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Lincoln and the Civil War

Lincoln and the Civil War

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Michael Burlingame


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
176 pages, 5 x 8

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

In Lincoln and the Civil War, Michael Burlingame explores the experiences and qualities that made Abraham Lincoln one of America’s most revered leaders. This volume provides an illuminating overview of the entirety of the Civil War and Lincoln’s administration, focusing on the ways in which Lincoln’s unique combination of psychological maturity, steely determination, and political wisdom made him the North’s secret weapon that ultimately led to supremacy over the Confederacy. 

When war erupted in 1861, the North—despite its superior economic resources and manpower—was considered the underdog of the conflict. The need to invade the South brought no advantage to the inefficient, poorly led Union Army. In contrast, Southerners’ knowledge of their home terrain, access to railroads, familiarity with firearms, and outdoor lifestyles, along with the presumed support of foreign nations, made victory over the North seem a likely outcome. In the face of such daunting obstacles, only one person could unite disparate Northerners and rally them to victory in the darkest moments of the war: Abraham Lincoln. 

While Lincoln is often remembered today as one of America’s wisest presidents, he was not always considered so sage. Burlingame demonstrates how, long before the rigors of his presidency and the Civil War began to affect him, Lincoln wrestled with the demons of midlife to ultimately emerge as arguably the most self-aware, humble, and confident leader in American history. This metamorphosis from sarcastic young politician to profound statesman uniquely prepared him for the selfless dedication the war years would demand. Whereas his counterpart, Jefferson Davis, became mired in personal power plays, perceived slights, and dramas, Lincoln rose above personal concerns to always place the preservation of the Union first. Lincoln’s ability, along with his eloquence, political savvy, and grasp of military strategy made him a formidable leader whose honesty and wisdom inspired undying loyalty. 

In addition to offering fresh perspectives on Lincoln’s complex personality and on the other luminaries of his administration, Lincoln and the Civil War takes readers on a brief but thorough tour of the war itself, from the motivations and events leading to Southern secession and the first shots at Fort Sumter to plans for Reconstruction and Lincoln’s tragic assassination. Throughout the journey, Burlingame demonstrates how Lincoln’s steady hand at the helm navigated the Union through the most perilous events of the war and held together the pieces of an unraveling nation.


Michael Burlingame, holder of the Chancellor Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois Springfield, is the author of The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: A Life, which won the 2010 Lincoln Prize.


"Because it is short, cogent, accessible, and important, this book probably deserves a place in every college-level Civil War course." —Stewart Winger, Journal of Southern History

"A far more readable and effective summary of Lincoln as wartime president than the scholar’s prizewinning but dense study. Those who bought Burlingame’s two-volume biography but haven’t quite been able to find a summer vacation (or two) long enough to read it should consult this volume. More important, those who teach the Civil War but struggle to find short monographs that convey the complexity of the challenges that President Lincoln faced should assign it."—Matthew Pinsker, Journal of Civil War History

"Knowing Abraham Lincoln is impossible and studying him is like trying to sip from the 'Fountain of Liberty' or make tea from the Constitution--he is not for the faint of heart. But reading SIU Press's Concise Lincoln Library offers something for every thirst. Deep drinkers and first-time students of the Civil War and Lincoln studies will come back for more, and this series will more than fill the glass." —William Furry, executive director, Illinois State Historical Society

"Lincoln and the Civil War by Michael Burlingame examines the role of Abraham Lincoln and his administration during the years of the bloodiest conflict our nation has ever known . . . . a welcome and highly recommended addition to personal, community, and academic library Lincoln Studies and 19th Century American History collections."James A. CoxMidwest Book Review 

“An interesting premise that the Union waged war from an “underdog” position. Burlingame writes from that perspective and shows how Lincoln’s ‘steady hand’ turned the tide to victory. I found this very interesting’food for thought’ and further study. I think you will as well, and this book would be a worthy addition to your library.” —Joseph A. TruglioCivil War News

"The author of the most deeply-researched and detailed biography of Abraham Lincoln ever written here provides a remarkably concise and authoritative overview of the Civil War.  Drawing on his massive research, Burlingame selects anecdotes and details  that effectively illustrate Lincoln's critical role."—Douglas L. Wilson, Lincoln Studies Center, Knox College

“With a brisk pace and bracing tone, Michael Burlingame assays the titanic clash of the Civil War and the man whose personality and resolve guided the Union to victory. Those who already know Abraham Lincoln will find him alive on these pages. Those whose acquaintance with him is marginal will gain a full sense of the man and his destiny.”—David S. Heidler, coauthor of Henry Clay: The Essential American

“The idea that Abraham Lincoln was an essential element in Union victory is hardly a new one, but never before has the case been made so forcefully, or at such length, as it is in Michael Burlingame’s Lincoln and the Civil War. Critics may quibble that the North could have won without him, but as Burlingame demonstrates conclusively, it could not have won in the way that it did without his stewardship. Lincoln’s leadership was just as decisive off the battlefield as it was on, and his role in keeping the courage and determination of the Northern people up to the task is especially well detailed. We have many books on Lincoln that really never needed to be written. This is one that did.”—William C. Davis, Director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech

“Masterful! Michael Burlingame offers a portrait of Lincoln in the Civil War that is at once wide angle and zoom lens in scope. He portrays the complex issues Lincoln faced and allows us to go behind the scenes to grasp the manifold dimensions of his leadership. Burlingame’s reputation for meticulous scholarship is presented here in an accessible study just in time for the sesquicentennial remembrances of the Civil War.”—Ronald C. White Jr., author of A. Lincoln: A Biography

"Burlingame shows remarkable skill in discussing complex subjects quickly and in effectively transitioning to the next subject.  The advantage of this approach is that the end result is a stripped-down Lincoln and the Civil War. Burlingame’s volume thus retains only the core part of the argument, with everything that could be considered superfluous removed. This makes Lincoln and the Civil War a perfect book for not only classroom use, but also for those who are looking for a brief introduction to the issues of the war and Lincoln’s leadership. The work is ideal as a one-volume study of Lincoln that covers the basics."—Dr. Lewie Reece, Anderson University