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Mr. Lincoln Goes to War
Mr. Lincoln Goes to War
William Marvel
Mariner Books, 2007
432 pp., $25.95

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Lincoln's Darkest Year: The War in 1862
Lincoln's Darkest Year: The War in 1862
William Marvel
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008
480 pp., $30.00

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Allen C. Guelzo


Culprit-in-Chief

Blame Abe.

It was mid-January, 1862, and a Baltimore dentist was writing grudgingly to his clergyman brother, first to congratulate him on the birth of a son, and then to chide him for his hostility to the administration of Abraham Lincoln. Yes, Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus and imprisoned civilians without trial. Yes, he had called out federal troops and imposed blockade without Congressional sanction. Yes, he had confiscated Southern slave "property." But "when Mr. Lincoln came into office," Dr. Hervey Colburn explained to brother Edward, "he found an empty Treasury … a mere handful of men in the army, & no amount of arms or ammunition. Everything must be commenced anew, and no money to pay with. Commerce, & trade generally, [were] gone." The Confederates, who had been concocting" secession "for ten years" (and with the connivance of the British government, no less), had arranged to have "the largest quantities of arms & ammunition" shipped from federal arsenals to the South so that "when the rebellion broke out it was found that almost all of the arms … were in the seceded states." What on earth did Edward expect Lincoln would do? Send a police constable to arrest Jefferson Davis? "Look at the circumstances under which [Lincoln] came into office," Hervey Colburn pleaded, "and if he were not possessed of much talent, & great decision of character, we should have been completely broken down months ago." [1]

William Marvel might have done well to consider Dr. Colburn's letter as he was contemplating the first two volumes in a projected four-volume history of the Civil War, Mr. Lincoln Goes to War and Lincoln's Darkest Year: The War in 1862. The titles, to begin with, are misleading: Mr. Lincoln Goes to War is a book about 1861, the first year of the Civil War, and Lincoln actually plays a comparatively small role; Lincoln's Darkest Year devotes the bulk of its attention, not to the war in 1862, but to rising tides of war-weariness and disgruntlement. ...

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