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Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
By James M. McPherson

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Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

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Tried by War
Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

By James M. McPherson
Thorndike Press, Large Print Edition (2009)
ISBN 10: 1-4104-1339-X
ISBN 13: 978-1-4104-1339-0
Genre: American History, Biography

Reviewed by Herbert White - March 20, 2009

Abraham Lincoln was, perhaps, the greatest president that the United States ever had. He led the country through the Civil War, proportionally the most devastating conflict this country has faced - and the most divisive. He is heralded as the freer of the slaves, and lauded for his political acumen and forceful personality. However, while called the great emancipator, he was also the man responsible for the drastic curtailment of civil liberties during his tenure as president. For example, he impaneled military tribunals to try suspected 'terrorists' and he suspended the writ of habeas corpus. The dichotomies surrounding Lincoln and his presidency are numerous, which is one of the reasons that scholars have written hundreds of books about the man.

James M. McPherson is a respected historian, scholar, author, and expert on the history of the Civil War. In his newest book, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, McPherson looks at a single aspect of Lincoln's history and presidency - his role as Commander of the Northern Army. This treatise is especially telling when you consider that Lincoln had almost no military experience when he became president, and many of his most useful military advisors went over to the cause of the South, leaving him with a sometimes less than stellar bevy of military advisors during the war.

Within the pages of Tried by War, McPherson provides an intimate glimpse into Lincoln's mind set as Commander-in-Chief, and how he grew into the office over time. This book also examines how Lincoln's military strategies developed, and the maze of political uncertainty that he had to wade through while prosecuting this most unthinkable of wars.

Personally, I don't feel that Lincoln's legacy is as golden as McPherson claims. Lincoln was a man prone to human foibles, and he made mistakes. However, Lincoln is a pivotal figure in American history and whether you are a flag-waving Lincoln fanatic or someone who sees his legacy as slightly tarnished, you have to admit that he did an outstanding job, both as president and commander in chief, during a period of instability that could have destroyed the country. As well, throughout the war, Lincoln was treading on virgin ground. Many of the constitutional issues that he had to deal with had never before even been imagined. Reading this book gave me a greater understanding not only of Lincoln, as a man, but also the thorny political and constitutional issues that he had to deal with and why he took some of the actions that he did.

McPherson is a phenomenal writer whose prose is fluid and engrossing. His account of Lincoln's tenure as Commander in Chief provides keen insights into Lincoln's presidency and the Civil War. This is also one of the few books that deals exclusively with Lincoln's role as Commander in Chief. As such, I highly recommend Tried by War, because I feel that it is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the American Civil War or with Lincoln's legacy. It is also a book that deserves a place on the reading lists of both High School and College classes in American history or the Civil War. The large print edition of this book, is complete and unabridged, and it includes the endnotes found in the standard print edition of the book - a boon to both professional and amateur scholars who want to delve deeper into this intriguing aspect of Lincoln's presidency.


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