Friday, October 6, 2017

Book Review: Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion

Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion 
Author: Harold Holzer
Copyright 2014
Simon & Schuster

Abraham Lincoln fathered many famous quotes, speeches and lines. Among the most well-known is his claim that "In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”

In Lincoln and the Power of the Press, author and Lincoln historian Harold Holzer explores how the nation's sixteenth President acted upon this belief and how his feelings and actions on this belief compared to those of other politicians and journalists during the years before and of the Civil War.

In number of pages (over 500), this is a long book, but the writing style and smooth flow make it a quicker read than it appears. It is a well-researched and well-written book, with a lot of information on many individuals as well as society at the time. It includes endnotes and many photographs of people mentioned throughout the text, as well as images of period political cartoons about these men. The book consists of two sections, “the drumbeat of the nation” and “uncivil wars,” basically prewar and wartime sections, a logical arrangement for this topic.

Holzer’s book is a comprehensive look at how important newspapers were in the mind (and career) of Abraham Lincoln and how Lincoln spent his entire political career, from its humble origins in Springfield all the through his term in Congress and the Presidency, cultivating and maintaining his relationships with a wide variety of editors and reporters for many publications, especially, but not only, politically-friendly papers. His rivalry with Stephen Douglas included fighting for the type of coverage Douglas received in the press. This book goes on to show how Lincoln eventually received all the attention he craved and more, both positive and negative, and how he managed relationships with the newspapers and newspapermen to try to shape public opinion.

The author further demonstrates that Lincoln was far from alone in this desire, as many politicians and journalists in this era shared Lincoln’s belief in the “power of the press” and, in fact, many journalists aspired to become politicians, or at least benefit from the support of career policy makers. The stories of Horace Greeley and Henry Raymond especially illustrate this point.

This work explores the personalities and careers of the most powerful and influential editors of the day, focusing largely on Horace Greeley, James Gordon Bennett, and Henry Raymond, the operators of the New York Tribune, Herald and Times respectively, though other editors also had influence. The comparison of Lincoln and Greeley’s backgrounds and communication styles and abilities is an interesting secondary tale in this work.

A general overview of the operations of the newspaper business of the era is a key piece of of Holzer’s book. This includes the large number of newspapers that ambitious men started throughout these years, how technology in printing (faster presses) and method of receiving news (telegraphs, railroads, use of ships) made the war between papers more intense as they rushed to best each other with fresh scoops. It also describes how editors used different sized and priced newspapers and new sales methods to increase sales. The development of news sharing services like the Associated Press was another step forward in the business. This work also discusses other aspects of the business, such as how and why the population and money center of New York was the home of the biggest early newspapers. For those who sense an “east coast media bias,” perhaps in the coverage of modern sports, this book gives a glance at how such a focus on the east developed.

In addition to demonstrating how Lincoln and other politicians desired attention from the press, this work describes how they tried to control much of that coverage. Lincoln, for instance, secretly owned part of a German language newspapers in the late 1850s, and other politicians financially assisted journals that supported them editorially. Lincoln also frequently visited local newspaper offices to meet and talk with the editors, especially in small Illinois towns. Of course, by the end of his career, it was the editors and reporters who sought to visit Lincoln for attention instead of the other way around.

Lincoln also wrote anonymous articles and editorials for various newspapers. Holzer retells how Lincoln almost ended up in a duel due to such an anonymous piece, but also describes how the future President continued to submit unsigned works to newspapers even when in the land’s highest office, perhaps one of the lesser-known aspects of his career.

He wrote private letters to editors as replies to some of their critical commentaries, but was especially effective with the public letters he sent to these journals, such as his response to Greeley or his Conklin letter. A good summary of Lincoln’s attempts to manage such coverage occurs on page 474:  “Lincoln was never more successful in controlling the newspapers than when he wrote the newspaper copy himself.” This was one way Lincoln used the press to help mold public opinion instead of relying on the editors’ words and opinions.

