Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home by Matthew Pinsker

Lincoln's Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers' Home
by Matthew Pinsker

This is an unusual book about the American Civil War. Unlike most which show focus on a specific individual, unit or campaign this looks at a location and how interactions around it shaped the wider war. This is the Soldiers' Home a collection of buildings originally created to house disabled veterans of American conflicts on the outskirts of Washington DC. In the summers Abraham Lincoln and his family lived there in the evenings to get out of the heat of the White House.

Buried in the back of the book is the information that this was essentially a work for hire job to promote the building which recently received historical site status. If I had known that I would've been a bit more leery about purchasing it. The biggest problem is there often isn't any context. For instance much is made of Lincoln meeting with visitors who just showed up unannounced. The question is how unusual was this compared to the behavior at the White House? We are never really told.

The narrative is pretty much linear covering each of the summers that they stayed there. The major decisions that were made and dealing with any primary sources that talk about meetings or appointments that took place at the home.

Pinsker goes to great pains pointing out that different and unusual sources are being used to use as documentation. However frequently after analyzing them for a page or two they are discarded as being unreliable. This seemed to be more like padding than anything else.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of information is Lincoln's view of his personal safety. How he had to be encouraged to have a cavalry unit stationed with him. As well as the friendship he had with some of the officers from the unit.

Mildly recommended for the novelty value.

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