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Commander of All Lincoln's Armies : A Life of General Henry W. Halleck Hardcover – January 16, 2005


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (December 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674014936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674014930
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,644,593 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Often ignored, often disparaged, Henry W. Halleck has long required a serious biography by an accomplished Civil War historian. John Marszalek's effort was worth the wait. This book finally sheds light on how 'Old Brains' earned his moniker, and what he did-and gallingly failed to do-that caused him to forfeit it. Here is a highly valuable, highly readable contribution to Civil War scholarship that not only paints a vivid portrait of a complex life, but sheds much new light on the complexities of 19-century military command. (Harold Holzer, co-Chairman of the US Lincoln Bicentennial Commission)

Not only does this study fill a biographical void; it is also remarkably evenhanded for an examination of a figure who never quite measured up to the Civil War responsibilities of his offices… Scrupulous in its scholarship and fair in its judgments, John Marszalek brings to the work a comprehensive mastery of Civil War history that is indispensable. (Russell Weigley, author of The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy)

In this first full-scale biography of Henry W. Halleck, John Marszalek offers a balanced appraisal of that controversial general's strengths and weaknesses. An excellent administrator, Halleck could not make command decisions. A disappointment as general in chief, he nevertheless helped organize Union victory in the Civil War. This important book provides new insights on the Union command structure. (James M. McPherson, author of Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg)

'Old Brains' seemed an unlikely sobriquet for an officer whom most senior commanders in the Union Army regarded as bumbling and indecisive as a field commander, and hide-bound by paperwork as an administrator. Yet, for good or ill, few officers in Lincoln's army exerted more influence over the course of the Civil War than Henry W. Halleck. John F. Marszalek, one of our finest scholars of the era, provides the first in-depth look at Halleck in more than forty years, and surely the finest work on the subject we are likely to get. (William C. Davis, author of Lone Star Rising: The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic)

Henry Halleck has often been dismissed by students of the Civil War as a kind of glorified clerk. That is because until now no scholar has managed to bring to light the full history of this obviously gifted, but equally troubled and complex individual. In this rich and readable biography, John Marszalek at last gives us a convincing three-dimensional portrait of the man who commanded all of Lincoln's armies in America's greatest war. And in so doing, he has not only clarified Halleck's role in the war, he has enhanced our understanding of the war itself. (Craig L. Symonds, U.S. Naval Academy)

Early in the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant assessed Henry W. Halleck as, 'a man of gigantic intellect and well studied in the profession of arms.' Grant and Abraham Lincoln, among others, would eventually abandon that admiration. In a meticulously researched and intellectually probing biography, John F. Marszalek explores the psychological and physical causes of Halleck's disappointing performance. In a path-breaking biography, Marszalek brings a new perspective to the interpretation of the Civil War. (John Y. Simon, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale)

Civil War biographies do not come much better, if at all, than John F. Marszalek's account of Henry Wager Halleck. Written with scholarly precision and aplomb, it recounts the life and contributions of the Union's top soldier, 1862–1864, from his childhood on a New York farm...Researched in depth, closely reasoned, and energetically presented, Marszalek's biography will long remain the standard account of Lincoln's commander in chief. (Paul D. Casdorph Journal of American History 2005-12-01)

John Marszalek has provided the most detailed and authoritative account of Halleck's early life, initial military career and later professional success as a lawyer...The book, as one would suspect from such an author, is skillfully put together and agreeably written. (Brian Holden Reid Journal of Military History)

With this work, John F. Marszalek fills a large gap in the nineteenth-century U.S. historical record. Despite the considerable roles played by Henry Wager Halleck in disparate fields, no other full biography of the man exists...In preparing this life of Halleck, Marszalek certainly did his homework...Adding to the authoritative nature of the volume is its extensive scholarly apparatus, with forty-six pages of endnotes, plus twenty-seven well-chosen illustrations spanning Halleck's life...Marszalek's searching and balanced study offers frequent surprises for even the most attentive students of the era. (Malcolm Muir, Jr. American Historical Review)

The reader is presented with a richly detailed and engrossing story of one of America's most notable and influential soldiers of the nineteenth century. John Marszalek is to be commended for his efforts on completing this biography, and he has made a valuable contribution to the study of soldiers and the profession of arms. This book is recommended to those interested both in the US Civil War and army leadership studies. (Major A.B. Godefroy Canadian Army Journal)

John F. Marszalek has provided a most welcome addition to the literature of the Civil War and American history with his biography of Henry Wager Halleck, an outstanding and influential figure in the Old Army, a founding father of California, a legal authority, a highly successful businessman and architect, and an author of incredible breadth...One must notice Marszalek's bibliographical essay. It is excellent and should stand as a model. For that matter, the author's objectivity shines throughout. He respects his subject and feels an obligation to the individual and to history...To the joy of the reader, Marszalek writes clearly and unpretentiously. He uses humor and irony effectively and has an eye for humor in a man regarded as grim beyond belief, carefully demonstrating that Halleck had a sharp wit and a sense of humor. (Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes Journal of Southern History)

Painstakingly researched, well written and judicious in its approach, this volume offers the reader valuable insights into the foundation years of the state of California and penetrative analysis of the unstable nature of the command structure of the Union during the war, as well as providing us with what will surely be the standard biography of Halleck for many years to come. (Frank Lennon Journal of American Studies)

About the Author

John F. Marszalek is W. L. Giles Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, Mississippi State University.

