Lincoln Comes Local by Rebekah King
Truly we best remember history through the stories told! And better yet, to open a diary capturing the essence, the very heart and soul of a personality gone before, we remember the lessons even more. Such is the historical legacy Paul R. Dunn presents in The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln Including his Recurring Dreams. Reinforcing each diary entry with historical facts gained through intensive research, Dunn beautifully blends the story of Lincoln en-wrapped in the Presidency, the Civil War and the melancholy surrounding daily life. Describing his 4 book series as “faction,” Dunn explains, “It’s part fact, part fiction, but it’s 90% facts.”
Recounting the most intimate moments of our great President alongside one of our most difficult eras, the first entry begins, “Springfield Illinois – Friday, November 9, 1860. Yesterday William H. Herndon, Esq., my lifelong friend and law partner, gave me this handsome leather-bound book as a gift in the expectation that I will use it for the keeping of a presidential diary. I am genuinely pleased and flattered, but also somewhat conflicted by the prospect of penning my thoughts into your empty pages with some sort of regularity. Do I have the discipline? Do I really want to do this? I do not know. Mother thinks it is a good idea. I wonder! As a country lawyer I have learned that many men get to regret what they have penned on paper. Indiscreet or inaccurate words can wound and hurt and offend greatly – the truth so often hurts. Candor can be a curse. Will I have the time to do justice to this idea? Herndon thinks history will deserve to know my inner thoughts. I doubt it!
His rationale is that I am no longer A. Lincoln, practicing lawyer, but A. Lincoln soon-to-be President of these United States at a time of great peril. He thinks future historians will value my having committed to writing down private thoughts and plans. I have my doubts! The Good Book may give me a clue as to whether or not all this makes sense. I will see.”
The entries continue along with the presidential journey into the Civil War while Dunn’s “Author’s Notes” provide the context, the setting and the facts illustrating the days of our beloved Lincoln. As the pages turn, the reader becomes immersed in the fascinating journey of events, dreams, and moods of the day. Dunn explains, “Experiencing a lot of death in his family as his girlfriend, sister, and mother died when he was young, Lincoln was melancholy. Experiencing many dreams, Lincoln shared one from the White House, wherein he dreamed he was in a room and everybody was crying; it was dark, and there was a coffin in the room. When he asked what was going on, they told him, ‘Abe Lincoln was shot.’ He actually had that dream about a year and a half before his assassination! Of note, Lincoln’s wife was a dream enthusiast who read into dreams and embraced divination while suffering from depression in the death of her two children.”
In similar straits after losing his dear wife, Dunn found himself alone with all of this time on his hands. Formerly partnering with his wife Betty Jane known as B.J., Dunn and B.J. wrote a couple of golf books together. One entitled Great Donald Ross: Golf Courses Everyone Can Play required researching almost 400 golf courses. When it came time to write another book, he thought, “I love Lincoln. I’d like to write about him!”
To his surprise, Dunn discovered that there are more books written about Lincoln, around 19,000, than there are about Jesus Christ. After contacting the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois, and inquiring if Lincoln kept a journal, their answer became Dunn’s new opportunity—to write the Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln. Dunn laughs, “Like a lot of lawyers, when Lincoln died—he had no will and no diary! Every day for the past 5 years, I’ve been writing an entry because it takes as long for me to write a diary as it would have taken Lincoln to write one. After the first book, however, I decided to stop writing on Sundays; howbeit Lincoln never took a day off during the entire war. He worked every Sunday, Christmas and New Year’s. When he wasn’t in the White House or in a place called the Soldier’s Home, he would visit battlefields.”
Although, Lincoln never kept a diary, the US Government published an extensive chronology covering Lincoln’s life which has become a tremendous resource for Dunn along with many others. Dunn explains the process, “For example, on September 1st, Lincoln received a letter from a Quaker woman who wrote to tell him that he would win the election. She wrote using all ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ and said, ‘We hope that thy family will be happy, and that you will win the election.’ He responds with a letter back to her. The interesting thing is that I have books that contain all the letters and telegrams that Lincoln wrote! Another such letter came from a woman who owned a summer place in Atlantic City, and I can read his letter in response. In turn, when I write my diary entries, I can actually quote the correspondence.”
