Lincoln's Informer

Charles A. Dana and the Inside Story of the Union War

Carl J. Guarneri

In a recent poll of leading historians, Charles A. Dana was named among the “Twenty-Five Most Influential Civil War Figures You’ve Probably Never Heard Of.” If you have heard of Dana, it was probably from his classic Recollections of the Civil War (1898), which was ghostwritten by muckraker Ida Tarbell and riddled with errors cited by unsuspecting historians ever since. Lincoln’s Informer at long last sets the record straight, giving Charles A. Dana his due in a story that rivals the best historical fiction.

Dana didn’t just record history, Carl J. Guarneri notes: he made it. Starting out as managing editor of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, he led the newspaper’s charge against proslavery forces in Congress and the Kansas territory. When his criticism of the Union’s prosecution of the war became too much for Greeley, Dana was drafted by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to be a special agent—and it was in this capacity that he truly made his mark. Drawing on Dana’s reports, letters, and telegrams—“the most remarkable, interesting, and instructive collection of official documents relating to the Rebellion,” according to the custodian of the Union war records—Guarneri reconstructs the Civil War as Dana experienced and observed it: as a journalist, a confidential informant to Stanton and Lincoln, and, most controversially, an administration insider with surprising influence. While reporting most of the war’s major events, Dana also had a hand in military investigations, the cotton trade, Lincoln’s reelection, passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, and, most notably, the making of Ulysses S. Grant and the breaking of other generals.

Lincoln’s Informer is a genuine contribution to both Civil War studies and the history of nineteenth-century journalism. In the story of Charles A. Dana, Lincoln’s Informer reclaims exciting and underreported aspects of American political, literary, and military history.”

—Harold Holzer, winner of the Gilder-Lehrman Lincoln Prize

“This highly readable, thoroughly researched account of Charles A. Dana’s role in the Civil War era is a welcome addition to the literature, for it sheds new light not only on Dana but also on such important players as Abraham Lincoln, U. S. Grant, and Horace Greeley.”

—Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life

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Dana’s reporting and Guarneri’s lively narrative provide fresh impressions of Lincoln, Stanton, Grant, and other Union war leaders. Lincoln’s Informer shows us the unlikely role of a little-known confidant and informant in the Lincoln administration’s military and political successes. A remarkable inside look at history unfolding, this book draws the first complete picture of a fascinating character writing his chapter in the story of the Civil War.

About the Author

Carl J. Guarneri is professor of history at Saint Mary’s College of California. He is the author of many books, including The Utopian Alternative: Fourierism in Nineteenth-Century America and America in the World: United States History in Global Context.