“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal!” Thus, begins the opening lines of Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, delivered on the hallowed grounds of the Civil War battlefield near Gettysburg.
That the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the largest military conflicts in North American history, began on July 1, 1863, when Union and Confederate forces collided on the farmland of southcentral Pennsylvania at Gettysburg is important to Pennsylvania history is an understatement! This epic battle lasted three days and by the time it was over, more than 50,000 dead, wounded, and missing were counted in the aftermath across the near 6,000-acre battlefield; and at the end; saw Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in retreat. As the Confederates moved south back across the Mason-Dixon line, regarded in the pre-Civil War days as the dividing lines between slave states to the south and the free states to the north, a morbid sense of peace had come to Gettysburg.
This battle also proved to be the turning point of the war: General Robert E. Lee’s defeat and retreat from Gettysburg marked the last Confederate invasion of Northern territory and the beginning of the Southern army’s ultimate decline. At least for the time being, this gruesome scene had kept the young union of the United States momentarily intact.
Many people may know that President Abraham Lincoln’s connections to Pennsylvania are more than this legendary speech he gave on the battlefield near Gettysburg during the Civil War; what most don’t realize is that Lincoln spoke those elegant words exactly 157 year ago today on Nov 19, 1863! Magnificently delivered, yet thoughtfully spoken, Lincoln reminded a war-weary public why the Union had to fight, and win, this Civil War. Lincoln spoke less than 272 words in his brief speech that day, dedicating the national cemetery there to the soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Gettysburg that was fought less than four months earlier. His speech started: “Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” pretty much says it all and would surely be appropriate in today’s world.
But when I think of President Lincoln, I think of more than just that speech; I look at his other connections to Pennsylvania. You see, President Lincoln’s great-great-grandfather Mordecai Lincoln came to this country from England in the early 1700s and bought land in what would become Berks County, Pa. Abe’s father, Thomas Lincoln, was born in 1778 in Berks County, Pa.; about 100 miles southeast of where I now sit in Union County writing this story. The future president was named for his grandfather Abraham and President Lincoln often referred to his ancestors from Berks County in letters to friends, family and associates. Ironically, another famous American frontiersman named Daniel Boone and his extended family, who lived just a few miles down the road from the Lincoln family, would become friends and acquaintances, not knowing that their families would become forever intertwined in marriage.
But there is more to the Abraham Lincoln connection to Central Pennsylvania than most people know. William Winter, from Berks County, who would become a Lycoming County landowner and one of the founders of Williamsport; would marry Daniel Boone’s sister Ann Boone. Their oldest daughter, Hannah Winters, would then meet and marry Abraham Lincoln, the namesake and grandfather of our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. This Winter-Lincoln union would produce a son named Thomas Lincoln who would marry Nancy Hanks. They would become the parents of the future 16th President of United States, who would bear his grandfather’s name Abraham Lincoln. Complicated to follow, as many three-plus generational charts are, and just one of many Abraham Lincoln-Daniel Boone connections to Central Pa.
Another Pennsylvania connection to President Abraham Lincoln is James Pollock. Born in Milton, he was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1855. Then later, as a U.S. congressman, Pollack lived in the same Washington boarding house as another Illinois congressman named Abraham Lincoln. With mutual respect, they soon developed a life-long friendship. Then as president, Abraham Lincoln would name his friend James Pollack as director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. And it was at James Pollock’s order, that all U.S. coins and currency were to be inscribed with the words “In God We Trust.”
A man named Eli Slifer, who was born in Chester County, Pa., in 1818 and moved to Union County in the 1830s as a young boy, would change everything. Eli Slifer’s family would struggle economically, and Eli was orphaned in his early teens when both parents died. Eli was then sent to live with his father’s sister, where he was raised in a German speaking household. At age 16, however, Slifer walked the 100 miles back to Lewisburg, where he learned to speak English. Eventually, Slifer would become a leading investor in Central Pa.’s business-related ventures on his way into political arena in his adopted community. As a successful businessman, Slifer gave no thoughts about politics until he was called upon to speak at an anti-slavery rally in 1848, leading to his first meeting with Abraham Lincoln. Slifer’s ability as a public speaker and his opposition to slavery prompted his entry into the political arena and would propel him into a successful political career.
