Michael Burlingame, Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus at Connecticut College, is the author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and the editor of ten volumes of primary sources about Lincoln. He won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, honorable mention, for his five edited collections of letters, memoranda, editorial essays, lectures, and interviews by Lincoln’s White House private secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John M. Hay, all published by Southern Illinois University Press.
At Lincoln's Side: John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writingsby Michael Burlingame
Michael Burlingame provides the third (and the most complete and scholarly) edition of John Hay's Civil War letters. Hay believed that "real history is told in private letters," and the 220 surviving letters and telegrams from his Civil War days prove that to be true, showing President Lincoln in action: "The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil."
Along with Hay's personal correspondence, Burlingame includes his surviving official letters. Though lacking the "literary brilliance of [Hay's] personal letters," Burlingame explains, "they help flesh out the historical record, supplementing Roy P. Basler's edition of Lincoln's collected works." Burlingame also includes some of the letters Hay composed for Lincoln's signature, including the celebrated Letter of Condolence to the Widow Bixby.
The first three chapters feature Hay's letters, the final two some related essays. Chapter 4 consists of four pieces recalling Hay's tenure at the White House, the first of which is an 1866 letter answering William H. Herndon's questions about Lincoln. The second is an obituary of Tad Lincoln, a document that impelled Robert Todd Lincoln to say, "John Hay's screed is like a picture." The third is a previously unpublished lecture, "The Heroic Age in Washington," recalling in the early 1870s some dramatic events as well as some humorous incidents at the White House, including Lincoln's first day in office when the outgoing chief executive, James Buchanan, gravely advised the new president: "I think you will find the water of the right-hand well at the White-House better than that at the left." The fourth essay appeared in the Century Magazine under the title "Life in the White House in the Time of Lincoln." The editor deemed it "pure gold -- though all too short."
In 1861, Hay wrote long obituaries of Elmer E. Ellsworth and Edward D. Baker, personal friends who were also close to Lincoln. These obituaries appear in chapter 5.
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