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Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  3,898 Ratings  ·  257 Reviews
Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, by McPherson, James M.
Hardcover, 329 pages
Published October 7th 2008 by The Penguin Press (first published 2008)
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I thought this was a good companion history to Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Whereas that one delves into Lincoln's relationship with his fractious cabinet, McPherson's is a chronological history of Lincoln's interactions with his generals. After reading this, I thought "No wonder he aged so much while in office!" The fact that some of his generals were fiercely incompetent, thereby needlessly racheting up the casualties, had to work on the guy's mind and con ...more
Steven Peterson
Jun 18, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
This book, well written, is authored by the eminent historian James McPherson. The focus is plainly stated at the outset (Page xiv): "In the vast literature on our sixteenth president, however, the amount of attention devoted to his role as commander in chief is disproportionately smaller than the actual percentage of time he spent on that task."

Lincoln's own military experience was slender, his 1832 service in the militia. However, as McPherson puts it (Page 5), he was ". . .a more hands-on co
Jan 08, 2009 Michael rated it it was amazing
Mr McPherson has presented a very different view of the genius that was Lincoln. Now known for his emancipation proclaimation, Lincoln did not advance freeing the slaves as his first priority during his administration. Instead, his driving ambition was union, and he was willing to fight to save the Union.

As the civil war progressed, the President and the Union Army suffered several discouraging losses and in fact were near defeat in 1862-3. As a military tactic, Lincoln first declared slaves as
Scott Rogers
Dec 04, 2008 Scott Rogers rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Disappointing; the book offers far too much linear, chronological narrative, and far too little thematic analysis of Lincoln's performance, his decisionmaking, and his evolution as a wartime commander-in-chief. This is an adequate work of introductory popular history, but there is little here of any value to anyone who is even glancingly familiar with Lincoln's presidency or the conduct of the Union war effort.

On the plus side, the book does offer a surprisingly sympathetic, though still devast
Gary Hoggatt
Both Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War have seen countless books devoted to them, from general biographies or histories to entire books focused on single speeches by Lincoln or single battles of the war. So, the idea of a book narrowly focused on Abraham Lincoln in his role as Commander in Chief is a good one, with a great deal of potential to take a unique view of Lincoln and the war. Unfortunately, in James M. McPherson's 2008 volume Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, he ...more
Jun 17, 2014 Steve rated it really liked it

“Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief” is James McPherson’s 2008 biography focused on Lincoln’s role as the nation’s chief military strategist and tactician during the Civil War. McPherson is a historian, Professor Emeritus of History at Princeton University and a prolific author. His most notable work is “Battle Cry of Freedom” (the standard one-volume history of the Civil War) for which he received a Pulitzer Prize in 1989.

In the book’s pr
May 17, 2010 Thomas rated it it was ok
Billed as one of the few Lincoln studies to focus on the 16th President as Commander in Chief, the book really offers little new information. I had hoped to learn much more about what shaped Lincoln's military thinking. For example, his trips to the Library of Congress to study strategy and tactics are legendary. But what did he study? Who were his confidants and mentors? How did he develop the suggested strategies he gave to his generals, especially early in the war, and how might we evaluate ...more
Feb 16, 2009 Robert added it
Enjoyed this more than I thought I might. I've always been interested in Lincoln - even before the recent Obama related surge - but never been much of a Civil War buff. The book gave a great chronological sketch of the various leadership styles and strengths not just of Lincoln but other important players. Discussions include McLellan, Grant, Lee and other well know historical generals and other principals. Highly recommended for those intersted in seeing the various sides of Lincoln i.e. not ...more
Jan 09, 2015 Jill rated it really liked it
If your own life does not offer frustrations to irritate you beyond reason, you can read this account of what Lincoln had to endure with his generals during the Civil War, most notably George McClellan.

