Tried by War

Tried by War

Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

Book - 2008
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James McPherson, a bestselling historian of the Civil War, illuminates how Lincoln worked with—and often against— his senior commanders to defeat the Confederacy and create the role of commander in chief as we know it. Though Abraham Lincoln arrived at the White House with no previous military experience (apart from a couple of months spent soldiering in 1832), he quickly established himself as the greatest commander in chief in American history. James McPherson illuminates this often misunderstood and profoundly influential aspect of Lincoln’s legacy. In essence, Lincoln invented the idea of commander in chief, as neither the Constitution nor existing legislation specified how the president ought to declare war or dictate strategy. In fact, by assuming the powers we associate with the role of commander in chief, Lincoln often overstepped the narrow band of rights granted the president. Good thing too, because his strategic insight and will to fight changed the course of the war and saved the Union. For most of the conflict, he constantly had to goad his reluctant generals toward battle, and he oversaw strategy and planning for major engagements with the enemy. Lincoln was a self-taught military strategist (as he was a self-taught lawyer), which makes his adroit conduct of the war seem almost miraculous. To be sure, the Union’s campaigns often went awry, sometimes horribly so, but McPherson makes clear how the missteps arose from the all-too-common moments when Lincoln could neither threaten nor cajole his commanders to follow his orders. Because Lincoln’s war took place within our borders, the relationship between the front lines and the home front was especially close—and volatile. Here again, Lincoln faced enormous challenges in exemplary fashion. He was a masterly molder of public opinion, for instance, defining the war aims initially as preserving the Union and only later as ending slavery— when he sensed the public was at last ready to bear such a lofty burden. As we approach the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009, this book will be that rarest gift—a genuinely novel, even timely, view of the most-written-about figure in our history. Tried by Waroffers a revelatory portrait of leadership during the greatest crisis our nation has ever endured. How Lincoln overcame feckless generals, fickle public opinion, and his own paralyzing fears is a story at once suspenseful and inspiring.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2008.
ISBN: 9781594201912
Branch Call Number: 973.7092 MCPHERSO
Characteristics: xv, 329 pages, [16] pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm.


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Dec 08, 2012

Concise and readable account of Lincoln's prosecution of the Civil War. McPherson shows that Lincoln was much more involved in the military aspects of the war than many might think. General McClellan turns out to look even worse--if not downright traitorous--than the common perception might be. An excellent and informative read.

May 16, 2011

With so many volumes written about Lincoln, one wonders what ground has not been picked over. Then, almost like a slap to the forehead, I saw McPherson's sub-title and thought, "Of course!"
What is it? We don't like to think of one of our greatest presidents as a war-leader? Perhaps. (And perhaps that's a good thing.)
Nevertheless, McPherson's work is a b breezy read that is often quite moving. He certainly includes the battles, but never loses sight of his main objective: explaining how that wretched nightmare of a time shaped the occupant of the Oval Office. I really enjoyed this book.


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