The Resting Place of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

A couple of years ago, long time friend Ken generously agreed to post an photo essay about scenes from the Civil War, then and now. This has deservedly become one of the most popular posts on You’re History, and if you missed it, you can find it here. This past summer, Ken and Eileen made another CW pilgrimage of sorts, to the grave of Union hero Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who is also a favorite of mine. I’m so pleased that Ken has agreed to do a guest post on his thoughts about our mutual hero from Maine.

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What to Do in Maine,

When All You See is Rain


Several years back, my wife, Eileen, and I, traveled up to Maine for a short three day vacation, our destination being Orr’s Island, located on a finger of land roughly 
eleven miles east of the town of Brunswick. As luck would have it, the clouds gathered shortly after leaving CT, and we never saw sunshine again until sometime on our return drive back to our home state. To make matters worse, a good portion of the time, it poured like the dickens. Naturally this put a “damper” on a lot of the activities we were planning, so we started thinking of alternative things to do. As I am an absolute Civil War nut, and knowing that the town of Brunswick was the home to one of the true heroes of that war, Joshua Chamberlain, I had made a comment to Eileen as we passed through there on our first day, about him being from that town. Luckily we had internet capabilities at our lodging. So during a rain 

storm on our second day, Eileen, being an internet surfing queen, in no time at all, came up with the burial site of Chamberlain, a cemetery named Pine Grove. And to boot, she recalled seeing said cemetery when we had driven through Brunswick the day before. It was, she said, located adjacent to Bowdoin College. So off we went back to Brunswick during an infrequent rain break, located the cemetery, and after getting our sneakers and socks thoroughly drenched from the wet grass, we finally found the grave site of Joshua Chamberlain, and took a few photos. He is surrounded by family members, wife, children, etc. So, being a Civil War fanatic, this was a real high point to an otherwise wet and dreary trip, an unexpected little pleasure for me. And, as usual, Eileen was a real trooper, dealing with my interest in the Civil War.

As I mentioned, Joshua Chamberlain is one of the real heroes of that war, in my opinion, very much overlooked. Here is short list of his accomplishments and activities, both during the war and the years following. After attending Bowdoin College, he eventually became a faculty member, teaching various subjects over a number of years. At the outbreak of the war, he volunteered his services, and was offered a rank of Lt. Col. of the 20th Maine regiment. After a few minor skirmishes, this regiment saw it’s first major engagement at the battle of Fredericksburg, participating in the famous assault on Marye’s Heights. After missing the next big engagement, the battle of Chancellorsville, due to the regiment being decimated with disease, the unit was next involved in the march to Gettysburg, where the Confederate armies of R.E.Lee were in the process of invading the northern states. Upon arriving at Gettysburg, the regiment was assigned to a position on a hill named Little Round Top, which ended up being the extreme left flank of the Union Army. On the second day of the battle, his regiment repulsed numerous assaults by the 15th Alabama, until such time when his men were running out of ammunition, he ordered a bayonet charge, which completely routed the Confederate forces, securing the vulnerable left flank of the army. He suffered two minor wounds at this engagement. During the next two years of the war, he was involved in the fighting under U.S. Grant and his march south, which eventually ended at the surrender at Appomattox, VA. He was given the honor of receiving the official surrender of the Confederate forces there.

After the war, Chamberlain returned to Maine, eventually entering into politics. He served four one year terms as Governor of Maine, and after leaving politics, served as president of Bowdoin College. Chamberlain died in 1914, at the age of 85, from the lingering effects of wounds suffered in the war. He is the last known veteran to have died from wounds received during the war.

War record:

He was involved in 20 battles and numerous minor skirmishes.

He was cited for bravery four times, and received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Had six horses shot out from underneath him.

Wounded six times, one of which was thought to be mortal.

Rose to Brig. General (Brevet Maj. General).

