This is the complete summary of the “Did You Know” Abraham Lincoln blog postings, parts 1 to 15.



1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln was the first President to make Thanksgiving a national holiday! On October 3, 1863 he issued a proclamation that set the precedent for the national holiday observed today. It is often referred to as the Proclamation of Thanksgiving and was written by Secretary of State, William Seward. Here is the proclamation as found in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 6, pages 497-498, edited by Roy P. Basler.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who,Page  497 while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.


Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth. ABRAHAM LINCOLN

By the President:

WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

2. Did you know … that on April 14, 1956, the last surviving person who was in Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination passed away. His name was Samuel J. Seymour and he was 96 years old. It’s ironic that he died exactly 91 years to the day that the assassination took place. At the time of the assassination, Seymour was just 5 years old. His godmother, Mrs. George S. Goldsborough, took him to see Our American Cousin. They sat in the Dress Circle facing opposite the Presidential box and witnessed the assassination and Booth’s leap to the stage.

Reference: We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eyewitness Accounts by Timothy S. Good.


3. Did you know …  that Abraham Lincoln wore reading glasses? He first needed them at age 47 (around 1856). On the night of his death, the contents of Lincoln’s pockets held two pairs of his glasses/spectacles. The prescription for the lenses of the spectacles is +1.75 and +2.00.

 tm012-th at0050hs-th

Above is the collection of items President Lincoln had in his possession on the night of his assassination. Two pairs of eyeglasses were part of that collection. Courtesy Library of Congress.

NOTE: Just this month (November 19, 2008), a pair of Abraham Lincoln’s spectacles sold at the 2008 November The John Lattimer Collection of Lincolniana Grand Format Auction #6014 for US$179,250.00. The pair is made of zinc-colored metal with adjustable frames, open loop terminals.



1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln was ripped, buff and a very muscular stud muffin! It’s true. Considering his height and posture, one would think this was not the case. However, based on observations by Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy, who spent the last hours with the mortally injured President at the Peterson House …

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy

“The giant sufferer lay extended diagonally across the bed, which was not long enough for him. He had been stripped of his clothes. His large arms, which were occasionally exposed, were of a size which one would scarce have expected from his spare appearance….”.

2. Did you know … that Robert Lincoln, who died in 1926, was not buried with Abraham Lincoln, his mother, and three brothers. Instead he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.



1. Did you know …that Abraham Lincoln’s bed was oversized to accommodate his lengthy body. The bed was 9′-0″ long and 9′-0″ high to the top of the headboard.

Lincoln's Bed

 2. Did you know …that, besides President Lincoln, Major Henry Reed Rathbone was not the only person to be attacked by John Wilkes Booth at the time of the assassination? It’s true! After Booth shot the President and lept from the box, he crossed the stage, turned right and ran down a narrow aisle that led to the rear door of the theatre. Unexpectedly, he bumped into William Withers, Jr. the orchestra leader, who was just coming off of a break. Booth slashed at Withers twice with his knife, cutting his coat and knocking him to the floor.  Upon exiting the building, Booth grabbed the reins of his horse from “Peanuts” Burroughs, hitting him with the butt end of his knife and knocking him to the ground. Booth then rode off, fleeing into the darkness.

Slashed coat of orchestra leader

Slashed coat of orchestra leader William Withers, Jr.

3. Did you know … the “dates of capture” for the 10 accused Lincoln assassination conspirators? If not, here they are now in order of their capture.

April 14, 1865 – Day 0 – Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre and Secretary of State Seward is attacked at his home by Lewis Powell while co-conspirator David E. Herold waits outside. Herold will later meet up with Booth as they try to escape into Virginia.

Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre

Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theatre

April 17, 1865 – Day 3[1] Lewis Powell and [2] Mary Surratt are arrested at Surratt’s boarding house. [3] Samuel Arnold, [4] Michael O’Laughlen and [5] Edman (Ned or Edward) Spangler are also arrested on this day.

April 20, 1865 – Day 6 – [6] George Atzerodt is arrested. On April 14, Atzerodt rented a room in the same hotel that Vice President Andrew Johnson was staying to make it easier for him to assassinate the VP. Atzerodt chickened out but was found to be in possession of weapons and property of John Wilkes Booth and was taken into custody.

April 24, 1865 – Day 10 – [7] Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who set Booth’s broken leg and allowed Booth and Herold to spend the night at his farm, is arrested.

April 26, 1865 – Day 12 – At the Garrett farm in Bowling Green, Virginia, [8] David E. Herold gives himself up when the barn he and Booth occupy is surrounded by Federal troops and set on fire. A short time later [9] John Wilkes Booth is shot and killed by Sergeant Boston Corbett.

November 27, 1866 – Day 592 (1 year, 7 months, 13 days)[10] John Surratt, the son of executed conspirator Mary Surratt, initially escaped capture by hiding in Canada and then fleeing to Europe. He is eventually captured in Alexandria, Egypt on November 27, 1866 and returned to the United States to stand trial. Due to a hung jury deadlocked at four “Guilty” and four “Not Guilty” votes, he wi acquitted of the charges and released.


1. Did you know … that a fellow by the name of Austin Gollaher (1806-98) once saved Abraham Lincoln from drowning? It’s true. Ten-year old Austin and seven-year old Abe were friends who lived about two miles from each other in Kentucky. In 1816, the two were on a hunting outing at Knob Creek when Lincoln fell in. Austin Gollaher was able to pull the almost drowned boy to safety just in the nick of time. To read the full story and an actual quote from Austin Gollaher himself, go to the Abraham Lincoln Research Site at:

 2. Did you know … that in August 1864, someone took a shot at Abraham Lincoln in an apparent assassination attempt? Once again, the Abraham Lincoln Research Site has a great article by webmaster R. J. Norton. In it, Mr. Norton refers us to a description of the event from Lincoln himself given to his good friend, Ward Hill Lamon. It’s a very interesting read.

