- Lincoln's Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Union Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin, 1837–1923 by James T. Huffstodt
The life of General Martin Davis Hardin of Illinois offers a good perspective from which to view the Civil War era. A precocious young soldier, Hardin served as a brigadier general in the Union army in his twenties. The last survivor of West Point's class of 1859, he lived until 1923. In this well-researched and clearly written biography, James T. Huffstodt successfully rescues his subject from obscurity.
While many Civil War soldiers exhibited bravery and commitment to duty, Hardin's phenomenal devotion to the cause exemplified those qualities. While Hardin did not fight in every major battle in the eastern theater, he was so ubiquitous that one might think he had. In the course of the conflict, Hardin was wounded four times, most notably losing an arm fighting against John Singleton Mosby's raiders in 1863. In a remarkable illustration of personal bravery and commitment to the cause of the Union, Hardin continued to play a combat role until the end of the war.
The most original contribution this book makes is its emphasis on Hardin's relationship with Abraham Lincoln. The general's father was John J. Hardin, an Illinois Whig who was both a friend and a political competitor of Lincoln's. John Hardin died in the U.S.-Mexican War, but his family remained in contact with the future president. A lieutenant in the regular army when the Civil War broke out, Martin Hardin experienced a rapid promotion to brigadier general in part because he had earned a deservedly good reputation as a soldier. However, machinations behind the scenes by his mother, Sarah Smith Hardin, helped him up the chain of command. It appears she used her personal connection with Lincoln to advance her son's career. Huffstodt has discovered papers that illuminate the relations between Hardin, his family, and Lincoln. Finding any new angle to approach the Civil War president is an accomplishment. The treatment of Lincoln adds to our knowledge but does not transform our perception of the Union president.
The book is at its best describing military engagements in the East from the perspective of a leading soldier who seemed to be everywhere. Hardin witnessed the hanging of John Brown and the defense of Washington, D.C., against Jubal A. Early's raid, and he participated in the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth in the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination. After leaving the service, Hardin became a successful lawyer and participated in activities to memorialize the war. He lived for nearly sixty years after the war. While the author discusses Hardin's long postbellum career, the book's relatively brief [End Page 428] exploration of this potentially vast topic left me wanting to know more. Such an omission provides an opportunity for future scholars and students.
The outstanding feature of the book is its thorough research. While Huffstodt provides some new evidence for professional scholars, the book is primarily a traditional military history with a sprinkling of politics. It seems primarily geared to a broader popular audience. The book evidences only a passing engagement with recent secondary literature on the new military history. However, Hardin is an interesting character, and telling his story is a worthwhile enterprise. This book is a welcome addition to the literature on combat in the East.