Lincoln’s life before becoming the President tells an incredible story which inspired Dunn to learn as much as possible. He begins, “Lincoln’s life is remarkable! With less than one year’s schooling—and it wasn’t even one consecutive year—he could write beautifully. Read the Gettysburg Address! His family was dirt poor; he had no books except one, the Bible. Although Lincoln was a hard worker, he realized early on that he didn’t want to become a laborer as his father would rent him out to cut trees. He decided to become a lawyer. Walking 17 miles to borrow a law book, Lincoln would read it over and over again until he understood it and even attended court to watch the law being practiced. Self taught, Lincoln acquired work at a law firm.”
Dunn remembers the personal life of Lincoln as well, “Married to Mary Todd, the marriage was a rough one. Lincoln met Mary at a party and asked her to dance although he was poorly dressed, very clumsy and not a good dancer. Soon enough Lincoln proposed and a date was set. Lincoln’s brother-in-law Ninian Wirt Edwards, husband of Elizabeth Todd (Mary’s sister) hosted the wedding at his house—everybody showed up—except for Lincoln. He chickened out! He got cold feet and broke it off. About a year later, some people arranged a party where both Lincoln and Mary attended; they rekindled the relationship and ended up getting married.”
A brilliant woman, Mary was fluent in French and came from a wealthy, successful family from Kentucky with a lineage of judges and governors. “However when Lincoln was President,” Dunn continues, “Mary would shop extravagantly and purchase expensive rugs or china for the White House. For instance, on one shopping trip, she bought 200 pair of gloves! Although she was on a very limited budget, she had a crooked gardener who would make up an invoice for fertilizer or something and submit it to the government in order to cover her shopping habits. When he received the payment, then she could go shopping.”
When the Civil War broke out, many of Mary’s family members were lost in battle while at the same time the Northerners were accusing her of being a Southern sympathizer—times were tough. Early on, Mary and Lincoln lost a baby boy, and they lost another son to typhoid fever because the water going into the White House was contaminated. Their young son Ted almost died too. Robert attended Harvard and became a lawyer. Dunn tells, “Unfortunately Lincoln didn’t have a good relationship with his son Robert, as Lincoln was away from home often.”
While serving as a lawyer, Lincoln traveled the circuit by horse and buggy visiting small towns all over. At night he would sit around the country store telling funny stories. Known as Honest Abe Lincoln, his reputation spread, and people knew they could trust him. For instance, if a Judge had a case in the next town, then he would ask Abe to preside as judge in the case.
In regard to Lincoln’s religious life, Dunn figures, “Because Lincoln was a lawyer he may have dreamed of what it would have been liked to defend Christ when he was charged by the Romans. In researching both the Hebrew and Roman law, Lincoln proves that Christ did not get a fair trial. For instance, it was against the Jewish law to arrest someone for a capital crime at night, yet Christ was taken at night. It was against Jewish law to rely on the word of a traitor who would take money, and of course, Judas was a traitor who took money for his testimony. In the series, I have written several entries where Lincoln is dreaming he’s defending Christ.”
Lincoln’s religious road was full of skeptical twists and turns, but after the death of his first son, he started going to church in Springfield. Originally from a Primitive Baptist congregation that was anti-slavery in its beliefs, Lincoln attended a Presbyterian church with Mary. Lincoln approached the Bible from a legal mind; when asked to give a talk on the validity of the Bible, one of the elders said it was the best defense he’d ever heard.”
The most fascinating aspect of Lincoln’s character Dunn discovered was, “A, he was brilliant. B, he was incredibly honest. If you compare him to the President of the United States, Lincoln possesses all the virtues he doesn’t have. Imagine if Trump had a cabinet meeting every day! Lincoln had them every day; he surrounded himself with brilliant men, the smarter, the better. Also noted was that Lincoln resorted to telling jokes to break the melancholy monotony and dark mood of the day.”
