By Stillman Hobbs
Hampton Union, February 15, 1984
Last Sunday was February 12, the 175th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the president who guided the United States to final victory against the Southern Confederacy after four long and bitter years of fighting in the American Civil War.
For me it recalled a day exactly 75 years ago, February 12, 1909, when I, as a lad of five years, had a small part in a celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. On that day it was my privilege to carry the flag for the young school children in the exercises which were held in the old Hampton Town Hall. How or why I was chosen for this honor I do not know, probably by my first grade teacher, Miss Kitty Smart. This was to be my first appearance in a public function and I was proud to be chosen for the honor of being the flag-bearer and looked forward with high anticipation to the great event. When I discovered that the flag had an eagle atop its staff my enthusiasm was even more heightened.
The great day finally came and all went well (or so I thought) when I marched onto the stage. While standing at attention with my flag held high, I looked down and discovered that I had not taken off my big muddy cumbersome boots, as my mother had given me strict instructions to do. But it was too late. I just had to clomp around the stage in those big boots until I was finished with my activities. All the while I must have looked all boots and flag to the audience. At the time, my greatest qualm was the realization of the chagrin that I sensed my mother must be feeling.
The worst misadventure, however, was yet to come. After the salute to the flag and the singing of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," activities in which the assembled members of the Grand Army of the Republic, along with the audience, participated with the appropriate reverence and verve. In the order of procedure I was the last person to leave the stage, which I did with the spread-eagle flag still held high, perhaps too high as events turned out. As I approached the wings the eagle got entangled in the ropes which open and close the stage curtain. I yanked and tugged to extricate the eagle. But to no avail. My teacher noted the difficulty, and rising to the occasion, mercifully rescued both me and the flag from a completely ignominious situation. In spite of the two tragic-comic matters I ultimately recovered my composure, especially after several of the Civil War veterans said some kind words to me.
So much for the events of February 12, 1909! I was happy and proud to have played my small role in celebrating the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. It was in the year 1909 that the first Lincoln penny was struck off. There were to be many more school exercises on February 12th as the years went by, because much was made of that date in the early years of the present century when the Civil War was not too far back in the history of the country.
Now for a bit of epilogue in favor of making the birthday of Lincoln a national holiday as is that of Washington. In many ways, Lincoln as president, and commander-in-chief was the indispensable man in winning the Civil War. His military strategy for prosecuting the war was superb; he kept the border states in the Union; he finally found a general, U.S. Grant, who could wind down the war successfully; and he handled the diplomacy with the finesse which kept the European powers from intervening in behalf of the Confederacy.
It was the famous Roman orator, Cicero, who said that the man who preserved the republic performed as great a deed as did the one who created it. So may the United States in the not too distant future, when all sectional wounds are healed, appreciate the greatness of Lincoln and declare February 12 a national holiday!