McClellan didn’t seem too interested in engaging the army of which he had command, but he was so popular with his troops that Lincoln feared mutiny if he dismissed McClellan. McClellan also had overwhelming and enthusiastic support among Democrats. Therefore, Lincoln decided he had better put up w
Zena Ryder
Oct 11, 2014 Zena Ryder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great, readable book on Lincoln as commander in chief. I really felt for him as he tried to get general after general to actually fight this war and get it over and done with. In particular, the mystery of McClellan and how long Lincoln put up with him becomes a little more understandable in this book. (He was charismatic and likeable; and he was hard to replace — even if there had been a decent, available general — because his soldiers adored him.) But I suspect that without knowing McClellan ...more
Jan 16, 2009 Stephanie rated it liked it
This book was a little bit difficult to get through at times, but I learned a ton. I felt like I was in a history class again in college. Unlike many other Lincoln books, this book focuses solely on his Civil Wars years. I had no idea that he almost wasn't reelected in 1864 or had to read books about military strategy so that he could help his generals fight a better war. Lincoln had to fire so many generals before he finally stopped with General Grant with less than a year left in the war. I ...more
Jul 18, 2016 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: civil-war
In Tried By War, James McPherson focuses on Lincoln's role as commander in chief and the military decisions he made throughout the war. This book gives an overall picture of how the war progressed and covers some of the major battles in very broad brush strokes. It explains how Lincoln took a very active role in the strategic planning of the major campaigns during much of the war due to the incompetence of many of his generals. If you already have a good understanding of the Civil War, this book ...more
Nov 24, 2014 Nick rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's really interesting to hear Lincoln's administration described from this standpoint. I think the author is right that many other works either focus on the political aspects of the administration, or focus on the army and key battles. But I don't think I've ever come across a book that takes such a high level view of the strategy involved in fighting the civil war and how active Lincoln himself had to be in administering the war. Definitely gained some new insights into both Lincoln and the ...more
My husband Jeremy picked this book for me. I learned a ton about the Civil War and particularly Lincoln's role as commander in chief. McPherson's writing style is very easy to read for those of us who aren't historians. His ideas were clear and concise, and I often found myself saying, "Hey, I didn't know that!" I'm sure Jeremy will be excited that I have more of a base knowledge about his field.

SBC - book your DH picked for you
Jul 01, 2009 Tripp rated it really liked it
Written by the leading popular authority on the Civil War, this is a concise study of Lincoln as military commander. This is not a military history, but a easy to understand study in civil-military relations. It is easy enough for the uninitiated, but also helpful to fans who want to understand why Lincoln put up with the incompetents as long as he did.
Another biography of Abraham Lincoln but with an emphasis on his leadership and his role as commander in chief of the military. McPherson rightly points out that keeping his generals in line and in running the war was how Lincoln spent most of his time, and thus our scholarship of Lincoln should also focus there too.
Sep 11, 2010 ML rated it really liked it
Abraham Lincoln as military strategist and Commander-in-Chief! I can't believe that I was fascinated by military strategy - but the story of Lincoln's military expertise is skillfully told by McPherson and my respect for this remarkable President continues to grow!
Dec 02, 2016 Rahni rated it it was ok
Packed with minutiae about the struggle for Lincoln to direct his (often) reluctant and excuse-ridden commanders to follow his battle plans and vision for victory, this book helped me to understand that I will never have a high level of interest in the area of the Civil War. It was extremely detailed and VERY well-researched, but the last two thirds of the book have no narrative appeal--it's almost just a list of details about who was thought to be put in command, who actually was, what a poor ...more
Nov 18, 2016 George rated it really liked it
Shelves: overdrive
This book is about Lincoln and his relationship with the Generals who ran the civil war for him. It also contains some politics and some necessary detail on the battles. I was surprised at his tactical involvement in military operations, to the point of participating on the battlefield. The theme, I thought, was about the balky McClellan, who just wouldn't fight--to the point of insubordination. National, strategic thought is evident, also as Lincoln mulls through the conditions for surrender. ...more
Nov 21, 2016 Joshua rated it it was amazing
The focus of this book is solely on Lincoln as Commander in Chief. His countless hours studying military strategy and tactics and his hands on approach to running the war against the traitorous South. Without Lincoln, Grant, and Sherman, the United States would not have survived as we know it and slavery would have survived far longer than it did.
William Axelson
Nov 07, 2016 William Axelson rated it really liked it
Very good look at Lincoln as Commander in Chief. I learned a few new things.
Oct 15, 2016 Timothy rated it liked it
It took me longer than usual to finish this book. I very much enjoyed the focus on Lincoln's role as Commander in Chief -- despite the Civil War being the primary event of Lincoln's entire presidency, I knew very little of his role as commander in chief aside from the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. McPherson does an excellent job of weaving together the political and military pressures that influenced Lincoln's actions, albeit in a somewhat difficult to follow chronology. This book ...more
Bill F.
James McPherson - whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom has become one of the great studies of the Civil War era - focuses on Abraham Lincoln as commander-in-chief. Citing a dearth of such studies in the Lincoln historiography, McPherson concentrates on the day-to-day military leadership Lincoln provided to what seemed to be a never-ending line of big-talking do-nothing generals.

