Book Review: 1863: Lincoln's Pivotal Year


by Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard, editors

Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1846. Pp. xii, 200. Illus., diag., appends., notes, index. $32.98. ISBN: 978-0-8093-3246-5

The President and the Civil War at the Tipping Point

This anthology, edited by Lincoln scholars Holzer and Gabbard, includes ten essays that discuss the several ways in which the events in 1863 were the most significant for the outcome of the Civil War and its effects on American society.

After a thoughtful introduction by Harold Holzer on the memory and history, the book opens with an essay on domestic and foreign reactions to the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1st of that year, a significant exercise of the president’s war powers which dealt several blows to the Confederacy, which offering up a new and powerful war aim to support and supplement the preservation of the Union. This is followed by one on Lincoln’s use – some would say abuse – of the war powers to suspend habeas corpus and create military tribunals, complex measures that were in fact much less draconian than is often argued, particularly by Confederate apologists.

Naval historian Craig Symonds then contributes an essay on how Lincoln came to understand the importance of naval forces – in his words “Uncle Sam’s web feet” -- and of “jointness”, a concept unknown at the time.

Historian of the New York “Draft Riots” Barnet Schecter contributes a paper on the introduction of conscription by the Union and the often violent responses to it, another subject often over stressed by Confederate sympathizers, happily neglecting similar response to the draft in the South.

Catherine Clinton offers a sympathetic essay on the trials and tribulations of the Lincoln family during the year, as, still in mourning for the death of their son Willy the previous year, they also contended with that of Mrs. Lincoln’s brother-in-law, killed fighting for the South, and other stresses imposed by the war.

Military historians John F. Marszalek and Michael B. Ballard follow with a paper on the war in 1863, focused on the two signal victories of that year, Gettysburg and Vicksburg, with a discussion of why these were insufficient to end the war quickly.

The final four essays deal with the importance of photography to an understanding of events, a general overview of the course of the war that year, the impact and history of the Gettysburg address, and the uses of Lincoln’s image by his friends and foes.

The volume includes appendices that offer an interesting essay contrasting the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg address and a timeline of the events of the year.

Some minor issues aside, such as the absence of maps, all of the essays are though provoking, and 1863: Lincoln’s Pivotal Year is a worthwhile read for anyone seriously interested in the Civil War or Lincoln.


Note: 1863: Lincoln’s Pivotal Year is also available in several e-editions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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