Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Sunday, April 12, 2015
This April 2015 marks the sesquicentennial of the end of the American Civil War. Wednesday, April 15th is the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth. As we mark, and perhaps still mourn his death, we have the opportunity to consider his remarkable life.
Nearly every summer evening beginning in 1862, Abraham Lincoln left the White House and rode, either on horseback or in a carriage, up hill out of the city’s miasmal air to the presidential summer cottage. Secretary of War Stanton also occupied a cottage there, on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home, about three miles northeast of the center of Washington. The Lincoln family stayed at the peaceful retreat into the fall before moving furniture and household goods back into the White House for the winter.
On his daily round trip, Lincoln passed poet Walt Whitman’s house, and the two men frequently nodded at in greeting. Whitman described Lincoln in his journal and letters. “June 30, 1863. I noticed him last evening about half-past 6 . . . . He looks more careworn than usual, his face with deep cut lines, seams, and his complexion gray through very dark skin – a curious looking man, very sad.”
The Lincolns were in residence at the White House on April 10, 1865, as the news spread throughout the city of General Lee’s April 8 surrender to General Grant bringing with it the end of the war. A great crowd walked through rain and mud from the Navy Yard to the White House lawn, picking up more and more people and even the Quartermaster’s band along the way. Nearly three thousand in number, they called for the president to come out. He spoke briefly and called upon the band to “play ‘Dixie.’ One of the best tunes I’ve ever heard.” He concluded his appearance calling for three cheers for “General Grant and all under his command” and another three cheers for the Navy.
The following evening Abraham Lincoln made his last public address. Speaking again from the upper windows of the White House, he called for reconciliation with the southern states. “Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union.”
Three days later President and Mrs. Lincoln went to a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. In the middle of the play John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and shot Abraham Lincoln. He was carried across the street into the home of Mr. William Petersen and laid in a small bedroom on the first floor. At seven thirty-three on the morning of April 15, 1865 Abraham Lincoln’s great heart stopped beating.
Walt Whitman wrote:
When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d – and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
People all over the nation mourned Lincoln’s death. Some even hung their homes with black crepe as though a member of their family had died. There were mourning ribbons and badges, portraits, articles and books. Nineteenth century cookbooks brought forth a bakery case full of cakes paying homage to the martyred president. These cakes joined those named for Presidents Washington and Madison, and other political figures on both sides of the Civil War. Many of the published recipes for Lincoln cakes pass along the simple recipe that first appeared in Godey’s Ladies Magazine in 1865: “2 eggs, 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup butter, one of sweet milk, three of flour, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, half teaspoon soda and one of lemon essence.” Others are more like light fruitcakes. This recipe from 1876 is particularly tasty.
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 ounces raisins
4 ounces currants
2 ounces candied citrus peel
4 ounces almonds
1/2 cup flour additional for dredging the fruits
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup brandy
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a large tube pan. Mix the 3 1/2 cups flour, baking soda and spices and set aside. Mix the dried fruits, peel and nuts with 1/2 cup flour and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Add 1/3 of the flour and spice mixture, then the milk, the second third of the flour, the brandy and finally the last third of the flour mixture, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the fruit and nut mixture. Pour batter into pan, filling it about three-quarters full, and bake until a skewer or thin knife stuck in the center comes out clean, approximately one hour and fifteen minutes.