LINCOLN AND CHURCHILL/ STATESMEN AT WAR

Historian Lewis Lehrman compares the  leadership of  Winston  Churchill and Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and World War II.  LINCOLN & CHURCHILL STATESMEN AT WAR delves heavily into  comparisons of their respective personalities, management of subordinates, personal habits and military expertise.

Much of  Lehrman’s subject has been well documented by a plethora of historians and the reader will find that the emphasis of this book clearly lies with Churchill. He does draw a very insightful polemic  comparison between Churchill  as wartime Prime Minister and  Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief.  A clear commonality is that both men weaponized  language as a decisive element in their ultimate victories.

Don’t look for descriptions of battles.  This book is about the grand strategy of war and how individual personality and persona influences outcomes.

 

THE FATEFUL LIGHTNING—JEFF SHAARA

Jeff Shaara’s last installment in his Civil War series is the story  of William Tecumseh Sherman, and the final eight months of the war. The Fateful Lightning picks up Sherman’s march immediately after the sacking of Atlanta and follows his army through Georgia and the Carolinas.

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There is little middle ground in the world of Civil War analysis regarding Sherman. The general is either hated as savage and brutal or respected as the finest battlefield commander of the war.  The Fateful Lightning, through Shaara’s use of the historical novel, brings a semblance  of balance to the Sherman legacy. Shaara’s  research is excellent.

Like all of Shaara’s  writing, using the vehicle of the novel, the key players are humanized. The genre also allows for the creation of fictional characters to flush out the story line. In this case a young slave, freed by Sherman’s march is among the thousands of  former slaves who follow Sherman’s army of liberation as it heads north, taking them away from their masters and plantations.  The story of freed slaves following the Union Army is also well told in another book, E.L. Doctorow’s The March.  Search gordonsgoodreads for an overview.

I also recommend the other three books in Shaara’s series.  A Blaze of Glory,  A Chain of Thunder, and The Smoke at Dawn. You will find my overviews of them here at gordonsgood reads. 

Shaara also wrote Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s The Killer Angels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNION-ULYSSES GRANT IN WAR AND PEACE

In the excitement of  the release of  the Steven Spielberg  movie Lincoln, I have coincidentally just completed H.W. Brands’ The Man Who Saved The Union , Ulysses Grant in War and Peace.  Grant, not Lincoln, the man who saved the union?  On the surface, the book’s title is a dichotomy of  enormous proportion. In reality, Grant accomplished much of Lincoln’s vision and the movie Lincoln  should encourage renewed interest in the presidency of Ulysses Grant.

Historian Brands takes nothing away from the great emancipator. To the contrary, he highlights Lincoln’s wisdom in plucking Grant from the western theater of the Civil War and rapidly promoting him to command all Union forces.  Brands forcefully makes the case for Lincoln’s stubborn confidence in General Grant amid repeated periods of doubt, chaos and defeat. Following the war, Lincoln relied on General Grant to carry out the challenge of reconstruction it’s the South including its return to civil order.

Spielberg’s  Lincoln, is based in part of Doris Kerns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals.  Brands’ biography of Grant portrays how together, two of the greatest figures in American history, Lincoln and Grant, crafted an outcome that did indeed preserve the union. Ironically, through an act of fate, it was the hand-picked military general who carried out the brilliant politicians foresight. The movie Lincoln, and the books Team of Rivals and The Man Who Saved The Union embrace the same cast of historical figures.  Following a biographical review of Grant’s early and then wartime years, Brands continues his narrative after Lincoln’s assassination and the debacle of Andrew Johnson’s ascension to the presidency, leading to Grant’s election as president.

Brands leaves no doubt that General Grant, as the overseer of reconstruction while Johnson was president, used every tool within his power as commanding general, to carry out Lincoln’s philosophy toward bringing the rebel states back into the union. Grant’s zeal was equal to Lincoln’s regarding equality and the rights of full-citizenship for the recently emancipated slaves, while at the same time finding the way to keep the Southern States in The Union.   Lincoln ‘s death and the Johnson presidency made the task nearly impossible.  It was during this period that Grant came to fully understand and embrace Lincoln’s intellect which laid the foundation  for a Grant presidency that would bring into fruition Lincoln’s dream.

General Ulysses Grant, the man who disavowed politics and  as General in Chief refused an office in Washington, casts aside his disdain for public office and accepts the nomination of the Republican Party for President of the United States. It is Grant who carries forth the Lincoln legacy by navigating  passage of the, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution through a bitterly divided congress.  In order, these amendments granted equal citizenship under the U.S. Constitution and created the voting rights act.  Brands details Grant’s deft handling of reconstruction during his two terms in the White House utilizing diplomacy and the military to neutralize the Klu Klux Clan and other White Citizens Organizations.  You see in Grant’s ability do deal with the disparate forces in congress much of the same political savvy wielded  by Lyndon Johnson over a half century later!

