Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

Inside the White House in War Times: Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln's Secretary

Synopsis

Of the three secretaries who assisted President Abraham Lincoln -- John G. Nicolay, John Hay, and William O. Stoddard -- only Stoddard wrote an extended memoir about his time in the executive mansion. First published in 1890, the book vividly depicts the president's agonizing reaction to the defeats at Fredericks-burg and Chancellorsville, the difficulties encountered (and presented) by Mary Lincoln, the president's relations with George B. McClellan and other generals, and the anxiety preceding the Merrimack's epic battle with the Monitor.

In 1866 Stoddard also penned thirteen "White House Sketches" about his time in Lincoln's service. Originally published in an obscure New York newspaper, these essays -- never previously collected -- supplement Stoddard's memoir. Together the memoir and sketches provide an intimate look at the sixteenth president during a time of crisis.

Excerpt

Although William O. Stoddard (1835-1925) achieved renown as a journalist and the author of more than seventy books for boys, he is best remembered as "Lincoln's third secretary," assistant to the two main presidential aides, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, between 1861 and 1864. Like Nicolay and Hay, Stoddard wrote a biography of Lincoln; unlike them, he also published a memoir, Inside the White House in War Times, which appeared in 1890. That volume is reproduced here, supplemented by thirteen "White House Sketches," reminiscences that Stoddard published in 1866 and that have escaped the attention of most historians. Though much briefer than Inside the White House in War Times, the sketches, collected here for the first time, are more trustworthy, for they appeared shortly after the events described. in addition, their style is less self-consciously literary and fanciful than that of the memoir, therefore probably rendering them more accurate, if less aesthetically pleasing.

Stoddard has not impressed every reader as a reliable source of information about Lincoln. Nicolay criticized his "great tendency to exaggeration, which, useful to him as a writer of fiction of a certain kind, utterly unfits him for historical work." Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher declared that "Stoddard probably overstated the extent of his intimacy with the President." They rightly observed that some passages in his memoirs stretch credulity beyond the breaking point. But as Mark E. Neely Jr. noted, Inside the White House in War Times "contains some memorable vignettes of the Lincoln White House and is particularly good at describing the atmosphere of the tense and hard-working wartime administration." Few people had a better coign of vantage for observing Lincoln during his presidency than did Stoddard, whose memoir, despite its exaggerations and self-serving nature, sheds a bright light on the sixteenth president's activities and character.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.