Civil liberties, including freedom of the press and free speech, are another common topic of Civil War studies, with debate on how such freedoms were handled during these years, especially in the North. Holzer explores various newspaper suppression and censorship issues during the war, showing how some times, such as immediately after the first Battle of Bull Run, witnessed a higher amount of suppression, but other times, such as before the fall 1862 elections, saw fewer such instances. He discusses occasions when Lincoln may have been able to step in and help editors or newspapers more than he did, but also times when perhaps the Union policy (and thus Lincoln’s) was more lenient than it could have been. Lincoln often allowed his military leaders to do as they thought necessary, with the more successful generals having more leeway than others, but also took his own actions of suppression when he thought it necessary.. Holzer strongly shows that there really was not one clear, definite and consistent policy on what would be allowed or prohibited, which made it difficult for editors to know what they could publish safely. It was a difficult time for newspapers, especially those opposed to the war and/or the administration, as well as for the government which tried to balance freedoms with security and giving aid or relief to the enemy, many of whom lived in Union states. This book  also discusses instances of similar censorship in the South, showing it was not just an issue for Lincoln and the Union side. The whole concept of  “civil war” made this issue difficult to handle and this book impressively illuminates those difficulties.

The book concludes by discussing newspaper coverage of the bloody fighting in 1864 and that fall’s presidential campaign. The integration of politics and press was never more obvious than during this time when newspapermen Henry Raymond and Augustus Belmont presided over the National Union and Democratic national conventions. The pessimism that Lincoln and his supporters, including those in the media, felt was a major sentiment of this time and Holzer makes a keen observation when he notes the irony that that much of the press’ pessimism disappeared after Atlanta was captured – by William T. Sherman, a well-known hater of reporters and newspapers

This is a fascinating book, going into many more details than this review can cover, and is definitely a valuable part of any Civil War or Abraham Lincoln library. It is one that I honestly wish I had read sooner, but am glad to have done so now. This is a highly enjoyable, informative, and recommended book.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Book Review: Kentucky Raider by George Karvel, Ph.D

Author: George R. Karvel, PH.D.
copyright 2016
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

The subject of my next book review is another book that discusses Kentucky in the Civil War. Even though this volume is not specifically about Kentucky, the story it tells is of a Kentuckian and of raids and battles throughout the Commonwealth, focusing on the raids of famous Confederate General, and Kentuckian, John Hunt Morgan.

Commodore Perry (C.P.) Snell, the great-great grandfather of the author joined the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry, under Morgan's command, in mid-1862. He served for the next three years, surviving Morgan's Christmas Raid, Great Raid and Last Kentucky Raid, as well as two instances of being captured. He was able to escape his captors and return to his unit both times, though his name confused Federal soldiers who thought "Commodore" was a title not a name. Snell apparently provided a false name as "Charles P. more than once, perhaps to avoid this confusion. His name shows up as this "nom de guerre" in more than one official U.S. form. (The author does a good job of explaining the background of Snell's name and how the original Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry had inspired people to name children, including C.P. Snell, in his honor, early in the book.)

This book briefly describes each of the raids in which Snell took part. It is not an in-depth look at the details of these invasions, but that is not its goal. The synopses the author provides of these raids do give good  background information about Snell's experiences and make this book better.

The book is well-written and organized. I did not notice any proofreading errors and the writing style was very readable. It is a quick, informative work.

After discussing Morgan's capture in 1864, the book reaches the heart of this story, the order book that Morgan had captured from Union General Edward Hobson the day before his (Morgan's) capture. It then publishes each entry from this book. Most are short, usually a sentence or two, which makes for rather choppy reading, but this provides real examples of how such officers wrote their orders. Additionally, the author adds good descriptions for these orders. These clarifications explain the orders and the military situations. This was a very helpful and valuable part of the book, adding an understanding of what the officers were doing and why.

