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Lincoln Legends

Lincoln Legends: Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Our Greatest President

Edward Steers
With an Introduction by Harold Holzer
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Lincoln Legends
    Book Description:

    In the more than 140 years since his death, Abraham Lincoln has become America's most revered president. The mythmaking about this self-made man began early, some of it starting during his campaign for the presidency in 1860. As an American icon, Lincoln has been the subject of speculation and inquiry as authors and researchers have examined every aspect -- personal and professional -- of the president's life. In Lincoln Legends, noted historian and Lincoln expert Edward Steers Jr. carefully scrutinizes some of the most notorious tall tales and distorted ideas about America's sixteenth president. These inaccuracies and speculations about Lincoln's personal and professional life abound. Did he write his greatest speech on the back of an envelope on the way to Gettysburg? Did Lincoln appear before a congressional committee to defend his wife against charges of treason? Was he an illegitimate child? Did Lincoln have romantic encounters with women other than his wife? Did he have love affairs with men? What really happened in the weeks leading up to April 14, 1865, and in the aftermath of Lincoln's tragic assassination? Lincoln Legends evaluates the evidence on all sides of the many heated debates about the Great Emancipator. Not only does Steers weigh the merits of all relevant arguments and interpretations, but he also traces the often fascinating evolution of flawed theories about Lincoln and uncovers the motivations of the individuals -- occasionally sincere but more often cynical, self-serving, and nefarious -- who are responsible for their dispersal. Based on extensive primary research, the conclusions in Lincoln Legends will settle many of the enduring questions and persistent myths about Lincoln's life once and for all. Steers leaves us with a clearer image of Abraham Lincoln as a man, as an exceptionally effective president, and as a deserving recipient of the nation's admiration.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7275-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvii)
    Harold Holzer

    It is probably true that no other American life has been as exhaustively chronicled and, concurrently, as recklessly mythologized as that of Abraham Lincoln. As if the true story of his rise from obscurity to immortality were not inspiring enough, fabulists began early in Lincoln’s national political career to add the patina of exaggeration to burnish his emerging legend. A two-mile walk to and from school became four; an acre of self-made rail fencing became a hectare; an occasional bout with melancholy became suicidal depression; a reputation for honesty became a mania; an abundance of strength became Herculean. His impoverished,...

    (pp. 1-13)

    Sitting atop a grassy knoll overlooking the rolling Kentucky countryside is a magnificent marble building whose outward appearance looks like a Greek temple erected in honor of some ancient god. Inside the temple, however, there are no altars or statues to mythical gods or goddesses. Instead, one finds a simple log cabin not unlike any of the thousands of log cabins that dotted the countryside of rural America. The honor chosen for this log cabin over all the others is due to the place its occupant holds in the hearts of his countrymen. It was in this simple cabin that...

  6. CHAPTER TWO LINCOLN’S FATHER The Paternity of Abraham Lincoln
    (pp. 14-28)

    In 1997, a legislative assistant to a North Carolina congressman wrote me inquiring about a local tradition in western North Carolina that Abraham Lincoln was born in Rutherford County, the bastard son of a man named Abraham Enloe and a servant girl working in the Enloe household named Nancy Hanks. The writer wanted to know if there was any truth to the story. The letter sent me to an old file I had built up over the years with the title “Myths.” In it were dozens of stories having to do with Lincoln’s paternity.

    Accusations that Abraham Lincoln was “low...

  7. CHAPTER THREE ABE AND ANN The Wilma Frances Minor Affair
    (pp. 29-50)

    In 1926, Harcourt, Brace and Company published the first two volumes of Carl Sandburg’s Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Abraham Lincoln entitledThe Prairie Years.¹ These first two volumes covered from Lincoln’s early life up to his leaving his hometown of Springfield as president-elect in February 1861. It would take Sandburg another thirteen years to finish the final four volumes, calledThe War Years.²

    Sandburg’s beautiful prose captivated readers in unprecedented numbers, pushing sales ofThe Prairie Yearsto an incredible 1.5. million copies.³ Sandburg single-handedly moved Lincoln from the constrained world of the historian to the hearts of everyday...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR ANN RUTLEDGE’S RESTING PLACE The Myth of Ann Rutledge’s Gravesite
    (pp. 51-59)

    The story of the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge has had an uncertain history. Historians have been unable to agree on little more than that both Ann and Abe lived part of their early lives together in the village of New Salem and shared a common interest in learning grammar. There are no documents that link the two directly.¹ Only the reminiscences of friends and neighbors breathe life into the relationship. Despite the ongoing debate of whether or not the two were romantically involved and betrothed to marry, Ann Rutledge was a real person. The man she was...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE WAS LINCOLN BAPTIZED? The Religious Conversion of Abraham Lincoln
    (pp. 60-79)

    On March 4, 1861, the Sunday following his inauguration as president, Lincoln attended services at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.¹ The church sits on a small triangular piece of land at the point where New York Avenue intersects H Street. It is an easy walk from the White House along New York Avenue to the church. Ever since Lincoln’s presidency the church has been known as “The Lincoln Church.” This is all the more impressive when one realizes that the church’s history is rich with religious and political personalities. It is the church of Peter Marshal, one...

