Our speaker in November 2008 was Mr Stan Lambrick, a member for many years whose main interest is the American Civil War, which interest he has shared with us on a number of occasions. His topic was Abraham Lincoln, president during the American Civil War, but concentrating more on the person rather than the President and war leader. Lincoln was a complex character and one of the two most popular presidents, with George Washington, in American history.
Lincoln was born on 12 February 1809, at a place called "Sinking Spring Farm" about three miles south of Hodgens Mill in Hardin (now La Rue) County, Kentucky. He was born a Southerner. He left Kentucky at the age of seven and thereafter never again lived in the South.
Kentucky, in those years, was a frontier state, wild and undeveloped in an area which later became home to ten Mid-Western states. In Lincoln's eighth year his family moved to Indiana - another frontier state. In fact Lincoln lived in frontier states until he became President.
His mother died in 1818 and his father remarried. The stepmother was an energetic, sensible person who made life a little easier for the family. She encouraged the young Abraham to make use of the few opportunities available that existed for schooling. The only qualifications required of a teacher was a knowledge of "readin, writin and cipherin" and not too much of that! He had very little formal schooling and had to learn for himself. Life was hard and the only diversion from this was a trip by flat boat down the Mississippi to New Orleans, when he was 19.
At the age of 21 the family moved to Illinois and, as was the custom, Lincoln moved out of the family house to fend for himself. He was 21. At that stage America was almost equally divided between slave and free states and this was a cause of serious differences between the states, which ultimately, amongst others, led to the Civil War.
Lincoln contracted to act as clerk to a trader in charge of a store and mill in a small place called New Salem in Illinois. At that stage the Republican Party was developing and Lincoln supported this in a state which was strongly Democratic. Lincoln developed an interest in politics and stood for the legislature in 1832, being defeated. This was the only time he was beaten on a direct vote of the people. He took up the job of postmaster in New Salem which gave him a chance to read the newspapers as they arrived and he read law in his spare time. In 1836 he was granted a law licence and, in April 1837, he moved to Springfield to practice law. This was not an easy life as much time was spent on circuit with the judge. Springfield was a "large" town of some 2 000 inhabitants and the capital of the state. It was here that the "country bumpkin" was brought into fashionable society and for the first time he met women with some education.
This experience he seemed to enjoy but this was a time when he was suffering from periods of acute depression, something he suffered from for the rest of his life. He was described as a person of "gloomy and melancholy appearance" and he seems to have been an introspective and miserable person. In 1842 he married Mary Todd and the marriage seems to have been quite stormy as she was excitable and jealous. But she had qualities which complemented his - she shared his ambitions in politics and was eager for his advancement.
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to the House of Representatives at the time of the Mexican War. He lost his seat and went back to his law practice In Springfield. His practice prospered but he remained a gloomy, abstracted person. The struggle over slavery was in full swing at this time and Lincoln had become part of this. By 1860, Lincoln had become a national figure. Elections were approaching and the Democratic Party had split and in April 1860 Lincoln was elected Republican candidate and President in November 1860. In 1861, the Southern pro-slavery states started to secede from the union. In April 1861, Fort Sumter was fired on by the Confederates, in fact without the authority of their government. The Civil War had started.
Virginia seceded but the western part of that state did not, while Maryland remained loyal to the Union. In wealth, industry and manpower resources, the Union was superior. The North had an advantage at sea as well and a blockade of the South's long coastline was put into effect by the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. The North was a more integrated and close-knit unit than the Confederacy. The best of the United States Army's officers joined the Confederacy - Robert E Lee, the Johnstons, Beauregard, Jeb Stuart and A P Hill. The North's best generals were in fact in civil life when the war started. Washington was very close to the front lines.
There were two main theatres of operation separated by the Appalachians. At first the action was in the east where General McDowell lost the Battle of Bull Run and was sacked by Lincoln, being replaced by McClennan who built up a large, well-equipped and organised army which, to Lincoln's annoyance, he did not use. Three forces were set up to protect Washington. These were outmaneuvered by Stonewall Jackson and McClennan was defeated. Halleck was appointed General in Chief. More defeats followed and more generals were removed from their commands.