The greatest burden that Lincoln faced was losing so many men due to the way the soldiers fought. Take Gettysburg when Lee sent troops against the North—the men marched in long, straight line for miles and were slaughtered. Dunn slows, “The greatest number of men killed in Gettysburg were from North Carolina. After Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, he contracted small pox and was weak for six months.”
Finding men whom Lincoln could trust was a problem as many disappointed. His biggest challenge was to win the Civil War with the available men. Dunn informs, “One such general in charge weighed about 350 lbs and couldn’t even sit on his horse. He was a brilliant but very old. Another general known as McClellan called Lincoln an ape or a gorilla as he hated him. Lincoln trusted this man to win the war, but he ultimately ran against him in 1863, as the democratic candidate.”
Burdened with so much loss, Lincoln began to study military books for some answers. When a certain Colonel Ulysses S. Grant all of a sudden started winning when everybody else was losing, Lincoln promoted Grant to Lieutenant General, the highest post available. Grant decided to send Sherman to Atlanta which resulted in the taking of Atlanta, then Savannah, and so forth. At the same time, Grant secured Richmond and defeated Robert E. Lee. Lincoln trusted Grant; Grant delivered, and they won the war!
An eyeopening observation came when Dunn realized the complicated relationship between the different generals. “Think of this,” Dunn challenges, “Today the government has the Department of Defense with an abundance of generals and resources. Lincoln was never an abolitionist; he ran the war with only three assistants.”
The stories flow along with the volumes. For instance, Volume One includes Lincoln’s nomination to become President, the election, the move to Washington, and the breakout of the Civil War. Volume one covers the dates of November 9, 1860 to December 31, 1861. Volume Two spans from January 1, 1862 to January 1, 1863, highlighting the second year of the war. Volume Three travels January 1, 1863 to December 31, 1863, enduring the third year of the war. In progress, Volume Four covers from January 1, 1964 to April of 1865, Lincoln’s assassination.
Just as Lincoln’s life presented blessings with burdens, the same for Dunn. Growing up in Long Island with his sister, Dunn discovered that history was his favorite subject in grade school. Enlisting with the Navy after high school, Dunn served in WWII. Finding the military too restrictive, Dunn became an account executive with Radio City Music Hall owned by the Rockefeller family. “Best job EVER!” exclaims Dunn. “I would go down into the stage door entrance and review movies. You see the Rockefellers were very religious and didn’t want any low-cut dresses, swearing or suggestive stuff; so I would watch every movie and write a report for the Rockefellers to consider.”
Living in Long Island, then Philadelphia, back to New York and finally settling in New Jersey, the Dunn family grew. Father of 10 children, including 2 sets of twins—twin boys, twin girls, Dunn enjoyed his family along with a career at his family’s ad agency. Now with 60 grandchildren and many great grandchildren, Dunn keeps up on his travels!
Upon meeting B.J. in NYC, Dunn tells, “We met in NYC as she owned an ad agency in addition to being a professional skater and an actress on Broadway. B.J. loved show business! I was the marketing director of Good Housekeeping at the time, that’s how we met!”
Upon moving to Connecticut, Dunn and B.J. traveled to Florida and would stop in Pinehurst to visit a lifelong friend B.J. had grown up with as a child. It didn’t take long before they felt the whisper of the pines calling them home and never regretted the decision for a minute. Wrapping up his life work in the Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln Including His Recurring Dreams, Dunn writes from his home in Pinehurst. He too a remarkable man, Dunn will finish the series, find a publisher to promote it in the marketplace, and continue to be a student of Lincoln.
As for the rest of the story, the ending will be a sad one concluding with Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. We mourn the loss of our beloved Lincoln; yet at the same time, we gain a friend and forever find a smile in a life well-lived. What a gift the series remains as the presidency of Lincoln comes to life through the written word.
Check out the series at the following locations Country Book Shop, Kindle, and Amazon.com.
