Touched with Fire: Five Presidents and the Civil War Battles that Made Them

Touched with Fire: Five Presidents and the Civil War Battles that Made Them

by James M. M. Perry
     
 
They were the "greatest generation" of the nineteenth century—the Civil War heroes whose exploits took them all the way to the White House.

"In our youth our hearts were touched with fire."

So said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the future Supreme Court justice, about his fellow veterans of the Civil War. The 1860s were a time much like the 1940s, when a

Overview

They were the "greatest generation" of the nineteenth century—the Civil War heroes whose exploits took them all the way to the White House.

"In our youth our hearts were touched with fire."

So said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the future Supreme Court justice, about his fellow veterans of the Civil War. The 1860s were a time much like the 1940s, when a generation of idealistic young Americans answered their country's call, and many made the supreme sacrifice to preserve freedom and liberty for all. And among the two million "boys in blue "were five soldiers whose wartime heroics would take them into national politics—a ride that would lead, in time, to the White House.

In Touched with Fire, James M. Perry reintroduces us to these five men—Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. "Ruddy" Hayes, James A. "Jamie" Garfield, Benjamin "Little Ben" Harrison, and William "Mack " McKinley—who rose to the pinnacle of American life but are now largely forgotten. Drawing on diaries, letters, and other first-hand accounts, Perry recreates the battles that brought them fame and extols the courage that made them extraordinary leaders, especially under fire. The Civil War was their finest hour, and their stories form a vivid reminder of what a truly great generation can accomplish.


About the Author:
James M. Perry began his journalism career at Leatherneck Magazine, and then worked for thirty-five years covering politics for the National Observer and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of five previous books, most recently A Bohemian Brigade, about the reporters who covered the Civil War, and in 1997 he was awarded the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award for a distinguished career in journalism.

Editorial Reviews

Akron Beacon Journal
a high-quality account of the soldiers who became leaders in the Gilded Age...rousing and vibrant.
San Antonio Express-News
an extraordinarily lucid and richly researched history... provides letters, diaries,... other sources to bring military and political details to life.
Washington Times
...Perry's fine book makes clear that the five had in fact been 'touched with fire' in their Civil War years.
Booklist
Perry, a wry storyteller, delivers regimental-level detail that buffs crave while dusting events with skepticism that presidential electoral campaigning invites.
Wall Street Journal
The stories are strong, and Mr. Perry tells them well.
Civil War News
A vivid and readable style...Perry successfully weaves the separate biographical sketches into an understandable narrative.
The Washington Post
[Perry] succeeds in illuminating the character of the men who would rule over an era of unbridled wealth and breathtaking expansion. — Michael Bishop
Washington Post Book World
Perry is a colorful writer... He succeeds in illuminating the character of the men who would rule over an era...
Publishers Weekly
This solid, informative group biography examines the five American Presidents who did military service during in the Civil War. The one professional soldier of the lot was Grant, whose wartime career is covered tersely at the book's beginning and end. The other four men-Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley-are scrutinized to a degree not matched by standard Civil War or political histories. All were volunteers; the first three commanded regiments or brigades; McKinley rose from sergeant to brevet major. Garfield was probably the ablest of the lot, exercising an independent command in Kentucky and later serving as chief of staff to Rosecrans at Chickamauga while energetically intriguing against his chief. Hayes was less conspicuous but distinguished himself in the 1864 Shenandoah Campaign; Harrison at least upheld his family name (he was the grandson of William Henry Harrison); and McKinley served as a commissary officer without lining his pockets. If the five were indeed "touched by fire," none of them burned very brightly as President, which is all the more reason for examining the time when they put on blue uniforms. Perry, whose classic The Bohemian Brigade covers Civil War correspondents, knows his territory and his people, and has a readable journalistic style. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Just how the mayhem and carnage of battle affected the men who have held the White House has been explored for some presidents (e.g., Washington, Eisenhower) but not all. The five men who witnessed combat firsthand during the Civil War-Garfield, Grant, Harrison, Hayes, and McKinley-are given their due in this book by Perry, a journalist and author of five other books on the Civil War. Of the five men selected, all were Republicans from the Midwest, four graduated from college, and four had political aspirations of some kind prior to the war. Drawing on letters, diaries, newspaper stories, and secondary sources, Perry offers detailed accounts of these future Presidents' wartime exploits. The chronicles of the various battles are particularly good. But in many ways, this book is a PT 109 tale: one learns much about how the war contributed to the political careers of the five through connections made or their ability to "wave the bloody shirt" during campaigns but less about how the war shaped their character. All in all, however, this is worthwhile reading for those who enjoy accounts of the Civil War or who wish to discover more about the Presidents of the Gilded Age.-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A well-crafted survey of the five presidents-Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, and McKinley-who emerged from the ranks of the Union Army. The crucible of war has forged plenty of our nation's leaders, writes political journalist Perry (A Bohemian Brigade, 2000, etc.), and even though the citizenry has supposedly shied from letting the military get too close to politics, service in the armed forces has been the rule rather than the exception for most chief executives. The Civil War produced those five leaders, who, for better or worse, guided the nation through the Gilded Age. "They all fought in battles so desperate and bloody we can barely comprehend them," Perry observes. About those battles-the hells of Chickamauga, Shiloh, Atlanta, and others-he writes fluently and memorably. He has less to say about just how their battlefield experiences affected these presidents' time in office after the war, though he volunteers that Grant never seemed quite able to comprehend the complexity of civilian politics and that Garfield's skills as a backstabber, fine-tuned as a self-serving staff officer, found a perfect arena in the White House. Still, Perry does a good job of giving a you-are-there account of the presidents' seasons under fire and of drawing attention to often overlooked figures: Rutherford B. Hayes, who was wounded four times and fought bravely in a dozen major engagements; William McKinley, who served under Hayes and proved a hero at the Battle of Antietam; and Benjamin Harrison, a capable officer under William Tecumseh Sherman's command, even if it was true that "not many people actually liked him," thanks to his lack of social skills. Although he has but qualified praise for theirwork as politicians, Perry writes admiringly of their many contributions to the Union cause, with even a grudging nod to Garfield, "the smartest, the most devious, the most political of all these Civil War presidents." A solid overview, well suited to Civil War buffs. Agent: David Black

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586481148
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
09/02/2003
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.66(h) x 1.17(d)

What People are saying about this

Military Heritage
[an] elegantly written, educational, and entertaining study.

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