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Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief

3.1 50
by James M. McPherson

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The Pulitzer Prize?winning author reveals how Lincoln won the Civil War and invented the role of commander in chief as we know it

As we celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln?s birth, this study by preeminent, bestselling Civil War historian James M. McPherson provides a rare, fresh take on one of the most enigmatic figures in American history. Tried by War


The Pulitzer Prize?winning author reveals how Lincoln won the Civil War and invented the role of commander in chief as we know it

As we celebrate the bicentennial of Lincoln?s birth, this study by preeminent, bestselling Civil War historian James M. McPherson provides a rare, fresh take on one of the most enigmatic figures in American history. Tried by War offers a revelatory (and timely) portrait of leadership during the greatest crisis our nation has ever endured. Suspenseful and inspiring, this is the story of how Lincoln, with almost no previous military experience before entering the White House, assumed the powers associated with the role of commander in chief, and through his strategic insight and will to fight changed the course of the war and saved the Union.

Editorial Reviews

Jean Edward Smith
James M. McPherson's Tried by War is a perfect primer, not just for Civil War buffs or fans of Abraham Lincoln, but for anyone who wishes to understand the evolution of the president's role as commander in chief. Few historians write as well as McPherson, and none evoke the sound of battle with greater clarity. There is scarcely anyone writing today who mines original sources more diligently. In Tried by War, McPherson draws on almost 50 years of research to present a cogent and concise narrative of how Lincoln, working against enormous odds, saved the United States of America.
—The New York Times
Michael F. Bishop
In Tried by War, James M. McPherson agrees that Lincoln was America's finest commander-in-chief but convincingly argues that this status was achieved only after exhaustive study and heartbreaking setback…McPherson shows that Lincoln was a diligent student of military affairs and a shrewd judge of men. He immersed himself in works on strategy obtained from the Library of Congress and soon recognized the limitations of his commanders. His increasingly direct involvement in military matters and his eventual appointment of Ulysses S. Grant as general-in-chief led ultimately to victory…Tried by War supersedes Lincoln and His Generals as the definitive portrait of Lincoln as war leader
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Given the importance of Lincoln's role as commander-in-chief to the nation's very survival, says McPherson, this role has been underexamined. McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom), the doyen of Civil War historians, offers firm evidence of Lincoln's military effectiveness in this typically well-reasoned, well-presented analysis. Lincoln exercised the right to take any necessary measures to preserve the union and majority rule, including violating longstanding civil liberties (though McPherson considers the infringements milder than those adopted by later presidents). As McPherson shows, Lincoln understood the synergy of political and military decision-making; the Emancipation Proclamation, for instance, harmonized the principles of union and freedom with a strategy of attacking the crucial Confederate resource of slave labor. Lincoln's commitment to linking policy and strategy made him the most hands-on American commander-in-chief; he oversaw strategy and offered operational advice, much of it shrewd and perceptive. Lincoln may have been an amateur of war, but McPherson successfully establishes him as America's greatest war leader. (Oct. 7)

