Friday, July 08, 2011

1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History by Charles Bracelen Flood

While I was reading 1776 by David McCullough, I was also listening to 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History by Charles Bracelen Flood. Not simultaneously, of course, but during the same days. It is sometimes risky business mixing books, but I kept the plots and characters apart fairly well despite the similarities. Both books are set in times of war, describe battles, assess their outcomes, and focus on the actions of an American leader. In the case of 1776, it was George Washington, the commander of the colonial army, a man who would later become president. In 1864, it was the standing president, Abraham Lincoln. In both books, the readers learn about the leader's circle of subordinates. What sets 1864 apart from 1776 is the detail to which Flood describes these men and their relationships with Lincoln. There are also more battles and more politics, and it is a much longer book.

What I most enjoyed were Flood's descriptions of the everyday Lincoln, hanging around the telegraph office at the War Department or admitting any citizen who came to the White House into his office for a chat. He was at times irritated by the constant stream of personal requests for government appointments or for stays for military deserters sentenced to die, but personal, sincere appeals often softened him. He wrote many notes of admittance for job seekers and granted many mothers' requests to save their sons. He also put himself at great personal risk, being shot at late one night when he was riding his horse alone back to the Old Soldier's Home summer retreat. Bullets also whizzed past him when he stood on the walls of a Fort Stevens watching the Jubal Early's approach Washington, D.C.

Flood's Lincoln was not always an ethical man. He traded political favors in ways that would now be condemned, and he demanded campaign contributions from his cabinet and many federal workers. He believed the Union would not hold if any other candidate won the 1864 election and was willing to do almost anything to win himself.

At 521 pages or 19 1/2 hours of audiobook, the size of 1864 is daunting, but it flows easily and will satisfy readers who like in depth history. It is a great account of a terrible time and should be available at most public libraries.

Flood, Charles Bracelen. 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History. Simon & Schuster, 2009. ISBN 9781416552284

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