Getting to know Mr. Paul Dunn, author of The Secret War Diaries of Abraham Lincoln Including His Recurring Dreams.
In looking back over your 90 years, what advice do you give young people?
I don’t like to give advice because I never took it. The world is so different from when I grew up, it’s hard to even describe it. I grew up during the Great Depression, but I never suffered as I was fortunate to have two very successful grandfathers. My grandfather Leo Dunn became a Director of the Graybar Company in Manhattan and built the Graybar Building there next to Grand Central Station. My grandfather, Charles F. Hanser, founded the Hanser-Churchill Advertising Agency in New York City located in Rockefeller Center.
I do think it’s very important for people to have many dimensions. For example, I start every day with the New York Times. However, people today don’t read newspapers; that’s a bad sign for our future. I like people who read newspapers, magazines, and books.
Who has been your inspiration?
I would say my grandfather who was the advertising man was my inspiration. My dad was also an ad man, but he hated every minute of it. He died at 40, drank himself to death.
What do you think makes a good father?
I’ve seen some very bad ones, and I’ve seen some very good ones. I think the important thing is for the father not to necessarily have a son following his footsteps. Each person has do what he thinks will make them happy.
A good dad needs to be a loving person and needs to spend as much time as he can with his children. There are a lot of men who have kids, but they don’t spend the time required.
What’s an important character trait of a corporate man?
I have worked with a lot of top guys over the years in small companies, large companies, companies who went broke, companies who did well. I was president of a company called GRI for 14 years. Good leadership should realize there are people with talent under them. Managing means looking downward and not just upward.
Any advice for retirement?
I never dug retirement as a concept. Stay working. Stay learning. Keep busy.
Please finish this sentence: Life is…
Definitely not a bowl of cherries. However, I’ve been very fortunate in my life to be surrounded by very bright, giving people.
How would you describe the presidential campaigns in the 1800s as compared to the 21st century?
To begin with, Presidents didn’t campaign; they were very modest about their approach.
Do you have a favorite book?
Right now I’m reading a book about James Madison.
Moore County is…
A fantastic place to live!
War Diaries I - VI
Abraham Lincoln died intestate, leaving no will. He also died leaving no diary. Historian Paul R. Dunn decided that he would write a diary for him. The diary he has written is purely fictional but is accurately based upon the historic record of Lincoln just before and throughout the trying days and nights of the Civil War.
Donald Ross Golf Courses VII
Paul R. Dunn and B.J. Dunn spent years researching the history of over 300 golf courses created by America’s most prolific and foremost golf course architect, Donald Ross, including those which are open to public play.
I thoroughly enjoy these volumes about Lincoln. They are a great read! As an avid amateur historian, I have enjoyed many of the great works of history chronicling the trauma of the Civil War, or as the southerners say, the war of northern aggression. These include McPerson, Foote, Catton, Holzer, and Nevins among many others. But what I found so enlivening, thought provoking and totally enjoyable in Paul Dunn’s works was the added dimension of considering what might have been going on inside the mind of, arguably, the principal actor on this stage in U.S. history. It is fictionalized…or…is it?
As a lawyer, at first, I kept trying to argue, not in a negative way, but just constantly thinking of it as fiction. But the detail in the descriptions of Lincoln’s thinking and dreams, the complementarity with the actual surrounding events were so reasonable, so palpable, and, well, what can I say, seemingly probable, I was left trying to prove the negative in every case. Then, in the end, happily I began to accept the very real likelihood that Dunn may have been right in what was going on in Lincoln’s mind. Whenever thoughts, dreams or intentions are involved, an author is always treading in the area of speculation, however informed. But, when an author like Mr. Dunn, who has so exhaustively researched Lincoln’s life, his interactions with those around him, his struggles, doubts, convictions, spiritual beliefs, in a word, all those subtle indications of personality, character and soul that make up a person, the result is a very personal, humanistic assessment of Lincoln that increases our understanding and personal familiarity with a man of extraordinary complexity but one of compassion and heart, and one, ultimately destined to be a leader who belongs to the ages.