Received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Little Round Top.to do in Maine,
When all you see is rain
Last month, my wife, Eileen, and I, traveled up to Maine for a short three day vacation, our
destination being Orr’s Island, located on a finger of land roughly eleven miles east of the
town of Brunswick. As luck would have it, the clouds gathered shortly after leaving CT.,
and we never saw sunshine again until sometime on our return drive back to our home state.
To make matters worse, a good portion of the time, it poured like the dickens. Naturally this
put a “damper” on a lot of the activities we were planning, so we started thinking of alternative
things to do. As I am an absolute Civil War nut, and knowing that the town of Brunswick was
the home to one of the true heroes of that war, Joshua Chamberlain, I had made a comment to
Eileen as we passed through there on our first day, about him being from that town. Luckily
we had internet capabilities at our lodging. So during a rain storm on our second day, Eileen,
being an internet surfing queen, in no time at all, came up with the burial site of Chamberlain,
a cemetery named Pine Grove. And to boot, she recalled seeing said cemetery when we had
driven through Brunswick the day before. It was, she said, located adjacent to Bowdoin
College. So off we went back to Brunswick during an infrequent rain break, located the
cemetery, and after getting our sneakers and socks thoroughly drenched from the wet grass,
we finally found the grave site of Joshua Chamberlain, and took a few photos. He is surrounded
by family members, wife, children, etc. So, being a Civil War fanatic, this was a real high point
to an otherwise, wet and dreary trip, an unexpected little pleasure for me. And, as usual, Eileen
was a real trooper, dealing with my interest in the Civil War.
As I mentioned, Joshua Chamberlain is one of the real heroes of that war, in my opinion, very
much overlooked. Here is short list of his accomplishments and activities, both during the war
and the years following.
After attending Bowdoin College, he eventually became a faculty member, teaching various
subjects over a number of years. At the outbreak of the war, he volunteered his services,
and was offered a rank of Lt. Col. of the 20th Maine regiment. After a few minor skirmishes,
this regiment saw it’s first major engagement at the battle of Fredericksburg,  participating
in the famous assault on Marye’s Heights. After missing the next big engagement, the battle
of Chancellorsville, due to the regiment being decimated with disease, the unit was next
involved in the march to Gettysburg, where the Confederate armies of R.E.Lee were in the
process of invading the northern states. Upon arriving at Gettysburg, the regiment was assigned
to a  position on a hill named Little Round Top, which ended up being the extreme left flank of
the Union Army. On the second day of the battle, his regiment repulsed numerous assaults by
the 15th Alabama, until such time when his men were running out of ammunition, he ordered a
bayonet charge, which completely routed the Confederate forces, securing the vulnerable left
flank of the army.  He suffered two minor wounds at this engagement. During the next two
years of the war, he was involved in the fighting under U.S. Grant and his march south, which
eventually ended at the surrender at Appomattox, VA. He was given the honor of receiving the
official surrender of the Confederate forces there.
After the war, he returned to Maine, eventually entering into politics. He served four one year
terms as Governor of Maine, and after leaving politics, served as president of Bowdoin College.
Chamberlain died in 1914, at the age of 85, from the lingering effects of wounds suffered in
the war. He is the last known veteran to have died from wounds received during the war.
War record:
He was involved in 20 battles and numerous minor skirmishes.
He was cited for bravery four times.
Had six horses shot out from underneath him.
Wounded six times, one of which was thought to be mortal.
Rose to Brig. General (Brevet Maj. General).
Received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Little Round Top.
to do in Maine,
When all you see is rain
Last month, my wife, Eileen, and I, traveled up to Maine for a short three day vacation, our
destination being Orr’s Island, located on a finger of land roughly eleven miles east of the
town of Brunswick. As luck would have it, the clouds gathered shortly after leaving CT.,
and we never saw sunshine again until sometime on our return drive back to our home state.
To make matters worse, a good portion of the time, it poured like the dickens. Naturally this
put a “damper” on a lot of the activities we were planning, so we started thinking of alternative
things to do. As I am an absolute Civil War nut, and knowing that the town of Brunswick was
the home to one of the true heroes of that war, Joshua Chamberlain, I had made a comment to
Eileen as we passed through there on our first day, about him being from that town. Luckily
we had internet capabilities at our lodging. So during a rain storm on our second day, Eileen,
being an internet surfing queen, in no time at all, came up with the burial site of Chamberlain,
a cemetery named Pine Grove. And to boot, she recalled seeing said cemetery when we had
driven through Brunswick the day before. It was, she said, located adjacent to Bowdoin
College. So off we went back to Brunswick during an infrequent rain break, located the
