Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War

Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War

by Burrus M. Carnahan


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In light of recent controversies related to the treatment of enemy prisoners in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Guantánamo Bay, the regulation of government actions in wartime has become a hot-button global issue. By today's standards, Lincoln's adherence to the laws of war could be considered questionable, and his critics, past and present, have not hesitated to charge him as a war criminal. His apologists, however, defend his actions as reasonable and humane. Is it possible that Lincoln could be condemned as a war criminal based on the accepted standards and customs of warfare of his time?

Noted scholar Burrus M. Carnahan resolves this question in Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War, examining the president's reactions to the treatment and mistreatment of Southern civilians by Union forces. This stylishly written work departs from previous studies by framing the issue from Lincoln's perspective. Carnahan's thorough examination of the president's war policies offers new insights regarding his wartime behavior and his character.

Developing an intimate portrait of the American president, Carnahan allows other questions to surface. What information was available to Lincoln, when did he receive it, and how did he react to the knowledge? Carnahan's perceptive analysis of critical issues such as the bombardment of cities, collateral damage to civilians, and the execution of hostages places Lincoln's decisions in their proper context. Carnahan also investigates a wide range of historical materials, from accounts of the Dahlgren raid to the voices of Southern civilians who bore the brunt of extensive wartime destruction.

Instead of issuing the late president a verdict of guilty or not guilty, Carnahan carefully considers the differences in historical and modern standards of war. Lincoln on Trial documents President Lincoln's policies toward Southerners, offering readers a unique glimpse of nineteenth-century warfare as well as the greatest president.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780813134598
Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
Publication date: 08/26/2011
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Burrus M. Carnahan, a retired Air Force officer, professorial lecturer at George Washington University Law School, and foreign affairs officer in the U.S. Department of State, is the author of Act of Justice: Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Crisis at Baltimore
"With the Law of War in Time of War": Applying International Law to a Civil War
"Property, Both of Enemies and Friends, May Be Taken When Needed": Seizure and Destruction of Civilian Property
"Strong Measures, Deemed Indispensable but Harsh at Best": Retaliation and Guerrilla Warfare
"War, at the Best, Is Terrible": Devastation and Command Responsibility
"Can You Get Near Enough to Throw Shells into the City?": Personal Injury to Civilians
Conclusion: "Government Should Not Act for Revenge"

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