Lincoln then announced his proclamation of emancipation for slaves. In the western theatre operations progressed under the command of Grant, a Lincoln appointee who slowly worked his way down the Mississippi until, by 1863, the river was under control of the Union.
In the east, battle followed battle with no real success - Lee was an excellent defensive general. In 1864 Lincoln appointed Grant as general-in-chief. His appointment had been opposed by Lincoln's cabinet largely because of a perceived drinking problem but Lincoln insisted -- he may be a drunk but he wins battles. The south was strangled by Grant's two-pronged strategy using Meade moving south and Sherman to advance fro the west. On 9 April 1865, Lee surrendered at Appomattox in Virginia. The war was over and the celebrations started in the north.
Lincoln was a good war leader who was determined to preserve the Union and put down secession but he saw that all the states were part of that union, whether seceded or not. He never spoke of revenge - the speech on the Gettysburg battlefield was a perfect example of his thinking, no thought of revenge or talk of victory. He had appointed able men to his cabinet, some his supporters and other who had opposed him in the Presidential campaign and, in one case, from the Democratic Party. His policies on occasion met with resistance from his cabinet, but on the whole they worked well together, even though cabinet meetings were often a shambles. His own office was kept in order by the skill of his secretaries. With the end of the war, the slaves in the south were emancipated and reconstruction could start.
Lincoln knew little of matters military and he sought to find his best people by trial and error, expensive in lives. He was a competent civilian leader and eventually found a general whom he trusted and was able to work with in the person of Grant. His grief at the huge loss of life and the suffering of the wounded was well-known and his habitual melancholy was deepened by what he saw on the battlefields.
On 14 April 1865, Lincoln and his wife went to Ford's Theatre in Washington. They arrived late and were given an ovation. The play proceeded and the rest is history. His assassin, John Wilkes Booth, entered the private lodge which the presidential entourage occupied and fired his pistol point blank at the president's head. He was mortally wounded and died early the next morning. Booth was hunted down and killed a few days later.
Maj Gordon thanked the speaker for an excellent talk which covered many little known aspects of the life and times of this most important figure in American history.
We welcome new members Lt Col D Mitchell and Mr D le Roux who recently joined the Branch.
On a sadder note, we regret to advise that longstanding fellow-member, Mr John Blackmore, passed away on Christmas Eve. Our sympathy and sincere condolences are extended to Mrs Blackmore and the family.
UPDATE: We have just received notification that one of our previous chairmen, Mr Allan Nathan, have passed away on the 29th of December 2008, at the ripe old age of 92 years. Mr Nathan served in the Royal Navy during World War Two, and was a very active member of this society for many years. He served as chairman of the Cape Town Branch from the late 1980s to the early nineties and was succeeded by our current chairman. Our sympathy and sincere condolences are extended to his daughter and family.
It also gives us pleasure to announce that our Secretary, Ray Hattingh, has fully recuperated from his accident and is back at the office as from the beginning of January. On behalf of all the Cape Town members, welcome back Ray!
We are always interested in new members, especially at the beginning of a new year. If you know of anyone who might be interested in military history or who is interested in joining the Society, bring them along and suggest that they become members. This seems to be the most effective way of attracting new members, if combined with good speakers!
Security Arrangements as the Rosedale Complex: The revised security measures at the Rosedale Complex seems to work without a hitch, as we have not received any complaints or negative comments. A word of thanks to everybody for their cooperation.
Our speaker will be Cmdr Jerry de Vries, SANS, Retd. He is well-known for his encyclopaedic knowledge of muzzle-loading cannon at the Cape and indefatigable efforts to preserve our cultural heritage. Cmdr de Vries, however, is also an expert on the subject of the history of Wingfield, having written a well-researched and received book on the subject - today a prized collector's item.
Thursday 12 February 2009 - A SAAF Fighter Pilot in WW2
Our speaker is Mr Stewart Finney who served with the SAAF in Italy during WW2. He will speak about his experiences during those war years. More details will be provided in the next newsletter.
BOB BUSER: Treasurer/Scribe
Phone: Home: (evenings) 021-689-1639
Office: (mornings) 021-689-9771
RAY HATTINGH: Secretary
Phone: 021-531-6781 or 021-513-1758