Historic Fort Ontario

Special Program on Lincoln’s Private Secretary, John G. Nicolay

On Wednesday, August 23rd, at 7:00 PM, Civil War Historian and Oswego native Tom Ebert will speak on the life of President Abraham Lincoln’s Private Secretary, John George Nicolay (1832–1901), in the Enlisted Men’s Barracks at old Fort Ontario. The program is free and open to the public.
Allen Carden and Tom Ebert are co-authors of FULL MEASURE OF DEVOTION, Lincoln’s Private Secretary John G. Nicolay, scheduled for publication early next year. While Nicolay’s 83 year old daughter published an uncritical and undocumented biography of her father in 1949, Carden and Ebert’s 403 page book will be the first professional biography published on Nicolay, and represents a significant contribution to Lincoln scholarship.
Nicolay played a central role in the Lincoln administration, but was one of those important figures in history who lived under the radar of public notice. Born in the Rhenish Palatinate, Nicolay spent most of his early life in frontier America as newspaper publisher, and came to Lincoln’s attention while serving as a young clerk in the Illinois Legislature. Nicolay became a trusted intermediary for Lincoln who subsequently appointed Nicolay his secretary to handle the growing volume of correspondence during the 1860 presidential campaign. Upon his election to President, Lincoln appointed Nicolay as his Private Secretary in the White House, serving in this position during the entire administration as the first de facto White House Chief of Staff. Previous men in Nicolay’s position had primarily functioned as gatekeepers to the President, but Nicolay found it necessary to become office manager, legal assistant, spokesman, emissary, and general jack of all trades based on increased demands on the President and the exigencies of the Civil War.
Nicolay was devoted to Lincoln and it became his singular purpose to support him in any way he could during the President’s lifetime; together with his life-long friend John Hay, who assisted him in his White House duties. After Lincoln’s assassination, Nicolay and Hay helped preserve and shape Lincoln’s image for posterity.. With the cooperation of Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, Nicolay and Hay produced a monumental 10 volume 4800 page biography of Lincoln, as well as other works, for which Nicolay was the primary contributor, researcher, and principal editor. As such, Nicolay provided future generations with extensive insights into Abraham Lincoln and his life and times.
Tom Ebert is a native of Oswego who resides in California. He holds master’s degrees in History and Library Science and is a major contributor to the book Freedom’s Delay: Emancipation in American 1775-1865, by Dr. Allen Carden, published by the University of Tennessee Press. Mr. Ebert has presented well-received local talks on a variety of Civil War subjects, including Oswego’s 147th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, conducting Civil War genealogical research, myths about slavery, and has compiled an Ebert-McGrath family genealogy, a three volume documentary history of the 147th New York Infantry Regiment, and an annotated brief history of Oswego’s 184th New York Infantry Regiment. He has also appeared on C-Span.
Fort Ontario State Historic Site is located at the north end of East Fourth Street in the City of Oswego, New York. There is plenty of free parking available. If you have any questions about the program, or have accessibilthyneed to make arrangement to park closer to the old stone fort, please contact Paul Lear at (315) 343-4711 or [Paul.Lear@parks.ny.gov]. New York State Parks generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually and supports 20,000 jobs. For information on any of these recreation areas call (518) 474-0456, or visit www.nysparks.com, www.fortontario.com, connect on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

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