came oh so close to winning the war. But the result of Pickett’s failed assault on the third day sealed the fate of the slaveholder’s dream of an independent nation. This is a narrative that was arrived at in hindsight, a perspective perhaps made most famous by William Faulkner in Intruder in the Dust:

     “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.”

     The war, of course, went on for two bloody more years, and historians have repeatedly pointed out that no one at the time thought Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg was the end of all hope for the rebels. But, what if Lee had won at Gettysburg? Would that have spelled the end of the United States? Would those boys in gray really have been able to plant the rebel flag in Washington as Faulkner imagined?

Image from http://www.gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/MI.php

   In earlier posts I have written about my great-great-great-grandfather, Cyrus G. Luce, who served as Governor of Michigan from 1887-1891. In his first year in office he appointed a monument commission to oversee the construction and placement of monuments on the fields of Gettysburg to honor Michigan units that had fought there. In June of 1889 the commission had completed its work and Governor Luce travelled to Gettysburg to attend the dedication ceremonies and officially place the monuments into the care of the Gettysburg Battlefield Association. There were several speakers that day who gave passionate, eloquent speeches. An accounting of the Monument Commission’s work and a description of the dedication on June 12, including the text of the speeches given, was published and is available online here. The speeches are quite interesting and raise some intriguing questions. I’d like to highlight several passages, but I’ll start with one that directly addressed the question I raised above. This is from a speech given by Rev. James H. Potts:

     “Somebody has said that if the Gettysburg victory had turned in the other direction, the rebellion would have proved a success. Gen. Lee would have then marched on to Washington, Philadelphia, New York, enriching himself and his men as he went, until at length England and other foreign powers would have officially recognized the South as conqueror. May be so, but I don’t believe it. By no possibility could Lee have won such a victory as would have annihilated the Army of the Potomac and removed every obstacle from his track. Our national resources were not exhausted. We had enough men of 65 or 70 like the heroic John Burns, of Gettysburg, to have seized their muskets and fought the veterans of Lee back into their own South land.

     Napoleon said ‘In war men are nothing, but a man is everything.’ The North had ‘a man’  and the ‘men,’ too. It would have taken more than one victory on Northern soil to have crowned Jeff. Davis the American King. The very boys and babes we left with our wives and mothers at home, under the shock of such a calamity, would have grown six feet in one night and shot the Confederate chief into petticoats long before their fathers did.”

     There is obviously some bluster in Rev. Potts’ avowal, but I think he makes a good argument. The war didn’t end because Lee lost at Gettysburg, but it wouldn’t have ended if he had won either. What do you think?


An Abolitionist Ancestor

     I have written in earlier posts that my 19th century ancestors were at least anti-slavery, and possibly abolitionist. There is an important distinction there which many people today are unaware of. Many people in the antebellum period thought slavery was wrong for various reasons; often not from any humanitarian concern for enslaved people, as my posts on Gratz Brown and free labor ideology have been discussing. Many of these people only thought slavery should end at some unknown time in the future. Others wanted to stop slavery’s spread into new territories and states, but thought the Constitution protected it in states where it already existed. Abolitionists thought slavery was a sin and should be abolished, hence the term. Despite this belief, however, many abolitionists only agitated for gradual emancipation, rather than immediate emancipation. If all of this seems confusing now, to some people it was then, also. In addition, pro-slavery people often accused anti-slavery people of being abolitionists – a charge they often vehemently denied. Abolitionism carried with it the fear of the consequences of emancipation – social and political equality, and the intermixing of the races. Strident abolitionists were considered fanatics.

     Here is more evidence of abolitionism in my family tree. Obed Dickinson was born in Massachusetts, December 8, 1782. He married Experience Smith and they began to have children – eleven children between 1805 and 1829. The last child born was christened Julia Ann Dickinson on July 21, 1829. Interestingly, her father, Obed Dickinson, had died on October 28, 1828. Counting the months would lead one to believe that Julia’s mother, Experience, may not have even known she was pregnant when her husband died.**See update below.** At any rate, for Julia, the role of father was assumed by one of her older brothers. This brother, born on June 15, 1818, had been named after their father.

