Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories
IT TOOK MORE THAN 150 YEARS
JOSEPH LEININGER WHEELER
Yes, it has taken that long for this collection of stories about Lincoln to become a reality. One hundred of it being our family contributions. My late mother, Barbara Leininger Wheeler (born in 1912), spent her entire lifetime collecting and performing (as a stage-performing elocutionist) thousands of pages of short stories, poetry, and readings. And she loved Lincoln more than all the rest of our presidents put together. In this, she is anything but unique, for it is still true today, of all age groups, that Lincoln dominates the presidential market. Just look at the rows and rows of books about Lincoln on bookstore shelves.
Most Americans don’t realize that the same phenomenon remains true for short stories written about Lincoln. Reason being that few people know they even exist! In fact, I did an exhaustive search through generations of high school literature textbooks to see how many Lincoln stories have been picked up by textbook editors. I found only two: one, a chapter from Carl Sandburg’s monumental biography of Lincoln’s life, and the other, Bailey and Walworth’s “He Loved Me Truly.”
One reason for this is that most Lincoln stories weren’t written by academics but by men and women from America’s heartland, and they
were kept alive by oral tradition. At virtually every school, civic, or church function, elocutionists of all ages would recite the most beloved stories, poems, and readings of the age. Sadly, today that tradition is all but extinct.
Indeed, up until the late 1800s, it was virtually a given that if a public speaker, politician, or minister alluded to any of three works (the Bible, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, or the McGuffey Readers), most everyone, young or old, in the audience would catch the allusion. That is no longer true. Just watch the Jeopardy! programs each evening: There is no longer any cultural denominator that our culture shares. Not even the Bible. In cultural tests I’ve administered to various groups through the years, the only two genres that register at all on people’s radar screens are sports and media trivia.
SO HOW DID THESE STORIES SURVIVE?
First of all, they survived through oral transmission. Virtually all of them are based on true incidents in Lincoln’s life. During the first couple of generations after his passing, these stories thrived in the American heartland, many being passed down from one elocutionist to another. However, not until the 1880s did very many get written down.
In my own lifetime spent searching (as a story archeologist) for these precious vanishing Lincoln stories (they continue to crumble out of existence with each day that passes), I have found stories 1) still in the oral tradition, 2) handwritten, 3) carbons, 4) typewritten, 5) spirit-duplicated (if you’re older you’ll remember purple fingers and hands), 6) mimeographed (such a gooey mess to work with!), 7) printed, 8) computer-typed, and, of course, 9) clipped out of magazines, newspapers, and books. If you were to paw through my story archives, you’d find them all! Early magazine editors did the most to keep these stories alive. I unearthed the majority of the strongest Lincoln stories in older magazines. And now, with print increasingly on the defensive, surviving copies are increasingly harder to find.
At the very pinnacle of my personal bucket list is this: Put together
a definitive collection of the most memorable Lincoln stories ever written before I die. And this collection is the result. I know of no other person who has ever amassed a comparable collection.
If you check the acknowledgments, you’ll discover that the bulk of the surviving Lincoln stories were printed during the period I call the Golden Age of Stories (1880s through the 1950s). Ever since television and the digital age thundered in upon us, the magazines that enabled writers to earn a living by specializing in stories that internalized core values have, one after another, been forced to either close their doors or specialize in contemporary social media instead.
It is my earnest hope that you will discover in these simple but moving stories answers to some of your own deeper questions about life and its meaning. In these stories—far more than in Lincoln history and biography—you will begin to understand why Lincoln continues to grow in stature around the world. And you will find virtually everything in these stories amazingly relevant to today’s day-to-day problems and challenges.
You may wish to access my recent biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (New York: Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2008), so that you may better understand life and times during the bloodiest war in our history. Many years of my life went into the evolution of that biography, written not just for the academic or historian but for the average person who seeks to find in but one book the essence of our greatest American.
So welcome aboard! I would love to hear from you, and especially about your reactions to these stories. You may reach me at:
Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 1246
Conifer, CO 80433 www.joewheelerbooks.com