One of the main premises of the book is that Lincoln was forced into taking a far more active role in mil
Jul 01, 2010 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
I just completed the audio version of this book while riding around doing my job. There were many tracks which I had to listen to multiple times because I would become distracted by other thoughts or driving conditions. This was especially true when it came to battle strategy. I think I listened to the battle of Chancellorville about 12 times, trying to picture Lee's left flank, right flank, the river, the pontoon bridge, etc... Just when I figured out my right from my left the terminology would ...more
May 22, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
Unlike most biographies of Lincoln or histories of the Civil War, James McPherson has concentrated this history of Lincoln almost solely on his conduct as Commander-in-Chief of the Union armies during the Civil War. With this book, McPherson has made an important contribution to the study of the Civil War.

Lincoln had absolutely no military education or experience prior to assuming the Presidency, except in his own words, "fighting the mosquitoes" during the Black Hawk War in the 1830's. As Presi
Jan 15, 2015 Leew49 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
At the outset of the American Civil War, Lincoln had no military experience other than what proved to be a combat-free captain of militia during the Blackhawk War. He was, however, a deliberate and thorough student of any subject that interested him, and, in his role of Commander in Chief, believed it imperative that he develop a complete and accurate knowledge of military tactics and strategy.

At first Lincoln deferred to the more experienced and respected professional soldiers, but as he becam
Ross Rawnsley
Sep 24, 2016 Ross Rawnsley rated it really liked it
Outstanding piece of literature. As I listened, I was amazed that the Union was actually able to win the war considering the incompetence (bordering on treason) of most of Lincoln's generals.

What Lincoln did to make victory possible was positively extraordinary! McPherson does an excellent job of showing the president to be a master politician and an effective strategist. He makes the point (among many) that the Union may have been able to shorten the war if Lincoln's generals had listened to h
Erik Blad
Sep 27, 2016 Erik Blad rated it it was amazing
Truly definitive account of Lincoln as commander - in - chief .
Apr 21, 2012 Jim rated it liked it
This book traces the evolution of Abraham Lincoln's role as Commander in Chief during the Civil War. He expanded this role well beyond Madison's role in the War of 1812 and Polk's role during the Mexican War. Lincoln justified his actions such as suspending the right of habeas corpus, detaining civilians w/o trial or subjecting them to military trials under his war powers. These actions were criticized then and later as being unconstitutional. But, for the most part, his actions were upheld by ...more
Sep 29, 2012 Kim rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I checked it out of the library and loved it so much I went straight to Costco and bought it. Of the many biographies and other Lincoln themed books, this one was quite different in that it addresses Lincoln's "leadership" during the greatest crisis our young nation had endured. He came to the White House with no military experience and through an iron will and tenaciousness at "learning" how to be a Commander in Chief....ultimately saved the Union. I was ...more
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English 11 4 A/C: Tried by War 1 6 Nov 30, 2012 08:09PM  
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James M. McPherson (born October 11, 1936) is an American Civil War historian, and is the George Henry Davis '86 Professor Emeritus of United States History at Princeton University. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Battle Cry of Freedom, his most famous book. He was the president of the American Historical Association in 2003, and is a member of the editorial board of Encyclopædia Britannica.

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“As a Virginian, Scott deplored the cry of many Republican politicians and newspapers for an invasion to “crush the rebels.” Even if successful, he wrote, an invasion would produce “fifteen devastated provinces [that is, the slave states] not to be brought into harmony with their conquerors, but to be held for generations, by heavy garrisons.” 0 likes
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