Book Review: Lincoln and California: The President, the War, and the Golden State


by Brian McGinty

Lincoln: Potomac Book / Nebraska, 2023. Pp. xviii, 246+. Illus., chron., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN:1640126066

Lincoln, California, and mid-Nineteenth Century America

By profession an attorney, Brian McGinty is also an historian of some note, the author of John Brown’s Trial, Lincoln’s Greatest Case, and several other works on mid-nineteenth century America. In his newest book, he gives us a look at the surprising ties between Lincoln and California before and during the Civil War, and the role of the state in the war.

McGinty explains that Lincoln had a deep term interest in the “Golden State,” which he had never visited, but thought about moving there in retirement. Despite being a recent addition to the Union, in the immediate ante bellum years California had an important influence on American political life, and a surprising number of influential politicians and soldiers had ties to it. These include Edward D. Baker, Leland Stanford, Henry Halleck, and William T. Sherman, all of whom, like most English-speaking Californians, were born elsewhere.

Although mostly Democrat in politics, McGinty notes that as a free state California remained loyal to the Union, though some secessionists made feeble attempts to bring it into the Confederacy. The state’s military effort is well covered, though most troops raised by the state remained on the West coast to replace federal regulars sent East on garrison duty and to cope with Native Americans and bandits. McGinty notes that some troops saw service in the territories and some even in the East. He also discusses the importance of the state’s gold mines to the financing of the war, and the role of several of its political leaders in Congress and as advisors to the President, notably Senator Baker, whose death in action in October of 1861 was a serious personal loss to Lincoln.

McGinty devotes unusual attention to the Native Americans of the state, but is rather weak on the Californios, the native Hispanic residents. Despite this shortcoming, anyone with an interest in mid-nineteenth century California or in the politics of the war, will find Lincoln & California rewarding reading.




Note: Lincoln & California is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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