One Evening At Gettysburg…

It was one of those evenings when you’d just rather sit in your tent and zone-out. The Union generals had been playing “catch-up on the campaign” ever since the now-fired Joe Hooker had started a belated pursuit of the Confederate army. As for the men in gray, they’d been on the march for weeks now, into Maryland and Pennsylvania, but it just seemed like all their plans weren’t working out.

Sensing that his commanders needed a break, General Lee inquired if there was a pizza parlor nearby, and Henry Heth said he’d heard about a good place in Gettysburg. Lee sent Heth to make reservations.

About that same time, Union General Meade decided to have a team building meeting. John Buford sent word that he’d heard of High Ground Pizza – not too far in the little town of Gettysburg – and offered to hold some tables.

When Henry Heth arrived at High Ground Pizza, he was astonished to find Buford there, already reserving about half the restaurant’s tables. Heth at once expressed his displeasure and then wondered aloud what would happen when the generals from both sides gathered in the room.

They didn’t have to wait long. Reynolds showed up and ordered some [root] beer and “for goodness sakes, hurry up!” and Gordon arrived with his gray mustang. Heth pouted in the corner, making frowny faces at the men in blue until Ewell and Lee arrived and organized some tables across from the Yankee position.

Longstreet, Early, Pickett, and Hood all came together. Longstreet took one look around the restaurant and suggested they could go to Washington for a hamburger and just leave the Yankees alone, but Lee insisted he really wanted pizza. The men in gray looked at the menu for a while. “I just wish General Stuart was here. He’s so particular in what he eats, and I don’t want to order something he doesn’t like,” Lee said, looking over the rim of his glasses absently as though he didn’t see his other friends.

Hancock, Sickles, Meade, Warren and Chamberlain entered. Nobody was quite sure why Chamberlain came; he wasn’t in the general’s star-club yet, but the other Union men just shrugged and assumed he invited himself to the party. They bent over the menus, trying to decide what to order.

Finally, Lee sent Ewell to the ordering counter to ask for four large pepperoni pizzas, if possible. Ewell had started eating healthy ever since he got married and decided it wasn’t possible; he ordered four thin crust vegan pizzas with minimal cheese. Meanwhile, all the Union men decided on carnivorous pizza and sent Sickles to place the order for four pizzas. Sickles glanced behind him, made sure Hancock wasn’t listening, and only ordered only cheese pizza because he was tired of everyone ignoring what he wanted.

The Confederate pizzas arrived first (still before Stuart, who seemed to have gotten lost on the way to the gathering). Everyone glowered when they saw what Ewell had ordered, but about that time Longstreet noticed that the Union men had pizza with yummy, gooey (and totally unhealthy) cheese. Motioning to the others, they quickly got the same idea. Forget caution and healthy dieting! Food stealing!

Now, the Union boys growled at Sickles until Warren sounded the alarm. Chamberlain – from his seat on the left, closest to the food counter – grabbed several pizza boxes and suggested they take the food to-go. The others rallied and headed for the back of Meade’s pick-up (wagon, of course). The Confederates gathered at the door while Sickles was sent back to camp without dinner as punishment for his mischief and lack of obedience.

“Men, should we stay or head back to camp?” Meade asked. After some quick thinking, the men voted to stay…because if they went back to camp all the soldiers would be mad they didn’t get to have pizza too. Now, the generals had tried that at Fredericksburg last year, and it just turned into the biggest disaster ever.

Who wouldn’t fight for PIZZA?

Pickett ran out the door, calling to the gray-clad men to follow. “Rally, brave Virginians! We can take their cheese pizza!” But it took a while to get the others to come with him, and by that time, the cheese pizza stealing opportunity vanished. The Union men shook hands, smiled at everyone (except the Confederates) and headed back to camp, thankful for an opportunity to relax and enjoy some good food.

Inside the restaurant, Stuart arrived in time to poke at the cold veggie pizza while Lee scolded him for being late. The men in gray decided to head to Williamsport Brewery on Potomac Street, leaving Lee to pay the price of the pizza with his Lost Cause Rewards Card (which would actually be billed to Longstreet).

April Fools From Emerging Civil War!

From the ECW Archives: Queen of Delphine, Part II

Lillias Nichols

(Continuing the story from Part I of Lillias Nichols as prisoner of war and her captors aboard the CSS Shenandoah.)

New Year’s Day 1865 continued clear and balmy. All sails were set with just enough breeze to fill them, the first really fine weather they had experienced since entering the Indian Ocean.

Mrs. Nichols’s canaries sang delightfully all day. New Year’s dinner in the wardroom included two splendid hams adorned with Confederate flags.

It seemed a pity to cut them, wrote Lieutenant Chew, “however, looking at them was not sufficient for the voracious appetites of some of my messmates.” Hopes for the future were tempered by thoughts of home. “What a waste of waters between me and the shores of my country!”[i]

They had a nice dinner, noted Lieutenant Whittle. “This is a day upon which all persons however separated think of their absent dear ones more than on any other. Oh! How my heart feels for my dear ones.” He invoked God’s blessing and wished for a better and happier new year. “My constant prayer is that a merciful God will guard, protect and cherish our dear country. That he will open the eyes of our enemies to the cruelty of the war they are waging against us and that he may teach them that they are wrong.”[ii]

With the dawn, the near-barren volcanic island of St. Paul rose above the horizon. Masters Mate Hunt claimed to have observed Mrs. Nichols in some distress over the prospect of being marooned there, and to have comforted her. (Hunt had a tendency to embellish his memoirs.)

She told him of stories in the Northern press describing outrages committed upon defenseless men and women by Rebel cruisers, and produced a sample from an illustrated New York publication. The article compared the men of the infamous CSS Alabama with dastardly pirates and renegades, but was, according to Hunt, full of blunders and absurdities that provided amusement in the wardroom for days.[iii]

They dropped anchor at the southern end of the island while eight officers rowed to the beach for a day of exploration and fishing, returning in the evening loaded with fish and in the best of spirits. But they paid dearly, recalled Hunt, with bright sunburns and hands blistered at the oars.

They had hoped to capture a seal or two but failing this, found a penguin and, “brought his aquatic fowlship off in triumph.” The penguin had the bray of an ass, was covered by gray down, and walked with military erectness. Someone pinned a rag around its neck resembling a shawl like an old lady, which amused them all, including Mrs. Nichols. Waddell shaped course for Cape Leeuwin at the southwestern tip of Australia.[iv]

CSS Shenandoah

The men (and woman) of Shenandoah settled into underway routine for the next three weeks with everyone anxious to get ashore. Friday, January 6, 1865, was Surgeon Lining’s thirty-first birthday. He enjoyed conversing with Mrs. Nichols and viewing her family photographs, but Captain Nichols got jealous and came poking around whenever the doctor was with her. “The fool and ass…. I shall now go on talking to her to plague him, if nothing else.”

Nichols frequently walked the quarterdeck with his wife, a privilege extended to no other prisoners. According to Hunt, “the old fellow made himself so continually and unmitigatedly disagreeable that our officers perforce avoided him.” They were as anxious to be rid of him as he was to be elsewhere.[v]

Lieutenant Chew noted the crossing of the meridian exactly opposite his home on the globe and was amazed to find himself in such a far off place. He calculated that Melbourne, Australia, and Lexington, Missouri were distant from each other by the Cape of Good Hope 238 degrees of longitude, equal to 12,600 miles.

They had enjoyed summer and fall in Europe and now in the southern hemisphere were having summer over again. “I suppose by the coming of the winter months, we will have [re-]crossed the line, thus having continual summer.”[vi]

Lieutenant William Whittle reported an uncomfortable encounter with Mrs. Nichols one morning in the wardroom:

“Well Mr. Whittle, I trust that we may soon have peace,” she said, a sentiment to which he concurred.

“Do you think we can ever be friends?”

“No Madam, never,” he responded.

“But Mr. Whittle, if after the peace was made you were to meet me, would you speak to me?”

“Certainly, Madam, I would speak at any time to a female.”

“But would you not speak to my husband?”

“I might do so as he has never served against us.”

The lady expressed admiration for the Confederate Navy uniform cap and asked if she could have one. Whittle felt bound as a gentleman to acquiesce; he could say no to men but not to a woman. But they were Yankees, and their motives could only be mercenary. Whittle had no doubt she would hand the cap, if provided, over to her husband and he would sell it.

He thought no woman with so little delicacy as to place a gentleman in such a fix should expect him to comply, “and on this principle I will let the cap alone.” Mrs. Nichols apparently developed a grudging fondness for some of the officers, but never took to the somewhat stuffy Virginian. She undoubtedly enjoyed teasing him.[vii]

Shenandoah in Hobson’s Bay, February 1865 (State Library of Victoria, Melbourne)

A new parole form was prepared for signature by the prisoners before release upon arrival in Melbourne, in which they promised not to serve against the Confederacy, and not to provide information tending to the detriment of the Shenandoah. Captain Nichols signed the form without protest, but not his wife.

Dr. Charles Lining

“She let loose with her tongue, pitching directly into her husband for telling her to sign it & say nothing,” reported Lining. The lady would not feel bound by parole given under duress and would pass on whatever information she pleased (which she subsequently did to the U.S. Consul in Melbourne).

After signing the document, Mrs. Nichols turned to Lieutenant Lee and pointedly inquired: “Is there anything you want [my son] Phiny to sign?” Lee replied: “No, Madame, we are much more afraid of you than we are of him.” Dr. Lining: “She went out in a towering rage. Not to get the vials of her wrath poured out on me, I kept quiet.”[viii]

On the morning after arrival, Captain Waddell was awakened by voices in the adjoining cabin. Mrs. Nichols was preparing for departure and loudly demanding restitution of every book taken from her ship Delphine. All were returned except Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which Lieutenant Whittle threw overboard.

The lady thanked them for their kindness, declaring she liked all the officers except Doctor Lining and Lieutenant Whittle. “I thought I was a kind of chicken of hers,” concluded the embarrassed lieutenant, “anyhow I was very kind to her.” The Nichols family loaded their luggage into boats and shoved clear of Shenandoah. Her parting shot: “I wish that steamer may be burned.”[ix]

(Extracted from A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2015) by Dwight Sturtevant Hughes)

[i] Francis Thornton Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal of Francis Thornton Chew, Lieutenant, C.S.N.,” Chew Papers #148, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library (not paginated), 1 January 1865.

[ii] William C. Whittle, Jr., The Voyage of the CSS Shenandoah: A Memorable Cruise (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005), 99.

[iii] Cornelius E. Hunt, The Shenandoah; Or, The Last Confederate Cruiser (New York: G.W. Carelton, 1867), 87-89.

[iv] Ibid., 84-86.

[v] Charles E. Lining, Journal, Eleanor S. Brokenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA. (not paginated), 6 January 1865; Hunt, Shenandoah, 91.

[vi] Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal,” 12 January 1865.

[vii] Whittle, Voyage, 105-06.

[viii] Lining, Journal, 23 January 1865.

[ix] Whittle, Voyage, 106; James I. Waddell, “Extracts from notes on the C.S.S. Shenandoah by her commander, James Iredell Waddell, C.S. Navy,” in The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), 1, 3:809.

Irish-Americans Remembered On The Battlefields

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and it only seems right to nod the kepis respectfully to the Irish-Americans who fought on both sides during the American Civil War.

From the Emerging Civil War editors’ photo collections, here are a couple photos of the Union Army of the Potomac’s Irish Brigade memorials at Antietam and Gettysburg. Let us know if you have a favorite Irish-American memorial on a battlefield, and we’ll try to get a shot the next time we’re in the fields.

Best of luck to you and yours this fine day, and don’t drink too much whiskey before the horse race! (If you’re not familiar with the 1863 St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the Army of the Potomac, you can find the details here on Irish-American Civil War.)

Images displayed as a gallery; click on a photo to enlarge.

Looking for some additional historical posts about the Irish and the American Civil War? We’ve got a few from our own archives:

Thinking About The Irish Brigade At Antietam

“Oh It Was A Terrible Day”: The Irish Brigade At Fredericksburg

My Favorite Historical Person: Thomas Francis Galwey

Gone For A Soldier: Journeys Of Irish American Music & Patriotism

Stolen Pie, but a Bigger Prize for Sergeant Young at Petersburg

Today is the favorite holiday for math teachers. March Fourteenth (3-14) represents the first three numbers in the mathematical constant pi. I’ve been using pi (3.14159…) a lot more than I had anticipated as a historian. Each time I rescale the maps I draw, I need to use pi to find the circumference of the circle in my compass. Then I divide it by twelve so that the compass can define direction like a clock in addition to north, south, east, west.

Bakers have also jumped in to make today a pie-themed holiday and I also hope that my favorite Richmond pie shop–Proper Pie–does not have too long of a line after work. In the spirit of the holiday I dug through my Petersburg source material looking for a reference to pie. I found an article relating to one of the first 6th Corps soldiers to reach the Confederate lines in the campaign’s decisive assault on April 2, 1865.

Sergeant David Wilson Young carried the colors of the 139th Pennsylvania Infantry in Colonel James Warner’s 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 6th Corps. Despite his regiment starting in the second line in Warner’s column, Young was reported to have planted his flag on the Confederate earthworks that morning before any others in the brigade. Before the battle a donor had provided Ulysses S. Grant with a purse of $460 to award to the first Union soldier to raise the national flag over Richmond. Since the city fell as a result of the fighting at Petersburg, Grant divided the sum into three parts and requested the commanders of the 5th, 6th, and 24th Corps select a suitable soldier for the prize.

Sergeant David Wilson Young, 139th Pennsylvania Infantry (Richard A. Sauers Collection)

Wright selected Young and the Pennsylvania sergeant received a handwritten letter from Grant containing $153.33 just before mustering out of the army. Two decades later he reflected on the experience and wrote to the National Tribune in 1884 inquiring for the names of the other two recipients.

Private Sylvester Ford Hildebrand had served with Young in the 139th Pennsylvania and had written extensively about his experience. He read Young’s inquiry in the National Tribune. Though he could not identify the other two recipients (Corporal Jacob R. Tucker, 4th Maryland, and Sergeant Thomas W. McGraw, 23rd Illinois), he saw the opportunity to publicly admit to a prank he had played on the color bearer while camped at Petersburg in early 1865. His letter to the editor appeared in the June 24, 1884 issue under the headline “They Love Pie, Not Wisely, But Too Well.”

Private Sylvester Ford Hildebrand, 139th Pennsylvania Infantry (Simpsons Leader Times, April 14, 1930)

Some time ago there appeared an article in the columns of The Tribune from Sergeant D.W. Young, company E, 139th Pennsylvania volunteers, asking for the names of the other two brave boys who first planted the glorious old flag on the ramparts of Richmond. I have forgotten his address, but would like to ask, through The Tribune, if the sergeant ever found out the names of the two parties who, while in camp at Patrick Station, Va., 1865, took from his tent a large pie, which had been procured for a grand supper (such as soldiers usually got up in the front) for himself and his messmates. It is now nineteen years ago, and we know he will not be angry if we relate that little joke.

After his table had been spread with a bountiful supply of pure fat meat and army beans for five, with clear, cold sparkling water to quench thirst, he turned to an improvised mantlepiece for the pie, but there was no pie to be seen. It was a mystery to him, as it had been there a moment before, and, although a diligent search was made through the company, “nary” pie was to be found. Of course not, for by this time E.E. Smith and S.F. Hildebrand had made away with it–eaten heartily to Davy and his messmates’ wellfare.

Allow me to return many thanks to him for the pie. If we ever meet again we will divide a well-baked pie with him. We were all boys together, more than two-thirds of company E, 139th Pennsylvania volunteers having entered the service between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years.

The prankster boys did well during the Breakthrough on April 2nd. Colonel Warner afterward reported, “A few resolute men of each brigade of the division effected a lodgment and drove the enemy from their works. In this connection especial mention is due the One hundred and thirty-ninth Pennsylvania volunteers.”

Prince Greer: Slave, Freedman, and Entrepreneur

Prince Greer

One of the issues facing newly freed men and women was how to make a living in a world that had never paid them a living wage for their contributions. Even the USCT initially were paid less than white soldiers, and contraband labor was not paid at all. One of the African-American men who not only contributed to efforts during the Civil War but was instrumental in developing the African-American-based business model was simply known as Prince Greer.

