At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings

At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings

At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings

At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings

Synopsis

Michael Burlingame provides the third (and the most complete and scholarly) edition of John Hay's Civil War letters. Hey believed that "real history is told in private letters", and the 220 surviving letters and telegrams from his Civil War days prove that to be true, showing President Lincoln in action: "The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil".

Along with Hay's personal correspondence, Burlingame includes his surviving official letters. Though lacking the "literary brilliance of (Hay's) personal letters", Burlingame explain's, "they help flesh out the historical record, supplementing Roy P. Basler's edition of Lincoln's collected works". Burlingame also includes some of the letters Hay composed for Lincoln's signature, including the,celebrated Letter of Condolence to the Widow Bixby. Also collected here are obituaries of Tad Lincoln and others and previously unpublished lecture, "The Heroic Age in Washington".

Excerpt

Real history," John Hay declared, "is told in private letters. No man should ever destroy one that contains light on public men or public affairs." The 227 surviving letters and telegrams that Hay wrote during the Civil War are a case in point. Like his Civil War diary, they shed an unusually bright light on Abraham Lincoln. Through Hay's eyes, we see the president as a statesman in this 1863 letter: "The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil." We also catch glimpses of Lincoln in more informal circumstances. At Ford's Theater, the president and Hay "occupied [a] private box & . . . carried on a hefty flirtation with the Monk Girls in the flies." Hay described Lincoln's off-color humor to a journalist who had asked for an authentic Lincoln story: "I have been skulking in the shadow of the Tycoon, setting all sorts of dexterous traps for a joke. . . . Once or twice a gleam of hope has lit up my soul as he would begin 'That puts me in mind of Tom Skeeters out in Bourbon County" but the story of Skeeters would come out unfit for family reading,"

Some of the letters gathered here, along with excerpts from Hay's diary, appeared in 1908 in a three-volume private edition compiled by Henry Adams and Hay's widow, Clara Stone Hay. Though their methods were eccentric (they provided only the initials of people and places mentioned by Hay), those editors deserve the gratitude of historians, for they persuaded many people to supply them with copies of Hay's letters, now available at Brown University. Thirty-one years later, Tyler Dennett published a more scholarly version of the diary and letters, covering the years 1861-1870. A great improvement over the Henry Adams-Clara Hay edition, Dennett's volume was nevertheless "rather casually edited," as the . . .

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