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366 Days in Abraham Lincoln's Presidency: The Private, Political, and Military Decisions of America's Greatest President Hardcover – May 18, 2010
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This volume of recreational history lets readers browse through a Civil War's worth of presidential decisions. From the mundane to the weighty, they were selected and arranged, indicates author Wynalda, to illuminate what most biographers of Lincoln confront: an elusive ambiguity about their subject. Whether or not he cracks the code, Wynalda certainly enlivens the Lincoln persona. This pertains especially to incidents that don't always make the cut in biographies, such as those revealing Lincoln's temper. However, Wynalda is strongly drawn to Lincoln's merciful side, citing numerous dates on which Lincoln granted reprieves to condemned men, though he conscientiously includes cases a sterner Lincoln let proceed to the gallows. Alongside Lincoln decisions affecting individual petitioners, who obtained remarkably easy access to the White House, Wynalda includes historical decisions related to military operations and signings or vetoes of congressional bills, carefully noting with Lincoln's calculations who entered his office for the occasion. With calendar-style organization showing Lincoln's attitudes and responses to the course of events, Wynalda's vignettes accessibly introduce the Civil War's key historical character. --Gilbert Taylor
“With calendar-style organization showing Lincoln’s attitudes and responses to the course of events, Wynalda’s vignettes accessibly introduce the Civil War’s key historical character.”
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One thing I took away was this gentleman had the patience of Job particularly when dealing with non-hackers or political enemies some of whom he brought into his cabinet. Seward, for example, thought he was going to be the nominee when Lincoln prevailed, acted independently as though he HAD been the nominee--and winner, and subsequently ran the State Department like his own fiefdom; Chase thought Lincoln was a rube and treated him thusly. Lincoln obviously subscribed to the idea that you should keep enemies closer. As he did McClellan who subsequently ran against Lincoln for his second term. Had I been Lincoln, (as a career military officer myself) after tolerating about 1/4 of the insolence he tolerated from McC, I would have reduced McC to second lieutenant and put him in charge of issuing jock straps and tennis racquets at Washington Hq Special Services!
These were also the days when common passersby and politicians from every state seeking patronage favors could stroll into the White House virtually unimpeded and line up to talk with the Chief Executive, whether or not artillery rounds happened to be raining down on Ft. Sumter or Johnny Reb was kicking Union butt at Manassas.
Here's an example of new knowledge - the famous Bixby letter written in response to a plea from the Mass. governor after he learned from Lydia Bixby that she had lost five sons in the war. Lincoln (or perhaps John Hay with Lincoln's signature) wrote the letter. But it seems after a thorough review of the record that Lydia may have been seeking sympathy AND money since three of her sons were still alive long after the war was over. I had never heard that before. In fact, I didn't realize that there was even a controversy about the author.
All in all, this book is a page turner.
Frankly, I loved the fact that not all the events the author chose were political and military. The death of Lincoln's son, Willie, and the visit of his wife's half-sister, the widow of a Confederate general no less, had to be as stressful and as emotionally demanding as anything going on outside the White House. However, because they are naturally less written about than the more public events, they left me wanting to read more, despite Wynalda's extensive use to sidebars to add more depth and background to the topics on which he was writing. And, as other reviewers have notes, it's a book rich in details on Lincoln's life that often aren't touched on by others, from his love for Shakespeare (I didn't know his favorite play was "MacBeth") to the emotional responses his generals' ineptitude touched off. It's easy to get a sense of his frustration and how difficult it must have been to have to lead them from afar.
On the other hand, having been reading about Lincoln since childhood, I did question the author's selections on more than one occasion. And, while I'm sure it was difficult to write, too many entries begin "On this day in...." I'm also a person who always reads the foot/endnotes, and I wasn't too crazy about their brevity. However, the extensive bibliography did leave me with the anticipation of more (and possibly better) books on some of the topics.
I considered offering my copy to my great-nephew, but I'm not ready to part with it. So . . . I'm giving him his own copy for high school graduation.
Some related books I've enjoyed: Gloryland: A Novel;From Midnight to Dawn: The Last Tracks of the Underground Railroad;The Abolitionist Decade, 1829-1838: A Year-by-Year History of Early Events in the Antislavery Movement;Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars;Coal Black Horse;An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans