Jeremiah Black To the Public

I have just returned from Washington, from the Library of Congress, where I found many interesting and useful sources.  What is sad is that, in most cases, I will be able to quote only a few words from these sources, not whole paragraphs.  In an effort to right that wrong, I attach here my rough transcript of a document entitled “To the Public” in the papers of Jeremiah Black.  Black was Stanton’s friend and colleague in the Buchanan cabinet.  Not long after Stanton’s death, articles appeared talking about Stanton as an “anti-Buchanan” man, saying that he had argued with Buchanan, threatened to resign, to force Buchanan to defend the South Carolina forts.  Black was drafting a response to those articles, in early 1870, but for some reason never published it, perhaps because it was “overtaken by events” when Henry Wilson published an article about Stanton in February 1870, an article to which Black responded at length.

176,372 words

I am making progress on Stanton.  I now have 176,372 words written in 18 chapters.  The book is supposed to be 200,000 words long, so that would suggest that I only have another 24,000 words to write.

The reality is that I have more to do than that.  This morning, for example, I am rewriting several chapters to emphasize the relations between Secretary Stanton and General William Tecumseh Sherman.  This will be important in two chapters I have left to write, the chapter on early 1865, when Stanton meets with Sherman to discuss his policy towards blacks, and the chapter on the summer of 1865, when Stanton overrules Sherman’s truce with Johnston.  I need to “go back” a bit so the reader understands that there were tensions between Stanton and Sherman even before early 1865, mainly tensions about Sherman’s refusal to recognize blacks as soldiers.


I am making progress on my biography of Edwin McMasters Stanton.  I am finishing today chapter 9, which takes Stanton to the end of 1862, his first year as Secretary of War.  I have thus finished the first nine chapters, from 1814 through 1862.  I have 1863 ahead of me, two chapters.  The end of 1863 should tie up with another chapter already done, covering the first six months of 1864.  Then I have a gap, of about a year, the latter part of 1864 and first seven months of 1865, probably three chapters.  And then I have drafted, pretty much, the last four chapters, dealing with Reconstruction.

Boise Mock Trial Nationals

I am in the Boise airport, waiting to board my flight home to California, after attending high school mock trial nationals with the Phillips Exeter mock trial team, which I coach.

I am, I must confess, tired and disappointed.  You are not sure, as the weekend progress, how you have done, but we thought by the end of yesterday that we had won three trials and lost one.  It turned out, when the results were released this morning, that we won only one trial and lost three.  So instead of being, as we hoped, something like tenth in the nation, we were thirty-fourth.  Disappointing.

Electronic Newspapers

I am working away on my biography of Edwin Stanton, writing today the chapter that deals with 1861, the first few months of the Civil War.

As I write I do bits of research, to “fill in the gaps” and to answer questions.  This morning, for example, I was looking at letters between Stanton and former president Buchanan from May 1861.  Buchanan complained to Stanton on May 6 about what he viewed as an attack on his administration by Frederick Seward, son of my prior subject William Henry Seward.  Stanton counseled Buchanan on May 13 that there was no point responding to the “fling” by young Seward.  Other authors have found these letters, they are after all in the published works of Buchanan.  But no author has found the “fling” by Frederick Seward.  What, I wondered, did Frederick say?

Mock Trial

The Phillips Exeter mock trial team has won the New Hampshire state championship; the team will compete at nationals for the fourth time in five years.

This year was different, very different, because I live in California not New Hampshire.  So I was not able to work with the Exeter students in person, only by phone, email, text message, Skype sessions.  It was not easy:  some times I could not reach them or they could not reach me, sometimes the connection would drop or the voices would garble.  But they worked away to read and master the case, an aggravated assault charge against a teenager, arising out of a knife pulled at a graduation party.  The students held tryouts and formed three teams, A team, B team, and C team, each with about ten students.  I focused almost all my energy on A team, hoping they would win and go on to nationals.  I spent a bit of time with B team and no time with C team.

Smithsonian TV

Tonight, April 18, and probably again a few times in the next few days, I will appear on Smithsonian TV in a show about Lincoln’s death.  Show time tonight is 9pm east coast and west coast.

The producers did a good job of weaving together several interviews, including with people who know MUCH more about Booth and the assassins than I do, with actors portraying Lincoln, Seward, Booth, Powell, and others involved.  They filmed a crowd in a theater to give a great sense of how the crowd reacted to Lincoln’s death and Booth’s escape.  They showed some of the objects involved, including Booth’s pistol and the hoods placed on the defendants.  That “bordered on torture,” one of the experts says, and it is hard to disagree.

Milen Dempster on Marriage

My parents, John Stahr and Elizabeth Dempster, were married sixty years ago today at Stanford Chapel.  The minister was my mother’s uncle Milen Dempster.

Milen was a remarkable man:  educated in divinity at Harvard, briefly serving as a Unitarian minister, but then running for governor in 1932 as a Socialist, and working thereafter as a community organizer.  A quick search reveals that he was the project manager for the construction of Marin City during World War II.  “Like other ‘right thinking people,’ New Deal liberals, and leftists, Dempster saw war housing as an opportunity to create a sense of community among disparate Americans.  Dempster [said] that Marin City would house all shipyard workers without regard to ‘religion, race, color, or position in the shipyards.’  When whites protested, Dempster appealed to their patriotism, saying ‘These men are Americans.  They are needed just as you are–to build ships.'”  Donald Albrecht, ed., World War II and the American Dream: How Wartime Building Changed a Nation, p. 129.

Pittsburg Puzzle

On December 25, 1860, the New York Tribune reported that there was “intense excitement” in Pittsburgh the prior day because of reports of the imminent “shipment from the Allegheny Arsenal of seventy-eight guns to Newport, near Galveston Island, Texas, and forty-six more to Ship Island, near Balize, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, the apparent object being to strip the Allegheny Arsenal and place the guns where the Secessionists could get them.”

One can readily imagine the excitement:  South Carolina had just seceded from the United States, other states seemed likely to follow, and these southern states were seizing the federal arms at hand.

Augustus Long

I am getting ready to teach, next semester at Chapman, a course on the Civil War, and thinking about how I first got fascinated by that war.  It goes back, I think, to Augustus Long.

It was about 1991 or 1992, when I started looking into my genealogy, that I learned that my great-great grandfather, Augustus Long, was a sergeant in the 128th Pennsylvania Volunteers.

Long was born in August 1840 so he was only twenty-two when he volunteered in August 1862.  The regiment was organized in Pennsylvania, went to Washington, spent a week or so there, then hastened north in early September to defend Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Stephen Sears, in his great book on Antietam, describes what happened to 128th at Antietam on the morning of September 19, 1862: