"From War’s Ashes to the Birth of Lincoln College"
Paul Beaver gives insight to the founding of Lincoln College

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[February 06, 2015]  ELKHART - Professor emeritus, Paul Beaver of Lincoln College, once again held his audience spell-bound with his 5th Elkhart Wild Hare Café dinner/lecture, this past Saturday. His talk; “From War’s Ashes to the Birth of Lincoln College”, which gave insights on the founding of Lincoln University (now Lincoln College). The college the only institution named for Abraham Lincoln during his lifetime.

Paul recounted the horrific and paralyzing Civil War, which was witnessed by all that both sides lost so very much — more lives, causalities and property loss than any war before or since. He used this short but vivid recounting to set the stage of Lincoln University's "Rise from the Ashes" — which has led us to believe that its formation, struggle and existence throughout the years was in large part both a benevolent as well as an obligated undertaking to forever establish and continue our fallen namesake's institution of higher learning here in Lincoln, Illinois.

Beaver explained that a group of Cumberland Presbyterians from the Southern states established the First Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Illinois, in 1857 – believed to be the first such church of their denomination in the northern states. Soon after, this Logan County denomination made plans to help establish a university here, which would also be their first such one in the northern states (there had been other Presbyterian universities established in the South).

He also showed a powerpoint copy of the letter by trustee, Col. Robert B. Latham, sent to President Lincoln in early March, 1865. The letter spelled out the existence of the University's charter established earlier in the year and plans for an endowment. It also mentioned, "...to inform you more fully of the University and of the prosperity of our town, believing you feel a lively interest in it, on account of its being named for you before Presidential honors had any influence." Beaver provided additional documentation of Col. Richard Oglesby's (later twice Governor of Illinois) visit to the White House on the very day of Lincoln's assassination. Beaver and the rest of us believe that President Lincoln and Oglesby must have talked a bit about the formation of Lincoln University in the President's name, albeit just a few days following Lee's surrender at Appomattox on April 9th — just six days before the terrible deed.

Beaver pointed out that a Central Illinois land baron, William Scully, reached into his vest pocket and took out a check. He promptly made the check out for $5,000 for an immediate payment on the University's loan note that was due. There were many others, said Beaver, namely local cattle baron and a close friend of Lincoln, John D. Gillette, who also solicited and provided funding — with Gillette and Scully, probably lots of it.

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An extremely interesting side bar was revealed when Beaver told of the invitation by a local Lincoln Presbyterian Church Pastor of John Brown Gordon, a Confederate General who fought with Lee on the Eastern front, to speak at his church in the late 1800's. The pastor was also of Southern military background, but who long ago had forgiven the North. He had grown to understand the fallen President's fervent desire to keep the union intact as well as to prove to the Europeans that the United States no longer harbored the medieval institution of slavery. To aid in this transformation from hatred and sorrow to love and acceptance, the Pastor invited General Gordon to speak at one of his services — the General, himself, having experienced this transformation.

Professor Beaver's description of the event from Chapter 7 of his recent book, Abraham Lincoln in Logan County, Illinois — 1834 - 1860:

Signs that the wounds from the war had begun to heal were evidenced on a winter evening on December 1, 1898, when over 500 local citizens, many Union veterans, gathered in the “new” First Presbyterian Church on Pekin Street in Lincoln to hear an address by former Confederate General John Brown Gordon. Gordon had been one of General Robert E. Lee's most trusted commanders. The man who introduced Gordon that evening was three-time Governor of Illinois Richard J. Oglesby. The event was arranged in part by the church's pastor, Dr. R. M. Tinnon, who himself was a four-year Confederate war veteran who had suffered three combat wounds, and with efforts by the local Leo W. Myers G.A.R. Post. The article in the December 2, 1898 Lincoln Daily Courier noted that General Gordon was often interrupted with applause during his nearly two-hour address. Lincoln's population at this time had grown to around 8,000.

The Elkhart Historical Society, at Wild Hare Café in Elkhart, undertake an annual dinner/ lecture series, featuring speakers who speak on engaging topics — often on some aspect of the history of Logan County or of some former Logan County personality of importance. Check these websites for future events: www.elkharthistoricalsociety.org  and www.wildharecafe-elk-il.com.

[Phil Bertoni]

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