Lincoln's political generals by David Work.

Author:Talbert, Bart R.
Position:Book review
 
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Work, David. Lincoln's Political Generals. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2012. xii + 287 pages. Paper, $19.95.

Historian David Work's study examines the impact that sixteen of Lincoln's so-called political generals had on the Union effort during the American Civil War. These were men Lincoln selected on the basis of party affiliation (eight Republicans and eight Democrats), geographic distribution, ethnic origin (Germans and Irish are represented), and by the size of the units they commanded. He laments that previous studies have focused too narrowly on battlefield results. The author finds that these "citizen generals," as they preferred to be called, compiled poor to mixed battlefield records, but were "not the failures often depicted in historical literature and popular culture" (p. 5). He maintains that they provided good service in the military administration of conquered portions of the South, charted the early course of Reconstruction, helped determine commercial policy, enforced the draft in the North, and spoke in support of Lincoln's policies and candidates. Work believes that their overall impact benefitted the Northern cause; but he also finds that Lincoln did not always employ these men effectively and to his detriment left them in field commands after they had clearly demonstrated their incompetence.

Within this well researched book are a wide range of sources, including the papers and memoirs of the generals, newspaper accounts of political and military affairs, a large number of primary and secondary works on every aspect of Lincoln's presidency, and the standard sources on military matters such as the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. After providing a pre-war background of the sixteen generals: Nathaniel P. Banks, Francis P. Blair Jr., Benjamin F. Butler, James W. Denver, John A. Dix, John C. Fremont, Stephen Hurlbut, John Logan, John A. McClernand, Thomas F. Meagher, Robert Schenk, Carl Schurz, James Shields, Daniel Sickles, Franz Sigel, and James S. Wadsworth, the bulk of this study traces their battlefield records before reviewing their contributions in the political arena.

Work maintains that the use of political generals was a necessity for Lincoln, who won only thirty-nine percent of the vote in 1860, to secure support for a war that was not completely popular even in his own party. He finds that Lincoln appointed these influential men to avoid the grief that would surely follow if they...

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