Book Review – Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln by Jonathan W. White

Jonathan W. WhiteThis book is an exceptional work of scholarship. Author Jonathan W. White explores in depth an area of the Civil War largely overlooked, or worse, taken for granted – the soldier vote in 1864. Unafraid to challenge the conventional wisdom, White painstakingly digs into the records to determine exactly how the soldier vote was influenced by various factors, political and otherwise.

That conventional wisdom notes that 78% of the soldier vote went to Lincoln in the 1864 election, and from this assumes that soldiers largely had shifted to the Republican party way of thinking and accepted emancipation as a valid military goal. White shows that the reality is much more nuanced. In fact, the 78% vote is most likely due to other factors.

Those factors are discussed in its five chapters and include intimidation in the Union ranks, resignations and desertions of those who disagreed with emancipation, and disaffection with the long war itself. In short, the composition of the army changed after the Emancipation Proclamation, as Democratic supporters either left the service or found it prudent to avoid voicing their opinions, which would get them charged with disloyalty to the Union.

White’s scholarly research is indefatigable, as the extensive endnotes and lengthy bibliography of primary materials is testament. His unearthing of diaries and letters from individual soldiers, as well as his considerable use of court-martial records, is second to none. The sourcing alone is worthy of acclaim. In fact, the book was awarded the prestigious 2105 Abraham Lincoln Institute book award.

The book is highly recommended to all Lincoln and Civil War scholars.

David J. Kent has been a scientist for over thirty years, is an avid science traveler, and an independent Abraham Lincoln historian. He is the author of Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and the e-book Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review – Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln by Jonathan W. White

  1. Interesting. I think this speaks to how the implications of statements-of-fact are often far less obvious than they might at first appear, especially when there exist motivations for a little selective ignorance.

    • Indeed. After all these years reading hundreds of books about Lincoln I still feel like I barely understand him. This was a rare book that focused more on the war and soldiers than Lincoln (usually I’m less interested in the war than I am in the man), but I know the author and after the book won the award a couple of weeks ago I realized I still hadn’t read it. So I did. Definitely for scholars and not the general public.

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