Working with the remnants of the failing Whig party, Eli Slifer would work to help form the new anti-slavery Republican Party; while winning terms in the Pa. state House; Pa. state Senate in 1852-1854; then a term as Pa. treasurer in 1855, and again in 1859 as a member of the new Republican Party. Reelected in 1860, he resigned that office to become Gov. Curtin’s Secretary of State in Pennsylvania, and along the way in his rising political career, he became a strong Republican leader in Pennsylvania and a friend of President Lincoln. Slifer’s Dec. 31, 1860 letter to the President-Elect Lincoln, advised him not to appoint anyone from Pennsylvania to the new cabinet he was forming, stating it would weaken Slifer’s attempt to continue to move the newly Republican Party forward.
Lincoln had reentered politics in 1854, becoming a leader of that newly formed Republican Party. His fame was elevated onto the national stage in the famed 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate; where Lincoln advocated the anti-slavery position of the newly formed Republican Party against the long held pro-slavery position of the Democrats. In those famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, Abraham Lincoln would proclaim and reiterate that famous Biblical passage, “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.” This debate would ultimately thrust Lincoln into the 1860 U.S. presidential race and his presidency. Little did Lincoln know that his life would come to a violent end because of the hatred of a divided nation.
Now fast forward to Nov. 19, 1863; 157 years ago today; at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, where President Abraham Lincoln would deliver his most famous speech, the “Gettysburg Address,” to about 10,000 citizens. Lincoln’s speech was a mere 272 words and took only two minutes to deliver; but in that speech he hoped to try to set the tone to heal a divided nation.
Less than two years later, on the night of April 14, 1865, everything would change! President Abraham Lincoln, who had led the nation through the pains of the American Civil War and the country’s greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis to date, would be assassinated in Washington, D. C.’s Ford’s Theatre; dying the following morning. The nation, once again, would be plunged into that house divided that Lincoln cautioned the country against! President Abraham Lincoln’s ride to his final resting place in his hometown of Springfield, Ill., would add one final irony to the life and now death of the 16th President of the United States of America.
President Abraham Lincoln loved to ride the rails throughout the beautiful rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania as he had done many times in the last years of his life. None, of course, would be more heart-wrenching to the countless crowds who witnessed the funeral train carrying the body of our nation’s 16th President home. Traveling across seven states and through the cities of Washington D.C., Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago, and finally Springfield; 1,700 miles of mourners lined the rails on Lincoln’s ride into eternity and his final resting place.
On May 4, 1865, our nation’s 16th president would finally be laid to rest in his beloved hometown of Springfield, Ill. The previous day, Lincoln’s body would lie in state in the same state house room where he had recited his immortal “House Divided” speech in June 1858, less than 10 years before. Shortly before 10 a.m., the doors were opened for public viewing. Others gathered at the president’s home, where his horse Old Bob and his dog, Fido, had even been brought in from Washington to be with their friend and master!
Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker led the final procession to Oak Ridge Cemetery, where Lincoln’s coffin would be placed on a marble slab inside the tomb, along with that of his deceased son Willie. Lincoln’s eldest son, Robert, and his cousin John Hanks represented the president’s family there; as Mary Lincoln, the president’s wife was back in Washington, D.C.; still too distraught to attend her husband’s funeral. Bishop Simpson delivered an eloquent funeral address and the Rev. Dr. P.D. Gurley read the benediction.
At the end of the service, the tomb’s iron gates, and heavy wooden doors were locked, with Robert given the keys. President Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was finally at rest, his life taken from him only trying to do what he thought was right; trying to heal a house divided! Lincoln honored Thomas Jefferson’s quote that “All Men are Created Equal,” and for that he lost his life. In the opinion of many, there has never been a better president, with a harder job, than President Abraham Lincoln. And for that he lost his life at the young age of 56!
From somewhere on a ridge in Union County... Ron Wenning