3. Did you know … that Mary Ann Todd Lincoln, the wife of the president was only 5′-2″ tall. With the President being just under 6′-4″ tall, the difference between the two was a considerable 14 inches. They must have been a humorous sight when seen dancing together!

4. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln was 56 years, 2 months and 3 days old when he died on April 15, 1865 from the gunshot would sustained the night night before at Ford’s Theatre. 


The website that I quoted above in items 1 & 2, are both from the “Abraham Lincoln Research Site”. It is an excellent source for Lincoln based information. The articles are well researched and written, and give you an excellent base for launching more indepth study. The site has been active since December 29, 1996.




1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln could play a musical instrument? According to Weldon Petz, one the America’s leading Lincoln scholars, “Lincoln played the jews’ harp at the debates (with incumbent Democratic U.S. senator Stephen Douglas during the 1858 Illinois state election campaign)”.

2. Did you know … in 1876, Abraham Lincoln’s body was almost the victim of a grave robbing plot? Unbelievably, it’s true. It happened on November 7, 1876, when a team of Chicago counterfeiters attempted to steal Lincoln’s body Their plan was to ransom his body for both money and the release of one of their incarcerated members (their main counterfeit engraver!!!). For the complete story, please go to the Abraham Lincoln Research Site at

3. Did you know … that four soldiers of the Veteran Reserve Corps were assigned the duty of springing the traps that hung the Lincoln conspirators?

The conspirators stood on two separate hinged platforms which were each supported by one vertical heavy wooden post. Stationed below the platform were four soldiers assigned to knock these posts out. On a signal from executioner Christian Rath, the posts were knocked out, thus springing the traps. Reports differ as to how many soldiers actually did the deed (two or four). As you can see from the photo by Alexander Gardner, four soldiers are present beneath the gallows. The soldier at the front left, leaning on the post is Private William Coxshall. At the time of the photo Coxshall, who was impatiently waiting for the formal process on the scaffold to end, stated the following. “I became nauseated, what with the heat and waiting, and taking hold of the supporting post, I hung on and vomited”.

Four soldiers wait below the gallows to "spring the trap"

Four soldiers wait below the gallows to "spring the traps". Private William Coxshall is the soldier holding the front left post below the platform.

In an engraving (below) from Harper’s Weekly dated July 22, 1865, two soldiers, not four are shown dislodging the posts. So the actual number seems to conflict. Do you know the answer to this question?

Engraving of Lincoln conspirators execution from Harper's Weekly, July 22,1865

Engraving of Lincoln conspirators execution from Harper's Weekly, July 22,1865


In this version of DID YOU KNOW (Part 10) ABRAHAM LINCOLN, you’ll discover that there are an amazing amount of unique facts found about Mr. Lincoln after his death.

1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln was the first President of the United States to be embalmed?

2. Did you know … that after the president’s death, over one million people looked upon Lincoln’s face in open casket viewings?

It’s true. After it was decided that Lincoln would be buried in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, a special funerary train trip was planned. Lincoln’s Funeral Train would essentially take the reverse route used by the President-elect in 1861 from Springfield to Washington. This time however, both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would be bypassed in favor of Chicago.

The train car called "United States" was used as Lincoln's Funeral Car.     This car, called the United States, carried the coffins of both President Lincoln and his son, Willie.

The Lincoln Funeral Train in Harrisburg, PA.

The Lincoln Funeral Train in Harrisburg, PA.

The coffin with the remains of Lincoln’s 11 year old son, Willie, who died of typhoid fever in the White House in 1862, was placed on the train with his father. Both would be buried together in Springfield.

The train dubbed “The Lincoln Special” left Washington DC on April 21, 1865 and arrived in Springfield on May 3rd.

Lincoln Funeral Train Route (Apr 21 - May 3, 1865)

Lincoln Funeral Train Route (Apr 21 - May 3, 1865)

During the 1,654 mile, 13 day trek, the train traveled through 180 towns and cities, of which only 11 were allowed to host open-casket viewings. These cities were:

1.   Baltimore, MD

2.   Harrisburg, PA

3.   Philadelphia, PA

4.   New York, NY

5.   Albany, NY

6.   Buffalo, NY

7.   Cleveland, OH

8.   Columbus, OH

9.   Indianapolis, IN

10.  Chicago, IL

11.  Springfield, IL

Sidebar:As early as the New York stopover, observers noticed that Lincoln’s face was showing signs of blackening and discolorization. For the remainder of the trip, undertakers would frequently apply white chalk powder, rouge and amber makeup to make the President appear as normal as possible.

3. Did you know … that only one photograph is known to exist of President Lincoln lying in his open coffin? It was taken on Monday, April 24, 1865 in the rotunda of New York’s City Hall while the president’s body was prepared for public viewing. New York photographer Jeremiah Gurney, Jr. took several photographs of Lincoln while lying in state. The following day, after hearing about the existence of these photographs, a furious Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton ordered that all the plates, prints and engravings be destroyed. This order was carried out with the photographer’s cooperation. One print did escape this fate and was sent to Stanton himself. He kept it hidden in his papers for fear of rebuke by Mary Lincoln. In 1887, Stanton’s son Lewis, discovered it and sent it to John Nicolay believing that he, and John Hay, Lincoln’s former secretaries, would use it in their 10-volume life of Lincoln.  They did not. It remained out of the public eye until July 20, 1952 when a fourteen-year old boy named Ronald Rietveld, found it amongst John Nicolay-John Hay’s papers at the Illinois State Historical Library. 

