A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut

A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut

A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut

A Politician Turned General: The Civil War Career of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut

Synopsis

A Politician Turned General offers a critical examination of the turbulent early political career and the controversial military service of Stephen Augustus Hurlbut, an Illinois Whig. Republican politician, and Northern political general who rose to distinction as a prominent member of the Union high command in the West during the Civil War. Though traditionally there are two different characterizations of those who exercised command during the Civil War - soldier-politician and the political generals - Hurlbut was viewed as a military politician. This book provides an important study of another friend and/or political supporter of Lincoln who rose to general during the war and gained important appointments after the war. This first biography of Hurlbut chronicles the early life and the Civil War career of one of Abraham Lincoln's foremost military appointments. Through exhaustive research of primary and secondary sources, author Jeffrey N. Lash identifies and evaluates the successes and failures of Hurlbut's generalship and combat leadership, both as a field commander in Missouri in 1861 and as a division commander at the Battles of Shiloh and Hatchie Bridge in 1862. Featuri

Excerpt

This study is a comprehensive narrative account and an intensive critical examination of both the turbulent early political career and the subsequent and controversial record of the military, political, and diplomatic service rendered by Stephen Augustus Hurlbut, an Illinois Whig and Republican politician, lawyer, and orator who rose to distinction as a prominent member of the Union high command in the West during the Civil War. Specifically, it is a biographical study of a “military politician” who also served in the Union army as a “political general” by an appointment from President Abraham Lincoln. This deliberately proposed distinction is significant, even crucial, because difficult conceptual and semantic problems otherwise complicate the historical treatment and assessment of the Northern (and the fewer Southern) “soldier-politicians” and “political generals” who exercised command in the Civil War. In logic, these terms are largely misnomers, yet scholars have used them interchangeably to describe two altogether different creatures of the Civil War period. Ulysses S. Grant in particular has accordingly been characterized as a “soldier-president” during his two terms as chief executive, but one of his political biographers has clearly and convincingly portrayed Grant as essentially a soldier who occupied the White House and nowise a politician.¹

Many similar examples of this ambiguity abound in studies of Nathaniel P. Banks and Benjamin F. Butler. Their careful biographers have indisputably demonstrated, however, that even in wartime both Banks and Butler functioned basically as party politicians and not as army officers.² It should be equally well understood that many Northern political generals, such as Jacob D. Cox and John A. Logan, exhibited conspicuous military ability. Conversely, many professional soldiers, most notably George B. McClellan, who was the Democratic party’s presidential candidate in 1864, and Isaac I. Stevens, who was the national campaign manager for the southern wing of the Democratic party in 1860, showed consummate political skill. This important qualification notwithstanding, for the purposes of this study I will call Hurlbut a “political general”— indeed, advisedly, because he did function in that practical capacity. But Hurlbut cannot be described, primarily or essentially, as a volunteer militia officer or as . . .

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