Both large and small new discoveries or points for debate come up nearly every month about Lincoln and his family. Recent months have been richer than most.
Moving from the small to the large, or perhaps from the amusing to the consequential, we find these four nuggets.
1. Vera Kaikobad, in the journal Medical Acupuncture for 2007 (this one took a while to pierce our attention), has performed what seems to be the first acupuncture analysis of Lincoln. Addressing the 5 Elements for “his Qi energetics” — fire, water, earth, wood, and metal — she finds, e.g., that Lincoln’s ‘lazy’ eye points to “a pronounced wood disposition;” that his cold hands and feet under stress meant “a fire-water axis problem;” and his being a “weak eater” meant “wood afflicting earth.” I am not qualified to comment on this analysis except to say that the lazy eye was thought to originate in a head-kick by a horse when Abe was 10; and that the other two maladies cropped up only in the last months of his life.
2. Mary Lincoln wrote on 5 May 1862 — 10 weeks after Willie Lincoln’s death — to Charles Reeves of Cleveland, Ohio, in a letter newly revealed to the public this month. As often happened in 1862-1882, Mary wrote to express condolences for the death of another person — Reeves’s wife Hester, who had briefly been Willie’s teacher in Springfield– then mainly wrote about her own sorrow.
More interestingly, she refers to a painting of Willie, based on a photograph. If this is the watercolor portrait owned by the ALPLM, gifted by the last Lincoln descendant in 1976, then it is about a decade older than we had thought. If so, in her weeks of self-confinement Mary still found the strength to commission, pay for, and receive the portrait. The letter also tells us that city directories and the census can leave chasms of the unknown, for Hester Reeves was never listed in Springfield.
3. Major Thomas Eckert was in charge of the Military Telegraph office in the War Department, and thus personally close to Lincoln. After the war he was an industrial executive and innovator in telegraphy. At war’s end he legally carried away his code books and message logs, which in early 2012 his descendant sold to the Huntington Library, in San Marino, California.
The code books reveal some new names for our 16th President: he was variously referred to as Berlin, India, Ida, and Irving, inter alia. General McClellan was Andes. Secretary of War Stanton was Indus. The rebels never cracked the federals’ codes, surely one element (if not the major one) in the Union victory. Eckert’s code men chose stray words, then filled in uncoded names alongside them in their logbook as the messages went out. They also added junk words to messages, meant only to confuse a possible spy: abortion, snowball, etc. These 30 volumes will provide many new insights and much information on the conduct of the war.
4. Perhaps of greatest interest to Lincolnology is a project, now in its beginning stages, to create a conspectus of all the books the Lincolns owned. Robert Bray’s recent study Reading with Lincoln (2010) is a series of lectures, really, building upon Professor Bray’s 2007 list of books Lincoln is thought to have read. Bray’s study is useful, if maddening at times. The books now in possession of the ALPLM do not much overlap with Bray’s list, and why that may be is for future scholars and students to puzzle out.
The volumes here have been in different vaults and shelves over the decades; and some were only very recently acquired. The wonderful new Presidential Library building, opened in 2004, along with devoted staff and better record-keeping, finally allow us to shelve and then list them together. I will share this information with the other major repositories of Lincoln possessions and see how large a virtual shelf we can fill with the family’s readings. The headline number for the ALPLM’s collection is 152: namely, books presented to, given by, or owned permanently by Abraham, Mary, Robert, his wife Mary, their son Jack, or, in one case their granddaughter Peggy. More to come on this topic later this year.