Civil War Book Review: Lincoln’s Generals

by James Durney on December 24, 2010 · 0 comments

Lincoln’s Generals
Gabor S. Boritt Editor

Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803234546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803234543

Good history never ages

McClellan, Hooker, Meade, Sherman and Grant are some of the best-known Civil War generals.  All had to work with Lincoln, most of them had a hard time doing so.  Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief is one of the most durable stories of the Civil War.  This book is a look at Lincoln’s relationship with five of the most important generals.

Lincoln and McClellan by Stephen W. Sears, is an excellent statement of his position.  Sears judged Mac and found him wanting.  This 50-page essay details his reasons.  While there is nothing new in this essay, it is an excellent concise argument for his position.  For those following the ideas of Harsh, Rafuse or Beatie this is a valuable refresher.
Wilderness and the Cult of Manliness: Hooker, Lincoln and Defeat by Mark E. Neely, Jr. is a unique look at Fighting Joe.  This is as much a look at the expectations of the era as a look at their relationship.  I found this to be the best essay and the most thought provoking.
‘Unfinished Work’: Lincoln, Meade, and Gettysburg by Gabor S. Boritt is badly dated.  When written in 1994, this was the standard historical view of Meade at Gettysburg.  In the last five to ten years, historians are reevaluating this view and Lincoln’s expectations.  The author is unduly harsh in his appraisal of Meade’s conduct from Gettysburg to the end of the war.  It is a valuable look at how history can grow and change.
Lincoln and Sherman by Michael Fellman is a unique essay centering on the question of race.  Sherman held a very standard view of the capabilities of Afro-Americans and refused to change.  Lincoln went through a learning process as he moved toward emancipation and accepting Black soldiers.  This is a look at that clash of ideas and of wills between two men that needed the other, when neither could gain the upper hand.
Grant, Lincoln, and Unconditional Surrender by John Y. Simon is a very different look at the relationship.  The author’s idea is that Lincoln both feared Grant politically and closely watched him militarily.  This is less a relaxed working relationship built on trust as wary Lincoln keeping close tabs on Grant.  While not entirely satisfactory in presentation, this raises some interesting questions.

This is well worth reading.  While in its’ teens, good history never grows old.  There are new ideas, discredited ideas and some very good ideas.  All of them are worth thinking about and fun reading.


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