William Marvel’s Lincoln

Brian Dirck expresses some concern over the upcoming Lincoln study by William Marvel and who can blame him. This concern is understandable given Lincoln’s increased visibility lately in reference to the domestic spying controversy. As Dirck notes in his post, a Publisher’s Weekly review suggests that Marvel’s Lincoln is a war-monger who brought about an unnecessary war. It is not surprising that one would immediately predict another shallow study along the lines of Thomas DiLorenzo’s The Real Lincoln. That said, given Marvel’s track record there is reason to be optimistic.

Marvel’s Mr. Lincoln Goes To War promises to be both a good read and thought provoking. His previous books have established him as one of the more talented Civil War historians and his range is quite impressive. For example, Marvel’s biography of Burnside was the first serious re-examination of this controversial Union general. In many ways what Marvel did for Burnside is what Ethan Rafuse has done more recently for McClellan’s reputation. His Andersonville study challenged a number of long-standing myths; indeed, Marvel has a talent for writing books that force readers to step back and think about those traditional stories and assumptions that are so popular for Civil War enthusiasts. More recently, Marvel tackled a social history of Appomattox Court House and followed it up with an excellent study of the Appomattox Campaign. At times perhaps Marvel goes too far. I recently heard a talk by former Appomattox Court House historian Ron Wilson who suggested that Marvel misread the evidence which was used to conclude that the famous salute between Joshua L. Chamberlain and John B. Gordon never occurred. Whatever the case may be Marvel rarely disappoints. This upcoming release should be interesting as it represents a step in a new direction.

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