Why Garfield?

I bought a book the other day. For me, I could say that almost any day of the year, because, well, I buy a lot of books. I love the things.


This book caught my eye because it was about James A. Garfield. It was:

From the Tow-Path to the White House. The early life and public career of James A. Garfield, Maj. Gen, U.S.A. The record of a wonderful career which like that of Abraham Lincoln, by native energy and untiring industry, Led this man from obscurity to the foremost position in the councils of the nation, including also a sketch of the life of Hon. Chester A. Arthur.

By James Brisbin.

A long title.


This book was published in 1880. As you might be able to tell, it has all the hallmarks of a campaign biography.

I think I have an original edition. It has brown cloth binding, with gold embossing, there are no indications of a reprint, and it certainly looks to be of the right age. I paid a modest sum  – $20 – and I am content with it, even if it turns out not to be original.

Why Garfield? I certainly didn’t buy it because it contained a sketch of Chester Arthur. (Apologies to the Arthur fans in the audience.) Because I find Garfield’s role in the war fascinating. I find the fact that James A. Garfield, a radical, a political general, one of those who sat in judgement of Fitz-John Porter, and a man who was in general, anti-West Point; hit it off so well with William Starke Rosecrans. who was a Democrat, a West Pointer, and deeply suspicious of the political motives lurking in the War Department.

And then there is the Shakespearian aspect – the great battle of Chickamauga, a defeat, and, in popular lore, the stab in Rosecrans’s back – et tu, Brutus – delivered by his trusted chief of staff, Garfield.

I don’t expect this book to yield a great deal of depth to my understanding of James Garfield. But I am delighted to own it. I wonder what the next serendipitous find on a bookstore shelf will be.

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