Obed Dickinson 1818-1892, from "Obed Dickinson's War Against Sin In Salem 1853-1867" by Egbert S. Oliver

   The younger Obed Dickinson moved to Branch County, Michigan in 1836. How many of the other Dickinsons moved with him, I don’t know, but I do know that Julia Ann moved there because in 1849 she married Cyrus Gray Luce, the future Governor of Michigan. Obed went to Marietta College; then Andover Theological Seminary where he became an ordained Congregationalist minister. In November 1852 Obed and his new wife Charlotte migrated from Michigan to Oregon with seven other couples sent by the American Missionary Society to minister on the frontier. Obed and Charlotte ended their journey in Salem, Oregon in early 1853 and organized a Congregational Church. The following is from Salem Online History:

      “Reverend Obed Dickinson of the First Congregational Church and his wife Charlotte were fervent abolitionists and advocates of black equality. Rev. Dickinson welcomed African-Americans into his church; former slaves Robin and Polly Holmes were among several who became members. Because most former slaves were illiterate, Charlotte Dickinson taught four black women in her home for two hours every evening, “with a fifth as often as her mistress will allow.” One was a grown woman with a family, and at least two were servant girls.

In his writings, Obed Dickinson lamented that Salem had “closed the doors of all our schools against the children of these black families dooming them to ignorance for life.” He described a William P. Johnson, who worked as a painter for $5 a day and looked “nearly white.” His daughter-in-law had grown up in slavery and never been to school, so Johnson offered to give $500 to one of the Salem schools so that she could learn to read and write. His offer was refused. Dickinson also described a boy “so ignorant he hardly knew his right hand from his left” who was accused of theft, captured by a “gang of men,” whipped and hanged nearly to death until he confessed. He was jailed two months before his trial, and was finally acquitted.

On January 1, 1863, Rev. Dickinson officiated the wedding of America Waldo and Richard Bogle and hosted the wedding reception. A black wedding taking place in a white church and a party attended by both blacks and whites was apparently too much for some people to handle. The event provoked nasty comments from Asahel Bush, first in his private letters and then in the Oregon Statesman; eventually, the incident made the newspapers as far away as the Portland Oregonian and the San Francisco Bulletin.”

     The Salem Pioneer Cemetery (where Obed and Charlotte are buried) records indicate that Obed had “confronted the liquor interests and he had advocated more taxes for schools in the face of opposition and indifference, but facing the question of equality and civil rights for Negroes brought his ministry to a climax.” He resigned his pastorate and entered the seed business in 1867.

     Later in his life, 1879, Obed read a paper at a Congregationalist meeting insisting that the Sabbath should be the last day of the week, not the first. His fellow Congregationalists did not agree, and Obed left to start the Seventh Day Adventist church in Salem.   

     You can read more about Obed Dickinson here and about his wife Charlotte here.

     I don’t know where Obed got his abolitionist beliefs; perhaps from his parents, but I would think it very likely that he had tremendous influence over the little sister he helped raise, Julia Ann Dickinson Luce, my ggg-grandmother, and the wife of Cyrus G. Luce.

**Update** It seems that the Obed Dickinson obituary from Salem Pioneer Cemetery may be in error. A historian of Gilead, Michigan, where Obed, Sr and Experience, Obed Dickinson’s parents, died and are buried tells me that Obed, Sr died in 1838, not 1828. That would make his son Obed, the subject of this post, about 20 years old and his daughter Julia Ann, about 9 at his passing.



My Own 19th Century American History

The Parker House, Orland, Indiana. The Parkers, from left to right, Grace, Howard, Bernice, Elmira Jane, Effie (the maid), John G. Parker. The little girl in front is my great-grandmother, Florence Belle. She was born in 1884, so this photo probably dates to about 1890.

     John G. Parker was born in Hillsboro, New Hampshire in 1838. Like many 19th Century American families, Matthew and Ismena Parker had a large family.

1850 census, Hartford, Vermont, once part of New Hampshire.

