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Authors: Jerome Charyn

Tags: #Lincoln, #Historical Fiction

I Am Abraham

BOOK: I Am Abraham
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I Am Abraham
Charyn, Jerome
Liveright (2014)
Tags: Historical Fiction, Lincoln
Historical Fictionttt Lincolnttt

Narrated in Lincoln’s own voice, the tragicomic
I Am Abraham
promises to be the masterwork of Jerome Charyn’s remarkable career.

Since publishing his first novel in 1964, Jerome Charyn has established himself as one of the most inventive and prolific literary chroniclers of the American landscape. Here in
I Am Abraham
, Charyn returns with an unforgettable portrait of Lincoln and the Civil War. Narrated boldly in the first person,
I Am Abraham
effortlessly mixes humor with Shakespearean-like tragedy, in the process creating an achingly human portrait of our sixteenth President.

Tracing the historic arc of Lincoln's life from his picaresque days as a gangly young lawyer in Sangamon County, Illinois, through his improbable marriage to Kentucky belle Mary Todd, to his 1865 visit to war-shattered Richmond only days before his assassination,
I Am Abraham
hews closely to the familiar Lincoln saga. Charyn seamlessly braids historical figures such as Mrs. Keckley—the former slave, who became the First Lady's dressmaker and confidante—and the swaggering and almost treasonous General McClellan with a parade of fictional extras: wise-cracking knaves, conniving hangers-on, speculators, scheming Senators, and even patriotic whores.

We encounter the renegade Rebel soldiers who flanked the District in tattered uniforms and cardboard shoes, living in a no-man's-land between North and South; as well as the Northern deserters, young men all, with sunken, hollowed faces, sitting in the punishing sun, waiting for their rendezvous with the firing squad; and the black recruits, whom Lincoln’s own generals wanted to discard, but who play a pivotal role in winning the Civil War. At the center of this grand pageant is always Lincoln himself, clad in a green shawl, pacing the White House halls in the darkest hours of America’s bloodiest war.

Using biblically cadenced prose, cornpone nineteenth-century humor, and Lincoln’s own letters and speeches, Charyn concocts a profoundly moral but troubled commander in chief, whose relationship with his Ophelia-like wife and sons—Robert, Willie, and Tad—is explored with penetrating psychological insight and the utmost compassion. Seized by melancholy and imbued with an unfaltering sense of human worth, Charyn’s President Lincoln comes to vibrant, three-dimensional life in a haunting portrait we have rarely seen in historical fiction.

This book is for
my redhead
Lenore
.

CONTENTS

Prologue: The Silver Sword of Appomattox

NEW SALEM:
1831–1835

SPRINGFIELD:
1837–1842

ILLINOIS & BEYOND:
1858–1860

THE DISTRICT:
1861

THE DISTRICT:
1862, Winter–Spring

SOLDIERS’ HOME:
1862, Summer–Fall

THE DISTRICT & ENVIRONS:
1863 & Winter 1864

THE DISTRICT & ENVIRONS:
1864 & Winter 1865

DIXIE LAND:
1865, March & April

Author’s Note

PROLOGUE

The Silver Sword of Appomattox

T
HEY COULD NATTER
till their noses landed on the moon, and I still wouldn’t sign any documents that morning. I wanted to hear what had happened to Lee’s sword at Appomattox. There’d been wild rumors about the fate of that sword. One tell was that Grant had given it to a young captain on his staff who proceeded to gamble it away at a local bawdyhouse. I was
mortally
embarrassed, wondering if that young captain was Bob. So I was tickled to learn that Bob was on the premises, that he’d come to see his Pa.

I’d had rough patches with him, and our
accommodations
as father and son had been a series of truces and declarations of war. But I locked everyone out of my office, even my secretaries, to have breakfast with Bob. We had black tea and
et
an apple with our knives, as I tried to imagine what a breakfast in the field would have been like.

“Bobbie, are you gonna make your Pa beg? What happened to Lee’s sword after he surrendered it to Grant?”

Bob rubbed his mustache a bit and said, “Poppycock—sheer poppycock,” like the Harvard man he was. And while we had our little truce, he told me the real tell.

Lee had shown up first in his finest grays, with a dark red sash and a silver sword in a scabbard embroidered with gold. He was six feet tall, with a head of silver hair; and in walked Grant with his usual slouch, and nothing to show of his rank but a lieutenant general’s straps. He was all dusty from the road. He’d spent half the night bathing his feet in hot water and mustard, while Lee had sat alone in an apple orchard, wondering if he should wage a guerrilla war against Grant; but it would have saddened him to watch his own boys become bushwhackers. So he arrived at Appomattox with a single adjutant, bearing a white flag.

Radical Republicans, raucous as ever, demanded that I deliver Lee in chains to Old Capitol Prison—but these Radicals didn’t run the war last time I looked. Lee scratched his name on several documents. His troops were starving, he said, and had to survive on lumps of chalk and a scatter of parched corn; Grant told him that his boys could have all the corn they required from our own cars at Appomattox Station, and then Lee stood up, bowed, and strode out onto the porch, where his war horse was waiting. Bob had been stunned to see how emaciated Traveller was. That iron gray gelding was reduced to a bag of bones. His nostrils quivered as Lee mounted up. Then Grant moved out onto the porch and took off his hat. Lee tipped his own hat as Traveller trotted off with all the pomp of a battle pony, his flanks hurling sparks of light that near blinded Bob.

My generals must have poisoned my mind. “Bobbie,” I said, “are ye certain about the sword? Grant could have claimed it as a war trophy. He was within his rights.”

“Sir,” Bob said, as if berating a child, “Mr. Grant wouldn’t have bothered about one silver sword. He’d come to Lee with nothing but a toothbrush in his pocket.”

“But my commanders swear that a Rebel patrol just about captured you and Grant on the way to Appomattox. All of us might have ended up surrendering to Lee.”

“That’s preposterous,” Bob said, resting his boot heels on my map table and lighting up a seegar. “We had them outflanked on every side. All my General had to do was wave his glove once, and the whole damn Army of Northern Virginia would have crumpled—and that’s a fact. Mr. Lee raced to Appomattox in his red sash out of dire necessity, sir.”

Bob kissed his Pa impulsively on the forehead and strode out the room, his spurs jangling with the cadence of a captain who sat at Grant’s table. It mattered to him not one fig that he could wander into the President’s office without bothering to announce himself.

“Please don’t tell Mother I’m here,” he said. “I have to return to my General, and she’ll hold me in her clutches for an hour. I just can’t spare the time.”

“You could say hello, Son—that wouldn’t cost so much. And she’ll crucify me if she finds out we had breakfast and you never . . .”

He rolled his eyes and saluted me like some martyr. But at least he’d dash in and out of Molly’s boudoir, and talk a little
soljer
with Tad. He loved his little brother, and wouldn’t have disappeared without offering Taddie some token from headquarters—a discarded pencil case, a broken bootstrap, or a Rebel bullet pouch Bob had picked up in the field.

BOOK: I Am Abraham
13.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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