Lincoln lies in state in NYC's City Hall on April 24, 1865

Sidebar: When Stanton found out about the photographs, he sent a telegram to Brigadier-General Townsend accompanying the President’s body on his final journey. Taken from the book “Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography” by Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., here are the series of telegrams that went back and forth between Stanton and Townsend regarding this incident. 


Washington City,

April 25, 1865 – 11:40 p.m.

Brigadier-General Townsend,

Adjutant-General, New York:

    I see by the New York papers this evening that a photograph of the corpse…was allowed to be taken yesterday in New York. I cannot sufficiently express my surprise and disapproval of such an act while the body was in your charge. You will report what officers of the funeral escort were or ought to have been on duty at the time this was done, and immediately relieve them…. You will also direct the provost-marshall to go to the photographer, seize and destroy the plates and any pictures or engravings that may have been made, and consider yourself responsible if the offense is repeated.

Edwin M. Stanton

Secretary of War.


Albany, N.Y.

April 26, 1865

(Received 10:40 a.m.)

Hon. E. M. Stanton

Secretary of War: 

   Your dispatch of this date is received. The photograph was taken when I was present…. I have telegraphed General Dix your orders about seizing the plates. To whom shall I turn over the special charge given me in order to execute your instructions to relieve the officer responsible…?

 E. D. Townsend,

Assistant Adjutant-General.  


Washington City,

April 26, 1865 – 12:30 p.m.

Brig.Gen. E. D. Townsend,

 …You being in charge, and present at the time, the sole responsibility rests upon you; but having no other officer … that can relieve you and take your place you will continue in charge of the remains under your instructions until they are finally interred…. 

Edwin M. Stanton,

Secretary of War.


Albany, N.Y.

April 26, 1865 

Hon. E. M. Stanton

   General Dix, who is here, suggests that I should explain to you how the photograph was taken. The remains had just been arranged in state in the City Hall, at the head of the stairway, where the people would ascend on one side and descend on the other…. The photographer was in a gallery twenty feet higher than the body, and at least forty distant from it. Admiral Davis stood at the head and I at the foot of the coffin. No-one else was in view. The effect of the picture would be general taking in the whole scene, but not giving the features of the corpse.

E. D. Townsend


According to Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III and Peter W. Kunhardt in Lincoln, An Illustrated Biography, two interesting facts are mentioned.

1. Did you know … that with the Civil War raging in the United States, and popularity for that war waning severely, the Union needed a way of getting more men to join the army. On March 3, 1863 Lincoln signed into law the United States’ first true Federal military draft. The Confederacy had implemented conscription one year earlier on April 16, 1862 and so the Union followed suit about one year later. Other presidents, such as James Madison, had attempted this during the American Revolutionary War but were unsuccessful. Lincoln’s new law applied to men of ages twenty to forty-five. Not surprisingly, this law was not received well and resulted in various demonstrations in most Northern states and a series of very violent and well publicized riots in New York City from July 11 to 13, 1863. For more on the New York Draft Riots of 1863 refer to the following links.

2. Did you know … that Lincoln was the first President to proclaim Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Everyone knows the story of the first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and the Indians in 1621. The event was celebrated sporadically over the years but never as a full blown official holiday. Then in October, 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared “that the last Thursday of November shall be set aside to as a day of thanksgiving, family gatherings and celebrations.”

At the writer adds to this story.

“Every president since Lincoln has also declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. In 1941 Congress set the national holiday of Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of every November. This reversed a decision by President Roosevelt to celebrate Thanksgiving on the third Thursday of November to give people more time to shop for Christmas.” 

Book Recommendation:

I have many books on Mr. Lincoln and the Civil War. With the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday coming up, you can be assured that there are many new books presently in the works for release in 2009. However, one book that I wish to recommend is the one I mentioned earlier. Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography, written by Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III and Peter W. Kunhardt. This is an easy read, filled with well researched material and hundreds of photographs. The authors and designers of this book did a wonderful job in organizing this material so that it is easy to follow. I revert back to this volume time and time again. I recommend that you add this book to your library soon.

Lincoln: An Illustrated Biography by Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III and Peter W. Kunhardt. Originally published in 1992 by Knopf, New York. Reprinted in 1999 by Garmercy Books (an imprint of Random House Value Publishing, Inc., New York by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. ISBN: 0-517-20715-X. 

An Illustrated Biography



1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln never traveled to a foreign country? He spent his entire life in the United States. There is no record of him ever entering Canada or Mexico. Nor did he ever travel abroad. However, on the night of his assassination, he mentioned to his wife Mary that he would like to one day visit Jerusalem.

2. Did you know … that fifteen people turned down President Lincoln’s invitation to join him and Mary at Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination, April 14, 1865! One reason is that it was Good Friday of the Easter weekend so many of them could have had other plans, as they claimed. But when you consider that fifteen people turned down the President of the United States to spend the evening with him, it does make you wonder.

The fifteen that turned down the Lincoln’s were, (in no particular order): Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Stanton, General & Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, William A. Howard, General Isham N. Haynie, Richard J. Olgesby, Richard Yates, Noah Brooks, Thomas Eckert, George Ashmun, Schuyler Colfax, Mr. & Mrs. William H. Wallace & Robert Lincoln.

What reasons did they have? Here are the reasons given by each participant. 

1 & 2. Edwin Stanton was Lincoln’s Secretary of War. Mrs. Stanton did not like Mary Todd Lincoln and this is believed to be the reason they turned down the invitation. 

