Edited by Harold Holzer
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011, 306 pp. + 28 pp. introduction, $24.95
Image courtesy of amazon.com
In the studies of Abraham Lincoln, the name of Harold Holzer stands tall among other historians. He has written more books about Lincoln than any other author in our generation. This work, Lincoln on War is a compilation of the many statements Lincoln had made on the subject of war throughout his career. These installments have been edited by Mr. Holzer and organized into sections of his pre-presidential career and then into small areas of his presidency going all the way to his death. However, this work sometimes falls flat and the editorials of Mr. Holzer is lacking in details.
Harold Holzer is one of the country’s leading historians on Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War era. He is the recipient of numerous awards including the National Humanities Medal. He has written for numerous publications such as The New York Times, American Heritage and America’s Civil War. Some of his previous works have been Lincoln at Cooper Union, The Battle at Hampton Roads with Tim Mulligan and his newest work Lincoln and the Press which has just won recent Lincoln Prize. Holzer has also served as the chairman of the United States Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation.
When I picked this book up, I’m not sure what I was expecting. I had hoped that this would be a coherent analysis from an editorial standpoint on the works of Lincoln concerning both the Civil War and war as a subject itself. In the end, many of these little speeches and quibs tended to be nothing but just responses for what had recently happened. There is no analysis on what Lincoln truly thought about war in general. One of the examples in the work is a letter to Pennsylvania governor Andrew Curtain about readying the state of Pennsylvania for war in 1861. The statement is only one line of text and while that is important to the defense of the state, it has nothing to do with Lincoln and his thoughts on war. What does a simple one sentence statement make about Lincoln’s thoughts on war and, more importantly, what does it have to do with the subtitle of the work? I think, had this book been marketed differently, that it should have been labelled as the subtitle of the work compiled of speeches of Lincoln speaking to the people. When editorials throughout the text are offered, they do little to add to the discussion about Lincoln and the fight for the Union. Some of the editorials only go so far to introduce the text and give a small context on what is going on.
There are a handful of historians in the realm of the American Civil War who feel that they are no longer answerable to anyone due to the pedigree of the work which has come before. I really enjoy some of Harold Holzer’s works, but this book straddles the edge of what is reasonable to put into a book. There is a feeling that maybe Holzer wanted to compile a collection of letters and speeches which he liked and put them together. Writing such as this comes off as lazy in the larger scheme of things and there is hope from this Civil War reviewer that his new book strives to perfect his career on Lincoln and erase the stain of Lincoln on War. I do not recommend this book to anyone interested in Abraham Lincoln or the Civil War because most of the text within the book has already been mentioned in better cohesive collections of Lincoln’s work.