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Customer Review

87 of 96 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perceptive and persuasive volume by a superior Civil War historian, October 11, 2008
This review is from: Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (Hardcover)
Many scholars have described Abraham Lincoln's legacy, but surprisingly few have chronicled his role as Commander-in-Chief. Arguably our premier Civil War historian, James McPherson, whose Battle Cry of Freedom won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998, brilliantly remedies this neglect.

"In his conception of military strategy," writes McPherson, "Lincoln was Clausewitzian. The Prussian theorist of war had written that 'the destruction of the enemy's military force is the leading principle of war,' and it "is principally effected only by means of the engagement' that is, by 'hard, tough fighting.'"

Lincoln was often frustrated by his generals' lethargy, especially by George McClellan, a pompous prima donna with a messianic complex who preened himself as being "The Young Napoleon." Strutting about like a bantam rooster, McClellan boasted that he, and he alone, was destined to save the Union. True, by means of seemingly endless formation drills, he whipped the Union army into a formidable fighting force, but then stubbornly refused to budge against the enemy. Whining and complaining, inaccurately, that the Confederate forces arrayed against him were at least twice the size of his Army of the Potomac, he postponed, time and again, an offensive campaign, to which cowardly inactivity Lincoln tartly retorted, "If you don't plan to use the army, may I borrow it for a while?"

Only in the last year of the war did Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George Henry Thomas, and Philip Henry Sheridan grasp Lincoln's insight that the Union's concentration in time (simultaneous coordinated attacks) trumped the Confederate superiority in space (by using interior lines).

Tried by War is a fascinating narrative not only of Lincoln's prescient military leadership but also a bird's-eye view of the major military encounters of the Civil War. McPherson has written a perceptive and persuasive volume.

About the author: James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis `86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University, where he taught for three decades. He is the bestselling author of numerous books on the Civil War, including Battle Cry of Freedom (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998), For Cause and Comrades, which won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, and Crossroads of Freedom. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 3, 2008 12:18:52 PM PST
A nice review, Stephen. I like James McPherson's books - particularly Battle Cry - and this one sounds interesting.

Posted on Nov 17, 2008 7:49:25 AM PST
Felipe Blin says:
BY the way Napoleon would have turn in his grave for the comparison. Napoleon used to say speed is everything, not precisely the McClellan motto.

Posted on Jan 12, 2012 9:59:32 PM PST
It's interesting how victory or defeat dictates how a leader is perceived in history-- and rather telling of the lack of objectivity of so-called "historians," particularly since with the greatest propensity to color history in this manner are also most apt to reap rewards from the victorious regime, proving them to be nothing but shills for the regime who sell out their character integrity-- indeed, their very souls-- for fame and fortune.
McPherson is definitely cut from this most cheap of cloth, since he hangs on Lincoln's leash like the lapdog that he is, without even the slightest pretense of objectivity, his worship at the Shrine of Lincoln unabashed in its fervor.
If he's is a historian, I'd hate to see a hagiographer.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2012 7:17:03 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 13, 2012 7:18:42 AM PST
Roy E. Perry says:
Greetings, Mr. Armstrong,
If you enjoy hagiographies of Abraham Lincoln :-) permit me to recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Equals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," a well-researched and excellently written narrative not only of Lincoln's political career, but also of his three rivals for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates, all of whom Lincoln put in his cabinet when he was elected President. In my considered opinion, Abraham Lincoln was indeed our greatest president, and if any political leader deserves a "hagiography," it is he. Thank you for your comments on my review, but I reserve the right to "agree to disagree" with you. Lincoln was a great man and a great leader; we desperately need more statesmen like him! Cheers! Roy E. Perry, Nolensville, Tennessee

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2012 8:41:07 AM PST
Just a correction - the book you referred to is titled :" Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln."
Thanks for the thoughtful review and comment!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 10, 2012 10:42:52 AM PST
Roy E. Perry says:
You are correct! I'm embarrased at my error. Thanks for your comment.
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