Historian Flood (Grant and Sherman, 2005, etc.) offers an inside view of the Lincoln White House during one of the most critical years of the Civil War, focusing on the president’s battle for re-election.
The author conveys the turmoil of a period when Lincoln spent almost as much time fighting his own Cabinet as his generals did fighting the Confederacy. Flood opens with the traditional White House New Year’s Day reception, then follows all the major twists and turns of Lincoln’s fortunes during the course of 1864. A key decision came in January, when McClellan was dropped from command. The general, who privately described Lincoln as “an idiot,” became his Democratic opponent in the election. Meanwhile, Grant was transferred to the eastern front to apply new pressure to the still defiant South. The election and the war were inextricably bound; as the Union army’s fortunes changed, so did Lincoln’s prospects for returning to office. Both the Peace Democrats and the radical Republicans saw him as an enemy of their goals. Grant’s first encounters with Lee’s army led to long casualty lists, and Jubal Early’s assault on Washington in July gave Lincoln reason to despair. By late summer, he was convinced the Democrats would oust him. But just before the election, Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, backed by Sheridan’s scourging of the Shenandoah Valley, gave Lincoln the boost he needed to win. Flood orchestrates the complex events of this roller-coaster year with a sure hand, taking plenty of time to look at individual dramas away from the main scene, such as the reporter who brought news of Grant’s first Virginia battles to Washington but was nearly shot as a spy before Lincoln saved him. The author does fair justice to all the astonishing events, closing with a poignant look ahead to the president’s assassination and a letter from an admiring journalist wishing, “May God help you in the future as he has helped you in the past.”
Stirring history told in rich detail.