3 & 4. Mr. & Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant told the President that they were catching a train to New Jersey to visit their children for the weekend. The real belief was that, like Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Grant did not like Mary Todd Lincoln and had no intention of spending an evening with her. 

5. William A. Howard, was the Postmaster of Detroit. He told Mr. Lincoln that the he was headed out of town later that day.

6, 7 & 8. General Isham N. Haynie (a visitor from Illinois), Richard J. Olgesby (Governor of Illinois) & Richard Yates (ex-Governor of Illinois) all claimed to be meeting friends that night. 

9. Noah Brooks was a reporter who turned down the Lincoln’s because he was suffering from a cold.

10. Thomas Eckert was a telegraph operator at the War Department. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton told Eckert that he could not go because he had too much work to do.

11. George Ashmun of Massachusetts had presided over the 1860 Republican Convention (where Lincoln was nominated for President) explained to Mr. Lincoln that he had a previous engagement.

12. Shuyler Colfax, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was traveling to the Pacific Coast the following morning so declined the evening out.

13 & 14. Mr. & Mrs. William H. Wallace, the Governor of Idaho territories, claimed to be too tired to attend the play that evening.

15. Robert Lincoln, the President’s eldest son, turned them down because he had just returned from a tour of duty with General Grant. He was tired and just wanted to go to bed.


So, for whatever reasons these fifteen people had that day, there is no telling if any of them would have been able to save the President from his fate that night. We can just never know.



1. Did you know … that the former First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, was committed to an insane asylum in 1875? And the person who arranged it all was her only surviving son, Robert Lincoln!  Sadly, it’s true.


According to Wikipedia …
“For Mary Todd Lincoln, the death of her son Thomas (Tad), in July 1871, led to an overpowering sense of grief and the gradual onset of
depression. Mrs. Lincoln’s sole surviving son, Robert T. Lincoln, a rising young Chicago lawyer, was alarmed by his mother’s free spending of money in ways that did not give her any lasting happiness. Due to what he considered to be her increasingly eccentric behavior, Robert exercised his rights as Mrs. Lincoln’s closest male relative and had the widow deprived of custody of her own person and affairs. In 1875, Mary Todd Lincoln was committed by an Illinois court to Bellevue Place, an insane asylum in Batavia, Illinois. There Mrs. Lincoln was not closely confined; she was free to walk about the building and its immediate grounds, and was released three months later. However, Mary Todd Lincoln never forgave her eldest son for what she regarded as his betrayal.

If Mary Todd Lincoln interests you, please read an interview I did with a Mary Todd Lincoln researcher and performer, Laura Frances Keyes.


2. Did you know … that Tad Lincoln (the President’s youngest son) was at another theatre the night his father was shot. Tad was attending a performance of “Aladdin or the Wonderful Lamp” at Grover’s Theatre. He was in the company of his tutor, who had the news of the shooting whispered to him. The tutor hurried Tad out of the theatre and took him back home to the White House. Contrary to popular belief, Tad was never taken to the Peterson House where his father lay dying. However, his older brother Robert went there and tried to comfort his mother during the long night.

  Photo taken of Tad Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln 




1. Did you know … that on April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln’s autopsy was performed in the 2nd floor guest room at the front right hand corner (northwest corner) of the White House?
At some point on the day before, April 14, 1865, Lincoln is quoted as saying to his bodyguard, Mr. William H. Crook … “Crook, do you know I believe there are men who want to take my life? And I have no doubt they will do it …. I know no one could do it and escape alive. But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it.”

2. Did you know … that Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris, the couple who attended the play at Ford’s Theatre with the Lincoln’s had a tragic ending. 

 Clara Harris & Major Henry Rathbone
On July 11, 1867, the Rathbone’s were married and began raising a small family. Over time, Major Rathbone became ill with severe mood swings. And then in 1883, while the family was living in Germany, Rathbone finally lost his sanity and attempted unsuccessfully to kill his children. He then shot and stabbed his wife to death. He also tried to kill himself but could not complete the job. After his arrest, he was found insane and sent to an asylum for the rest of his life. Rathbone died in 1911 at age 73.
3. Did you know … that on April 27, 1865 at approximately 2:00am, the worst marine disaster in United States history took place. The steamship SULTANA, blew up, caught fire and sank in the Mississippi River killing over 1700 passengers.
The Sultana had been contracted by the US Government to transport Union soldiers released from Confederate prison camps, up the Mississippi River to Ohio. In the early morning hours of April 27, the boiler(s) exploded destroying part of the ship and engulfing the remainder in flames. There were well over 2000 people on board at the time of the disaster (legally the Sultana was allowed to carry a capacity of 376 people). No confirmed number exists on the casualty and survivor count, however it is estimated that upwards of 1800 people perished in the disaster with another 700-800 surviving.
To put this in perspective, the Titanic disaster had a loss of about 1517 lives.
According to Wikipedia, the accepted cause of the tragedy was “determined to be mismanagement of water levels in the boiler, exacerbated by “careening.” The Sultana was severely overcrowded and top heavy. As she made her way north following the twists and turns of the river, she listed severely to one side then the other. The Sultana’s four boilers were interconnected and mounted side-by-side, so that if the ship tipped sideways, water would tend to run out of the highest boiler. With the fires still going against the empty boiler, this created hot spots. When the ship tipped the other way, water rushing back into the empty boiler would hit the hot spots and flash instantly to steam, creating a sudden surge in pressure. This effect of careening could have been minimized by maintaining high water levels in the boilers. The official inquiry found that Sultana ‘s boilers exploded due to the combined effects of careening, low water level, and a faulty repair to a leaky boiler made a few days previously.”
The reason so few people have ever heard of this disaster is because it happened when so much else was in the news of the day. The Civil War had just ended; Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated just two weeks before; but most prominent in the news was that Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, had been cornered, shot and killed the day before (April 26) in Bowling Green, Virginia.

