Monday, January 19, 2009

Portable Lincoln edited by Andrew Delbanco

The Portable Lincoln edited by Andrew Delbanco.

I got this Penguin book the other day and quickly went through it since I just posted another Lincoln book review two days ago. This book is a compilation of Lincoln's speeches and letters. Obviously there is a fair amount of official papers, things like inaugural speeches, the Gettysburg Address, both versions of the Emancipation Proclamation. Plus there are some writings from his Lincoln-Douglas Debate days and his growth in the Republican Party. I also own a two volume collection of Lincoln writings from the Library of America edited by Don Fehrenbacher. I grabbed those volumes and compared theme to this new book to see if it had anything that had not been selected for those volumes.

Surprisingly there were two items that were not in those volumes. The first was a letter to Welles in which Lincoln says that Lieutenant Worden has informed him that the Confederates could easily board and capture the Monitor by wedging the turret and pouring water into the machinery. Lincoln says that Worden thinks they should not go "sky-larking" up to Norfolk. Its somewhat interesting but not that important.

The other letter is a memorandum on furloughs from November 1862. I thought it was interesting enough that I'd provide the entire text here.

"The Army is constantly depleted by company officers who give their men leave of absence in the very face of the enemy, and on the eve of an engagement, which is almost as bad as desertion. At this very moment there are between seventy and one hundred thousand men absent on furlough from the Army of the Potomac. The army, like the nation, has become demoralized by the idea that the war is to be ended, the nation united, and peace restored, by strategy, and not by hard desperate fighting. Why, then, should not the soldiers have furloughs?"

I think he is exaggerating the number of men on furlough but his point is more about the fact that there are too many furloughs. He knows this war is going to be won by desperate fighting and he wants as many men in the ranks as possible. It has to gall him to think that battles are being lost, and generals complaining that they need more men, when there are men on furlough that might swing the tide of battle. An extra 35,000 men in any battle would probably tip the scales for the Army of the Potomac.

I thought the selections were well done. I would have liked some notes giving some background for some of the writings but that was not provided. I found myself going over some of Lincoln's speeches and writings that I had not read in awhile. Recent events prompted me to read his inaugural addresses again. Reading Lincoln always reminds me of what a talented writer he was. He seems to have been able to make the mundane interesting to read.

If I did not already own the two volume set I would definitely add this book to my library. Since I have the larger set I will donate this book to my roundtable's monthly raffle. It is a good book worthy of inclusion in any library, as long as you do not already own one of the larger collections of Lincoln's writings.

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