Though Abraham Lincoln arrived at the White House with no previous military experience, he quickly established himself as the greatest commander in chief in American history. James McPherson illuminates this often misunderstood and profoundly influential aspect of Lincoln's legacy. In essence, Lincoln invented the idea of commander in chief, as neither the Constitution nor existing legislation specified how the president ought to declare war ordictate strategy.
In fact, by assuming the powers we associate with the role of commander in chief, Lincoln often overstepped the narrow band of rights granted the president. Good thing too, because his strategic insight and will tofight changed the course ofthe war and saved the Union.
For most of the conflict, he constantly had to goad his reluctant generals toward battle, and he oversaw strategyand planning for major engagements with the enemy. Lincoln was a self-taught military strategist (as he wasa self-taught lawyer), which makes his adroit conduct of the war seem almost miraculous. To be sure, the Union's campaigns often went awry, sometimes horribly so, but McPherson makes clear how the missteps arose from the all-too-common moments when Lincoln could neither threaten nor cajole his commanders tofollow his orders.
As we approach the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth in 2009, this work provides a genuinely novel, even timely, view of the most written about figure in our history. Tried by War offers a revelatory portrait of leadership duringthe greatest crisis our nation has ever endured. How Lincoln overcame feckless generals, fickle public opinion, and his own paralyzing fears is a story at once suspenseful and inspiring.
©2008 James M. McPherson (P)2008 Penguin Audiobooks