Thursday, November 21, 2019

Booknotes: Lincoln's Informer

New Arrival:
Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War by Carl J. Guarneri (UP of Kansas, 2019).

As I've mentioned before, Carl Guarneri's Lincoln's Informer: Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War is a title I've been looking forward to reading all year. Being one of the most consequential middlemen the war produced on either side, Dana had his fingers in many pots.

From the description: "Dana didn’t just record history, Carl J. Guarneri notes: he made it. Starting out as managing editor of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, he led the newspaper’s charge against proslavery forces in Congress and the Kansas territory. When his criticism of the Union’s prosecution of the war became too much for Greeley, Dana was drafted by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to be a special agent—and it was in this capacity that he truly made his mark. Drawing on Dana’s reports, letters, and telegrams—“the most remarkable, interesting, and instructive collection of official documents relating to the Rebellion,” according to the custodian of the Union war records—Guarneri reconstructs the Civil War as Dana experienced and observed it: as a journalist, a confidential informant to Stanton and Lincoln, and, most controversially, an administration insider with surprising influence. While reporting most of the war’s major events, Dana also had a hand in military investigations, the cotton trade, Lincoln’s reelection, passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and, most notably, the making of Ulysses S. Grant and the breaking of other generals."

As you might have surmised from the title, this is not a birth-to-grave biography. The first two chapters cover Dana's 1850s journalistic career while the final chapter and epilogue together briefly discuss his postwar politics, newspaper career, and collaboration with Ida Tarbell on Recollections of the Civil War. Thus, the narrative's great middle consists of the author's in-depth examination of the impact of Dana's many behind-the-scenes wartime activities and roles. Lincoln’s Informer "at long last sets the record straight, giving Charles A. Dana his due in a story that rivals the best historical fiction."

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