Karvel addresses Snell's military career and his parole at the end of the war,  and then describes  Snell's post war life as much as surviving evidence allows. He tells that Snell found a new love interest during the war, despite already being married, and how he soon divorced his wife when he returned home. He notes that 1870 census records and Snell's will show that Snell had enjoyed good financial success and discusses how this may have happened. He mentions some rumors and family stories that may explain Snell's prosperity, as no official revere seems to provide answers. This was an unexpected and fascinating section of this book.

The book includes footnotes listing sources and six appendices of background information on Snell's family history and family military background, a glossary of terms and other information. It also features several helpful maps at appropriate places in the text.

This book is a good, quick read and recounts an interesting story about the captured order book, what information it contained and how it came to the author's family. Morgan and his raids are popular topics for books and discussion, but George Karvel has found a new story to tell about this part of Kentucky's Civil War history. I gladly recommend this book.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Book Review: Wild Wolf: The Great Civil War Rivalry

Author: Ronald Wolford Blair
Copyright 2015
Acclaim Press
Kentucky in and after the Civil War is a topic that has really caught my attention in recent years, and several books I have read and reviewed have added to my understanding of that era in my home state.

That is true of my latest finished book, Ronald Wolford Blair's Wild Wolf: The Great Civil War Rivalry,  about the author's great-great uncle, Union Colonel Frank Wolford of the 1st Kentucky Cavalry, a.k.a. The "Wild Riders."

Serving as a biography of the author's ancestor, the book starts by featuring the story of Wolford's military career, especially his many dealings with famous Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, before moving onto discussions of Wolford's polical and social beliefs and how he clashed with the goals and actions of President Abraham Lincoln.

The detailed overview of Wolford's military career iincludes his accomplishments as a leader and discusses how his folksy leadership style and manner of giving orders helped him earn his men's admiration. He was certainly no martinet, but earned his men's respect with his manners and fair discipline. His troops fought throughout eastern and central Kentucky and northern Tennessee, including clashes against Morgan's men, before embarking on a long chase of the famed Confederate during his "Great Raid" of 1863. After helping capture Morgan and many of his men, Wolford's troopers fought in the East Tennessee campaign, including the Siege of Knoxville, where they dealt with the usual trials of combat as well as the rugged terrain and bitterly cold weather.

As the war moved into the middle of 1864, the story transitions to one of Wolford's political battles and arrests, as the author describes in great detail Wolford's disputes with the Lincoln administration especially his opposition to emancipation and the use of African-American soldiers. Blair also shows how Wolford fought for civil liberties (particularly his own) such as free speech and speedy trials. Wolford was blunt, forthright and honest in his speeches and letters, not caring to whom his remarks were made or know they might be interpreted as aiding the enemy or hurting the Union cause. These political battles started late in the war and continued in the post-war years as he tried to help return life to how it was in ante-bellum days, particularly in the racial hierarchy in Kentucky society. The book frequently notes that Wolford's attitudes and opposition represented those of a majority of Kentuckians at the time.

Wolford was an intense and determined soldier and showed the same traits in his non-military fights as well, though he kept his focus solely on events in Kentucky. He may not have appreciated the progress the Union war effort had made nation-wide in 1864 and felt that a re-election of Lincoln would lead to more years of bloodshed. Wolford was, understandably, primarily concerned with the situation in his home state and area ("all politics is local" so goes the cliche) and strongly supported George McClellan in the 1864 election because of the way Steven Burbridge and the Lincoln administration were treating Wolford and his fellow Kentuckians.

This work is another valuable look at the complicated, twisted history of Kentucky in and immediately after the Civil War, showing that even a man who made personal and physical sacrifices to help preserve the Union also expressed many sentiments that clashed with his own government in terms of the treatment of slavery and African-Americans as well as interpretation of Constitutional rights and responsibilities. He focused on the civil rights of white Kentuckians, men and women.

