Lincoln's Last Months

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Overview

Lincoln Prize winner William C. Harris turns to the last months of Abraham Lincoln's life in an attempt to penetrate this central figure of the Civil War, and arguably America's greatest president. Beginning with the presidential campaign of 1864 and ending with his shocking assassination, Lincoln's ability to master the daunting affairs of state during the final nine months of his life proved critical to his apotheosis as savior and saint of the nation.

In the fall of 1864, an exhausted president pursued the seemingly intractable end of the Civil War. After four years at the helm, Lincoln was struggling to save his presidency in an election that he almost lost because of military stalemate and his commitment to restore the Union without slavery. Lincoln's victory in the election not only ensured the success of his agenda but led to his transformation from a cautious, often hesitant president into a distinguished statesman. He moved quickly to defuse destructive partisan divisions and to secure the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. And he skillfully advanced peace terms that did not involve the unconditional surrender of Confederate armies. Throughout this period of great trials, he managed to resist political pressure from Democrats and radical Republicans and from those seeking patronage and profit.
By expanding the context of Lincoln's last months beyond the battlefield, Harris shows how the events of 1864-65 tested the president's life and leadership and how he ultimately emerged victorious, and became Father Abraham to a nation.

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist

Harris provides detail that has been paraphrased or neglected by other biographers...In even-tempered, observant prove, [he] ably organizes his facts into a presentation that even veteran Lincoln readers will appreciate as fresh.
— Gilbert Taylor

Washington Post Book World

This is a first-rate monograph for which Harris has done diligent spadework. This Lincoln isn't the sentimentalized or melancholy saint or savior, but a proficient, inventive, even cheerful administrator, dealing with diplomatic detail (chiefly with the British over Canada), naval technology and patronage squabbles in such key states as New York. Harris also provides a fresh retelling of the story of Lincoln's murder and martyrdom.
— Edwin M. Yoder Jr.

North & South

Like viewers of the old "Columbo" TV mystery series, readers of this book will know in advance exactly what will happen to the principal subject on April 14, 1865, and precisely who will be responsible for the crime. The enjoyment comes from watching as the star, in this case author William C. Harris, weaves a complex tapestry of revealing insights to illuminate his subject. In this accomplished new book we observe a president devoting his last months to concluding America's most bitter war 'with malice toward none,' while his enemies are concurrently, dangerously swearing vengeance and violence...Serious students of the field will want—and need—to add this invaluable, well researched, and well crafted book to their libraries.
— Harold Holzer

Civil War History

This is a useful Lincoln book in large part because of the way it is defined...By isolating the last months for careful study, William Harris brings this most important chapter of Lincoln's life out from the shadow of the assassination and into the sunlight of concentrated sequential attention...Throughout the telling of these heavily charged events, the author brings a valuable assembling of comments from a variety of public figures, literary figures, and the press...The author deals with the much-misrepresented story of the assassination with brief, quiet authority and has gathered some good items from the response to it...Add this book to your Lincoln library.
— William Lee Miller

