by Noah Andre Trudeau
El Dorado Hills: Savas Beatie, 2016. Pp. xiv, 340.
Illus., maps, appends., notes, biblio., index. $32.95. ISBN: 1611213266
Lincoln at the Front in the Closing Days of the War
Trudeau, author of Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, and other books on the Civil War, as well as a number of with a particular interest in its final period, who has also produce a number of excellent NPR programs on the conflict, offers what is the most comprehensive and insightful account of Lincoln’s visit to the front at Petersburg and Richmond in closing weeks of the war.
During what was his longest stay away from the White House during his presidency, Lincoln planned strategy with generals and admirals, notably U.S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and David Dixon Porter. He also reviewed some of the troops the Army of the Potomac, even as Robert E. Lee made his final bid to break the Union siege with his futile attack at Fort Stedman. Lincoln witnessed operations on land and water, was present at the breakout from the Petersburg lines, and then visited Richmond soon after it fell into Union hands.
Trudeau’s treatment of the presidential stay at the front, based on an exhaustive sifting of evidence from numerous official documents, letters, diaries, and reminiscences, is quite detailed, despite which he omits a number of amusing anecdotes preserved most notably by David Porter, on whose flagship the President several nights. Trudeau’s account of Lincoln’s two visits to Richmond is particularly good, as he sorts through conflicting eyewitness accounts, offering us a fine example of how careful analysis can draw reliable evidence from seemingly irreconcilable sources.
A few minor bloopers aside (e.g., a reference to the Oval Office, only built in 1909), Lincoln’s Greatest Journey is an outstanding work.
Note: Lincoln’s Greatest Journey is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-1-6112-1327-0