LINKS to the SULTANA story:



1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln was once challenged to a duel….AND HE ACCEPTED! If you don’t know the story, I found a great article posted at Failed Success on 04/21/06. For your enjoyment, I’ve reprinted it here. Or you can go to the web page by linking to:


The Duel that Could Have Changed the Nation

Posted by Failed Success on 04/21/06 at 02:22 PM

Abraham Lincoln A few words of satire from one of our nation’s most famous Presidents very nearly changed history as we know it.

In the early morning hours of September 22, 1842, a young Abraham Lincoln crossed the Mississippi River at Alton, IL on his way to a small island where he would engage in mortal combat with a political adversary.

With hundreds of onlookers present and ready for a good fight; Lincoln, who was known for being levelheaded and gentle, prepared to kill or be killed. How did it come this?

Abraham Lincoln had been elected to the Illinois state legislature as a Whig in 1834. During this time, Illinois had enormous debt problems. These financial issues kept the politicians in the state’s legislature busy, and the Whigs and Democrats were continually at odds with each other over what to do.

James Shields was another politician in the state’s legislature who had been elected in 1836 as a Democrat, Lincoln’s opposing party. While their two parties were arguing over the situation, Lincoln and James were able to constitute a compromise that would save state’s banks and help the state rebound from its financial woes. Even though the two were in opposing parties, they saw eye to eye on many of the issues and were able to work together for the greater good.

The Beginnings of Animosity

James Shields This feeling of mutual understanding and compromise would change over the years, though, when Shields became the State Auditor of Illinois. During this time, Shields was repeatedly scorned for many of the foolish decisions he was making. Shields had issued a proclamation that ordered county tax collectors to accept only gold and silver, rather than its own state-issued paper money, for payment of taxes and school debts. This particular proclamation brought him criticism from all quarters.

Lincoln was one of those who thoroughly disagreed with Shields decisions and proclamations and began writing a series of letters to the editor of the Sangamo Journal under several assumed names, including Jeff and Rebecca.

Putting his renowned sarcastic wit and talent for satire to the task, Lincoln, through his assumed identities, lampooned Shields poor policies and mismanagement of his duties. Throughout this series of letters, Lincoln’s friends Mary Todd and Julia Jayne also began sending letters of their own. The two got carried away and their letters became increasingly more vicious attacking the character and personality of Shields, in which they stated that he was “overly pompous, a hypocrite, and a liar”.

The satire also began to take on a life of its own in the social scene as letters were written from assumed identities recalling fictitious events at parties and social clubs that painted a poor picture of Shields, as well as stating Shields apparent inadequacies with the ladies.

Because of Shields vain and overly pompous personality, he became a natural target for satire. Word spread quickly of these “letters” in the newspaper and Shields was outraged. He was determined to discover who had begun this criticism. Shields pressured the editor of the paper to reveal the sources of these letters. The editor gave Shields only Lincoln’s name, as Lincoln himself had instructed him too. Even though Lincoln was not the only one taking part in this letter writing campaign, he had decided to take the blame for it if things got out of control. He especially wanted to protect Mary Todd, the friend who would soon become his wife.

Shields Presents the Challenge

Shields was hurt and appalled to find out Lincoln’s involvement and demanded, by way of a hand delivered letter, an immediate retraction. The aggressive tone of the letter led Lincoln to refuse until he received a more “gentlemanly” letter. Shields responded by challenging Lincoln to a duel.

Dueling was illegal in Illinois. Lincoln could not believe that Shields was refusing to settle the matter with anything else but an old fashioned duel. Lincoln felt the entire situation was ludicrous and completely silly. However, the public was very fond of duels and felt that they were a true indication of courage. Politicians knew that to refuse a duel would lead to lack of public support and would most likely cost you your office. Word had spread very quickly and it seemed that in no time at all, everyone in the entire state knew of the challenge. Lincoln knew that refusing to accept the duel was out of the question. Many also believed that the driving force behind Lincoln accepting the duel was to impress Mary Todd, who he was courting at the time.

Lincoln Sets the Parameters of the Duel

Abraham Lincoln Due to the fact that Lincoln was the one who had been challenged to the duel, tradition gave him the privilege of choosing the time and location of the duel, as well as the weapons that were to be used. Being a man of humor and wit, and having no desire to kill Shields, or allow himself to be killed; Lincoln put together the most ridiculous set of circumstances that he could think of regarding the logistics of the upcoming duel.

Lincoln stated that the duel would be held on an island in the river near the city of Alton, IL. Some historians believe that it was Sunflower Island, while others believe it was Bloody Island. Bloody Island had long been a popular dueling spot because it was in the middle of the river and was claimed by Missouri where dueling was still legal. Either island would have allowed them to escape any legal implications.

Lincoln stated that the weapons he wished to use would be “Cavalry Broadswords of the largest size”. He figured that he could easily disarm Shields using the swords, whereas pistols would most likely lead to one of their deaths, if not both. He also added that he wanted the duel to be carried out in a pit 10 feet wide by 12 feet deep with a large wooden plank dividing the square in which no man was allowed to step foot over.

These “conditions” were designed not only to be ridiculous; but also to give Lincoln, who at 6’ 4” had longer legs and arms and towered over the much smaller Shields, a decided advantage. Lincoln hoped that these unorthodox conditions that gave him an almost unbeatable advantage would persuade Shields to withdraw the challenge and settle things in a more gentlemanly fashion.

