Abraham Lincoln Additional Biography


Abraham Lincoln has long been a fascinating subject for biographers and critics; in fact, the sixteenth president of the United States has probably inspired more published comment and analysis than any other American. Yet despite this close scrutiny, which has uncovered many details of his life and character, the investigation of Lincoln’s heritage and training fails to account for his facility in statesmanship or his eloquence as spokesman of a troubled time.

Lincoln was born in a log cabin in what is now Larue County, Kentucky. His pioneer parents were unlettered and undistinguished; it is ironic that their illiteracy should produce one of the most expressive voices of American history. Little is known of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, although a large measure of that mental and spiritual vigor discernible in her son is popularly supposed to have been derived from her. Thomas Lincoln, his father, was an unsuccessful carpenter and farmer with a reputation for instability and indecision.

In 1816 Lincoln’s family moved to Indiana, where life was even more sparse and uncomfortable than it had been in Kentucky. There, when Lincoln was nine years old, his mother died. A year later Thomas Lincoln wed Sarah Bush Johnston, a sensible, energetic widow who brought some order to the chaotic household and inspired in the young Lincoln a warm and lasting affection. During a brief, one-year brush with formal schooling, Lincoln gained an elementary knowledge of reading, writing, and ciphering. Yet this hard-working farm boy attained a deeper passion for knowledge and a definite interest in words and ideas.

Nor was this interest to prove a temporary one, despite the lack of intellectual stimuli in his youthful experience. During the years that followed—moving to Illinois, store-keeping, practicing law, marrying a Kentucky woman, becoming an indefatigable candidate for one political office or another—Lincoln was steadily blending that mixture of experience and reflection which would find its full flavor in the Gettysburg Address. His later accomplishments as a speaker and as a writer, overshadowed by the political and military crises that dominated his career, were never given their due by his contemporaries. Only later generations would recognize the unique eloquence of the speech at Gettysburg, the Second Inaugural Address, and the letter to Mrs. Bixby. Much of the fault lies in the nature of early American history itself. Few verbatim transcripts of Lincoln’s speeches were available to the public or to scholars; neither Lincoln nor his contemporaries saw fit to...

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(Comprehensive Guide to Military History)

0111205178-Lincoln.jpg Abraham Lincoln. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Military significance: As president of the United States, Lincoln directed the Northern war effort during the American Civil War. His abilities and unshakable commitment to preserving the Union mark him as one of the nation’s greatest leaders.

Abraham Lincoln made full use of his vast war powers as commander in chief throughout the American Civil War (1861-1865), perhaps most notably with the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863). Recognizing that the war would be a protracted struggle, Lincoln formulated a strategy designed to utilize most effectively the North’s superior resources. Despite his lack of military experience, he had a clearer conception of Union strategy than the officers he commanded. He constantly urged them to use all their men in battle, to advance simultaneously, and to focus on fighting opposing armies rather than capturing places. Most Union military leaders, schooled in Jominian doctrines, ignored his advice.

Early on, Lincoln deferred too readily to his generals; however, by late 1862, he resolved he would change commanders until he had the men who would bring him victories. He still made mistakes in his appointments, but in 1864, he found a man to lead his armies who shared his strategic views and would without complaint implement them, Ulysses S. Grant. In the final year of the war, with Grant acting as a doggedly relentless general in chief, chief of staff Henry W. Halleck serving as an effective military-civilian liaison, and Lincoln continuing as an aggressive commander in chief, the North created a modern command system that ensured victory. Lincoln constantly acted to fulfill his solemn determination to restore the Union.

Further Reading:

Donald, David Herbert. Lincoln. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Williams, Kenneth P. Lincoln Finds a General: A Military Study of the Civil War. 5 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1949-1959.

Williams, T. Harry. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952.


Gienapp, William E. Abraham Lincoln and Civil War America: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. A current and thorough biography that focuses on the war years. Bibliography and index.

Herndon, William H. Herndon’s Life of Lincoln: The History and Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln. 3 vols. 1889. Reprint. New York: De Capo Press, 1983. This early biography tends to be enthusiastic—Herndon was at one time Lincoln’s law partner—but frequently lacks in objectivity.

Holzer, Harold, ed. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: The First Complete, Unexpurgated Text. New York: HarperCollins, 1993. Provides the most accurate account of the twenty-one hours of debate carried out in 1858 by two of the period’s most important orators.

Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr. A New Birth of Freedom. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983. Focuses on the circumstances and context surrounding the writing of the Gettysburg Address. Well written and beautifully illustrated, the book itself is one of the more important works dealing with a segment of Lincoln’s life.

Miller, William Lee. Lincoln’s Virtues: An Ethical Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Oates, Stephen B. With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Harper & Row, 1977. An excellent scholarly biography. Well written and well documented.

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. 2 vols. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1926.

Sandburg, Carl. Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. 4 vols. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1939. This beautifully written biography of Lincoln presents an outstanding description of Lincoln’s life and writings, although modern scholars note a number of historical inaccuracies. A condensed edition was published in 1954.

Thomas, Benjamin. Abraham Lincoln. New York: Knopf, 1952. The standard biography for many years. A balanced, scholarly, and popular work in one volume.

Vidal, Gore. Lincoln. New York: Random House, 1984. Although a historical novel, it is generally quite accurate.

White, Ronald C. Lincoln’s Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. A detailed look a another great Lincoln speech. Bibliography and index.

Zarefsky, David. Lincoln, Douglas, and Slavery: In the Crucible of Public Debate. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Addresses the subject of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.