Sunday, August 21, 2011

Civil War Sunday-The Wedding of the Century

What was the most epic wedding you can think of?  Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries (just yesterday)?  William and Kate?  Charles and Diana?

Nah.  How about the wedding of Charles and Livinia?  After all, it was the wedding of the century.

The 19th century, that is.

Celebrity weddings of the century are nothing new.  We aren't the first generation to celebrate entertainers, to make them millionaires, to track every aspect of their lives.  And, back in 1863 two war weary countries (the United States and the Confederate States of America) were ready for a distraction.  Thanks to a showman by the name of P.T. Barnum, they got one.

On Tuesday, February 10, 1863 two dwarfs, Charles Stratton (better known to history as his stage name, General Tom Thumb) married Mercy Livinia Warren Bump (better known as Livinia Warren) at Grace Church in New York City. 

I found these Civil War facts and more in a fascinating novel, "The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb" by Melanie Benjamin.  This is not an autobiography but a novel.  Melanie Benjamin has done her homework well, and written an entertaining book in the style that a woman of the 19th century would have used.  The one thing I would have liked to have seen in the book was a centerfold of photos, like many modern autobiographies of celebrities contain.  But that is a small quibble.

Civil War photographer Matthew Brady photographed Warren for Harpers Weekly.
According to Benjamin, Lavinia Warren started her career on a riverboat going up and down the Mississippi.  At one point in her career, a man by the name of Grant purchased a private audience with Miss Warren for him and his family during a stop in Galena, Illinois.  When Lincoln was elected, the riverboat was stranded in
Vicksburg, Mississippi (later the site of a famous siege by the same Mr. Grant.)  Ms. Benjamin states that Livinia escaped the riverboat at Vicksburg, MS during a riot after Lincoln's election, with the help of another entertainer.

Later, Warren was hired by Barnum, and she was introduced to General Tom Thumb. The rest was history.

As for what happened after the wedding, you should read the book rather than have me tell you.  It is a fascinating story.  And as for Barnum, we may know him as a showman but he was a lot more.

P. T. Barnum is known by many today mainly for his name, which still exists in the "Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey Circus".  But that was just one small portion of his career.  He was an abolitionist and his sympathies solidly lay with the North.  His  American Museum was one of the most visited attractions in the country during the Civil War.

It  burned due to arson in 1865.  As the war progressed it had featured exhibits supporting the Union cause.  The belief is that Confederate sympathizers started the fire, in revenge.

After the war, Barnum served two terms in the Connecticut legislature.

It's fascinating how the Civil War weaves through the lives of so many people, but that only makes sense.  How could it not have touched everyone in our country alive then?

To me, that is one of the continuing fascinations I have with this war.

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