cemetery, and after getting our sneakers and socks thoroughly drenched from the wet grass,
we finally found the grave site of Joshua Chamberlain, and took a few photos. He is surrounded
by family members, wife, children, etc. So, being a Civil War fanatic, this was a real high point
to an otherwise, wet and dreary trip, an unexpected little pleasure for me. And, as usual, Eileen
was a real trooper, dealing with my interest in the Civil War.
As I mentioned, Joshua Chamberlain is one of the real heroes of that war, in my opinion, very
much overlooked. Here is short list of his accomplishments and activities, both during the war
and the years following.
After attending Bowdoin College, he eventually became a faculty member, teaching various
subjects over a number of years. At the outbreak of the war, he volunteered his services,
and was offered a rank of Lt. Col. of the 20th Maine regiment. After a few minor skirmishes,
this regiment saw it’s first major engagement at the battle of Fredericksburg,  participating
in the famous assault on Marye’s Heights. After missing the next big engagement, the battle
of Chancellorsville, due to the regiment being decimated with disease, the unit was next
involved in the march to Gettysburg, where the Confederate armies of R.E.Lee were in the
process of invading the northern states. Upon arriving at Gettysburg, the regiment was assigned
to a  position on a hill named Little Round Top, which ended up being the extreme left flank of
the Union Army. On the second day of the battle, his regiment repulsed numerous assaults by
the 15th Alabama, until such time when his men were running out of ammunition, he ordered a
bayonet charge, which completely routed the Confederate forces, securing the vulnerable left
flank of the army.  He suffered two minor wounds at this engagement. During the next two
years of the war, he was involved in the fighting under U.S. Grant and his march south, which
eventually ended at the surrender at Appomattox, VA. He was given the honor of receiving the
official surrender of the Confederate forces there.
After the war, he returned to Maine, eventually entering into politics. He served four one year
terms as Governor of Maine, and after leaving politics, served as president of Bowdoin College.
Chamberlain died in 1914, at the age of 85, from the lingering effects of wounds suffered in
the war. He is the last known veteran to have died from wounds received during the war.
War record:
He was involved in 20 battles and numerous minor skirmishes.
He was cited for bravery four times.
Had six horses shot out from underneath him.
Wounded six times, one of which was thought to be mortal.
Rose to Brig. General (Brevet Maj. General).
Received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Little Round Top.
to do in Maine,
When all you see is rain
Last month, my wife, Eileen, and I, traveled up to Maine for a short three day vacation, our
destination being Orr’s Island, located on a finger of land roughly eleven miles east of the
town of Brunswick. As luck would have it, the clouds gathered shortly after leaving CT.,
and we never saw sunshine again until sometime on our return drive back to our home state.
To make matters worse, a good portion of the time, it poured like the dickens. Naturally this
put a “damper” on a lot of the activities we were planning, so we started thinking of alternative
things to do. As I am an absolute Civil War nut, and knowing that the town of Brunswick was
the home to one of the true heroes of that war, Joshua Chamberlain, I had made a comment to
Eileen as we passed through there on our first day, about him being from that town. Luckily
we had internet capabilities at our lodging. So during a rain storm on our second day, Eileen,
being an internet surfing queen, in no time at all, came up with the burial site of Chamberlain,
a cemetery named Pine Grove. And to boot, she recalled seeing said cemetery when we had
driven through Brunswick the day before. It was, she said, located adjacent to Bowdoin
College. So off we went back to Brunswick during an infrequent rain break, located the
cemetery, and after getting our sneakers and socks thoroughly drenched from the wet grass,
we finally found the grave site of Joshua Chamberlain, and took a few photos. He is surrounded
by family members, wife, children, etc. So, being a Civil War fanatic, this was a real high point
to an otherwise, wet and dreary trip, an unexpected little pleasure for me. And, as usual, Eileen
was a real trooper, dealing with my interest in the Civil War.
As I mentioned, Joshua Chamberlain is one of the real heroes of that war, in my opinion, very
much overlooked. Here is short list of his accomplishments and activities, both during the war
and the years following.
After attending Bowdoin College, he eventually became a faculty member, teaching various
subjects over a number of years. At the outbreak of the war, he volunteered his services,
and was offered a rank of Lt. Col. of the 20th Maine regiment. After a few minor skirmishes,
this regiment saw it’s first major engagement at the battle of Fredericksburg,  participating
in the famous assault on Marye’s Heights. After missing the next big engagement, the battle
of Chancellorsville, due to the regiment being decimated with disease, the unit was next
involved in the march to Gettysburg, where the Confederate armies of R.E.Lee were in the
process of invading the northern states. Upon arriving at Gettysburg, the regiment was assigned
