A Must Have Book for the Civil War historian

If you are just starting out in history and are looking for starting points for research, there is a book that should be in your library. Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand is a book co-authored by James McPherson and William Cooper, Jr. It is a guide for historians to research the conflict. The book contains twelve essays by various historians on various topics ranging from the governments of each side to the common soldier, to slavery. Other issues include economics, strategy, and gender. The essays cover the historiography of each subject, which allows the reader to gain insight into the important works central to each topic and its relationship to the war. For instance, in researching camps of instruction, I utilized the essay entitled “Not the General But the Soldier: The Study of Civil War Soldiers” by Reid Mitchell. I was able to discover the important scholarly works dealing with soldiers, including Bell Irvin Wiley’s The Life of Billy Yank. The book is a great resource for uncovering the historiography of slavery in America. Almost any topic a historian can research is covered in some fashion by this book. Although it is almost ten years old, Writing the Civil War will provide the important books and authors of a given topic up to the time of publication. In conclusion, pick up a copy of Writing the Civil War and uncover the historiography of your research area of the Civil War.

The Gay Lincoln Theory

I was listening to the Dave Glover Show on KSTK 97.1 talk FM earlier this evening. They had this “gentleman” (sorry, I tuned in too late to catch his name) on their show. The topic was C. A. Tripp’s book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, which continues an argument originally set forth by Carl Sandburg in 1924 of Lincoln being gay. Trying to learn more about the segment that I missed part of, I examined a review of the book from The Weekly Standard, which was noted in the segment and can be viewed here. I have several problems with the “Lincoln was gay” theory.First, the author (Tripp) is not a historian, but a “well-known sex researcher” who worked under the controversial Alfred Kinsey. This hurts his credibility with this budding historian.

Second, is how Tripp comes to his conclusion. He notes Lincoln sharing a bed with his friend Joshua Speed as well as his bodyguard while in the White House. Now there are MAJOR problems with Tripp’s assertion. First, Tripp, especially considering his lack of training in history, does not understand how 19th century American society worked. It was quite common for people of the same sex to share a bed in that time. Unlike today’s society, families were larger, which resulted in siblings sharing a bed during childhood. In addition, the Army at the time had men sharing bunks for sleeping. Does this mean that the men in question were gay? No. It was quite common when staying at an inn to rent only a sleeping space, not a whole room, or even bed. It was not uncommon for a person to awaken the next morning with two or three other people in the same bed. That was how society was back then.

Now, another problem with Tripp’s book is of a more serious nature with respect to the historical community. The author of the article in The Weekly Standard was also originally the coauthor of the book with Tripp. Philip Nobile claims that Tripp plagiarized much of the work, citing the original collaboration where both men would submit competing chapters to a Lincoln expert, who would act as “referee” to the book to make sure it was accurate. According to Nobile, Tripp stole much of his [Nobile's] own written material from the chapters that he [Nobile] wrote and incorporated it into the final book. Plagiarism is a very serious allegation and has very serious consequences for those caught.

The “gentleman” in the Dave Glover segment today also noted supposed love letters written by Lincoln to a close friend in addition to to mentioning the examples noted above. The man mentioned how these letters had the air of love letters. This just proves then that Lincoln was gay. This is yet another example of an individual unfamiliar with 19th century society. Having read many letters written by men to both women and other men at the time, I can testify to the fact that many were eloquent, rich in passionate, flowery language, and have the air of love letters to our modern eyes. This was the style of the 19th century, which is even more amazing considering the overall lack of education amongst persons at that time. People conveyed deep personal thoughts, which possessed an almost romantic quality to them because of two possible reasons. First, the cost of postage was very high at the time, with it costing the equivalent of several dollars to mail one page (front and back) over 25 miles. Second, the distance that separated some people and the higher mortality rate of the time mean that people may go years without seeing the person and may never see them again in certain instances. This could create a deep sense of caring and concern for that person bordering on a romantic feeling for that person. This does not mean that the person is sexually attracted or infatuated with the person, but that they care deeply about them.

Overall, both Tripp and the gentleman who appeared on the Dave Glover Show are placing their biases on 19th century society. In fact, Philip Nobile notes how Tripp “would never give up his homosexual bias.” Their placing 21st century views onto the 19th century is a bad practice that must be avoided. Furthermore, both men show a clear lack of understanding of the society of the time, taking common practices of that society way out of context. Was Lincoln gay? Probably not, as the physical evidence does not exist for sexual relations between Lincoln and men, as well as most written evidence does not support the gay Lincoln theory. One thing is certain, this is a clear example of one man attempting to rewrite history from the grave (Tripp died in 2003) to suit an agenda. It is interesting to note that more than half of the 36 customer review on Amazon.com rate the book at one or two stars and are very critical of the book. I invite you to read the reviews and the article cited above and come to your own conclusion about whether or not you want to buy this book and consider this theory, but for my money, I will not buy the book and wait for something more conclusive before I even consider the remote possibility of a homosexual Lincoln.