The story in Wild Wolf is  similar to the one told in For Slavery and Union, describing how an individual soldier could fight for the Union but end up opposing some of the Union's political goals. It explores Wolford's political career after the war, as he served as a lawyer, state representative, Congressman and held other official positions as he tried to restore the pre-war social order. He also helped veterans and their families receive government pensions decades after the war.

This book is a good study, certainly informative and a great addition to my library, but it is not perfect. The proofreading could have been better, as several grammatical of punctuation mistakes, misspellings and missing words are evident throughout the text. None were huge deals by themselves, but they were minor distractions and there were enough of them that each reminded me that I had seen others previously.

Also, the writing at times seemed to jump around from one topic to another and the flow was not always as smooth as it could have been. Perhaps breaking the chapters down in sections might have helped this, though the complicated nature of Wolford's life, career and rivalry with Morgan is a difficult story to tell and there is much more good than bad in this book.

Despite my nitpicking, this is a fine book. It does include endnotes and has two large sections of appropriate photographs and maps, which add much to the work. The research that went into this volume is impressive and the amount of material it covers is equally so.The book also includes three appendices publishing Wolford's most controversial speeches and his letter to Lincoln. These were smart additions to this volume.

I am pleased to have read this book and do recommend it to Civil War students, especially those interested in Kentucky, cavalry, John Hunt Morgan and/or political dissent on the Union side of the war. It is a good study of a mostly unheralded and unknown cavalry officer and influential political figure in the native state of both Civil War Presidents, showing another example of the complex and confusing nature of war and politics in Civil War-era Kentucky.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sexy Abraham Lincoln Statue?

In the last few years, I've had a lot of interest in the story of the Abraham Lincoln statue in Lyle Park, downtown .Cincinnati. What especially has intrigued me about it are the various controversies around it, starting from the commissioning of the project through the unveiling of the finished work and the idea of sending a copy to London. A lot of people, especially Robert Lincoln, thought this statue to be ugly, undignified, and even inappropriate as an image of the former President. Some people liked it, but many did not.

Author's picture, Lytle Park

In this link I have posted some other pictures I took of this monument as well as a link to my previous stories about it. I also gave a presentation to a local group about this issue, covering the same material.

Recently, and thanks to social media, I saw an article about a different Lincoln statue, a "sexy" or "hot" Lincoln. This is certainly different, especially the reactions mentioned in this story from near Chicago. The statue is over 70 years old, but apparently this view of the attractiveness of it is fairly new.

I have, of course, not seen the statue in person, but from what I've seen in the few pictures in the article, I'm not impressed. It does not look much like Lincoln to me at first glance, similar to some of the reactions in the story. It uses the young and beardless version of Lincoln as is seen in Cincinnati, but not the same pose or overall image.

The face looks too smooth, even for the younger man, and even too shiny, though that may be a photography issue. The hair somehow seems wrong as well. The shirt being open until the middle of his chest also looks inappropriate, though I admit I'm no expert on the fashion trends of the day, especially for someone doing farmwork. Maybe he wore clothes like that, including the rolled-up sleeves, to be cooler while he rested. The sleeves seem more reasonable to me than the open shirt.

He also appears to have a slight smile or smirk on his face, which photographs at the time did not use, but as the statue was designed to show him resting after doing work, who is to say that is not accurate? He probably was happy to sit down and pick up a book, though the look on his face is not familiar to us. The bare feet are a nice touch and seem realistic.

Ironically, the statue in Cincinnati became mockingly known as the "stomach ache statue" because the artist George Barnard Grey had placed Lincoln's hands over his abdomen, leading some viewers to believe Lincoln looked ill. On this statue, the hands at first appear to be in a similar position, but the seated pose and the book he is holding makes that less apparent.

His clothing is also much less wrinkled than in the Cincinnati statue and I do wonder if they would look so nice after a few hours of work outside.

