Book Review: Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln & the Union’s War Governors by Stephen D. Engle


gathering-cwtThe study of the American Civil War is changing. Of course, there will always be battle studies and biographies of generals, but there is a pivot away from this strictly military point of view. Scholars are examining the war in a much more global context, and this includes the politics of the era. Helping to anchor this pivot point is Dr. Stephen Engle’s brilliant offering Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln & the Union’s War Governors.

In this complex work, Engle looks at the men who governed the loyal states during the Civil War, and their efforts to support the President, their constituents, their parties, and the state volunteer soldiers in the field. He also analyzes the efforts of President Lincoln to work with these men. After all, they are the ones who will return from Washington tasked with the job of getting each state to give more men, more money, and more support to a cause that grew from “Union!” to the determination of the futures of hundreds of thousands of formerly enslaved Africans. These were not always easy sells.

Engle highlights several (many!) interesting instances of the gubernatorial challenges: When Lincoln took office, he inherited political relationships that were broken or nonexistent. Some of the loyal states voted for their governors annually, some every two years, some every three, and some every four. Because of this, the groupings of allies and enemies were almost always in flux. Nevertheless, Lincoln was able to create working relationships with each man. One challenge that had to be met concerned the amount of attention necessary to the border states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri. The governors from Ohio, Illinois, and New York–all states who sent the Union many soldiers and much support–hated the amount of attention paid to the states that, simply because of their geographics, got the majority of Lincoln’s attention. Engle guides the reader carefully through the complicated maze of what seemed like preference for slave states, simply to keep them in the Union, while also recognizing and rewarding states whose loyalty had never wavered.

Another point of analysis concerns the election of 1864. Historiography would have us think that Lincoln’s bid for a second term was doomed until Sherman took Atlanta. By analyzing voting trends, including the election of pro-Union governors from 1860-64, Engle helps make a more modern case: Lincoln’s election was never in doubt, the Blind Memorandum notwithstanding. As a politician, Lincoln needed to do more than win–he needed a convincing victory. The Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment, the Draft, the support for the war in general and the extinction of the Copperhead movement in particular needed a voter’s mandate to continue to guide the country. The support of the Union governors was invaluable to the effort of getting out the vote for Lincoln, including the votes of the soldiers serving in the field. Again, Engle’s analysis makes this complicated issue, replete with arguments, accessible to both the average reader and the Civil War politics wonk.

Engle’s study is rich and deep, thorough and convincing. The relationships between the leaders of the Union states and President Lincoln are examined in depth. The author never paints with a broad brush, but explores the changes that occurred as the war lengthened with care and complexity. The final chapters deal with the rise of opposition to the war inherent in Copperhead politics. Opposition to the war tested political relationships built over the first three years of the war, but the work done by both the governors and the President proved to have a solid foundation.

Personable, engaging portraits of men like Rhode Island’s William Sprague–the “Boy Governor,” Horatio Seymour of New York, “Captain General” William Buckingham of Connecticut, John Andrew of Massachusetts, and Richard Yates and Richard Oglesby of Illinois are created throughout the book. Irascible, sometimes grumpy, always challenging, these men, “Like Lincoln, grew with the war . . .” They became more than their title of governor or of their office. They became an indispensible part of a historic time. The war itself had shown that there was a North, and that it was vitally interested in the preservation of a federalism that demonstrated a credible bond between the Nation and its States. Engle’s work reminds his readers that the act of forming a more perfect union was never more clearly shown than in the efforts of Lincoln’s war governors. Stephen D. Engle, a professor at Florida State University specializing in the political and economic evolution of the 19th Century, has given the Civil War community a fine book that will resonate for a long time.

Dr. Stephen Engle has also written Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel (1993), Don Carlos Buell: Most Promising of All (1999), The American Civil War in the West (2002), and co-authored The American Civil War: This Mighty Scourge of War (2003) with Gary Gallagher, Robert Krick, and Joseph Glatthaar. He has published articles and essays in Civil War History, Reviews in American History, Journal of the West, Journal of Negro History, Yearbook of German-American Studies, Journal of Urban History, AHA Perspectives, and The American Historian. He was named Distinguished Teacher of the Year at Florida Atlantic University in 2016.

Dr. Stephen D. Engle, Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln & the Union’s War Governors
The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill  2016
725 pages total, 481 text
Appendices, Endnotes, Bibliography, Index





3 Responses to Book Review: Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln & the Union’s War Governors by Stephen D. Engle

    1. I knew that. I knew that really well–I fixed it. Thanks so much. I think I was looking at the list in the book and just glanced incorrectly. It never registered as wrong because I know it is RI so well. Bless your eyes! Again, thanks.

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