cover image Lincoln on War: Our Greatest Commander-in-Chief Speaks to America

Lincoln on War: Our Greatest Commander-in-Chief Speaks to America

Edited by Harold Holzer. Algonquin, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-56512-378-6

Lincoln scholar Holzer assembles a valuable collection of letters, speeches, and casual observations of 16th president on the nature of war and the battles that defined his presidency. Dating from the years of Lincoln's brief military service to the day of his assassination, many of Lincoln's commentaries continue to resonate today. As a congressman, Lincoln was a passionate opponent of the Mexican-American War and chided President James Polk for not having an exit strategy and his unilateral decision making. However, the Civil War forced Lincoln to make the same sort of autocratic decisions that he had once criticized; he did not hesitate, for instance, to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Lincoln had a sophisticated understanding of military strategy and his well-known exasperation with Gen. George McClellan is on full display here, as McClellan's avoidance of battle eventually forced Lincoln to relieve him of duty. Holzer does a splendid job of introducing and explaining texts, particularly those involving slavery. Lincoln shrewdly used emancipation as both a political and military tool before fully developing his plan to recruit African-Americans into the war effort. This compact and powerful volume is a dramatic account of the most decisive conflict in the American history in the words of its principal architect, and is long overdue. Photos. (Apr.)