I’ve never been a big ‘fan’ of civil war books, fiction or non, but I heard Ted Widmer on a podcast talking about his new book, ‘Lincoln on the Verge: Thirteen Days to Washington’, and I was hooked. Maybe because I do like historical books, but I also enjoy reading stories that are suspenseful, filled with intrigue and danger but also filled with hope and high aspirations. This book was all that and more.

Growing up, we learned that Lincoln was elected President, went to Washington and the Civil War began. Let me tell you, there is so much more to that statement than I’d ever imagined. To begin with, on the day he won the election—four months before he was even inaugurated—two things were set in motion. First, southern states began the process of seceding from the Union. Second, concerns about a plot to kill Lincoln as he traveled via train to Washington for the inauguration became more and more real with each day that passed.

It would take thirteen days for his train to travel a circuitous route, keeping him north of the Mason Dixon line, but exposing him countless times to adoring crowds whose excitement on some occasions was almost as dangerous as the potential assassins that could lurk among them.

While Lincoln made the exhausting trip, building a stronger Union with each speech he gave, renowned detective, Alan Pinkerton, had his spies throughout the North and South, gathering information on the plot. As the president-elect’s train grew closer and closer to Washington, the plot became more real and far more violent than could have been expected. Lincoln would depend upon Pinkerton to deliver him to Washington alive, and Pinkerton would go to great lengths to devise a plan worthy of any good thriller!

In addition to Lincoln and his immediate family and entourage, the book is filled with little bits here and there about past and future Presidents, dignitaries, artists, authors and celebrities from near and far. It’s truly amazing how deeply this short trip reached in the psyche of the American citizens, not to mention the world. Throughout the story the reader is impressed with the very consequential parts that the growing railway system and the relatively young telegraph played in spreading Lincoln’s message.

This was an exhausting trip, physically and spiritually for the president-elect, but in the end one that was critical in bringing a very personal glimpse of his humanity to the people he would soon lead. In the coming years, he would ask a great deal of those people, leaving no family untouched, North or South, by the sacrifices of the Civil War. Those thirteen days truly laid the foundation of trust that both he and they would need to come through as one united country.

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