Shields, however, was extremely stubborn and refused to yield despite the conditions that Lincoln had requested. He agreed to Lincoln’s conditions and no other negotiations were made. Much to Lincoln’s dismay, the two headed to the appointed island early in the morning on September 22 and prepared to do battle in their “Saber Duel”.

It All Comes to a Head

Bloody Island While their respective parties set up the dueling area, their “seconds” (friends of the duelers who handled negotiations and ensured that all of the conditions for the duel were met in accordance with the agreed upon terms) tried desperately to resolve the issue peacefully. Their pleas for a peaceful settlement began to sway the stubborn Shields as he began to realize that there was no way to win this duel against Lincoln if it was carried out.

At the last minute, Lincoln demonstrated his obvious physical advantage by hacking away at some of the branches of a nearby Willow tree. The branches were high off the ground and Shields could not hope to reach them; while Lincoln, with his long arms holding a long broadsword, could reach them with ease. This final display was enough to drive home the precarious situation that he was now in, and Shields agreed to settle their differences in a more peaceful way.

Their seconds began discussions and finally agreed that a note in which Lincoln admitted authorship of the letter and asserted that he “had no intention of injuring your (Shields) personal or private character or standing as a man or gentleman” would satisfy the honor of both them. The two headed back to Alton with their entourage where a crowd of anxious people awaited on the banks of the river to find out what had happened. Several people screamed and one woman fainted when they spotted a corpse in one of the boats. The “corpse” turned out to be a large log with a red shirt draped over it. Someone had set up the deception just to get a reaction out of the awaiting audience. This led both Lincoln and Shields to laugh hysterically at the “corpse” as well as at just how absurd the events of this day had been.

The Effects of the Duel on Lincoln and our Nation

Lincoln MemorialAfter the duel, both groups had the appropriate after parties and reflected on the fact they both could have met their ends because of a few sarcastic comments and hurt feelings. The two were civil with each other after this unfortunate incident and remained friends and political allies for the rest of their careers.

Lincoln was extremely embarrassed about the whole incident and refused to talk about it very often. Lincoln began to be more careful about what he wrote in letters and other papers, even those he wrote to his closest and most intimate friends. Never again did he so harshly use another person to try to further his political career, which would some day take him to the highest office in the land. In many ways, the duel prepared Lincoln for success as president. During his term, the country became engaged in the Civil War. Throughout that stressful time, Lincoln showed the same iron will and certainty of purpose that was evident during the duel.

It’s interesting to ponder what might have happened if the events of the duel had gone a bit differently. Shields went on to become a brigadier general of the Union army (nominated by Lincoln himself), and of course Lincoln became the President of the United States. If Lincoln had been killed in this duel, the entire course of the nation’s future may have been radically different. Scholars argue over Lincoln’s contributions and impact on our nation’s history all of the time, but most agree that Lincoln made a difference in the way our nation grew leading up to the Civil War, as well as throughout the Civil War until his death. Who knows what would be different today if Abraham Lincoln had died that fateful night on the island.



1. Did you know … that at the time of his election in 1860 in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln and his family owned a dog named FIDO. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the Lincoln’s had to moved to Washington DC, they gave it away to two young neighborhood boys named Frank and Johnny Roll with instructions to take very good care of him. Just before leaving, the Lincoln’s took Fido to a local photographer to have his pictures taken.



2. Did you know … that Robert Todd Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s oldest son, lived until 1926. In 1922 he retired from politics but made his last public appearance on May 30, 1922 at the dedication ceremony for his father’s memorial in Washington DC (the Lincoln Memorial).

Chief Justice Taft, President Harding and Robert Lincoln at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922. Chief Justice William Howard Taft (27th President of the United States), President Harding (29th President of the United States), and Robert Lincoln, at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.

3. Did you know … that Robert Todd Lincoln had a series of strange coincidences that related to Presidential assassinations? According to Wikipedia, the following facts are listed:

“There is coincidence in regard to Lincoln and presidential assassinations. He was either present or was nearby when three of them occurred. [4]

·     Lincoln was invited to accompany his parents to the Ford’s Theatre the night his father was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865. Citing fatigue from riding in a covered wagon for an extended period of time, he declined and remained behind at the White House, where he immediately went to bed. He was informed of the President’s being shot just before midnight.

·     At President James A. Garfield‘s invitation, Lincoln was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington, D.C., where the President was shot by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881 and was an eyewitness to the event. Lincoln was serving as Garfield’s Secretary of War at the time.

·     At President William McKinley‘s invitation, Lincoln was at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, where the President was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz on September 6, 1901, though he was not an eyewitness to the event.”

4. Did you know … that even a stranger coincidence exists between Robert Todd Lincoln and the Booth family. According the Abraham Lincoln Research Site, in 1863 or 64, Robert Lincoln fell onto the railroad tracks at a New Jersey train station and was saved by Edwin Booth, John Wilkes older brother.  To read the full story which includes a first hand account by Robert Lincoln, please link to:



1. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln?

2. Did you know …that Abraham Lincoln’s father and mother were named Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks Lincoln. The twist here is that the famous actor Tom Hanks (see the connection?) is a direct descendant from Abraham Lincoln through his mother’s side, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. For the record, he is the third cousin, four times removed. Sorry, but even I can’t trace that one. But it’s true!

3. Did you know … that Abraham Lincoln spoke in a high pitched voice with a Kentucky accent? This is a far cry from the Disney version seen in movies, where he is presented using a deep, commanding voice as would befit the President of the United States. What if Disney had decided to accurately portray Mr. Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address in his real voice. Do you think it would have sounded a lot like Mickey Mouse? One may never know. 



