The University of North Carolina Press, 2015, 614 pp. + 18pp. introduction, $35.00
Image courtesy of amazon.com
When it comes to Civil War biography, there is no one more delved into than President Lincoln. The same, however, cannot be said for the members of his cabinet. Even one hundred and fifty years later, the members who surrounded Lincoln have not gotten the scholarly treatment which they deserved and instead have been subjugated to be analyzed within the fabric of a Lincoln biography. In William Marvel’s book Lincoln’s Autocrat, a full analysis of the life of Edwin Stanton is finally given for the modern Civil War historian. Throughout the pages, the career of the lawyer turned Secretary of War shines and gives some insight into the decisions which he made in his tenure in the cabinet.
William Marvel is no stranger to readers of Civil War academia. Many of his other works include A Place Called Appomattox, Andersonville: The Last Depot, Lincoln’s Darkest Year, and Tarnished Victory. Marvel has also written what many consider to be the best one volume biography on Ambrose Burnside simply called Burnside. This biography on Edwin Stanton is also part of the Civil War America series which is printed by The University of North Carolina Press. It is a series which publishes works about the social, political and militaristic aspects of the Civil War.
Within the opening lines of the introduction, Marvel states that this work is only the fifth biography in one hundred and fifty years to focus on Stanton in full. For such an interesting character as Stanton was in his lifetime, it was surprising to me to hear that so little had been written about this man. As I read through the work, I was astounded at what I had never known before about Stanton and his career before the Civil War. As stated before, you can see some of the events in his life before the war which helped to aid his decisions as a cabinet member. The book itself is a wealth of information which cannot even be rivaled by the most intricate of Lincoln biographies. What Marvel has done in this work can easily be considered one of the best biographies to come out in the recent years. There have been other works which focus on Stanton as a scoundrel and allow history to paint him in a poor light. Here, Marvel showed us Stanton the human giving us sound proof for the reasoning which he had due to his past and his times.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the American Civil War. To have a book like this about Stanton gives readers a different look into the way in which the war was fought and handled. The descriptions and research of Stanton after the war gives readers of this period something new to see in the man whom history has largely ignored. This should be considered the definitive biography on Stanton and should stand as a classic of academia not only in the Civil War genre, but the biographical style as well. Incredibly researched, amazingly written and packed to the seams with information, Lincoln’s Autocrat should be on the shelf of every Civil War historian.