John was the fifth of nine children born to Matthew and Ismena, who had seven sons and two daughters. In 1852, John Parker moved to Steuben County, Indiana, where he went to work on the farm of Charles Luce, a brother of Cyrus G. Luce. According to John’s obituary, while working on the Luce farm,

    “he met with an accident that totally disabled him for agricultural work. About this time gold fever was running high in the West, and he grasped the idea of freighting it through Colorado and Montana. Not finding all true to his expectations, he came back to Tama City, Iowa, where he engaged for a time in the mercantile business.

John Gibson Parker 1838-1907

Selling out, he returned to Orland [Indiana] and in 1868 he went into business with his brother James. In about two years he bought out his brother’s interest, commenced for himself and here remained until his death, March 10, 1907.” 

     John Parker apparently spent most of the Civil War years in the west. Likely, his farming accident had disqualified him not only for agricultural work, but also for military service. However, at least four of John’s brothers served in Indiana units. I will write more about them later.

      In 1870 John G. Parker married a daughter of Cyrus G. Luce, Elmira Jane. They lived in a beautiful two story Victorian home in Orland (see above), where they raised four children, the youngest of which was Florence Belle, my great-grandmother.

Elmira Jane Parker 1850-1913. Daughter of Michigan Governor Cyrus G. Luce

     Orland was a hotbed of abolitionist activity and the house is pictured at this website as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

     I was able to visit Orland in 2006. A sign in the house window indicated that it had been built in 1859. What I have not been able to ascertain is who built the house and who lived in it before John and Elmira married. On the website linked above, it is identified as the Ernsberger House, but the Ernsbergers owned the house in the twentieth century, after the Parkers. I think that possibly the house was built by the Luces, but I have not been able to verify that. From what I know about the Luces, it would not surprise me to learn that they would hide escaping slaves.


My Own Whig Ancestor

     While I am on the subject of the Whig Party, I thought this might be a good time to include a post on my 3xgreat-grandfather, Cyrus Gray Luce. I briefly mentioned Cyrus’s father, Walter Luce, in an earlier post. The first Luce’s arrived in Martha’s Vineyard in the 1600s. About 1720 Walter’s father moved to Tolland, Connecticut. After serving in the War of 1812, Walter, in 1815, settled on the Western Reserve in Ohio, where Cyrus was born on July 2, 1824. Cyrus’s mother, Mary, was born in Virginia. Mary’s father was “tinctured with abolitionism” and moved out of Virginia to Ohio to get away from slavery.

     Cyrus was raised on the family farm until, when Cyrus was 12 years of age, Walter and Mary moved again, this time to Steuben County, Indiana. Cyrus “attended one of the pioneer country schools and supplemented his early education by a course in an Academy located at Ontario, Lagrange, Indiana, where he resided for three years.”  When Cyrus was 17, his father started a cloth-dressing and wool-carding establishment. Cyrus went to work there and eventually was in charge of the factory for seven years.

     “In early life Mr. Luce was a warm admirer of Henry Clay and he cast his first Presidential ballot for Zachary Taylor in 1848.” That same year, Cyrus ran for State Representative on the Whig ticket. The district was comprised of the counties of DeKalb and Steuben. It was apparently a strong Democratic district, and despite a vigorous canvass on his part, Cyrus lost by eleven votes.

     Perhaps stung by this defeat, Cyrus soon moved north to Branch County, Michigan. In August, 1849, he married Julia A. Dickinson, the daughter of “well-to-do and highly respected residents of Gilead.” In 1852, he tried his luck at politics again, this time winning a seat  on the County Board of Supervisors. Cyrus was one of the organizers of the Republican Party in Branch County, Michigan, and in 1854 he was elected to the Michigan legislature on the Republican ticket. In 1858, and again in 1860, he was elected county treasurer; in 1864, and again in 1866, he was elected State Senator. In 1867 he was a member of the constitutional convention that drafted a new state constitution for Michigan. In 1879 he was appointed State Oil Inspector. In 1886 he was elected  Governor of Michigan on the Republican ticket, and was re-elected in 1888.  

     The above information comes from brief early 2oth century biographies of Cyrus G. Luce which can be found online. There is no booklength biography that I know of. I have found scattered references to Governor Luce and have found speeches given by him online. I wish I had the time and money to go to Michigan, do the research, and write a biography myself. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I will write more on him in future posts here.