August 08, 2017

The life of an architect of the Civil War

By Walter Stahr
Review by

In his compelling Stanton: Lincoln's War Secretary, Walter Stahr explores the life and work of this powerful man.

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Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln's secretary of war, was very controversial. An effective administrator even while working under great pressure, he was lauded as crucial to the Union's success during the Civil War and for his leadership in initiating the Freedmen's Bureau. But he was criticized for his judgment, including the arrest and imprisonment of thousands for alleged "war crimes." Although they were not close friends, Lincoln spent more working time with Stanton than with any other cabinet member. One of Lincoln's private secretaries wrote that Lincoln "loved" and "trusted" Stanton and supported him despite withering attacks on some of his decisions.

In his compelling Stanton: Lincoln's War Secretary, Walter Stahr explores the life and work of this powerful man who was described by Lincoln's secretary of state, William Seward, as "good-hearted, devoted, patriotic," and "irritable, capricious, uncomfortable," who could be rude to everyone. Stanton was a surprise choice for the position when he was named the administration's second secretary of war, in 1861. One of the top lawyers in the country, he was a Democrat who served briefly as attorney general in President James Buchanan's administration. Among his primary responsibilities for Lincoln: persuade Congress to provide needed military funds; work effectively with governors who were responsible for army recruitment; cultivate editors and reporters because of the importance of public opinion; work with the president and generals on effective military strategy; and cooperate with other cabinet members on policy.

Stahr describes in detail the major role Stanton played after Lincoln was shot. A doctor attending Lincoln said that after the assassination, Stanton became "in reality the acting president of the United States." He took steps to protect the district and government leaders, informed military leaders and the press about Lincoln's death, and initiated the manhunt for the killer. Loyal to Lincoln's policies, after the war Stanton's differences with Andrew Johnson over policy implementation led to the latter's impeachment trial.

Stahr, author of the critically acclaimed and bestselling Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man, knows the Lincoln presidency well, and this new book brings vividly to life an often overlooked figure who made major contributions to the Lincoln presidency.

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By Walter Stahr
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781476739304

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