In the summer of 1864, the American Civil War had been dragging on for over three years with no end in sight. Things had not gone well for the Union, and the public blamed the president for the stalemate against the Confederacy and for the appalling numbers of killed and wounded. Lincoln was thoroughly convinced that without a favorable change in the trajectory of the war he would have no chance of winning a second term against former Union general George B. McClellan, whom he had previously dismissed as commander of the Army of the Potomac.
This vivid, engrossing account of a critical year in American history examines the events of 1864, when the course of American history might have taken a radically different direction. It’s no exaggeration to say that if McClellan had won the election, everything would have been different—McClellan and the Democrats planned to end the war immediately, grant the South its independence, and let the Confederacy keep its slaves. What were the crucial factors that in the end swung public sentiment in favor of Lincoln? Johnson focuses on the battlefield campaigns of Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. While Grant was waging a war of attrition with superior manpower against the quick and elusive rebel forces under General Robert E. Lee, Sherman was fighting a protracted battle in Georgia against Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston. But then the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, made a tactical error that would change the whole course of the war.
This lively narrative, full of intriguing historical facts, brings to life an important series of episodes in our nation’s history. History and Civil War buffs will not want to put down this real-life page-turner.
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David Alan Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of many popular histories, including Betrayal: The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the Nazi Saboteurs, Righteous Deception: German Officers against Hitler, Union (Images of America Series), and seven other books.From Booklist:
The summer of 1864 marked the nadir of Northern confidence in victory, as Civil War buffs generally know from works like Charles Bracelen Flood’s 1864 (2009). Candidates who tapped into war weariness and angled to replace Lincoln, such as Salmon Chase, John Frémont, and George McClellan, are among the cast in this rendition of the interaction between political and military events that eventuated in the incumbent’s reelection. Johnson writes of battles, party conventions, and newspapers’ reflections of voters’ sentiment in a popular manner that flows well and is not overly scholarly. Dispensing motes of opinion and counterfactual observations (his epilogue traces American “history” following McClellan’s presidency), Johnson will appeal to the what-if aspect of Civil War discussion that animates debaters. The crucial contingent event, he argues, was the replacement of Confederate general Joseph Johnston by John Bell Hood, whose defeats are detailed in The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta (2010), by Gary Ecelbarger. With lively narration of Union victories at Mobile and the Shenandoah Valley, Johnson delivers a readable account of the unlikely revival of Lincoln’s electoral prospects. --Gilbert Taylor
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