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Kirkus Reviews
A leading Civil War authority assesses Lincoln's performance as head of the Union armed forces. Pulitzer Prize-winning historian McPherson (This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War, 2007, etc.) notes that Lincoln studies have examined nearly every aspect of his administration except his constitutional role as commander in chief of the armies opposing secession. The author proceeds chronologically, beginning with Lincoln's election, at which point the secession of several Southern states immediately confronted him with the decision of whether to let them go or take action to restore the Union. His first instinct was to calm passions; several speeches given before his inauguration show him reassuring his listeners that he has no intention of abolishing slavery, and that he will use force against the South only if the seceding states give him no other option. The scenario at Fort Sumter demonstrated the necessity of force, and subsequent events-especially the attack on Union troops passing through Baltimore-presented him with several other difficult choices. Finding a way to keep border states loyal was a key decision. So was finding a commander for the Union forces. Winfield Scott, the senior U.S. general, was opposed to an invasion of the South, as were several cabinet officers. Lincoln's first choice, George McClellan, proved insufficiently active and suspicious of the president's intentions. McPherson follows the course of the war, quoting from original documents, including private letters and diaries, to show the evolving strategy that led to the ultimate Union victory. The decision to abolish slavery was fundamentally strategic and political-as much as humanitarian-in itsintentions. Lincoln's determination to restore the Union became stronger as the war progressed, and Southern attempts to buy peace at some lesser price were rebuffed. McPherson's portrait of the commander in chief is brilliantly detailed, full of humanizing touches, and it provides fresh insight into his unparalleled achievement. Fluid and convincingly argued-one of the best Lincoln studies in recent years. For more information about Lincoln's relations with the Navy, see Craig L. Symonds's forthcoming Lincoln and His Admirals (2008).
Library Journal
McPherson proves that Lincoln succeeded in rallying and sustaining support for the Civil War and emancipation because he understood that military action serves national interest and recognizes political needs, that personal interest gives way to public service, and that leadership demands imagination, honesty, and courage. (LJ 9/1/08)

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

James M. McPherson is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor of History Emeritus at Princeton University. He is the bestselling author of numerous books on the Civil War, including Battle Cry of Freedom, which won the Pulitzer Prize, For Cause and Comrades, which won the prestigious Lincoln Prize, and Crossroads of Freedom. He lives in Princeton, NJ.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
October 11, 1936
Place of Birth:
Valley City, North Dakota
B.A., Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN) 1958; Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 1963

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Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
jdm1968 More than 1 year ago
February 12, 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. Consequently, over the next year and a half, the average bookstore browser will be buried underneath an avalanche of new books on the most written about figure in all of American history.

¿Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln As Commander In Chief,¿ by James M. McPherson, noted Civil War historian & the George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University, is among the newest in the crop of the Lincoln Bicentennial titles.

In ¿Tried By War¿ Dr. McPherson highlights how Abraham Lincoln came to understand and define the largely undefined role of commander in chief. He takes us through each phase of Lincoln¿s development into the role: from first deferring to General Winfield Scott, then to prodding George B. McClellan into action. After studying military tactics, Lincoln felt confident enough and wondered if he might borrow the army when McClellan fell ill with typhoid fever. In the end McClellan was a disappointment to Lincoln, as were Henry Halleck, Don Carlos Buell, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, William Rosecrans and George Meade. Through each successive general Lincoln learned and grew into the role of commander in chief, not largely because he wanted to, but because he had to. Finally, with Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman & Philip Sheridan, Lincoln found generals who understood the defeat of the Confederate armies and not the surrender of Richmond, the Confederate capital, would bring the rebellion to an end.

Sadly there is little, if anything, new in fact or interpretation in this book. Dr. McPherson seems to have relied on the tried and true. Most of the content between the covers of ¿Tried By War¿ can be found in a number of other books on Lincoln.

The Lincoln-McClellan relationship is complicated, and one worthy of a book of its own. Dr. McPherson seems to have ¿cherry picked¿ every negative word and action of McClellan¿s for inclusion in his book. To be fair, McClellan has served up these quotes and snubs toward Lincoln (not to mention his overestimates of Confederate troop strength, his constant pleas for more men and his apparent lack of will to send the Army of the Potomac into battle) on a silver platter for historians. But I think Dr. McPherson¿s diagnosis of McClellan¿s ¿messiah complex¿ goes a bit too far.

