Civil War Book Review: THE BATTLES THAT MADE ABRAHAM LINCOLN

by James Durney on May 10, 2013 · 0 comments

THE BATTLES THAT MADE ABRAHAM LINCOLN: How Lincoln Mastered his Enemies to Win the Civil War, Free the Slaves, and Preserve the Union
by Larry Tagg

Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Savas Beatie (November 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1611211263
  • ISBN-13: 978-1611211269

A wonderful and unique look at Lincoln’s presidency.

Our Abraham Lincoln is the Great Emancipator, the sure hand that guides America through the Civil War, struck down as we entered the promised land of peace.  A wise and wonderful man of courage and strength, an eloquent voice that defines our better nature, a guide, a comfort in a time of crises or need.  Our Abraham Lincoln “is a marble man, a mythic icon enshrined in a magnificent twenty-foot tall statue that looks down on visitors from beneath the dome of his Memorial, a Greek temple modeled after the Temple of Zeus.”

The book’s Abraham Lincoln is about seven feet tall, by today’s height standards, topped with a shock of unruly black hair, clad in an ill-fitting suit, unattractive if not ugly, speaking in a high voice with a distant western twang.  He is not socially adept, prone to bluntness and seems not to consider the feelings of his peers.  The man in the middle, he is trying to hold things together while being attacked for going fast/slow in the right/wrong direction from all sides at the same time.

That both portraits are Abraham Lincoln and that the author reconciles the different ideas shows what a well-written book this is.  This was a slow and often difficult read for me.  Because the reader has to reconcile our Lincoln with the actual man and the times, this can be difficult read.  This is the story of the political and personal attacks on Lincoln.   An excellent epilogue covers how the years after his death were kinder to him and built our Lincoln.  This book reconciles our understanding of how different things were and how the image of Lincoln changed.

The book opens with a short introduction covering Lincoln’s nomination and election.  This combines with a look at American life and politics in the years leading up to the election of 1860.  The book concludes with the construction the Lincoln of legend. Many factions found building the legend useful.  In between is a very solid political history of Lincoln’s administration.

Lincoln’s election is not the result of personal popularity; he receives fewer votes than loser in past elections did.  The collapse of the national political parties keeps Lincoln off Southern ballots.  He is unpopular in the Democratic strongholds of major Northern cites and with the Radical Republicans.  Negative reactions and comments start right after the election and never stop.  The Baltimore Plot is just the first incident that provides the press with material.  The war almost silences the Democrat papers with a combination of patriotic mobs and government action.  The author handles this story in a nonjudgmental tone avoiding any fiery rhetoric on this highly charged subject.  This is one of the strongest points in the book, as the story has many sensitive subjects.  Another well-written comprehensive section is the election of 1864; Lincoln’s nomination, Chase and the role of the Radicals make an exciting mix.  The author traces each of these in both the press and historically giving the reader a ringside seat on the double-dealings, back stabbings and ultimately Lincoln victory.  This is well written, informative and enjoyable reading.

An excellent section is the fight over slavery and emancipation within the Republican Party and Lincoln’s Administration.  The very strong writing could upset many people.  Lincoln is the man in the middle, working to keep a coalition of War Democrats, Border States, Republicans and Abolitionists focused of preserving the Union.  The Radical Republicans and Abolitionists launch some of the harshest and most persistent attacks on him.  This is an excellent history of not only the fight for emancipation but the start of Reconstruction politics too.

Another well-done area is the fight between an activist President and a Congress in the process of losing control to him.  It is easy for us to miss how much power Lincoln took from Congress and how bitterly they resented this.  That they were the same political party rarely occurred to many congressmen.

In 2009, this book was published as “The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln”.


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