One of the world’s foremost Lincoln scholars offers a selection of the president’s writings and remarks on war, its conduct, trials, horror and meaning.
From his inauguration to his assassination, Lincoln fulfilled the role of commander in chief so skillfully as to become a model for succeeding presidents—reason enough, Holzer (Lincoln and New York, 2009, etc.) argues, to understand clearly the Lincoln record. For this project’s purposes, the author divides the president’s career into three parts: the young Lincoln, a period that included his brief, volunteer captaincy during the Black Hawk War and his stint as a dovish Congressman opposed to the Mexican War; the presidency from 1861 to ’62, during which Lincoln struggled to master warfare’s tools and tactics, to govern his military and civilian subordinates and to shape public opinion; and the war’s final years, when the slaughter only increased before Lincoln’s will and wisdom finally prevailed. From speeches and letters (sent and unsent), grand declarations, official messages and proclamations, orders, telegrams and instructions, hasty memoranda, informal notes and revealing private comments, Holzer assembles the president’s thinking on war, prefacing each selection with helpful remarks providing necessary context. Some of these documents are famous—e.g., the Gettysburg Address—while others are obscure. Some contain deathless rhetoric since memorized by all Americans, while some are merely homespun words (e.g., his battle advice to U.S. Grant: “Hold on with a bulldog gripe [sic] and chew & choke, as much as possible”) that demonstrate simultaneously Lincoln’s untutored prairie origins, his talent for the arresting phrase and his military resolve. All combine to illustrate the Holzer’s thesis that Lincoln, without ever taking the field, waged war with “the most powerful weapon at his disposal: his pen.”
A wisely chosen, expertly arranged collection.