Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories
Joe Wheeler, Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories: Heartwarming Stories About Our Most Beloved President (New York: Howard Books, 2013), 384 pages, $22.99 list price on www.amazon.com, reviewed by Kimberly Luste Maran, assistant editor, Adventist Review.
I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for the United States’ sixteenth president. The events surrounding Abraham Lincoln’s assassination are fascinating. And the Gettysburg Address is arguably the best speech ever given by a politician. But the stories I’ve gravitated toward since grade school are the ones about Lincoln’s kindness and generosity. Thus, I opened Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories with curiosity and keen interest. I was soon captivated by the intimate glimpses into Lincoln’s persona. Through the various authors’ stories, Lincoln becomes real, not just some historical (and albeit legendary) figure.
The stories chosen by author and editor Joe Wheeler depict this “servant president” in startling clarity—many of the stories are authored by Lincoln’s contemporaries who knew the president personally. For this book Wheeler, author of the 2008 biography Abraham Lincoln: Man of Faith and Courage and creator of the Christmas in My Heart series, has tracked down an incredible amount of literature on Lincoln. Divided into four sections, the book flows chronologically through “The Frontier Years” (before presidency and pre-Civil War); “Civil War—The Early Years,” “Civil War—The Later Years,” and “To Live on in Hearts Is Not to Die” (recollections from some who knew Lincoln, and some who admired him). I found the order of the stories toward the end of the book slightly irregular as the chronology became a bit loose, but I don’t disagree with how the material was ordered, as the picture of Lincoln—front start to finish—develops just as it should.
While each story comprises parts of the whole, several stand out: “The Strength Conquered,” by T. Morris Longstreth; “Mr. Lincoln, I Love You!” by M . L. O’Harra; and, in the epilogue, “Personal Memories of Abraham Lincoln,” by Robert Brewster Stanton. In Longstreth’s piece we see how Lincoln influenced those he knew early on—especially a young man whose life takes the proper turn, and the mother who gets the kindest of compliments from a humble Abe. The Stanton story is unique in that it spans Lincoln’s life, written by someone who knew Lincoln as a boy and later as a man and president.
The raw emotion and regard that wells out of O’Harra’s piece about a personal encounter with Lincoln in the rain had me swallowing hard. And the stories that mention the Lincolns’ sons Willie and Tad are no less tear-jerking and (oddly) inspiring.
Several poems and pieces of art are included in this tome. Of special note is the cover art of Lincoln in study during the Civil War. Painted by Adventist artist Nathan Greene, it is considered an accurate portrayal of Lincoln at wartime.
In addition to the art and poetry, the prose varies in length and style—this makes for an engaging read. I was especially pleased to see Walt Whitman’s poem “O Captain! My Captain!” included; and I equally appreciated Wheeler’s brief essay “The Living Myth,” in which he writes: “Lincoln is unique in that he has never gone out of vogue. . . . People of all ages are searching for some sort of ethical and spiritual bedrock on which to construct a life worth living. I submit that they can find it in these Lincoln stories. What I can’t help but notice in these stories is that we learn far more from what Lincoln was than what he said.”
Although the 150-year anniversary of the Civil War was in 2013, Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories is a literary opus of timeless proportions.
Put it on your must-read list!