Random House is bragging that Geoffrey Perret's new book, Lincoln's War, is "the only full-length account to date on Abraham Lincoln as Com-mander in Chief." Anybody else remember British General Collin Ballard's The Military Genius of Abraham Lincoln? Not only was it published twice, but it even made eighth place in the Lincoln Bookshop's list of 163 essential AL works.
Not my cup of tea, but number eight!
Ballard's reprint came in 1952, as Civil War historical doctrine coalesced around the writings of Williams, Williams, and Nevins. It dovetailed snugly with Kenneth P. Williams' idea of Lincoln, as a militarily mature thinker, seeking and then finding his general. K. P. Williams had started down this road in 1949; Ballard's "essay" as he styled it, had first appeared in 1926 and may even have inspired Williams' multivolume project. So avid reader of 1950s ACW books might be ignorant of Ballard but still be entitled to ask "What about Lincoln Finds a General?"
Or put another way, where has Geoffrey Perret been?
He says he was in high school with Ricky Nelson - that would have been in the mid-1950s. That's when he told Brian Lamb that he began his ACW reading. Kenneth Williams was going strong. T. Harry Williams had published his own studies of Lincoln's war management in Lincoln and the Radicals , Lincoln and His Generals, and then McClellan, Sherman, and Grant. These books all focus on Lincoln's management of the war.
Good grief, the publicists actually use one of T. Harry Williams' titles generically to promote Perret's uniqueness: "This wide-ranging account casts new light on Lincoln and his generals..."
Authors have input into cover design and press releases. Perret likely saw these claims.
Pop historians cannibalize their own.
Update #1: Thanks to the emailer who noted that Catton's Mr. Lincoln's Army appeared in 1951 (I had said that "Catton's first effort, Stillness at Appomattox, appeared later in 1953.") A book named Mr. Lincoln's Army might also reasonably be construed to be a "full-length account ... on Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief."
This correspondent, widely published, reports that "Authors do see the blurbs; they often have a hand in composing them." He concludes that "I gather Perret personally made this claim about being the first to write on this subject."
Update #2: Tip of the hat to the same emailer for pointing out James McPherson's review of Perret's book in the Nation. McPherson says,
Perret's story was hardly untold before he told it, however. And if some things in his book were previously untold, it is because they were not true. Lincoln's War is riddled with an appalling number of errors large and small--by my count at least 120 of them, including multiple mistakes in the same paragraph on a single subject.He goes on in this vein: "But the level of carelessness and ignorance manifested by the number and importance of miscues in Lincoln's War seriously compromises its integrity," etc. etc. See for yourself.