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Symposium Focus: Lincoln as Commander in Chief

By Wendy Swanson

Washington, D.C.

Monday, February 27, 2023

The National Museum of the U.S. Army at Ft. Belvoir annually sponsors a “Civil War Days” program and this year the focus is on Lincoln as commander in chief. Programs planned will offer both in-person and virtual options for the event taking place April 13-15, 2023; all activities are free and open to the public. In-person visitors also will have the opportunity to explore one of the Washington area’s newest museums. Here’s what is on the symposium menu.

Thursday evening, April 13, 7-8 p.m.: That the Nation Might Live: Lincoln and the Civil War. Lincoln’s presidency left a complex legacy for museums and historic sites to examine and interpret. In this session museum professionals will discuss Lincoln’s impact on America, ranging from the military effort to reunite the country to liberating the enslaved. Speakers will represent Ford’s Theatre, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and President Lincoln’s Cottage.

An all-day symposium will take place on Friday, April 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Speakers will explore how Lincoln exercised his role as commander in chief and transformed the presidency during the Civil War. The symposium’s agenda includes:

The War in the East (Before Grant) – The early months of the war were difficult ones in the eastern theatre. Lincoln removed three top commanders; he appointed a fourth general during a Confederate push to the north. Then, after Gettysburg, the Union still experienced some defeats. Historian Daniel T. Davis (author and education manager for the American Battlefield Trust) will discuss how Lincoln - from these experiences - gained insights that would transform the power of the president as commander in chief.

The Lincoln Conspiracy: Origins, Evolution and Aftermath - U.S. Army historian Peter G. Knight analyzes the assassination conspiracy and the federal response (including Booth’s capture by elements of the U.S. Army) and provides insight into how these events impacted the course of Reconstruction.

How Lincoln Inspired and Motivated Soldiers - Museum educators Jennifer Dubina and Kenna Felix examine Lincoln’s role as commander in chief through the personal letters and journals of Civil War soldiers.

Lincoln and the Shenandoah: 1862-1864 - Author Scott C. Patchan will explore the Grant-Lincoln relationship during the final year of the war and the impact of the 1864 presidential election on the military campaign. During this period Lincoln moved from being an “interventionist” with early generals to “hands off” with Grant.

The final talk, Lincoln and a Changing War, will journey back to the summer of 1862 and focus on Antietam as a turning point in the conflict. Historian Kevin Pawlak will discuss Lincoln’s involvement with the Union army and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Saturday, April 15, will provide a day of living history and hands-on activities for in-person visitors. Historical interpreters will share the stories of the experiences of Civil War soldiers and provide visitors with the opportunity to examine their uniforms and weapons. Local historic sites will provide such hands-on activities as communication skills, Morse code and battlefield medicine. Participating sites will include representatives from Bristoe Station Battlefield, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park, Historic Endview, and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. The museum’s “Preserving the Nation Gallery” enables visitors to explore the Civil War era through artifacts, soldiers’ stories and a theater experience.

The Thursday and Friday programs will be available in person or virtually; however, both options require reservations but the price is certainly right (free!). Visit this link to make reservations and to learn more about the museum, programs and speakers.


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