Head and shoulders

I thought your readers would like to know that the picture of Abraham Lincoln on p. 65 of the September 2009 issue is a fake. Lincoln’s head has been placed on the body of Francis P. Blair Jr., the U.S. senator from St. Louis whose family Lincoln did not respect. Such faking was common after Lincoln’s assassination, as souvenir sellers realized there were not enough photographs or engravings of Lincoln. The demand was met by placing a photo of Lincoln’s head on the body of another man. Some of these bodies are still unidentified.

Ruth Van Goor

Eagle Harbor, Mich.

Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer responds: The picture’s trail from Blair to Lincoln appears on p. 205 of my 1984 book The Lincoln Image. It’s not a “fake” per se—it’s a composite engraving, in which the printmaker made a beautiful engraving of Lincoln from an 1864 photo, and as a shortcut superimposed it on a steel plate he had in stock originally showing Francis Preston Blair Jr. Such combination images were common in the post-assassination frenzy for Lincoln pictures, and many were popular and, yes, their origins unexplained. But it is authentic to the period. By the way, these were not photos but prints; and they were not assembled by souvenir dealers, but print publishers and artists—a bit of a difference.

It is also not true that Lincoln didn’t respect the Blair family. He took pains to embrace them in 1861 when he was trying to assemble a coalition cabinet, and he showed the elder Blair his inaugural address to get his comments and suggestions in advance. He even made Senator Blair’s brother his postmaster general.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The song “John Brown’s Body” was not the original source of the tune to which Julia Ward Howe set her poem, which later became known as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Instead, this music was written in 1865 by South Carolinian William Steffe (1830-1890) as a camp-meeting song that included the “Glory Hallelujah” refrain. It opened with “Say, brothers, will you meet us/on Canaan’s happy shore?” The tune became widely known.

Carole E. Scott

Carrollton, Ga.

Silent survivors

As a subscriber from across the Atlantic, I have to congratulate you on an all-around excellent July 2009 issue. It is difficult to define just how your entire issue achieved such a pleasurable wholeness. If one article captures the tone of all the others put together, it is surely “Silent Survivors.” What a touching tale those trees could relate if they could only talk to us.

Kieran McGovern,

Dublin, Ireland


Originally published in the November 2009 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.