Friday, May 13, 2016

Mount TBR #14

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Lincoln and The Civil War - John Hay

In his diary and letters about working closely with Abraham Lincoln, John Hay comes off as wise beyond his early twenties. His formal title was assistant to secretary John G. Nicolay. Hay spent much time with Lincoln, going with him to hospitals, battlefields, and ceremonies. It’s strange that he handles very lightly an event that looms large in our imaginations. This, on the trip to Gettysburg in November 1863 to dedicate the Soldier’s Cemetery:

Mr. Stocton [Thomas H. Stocton, chaplain of the U.S. Senate] made a prayer which thought it was an oration and Mr. Everett spoke as he always does perfectly and the President in a firm free way, with more grace than is his wont said his half dozen lines of consecration and the music wailed and we went home through crowded and cheering streets.

The Gettysburg Address as another day in a crowded schedule. It’s just odd, that’s all. And wonderfully human.

Hay was a partisan of Lincoln. He calls him “the Ancient,” “the Tycoon,” “the Chief,” and “the Premier.” In these pages he never second-guesses Lincoln’s decisions or policies. He never questions Lincoln’s tendency to be patiently long-suffering with the arrogance and dimness of others such Meade and McClellan. Hay, on October 18, 1863, wrote of Chase:

I gave him my impression of the unmanly conduct of Mr. C[hase] . . . . He [Lincoln] said 'it was very bad taste, but that he had determined to shut his eyes to all these performances: that Chase made a good Secretary and that he would keep him where he is: “if he becomes Presdt., all right. I hope we may never have a worse man. ... I am entirely indifferent as to his success or failure in these schemes, so long as he does his duty as the head of the Treasury Department.”

Lincoln played the long, long game, seeing moves ahead of both supporters and detractors. He was willing to give up pawns for larger fights ahead.

In later life, besides being a diplomat, he was a long-form journalist, novelist and poet. This inherent literary skill is obvious in the diary and letters. This from September 29, 1863:
Today came to the Executive Mansion an assembly of cold-water men & cold water women to make a temperance speech at the President & receive a response. They filed into the East Room looking blue & thin in the keen autumnal air; Cooper, my coachman, who was about half tight, gazing at them with an air of complacent contempt and mild wonder. Three blue-skinned damsels personated Love, Purity, & Fidelity in Red White & Blue gowns. A few Invalid soldiers stumped along in the dismal procession. They made a long speech at the President in which they called Intemperance the cause of our defeats. He could not see it, as the rebels drink more & worse whiskey than we do. The filed off drearily to a collation of cold water & green apples, & then home to mulligrubs.
I would recommend this collection to anybody who is deeply interested in Lincoln and tumultuous Civil War era.

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