Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
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Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  2,674 ratings  ·  208 reviews
James McPherson, a bestselling historian of the Civil War, illuminates how Lincoln worked with—and often against—his senior commanders to defeat the Confederacy and create the role of commander in chief as we know it.

Though Abraham Lincoln arrived at the White House with no previous military experience (apart from a couple of months spent soldiering in 1832), he quickly e...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 7th 2008 by The Penguin Press (first published 2008)
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The Killer Angels by Michael ShaaraGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBattle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPhersonThe Civil War by Shelby FooteCold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Best Civil War Books
29th out of 510 books — 544 voters
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinLincoln by David Herbert DonaldManhunt by James L. SwansonTried by War by James M. McPhersonLincoln at Gettysburg by Garry Wills
Best Books on Abraham Lincoln
4th out of 73 books — 50 voters

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Karla (Mossy Love Grotto)
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
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...more
Steven Peterson
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...more
Scott Rogers
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...more
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 t...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 ju...more
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 does...more
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 di...more
An obvious topic, I would think. The role of president as commander in chief had not been so vital in Lincoln's time since the days of George Washington. And Lincoln, in large part, would define what that role meant. While Washington played the role as an actual field general, prior to his presidency, Lincoln was unprecedented in his involvement.

Largely self-taught in military theory, Lincoln for much of the Civil War was the driving force behind often irritatingly reluctant generals. A great d...more
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...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
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!
Skuli Saeland
Mér fannst mjög fróðlegt að hlusta á hljóðbókina Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief eftir James M. McPherson. Höfundurinn einsetur sér að skoða hvernig Lincoln stendur sig sem æðsti yfirmaður hers Norðurríkjanna í borgarastríðinu við Suðurríkin 1861-1865. McPherson bendir á í inngangi að yfirstjórn stríðsins hafi verið umfangsmesta svið Lincolns og að enginn Bandaríkjaforseti hafi þurft að glíma við hernað allan sinn stjórnunarferil. Lincoln varð líka að móta hlutverk sitt sem æ...more
Not just a unique look at Lincoln as president, TRIED BY WAR also traces Lincoln’s contribution to testing and defining the role of the president as commander in chief. Bits & pieces from almost 50 years of scholarship come together in a compelling, detailed narrative in which McPherson argues that Lincoln was the first and most complete wartime president.

Starting in April 1861, Lincoln had to build an army almost from the ground up. With no personal experience as a soldier, Lincoln had to l...more
Jeni Enjaian
This book blew me away. It was a breath of fresh air after the "tragedy" that was "The Lincolns:Portrait of a Marriage."

Even if I hadn't suffered through the above-referenced book, I know I would have enjoyed this one for the following reasons.

One, the narrator had a likable, appealing voice and obviously understood his craft. This is a huge deal when it comes to audiobooks.
Two, McPherson took a relatively unique approach to a well-discussed topic. He outlined his thesis well and supported it th...more

“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...more
Nikole Hahn
What spurred me to begin adding history to my extensive monthly reading was two-part: (1) I got tired of just getting by and feeding my brain triviality, and (2) I had read from another author how history can make an author’s writing more in-depth. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief put me in Lincoln’s world.

It’s amazing how similar politically Lincoln’s world was compared to our political world today. His generals in the beginning were flops and had Lincoln added Grant, Sherida...more
Urey Patrick
McPherson looks at an aspect of Lincoln's Presidency that has received little attention in the vast sea of writing about him and his era - his four years as Commander in Chief. It is odd so litle attention has been given to Lincoln as CinC - the shooting started three weeks after he was sworn in, and ended with his assassination four years later. No President has had his time in office so consumed by war, from start to finish... even FDR had almost two terms with no war before Pearl Harbor. McPh...more
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 C...more
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 enthrall...more
The book Tried by War by James M. McPherson was about Abraham Lincoln and what he faced during one of this country's darkest wars. From Fort Sumter the first battle of the civil war to Gettysburg to the siege of Petersburg to the final attack and fall of the rebel capitol in Richmond. Throughout the war he had to make tough choices to hold the Union together like sending supplies to a union fort when the confederates said he couldn't which started the war. He faced extraordinary pressures and a...more
Engaging monograph on Lincoln as commander in chief, instructive as a guide on how to lead in a time of extreme crisis and why Lincoln is our greatest President. McPherson identifies five wartime functions as commander in chief: set policy, define a national strategy, oversee a military strategy to achieve the national strategy, manage operations, and oversee tactics. At the start, he had one goal: preserve the union. Within a couple of years he insisted that victory meant preserving the union a...more
Dean Anderson
James M. McPherson’s “Tried By War: Lincoln as Commander in Chief” focuses on Lincoln as the war time president. The thing I came out really appreciating about the man was his perseverance. Lincoln had to put up with generals who were at turns hardworking and self-serving, farsighted and foolish, brave and cautious.
His greatest frustration was the caution of his generals. Time and again he urges his generals to take the offensive, but they refuse to move until all the men and supplies are in pla...more
General readers should know up front that this is NOT a general history of The Civil War or Abraham Lincoln. For that purpose, I would strongly recommend McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" for the former and David Herbert Donald's "Lincoln" for the latter.

That aside, McPherson ranks at the very top of Civil War historians, and, along with the late Shelby Foote, the best writer for the general reader. Over the years, he has written a series of short, targeted books about various aspects of The W...more
Jul 01, 2010 Lisa rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
Andrew Carr
A great writer on a fascinating subject, and at a good length too. McPherson is a fantastic writer (his Battle Cry of Freedom is the best single volume history of the civil war), and he knows his subject intimately. If you're interested in what the justification for saying Lincoln 'won the war' is, and how he dealt with his generals and thought about the war, or even you just want a short (under 300 pages) very well written read about the civil war, I strongly recommend this.

I had hoped that Mc...more
Bill Simpson
I have just finished this book about Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-chief of the Union armys during the Civil War. The last book I read about Lincoln was A Team of Rivals, which I thought was GREAT, which dealt somewhat with the war and how President Lincoln dealt with all the issues of the war but mostly his cabinet. This book, however, focuses its attention on the role President Lincoln played as hostilities and rebellion occured in the Souther States. First he studied books on military tacti...more
As we are about to elect a new president who greatly admires Abraham Lincoln, Barak Obama will inherit upon his inauguration, the mantle of commander in chief. Yet Lincoln was not much of a soldier. This book is written about the Civil War of the United States, but it's meaning goes far beyond the 1860's and touches modern day. Like Lincoln, our new president will have to deal with a divisive war, an unpopular war, a war not supported by the majority of the people at least in it's infancy. McPhe...more
Like John Lewis Gaddis with the Cold War, James McPherson is more or less the Civil War historian. I picked this up the morning after Obama was elected, figuring it would be at least as relevant as Team of Rivals to understanding some of the historical parallels between Obama's and Lincoln's inaugurations. Even though Lincoln obviously faced much greater challenges upon assuming the presidency, it's hard to imagine any president (maybe except FDR) who's faced as much coming in since Lincoln in 1...more
[Audiobook recording from my public library.]

Like the previous Lincoln book I read (about Lincoln's use of the telegraph as near-instant communication to project his leadership and collect information), this one sets out a focused objective . . . then loses its way in a more general telling of the events of the American Civil War. In this case, however, the author does a better job coming back to his central point, and I think it mostly holds up. Not only was Lincoln thrust into an incredibly di...more
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English 11 4 A/C: Tried by War 1 5 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.

More about James M. McPherson...
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam Abraham Lincoln: A Presidential Life

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