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Lincoln's Darkest Year: The War in 1862 Hardcover – July 16, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (July 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618858695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618858699
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #777,542 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

William Marvel is the author of Mr. Lincoln Goes to War, Lee’s Last Retreat, Andersonville, and several other acclaimed books on the Civil War. He has won a Lincoln Prize, the Douglas Southall Freeman Award, and the Bell Award.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The mercury stood at twenty degrees when daylight woke Washington City on the morning of February 5, 1862. A fringe of snow still decorated the perimeters of buildings and byways, but for the first time in many days a brilliant sun climbed over the unfinished dome of the United States Capitol. Under rising temperatures and endless caravans of army wagons, the streets quickly softened from frozen ruts into rivers of mud, and ambitious boys stood by to maintain the foot crossings in the hope of copper tokens tossed by grateful pedestrians.
Inside the Capitol, the nation’s leaders needed no sunlight to warm them to their work. That morning, in the upper house, forty-seven U.S. Senators impatiently discussed a few momentous issues of taxation and expenditure before resuming debate on a resolution to expel one of their own members. The topic had dominated Senate business for most of the previous fortnight, and the senior senator from New Hampshire feared that it would consume the entire session, yet still his colleagues rose one by one to belabor points that they or others had already hammered home.
For nearly seventeen years had Jesse Bright occupied a desk on the Democratic side of the aisle. He had known and admired Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, and the previous winter Bright had obliged one of his legal clients with a letter of introduction to Davis in his capacity as President of the Confederate States of America. Thomas B. Lincoln wished to market an unspecified improvement in firearms, and Judge Bright gave him a letter similar to others he had supplied Lincoln in recommendation to U.S. military officials. The letter bore a date of March 1, 1861, six weeks before any hostilities had erupted between North and South, when manufacturers and entrepreneurs across the North were seeking an audience with either Davis or his secretary of war. Even the Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee found nothing in the letter that could warrant expulsion, and recommended defeat of the resolution, but Bright’s enemies refused to let mere evidentiary deficiency stand in the way of partisan vengeance. They clung to their accusation of retroactive treason, corroborating it with the damning detail that Bright had actually addressed Davis as “President of the Confederation of States.” On January 10 the chamber had expelled both of Missouri’s senators for abandoning their seats to join their state legislature in its struggle against federal authority. There had been little question on that matter: each was removed by a unanimous vote that Bright himself supported. Bright hailed from Indiana, however, and his state remained loyal to the Union. So did Bright, except that he lacked enthusiasm for Abraham Lincoln’s war against the South, and there lay the rub.
Bright regarded compromise as the only possible means of restoring the Union, and he supposed that the attempt to conquer the Southern states by military force had only made permanent division more certain. Most Northerners in and out of office had responded to the attack on Fort Sumter with nonpartisan enthusiasm. A vocal minority of Democrats had warned that the war to restore the Union would turn into an abolition crusade, and others had despaired of ever winning the South back by the sword, but they had railed against a tidal wave of intolerant nationalistic fervor. That fervor had already allowed the government to squelch the most effective and rabid newspaper criticism by stopping distribution, seizing equipment, and arresting publishers. Unionist mobs had collaborated in that suppression of free speech during the summer of 1861, destroying the offices of antiwar journals and attacking the editors. Languishing in the bowels of a coastal fort through the winter, Francis Scott Key’s own grandson understood how dangerous it had become to utter an unpopular opinion in the Land of the Free.
Now, the party that dominated the United States Senate intended to formalize the concept that meaningful dissent amounted to treason. Resignations and military service had reduced attendance in the Senate chamber from sixty-eight to forty-seven, of whom thirty-four either acknowledged or demonstrated allegiance to the Republican Party, and that should have yielded the two-thirds majority necessary to expel any of the remaining Democrats. Undeterred, therefore, by the discouraging Judiciary Committee report, on January 20 Minnesota Republican Morton Wilkinson produced another letter in which Senator Bright had expressed his opposition to the government’s coercive policies. The next day the haughty Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, remarked that Bright and his fellow Democrats had steadfastly opposed every measure thaat Sumner had supported in his ten years as a senator. For a moment he stopped there, as though that alone offered sufficient grounnnnnds to remove a fellow member, but then he concluded the day’s discussion by adding that Bright’s former associates were “now all of them engaged in open rebellion.” With those words Sumner smeared all dissenting Democrats with the taint of treason, and revealed the ulterior motive behind the resolution.
