President Obama has written a piece about his view of President Abraham Lincoln for a special issue on the Civil War for Atlantic magazine that becomes available today.
Magazine staff didn't have far to go in search of excellent material to create an absorbing account of the Civil War and its aftermath as seen by writers and poets of the time. Back issues of the venerable magazine, founded in 1857, had everything they needed, with original work by Mark Twain, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier and others.
In commenting on Lincoln, Obama wrote that the writings of the 16th president is where he turns when in search of answers. “Always thoughtful, always eloquent, Lincoln’s writings speak to me as they speak to so many Americans, reminding us what is best about ourselves, and the Union he saved: that though we may have our differences, we are one people, and we are one nation, united by a common creed,” Obama wrote.
Among the 50 vintage and recent stories selected by the Atlantic, there were some surprises. One is an account by reporter Henry Villard on his first impressions of Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln's inordinate fondness for jokes, anecdotes and stories, Villard wrote that there would be no harm in this, except that “the coarser the joke, the lower the anecdote, and the more risky the story, the more he enjoyed them, especially when they were of his own invention.”
Later on, Villard observed this same behavior in Lincoln at the White House and, while admiring Lincoln for his abilities, still “felt disgust and humiliation that such a person should have been called upon to direct the destinies of a great nation in the direst period of its history.”
The Atlantic can also claim Edward Everett Hale's immortal tale of “The Man Without a Country,” which appeared in December 1863. The fictional story is about Philip Nolan, a young military officer who got his wish when he brashly shouted out during a trial that he wished never to hear of the United States again. He was sentenced to live aboard a naval ship and to be told no news from his former home. He died aboard a ship.
Hale wrote the short story to inspire patriotism during the Civil War, but his tale had a much longer life than anyone expected, and is now considered a classic.
Julia Ward Howe turned to the Atlantic in 1862 to publish her poem, “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and for which she was paid $4. It is forever associated with the Civil War, with its powerful phrases, such as, “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat.”
The photographs that accompany the articles are mostly from the National Portrait Gallery. They offer some new views of familiar sites. One shows the town of Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863, as Union soldiers and a contingent of residents accompany Lincoln to the dedication of the cemetery there. Another is an unidentified man looking at the hastily dug graves at Manassas where rain has turned the field to mud and the wooden markers are tipping over.
To buy a copy of the commemorative issue, contact the magazine.