Friday, July 13, 2007

Mr. Lincoln Goes to War

by William Marvel

From the publisher:
This exciting work of groundbreaking history investigates the mystery of how the Civil War began, reconsidering the big question: Was it inevitable?

Marvel vividly depicts President Lincoln’s first year in office, from his inauguration through the rising crisis of secession and the first several months of the war. Drawing on original sources and examining previously overlooked factors, Marvel leads the reader inexorably to the conclusion that Lincoln not only missed opportunities to avoid war but actually fanned the flames - and often acted unconstitutionally in prosecuting the war once it had begun.

The story unfolds with Marvel’s keen eye for the telling detail, on the battlefield as well as in the White House. This is revisionist history at its best and necessary reading for Civil War and Lincoln devotees alike.

From Publishers Weekly:
Establishing slavery as the Civil War's central issue has fostered an acceptance of the conflict's inevitability among academic and popular historians alike. Marvel, author of several prize-winning books on the Civil War (Lee's Last Retreat, etc.), combines an iconoclastic approach with extensive research to challenge this conventional wisdom.

Focusing on the North's road to war in 1861, he argues that Abraham Lincoln made armed force a first choice, rather than a last resort, in addressing the Union's breakup. While conceding the complex problems Lincoln faced, and the corresponding limitations on his options, Marvel describes the president's course of action as "destructive and unimaginative." The confrontation at Fort Sumter ended any chance of avoiding conflict, he writes, and the North's amateurish conduct of initial military operations, culminating in the defeats at Bull Run, Wilson's Creek and Ball's Bluff, encouraged an emerging Confederacy's belief that war was its best option. More generally, Lincoln's early and comprehensive infringement of such constitutional rights as habeas corpus set dangerous precedents for future autocratic executives.

Marvel's characterization of Lincoln as a victim of tunnel vision, who launched a war without considering how devastating it might become, incorporates a certain present-mindedness. His willingness to consider the positive prospects of accepting secession is informed by a barely concealed subtext: the existence of the United States as we know it has not been an unmixed blessing. This well-constructed, comprehensively documented revisionist exercise merits consideration and reflection.

From Library Journal:
Historian Marvel (Lee's Last Retreat: The Flight to Appomattox) insists that the positive outcome of the Civil War and the deification of Lincoln as a great war leader have obscured many of the actual facts. He offers an alternate historical view, arguing that Lincoln misread the political situation during the secession winter preceding the attack on Fort Sumter, mishandled the crisis at the fort, abused the power of his office, trampled on civil liberties and democratic processes to keep Maryland and Missouri in the Union, and stumbled through cabinet decisions about how to prosecute the war.

In grim and vivid detail, he recounts the military blundering that made the war more terrible than it might have been were another man in Lincoln's position. Marvel writes with authority and vigor in relating military actions but relies on conjecture in supposing political alignments and peaceful resolutions had Lincoln not been so aggressive and unyielding in insisting the Union not disassemble. Nonetheless, this provocative book will fuel the current raging debates on presidential powers, leadership, the causes and conduct of the Civil War, and the possibilities of peace. Highly recommended.

From Kirkus:
The Railsplitter as tyrant, warmonger and Machiavellian strategist. Did Lincoln cause the Civil War?

Historian Marvel (The Monitor Chronicles, 2000, etc.) says yes, but then adds a qualification or two. Certainly, he writes, Lincoln could have taken the advice of Cabinet members, newspaper editors and plenty of Northern voters by allowing the South to secede, in which case, Marvel ventures, slavery would have at least been a localized problem, likely to disappear in time. Lincoln, however, "eschewed diplomacy" and replied to the capture of Fort Sumter-which, Lincoln's secret agents had already told him, was inevitably to fall to the South-by raising an army and threatening invasion. He had already hinted at such intentions in his inaugural speech, knowing that trouble was on the way; indeed, as Marvel writes, Sumter, which supposedly touched off the war, was but the latest of many federal installations that the secessionists had taken, to which then-President James Buchanan had responded by not doing anything. Any attempt to enforce federal law in the South, Lincoln's advisors told him, "would precipitate war."

By Marvel's account, Lincoln welcomed the prospect, for the Union needed a renewed forging of bonds and federal authority needed to be extended over states' rights-an argument still played out in the Capitol today. In any event, Marvel argues, Lincoln willingly violated the Constitution to preserve the Union by, for one thing, suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and he came very close to establishing a dictatorship (of the Roman, not Nazi, variety). "Lincoln gradually arrogated so much authority to his office that his own dominant party dared not pass that power on to a member ofthe opposition," Marvel notes, so that Republicans raced to strip away presidential powers when Democrat Andrew Johnson took office after Lincoln's assassination. Sure to touch off discussion, if not controversy, in professional circles; readers with a penchant for iconoclasm will want to have a look, too.

From CWBN:
Mr. Lincoln Goes to War represents a swing of the pendulum back to the reigning historiography of a generation ago, an historiography called "The Blundering Generation." Crudely put, this line of thought made the war the result of discrete political choices. Represented by historians such as J. G. Randall, it was overcome by the present-day "Inevitability of War" school represented by such as James McPherson. The Inevitables have been so successful that it is easy to forget that they were the original revisionists, that inevitability is fundamentally non-historic, and that the open question is probably "which decisions caused war" not whether any decisions caused war. Mr. Marvel may not have picked out the right decisions, he may color the decisions in lurid hues, but he is more than welcome to bring political Civil War decisions out of the long-standing "no discussion" zone. In that he joins Edward Ayers.

This is the first paperback edition of this title. The exact day of release for this June title is uknown.