In 1864, a journalist named James Gilmore told President Abraham Lincoln about his quixotic attempt to negotiate the South’s surrender. Gilmore had crossed Union lines to visit the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, in Richmond. But Davis had rebuffed the Northern emissary. Lincoln told Gilmore he saw an opportunity to draw attention to Davis’s recalcitrance, and Gilmore proposed publishing an account of his adventure in the New York Tribune.

“Can’t you get it into The Atlantic Monthly?” Lincoln asked. The president was a loyal subscriber to the magazine. “It would have less of a partisan look there.” Such an article in The Atlantic, Lincoln told Gilmore, “could be worth as much to us as a half a dozen battles.”

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