Sunday, September 9, 2018


Last week I went to Illinois to give a lecture to the Second Annual Abraham Lincoln's Legacy--Lessons for Today's Lawyers Seminar, which was put on by the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA). What was really neat about the seminar was that it was held in the very courtroom where Abraham Lincoln tried his famous Almanac Trial. And the topic that I was going to speak on? The Almanac Trial, of course.

The less said about the airplane trip the better. The cheapest ticket I could find was a flight out of Orlando with a change of planes in Chicago. I got up at 6:00 AM, drove 2 1/2 hours to Orlando, got on the plane, flew for 2 1/2 hours to Chicago, and discovered that my connecting flight had been cancelled. I wound up sitting in O'Hare Airport for over 9 hours waiting on another connecting flight which kept being changed and postponed. I didn't get into the hotel in Springfield until 2:00 AM. It would have taken less time to get to the hotel if I had driven straight through from home. The only bright side of the flight was that I was able to polish off a 300 page book while sitting in O'Hare.

The next day I gave a lecture on Lincoln as a lawyer at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Christian McWhirter, the Research Historian at the library was a gracious host and made me feel very much at home.

One thing that struck me was that they had on display a replica of a statue of Lincoln which is located in Beijing, China. Instead of trying to describe it, I'll just show a picture I took of it and also a picture of the plaque describing it:

After the presentation I went down to Books on the Square and renewed acquaintances there. They had just gotten in a huge shipment of books on Lincoln and were in the process of uncrating the books and sorting them out. I managed to get out of there without buying too many books. I only bought four books--"Lincoln's Generals," "Lincoln and his Generals," "American Iliad," and "Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant." If I had more room in my suitcase, I probably would have gotten more. I slept like a log at the hotel that night.

The next day Judge Ron Spears, who acted as my unofficial host during my stay in Illinois, gave me a ride to Beardstown for the lecture to the ISBA. I was disappointed to find that my old friend, Corky Kinstle, was no longer manning the gift shop on the first floor of the old courthouse. He had recently fallen ill and was still recuperating. This did not prevent him, however, from coming to the courthouse for a brief visit, and I got the opportunity to thank him again for all the help he had given me when I was researching my first book on Lincoln the lawyer.

The old courthouse is mostly a museum of Illinois history, but they still hold court in the courtroom on the second floor. I actually got to meet the judge who holds proceedings in the old courtroom--Judge Bobby G. Hardwick, who was the program coordinator for the seminar.

I thoroughly examined the museum's collection of antique firearms, both long guns and handguns, and sorely regretted that they were locked behind glass where I couldn't get the feel of some of the weapons. One weapon in particular intrigued me. It was a wagon gun--a huge long gun with a massive bore designed to fire scrap metal. The gun would be placed on the tail gate of a Conestoga wagon and used as artillery for the protection of wagon trains.

Wagon Gun
The pictures hung on the walls of the courtroom had almost all been changed, and there was a photograph of Duff Armstrong that I had never seen before.

Duff Armstrong

He certainly looked more presentable in the picture than he does in the more common picture of him in his uniform as a Union soldier.

Armstrong in Uniform

I was the first speaker of the morning, and I gave them my interpretation of the conflicting eyewitness reports of the course of the Almanac Trial. I think the presentation was well-received. At least nobody threw rotten fruit at me.

The second hour I gave a lecture which surveyed all of Lincoln's murder trials--at least all of those murder trials for which we have enough information to say something about. After delivering that lecture I joined the audience and spent the rest of the day listening to the other presentations.

The gift shop downstairs had stocked up on my books on Lincoln. When I got there that morning, I saw a table which was "chock-a-block" full of the books. When I went downstairs at the end of the day, I saw that the table was almost empty. I spent some time signing books that some of the attendees had bought, and then it was time to go back to Springfield. 

Judge Spears drove me back and treated me to supper at Smokey Bones Barbecue, and then he took me back to the hotel. I fell into bed and slept like a log until it was time to get up and go back to the airport. There were more delays at the airport, but I got home in time to see the second half of the Gator game. I might as well have been delayed a little longer.

All-in-all, it was an enjoyable trip despite the troubles at the airports. I met a lot of nice people, and I learned a lot about Lincoln's law practice from the other presenters.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


There's an old saying that a lie can go around the world before the truth gets its boots on, and that is certainly true about the charge that Lincoln used a forged almanac in his cross-examination of the prosecution's star witness against Duff Armstrong. The witness said he saw the murder by the light of the moon high overhead, and the almanac showed the moon was on the horizon at the time of the murder. The false charge has been rebutted and refuted numerous times over the years, but it never seems to die.

Beginning of the 1860 Campaign Article on the Almanac Trial

I wrote in "Lincoln's Most Famous Case" and again in "Prairie Defender" that the charge was first made in the 1860 presidential campaign after an account of the Almanac Trial was published as campaign literature under the title "Thrilling Episode in the Life of Abe Lincoln." This account was soon rebutted with the fake almanac allegation. As I was preparing for my visit to Illinois next week, I discovered that there was a tradition which held that the fake almanac allegation was made against Lincoln in his 1858 senatorial campaign against Stephen A. Douglas. I doubt that the allegation was made this early, and here is why:

The story of the trial hit the papers immediately after Lincoln was nominated. It played as a heartwarming human interest story but it was exaggerated to make the almanac show no moon at all when actually the moon was on the horizon. It’s hard to see why Lincoln’s handlers would have gone with the story if they knew of the fake almanac allegation. Second, the story was immediately answered by a sneering rebuttal entitled "Sensation Story Spoilt." It was supposedly written by someone who had intimate knowledge of the case, but he made no mention of the fake almanac. Third, there would be no suspicion of a fake almanac until someone fact-checked the no-moon detail of the pro-Lincoln propaganda against an almanac, which likely happened after the publication of "Sensation Story Spoilt." If the fake almanac allegation had already been made in 1858, it would have been featured in "Sensation Story Spoilt." None of the references I have seen which say the allegation was made in 1858 have footnotes or endnotes, so we don't know where they got their information.
Until I can see contemporary evidence of faked almanac allegations being made in the 1858 campaign, I’m going to believe that fading memories of long-ago events retrojected the 1860.

If anyone knows of a contemporary reference which supports the allegation being made in 1858, please bring it to my attention. I'd like to see it.

The Rebuttal to the 1860 Campaign Article

Monday, August 21, 2017


I'm speaking on "Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln" to the Filson HIstorical Society on September 12 in Louisville, Kentucky, on September 12. Here's the announcement from the Society: ANNOUNCEMENT.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


I did a Bing search and a Google search on Prairie Defender: The Murder Trials of Abraham Lincoln and came up with eight sites which are offering free copies of the book.

I didn't plan to get rich from sales of the book, but I didn't plan to have so many different people trying to steal from me, either.

I'm taking steps to have the websites shut down, but it is really a pain in the nether regions to have to deal with stuff like this. A number of other sites have already been shut down without my having to take any action.

This has happened on a small scale with other books that I've written, but never on such a large scale as with Prairie Defender. Does the fact that so many different websites have pirated your book mean that it is a good book?

Monday, June 19, 2017


Although the tentative release date for Prairie Defender was June 28, the book actually was published on my birthday, May 23, 2017. SIU Press put out a flier/brochure on the book, a copy of which is set forth below.

One thing which the flyer does not mention: In the endnotes to the chapters, you will find references to web pages which contain additional supplemental information about the people and events described in each chapter.