1. Did you know… that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois is dedicated to sharing the life of Lincoln and his family to visitors. Displays, exhibits, interactives and many artifacts are part of the museum’s presentation. Visit for current information.

For an article written in July, 2007 of the recent acquisition of Lincoln family artifacts by the museum, please link to

   Abraham Lincoln’s bloodstained
   gloves and the handkerchief the
   former president carried on the
   night of his death are part the
   Taper Collection acquired
   by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
   Library and Museum.

2. Did you know… that the there is a medical debate that started in the 1960’s about whether Mr. Lincoln had Marfan Syndrome. It is an argument that still goes on to this day. According to an article in titled Abraham Lincoln and Marfan Syndrome the story suggests that  “The diagnosis was based on physical observations of Lincoln: the fact that he was much taller than most men of his day, with long limbs, an abnormally-shaped chest, and loose (lax) joints (based on written descriptions).

What is Marfan syndrome?
Marfan syndrome is an inherited disorder of connective tissue, although about one-quarter of all cases occur without any family history of the syndrome.

It affects both men and women of any ethnic background.

Marfan syndrome affects many parts of the body, including:

·     Heart – The main artery which carries blood away from the heart, the aorta, is weak and fragile, and can tear or burst if left untreated. The heart’s mitral valve can also leak or fail.

·     Bones and joints – People with Marfan syndrome tend to have long limbs and are usually, but not always, tall. The syndrome can also cause spine problems, abnormally-shaped chest, and loose joints.

·     Eyes – The syndrome often causes nearsightedness, and about 50% of the time dislocation of the lens of the eye.

Note: Lincoln also had a droopy right eye.

To view the whole story, link to 


3. Did you know… David Herold, who was one of four Lincoln assassination conspirators hung on July 7, 1865, spent 12 days on the run in the company of John Wilkes Booth. When finally cornered in a barn at the Garrett farm in Virginia, Herold gave himself up to Union soldiers while Booth refused to. Booth was eventually shot in the neck, paralyzed and died at the scene. David Herold was tried with seven suspected conspirators, of which he, and three others were sentenced to death by hanging at the Old Arsenel Penitentiary. By the way, David Herold is the third from the left.

4. Did You Know… that the price of tickets for the production of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre the night of the assassination was as follows: Orchestra (main level, chair seating) $1.00, Dress Circle (first balcony, chair seating) $.75, Family Circle (second balcony, bench seating) $.50.




 In 2009, we will celebrate the bicentenary (200 years) of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809 in Hodgenville, Hardin County, Kentucky. In Lincoln’s own words, written five months before the Republican party nomination, he wrote…   

“I was born Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky. My parents were both born in Virginia, of undistinguished families–second families, perhaps I should say. My mother, who died in my tenth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks…. My father … removed from Kentucky to … Indiana, in my eighth year…. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up…. Of course when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher … but that was all.”

(see Biography of Abraham Lincoln 


1. Did you know . . . that the following Lincoln based artifacts are found at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C.    

·     The ball (bullet) that killed President Lincoln recovered during the autopsy.

·     Skull fragments from Lincoln recovered during the autopsy.

·     The probe used by Dr. Barnes to remove the ball and skull fragments from Lincoln’s injury during his autopsy.

Lincoln bullet, skull fragments & probe

·     John Wilkes Booth’s 3rd, 4th and 5th Cervical (Neck) Vertebrae (showing the path of the bullet that killed him).

Booths 3rd, 4th & 5th vertibrae with path of bullet

2. Did you know . . .  that Lincoln had two Life Masks made of his face (and one set of his hands). One mask was made in 1860 by Leonard Volk just prior to Lincoln’s nomination for President and the other was made by Clark Mills on February 11, 1865 just two months prior to his assassination. 

Although many websites discuss these two life masks, the write up on the Smithsonian Institute’s website is of interest. 

“Comparing this mask with the one done in 1860 by Leonard Volk, it is clear how great a toll the Civil War had taken on Lincoln’s health. One friend who saw him a few weeks after the mask was made noted that he “looked badly and felt badly.” To another friend Lincoln confided, “I am very unwell.”

3. Did you know . . . that the contents of Lincoln’s pockets from the night of the assassination are housed at the Library of Congress. Some of these items included newspaper clippings, spectacle and reading glasses and their cases, a pocket knife and even a Confederate five dollar bill.

4. Did you know . . . The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois houses many exhibits, photographs and artifacts.  



Published on Friday, June 20, 2008 at '8:13 am'  Comments (19)  

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19 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So the Disney conglomerate says Mickey Mouse is 80 years old today. Big whoop. This probably is un-American and may bring me some angry e-mail, but I never liked Mickey Mouse. I never liked his squeaky voice, his

  2. Hi NON-Mickey Mouse fan. On November 18, 2008, Disney did indeed celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 80th birthday. I’m glad you wrote because it is history. And sharing your opinion of your dislike of Mickey Mouse is honest and certainly non-offensive. Yes, you may get some opposing opinions on the subject, but that’s what makes life go around. It is always good to stir up a debate. For the record, I personally was never a Donald Duck fan because I could never understand him. If I had to like any cartoon duck, Daffy was my guy.
    Have a great day.

  3. Concerning the problem as to whether two or four soldiers knocked out the support posts at the execution of the conspirators: I’ve read that two soldiers knocked out the posts, and the other two soldiers (including Coxshall) were assigned to prevent anyone from disturbing the posts during the preliminary proceedings.

    • Hi Dread. Thank you for your comment. Yes, I agree with your assessment. These soldiers were part of Company F, 14th Regiment, Veterans Reserve Corps. The other three soldiers were Joseph B. Haslett, George F. Taylor and Daniel F. Shoup(e).