I don't mean to criticize the statue too much, especially just judging by a few photographs. It is different than others and is not unrealistic, though I still find the face and head to be barely recognizable as Lincoln. I'm not sure I can explain it, but that part just seems to be wrong. The side angle picture in the article is especially noteworthy to me as it appears to be any man, not specifically Lincoln.

From the linked story at

From eBay 

Perhaps the statue is fine and the issue is my own personal image of Lincoln. As asked in my previous stories, who owns his memory or determines his image - the artist, the audience, or someone else? Is it just "beauty/image is in the eye of the beholder?" This is just another example of how different people produce different images or have varying memories of a historical figure, even someone as famous and as photographed as Lincoln was. Maybe the lack of photographs from Lincoln's youth affects this, though there are images of the unbearded man that help us see his pre-presidential looks. With that said, I just do not see a good image of Lincoln in this statue, especially the facial features. For this beholder, the beauty is simply not there.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cynthiana Tour June 10, 2017

Earlier this month, I took a tour of the local town of Cynthiana and some of the sites involved in the 1864 Civil War fighting which took place in the area. 

Thank you to  Darryl Smith for leading the tour for the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation (CBF.)  I enjoy his tours at Perryville and thought he did a fine job yesterday. This is a much different situation than at a state historic site or park and requires a different style of tour.

One reason I joined the CBF was to learn more about the events in Cynthiana, and history his tour helped greatly with that goal. I still have much to learn, but have started in the right direction, at least regarding the 1864 battles. It is generally considered one battle, but consisted of three fights and some people call it three battles even though the "official name" seems to be the "Second Battle of .Cynthiana." We explored each site  and it was very enjoyable.

I will, of course, need to make more visits and do more reading on this fighting, as well as on the 1863 battle, but I thought I gained a lot of good perspective about this fighting and certainly improved my knowledge of it. It was a wonderful tour that I am glad I took and they I gladly recommend. There will be a tour of the 1862 battle on July 15. I hope to be there.

Below is a link to all the pictures I took during the tour and the memorial service.

After the tour, we held a brief memorial service st the Confederate Monument in Battle Grove Cemetery, including lighting luminaries at each Confederate gravestone.


I'll put a few in this post.

Where /Edward Hobson's men fought Morgan's

Where railroad depot was in 1864

Courthouse - some Union troops hid in it 

New Rankin House hotel - was under construction in 1864

The covered bridge was behind this now wooded area

Confederate monument, Battle Grove Cemetery

Confederate section, Battle Grove Cemetery 



Luminaries and sunset

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Happy 225th, Kentucky!

I have not written for a while, but wanted to take some time to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Kentucky's statehood. Kentucky is not the oldest, biggest or most famous state, but it is my home, always has been and likely always will be. My ancestors first came here in the 1820s, so that is almost 200 years of direct association with the state.

Kentucky has a lot of natural beauty and history. Even as I focus this blog on the Civil War, I hope it, anfpd my other social media activities, helps spread the word about this wonderful state.
here is something I wrote for the website of the new Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation, which I have mentioned before.

Most of the books in this article have been mentioned on this blog already, usually in formal reviews, but it does not hurt to mention them again, especially today. They focus on Kentucky's association with the Confederacy and its reputation as a Confederate state, even though Kentucky has never left the Union since becoming a state June 1, 1792. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

Centennial of Lincoln Statue in Cincinnati

In late 2015, I wrote a series of posts on a statue of Abraham Lincoln that sculptor George Grey Barnard had created. It was revealed and dedicated in a ceremony on March 31, 1917, one hundred years ago from today.

Here is a link to the 3rd story I wrote about this in late 2015. It has links to the first 2 in it.

I recently gave a presentation about this statue and found more details than are in this link, but I have not yet found a way to format that presentation for this blog. The linked stories give a good overview of tbis monument and the controversies surrounding it. Perhaps I will write a more detailed and update version in the future, but this link will be good on this anniversary date of the dedication