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"Provocative...Thorough research, pointed analysis, and deft prose have become the hallmarks of Bill Marvel’s work."—George C. Rable, Charles Summersell Chair in Southern History, University of Alabama. Author of Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, winner of the Lincoln Prize
"Mr. Lincoln Goes to War is the most provocative account of events in 1861 in a generation."—A. Wilson Greene, Executive Director of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, and author of Breaking the Backbone of the Rebellion: The Final Battles of the Petersburg Campaign
"William Marvel lives up to his unparalleled reputation as Civil War history’s leading provocateur...in prose that burns with passion."—Peter S. Carmichael, author of The Last Generation: Young Virginians in Peace, War, and Reunion and Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
"A fascinating exploration of an enormously complex and important year in our nation's history."—Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor of History, University of Virginia
Posted August 5, 2010
One could assume a fair amount of bashing of the Author for even suggesting the idea that there was another alternative to war in order to reign in the renegade Southern states, especially when that suggestion is, essentially, that Lincoln could have simply done nothing and the secession movement probably would have resolved itself due to a lack of political will. Marvel suggests that it was only the invasion of Charleston Harbor that galvanized the South against a "tyrannical" north. Marvel suggests that but for this action the secession would not have gained any real steam but for a few rogue states that could have been reigned in without the massive bloodshed of the widespread war. Also, to suggest that doing nothing was a viable alternative takes away from the inculcated national memory of the heroic struggle to end the unjust and immoral institution of slavery. Nevertheless, earnest, exploratory but contrarian viewpoints such as Marvel's deserve a place in the vast landscape of literature that supports the heroic, "only one alternative" model.
Marvel lays out some compelling narrative for consideration and to reflect upon. Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus was particularly interesting but also quite frightening in that it happened in this Country less than 100 years after the ratification of the Constitution. Accounts and speculation about the actions and motivations of various administration bureaucrats also adds flavor to the criticism. However, and disappointingly, the narrative was often less than cohesive and took a detour into the weeds reading more like a civil war historian's detailed account of battles with movements of individuals carefully reconstructed.
The work is not an "history" book in my view but more of an "exploration of an alternative history to put future actions into perspective" book. In the end, is this book a compelling argument that there was a real alternative to a war between the states to resolve the secession and to end slavery? No, in my opinion. Marvel himself admits it as he wraps up the book. However, it is an interesting "what if?" account to reflect upon and may be more useful, to us as a nation, for the future.
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Posted February 15, 2015
Disappointing. He states that there were ways Lincoln could have avoided the war. Except for letting the first states to secede leave the Union taking all Federal property with them, he doesn't mention any others. He doesn't develop that point very well, either. If I wanted a detailed history of the first year of the war, I'd reread Shelby Foote.
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Posted June 25, 2009
There are several issues I have with this book. The first is the title. The author wrote this book around the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. It would appear to me that the author was trying to ride that wave so his book would be popularly read. The book deals little with Lincoln and more with the actual events of the first year of the Civil War. In trying to tie everything that happened to Lincoln, the author ignores issues that happened in the south. The treatment of prisoners of war in the south, done by Lincoln's own brother-in-law is ignored. The author then asserts that the south later violated liberties, but this was Lincoln's fault, not Jefferson Davis's fault. If the author would like to follow that line of fallacy then Lincoln's action were done because of the fault of the south in forming a Confederation that is expressly prohibited by the Constitution. The line would be that the south's actions caused Lincoln's actions. The author's bias against Lincoln is seen throughout the work. The author also likes to through around words such as tyrant and dictator for using powers the president has. Lincoln is the Commander in Chief of the military when called and the military was called and refused by states, such as Missouri and others. The Constitution had the rights of the states, but those rights were trumped by the federal government. Another instance of the states violating the Federal guidelines was in the burning and destruction of the roads to bring troops to the capital. The author would also like to have it both ways with attacking Lincoln. William Marvel would like to say the south was its own country, but that Lincoln violated the Constitution when fighting the war. Our Constitution does not grant the rights to another country so if Marvel would like to take this line, he has committed a fallacy in thinking. He does then when he talks about seeing emissaries from the South and recognizing them. Marvel would also like to alleviate the wrongs the South committed. Also, if the Constituation would apply, then the Norht could not be invading its own country. Marvel has to choose, either they were still in U.S. or they were their own country. Marvel also makes a poor comparison between military conscription and slavery. The HUGE difference is that you have no rights when you are a slave, you are not compensated, and could be killed with no problems-a slave was property. In the military you receive money during and after service. You have rights, investigations are done. The comparison is asinine and does a disservice to the people who have served this country proudly no matter how they were called. I also struggle with some of the author's citations. I do not doubt the author has thoroughly researched the material, but I believe he has made the wrong conclusions. I do have questions on citations that have events happening in one month, but the citation makes reference to a letter in the previous month. There is also one letter when talking about Officer Stone that was dated February 1861 when the citation talks about events that happened well after that. This could be an author error or are error in publishing. I hope it is more an error in publishing. I believe the author had an agenda in writing this and the conclusions and material presented is somewhat slanted and takes away from what could have been a great book looking at the errors and problems with the first year of the Civil War.
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Posted June 5, 2007
In recent years many American historical icons have had some bad things said and written about them. Washington, Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were bad men because they owned slaves. John F. Kennedy was a tom cat who had serial affairs. Theodore Roosevelt liked to hunt and shoot defenseless animals, although sparing the life of bear did get his name attached to the ever popular ¿Teddy bear.¿ About the only American icon who has escaped major criticism has been Abraham Lincoln until now. Die-hard southerners have long disliked Lincoln, but most of their largely less than intellectural rants were based upon the ¿lost cause¿ and ¿the War of the Northern Invasion,¿ which the rest of us call the Civil War. But a few more series works have come into print with far more academic trappings. One of them is Mr. Lincoln Goers to War by William Marvel. Mr. Marvel opens his work by asking the reader to do something that most historians avoid, namely to extrapolate historic events if policy makers had made alternative decisions. Most historians avoid doing this because the dynamics of human events involve too many factors. It does not take too many extrapolations before history becomes fiction. Using this framework Marvel claims that the Civil War and all the deaths and destruction that went with it could have been avoided if Lincoln had refused to fight it. Such a result might look inviting until one realizes what would have resulted from this policy. Marvel freely admits that the South would have gone its way and would have become an independent nation. He further concedes that other sections of The United States, such as the upper mid west and far west, following the South¿s example, might well have seceded from the Union as well. In the end North America would have looked like Europe with number of smaller independent nations sharing the continent and that would have been just fine with Mr. Marvel. Like the southern fire eaters, Mr. Marvel assets that the South had the moral right to secede from the Union. In the process he blissfully dismisses the civil rights of African Americans who were being held as slaves. He more or less blows off their fate entirely. Mr. Marvel¿s book is academically rigorous. Over 20% of its pages are devoted to footnotes, sources and acknowledgements. The trouble is I find his reasoning faulty. All of us who are loyal citizens of The United States owe a great debt to Abraham Lincoln for saving the Union and keeping our country together. And to extrapolate just a bit the world has been better off too. What would have happened during World War II and the Cold War if that had not been a strong United States to oppose tyranny? The results could have been catastrophic.
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