OVER LINCOLN'S SHOULDER by Bruce Tap

OVER LINCOLN'S SHOULDER

The Committee on the Conduct of the War
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The Thompson committee on campaign fundraising abuses is hardly the first controversial congressional investigative body, as demonstrated in this revealing study of a Civil War prosecutor. Dominated by its Republican majority, the Joint Select Committee on the Conduct of the War possessed virtual carte blanche to probe all phases of the conflict--a mandate it used freely to prod the Lincoln administration toward its emancipationist goals. Although the committee occasionally wielded its power responsibly (including ferreting out military supply abuses, the Fort Pillow massacre, and Union troop deaths in Confederate prisons), more often it interfered with Lincoln's management of the war, according to independent historian Tap. Its members, proudly ignorant of military strategy, disparaged the West Pointled regular army in favor of enthusiastic state militia; it promoted the cause of incompetent generals who professed abolitionism, such as John Pope, Joseph Hooker, and John C. FrÇmont; and it charged disloyalty against other generals who were Democrats or even nonpartisan. Several Federal generals, looking to curry favor with the committee, accused each other of incompetence, and some were influenced by the committee's preference for the perpetual offensive enough to order rash assaults (e.g., Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg). Tap does not adequately credit committee members for foresight in pushing emancipation as a wartime measure, but he convincingly explains why the committee's Democratic minority (including future president Andrew Johnson) often sided with their more partisan colleagues (a combination of group dynamics and a shared ethic of self-made men), and he marshals abundant evidence to show that the committee was as myopic as it was meddlesome. An informative (and always timely) case history of the damage resulting from congressional abuse of its oversight function and from using military commanders as partisan whipping boys. (12 photos, not seen) (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 1998
ISBN: 0-7006-0871-0
Page count: 344pp
Publisher: Univ. Press of Kansas
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997