I caution readers not to look here for a battlefield  history of the Civil War although there is substantial detail on the capture by Grant of Fort Donelson and Fort Henry in the west and the epic battle at Spotsylvania in Virginia.  While the military overview of the war is complete, this book is mainly about Grant, the man, the general and the president.  You will find many of Lincoln’s Team of Rivals still in play while Grant begins his ascendency and assumes the presidency.

Team of Rivals by Doris Kerns Goodwin is an obvious read before seeing Lincoln.  The Man Who Saved The Union by H.W. Brands is a must sequel.  Brands is also the author of the great FDR biography Traitor to his Class.

WikiLeaks,The Brooklyn Bridge,Suspension

The New York Times revealed on Wednesday April 26th that the latest WikiLeaks distribution tells a story of plots to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge. “Al Qaeda has long had a fascination with suspension bridges, especially the Brooklyn Bridge. New documents reveal that before Sept. 11, 2001, methods for bringing down bridges were being taught at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, ” says the Times.

The longer I write this blog the more flashbacks I have to books I have read that connect with current events.  If you are interested in reading of terrorist plots, sabotage and sophisticated murder mysteries written on the level of Caleb Carr and wish at the same time to connect with the glorious history and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge I commend Suspension, a novel by Richard Crabbe. You will also discover an important Civil War connection with the bridge.

Written in 2010, Crabbe builds his story around a murder mystery that leads to a plot to sabotage the bridge by seven former Confederate soldiers who labored for years to hatch a plot to destroy the bridge because of a deep hatred for the Yankees who vanquished them in the Civil War. The Brooklyn Bridge?  Of Course! Washington Roebling the son of  Brooklyn Bridge designer John Roebling was placed in charge of the project upon the death of his father.  Washington Roebling was a distinguished Union Army Civil War officer having served with particular distinction at the Battle of  Gettysburg.  Thus Roebling’s ” Yankee-Bridge” became an even more meaningful target!

A wonderful mystery with vivid details on the construction and history of the most famous bridge in the world. Crabbe’s first novel qualifies as excellent in both plot and storytelling.

Civil War/ Lincoln Assassination/ Anniversary Week

Today, April 12, marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War with the firing on Fort Sumter, South Carolina.  April 15, Friday, marks the 146 anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  Earlier this week I commended to you Jay Winik’s April 1865,  an important work of non-fiction on the assassination and the tumultuous period that followed.

Hundreds of volumes have been written on the Civil War. On this anniversary I suggest to you three writings of fiction that I believe will give the reader the most vivid portrait of this monumental period in American History.  If you choose to read them all, I would suggest the following order.  Jeff Shaara’s  Gods & Generals, Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels ( The battle at Gettysburgand then Jeff Shaara’s The Last Full Measure. Jeff Shaara is the son of Michael Shaara.

These three historical novels describe the Civil War from the viewpoint of those who fought in and directed the great battles.  You will be present at the siege of Richmond, at Pickett’s Charge and on Little Round Top with the 20th Maine at Gettysburg and at the  Confederate surrender at Appomattox Courthouse .

The knowledge of the Civil War that you will gain from these three works of historical fiction is  priceless!

A Surprise President’s Week Finale. GRANT!

It would have been easy to wrap up my President’s  week blog with a most deserving biography, Truman by David McCullough. Few could question that salute. However,  Jean Edward Smith author of GRANT  will get the honor of closing out President’s Week.  Smith’s work is a remarkable eye opener and a re-evaluation of  General in Chief Grant and President Grant. 

 Lovers of history understand that time often serves former presidents better than the present.  Then again, history is not a science but rather observations of mortals.  Smith’s full-scale biography of Grant sheds tremendous perspective regarding  his accomplishments on the battlefield and as the first two term president since Andrew Jackson. The detailed study of Grant’s childhood and early life provide the framework for this great piece of historical writing.

I must admit that before tackling Grant I had somewhat of a dim view of his presidency based  in great part upon popular conceptions.  What Jean Edward Smith accomplished so well in this biography was to reconcile many of these popular views with the facts. As just one example, few would remember that following the disastrous Andrew Johnson term after Lincoln’s assassination, Grant did more to help Reconstruction than anyone and the same was true for his efforts to enforce constitutional freedoms to the newly freed slaves as American  Citizens.  In retrospect, Grant’s accomplishments as president are outlined as remarkable as his on the battlefield!

If you love American History,  you will do yourself a great favor  by heading for the library or Amazon. Not only is GRANT  the story of his presidency but it is a battle by battle description of Grant’s  skilful leadership during the Civil War. Jean Edward Smith is a scholar and you will come away from his book  with a scholarly view of Grant at this important time and place in American History.