Harold Holzer
Like viewers of the old "Columbo" TV mystery series, readers of this book will know in advance exactly what will happen to the principal subject on April 14, 1865, and precisely who will be responsible for the crime. The enjoyment comes from watching as the star, in this case author William C. Harris, weaves a complex tapestry of revealing insights to illuminate his subject. In this accomplished new book we observe a president devoting his last months to concluding America's most bitter war 'with malice toward none,' while his enemies are concurrently, dangerously swearing vengeance and violence...Serious students of the field will want—and need—to add this invaluable, well researched, and well crafted book to their libraries.
Michael Holt
Just as his prize-winning book on Lincoln and Reconstruction revised our understanding of that subject, here William C. Harris finds much that is fresh, insightful, and important to say about the last months of Lincoln's life. Students of Lincoln and the Civil War will want this book on their shelves.
Mark E. Neely
There are few neglected subjects in the field of Lincolniana, but Professor Harris has found one--the last five months of Abraham Lincoln's life. He offers readers a thoroughly researched and fair-minded historical evaluation of the beginning of Lincoln's second presidential term, restoring a sense of indeterminacy to a surprisingly revealing period that has too often been sacrificed to the dramas of Appomattox and assassination.
Douglas L. Wilson
Lincoln's Last Months shows in clear and fascinating detail how the embattled Civil War president was able, in the final six months of his life, to contend with a seemingly overwhelming array of military and political problems.
David Herbert Donald
Harris's important and revealing study shows that during these last months the President exhibited his greatest mastery, both as a political leader and a military strategist. This fine book is admirable for the depth of its research and for the judiciousness of its interpretations. It is one of the half-dozen books on Lincoln published in the last decade that must be read by every student of the American Civil War.
Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
Harris provides detail that has been paraphrased or neglected by other biographers...In even-tempered, observant prove, [he] ably organizes his facts into a presentation that even veteran Lincoln readers will appreciate as fresh.
Washington Post Book World - Edwin M. Yoder Jr.
This is a first-rate monograph for which Harris has done diligent spadework. This Lincoln isn't the sentimentalized or melancholy saint or savior, but a proficient, inventive, even cheerful administrator, dealing with diplomatic detail (chiefly with the British over Canada), naval technology and patronage squabbles in such key states as New York. Harris also provides a fresh retelling of the story of Lincoln's murder and martyrdom.
Civil War History - William Lee Miller
This is a useful Lincoln book in large part because of the way it is defined...By isolating the last months for careful study, William Harris brings this most important chapter of Lincoln's life out from the shadow of the assassination and into the sunlight of concentrated sequential attention...Throughout the telling of these heavily charged events, the author brings a valuable assembling of comments from a variety of public figures, literary figures, and the press...The author deals with the much-misrepresented story of the assassination with brief, quiet authority and has gathered some good items from the response to it...Add this book to your Lincoln library.
Publishers Weekly
Harris, professor of history at North Carolina State University, does a generally workmanlike job of narrating Abraham Lincoln's final months, from the election campaign of 1864 through his assassination in the spring of 1865. But Harris fails to explain (or demonstrate) exactly why this particular slice of time is uniquely suitable for special study outside the broader context of Lincoln's overall presidency. The book also includes some small errors that will annoy the better-versed Lincoln buffs. For example, in Harris's discussion of Lincoln's second inauguration, he sounds needlessly speculative when he writes: "Reportedly in the crowd that day was... the actor John Wilkes Booth, who was biding his time to strike the president." On the same spread of pages, the author reproduces the famous panoramic photograph of Lincoln making his second inaugural speech, surrounded by hundreds of listeners. This image has been mapped and analyzed by a host of scholars of Lincoln and the assassination, which has shown conclusively that the image includes not only the face of Booth (uncomfortably only a few yards behind and above the president) but also the faces of at least four other assassination conspirators (Lewis Paine, George Atzerodt, Edman Spangler and David Herold) standing immediately below Lincoln. Such established details are not commented on by Harris. Small gaffes like this aside, Harris is astute at describing and analyzing Lincoln's shrewd politicking for the 13th Amendment and his subtle consolidation of peace terms designed to end the war while at the same time dealing out a minimum of humiliation for Confederate soldiers. 11 b&w photos. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this almost elegiac study, Harris follows Lincoln from his reelection in 1864 through the defeat of the Confederacy to his assassination. He finds a man who is humbled by the awesome tasks completed and the challenge of binding the nation's wounds hardly begun; wiser and surer in politics and policy, in moving the nation to accept and secure emancipation, Union victory, and America's place in history. Harris emphasizes Lincoln's lifelong beliefs in human progress and opportunity for all as the bedrock of his thinking on Reconstruction and ensuring freedom for blacks and whites. He also shows how Lincoln enlarged the scope of presidential power by his command of words, careful delegation of responsibility within his cabinet, and trust in his generals, even as he hardly encroached on congressional authority or prerogatives. Harris covers ground already well tilled in other works on Lincoln's life, but especially in his chapters on Lincoln among the troops and blacks and on Lincoln's "martyrdom," Harris does much to explain why Lincoln "belongs to the ages." Strongly recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674011991
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 12/15/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

William C. Harris is Professor of History at North Carolina State University.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations

Introduction

1. Re-election

2. Careworn and Haggard

3. The Burden of Patronage

4. The Search for Peace

5. The Humble Instrument of God

6. Beyond the Battlefield

7. At the Front

8. Martyrdom

Abbreviations

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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