Noah Brooks, “Personal Recollections of Abraham Lincoln,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, July 1865, in Michael Burlingame, ed., Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 213-214.
Transcription adapted from Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks (1998), edited by Michael Burlingame
Adapted by Don Sailer, Dickinson College
The following transcript has been adapted from Lincoln Observed: Civil War Dispatches of Noah Brooks (1998).
The following week [in 1863], spent in riding about and seeing the army, appeared to revive Mr. Lincoln’s spirits and to rest his body….Another reminiscence of his early life, which he recalled during the trip, was one concerning his experience in rail-splitting. We were driving through an open clearing, where the Virginia forest had been felled by the soldiers, when Mr. Lincoln observed, looking at the stumps, “That’s a good job of felling; they have got some good axemen in this army, I see.” The conversation turning upon his knowledge of rail-splitting, he said, “Now let me tell you about that. I am not a bit anxious about my reputation in that line of business; but if there is any thing in this world that I am a judge of, it is of good felling of timber, but I don’t remember having worked by myself at splitting rails for one whole day in my life.” Upon surprise being expressed that his national reputation as a rail-splitter should have so slight a foundation, he said, “I recollect that, some time during the canvass of the office I now hold, there was a great mass meeting, where I was present, and with a great flourish several rails were brought into the meeting, and being informed where they came from, I was asked to identify them, which I did, with some qualms of conscience, having helped my father to split rails, as at other odd jobs. I said if there were any rails which I had split, I shouldn’t wonder if those were the rails.” Those who may be disappointed to learn of Mr. Lincoln’s limited experience in splitting rails, may be relieved to know that he was evidently proud of his knowledge of that art of cutting timber, and explained minutely how a good job differed from a poor one, giving illustrations from the ugly stumps on either side.