Slaves burying the Union dead at Antietam

What we might recognize as proto-modern embalming techniques were introduced during and after the Civil War. Embalmers often followed both armies, hoping to profit from the misfortune of others. A number of Union soldiers or their families pre-paid for embalming and shipment back North in the event of a soldier’s death in the war. After a battle, especially in the East, black soldiers were recruited to bury the dead and keep records of burial sites for soldiers killed in combat. Black assistants to doctors were trained in embalming and conducted much of this work.[1]

One particularly interesting example is that of Prince Greer, America’s first African American embalmer.  He was the personal slave of a Confederate cavalry officer who was killed in Tennessee.  Greer took it upon himself to return the body of his former master to his estate and contacted a Nashville undertaker, Dr. W. P. Cornelius, for help in this endeavor.  Cornelius embalmed the officer, and his body was shipped back to Texas, but during this time Cornelius’ current assistant, a Dr. Lewis, decided that embalming was not quite the job he wanted.  Upon the departure of Lewis, Prince Greer stepped forward.  He offered to learn the embalming trade in exchange for room and board, and Cornelius was glad to have him. Greer became the first recorded embalmer of color in the United States.[2]

William R. Cornelius, Greer’s employer, was an interesting man in his own right. Originally from Pennsylvania, he was apprenticed as a carpenter and furniture maker. During this time he also learned how to make coffins. By 1849 he had moved to Nashville, TN and had become the sole proprietor of the firm McComb and Carson, which focused exclusively on undertaking. He won a contract to bury the Confederate dead and when the Union army arrived in 1862, he got a contract to bury the Union dead at the same terms.  He opened branch establishments in Murfreesboro and Chattanooga, Tennessee, as well as Stevenson, Huntsville, and Bridgeport, Alabama, and Rome, Georgia.  He claimed to have buried or shipped to their homes over 33,000 remains by the end of the war:

                        I suppose I embalmed and had embalmed some 3,000-3,500 soldiers and   employees of the U.S. Army. Embalming was not introduced until after the  Confederate Army left, so I did not embalm any Confederates.  I embalmed and shipped General McPherson, General Scott and General Garesché.  The latter  had his head shot clear off.  I shipped nearly all of the Anderson cavalry to Philadelphia at one time.  After the fight at Stones River, I shipped colonels,majors, captains and privates by carloads some days.[3]

Staged Union embalming enterprise

The work was overwhelming for one man and the addition of an eager pupil such as Prince Greer was a welcome boon. Cornelius trained Greer to perform the arterial embalming method perfected by Dr. Thomas Holmes, of Washington.[4] Cornelius bragged about his star pupil:

Prince Greer appeared to enjoy embalming so much that he himself  became an expert, kept on at work embalming during the balance of the war and was very successful at it.  It was but a short time before he could raise an artery as quickly as anyone.  He was always careful, always . . .  coming to me in a                         difficult case.  He remained with me until I quit the business in 1871.[5]

Once the Civil War was over, embalming remained an intrinsic part of the burial process. Undertaking now required a higher level of skill, and trade schools and universities began offering mortuary science as a concentration. Along with learning embalming techniques, morticians were also taught how to touch up bodies for viewing and how to counsel grieving families. Undertaking evolved from a skilled trade to a profession, and with this came economic and social status, making it a promising opportunity for blacks as well as whites. Almost at once, these services became segregated. While socially despicable, this was sometimes economical for black undertakers, who were able to corner the market on African American burials. It also meant that undertaking became one of the few professions open to blacks at a time when they were largely relegated to unskilled labor. With white undertakers unwilling to care for black bodies in more than a passing way, grieving families turned to their own in the hopes of a dignified homecoming. By the turn of the century, Booker T. Washington’s National Negro Business League tried to work against these beliefs by encouraging blacks to keep their money within the black community.[6]

Horses & Carriages in front of C. W. Franklin Funeral Home

The combination of experiences with slave funerals, Civil War burials, and embalming prepared African-Americans to become pioneering funeral service professionals. Prince Greer was an expert embalmer during and after the Civil War and was the first historically recorded African-American to hold such a position. Funeral parlors were among the first businesses opened by blacks after slavery was abolished and undertaking was a promising profession for any aspiring black entrepreneur. The funeral director was a well-respected figure, and the funeral home was a place of safety for the black community, away from prying eyes and ears. It is not known when Prince Greer discontinued his business, but without his example, there may have been many fewer African-American undertakers, morticians, and embalmers making their living through Reconstruction and into the future.



[3] Ibid.


[5] Ibid.


From Civil War to Civil Rights, and Some Thoughts on Sleeping In

MLK at the Lincoln Memorial (courtesy NPS)

My university used to hold classes on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day—a policy I wholeheartedly supported. I used the opportunity to spend time in my writing classes looking at the masterful craftsmanship of King’s rhetoric. People tend to remember him today for his “I Have a Dream” speech, but King was a highly effective writer and a distinctive stylist. I thought this was an excellent way to not only give my students a useful lesson about writing but also help deepen their appreciation for a man worthy of a national holiday.

