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At Lincoln's Side

At Lincoln's Side

John Hay's Civil War Correspondence and Selected Writings

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Edited by Michael Burlingame


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
328 pages, 5.5 x 8.75


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About the Book

John Hay believed that “real history is told in private letters,” and the more than 220 surviving letters and telegrams from his Civil War days prove that to be true, showing Abraham Lincoln in action: “The Tycoon is in fine whack. I have rarely seen him more serene & busy. He is managing this war, the draft, foreign relations, and planning a reconstruction of the Union, all at once. I never knew with what tyrannous authority he rules the Cabinet, till now. The most important things he decides & there is no cavil.”

Along with Hay’s personal correspondence, Burlingame includes his surviving official letters. Though lacking the “literary brilliance of [Hay’s] personal letters,” Burlingame explains, “they help flesh out the historical record.” Burlingame also includes some of the letters Hay composed for Lincoln’s signature, including the celebrated letter of condolence to the Widow Bixby.

More than an inside glimpse of the Civil War White House, Hay’s surviving correspondence provides a window on the world of nineteenth-century Washington, D.C.


Michael Burlingame, Sadowski Professor of History Emeritus at Connecticut College, is the author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and the editor of ten volumes of primary sources about Lincoln. He won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, honorable mention, for his five edited collections of letters, memoranda, editorial essays, lectures, and interviews by Lincoln’s White House private secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John M. Hay, all published by Southern Illinois University Press.


“This is one of the most significant primary sources .  .  .  dealing with Abraham Lincoln. Hay was intimately involved in many of the events of the Lincoln administration and the president treated him almost like a son.  .  .  .  No serious study of Lincoln can ignore Hay.”—Thomas R. Turner, author of Beware the People Weeping: Public Opinion and the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

“John Hay’s sharp eye, facile pen, and luminous wit made him an impressive correspondent at any period of his life but especially so when he lived intimately in President Abraham Lincoln’s White House. Every scrap of Hay’s writing during the Civil War, whether unbuttoned or official, is invaluable to understanding a tumultuous period, which Hay observed from its very center.”—John Y. Simon, editor, The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant