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Lincoln and the Civil War

Michael Burlingame

Publication Year: 2011

In Lincoln and the Civil War, Michael Burlingame explores the experiences and qualities that made Abraham Lincoln one of America’s most revered leaders. This volume provides an illuminating overview of the entirety of the Civil War and Lincoln’s administration, focusing on the ways in which Lincoln’s unique combination of psychological maturity, steely determination, and political wisdom made him the North’s secret weapon that ultimately led to supremacy over the Confederacy. 

When war erupted in 1861, the North—despite its superior economic resources and manpower—was considered the underdog of the conflict. The need to invade the South brought no advantage to the inefficient, poorly led Union Army. In contrast, Southerners’ knowledge of their home terrain, access to railroads, familiarity with firearms, and outdoor lifestyles, along with the presumed support of foreign nations, made victory over the North seem a likely outcome. In the face of such daunting obstacles, only one person could unite disparate Northerners and rally them to victory in the darkest moments of the war: Abraham Lincoln. 

While Lincoln is often remembered today as one of America’s wisest presidents, he was not always considered so sage. Burlingame demonstrates how, long before the rigors of his presidency and the Civil War began to affect him, Lincoln wrestled with the demons of midlife to ultimately emerge as arguably the most self-aware, humble, and confident leader in American history. This metamorphosis from sarcastic young politician to profound statesman uniquely prepared him for the selfless dedication the war years would demand. Whereas his counterpart, Jefferson Davis, became mired in personal power plays, perceived slights, and dramas, Lincoln rose above personal concerns to always place the preservation of the Union first. Lincoln’s ability, along with his eloquence, political savvy, and grasp of military strategy made him a formidable leader whose honesty and wisdom inspired undying loyalty. 

In addition to offering fresh perspectives on Lincoln’s complex personality and on the other luminaries of his administration, Lincoln and the Civil War takes readers on a brief but thorough tour of the war itself, from the motivations and events leading to Southern secession and the first shots at Fort Sumter to plans for Reconstruction and Lincoln’s tragic assassination. Throughout the journey, Burlingame demonstrates how Lincoln’s steady hand at the helm navigated the Union through the most perilous events of the war and held together the pieces of an unraveling nation.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Book Title

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pp. vii

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pp. 1-10

If the legendary oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek had been alive when the Civil War began, he would probably have given the South a better-than-even chance of winning. As historian William Hanchett has cogently argued, “Contrary to the conventional assumption, the North, not the South, was the underdog in the Civil War.”1 To ...

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1. The Election of 1860 and Southern Secession

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pp. 11-21

Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 election, which precipitated the Civil War, was both a referendum on slavery and a repudiation of the corrupt administrations of Democratic Presidents Franklin Pierce (1853–57) and James Buchanan (1857–61). Shortly after his electoral triumph, Lincoln said, “I have been elected mainly on the cry ...

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2. From Election to Inauguration

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pp. 22-27

As President James Buchanan meekly allowed secessionists to seize federal facilities throughout the Lower South, Lincoln fumed. When told that the lame-duck chief executive might surrender Fort Moultrie at Charleston, South Carolina, Lincoln expostulated, “If that is true, they ought to hang him.”1 A visitor to ...

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3. The Fort Sumter Crisis

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pp. 28-31

Tragically, the time for reflection proved far shorter than Lincoln had anticipated. On March 5, 1861, a letter arrived at the White House demolishing his hopeful scenario. The commander of Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, Major Robert Anderson, wrote saying that his men would exhaust their food supply within six weeks. ...

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4. The War Begins

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pp. 32-49

In the days immediately after the attack on Fort Sumter, Lincoln faced daunting challenges. He later described the situation: the war “began on very unequal terms between the parties. The insurgents had been preparing for it more than thirty years, while the government had taken no steps to resist them. The former had carefully considered all ...

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5. Stalemate

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pp. 50-59

Between August 1861 and March 1862, newspapers ran many stories headlined: “all quiet on the Potomac.” Initially, that was an accurate description of the military situation in the East; in time, “all quiet on the Potomac” became something more, a derisive commentary on McClellan’s timidity. ...

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6. War in Earnest

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pp. 60-66

Abolitionists also erupted in anger when Lincoln removed his incompetent secretary of war, Simon Cameron, after Cameron had recommended in his annual report that slaves be liberated and armed. Dismayed by this ill-timed proposal, Lincoln ordered Cameron to strike it from his report. The war secretary did so reluctantly but only ...

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7. Dealing with Slavery

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pp. 67-71

Antietam represented a crucial turning point in the war, for that quasi-victory enabled Lincoln to announce publicly his intention to issue an Emancipation Proclamation. Shortly after the Peninsula Campaign ended, he had read to the cabinet a document stating that “as a fit and necessary military measure for effecting this ...

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8. Winter of Discontent

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pp. 72-78

In addition to the racist backlash against emancipation, a lack of military success helped defeat Republicans at the polls in November. After Antietam, Lincoln urged McClellan to pursue Lee vigorously, but Little Mac offered myriad excuses for not moving. Six weeks after the battle, when McClellan complained that he ...

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9. The Tide Turns

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pp. 79-90

Offsetting bad news from the Virginia front was good news from the West. In May, Grant had boldly marched his troops south of Vicksburg, crossed the Mississippi River, and fought one successful battle after another. Lincoln exclaimed, “This is more important than anything which is occurring in Virginia! I have had ...

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10. Reelection

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pp. 91-121

Congressman Henry Winter Davis and other Radicals vowed to defeat Lincoln for reelection. At first they had been attracted to the potential candidacy of Salmon P. Chase, who had long been scheming to win the Republican presidential nomination. Chase’s head, Lincoln remarked, was “full of Presidential maggots,” and while ...

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11. Endgame

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pp. 122-132

At Lincoln’s urging, the 1864 Republican convention called for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery throughout the nation, not just in the Confederate states. Lincoln had limited the scope of the Emancipation Proclamation to areas in rebellion because he believed that the Constitution did not authorize him to ...

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pp. 133-134

As I worked on this volume and various other Lincoln books over the past quarter century, I have been the beneficiary of support from so many generous patrons, hospitable friends and family, helpful librarians, and fellow scholars that I hesitate to mention them by name lest I inadvertently omit some. I cannot refrain, however, from thanking ...


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pp. 135-158


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pp. 159-165

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Author Bio

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pp. 165

Michael Burlingame, holder of the Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield, is the author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: A Life, which won the 2010 Lincoln Prize. He has also edited several volumes of Lincoln primary source materials, most ...

Series Page

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Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809390700
E-ISBN-10: 0809390701
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330539
Print-ISBN-10: 0809330539

Page Count: 165
Publication Year: 2011