Uncovering an Abraham Lincoln not often seen

Historians in the News

He's typically depicted in paintings and sculptures as sullen and melancholy. His cheeks are sunken, and he has a long neck. His huge, veined hands are crossed over an ill-fitting, wrinkled suit.

But a different side of Abraham Lincoln has emerged in recently discovered accounts by those who knew him well and witnessed historic moments in his life and presidency.

In notes compiled early last century by artist and interviewer James E. Kelly, and uncovered by New Jersey historian William B. Styple, Lincoln is animated and athletic, passionate and engaging. He weeps and prays as he walks the streets of Washington, assessing the Civil War's cost. He smiles, laughs, and erupts in anger.

After collecting stories for at least 16 years, Kelly planned to write a book about the Lincoln few knew. He also hoped to produce a sculpture of the president, but he died in 1933 without finishing either.

Styple discovered Kelly's unpublished notes and correspondence - from civic leaders, politicians, artists, and soldiers - in the New York Historical Society about 70 years later and has turned them into a book.

"DO NOT represent him as if he were half asleep, or in mourning," wrote a Lincoln secretary, William Stoddard, in a 1919 letter to Kelly. "Make him living! For he was one of the most 'all alive' of men. . . .

"Remember that he was exceptionally vigorous physically, and notably outspoken in all his utterances - NEVER WEAK. I have seen his face light up as if God had kindled a bonfire behind it."

Styple devoured 27 boxes of Kelly's documents and learned of the artist's unusual friendship with a physician whose descendant - a South Jersey resident - inherited some of the artist's sculptures and sketches.

"When I found Kelly's notes, I knew how important they were," said Styple, 49, author of several Civil War books and a resident of Chatham, Morris County. "After 150 years, to find 50 new personal accounts [of Lincoln] is a rarity."

Eight of Kelly's bronze statuettes, four figurines, and a dozen plaster bas-reliefs were passed through the family of a Kelly friend to Henry Ryder, a professor of economics at Gloucester County College.

"Kelly's artwork has been pretty much forgotten," Ryder said. "His accounts and conversations were never known until Bill uncovered them."

Many critically acclaimed artistic works by Kelly, including equestrian pieces, are in parks, public places, and battlefields at Freehold, N.J.; Gettysburg, Pa.; Frederick, Md.; Washington; New York; and other East Coast cities.

To complete them, Kelly did extensive homework in the same way he had begun preparations for his Lincoln project.

He sketched, painted, and sculpted aging generals while chatting about historic events in which they and others shaped the Civil War.

He was enthralled by their eyewitness descriptions of the opening shots at Fort Sumter, the killing fields of Gettysburg, the Appomattox surrender, and the assassination of Lincoln.

His interviewing ability intrigued Styple, who studied Kelly's papers, including those about his conversations with Gens. Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and Alexander S. Webb. The public can see the documents at the historical society...
Read entire article at The Philadelphia Inquirer

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