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The Madness Of Mary Lincoln

Her son had her committed. She said it was so he could get his hands on her money. Now, 130 years after this bitter and controversial drama, a trove of letters—long believed destroyed—sheds new light on it.

In August 1875, after spending three months in a sanitarium in Batavia, Illinois, put there by her son against her will, Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the martyred President, wrote: “It does not appear that God is good, to have placed me here. I endeavor to read my Bible and offer up my petitions three times a day. But my afflicted heart fails me and my voice often falters in prayer.

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The Other Lincoln Family Home

It’s a far cry from a log cabin

 

“Squirming & crawling about from place to place can do no good,” Abraham Lincoln once lectured a ne’er-do-well stepbrother ambitious to leave the family’s log cabin for greener pastures. Yet 10 years later, as President-elect, Lincoln admitted: “I hold the value of life is to improve one’s condition.”

Hildene’s gardens stretch deep and rich from the rear of the mansion.
 
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“as Bad As She Could Be”

Who was the Widow Bixby?

Of all the hundreds of personal letters Abraham Lincoln sent during his lifetime, none of the recipients remains more deeply shrouded in mystery than Lydia Bixby of Boston. Read more »

America’s Most Famous Letter

Abraham Lincoln signed it. A lot of scholars say he didn’t write it. Now, newly discovered evidence helps solve an enduring mystery.

In a records box in a back office in a house in the hills of Vermont, six letters about Abraham Lincoln’s famous “letter to the Widow Bixby” lay unknown and undisturbed. For how long is uncertain, although this author’s fingerprints made last March were the only ones visible in the thick chalky dust of years.Read more »

The Civil War 1861 To 1865

No one has ever come up with a satisfactory count of the books dealing with the Civil War. Estimates range from 50,000 to more than 70,000, with new titles added every day. All that can be said for certain is that the Civil War is easily the most written-about era of the nation’s history. Consequently, to describe this 10-best list as subjective is to stretch that word almost out of shape. Indeed my association with 2 of the 10 may be regarded as suspect. My reply is that this association made me only more aware of the merits of these titles. Read more »

“What Is Hell To One Like Me...?”

Lincoln’s melancholy is famous. Less well known is that he not only penned thoughts about suicide but published them in a newspaper. Scholars have long believed that the only copy in the newspaper’s files was mutilated to hide those thoughts from posterity. But the composition has apparently always been in plain sight—and unrecognized.

How did such a thing come to be written? How was it lost? Why should we think it has been found? And what does it reveal about its author? Read more »

Still A Great Hall After All

A student of the speech that changed Lincoln’s career visits the place where he gave it

The first time I ever visited the great hall of New York City’s Cooper Union, I was not yet a teenager, but I was already mad to learn everything I could about the most famous man who ever appeared there. Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 Cooper Union address—his first and only campaign speech in New York—dramatically introduced the Western leader to the East. For Lincoln, it proved a personal and political triumph.

 
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The Trouble With The Bixby Letter

The stirring Civil War document featured in Saving Private Ryan grew out of a lie and probably wasn’t really written by Lincoln

Saving Private Ryan , Steven Spielberg’s big movie of 1998, prefaces its plot with the very moving reading of a famous letter of condolence written by Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, a widow in Boston who had lost five sons in the Civil War. The letter, dated November 21, 1864, says: “I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. Read more »

How I Met Lincoln

Some distinguished enthusiasts reveal just how they fell under his powerful spell

Although Lincoln’s birthday has disappeared from our calendar of national holidays (swallowed up into the convenient but somehow unsatisfying Presidents’ Day), there is no dampening of enthusiasm among America’s “Lincoln people.” During this, his 190th anniversary year, the Lincoln field is enjoying a renaissance. New books and film projects abound, and Lincoln people remain as impassioned as before and more diverse than ever. Read more »