to a  position on a hill named Little Round Top, which ended up being the extreme left flank of
the Union Army. On the second day of the battle, his regiment repulsed numerous assaults by
the 15th Alabama, until such time when his men were running out of ammunition, he ordered a
bayonet charge, which completely routed the Confederate forces, securing the vulnerable left
flank of the army.  He suffered two minor wounds at this engagement. During the next two
years of the war, he was involved in the fighting under U.S. Grant and his march south, which
eventually ended at the surrender at Appomattox, VA. He was given the honor of receiving the
official surrender of the Confederate forces there.
After the war, he returned to Maine, eventually entering into politics. He served four one year
terms as Governor of Maine, and after leaving politics, served as president of Bowdoin College.
Chamberlain died in 1914, at the age of 85, from the lingering effects of wounds suffered in
the war. He is the last known veteran to have died from wounds received during the war.
War record:
He was involved in 20 battles and numerous minor skirmishes.
He was cited for bravery four times.
Had six horses shot out from underneath him.
Wounded six times, one of which was thought to be mortal.
Rose to Brig. General (Brevet Maj. General).
Received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Little Round TopWhat to do in Maine,
When all you see is rain
Last month, my wife, Eileen, and I, traveled up to Maine for a short three day vacation, our
destination being Orr’s Island, located on a finger of land roughly eleven miles east of the
town of Brunswick. As luck would have it, the clouds gathered shortly after leaving CT.,
and we never saw sunshine again until sometime on our return drive back to our home state.
To make matters worse, a good portion of the time, it poured like the dickens. Naturally this
put a “damper” on a lot of the activities we were planning, so we started thinking of alternative
things to do. As I am an absolute Civil War nut, and knowing that the town of Brunswick was
the home to one of the true heroes of that war, Joshua Chamberlain, I had made a comment to
Eileen as we passed through there on our first day, about him being from that town. Luckily
we had internet capabilities at our lodging. So during a rain storm on our second day, Eileen,
being an internet surfing queen, in no time at all, came up with the burial site of Chamberlain,
a cemetery named Pine Grove. And to boot, she recalled seeing said cemetery when we had
driven through Brunswick the day before. It was, she said, located adjacent to Bowdoin
College. So off we went back to Brunswick during an infrequent rain break, located the
cemetery, and after getting our sneakers and socks thoroughly drenched from the wet grass,
we finally found the grave site of Joshua Chamberlain, and took a few photos. He is surrounded
by family members, wife, children, etc. So, being a Civil War fanatic, this was a real high point
to an otherwise, wet and dreary trip, an unexpected little pleasure for me. And, as usual, Eileen
was a real trooper, dealing with my interest in the Civil War.
As I mentioned, Joshua Chamberlain is one of the real heroes of that war, in my opinion, very
much overlooked. Here is short list of his accomplishments and activities, both during the war
and the years following.
After attending Bowdoin College, he eventually became a faculty member, teaching various
subjects over a number of years. At the outbreak of the war, he volunteered his services,
and was offered a rank of Lt. Col. of the 20th Maine regiment. After a few minor skirmishes,
this regiment saw it’s first major engagement at the battle of Fredericksburg,  participating
in the famous assault on Marye’s Heights. After missing the next big engagement, the battle
of Chancellorsville, due to the regiment being decimated with disease, the unit was next
involved in the march to Gettysburg, where the Confederate armies of R.E.Lee were in the
process of invading the northern states. Upon arriving at Gettysburg, the regiment was assigned
to a  position on a hill named Little Round Top, which ended up being the extreme left flank of
the Union Army. On the second day of the battle, his regiment repulsed numerous assaults by
the 15th Alabama, until such time when his men were running out of ammunition, he ordered a
bayonet charge, which completely routed the Confederate forces, securing the vulnerable left
flank of the army.  He suffered two minor wounds at this engagement. During the next two
years of the war, he was involved in the fighting under U.S. Grant and his march south, which
eventually ended at the surrender at Appomattox, VA. He was given the honor of receiving the
official surrender of the Confederate forces there.
After the war, he returned to Maine, eventually entering into politics. He served four one year
terms as Governor of Maine, and after leaving politics, served as president of Bowdoin College.
Chamberlain died in 1914, at the age of 85, from the lingering effects of wounds suffered in
the war. He is the last known veteran to have died from wounds received during the war.
War record:
He was involved in 20 battles and numerous minor skirmishes.
He was cited for bravery four times.
Had six horses shot out from underneath him.
Wounded six times, one of which was thought to be mortal.
Rose to Brig. General (Brevet Maj. General).
Received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Little Round Top.

