Grand Army Scout: Newsletter of the GAR Civil War Museum & Library Winter 2014
FROM THE MUSEUM’S BOOKSHELF – Hugh Boyle
That Nation Might Live – One Afternoon With Lincoln’s Stepmother
by Jeff Oppenheimer
On Friday September 8th 1865 William Herndon, Abraham Lincoln’s law partner, arrived at the home of Sarah Bush Lincoln. Sarah was the stepmother of Abraham Lincoln. Herndon recounts that meeting:
September 8th, 1865
“When I first reached the home of Mrs. Lincoln and was introduced to her by Colonel A.H. Chapman, her grandson by marriage, I did not expect to get much out of her. She seemed old and feeble…She breathed badly at first but seemed to be struggling at last to fix her mind on the subject. Gradually by introducing simple questions about her age, marriage, Kentucky, Thomas Lincoln, her former husband, her children, grandchildren…[she] awoke, as it were, a new being. Her eyes were clear and calm; her flesh is white and pure, not coarse or material. She is tall, has bluish large gray eyes.”
– William Herndon
Author Jeff Oppenheimer has written a fictional account of that meeting and interview, and yes the author takes literary license in the telling of this story, but the facts remain and they are true to the notes of Billy Herndon. It is a good story, a story of motherhood, a stepmother’s love for her stepson. It is a story of encouragement and desire. Sara Bush Lincoln (pictured left) came in into the lives of the Lincolns after the death of Thomas Lincoln’s first wife Nancy. She was a needed addition to Thomas and his children; she brought order and discipline to a family that needed it. Most importantly she brought a mother’s love to a young boy in need of encouragement and direction.
The story covers the young Lincoln, and we can see his drive for knowledge, his desire to read and most of all young Abe’s ability to take responsibility. Sarah had that mother’s concern for a young man as he starts out in life, such as his trip down the river to New Orleans. Like most stories it had its tragedies, for example the death of Abe’s sister in childbirth when both she and the baby died. It was Abe who cut and made the coffin. Sarah tells of the relationship that Abe had with other members of his family, even some family quarrels and fights, and in so doing, giving a real look at life on what was then the frontier.
Sarah saw her stepson leave the home for a new life, one that would take him to New Salem, Springfield and then Washington. It also tells what her thoughts were of his marriage to Mary Todd.
The story is about just that one afternoon that Billy Herndon spent with the stepmother of Abraham Lincoln, but the author has turned that meeting into a wonderful story for us all. The book is a fictional recreation of a true event, but it is a story worth reading, it is a good story. A story of the young roots of our greatest American President and those traits and responsibility that he formed with the help of a stepmother who cared for and loved him. It is just a short book but one I am sure that you will enjoy and be glad you read.