On the sesquicentennial of some of the most climatic moments of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, there’s much to remember about what America might have been had things gone a bit differently, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer said.
From Jan. 1 when (Abraham Lincoln) made the Emancipation Proclamation to November when he gave the Gettysburg Address, 1863 is a year worthy of distinction from beginning to end, Holzer said.
As part of the Friends of the Lincoln Collection of Indiana’s annual Rolland Lecture Series, Holzer will share stories from 1863: Lincoln’s Pivotal Year, which Holzer and Fort Wayne native Sara Vaughn Gabbard co-edited.
The book was published in February.
Holzer’s speech will begin at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Allen County Public Library Theater, 900 Library Plaza. The event, sponsored by Barrett & McNagny law firm, is free.
Holzer has written or edited more than 40 books about Lincoln and gives dozens of lectures each year about the man and his legacy.
When he isn’t writing or giving talks, Holzer is the senior vice president for external affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
In his lecture, Holzer will share stories of Lincoln’s presidency and some of the challenges he faced as the leader of America during the Civil War.
He also plans to share snippets of information about the evolution of Lincoln’s image as the man who Holzer says saved America and broadened the face of freedom.
Prose to poetry
The year 1863 presents a nice snapshot of what a presidential year is like. Brutal, usually, as it was for Lincoln, Holzer said in a telephone interview.
Holzer said he hopes his talk will help listeners think back 150 years to a year that transformed America.
We’ll talk about the evolution of the year from prose to poetry. From the legal documents like the Emancipation Proclamation to the prose that was the Gettysburg Address, Holzer said.
Although those are two of the well-known historical moments, there were plenty more throughout the year including battles in Congress, fights with the press, the death of rivals and the evolution of Lincoln’s image as a leader, he said.
Had a couple of things gone differently – had Stonewall Jackson not been killed, had the Confederates not lost the Battle of Gettysburg, had Grant not captured Vicksburg – the America we know today might not have existed, he said.
Though he doesn’t plan to make many direct comparisons between the issues Lincoln faced with those that leaders face today, Holzer said President Barack Obama is a good example of everything Lincoln believed in.
Whether one agrees with him or not, he is living the dream that Lincoln had. He believed that people could rise from any level of society only by their own talents, he said.
Holzer also plans to discuss a topic that put him in the spotlight late last year – the making of Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln.
The movie, released in November, focuses on Lincoln’s final four months leading up to his assassination and stars Daniel Day Lewis, who won an Oscar for portraying Lincoln.
As he researched Lincoln’s legacy for the film, Spielberg reached out to Holzer, bringing him in as a content consultant.
Holzer has described the film as chilling – as if (Lincoln) really comes to life.
As part of his role, Holzer met the cast and was invited to be one of the first to view the film before it was released.
He also wrote a young-adult companion book to accompany the film called Lincoln: How Abraham Lincoln Ended Slavery in America.
A local connection
Although Holzer has no residential ties to Fort Wayne – his longest stay in the city was five days, he joked – he did have a special connection to the former Lincoln Museum and its employees.
Until it was closed in 2009, the museum housed the nation’s largest collection of documents on Lincoln.
I knew every single one of them, Holzer said of the employees. Forty years ago they were very helpful to me. And I’m still in contact with many of them.
Among those is Gabbard, a longtime friend and fellow Lincoln scholar.
Holzer and Gabbard, a resident of Fort Wayne, met many years ago when she worked at the Lincoln Museum.
Since then, the two scholars have worked together on two Lincoln books and have signed to complete a third.
Gabbard, who now is executive director of the Lincoln Indiana Collection, said she always looks forward to hearing Holzer speak about their shared passion.
He really is the leading authority any place on Lincoln’s image and how it has been used, she said.
The sesquicentennial is a perfect time to reflect on the stories Holzer has spent his lifetime researching and sharing, she said.
We’re right at the 150th anniversary of the years of Lincoln’s presidency and the Civil War, and it’s important to recognize these things, she said.