President Lincoln and Fido

Heather on History is one of my favorites among the blogs I follow. She’s running a series on presidential pets, many of which I remember. But I never knew that the Lincolns were once dog owners, so am reposting Heather’ s article for You’re History readers. Heeer’s Fido!

Presidential Pets: Abraham Lincoln’s Dog Fido

Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido was the first presidential dog to be photographed. Lincoln had the photo taken in 1861 just before he left Springfield, Illinois for his presidential inauguration. He told his sons Tad and Willie that they could take the photo with them to Washington, but not the dog.

During his time in Springfield Fido was a great companion to Lincoln. The yellow-and-brown mutt accompanied Lincoln on errands and often waited outside the barbershop for him. Unlike his master, however, Fido wasn’t meant for public life. After Lincoln’s presidential nomination, local politicians came to the house and tried to greet Fido, who retreated under the family sofa. Fido also was less than enthused about the fireworks and cannons going off when his master won the election.

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Mary Lincoln was not a big fan of dogs and she was probably happy not to have to clean up after Fido anymore. Lincoln, however, loved dogs and made sure that Fido had a good home. Lincoln gave the dog to the Roll family who were friends and neighbors of the Lincolns and their children.

Before giving away his pet, Lincoln gave the Rolls strict instructions about Fido’s care. For example, Lincoln insisted that Fido never be punished for coming inside with muddy paws. He also wanted the dog to be allowed in the dining room where he could beg for table scraps. The Rolls were also given the Lincoln family sofa to make Fido feel more at home. It was his favorite place to sleep. Finally, the Rolls promised to give the dog back when the Lincolns returned to Springfield.

Fido was never reunited with his master, though he did watch the funeral procession in Springfield after Lincoln’s assassination. Several months later Fido ran away from the Roll’s home. John Roll wrote, “The dog in a playful manner put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing. In his drunken rage the man thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog was assassinated like his illustrious master.” The Roll children buried Lincoln’s beloved dog in their yard.

Historical Fiction: Friends of the Wigwam, by John William Huelscamp

Friends of the Wigwam: A Civil War Story

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Friends of the Wigwam is the debut novel of Civil War historian John W. Heulskamp, who is particularly interested in forgotten heroes of that conflict. The first section of the book relates the formation the strong friendship of six young men and women, and follows their experience of the social and political friction that leads to the war’s outbreak. The fact that these characters are based upon real people increases the impact of this section, which is further enlivened by the appearance of such soon-to-be icons as Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Douglas, and Ulysses Grant. As the plot moves forward into the heat of battle, poignant in itself, knowing the backstory of the friends makes reading of their struggles even more so. Perhaps my favorite character is Jennie (Allie) Hodges, who fought as fiercely and courageously as any man and whose true gender was never discovered during the war years, and it’s great that her contributions are now being recognized.

Wigwam is a promising debut, but it is clear that Mr. Heulskamp is a novice at writing fiction. Many of the passages are overly descriptive, for instance, and his choice of words (quaint hands, stout uniform) sometimes baffling. But practice makes perfect, and with his skill at research and plotting, those are flaws that can be corrected.

View all my reviews

Great Nonfiction: Rebel Yell, by S. C. Gwynne

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall JacksonTom Fool to Stonewall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thomas J. Jackson was an unlikely hero. Though after graduating from West Point he distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War, peace time turned him into a pedantic teacher at Virginia Military Academy. A socially awkward man with tendencies toward hypochondria, Prof. Jackson was baited by his students and called “Tom Fool.” His religious fervency, which he frequently expressed in words, further distanced him from others. (Hindsight is better than foresight, and today, some historians speculate that he may have had a form of autism.) At the start of the Civil War, he was refused a position of command. After his astonishing first campaign in the Shenandoah Valley, people began to view Jackson in a new way. After First Manassas, he and his unit, comprised of many of his former VMI students, became known as the Stonewall Brigade for their refusal to back down under heavy fire. Once Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia, he was quick to recognize Jackson’s brilliant ability to manage and win battles, even when grossly outnumbered. If Jackson had survived the loss of an arm at Chancellorsville, who knows how the war would have played out. Imagine Stonewall Jackson vs. U. S. Grant. But when Jackson died, it had a profound effect on the South, where many viewed his loss as the beginning of the end.