If anything, at 270 pages of text, the book is too short. It is a great survey of Lincoln as commander in chief, but an in depth review of the facts and analysis of them it is not. On its merits, the book it well researched, and well written. Dr. McPherson¿s narrative flows effortlessly from topic to topic and is easily read. Though ¿Tried By War¿ may not be the book for the well read student of the Civil War it would serve as a great introduction for some one just developing their interest in the subject.
armchaircritic More than 1 year ago
James McPherson has the uncanny ability to put you right into history, and feel the pulls and tugs of the contemporary issues of the Civil War times. Lincoln is my favorite history subject, and McPherson is my favorite historical nonfiction writer. He doesn't just give lists of dates and battles, but gets you into the heads of the movers and shakers, and the common soldiers. And he does this without fictionalizing anything. He uses the actual words and diaries of 19th century people, and contemporary observations of their friends and colleagues, and seamlessly blends it all into a very readable narrative. The extent of his knowledge and research are awesome, and he's a good writer, too! I highly recommend this book, and I'm buying it for gifts to the history buffs in my own family.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read Battle Cry of Freedom a few months ago and found it to be possibly the best one volume history of the Civil War out there. The only problem was that I put it down wishing I knew a little more about Lincoln's role. Tried by War served this purpose well. Those who wrote reviews saying that McPherson didn't build up suspense have a point, but that was not the author's goal. If you want to understand the battles read another book; the battles themselves are not an important part of this book's thesis, the consequences were. I put down this book feeling I had a better understanding of Lincoln's role in managing the most important war in this country's history. And with that, McPherson did his job.
dg68 More than 1 year ago
The book presents the war from the perspective of Lincoln as the Commander in Chief. Therfore, if you are a war battle buff this book will leave something to be desired. However, if the politcis and political implications put upon the President by the Congress, People and the Generals themselves and Lincoln's handling of these trials - the book is excellant reading!
Ozarkian More than 1 year ago
I have a couple of James McPherson's volumes on my shelves--"Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution"--and I've profited greatly from reading them both. In "Tried By War", the author sets out a most intersting thesis..."[Lincoln] proved to be a more hands-on commander in chief than any other president. He performed or oversaw five wartime functions in this capacity, in diminishing order of personal involvement: policy, national strategy, military strategy, operations, and tactics." Thanks to an extensive 100+ years of scholarship, the cards in both the Lincoln and the Civil War decks are all pretty much out on the table. What remains is largely a re-shuffling of them for new perspectives. This book by McPherson does a good job of rearranging the cards but I wonder why he wanted to make a book-length treatment of this rather than publishing it as a journal article. Perhaps to get this perspective into the "bloodstream" of popular as well as professional discussion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Extremely well researched. As a retired military senior officer, I found it to be very thorough and enlightening.
Gunz More than 1 year ago
An awesome, very easy to read, page turner that puts school history books to shame. A great insight to what Lincoln did for his country...for our country...regardless of what some decisions could have done to his presidency and re-election. This book shows what an elected official should do while serving his/her citizens...serve those who elected you, your country, and make decisions that are the best for the greatest number...not your base or to lock a re-election bid.
hawkFL More than 1 year ago
This book is very interesting and written from a unique perspective. It also has some very interesting and informative source material. No matter how much you think you know about Lincoln this book proves that there is always more to learn. Unlike a lot of history related books it is not dry and moves along at fairly good pace. No question about it McPherson is a pro and this book is well worth your time.
Mahdi1ray More than 1 year ago
This is a well written and well researched novel. It holds the reader's attention in a compelling manner. Easy to read. A must for all Civil War enthusiasts. Of great value to military historians. Of general interest to the public
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I never understood the intricacies of the Civil War to the extent that this book describes it. The level of detail regarding what Lincoln was faced with and how he managed the war effort was very interesting. It should be required reading for history students.
spun13 More than 1 year ago
Highly Recommended - you must check it out!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although it rarely focuses on the specifics, McPherson creates a very readable account of Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. A nice quick read.
susanMT More than 1 year ago
Is there a discussion guide?
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breezembhm More than 1 year ago
I have an interest in history, but I've found many of the history books to be very dry. I could barely put this book down! The way the information is presented keeps the reader enthralled! Will get more books by this auther!!
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JohnAndLibby More than 1 year ago
Really good analysis of Lincoln's direction of the war and his relations with his generals. (Good to read in tandem with Doris Kearns Goodwin's book about Lincoln, "Team of Rivals")
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