THE FIRST TIME I ATTENDED a Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting nearly three years ago, I arrived expecting to view slave documents. The presenter, however, left the papers at home and brought, instead, memorabilia specifically related to Abraham Lincoln.
He did not disappoint. I viewed vintage postcards and original photos of Lincoln, Civil War buttons and replicas of Mary Todd Lincoln’s White House china, among many other items.
What impressed me the most, however, was the collector’s 1840 Philadelphia Derringer, exactly like the pistol with which John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln. The weapon was nearly small enough to hide in the palm of my hand.
Visuals like that teach me more about history than any textbook ever will. So do guest speakers. They address the monthly meetings of the Roundtable whose 25 members are interested in preserving and interpreting the Civil War.
Now the Faribault-based Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable is bringing in a scholar of Abraham Lincoln to kick off its eighth year as an organization. You needn’t be a Roundtable member to attend; I’m not.
Bryce Stenzel of Mankato, who developed a first-person portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in 1989 and since has traveled around the country presenting, will present “1862: Lincoln Trials by Fire” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 20, at the Faribault American Legion, 112 Fifth St. N.E.
He will address, Stenzel says, “the ‘State of the Union’ as it existed in 1862 and Lincoln’s response to the U.S.- Dakota War, against the backdrop of the American Civil War and the issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862.”
It’s a timely topic given this year marks the 150th anniversary of the U.S. – Dakota War.
Specifically, Stenzel details, his upcoming program “is a means for Faribault to acknowledge its unique connection to the U.S. – Dakota War by paying homage to its native son, Bishop Henry Whipple. Even though no fighting took place in Faribault, your community played an active role in influencing the final outcome.”
This historian, who has authored eight books on local historical and Lincoln-related topics, possesses an advanced history degree and has taught social studies/history at all levels, including college, has long taken a personal interest in the U.S. – Dakota War. His great-great grandmother and her two-year-old daughter escaped a band of Dakota warriors by hiding in tall prairie grasses. And his great-great grandfather served with the Fifth Minnesota Regiment and fought in the decisive Battle of Nashville in 1864.
Stenzel grew up in Mankato, where 38 Dakota were hung in the largest mass execution in U.S. history. President Lincoln commuted the death sentences of 265 Dakota.
The central question of my presentation is why did Lincoln feel compelled to intervene at all, when he didn’t have to? In fact, from a political standpoint, Lincoln committed political suicide—most Minnesotans at the time believed it was both right and necessary to hang the Indians as a means of preventing such a tragedy from ever happening again. It is useful for the modern audience to consider that what was “politically correct” in the 19th century, is no longer. Historical interpretation changes with time.
Dan Peterson, a member of the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable who has heard Stenzel speak, fully endorses him: “(Stenzel)) reminds me of my love for Abraham Lincoln just to be in his audience or close to him. Lincoln is on our money, our named streets, one state capitol, highways, buildings, businesses, cars and more. You just cannot get away from him.”
FYI: Tickets to the dinner and program are on sale now at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault or from Chuck Peterson (507-301-2470), Jan Stevens (507-244-0500) or Dan Peterson (507-459-3140). Cost is $22 for non-members and $20 for paid-up members of the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable.
Tickets for the meal of pork ribs with trimmings must be purchased by Saturday, September 8. The event begins at 5 p.m. on September 20 with a social and then dinner at 6 p.m.
If you want to attend just the Lincoln presentation by Stenzel, the cost is $10 for adults, $5 for students 16 and older, and free for those under 16. The program begins at 7:30 p.m.
The Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meets the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Faribault Senior Center with a speaker at each meeting. In October, the topic will be the New Ulm raid as part of the U.S. – Dakota War; in November, the Antietam Battlefield; and in December, the annual Civil War food potluck (probably with possum soup, hardtack and more, Peterson promises).
© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Bryce Stenzel photo courtesy of Bryce Stenzel