Six little-known anecdotes about President Abraham Lincoln during fraught times and what they show about his character.
Former U.S. senior diplomat Pryor (Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters, 2007, etc.), who died in a car accident in 2015, painstakingly unearths hidden episodes in the life of Lincoln as he was trying to manage a riven republic and civil war. The author gets beyond the hagiographic portrayals of Lincoln (one contemporary noted, “the murderer’s bullet opens to him immortality”), allowing rare glimpses of the man as vulnerable, clumsy, inarticulate, and very human. In his new role as head of the armed forces on March 12, 1861—just days after his inauguration and the secession of the Confederate states—Lincoln had to view the parade of federal troops through the White House, led by Gen. Winfield Scott, who was not entirely trusted. Unfortunately, the meeting underscored the inexperience of the new leader. Another odd incident: during Lincoln’s ceremonial role of hoisting the U.S. flag over a new Marine bandstand set up on the South Lawn of the White House in late June 1861, the huge flag ripped, severing the upper stripe and four of its stars—not a good omen. From here, Pryor launches into an elucidating look at Lincoln’s “legacy of fun” and his love of storytelling—not to mention how his face was ripe for caricature. In August 1862, Sgt. Lucien P. Waters, who “abhorred slavery,” managed an interview with the president to air his grievances about the Union’s frustratingly slow advances and ask for a furlough; Lincoln, glum and exasperated over the issue of slavery, muttered about the “damned or Eternal niggar, niggar,” shocking Waters and revealing Lincoln's conflicted state at the time. Another anecdote demonstrates his discomfort engaging one-on-one with women. Kudos to Pryor for offering readers something fresh about our 16th president—no small feat.
Deeply researched, telling moments in the life of arguably the most written-about man in American history.