    (pp. 80-88)

    The year 1862 ended in yet another crushing defeat for Union forces. On December 13, Major General Ambrose P. Burnside hurled the full strength of the Army of the Potomac against Robert E. Lee’s entrenched veterans occupying a ridge overlooking the city of Fredericksburg. Wave after wave of Union troops bravely clawed their way up the heights, only to be cut down by a withering fire from the Confederate soldiers safely entrenched behind a stone wall. It was out of character for most Union army commanders to show such aggression in battle, misplaced as it was. Having served under George...

    (pp. 89-101)

    It seems there is no phase of Abraham Lincoln’s life or death that has not been written about in detail. The subject matter runs from his eating habits to his sex life.¹ There are books devoted to his personal finances, psychological state of mind, portrayal in the movies, and even his favorite jokes.² The area that has attracted the most attention by scholars over the years deals with Lincoln’s words, both written and spoken. Entire works have been written on Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, a speech consisting of only 272 words that lasted all of three minutes.³ Other writings by Lincoln...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT THE WORLD WILL LITTLE NOTE . . . The Myths of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
    (pp. 102-114)

    While searching the Internet one afternoon under the word “Lincoln” with nothing in particular in mind, I was surprised to find a copy of Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews’sThe Perfect Tribute.What surprised me was the 1956 publication date. I thought the date must surely be a mistake. The book, first published over a century ago, was well past its prime and no longer relevant in this modern, sophisticated age of Lincoln studies. What surprised me even more, however, is that the book is currently available over the Internet as an “eBook” and can be downloaded as a PDF file...

    (pp. 115-124)

    The collecting of Lincolniana can be traced back to the year 1860, when an eighteen-year-old newsstand operator named Osborn H. I. Oldroyd read a campaign biography of Lincoln, became enthralled with the presidential candidate, and began seriously collecting memorabilia pertaining to him. After serving four years in the Union army, Oldroyd returned to private life and, devoting himself to collecting Lincolniana, amassed the largest collection in the country. Purchased by the U.S. government, the collection now resides in the custody of the National Park Service and is on display at Ford’s Theatre.

    Lincoln became one of the more popular subjects...

  14. CHAPTER TEN THE GAY LINCOLN MYTH All the President’s Men
    (pp. 125-149)

    Abraham Lincoln has been appropriated as the poster boy for so many different causes, ranging from melancholia (depression) to the National Guard (for his Black Hawk War service), that it is difficult at times to keep them all straight. Americans of every persuasion have wanted to pin their tail on Lincoln’s donkey in an effort to gain status for their personal cause since shortly after his death. I suppose it is not surprising then to find Lincoln coming out of the closet to join the ranks of homosexuals in modern America. As with many of the other tail pinners, those...

    (pp. 150-176)

    In the September 17, 1979, issue ofTimemagazine, essayist Frank Trippett wrote about the phenomenon of certain people who remain in the public memory and never seem to die.¹ Their cases are never closed, but kept open by a disbelieving public. The mysterious disappearances of aviatrix Amelia Earhart and Judge Joseph Force Crater are two cases in point. Earhart disappeared in 1937 somewhere in the Pacific while attempting to fly around the world. Rumors continue to this day, despite the lack of evidence, of her capture and execution by the Japanese, who believed she was a spy working for...

    (pp. 177-202)

    The first epigraph that appears above can be found in John Wilkes Booth’s little diary or memorandum book that is on display in the museum in Ford’s Theatre, where he shot Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14, 1865. Booth made the entry during his attempted escape while hiding in a pine thicket, waiting until it was safe to cross the Potomac River into Virginia. The entry has spurred conspiracy-minded individuals for over 140 years in their quest to prove that Lincoln’s assassination was part of a grand conspiracy between members of Lincoln’s own administration and the Confederate government....

  17. CHAPTER THIRTEEN PEANUT JOHN The Man Who Held Booth’s Horse
    (pp. 203-213)

    When I first became a member of the Lincoln Group of the District of Columbia in 1976, I became friends with Elmer Stein, one of the many old-time Washingtonians who belonged to that group. Elmer came up to me at the first meeting I attended and extended his hand in a friendly gesture. “Hello,” he said. “I’m Elmer Stein.” “Hello, I’m Ed Steers,” I said, and we shook hands. Elmer then said something rather odd: “Now you can tell all your friends that you shook the hand of the man who shook the hand of the man that held John...

  18. CHAPTER FOURTEEN THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS Andrew Potter and the Traitors Who Ordered Lincoln’s Death
    (pp. 214-230)

    The Civil War is of ten described as the first modern war. Modern in its use of railroads, the telegraph, rifled cannon and muskets, breech-loading weapons, anti-personnel and water mines (called torpedoes), field hospitals, and trench warfare. The Civil War even saw the first use of a submarine that successfully sank an enemy vessel, albeit at its own destruction.¹ And it saw the first well-organized secret service in clandestine operations behind enemy lines.

    The use of spies is as old as warfare. What was new during the Civil War was the organization of secret services, designed as special agencies within...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 231-254)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 255-264)