The Writings of Abraham Lincoln; Volume 6, by Abraham Lincoln
This particular volume covers Abraham Lincoln’s writings from 1862 and 1863, and makes for an interesting collection of writings. Whether Lincoln is gently dealing with ineffective generals like Burnside or trying to coordinate the war effort successfully in communication, these writings show a man who is extremely busy. Fortunately, he is not too busy to occasionally write prose of startling originality and grandeur, but most of these writings are mundane letters and telegrams of business. As might be expected, most of these letters are to generals and other military leaders upon whom the business of winning the Civil War depended. Frequently these involved calls to act against the rebellion with vigor, or were written to suspend ill-advised forays from generals into political realms, and frequently they also involved appeals to deal justly with those who were running afoul of the death penalty, as Lincoln tended to review cases for the execution of deserters or those who were sentenced to death during the Sioux revolt of 1862. The quick thinking and wit and earnest writings of a president heavily burdened by Civil War come through in this book, and one regrets that he found it impossible to leave the Capital to visit too many places during this period.
This book contains more than 450 pages of Lincoln’s writings over a period from early 1862 to near the end of 1863. In these pages we see the governor smooth the ruffled feathers of governors who were concerned about security in the face of war, showed Lincoln dealing with generals who needed encouragement and (in the case of Hooker, some deep moral advice). Whether Lincoln was trying to coordinate the response to Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania or wondering where it is that Bragg’s army was located or commenting that Grant was a great general but a dilatory communicator, and not seeming to mind it too much, Lincoln shows his character in both the more familiar ways of his speeches as well as the day-to-day affairs of dealing with patronage and the course of the war that appears to have taken up so much time. And the end result is a collection of works that has long been an inspiration to writers about Lincoln, as there is a lot of material here that one can use as a basis for investigation into the thinking and behavior of Lincoln, much of which is bound to be interesting to someone.
Beyond the mundane affairs of the war, there are at least a few classic Lincoln writings that are included here that many readers will be familiar with. For example, there are the preliminary and final versions of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Conkling Letter, and his letter to Greeley where he spoke of his priority to win the war. Also included are less well-known messages, including a follow-up to Conkling where he protested his letter being reported in a mangled fashion in Eastern newspapers and a letter repudiating a deal that had not worked out, and some delicate diplomacy with Unionist North Carolinians about working to take that state out of the Civil War as early as 1863. Whether or not these writings will be of interest to the reader will depend on the extent to which the reader is interested in the mundane day-to-day information that flowed around the Union during the war to governors and military leaders and the extent to which the reader finds it worthwhile to plow through discussions of this minutia to get to the essential and eloquent discussions of war aims and practices from Lincoln. As for me, this book was definitely an enjoyable one.