  4. cool site here. Id like to see the newly found photo of Lincoln at the White House. (the photo found by President Grant’s great-great grandson.) Im assuming that photo will be included here sometime in the future. I just cant find it on the internet now to look at it. Bummer….oh btw my name and e-mail address automatically appeared in the comment box. How did that happen?? weird

    • Hi Stacy: The photo you speak of can be found at the following link:
      It was in an AP story that came out today. I will try to post something shortly on the story as I’ve been working on a separate puzzle regarding the other Henry Warren photos taken the same day at the White House. Just so everyone knows, the photo you are referring to was a photograph showing the White House which was in a photo album owned by President Grant’s great-great grandson. In January he took a closer look at the image and saw what he thought was President Lincoln standing in the front of the building. He contacted Keya Morgan, Lincoln photograph collector/expert and determined that it could very well be the President. On the back of the photo the credit for the picture was Henry F. Warren, the photographer credited with taking the last known photos of Lincoln alive. Also written there was a note saying it was the President in front of the White House. Lincoln experts weighing in on the photo all are very optomistic about its potential of being the President but the figure is too far away to truly get a 100% positive identification. Still, Warren was only in Washington DC for Lincoln’s 2nd Inauguation on March 4 and then headed over to the White House on March 6 where he took a short series of pictures of the White House, Tad Lincoln on a pony and Abraham Lincoln. Could this be another one from that day and, if so, is this the LAST KNOWN PICTURE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN ALIVE?
      Enjoy the article.

  5. I loved reading all the information that was presented.

    Thank You!

    • Hi Angelica: Thank you so much for you nice comment. I really appreciate it. I hope I can give you lots of new info in the coming months.
      Have a great day and thank you again.

  6. What a great site, kudos to you!!

    I just helped my 9 year old daughter with her Abraham Lincoln book report and have had my interest in our 16th president rekindled. What a man.

    • Hi Lupe. Thanks for you nice comment. My friend Roger Norton also has a great website that students really love. It’s called the Abraham Lincoln Research Site. Roger was a school teacher for 30 years and set up this wonderful site for students (young and old) to learn about Abraham Lincoln.
      I hope your daughter does well on the book report.
      Thanks again for writing.

  7. Very, very cool site. Well written and good links.

    I just finished reading “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, by Seth Grahame-Smith. What are your thoughts on the book?

  8. Hey everybody,

    I was shown this really cool video on Youtube by my teacher. It’s definitely worth checking out. Type in I’ve Got A Secret Lincoln and it should show up. (A pic of an old man and the host, black n’ white) This old guy comes on a game show and the people have to guess his secret. And his secret is that he witnessed the assassination of Lincoln. Very cool, cool video. Check it out. Btw, very cool facts!

  9. dear gentleman, would anyone out there. happen to know anything about the two paintings of lincoln that were in the white house at the time it was set on fire? i belive that i may, be in possion of the one painting that servied the fire. if anyone, has any more info. on this matter please, contact me at my e-mail address! thank you for your time.

    • Hi G. Thomas: Thanks for your question. I’m afraid that one is out of my knowledge zone. What fire at the White House are you referring to? Can you give us a date to work with. Any additional information would be very helpful.

  10. Hi Berry. My son is doing a biopgraphy on Mr. Lincoln and what a wonderful journey its taking us on. Working together has been a great blessing as well as all this great documentation. What a wonderfull and educational site.. We have one quick question for you. Who would you say were the most interesting people in his life? I was thinking his wife and sons.. Any advice? Thank you so much and many blessings.. Mom and James..

    • Hi Mom and son. It’s so very nice to have you here. I think there were many fascinating ‘characters’ in Mr. Lincoln’s life (and after his death too). As an active researcher, I specialize in the events and people that were prominent after the President’s death. However, a good friend of mine hosts a site specifically dedicated to assisting school children. His name is Roger Norton and he is a retired high school history teacher. His website is called Abraham Lincoln Research Site and you can reach it at He also hosts a wonderful discussion board that attracts many Lincoln experts and if you ask your same question there I’m sure you will get a wonderful collection of answers Another site that has several friends of mine who are also Lincoln experts is run by Randal Berry and Steven G. Miller. All of these experts are VERY approachable and love helping people with their homework (LOL)(well, at least they love talking about the topic of Abraham Lincoln). Please tell them I sent you and that I say hello. Good luck and let me know how the report comes out.
      Best. Barry

  11. Dear Barry,
    Im doing a report on Abraham Lincoln and I need to know a whole bunch of facts (90 to be exact) that you think many people wouldn’t know. Thanks for your help. by the way, I like your website. abraham lincoln is my FAVORITE president. Did you know that he is the only president to have gotten a patent. it is patent #6469. Well thanks for any help. :)

    • Hi Katie: I am so glad my site was able to help you dig us some facts (at least a part of the 90 you needed … lol). Yes, the patent was for a boat lift. That is good investigative work you’ve done. That fact is not well known. Good for you. He was also challenged to a duel when he was younger (but I bet you already found out about that one too). Being a good researcher means you check your sources so you don’t depend on just one. However, you have to use your common sense sometimes because even the facts that we are told in books and online can sometimes be incorrect. Keep researching and being as thorough as you can. That is what makes experts in this field and any interest you may have. Please let me know how you do on your report. I am anxious to find out.
      By the way, what grade are you in and in what city?
      Please tell your teacher that it is a good project they have you working on.
      Have a wonderful day and good luck.

  12. […] parts 1 to 15. Best Barry DID YOU KNOW (PART 15) ABRAHAM … Continue readingWelcome to The Abraham Lincoln Blog! This blog serves as a source of information about Mr. Lincoln, […]

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