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“The Yankee is a nervous, excitable sort of being”: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection

Posted on 02/24/2016

The February release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes several imprints of substantial heft. There is a catalogue describing an auction of thousands of items pertaining to the war, a thorough description of how soldiers in the field were able to vote in the 1864 election, and letters written by an Englishman explaining the Yankees to his countrymen. 

A Catalogue of Books and Pamphlets Belonging to Daniel M. Tredwell, Relating to the Great Civil War between the North and the South, or the Free and the Slave States of the American Union (1874) 

Daniel Melancthon Tredwell (1825-1921) was an American businessman, lawyer and bibliophile.In his introduction to this catalog, Tredwell states: 

The Collection of Books and Pamphlets, of which the following Catalogue, was commenced soon after the breaking out of the Civil War, in 1860 [sic], not with the remotest idea, at that time, however, that it would ever assume its present proportions. But for fourteen years it has gradually increased, until there is but little doubt that, of its kind, at the present time, it is the completest [sic] Collection in the Country. 

Bartlett’s Catalogue of Rebellion Literature, published in 1866, with over 6,000 titles, embracing Newspaper and Magazine articles, contains less than one-half of the bound books of this Collection. 

It appears that the Civil War collection he offers to sell was important to him as a historian, but finally not something he wished to maintain himself. This catalog is 223 pages of alphabetical listings beginning with a pamphlet by an A. Abbott titled “Assassination and Death of Abraham Lincoln” published in 1865. 

Voting in the Field: A Forgotten Chapter of the Civil War (1915)

By Josiah Henry Benton

Benton dedicates chapters to the method of voting, voting acts in the Confederacy, and breaks out the process state by state within the Union. 

The issue as approached by the state of Vermont may serve as an example. The governor put forward a proposal that would broadly establish the process for its soldiers to be able to vote in both the state and national contests. The legislature balked based on the state constitution: 

The important inquiry is, whether the Constitution has so proscribed the time, place and manner of holding elections, or either of them, as to leave no power in the General Assembly to prescribe them, or either of them, in the manner proposed in the bill in question. 

The committee concluded that they could not support including any of the state contests, pointing out that: 

The bill in question proposes to give to the Governor authority to appoint and commission some person or persons and send them out of the State to receive votes in other States, and bring or send them back to elect a governor (possibly to elect the governor who appointed the commissioners), and other officers named in the bill. 

The committee cited opinions rendered by the supreme courts of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania which supported their position but did not make any comment as to whether these opinions included the election of members of Congress or the presidential electors. (Senators were appointed by state legislatures.) There ensued a year-long political disagreement between the Vermont governor and the legislature which was ultimately unanimously decided by the state supreme court in favor of the legislature’s position. 

There was then the need to amend the original act to allow soldiers in the field to vote so that it conformed to the court ruling. Finally, Vermont soldiers did vote in the 1864 presidential election, but, because “there was delay in transmitting the votes to be counted in the State, so that the recorded vote is only 243 for Lincoln, and 49 for McClellan.” 

Yankeeland in Her Trouble: An Englishman's Correspondence during the War (1864) 

This volume opens with the following note: 

The following letters were addressed by Mr. Siddons, in October, 1864, to Mr. John Bright’s newspaper, the Star. They incontestably prove that an Englishman could heartily sympathise with “Yankeeland” in her trouble, as a republican to the back-bone. Mr. Siddons had been a resident of the United States for four years and a half when the letters were written. Soon afterwards he was in England procuring skilled laborers for the Union foundries, factories and ship yards, and to that end wrote and published a “History of the United States,” the “Emigrant’s Friend,” and other works. 

Mr. Siddon’s first letter begins: 

To the Editor of the Star:

SIR: It is high time that some Englishman who understands the Yankee character and has neither been specially commissioned to abuse the Republicans nor butter the Southerners in a Democratic garb, should enter upon the task of setting his countrymen right regarding the aspects of the war, and the real nature of the noble people who are struggling to preserve their cherished Union. 

While he delights in his respect for the Yankees, he betrays a different prejudice: 

You hear a great deal in England about the trouble of getting recruits, and of the tricks resorted to by kidnappers to swell the ranks of the Federals. Of course, if Irishmen will get drunk upon vile whiskey and stupefying infusions, they must not be surprised if they wake up and find themselves either in a barrack-yard or station-house. 

Nor is he without left-handed compliments when describing the Yankees: 

The Yankee is a nervous, excitable sort of being; he gets tired of the same game, becomes sluggish and inert if not stimulated now and then by a glaring exhibition of what is yet demanded of his patriotism. When the worst comes to the worst—when the rich and prosperous are not permitted to send their representatives into the field, you will see such a gathering as has not been approached since the first call to arms. 

Siddon ends this letter with a promise (or threat) and signs it with a pseudonym: 

I have said enough for the present. It is my intention to continue to write until I learn that my communications are unnecessary or unacceptable. Muzafir 

For more information about The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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