Customer Reviews

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Very well documented, supersedes Ambrose.
Robert T. Redman
Marszalek has written an interesting biography about General Halleck and his failed leadership within the Union High Command.
1.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and time of Henry Halleck.
lordhoot

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By David Kelly on May 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is only the 3rd biography of the least remembered General of the Army of the Civil War. James Robertson published a short monograph early in his career. Not to long ago Kurt Anders released Henry Halleck's War, which fulsomely praised Halleck's accomplishments and intellectual influence; but blithely ignored Halleck's manifest failures as a commander.

Dr. Marszalek provides a tonic. His research has revealed the development of the man; his intellectualism, his ambition, and his inability to compete and lead others forthrightly. There is also the picture of a frustrated and ill man dealing with stress and disease with opiates, alcohol and tobacco. While Marszalek leaves one wondering as to the ultimate debilitating effects of these drugs, there presence leaves the reader ill at ease.

While this is a superior critical biography, I was left most unsatified by the discussions of general staff prosecution of the war and how Halleck managed his role as the chief executive of the Army. Kurt Anders detailed review of the Official Records correspondence gives more credence to Halleck's influence over Sherman and Grant than Marszalek allows. Since critical journals and papers for the national command principals are generally lacking it is easy to slip into operational summaries and not detail the strategic management of ways and means which brought armies into the field. There is a regretable void here.

There is also the problem of the status of the General in Chief. The office was created at the end of the War of 1812 and codified by John C Calhoun afterwards. But the position never had authority in law, or a clear military charter.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By lordhoot on January 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
John Marszlek's biography on General Henry Halleck is probably the best one out there. Of course, that isn't saying much since of all the major commanding generals of our nation's history, he remains the most ignored. Nevertheless, this biography does filled the bill in doing justice to Halleck's life from start to finish.

I guess what bother some of the previous reviewers is the way the author uses Halleck's damage psyche caused by his troubles with his father. The author believes that this damage effectively hampered Halleck's ability to lead and direct. It also appears that lack of a fatherly figurehead damage Halleck's ability in people skills. This premise appears to be somewhat contradictory since the author uses this to point out Halleck's failure as a soldier in command but yet, in civilian life in California, Halleck was a success. It should be pointed out that Halleck according to the author was popular in California, only state that actually grieved his passing. The author was never able to fuse to two careers of Halleck together with his psyche approach.

From the book, Halleck proves to be a perfect paper pushing administrator and his true genius as a soldier came in that supporting position. As the author cheerfully stated, Halleck found heaven on earth as Grant's Chief of Staff, a job that fitted his personality and skills like a glove. From the book, I realized that Halleck's contribution to the Union cause was more positive then negative. His ability to coordinate paper works, logistics, and relying orders contributed greatly to the overall Union victory. His fame as military scholar and thinker misled many people to think that his massive knowledge equal battlefield mastery and leadership.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and time of Henry Halleck. Without a doubt, he is one of the most misunderstood personalities of the American Civil War.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By 1. on November 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marszalek has written an interesting biography about General Halleck and his failed leadership within the Union High Command. According to Marszalek, Halleck was severely handicapped by a hostile relationship with his father that later influenced his relations with subordinates. Marszalek believes that Halleck was unable to preasure McClellan,Buell, and Meade because they symbolized in Halleck's mind his own intimidating father. However, Halleck often acted like his father in relationships with Grant and Hooker by chatising them for their supposed sloppy behavior. The main weakness of the book is that Marszalek fails to account how institutional defects such as a lack of any post-graduate officer training that made Halleck, Buell, and McClellan share similar traits.Nevertheles this is an interesting account of how Halleck commanded the Union armies from 1862 to 1864.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert T. Redman on December 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very well documented, supersedes Ambrose. Although his treatment of the battles in KY, TN, and GA is limited (he skips Mill Springs, compresses Stones River and Tullahoma into one battle, doesn't mention Buell's arrival at Shiloh which saved Grant's army, and buys into the myth that Grant won the battle of Chattanooga), his description of Halleck's activities in California is a revelation, showing a man worthy of our respect, while at least hinting at the more unsavory aspects of his land dealings.

As we read this book we learn that he commanded with courage and imagination in small battles during the Mexican-American war. Moreover, Halleck had a solidly successful pre-war career as a businessman, and as a writer of well-received books on military topics and real estate law. His achievements in the Western Theater, before he was called to Washington to assume command of all of the armies, were also noteworthy. Once in Washington, however, he got involved in furthering the careers of less capable, but more charismatic commanders, perhaps hoping to build on their successes or apparent successes so that he too might someday become president. This pursuit led him down a slippery path of intrigue which, to his credit, he apparently later regretted.

Marszalek softpedals this aspect of Halleck's Civil War career. According to Ambrose ("Halleck", p. 168) Halleck, who was "so caked with intrigue that no amount of scrubbing could launder him, could do Grant's dirty work just as he had done Lincoln's." When Ambrose writes to back up this assertion, he pulls his punches, but it is at least there.
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