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Inside Lincoln's White House

The Complete Civil War Diary of John Hay

Edited by Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger

Publication Year: 1999

On 18 April 1861, assistant presidential secretary John Hay recorded in his diary the report of several women that "some young Virginian long haired swaggering chivalrous of course. . . and half a dozen others including a daredevil guerrilla from Richmond named Ficklin would do a thing within forty eight hours that would ring through the world."

The women feared that the Virginian planned either to assassinate or to capture the president. Calling this a "harrowing communication," Hay continued his entry: "They went away and I went to the bedside of the Chief couché. I told him the yarn; he quietly grinned."

This is but one of the dramatic entries in Hay’s Civil War diary, presented here in a definitive edition by Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger. Justly deemed the most intimate record we will ever have of Abraham Lincoln in the White House, the Hay diary is, according to Burlingame and Ettlinger, "one of the richest deposits of high-grade ore for the smelters of Lincoln biographers and Civil War historians." While the Cabinet diaries of Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Gideon Welles also shed much light on Lincoln’s presidency, as does the diary of Senator Orville Hickman Browning, none of these diaries has the literary flair of Hay’s, which is, as Lincoln’s friend Horace White noted, as "breezy and sparkling as champagne." An aspiring poet, Hay recorded events in a scintillating style that the lawyer-politician diarists conspicuously lacked.

Burlingame and Ettlinger’s edition of the diary is the first to publish the complete text of all of Hay’s entries from 1861 through 1864. In 1939 Tyler Dennett published Lincoln and the Civil War in the Diaries and Letters of John Hay, which, as Civil War historian Allan Nevins observed, was "rather casually edited." This new edition is essential in part because Dennett omitted approximately 10 percent of Hay’s 1861–64 entries.

Not only did the Dennett edition omit important parts of the diaries, it also introduced some glaring errors. More than three decades ago, John R. Turner Ettlinger, then in charge of Special Collections at the Brown University Library, made a careful and literal transcript of the text of the diary, which involved deciphering Hay’s difficult and occasionally obscure writing. In particular, passages were restored that had been canceled, sometimes heavily, by the first editors for reasons of confidentiality and propriety. Ettlinger’s text forms the basis for the present edition, which also incorporates, with many additions and much updating by Burlingame, a body of notes providing a critical apparatus to the diary, identifying historical events and persons.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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Copyright Page

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The Brown University library staff has provided indispensable help in the preparation of this book. John Ettlinger is most thankful to Martha Mitchell of the library's Department of Archives. Jennifer Lee of the John Hay Library at Brown kindly called Michael Burlingame's attention to the manuscript...

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Editors' Introduction

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pp. xi-xx

The diary of assistant presidential secretary John Hay has been aptly described as "the most intimate record we have or ever can have of Abraham Lincoln in the White House." It is one the richest deposits of high-grade ore for the smelters of Lincoln biographers and Civil War historians, especially for the years 1863 and 1864, when...

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1. 1861

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pp. 1-33

The White House is turned into barracks. Jim Lane marshalled his Kansas Warriors today at Willard's and placed them at the disposal of Maj. Hunter, who turned them tonight into the East Room. It is a splendid company-worthy such an armory. Besides the western Jayhawkers it comprises some of the best materiel of the East. Senator Pomeroy...

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2. 1862

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pp. 35-41

On the 27th day of January, the president issued his general War Order No. One to those whose direction it was to be. He wrote it without any consultation and read it to the Cabinet, not for their sanction but for their information. From that time he influenced actively the operations of the Campaign. He stopped going to McClellan's and sent...

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3. 1863

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pp. 42-136

Left New York at noon-got into rough weather in the course of the afternoon-made an enormous dinner with a light and defiant heart-cast it up with great heaviness of spirit-solitary agony-weariness of living--disgust for the sea-enthusiastic promises of future land residence-cold-blooded preparations made by the Steward-distant...

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4. 1864

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pp. 137-254

The President and Secretary of War today Jan. 2, 1864 commissioned me to go down to Lookout Point and deliver to Gen. Marston the book of oaths and the accompanying blanks and explain to him the mode in which they are to be used. Gen Butler was ordered by telegraph to meet me there and consult as to the manner of carrying out the Presidents plan for pardoning...

Appendix: Speech to the Citizents of Florida

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pp. 257-266


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pp. 267-369


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pp. 371-393

Author Bio

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809383108
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809322626

Publication Year: 1999