Tarnished Victory: Finishing Lincoln’s War

William Marvel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35 (480p) ISBN 978-0-547-42806-2
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Pointless bloodshed and moral squalor suffuse this somber, cynical climax to the author’s multivolume revisionist history of the Civil War. Marvel (The Great Task Remaining), a Lincoln Prize winner, depicts the last year of the Union war effort as a quagmire of war-weariness, shirking and bumbling generalship that wasted lives on a massive scale. Amid a fluent narrative of campaigns and political developments, the author focuses on darker corners: Northern draft evasion and mercenary recruits; Republican suppression of antiwar sentiment; the horrors at the Confederate Andersonville prison camp, which he blames as much on Union callousness in refusing prisoner exchanges as on Confederate misconduct. And Marvel dwells on the ordeal of the Army of the Potomac: bled white during Grant’s assaults against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia—Marvel’s portrait of Grant and his army is unremittingly negative—it degenerates into a mob of gun-shy recruits officered by cowardly drunks. Marvel’s account of the year’s smaller engagements is unusually full and insightful, and his emphasis on the war’s seamier side is an important corrective. But his book’s limited perspective—we see little of the South’s moral breakdown—and conclusion that Lincoln’s war was a futile and misguided crusade that did not even meaningfully emancipate Southern blacks seems one-sided and ill-judged. 32 b&w illus.; 6 maps. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
Open Ebook - 512 pages - 978-0-547-60779-5
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