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November 23, 2017

Book Review: 1864, Lincoln at the Gates of History


1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History is a work that covers what one may consider as one of the most decisive years of Lincoln’s presidential terms. Charles Bracelen Flood wrote the book, and publishing began in 2009. On November 4, 1929, Charles Flood was born in New York. He graduated from Harvard in 1952 and moved to Richmond, Kentucky in 1975, after marrying his wife Katherine who was a Kentucky native. He lived in Richmond, Kentucky with his wife, until his death on August 15, 2014.[1] Charles Flood held many professions during his lifetime, in addition to being an author he was a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, a reporter for The Associated Press, and even served as the president of the American Center of PEN.[2] Charles Flood does an exemplary job on not exhibiting any biases while he was writing this book. He described and detailed the characters and their activities with impartiality and portrayed Abraham Lincoln as a human who had struggled with his morality, not a saint who could do no wrong.

1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History

1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History.

Charles Flood tends to use long sentences throughout the book. These longer phrases might have been daunting if it was not for the fact that he preferred to use plain English instead of using an ornate style of writing. Simple vocabulary allows just about everyone to read the book without any difficulties. He also goes into detail and provides ample background information so that the reader can easily understand what is occurring. With the reading being simple and providing sufficient information, the reader becomes absorbed in the text and can mentally picture what is happening.

It is evident that Charles Flood committed a significant amount of his time into research. He lists over 400 sources in the bibliography and has 38 pages dedicated to endnotes. Unfortunately, that is where the praise for research end.

Flood did not incorporate footnotes or the use of superscript numbers in the book, which made it harder to reference the information he used. Also, some of the endnotes were not practically useful. He also did not use any technical terms, which made it simpler to read but at the same time makes it less of a valid source of information. The most incriminating would be the scarcity of primary documents. He uses a few primary documents, such as some of the speeches that Lincoln made, but he heavily relied on other books instead of primary documents.

1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History recounts the turbulent year of 1864 and how the political scene, as well as the Civil War battles occurring during this year, was influencing Abraham Lincoln reelection. The Civil War fought on since 1861, and the election of 1864 is arguably one of the most crucial elections in all the United States history. Charles Flood starts off by describing the struggle Lincoln is going through since thus far, the Union had been on the losing side of the war. Lincoln had to win the election or risk the Union’s surrender and the acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the Confederacy.

Charles Flood then starts describing the political effects that each battle had. He emphasizes that the turning point of both the war and the political scene was when Sherman captured Atlanta. After this vital victory, the Union began to win crucial battles, which reignited the Union’s vigor, and it would become an important factor of Lincoln’s victory in the 1864 election. The victory at the Battle of Cedar Creek would help guarantee Lincoln’s re-election and solidified the Unions grasp on Shenandoah Valley. This success allowed Lincoln to fully focus on winning the war now, which was almost certain after the South suffered such heavy casualties during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign, that the Army of Tennessee was considered not to be a capable force anymore. In addition, Sherman’s march to Savannah left a road of destruction in Southern territory.

Charles Flood also mentions how Lincoln was constantly in immediate danger. He mentions an occurrence when the president nearly escaped death when Lincoln was at Fort Stevens, and Confederate sharpshooters almost shot him. The threat emphasizes the position that Lincoln was in and his importance during the Civil War.

The book tells Lincoln’s story in a rather human way, rather than idealistic or lofty recollections of the president. This story recounts actual events and relationships that Lincoln held. Whether it be his true feelings of love for his wife Mary or his interactions with soldiers and generals, Flood portrayed Lincoln as a modest, human, relatable character that is not so undesirable to read and learn about as some may think him to be.

The New York Times wrote a brief review on 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History in which they praised Charles Flood for being able to “balance between Lincoln’s intensely pressured inner life and the huge, sweeping events that occurred around him.”[3] They also appreciated that instead of opting for an overview of Lincoln’s life or focusing on an area like his writing, he focused on a specific time frame for the book.[4] Elaine, a Goodreads librarian, considered the lack of primary documents a shame, due to the sheer amount of easily accessible documents, giving an example of Lincoln’s letters.[5] Overall my opinion of the book is similar to the other reviewers. Charles Flood did an amazing job on creating a book that explained the turmoil that occurred during 1864. However, I believe he could have incorporated more primary documents to help portray what the characters thoughts and emotions were at the time.

1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History explained the turbulent year of 1864 for Lincoln with great ease. It helped explain the current situation that the United States was going through and how the president was handling it. Charles Flood went into detail when writing this book, especially when he was talking about the battles that occurred during this period. He describes the leaders, the troops, and the location that they were fighting in with such vivid detail you could easily picture it in your head.

I would gladly recommend 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History to a friend. Since it uses simple vocabulary and possesses the ability to entertain the reader, it grabs the reader’s attention and urges them to want to continue reading. An advantageous trait considering my all of my friends lack an interest in history. Overall, I would rate this book 4 out of 5 stars, it did an excellent job explaining the subject, but the lack of footnotes and detailed military reports prevents the reader from achieving a full grasp on the subject.

This book review was submitted by Alan Gonzalez. 

[1] “Charles Bracelen Flood,” Obituaries, Oldham, Roberts & Powell Funeral Home, accessed October 13, 2017, http://www.orpfh.com/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=2637259&fh_id=10496.

[2] Karla Ward, “Charles Bracelen Flood, noted writer, dies at home in Richmond at age 84,” Lexington Herald Leader, August 16, 2014, http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/obituaries/article44503554.html.

[3] Janet Maslin, “Harsh Year in Lincoln’s Fight for the Union,” The New York Times, February 8, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/09/books/09masl.html

[4] Maslin, “Harsh Year.”

[5] “1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History,” Goodreads, accessed October 15, 2017, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5473613-1864

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