The Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks
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The turbulent, even toxic political atmosphere of Washington is contrasted with the deep humanity and political wisdom of Abraham Lincoln in these revealing reports of a Civil War journalist. Noah Brooks (1830—1903), a native New Yorker who first met Lincoln in the 1850s while the two lived in Illinois, began reporting on Washington for the Sacramento Daily Union in 1862. His Washington in Lincoln’s Time (1895) is considered a classic memoir of the era, but until now his earlier writings about Lincoln—dispatches, letters, and personal reminiscences—had not been collected. Brooks’s open admiration for the president (—A nobler and purer nature than his never animated man—) may astonish readers used to contemporary journalists— aspirations toward objectivity. But Brooks’s closeness to Lincoln (who offered him a position as private secretary just before his murder) also enabled the journalist to write with certainty of the president’s views, even to the point of having Lincoln approve quotes. The resulting portrait is striking: Lincoln as a stump speaker who overcomes a homely first impression with piercing logic and sharp humor; a president reacting with rage over losses by timorous generals; a politician grown visibly careworn by shameless office seekers, importuning citizens, and the need to stay in an unprecedentedly bloody war. Besides the vivacity of his character sketches of Lincoln, Brooks’s work was also remarkably versatile, including what would now be seen as —inside-the-Beltway— accounts of California politicians in the capital, reports on the Democratic National Convention and Congress in session, and colorful vignettes of citizens besieging Lincoln at inaugural levees, rejoicing in the fall of Richmond, and mourning the fallen president. Burlingame (History/Connecticut Coll.; The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, not reviewed) ably and unobtrusively clarifies references to people and events well known to Brooks’s contemporaries but not a century later. Not the least bit dispassionate, but highly evocative eyewitness history.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-8018-5842-9
Page count: 280pp
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998