Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book review - The Diary of a Public Man.

The Diary of a Public Man is a 128 page collection of a series of pieces originally published The North American Review in 1879. The copy I read was published in 1946. The diary covers a time period from December 28, 1860 to March 15, 1861. The identity of the writer is unknown and several of the names referred to in the diary were replaced by blanks in the original publication. Over the years there has been some speculation as to the authenticity of the diary but it appears to be a real account.

I found the diary to be an interesting read. The writer was evidently well connected in Washington and knew many prominent public figures. Stephen Douglas, William Seward, Abraham Lincoln, and many other well-known men appear in private conversation with the diarist.

In addition to recounting various conversations and observations the diarist also discusses his thoughts about the disintegration of the Union and the prospects for war. Throughout the crises he holds out hope that war might be prevented by cooler heads on both sides. Towards the end of the installments however he begins to suspect the storm is unavoidable.

Following the diary, the book includes a series of letters from Edwin Stanton to former President Buchanan. These letters were also published in The North American Review and were obtained by that paper from the papers of President Buchanan following his death. The first letter is dated March 14, 1861 and the last is from July 26, 1861. In these letters Stanton keeps his former boss apprised of ongoing events in Washington as the war begins. It is interesting to read his take on early events within the safety of private correspondence.

The short length of The Diary of a Public Man was the only drawback I found with the book. I must confess I was disappointed when I got to the last page. The inside look at a Washingtonian's thoughts at the outbreak of the American Civil War is a must read for any Civil War buff. Someone not familiar with the war might be confused by the events and characters referenced but anyone who understands the events of late 1860 and early 1861 will find the work fascinating.

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