A new side of Abraham Lincoln has emerged from recently discovered accounts by contemporaries who knew him well and witnessed the historic moments during his life.
In notes compiled about 100 years ago by artist and interviewer James E. Kelly, and recently uncovered by New Jersey historian William B. Styple, Lincoln is animated, athletic, passionate and engaging. The notes reveal that he wept and prayed as he walked the streets of Washington while assessing the Civil War’s cost. He also smiled, laughed and erupted in anger, depending on the situation or the news from the front.
After collecting stories for at least 16 years, Kelly planned to write a book about the Lincoln known to few people. He also hoped to produce a sculpture of the president, but he died during 1933 without finishing the book or the sculpture. Styple discovered Kelly’s unpublished notes and correspondence, which came from civic leaders, politicians, artists and soldiers, at the New-York Historical Society.
Styple poured through 27 boxes of Kelly’s documents at the historical organization. He also learned about the artist’s friendship with a physician and that a descendant of the doctor, who was living in southern New Jersey, had inherited some of the artist’s sculptures and sketches.
Kelly had sketched, painted and sculpted aging Civil War generals. During these sessions, he chatted about the historic events in which they and others shaped the Civil War. He was captivated by eyewitness accounts about the opening shots at Fort Sumter, the fighting at Gettysburg, the surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination.
Kelly spoke with Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Alexander S. Webb. Though he never completed his book or sculpture, the notes and sketches he left behind finally have been published. Styple edited the artist’s notes for his book, Tell Me of Lincoln: Memories of Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and Life in Old New York by James E. Kelly.
Confederate In The Bronx
While the southern area of New York’s Westchester County supplied its quota of Union soldiers during the Civil War, it became home to many more veterans after the war. Many still remain, with their final places of rest in the famous Woodlawn Cemetery and in several smaller cemeteries that were scattered throughout the villages that existed in the area at the time.
During 1898, the entire southern area of the county was annexed by New York City and it became the borough of The Bronx. Any of the remaining village cemeteries that can be located now are overgrown or behind locked gates, and the veterans interred in each hide in the shadows of apartment buildings.
This area that became The Bronx was the adopted home for at least one soldier who fought for the Confederate States of America. William Rudolf O’Donovan from Preston County, Virginia, enlisted in the Confederate Army during 1861 and served in the artillery. After the conflict, as an artist, he came to New York and completed several well-known sculptures.
He had a fascination for George Washington. He sculpted a 13-foot statue of the general that today stands atop the marble pillar that is the Trenton Battle Monument in New Jersey. Another of his Washington statues can be found in Caracas, Venezuela. O’Donovan also is known for the sculpture of Archbishop John Hughes that sits on The Bronx campus of Fordham University. The campus is part of the original Rose Hill Manor visited by Washington during the war.
Another O’Donovan creation is the tablet on the monument near the capture site of British Major John Andre, who had received the plans for West Point from Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War. The monument stands in the Westchester County town of Tarrytown. It is about 20 miles north of the sculptor’s Hughes statue.
While he lived in the area, O’Donovan also was commissioned to create images of Union Civil War leaders and his work was free of southern bias. He is credited with the images of Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant that are astride horses created by another artist and that have been seen for more than 100 years on the Grand Army Plaza memorial arch in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
An Old Rebel
Along the border between north and south during the Civil War, Missouri families were terrorized by guerrilla bands from both sides. One group was led by Unionist guerrilla James H. “Jim” Lane, and this band ransacked the farm of Solomon and Harriet Young.
Solomon was away during the raid and Harriet was ordered to bake biscuits for the guerrillas. They kept her at the stove until her hands were blistered. They also shot 100 hogs and took the hams with them as they left. They burned the haystacks and barns, and they destroyed the feather beds that could not be replaced until the owners raised another flock of geese.
The family’s youngest daughter, Martha, never forgot that day. Her son affectionately called his mother “Old Rebel” for her unreconstructed ways. He was President Harry S. Truman.