Author S. C. Gwynne is a professional writer but not a trained historian, though you’d never guess it while reading his lively, often riveting account of Stonewall Jackson’s astonishing transformation and accomplishments. Gwynne covers each of his battles in detail, but it is in the study of the many facets, often contradictory, of Jackson’s personality and character that this book really shines. In battle, one singular trait, that of a ferocious, dauntless determination to win at any cost, utterly obscured the eccentricities and foibles that dogged Jackson at all other times. Many biographical accounts of military careers are factual but very dry in the telling, but in Rebel Yell, one never loses the sense of the presence of General Jackson as a man. His demands took a huge toll on his soldiers, and as is generally true of charisma, it’s difficult to grasp exactly why they bonded so strongly to their leader. But that bond held until the day he died.

P.S. Did you know that it was the Stonewall Brigade that devised the infamous Rebel Yell? “On one occasion during the Valley Campaign, while the Stonewall Brigade was in camp, one of its five regiments began yelling. Soon another regiment took it up, and then another, and another, until every member of the entire brigade was delivering the Yell at the top of his lungs. General Jackson came out of his tent, leaned on a fence, and listened. The cacophony continued for several moments and then began dying away. When the last echo had rebounded from the Blue Ridge, old Blue-Light, universally known to be totally tone deaf, turning toward his tent and said “That was the sweetest music I ever heard.” S. C. Gwynne provides a recorded reproduction of the sound early in the audio version of his book.

View all my reviews

Great Nonfiction: Lincoln at Gettysburg, by Garry Wills

4.0 out of 5 stars Dispelling old myths

There are times in every nation’s history that serve as turning points, and the 1863 dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery is one of America’s, largely due to the influence of Abraham Lincoln’s 256 word speech. Garry Wills puts paid to the notion that Lincoln dashed something off on the train ride to Gettysburg, painstakingly tracing the cultural, literary, historic, and philosophical underpinnings to one of the world’s oratory masterpieces. Wills also analyzes the surviving five drafts of the speech that were written in the President’s own hand, concluding that the one given to Alexander Bliss is most likely the one from which Lincoln spoke. He also attempts to pinpoint the location of the dais within the cemetery, which was not, as the Park Service contended, at the site of the Soldiers’ Monument.

Readers searching for information about Lincoln’s activities on that fateful day will find little of interest in this slim volume, but for those interested in the best known address in American history, Lincoln at Gettysburg fills the bill.

Gettysburg in a Nutshell!

imageThis is brilliant. Just in time for the 150th anniversary, Civil War Trust just posted its interactive map of the three days comprising the Battle of Gettysburg.  in addition to the fact that it’ s very interesting, it provides  great perspective on the location o f each of the major battle sites  in relation  to the town itself.  While I’ve been reading about  Gettysburg my whole life, this is the first time I’ve been able to really grasp how one event lead to the next.

In addition, there are other interactive maps for Manassas,  Antietam, and many of the other prominent battles of the war.  A giant thank you to the CW Trust for these fantastic educational tools!

All of these little gems can be found right over here .

 

History is Mystery: The Lincoln Letter, by William Martin

imageMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Lincoln Letter is the tenth and latest  William Martin’s series of historical novels, several of which feature antiquarian book dealer  Peter Fallon. Now Fallon is back and hot on the trail of a heretofore unknown letter written by Abraham Lincoln on the last day of his life.  The letter is brief, addressed to  former War Department decoder Hawley Hutchinson , and seems to refer to a diary that Lincoln lost earlier in the Civil War. Fallon heads to Washington DC, only to discover that he  is not the only hunter in this increasingly dangerous quest. While Fallon is feverishly searching and defending his life, a series of flashbacks, narrated from the point of view of Hutchinson, illustrate how and why this mystery came to pass.  The plot is enriched by the actions of colorful characters in both time periods, and I found the Civil War story the more compelling. Martin adroitly handles the moral issues  of slavery and political machination without becoming preachy, and the African American characters are among the best developed.  Why were people so determined to find Lincoln’s diary in the 1860’s? For its value to anti-Lincoln factions for use as a weapon. Why are they so determined in the early 2000’s? For the diary’s value, to history, yes, but more importantly, for the fortune it would bring.

A fast paced, engrossing tale, thoughtful and well presented.