Through the rest of that week and into the next, Republicans parsed every clause of Bright’s letters, insinuating that he had deliberately colluded with men who were plotting to subdue Fort Sumter and denouncing his willingness to acknowledge Jefferson Davis as the president of a competing republic. Timothy Howe, a Republican freshman from Wisconsin, marked Bright as disloyal because “he is not prepared by his legislative action to maintain and uphold this Constitution” — in other words, because he could not be depended upon to vote with the Republican majority on war measures. Pennsylvanian David Wilmot seemed to condemn Bright for his friendship with Davis, the blackest of traitors, and he alleged that similarly diabolical associations had polluted “many gentlemen of the late Democratic party” — as though that organization no longer existed.
If the Democratic Party had not ceased to exist, it had certainly been emasculated. Andrew Johnson of Tennessee exemplified that shift, offering the Senate’s foremost example of those War Democrats who had aligned themselves with the Republicans in an overwhelming new pro- Union coalition. Johnson was the only senator who refused to resign when his state seceded, and he reflected the fierce sentiments of a region that knew no neutrality. Taking his cue from Sumner and Wilmot, Johnson enumerated the resignations and expulsions of various senators who had stood for peace, each of whom had since gone South. The implication emerged clearly in the Congressional Globe, which editors across the nation would quote: only a traitor would advocate peace.
Bright protested that he had heard so many different accusations since disposing of the original one that he hardly knew what to defend himself against. At one point he tried to explain the innocence of the Davis letter by remarking that he would do the same thing again, under identical circumstances. Quickly recognizing how easily his enemies could twist that statement, he asked the recorder for the Congressional Globe to delete it, but Republicans still jumped on it as evidence that he would correspond with the enemy president during active hostilities.
Few stood by him. Most of those who did shared his views, and might find themselves the next targets. The senators from the little slave state of Delaware, both Democrats, called for their fellow members to come to their senses.
“When a people are mad,” warned Willard Saulsbury, “their representatives are seldom wise.” He calculated that a third of the Senate’s surviving membership also believed —with Bright, and with most of the officers in the army —that war was neither a desirable nor an effective solution to the nation’s political difficulties. Would the Senate also vote to expel those other dissenting members? In reminding the chamber of the confused political atmosphere in March of 1861, California’s Milton Latham remarked that Bright was no more guilty of treason for writing to Davis than postal officials of the Lincoln administration were for delivering such letters to Confederate recipients, even after the shooting began.
Each senator had made up his mind by that sunny Wednesday of February 5. Three Northern Republicans and an old-line Whig sent by loyal Virginia’s rump legislature defended Bright, refusing to join the blatantly partisan ploy. Each of the four felt compelled to read last-minute statements justifying themselves to their constituents. Pennsylvania’s Edgar Cowan described himself as “utterly astounded” that so many senators stood ready to pervert the judicial process. John Ten Eyck of New Jersey alluded to friends who had warned him that a vote against expulsion would dig his political grave, and he asked that his epitaph read: “He dared to do what he thought was right.” That raised cheers and applause in one section of the gallery, but Vice President Hannibal Hamlin slammed his gavel down and demanded order. Those four apostates joined ten Democrats, mostly from border states and the West Coast, in voting against Bright’s removal. Andrew Johnson and one other War Democrat sided with the other thirty Republicans, though, and their two votes tipped the scales. The day’s debate ended with one of the most senior members of the U.S. Senate stripped of his office by a bare two-thirds majority — ostensibly because he had betrayed his country, but in reality because he favored peace and lacked the requisite animosity for slavery. This time another quadrant of the gallery erupted in applause, and the gavel sounded again. An Iowa senator rose to introduce a currency bill, but his colleagues refused to hear him; they had accomp...

