- Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union's War Governors by Stephen D. Engle
Lincoln alone did not save the Union. With a federal government that consisted of only fifteen bureaus (as compared with hundreds of agencies today), and an army of some sixteen thousand officers and men in December 1860, the Union was less than the sum of its parts. The governors of the twenty-three states that remained after secession held the power to raise troops and provide resources; Lincoln would have to advance the war effort while working with men of disparate beliefs and temperaments.
Stephen Engle's Gathering to Save a Nation is the first extensive study of this topic since William Hesseltine's Lincoln and the War Governors (1948). Hesseltine argues that Lincoln "was able eventually to dominate his rival executives" who were "men of lesser minds."1 That view stood largely unchallenged until William C. Harris's excellent brief study, Lincoln and the Union Governors (2013). Harris's objective was to give "proper credit to the contribution that the Union governors made."2
In Engel's comprehensive work, which makes copious use of wide-ranging manuscript collections, he continues the labor of reviving the reputation of the governors. He reminds us of their power: they led state militias, created budgets, and convened legislatures with whom they battled. One of Engle's most important contributions is to toggle between the fronts of a double political battle, the one not only between Lincoln and the governors, but also between the governors and state legislators "who fought them over appropriations, military arrests, and expansive national government" (6).
In total, fifty-seven different men served as governors between 1861 and 1865 (excluding West Virginia and Nevada). Eight were Democrats, five Unionists, and the rest Republicans. Only Republicans Oliver P. Morton of Indiana, William Buckingham of Connecticut, John Andrew of Massachusetts, and Andrew Curtin of Pennsylvania served through the entire war. The changing cast of characters sometimes makes it difficult to follow the plot as Engle juggles so many starring and walk-on roles. The need to keep so many characters in play gives him little choice but to resort [End Page 489] at times to general statements such as "governors campaigned," "governors forged," and "governors rallied," and it is not always clear which governors did what and how internecine party politics played out (346).
The most important collective effort of the governors came at the Altoona conference on September 24, 1862. Although having worked well with Lincoln in mobilizing soldiers, some governors desired bolder action to win the war. Andrew Curtin wired John Andrew and suggested that the governors meet. Eleven governors attended, and one, Oliver Morton, sent a representative. They adopted an address that supported "the most vigorous exercise" of government power and endorsed Lincoln's just-issued preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. A delegation raced to Washington to present the address to Lincoln, and ultimately all signed except the governors of the four border states and those from New Jersey (Democrat Charles Olden) and New York (Republican Edwin Morgan).
Engle argues that the scheduled governors' meeting influenced Lincoln's decision to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation two days earlier. In doing so, he goes against the grain of recent scholarship that places little weight on the conference in Lincoln's thinking. William Harris, for example, quotes George Boutwell of Massachusetts, who recalled that Lincoln said, "I never thought of the meeting of the governors at Altoona."3
While the radical governors' pressure may not have factored much in the Emancipation Proclamation, Engle makes clear the importance of the governors in such crucial, and generally neglected, functions as troop mobilization and the provision of supplies in response to administration requests. Many governors worked tirelessly to support their troops in the field. Governor Morton, for example, "hired purchasing agents, armed them with state funds, and sent them scouring for supplies" to provide some eight thousand overcoats for soldiers in western Virginia (103).