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Lincoln's Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky (Civil War America) Hardcover – October 10, 2011

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Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; First Edition edition (October 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807835005
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807835005
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #790,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


[With] Leonard's skillful research and careful assessment. . . . Joseph Holt will no longer remain an obscure figure.--Journal of American History

[A] well-written, scholarly, and well-documented book. . . . Highly recommended for both academic and general readers interested in the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Lincoln assassination, and legal history.--The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

Leonard has done a great service to Holt and to modern readers by releasing his story from its reconciliationist captives. Holt's commitment to the Union. . . . reclaims the central tenet of Lincoln's willingness to go to war: preservation of the Union.--Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

[Leonard] has admirably brought Holt to life. . . . A sympathetic and sensible reading of a difficult personality and the making of federal legal power, recommended for serious readers and university libraries.--Library Journal

A model of scholarly biography.--Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

Leonard skillfully and meticulously reconstructs Holt's 87-year life. . . . Judge Advocate General Holt will no longer be forgotten.--Civil War Book Review

A well-written and compelling biography. . . . Leonard skillfully illuminates, in a readable and engaging fashion, aspects of Holt and his world. . . . A useful book, both for the classroom and a popular audience.--Southern Historian

"A captivating biography of Joseph Holt. . . . Displaying the dexterity of an accomplished historian, Leonard reconstructs Holt's personal life to reveal a fascinating portrait of the type of representative--but not "great--man who was instrumental in constructing the modern American nation." --The Annals of Iowa

An outstanding example of how even a diffident life like Holt's can be made emblematic of great themes in an era of great conflict.--Civil War News

Leonard's book is biography at its best in that it illustrates, informs, and deepens the written history of the American people and one's understanding of human nature.--Journal of Illinois History


Joseph Holt was a fascinating fellow who found himself thrust into the midst of extraordinary events. A staunch Kentucky Unionist surrounded by secessionists, this brilliant attorney entered the public stage as part of the Buchanan administration, and rose to national prominence--and historic significance--as Abraham Lincoln's judge advocate general. For too long historians have neglected Holt's career. Until now. Elizabeth Leonard has done a superb job of capturing the life of one of the Civil War era's most significant and intriguing public men.--J. Matthew Gallman, University of Florida, author of Northerners at War: Reflections on the Civil War Home Front

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on May 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A solid work on an important mid-19th century American. Professor Leonard's favorable biography of Joseph Holt of Kentucky shows him to be one of the true pillars of support of the federal union at critical political times, including during the last days of the Buchanan Administration.

It is Joseph Holt's legal service during Abraham Lincoln's time in office and its immediate aftermath that probably will be of most interest to current readers: especially in terms of the trials of those accused of assassinating President Lincoln, as well as the post-war legal fate of Jefferson Davis. If you have an interest in the death-sentence pardon controversy that enveloped Mary Surratt (the first woman to break through the glass trapdoor of federal punishment), this certainly would be a book to buy.

Judge Advocate General Holt's work during Johnson's Administration in providing a voice for justice on behalf the newly freed slaves in the South is nicely handled by Professor Leonard, who also reminds us of the terrible turn taken in race relations due to the retrograde policies of Andrew Johnson. A president who, to my mind, ranks as one of our country's worst, if not the worst.

As an aside, I note progress has been made in the Old South when a book such as this finds its way to the public via The University of North Carolina Press.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. Ellen Connally on January 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Joseph Holt could have been one of those people who is lost to history but for his prolific letter writing and his family that preserved his letters. Historian Elizabeth D. Leonard does a wonderful job of bringing Holt to life and placing him clearly into the context of his time. This work is a great supplement to her earlier book, Lincoln's Avengers - which deals with the fate of the Lincoln conspirators.

Holt, as the prosecutor in the Lincoln assassination trials took a lot of criticism over the execution of Mrs. Surratt. Holt was adament in his desire to prosecute Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders but after what could be considered a rush to judgment in the Lincoln cases - Lincoln died on April 15 and the defendants were hung on July 7 - the national desire for punishment and retribution wained and the nation wanted to move on. After the ruling by the Supreme Court in Ex Parte Milligan - saying that civilians should not have been tired in military courts - Holts ability to function as Judge Advocate was severely limited. But during his tenure in office his department handled thousands of cases.

For those studing the Lincoln Assassination, the Coooperheads and post Civil War America, Holt and his life story is a wonderful addition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Julia A. McMullen on January 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am absolutely ecstatic about this book. I have read one other book about Judge Holt and was so disappointed in it (it read more like a romance novel than a biography) that I was hungry to find one that would satisfy my curiosity about the man from the county that I moved to recently. This book is wonderfully written, easy to follow and ties his life with the tumultuous time in our country's most fascinating era. It is a shame that most people know nothing about the man and his support of Lincoln, his drive to keep our union together and eliminate the horrible crime of slavery.
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