Alas, we have the day off this year—a decision unilaterally made last year by an interim president who declared it “the right thing to do.” I’ve never been a big believer that a day off is the best way to honor or commemorate someone. Better to have class and conduct a lesson relevant to the day as a way to try and raise my students’ appreciation, I’ve always figured. I’m not sure how many students are going to say “Thanks, Dr. King!” for their chance to sleep in on their extra day off.

But if we’re going to have King Day off because it’s “the right thing to do,” then certainly we should celebrate President’s Day in equal fashion, too, right? After all, it’s also a national holiday specifically designated to honor the contributions of both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (not all presidents, as is often misunderstood). Except the university does not take the day off—which suggests to me that we have King Day off not because it’s “the right thing to do” but because it’s the politically correct thing to do. 

I’ve heard no viable argument for having one day off but not the other. The closest anyone’s come was a colleague who said that King Day is perhaps more relevant to us today because the Civil Rights struggle continues. I get that, particularly at a time when America seems especially troubled by racism. King Day is an important reminder of the work we still have yet to do in the name of equality and social justice.

But the “What have you done for me lately” rationale implies the exact reason why we should commemorate Presidents Day, too: to remind people (students especially) why the contributions of Washington and Lincoln remain relevant, too. By ignoring Presidents Day, we only contribute to the epidemic of historical illiteracy and lack of civic understanding that has weakened our society.

Yes, Washington and Lincoln have both “had their day,” as another colleague said. We don’t need to pay as much attention to them because they’ve had plenty attention paid to them already, he suggested—and implicit there was the idea that they had their moment because they were white men of privilege. Unfortunately, that demeans their contributions simply because of their race, which is exactly what the Civil Rights movements urges us not to do.

Washington made sure we had a country to begin with, first on the battlefield, then at the Constitutional Convention, then by the example of his personal integrity in the office of president at a time when America wasn’t quite yet sure if it was going to be a nation of laws rather than of men. Lincoln, for his part, saved that nation by seeing the Civil War through to its successful end, at the cost of his own life. Those are no small contributions, and they’ve impacted us all. Lincoln’s authorship of the Emancipation Proclamation and his efforts to pass the Thirteenth Amendment are Civil Rights achievements arguably no less important than Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vital leadership a century later.

King himself drew a direct line from the Civil Rights movement back to the Civil War, and from himself back to Lincoln, when he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

In that one line, King not only made an explicit reference to Lincoln, “a great American” in whose “shadow we stand,” but he evoked the “Gettysburg Address,” too, which began with its famous “Four score and seven years ago.”

The rest of King’s speech is filled with other powerful allusions and metaphors. (A personal favorite of mine is his evocation of Shakespeare’s Richard III when he laments about “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent,” but instead of a glorious summer made by the sun of York, he hopes for “an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.”) He had great skill at turning a phrase, and his rhetoric is as fresh and electric today as it was in 1963.

King’s use of repetition to drive home points works brilliantly on the page, and it had an almost hypnotic rhythm when delivered verbally. Again, his phrase “I have a dream” is best remembered today, but his speech gains its strongest momentum as he roars into the home stretch with a series of phrases that begin “Let freedom ring.” Among the places he calls out in that last sequence:

…let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi….

He specifically names a pair of iconic southern Civil War-related sites, Stone Mountain and Lookout Mountain, followed by rather anonymous hills and molehills in a state that was literally afire with Civil Rights-related strife (“Mississippi Burning,” anyone?). King makes a deliberate connection between the Civil War and Civil Rights—a thread that carries on today, made explicit by the National Park Service’s theme for the Civl War Sesquicentennial.

King’s a remarkable speech—one I encourage everyone to read, and read closely, if you’ve never taken the opportunity. (And if you ever visit the Lincoln Memorial, you can stand on the step where King delivered the speech; an inscription on the step marks the exact location. It’s wicked cool to stand there.)

King fought for equal rights, and so it’s based on that premise that I argue King Day and Presidents Day should be given equal treatment. Both holidays have equally relevant stories worth commemorating, and in commemorating them, we strengthen, not weaken, our democracy by developing our students’ sense of history, justice, social responsibility, and civic engagement.

A day off, while always a welcome opportunity to sleep in, means a lost opportunity, too.