More About the Author

WILLIAM MARVEL is the author of Lincoln's Darkest Year, Mr. Lincoln Goes to War, Lee's Last Retreat, Andersonville, and several other acclaimed books on the Civil War. He has won a Lincoln Prize, the Douglas Southall Freeman Award, and the Bell Award.

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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By David Kelly on October 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If nothing else William Marvel is always entertaining. As with most of his works the facts have a way of getting bent to the thrust of Marvel's point whether they are accurate or not. This is a tale of political mayhem coping with crisis. A young and imperfect American System trying to win a critical war in spite of itself. Marvel seems to glory in forcing the reader to see the soft underbelly of patriotism and national pride to see the bloody mess that lubricates the road to victory.

The national army is depicted as led by amateurs and manned by the forsaken of society. As important as winning may be partisan politics, spoilage and ideological differences hamstring the war effort.

Now, there is in fact a lot of truth to this. I don't mind that William Marvel lays all of this out for us to ponder. But he's doing so in a journalistic fashion that loses the reader in the trees without any hope of ever seeing the forest.

Case in point. Marvel spends an unusual amount of time talking about manpower mobilization for the war effort, and how poorly it was coordinated. The average reader doesn't know the long painful history of the issue, and the fractional policy that inhibited control over the process. By law, the federal government could ask for units, but there was no replacement system to man those units. By August of 1861 this problem was broached by the War Department. The situation was a driving force for national conscription policy which was badly begun in 1863. I think Marvel miscasts the problem for the sake of drama.

While there is a great deal of political strife over the conduct of the war and its political goals, the body of legislation produced by the Congress constantly moves towards correcting laws that inhibit prosecution of the war.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By James W. Durney TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
1862 is one of the most interesting years in American history and a critical year in the Civil War. In that year, the war changes from a great adventure that will end soon to a bloody war with no end in sight. In that year, the war's objective changes from restoring the union of states to a fundamental change in society. Americans, North and South, undergo a series of radical changes in response to current events and to long-term differences. William Marvel brings this complex and difficult year to life. He gives us a not always comfortable look at how Lincoln changes the war's direction and how the North reacted to that change. The South is not a major player in this book. Their commitment to victory and willingness to sacrifice came earlier than the North. They are cast in a reactionary role throughout the book. This does not detract from the story. The principle players are Lincoln, the Abolitionists, the Democrats and the people.
This is not a comfortable read. Lincoln is not at his best. He is learning the duties of President and Commander in Chief. While his determination to reunite the nation is unshakable, how reunification will take place is questionable. Surrounded by pressure groups, Lincoln is pulled in many directions. The Radical Republicans, in control of Congress, have determined to purge the army of "enemies". Men having the proper values and view of America's future will replace those purged. The Democrats are split between supporting the war and doubting that winning is possible or desirable. The Radicals and Abolitionists wish to end slavery. The War Democrats wish to reunite the nation and the Peace Democrats want the war to end. The major portion of the book is devoted to the politics of this battle.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Hegelian on March 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Marvel continues his original take on the Civil War. Like the preceding volume in Marvel's projected 4-volume history of the war (Mr. Lincoln Goes to War), this is a thought-provoking and entertaining book, in this case carrying the tale through 1862. If you want the same-old story, then don't read this book. But if you want to approach familiar events from a fresh perspective, I highly recommend Marvel's latest effort.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gary E. Jenkins on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A very interesting and easy to read book which brings up several points a lot of authors omit about many of this era's main characters and how they acted as they played their part in the civil war. Questions about people like Grant, McClellan, Sherman, Buel, and others and their actions are addressed, even Lincoln is not overlooked. The book like it;s title implies deals with the year 1862 and the war no one thought would last as long as it did. Many of the main characters of the war were green and untried at this time and as the war began to effect them and the nation in which they served it is interesting to see how the author reveals how they handled themselves at this phase of the war. I reccomend this book as well as it's two companion books as a good source of information about the civil war period in this nation's growth and the players involved.

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