Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Lincoln On War

Edited By Harold Holzer

One hundred-fifty years have passed since the beginning of the American Civil War, during which time more books have been written on that topic than on any other in American history.  More books have been written about Abraham Lincoln than any of the forty-three men who have held the office of President of the United States.  Is there any need for more books to be written about the Civil War?  About Lincoln?  Harold Holzer, one of the country’s leading authorities on Abraham Lincoln, having written over forty books on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War era, obviously thinks there is.

In “Lincoln On War,” Holzer, has gathered and 160 of Lincoln’s speeches, letters, memoranda, orders, telegrams, and casual remarks on the topic of war.  Organized chronologically, Holzer briefly introduces and interprets each chosen document, and taken as a whole they reveal Lincoln’s evolution from an eager young officer in the Blackhawk War, to an anti-war Whig Congressman, and finally to a determined commander-in-chief.  The documents also demonstrate Lincoln’s evolution as Commander-in-Chief of the military of the United States; first by following the advice of his military advisors, then studying military texts, and ordering the movement of military forces.  Once Ulysses S. Grant was appointed General-in-Chief Lincoln’s guidance of military matters was less needed and gradually he transitioned into directing war policies and let his generals dictate the movements of the armies.

Mr. Holzer, has focused his book solely to Lincoln’s thoughts and writings about war.  The author has redacted out whole paragraphs or sections of some of the longer documents which have nothing to do with military or war topics.

Is “Lincoln On War” a must have for students of the Civil War?  No.  Given the internet, one can easily find these texts on line and in some cases the documents themselves.  Holzer briefly introduces and interprets each document, and for those unschooled in the Civil War his introductions may be helpful.  He often sites other documents or letters, and it would have been useful to have inserted those documents to provide added context.

Would I recommend “Lincoln On War” to others?  That’s a mixed question.  When studying a topic one must start somewhere.  To those who have a limited knowledge or interest in Lincoln and the Civil War and wanting to learn more, certainly “Lincoln On War” is a great place to start.  For serious students of the Civil War, no new material is presented and no new historical interpretations are offered.  These documents have been published many times over the last 150 years and can be easily enough retrieved in many other books.  Is “Lincoln On War” a must have for Civil War scholars?  Probably not but, its one redeeming value is it is a go to book for questions regarding Lincoln’s evolving views on war, and what he was, or was not, willing to do, or say, in order to win it.

ISBN 978-1565123786, Algonquin Books, © 2011, Hardcover, 336 pages, Photographs, Illustrations & Index. $24.95.  Click HERE to purchase this book.

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