Portrait of Lincoln, With Warts

The publication of the last volume of William Marvel’s four-volume history of “Mr. Lincoln’s War” completes one of the more remarkable historical works of our time.  Marvel is an “amateur,” nonacademic, historian.  That is not a remarkable, but rather an old and honorable, thing.  This is what is remarkable: I can think of no active “professional” historian of the Great Unpleasantness who exhibits anything like Marvel’s combination of broad scope, prodigious research, and integrity in the use of evidence.

The author reminds me of some of the old salts of the newsroom I knew during the years of my misspent youth as a reporter.  These fellows had not been to college.  But they could tell the difference between a fact and a conventional attitude, were skeptical of all authority, had no personal or ideological axes to grind, and were determined to dig out the real story and tell it, insofar as the publisher would permit them.  Marvel recounts the Northern side of the great conflict as the evidence establishes it: a justifiable cause, perhaps, but not a righteous crusade without reproach.  The author is by no means a Southern partisan (unlike the reviewer).  He is a New Hampshireman.  I am sure if he were to tell the Southern side of the war, he would display the less seemly bits as forthrightly as he has done in his history of Lincoln’s...

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