Tales Of A Gettysburg Guide

Alone among all American battlefields, the scene of the Civil War’s costliest encounter is patrolled by government-licensed historians who keep alive for visitors the memory of what happened there

Like his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before him, Dave was a Michigan farmer. His great-grandfather had emigrated from Poland in 1X61, briefly worked in the Detroit area, then enlisted in the 24th Michigan. Months later, at the Battle of Gettysburg, Dave’s great-grandfather saw his regiment shot to pieces. On McPhcrson Ridge the black-hatted men of the 24th fought the 26th North Carolina Regiment to a standstill, but at dusk only ninety-nine of the nearly five hundred men of the 24th remained.Read more »

“A Most Abandoned Hypocrite”

A newly discovered document almost certainly written by the young Abraham Lincoln shows him dismantling a shifty political rival with ruthless wit and logic

As soon as he moved to Illinois in 1830, Abraham Lincoln found himself on the opposite side of the political fence from Peter Cartwright, a well-known Methodist preacher and politician. They crossed paths in the Illinois legislature, but their best-known confrontation was as opponents in the 1846 congressional election, which Lincoln won handily. Late in that campaign Lincoln found himself having to combat a rumor that he was an “infidel,” or unbeliever, a charge uncomfortably close to the truth.Read more »

Presidents On Presidents

They’ve all had things to say about their fellow Executives. Once in a great while one was even flattering.

John Adams said Thomas Jefferson’s mind was “eaten to a honeycomb with ambition, yet weak, confused, uninformed, and ignorant.” Ulysses S. Grant said James Garfield did not have “the backbone of an angleworm.” Theodore Roosevelt called Woodrow Wilson “a Byzantine logothete.” Wilson called Chester Arthur “a nonentity with sidewhiskers.” Harry Truman summed up Lyndon Johnson with a curt “No guts!” Read more »

The Booth Obsession

The author joins the thousands who feel compelled to trace the flight of Lincoln’s assassin

The first non-children’s book I ever read was Philip Van Doren Stern’s novel The Man Who Killed Lincoln. How it fell into my hands I cannot say. I retain a clear memory of going to my mother to inquire about what appeared on page 16: “A big buck Negro, whose black skin glistened with sweat, held in his arms a young mulatto girl who was hysterical with desire.” Very baffling. What could it mean? Read more »

The Conversion Of Harry Truman

“I think one man is just as good as another,” he said, “as long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.” Yet Truman broke with his convictions to make civil rights a concern of the national government for the first time since Reconstruction—and in so doing he changed the nation forever.

Harry Truman approached national politics with divided memories and diRead more »

John Wilkes Booth’s Other Victim

When William Withers, Jr., stepped up to the conductor’s podium at Ford’s Theatre that April evening, he believed the greatest triumph of his career was just a few minutes away

April 14, 1865, was an important day for William Withers, Jr. He was the orchestra leader at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and that evening he was going to perform his song “Honor to Our Soldiers” for Abraham Lincoln. The President had accepted an invitation by the management of the theater to see the actress Laura Keene in Our American Cousin; Keene herself was to lead the audience and cast in singing Withers’s tribute to Lincoln. Read more »

“most Americans Don’t Know What Lincoln Really Represents”

For a good part of his life, the governor of New York has used history as a guide—and a solace

Those who see Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York for the first time are likely to be surprised. Led to expect a short man with baggy eyes (someone, in his own words, with the appearance of a “tired frog”), they are startled to meet a goodlooking six-footer with the physique of a linebacker. He emanates the tightly coiled kinetic energy of a football player a few seconds before kickoff. Yet at the same time, he’s a comfortable man to be with. Indeed, he carries self-effacement and self-scrutiny almost to a fault. His office is unexpectedly modest too.Read more »

Lincoln From Life

Last year two scholars working separately uncovered a pair of previously unknown portraits of Abraham Lincoln. One of them—which seems to put us in the very presence of the man—turned out to be the first ever painted.

Until recently historians believed that Abraham Lincoln was not painted before 1860, the year artists hurried to Springfield to produce likenesses of the presidential candidate. But in the summer of 1988 a lost portrait of Abraham Lincoln turned up on a farm in his home state of Illinois. Painted in 1856 by the itinerant artist Philip O. Jenkins, the newly discovered canvas captures the face of Lincoln the lawyer, political leader, and prominent citizen.Read more »

The Fires Of Norfolk

At war’s outbreak a frightened commander was ready to give away the Union’s greatest navy yard

The calamity was already full blown when Abraham Lincoln took office on March 4, 1861. South Carolina had left the Union three months back, and six states had followed her out. By early February a secessionist congress had convened in Montgomery, Alabama, declared a provisional government, and voted Jefferson Davis president of the Confederate States of America. Lincoln was facing the gravest presidential crisis in the nation’s history: the collapse of the Republic. Read more »

A War That Never Goes Away

More than the Revolution, more than the Constitutional Convention, it was the crucial test of the American nation. The author of Battle Cry of Freedom, the most successful recent book on the subject, explains why the issues that fired the Civil War are as urgent in 1990 as they were in 1861.

McPherson’s Basic Reading List


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