Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union's War Governors

Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union's War Governors

Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union's War Governors

Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union's War Governors


In this rich study of Union governors and their role in the Civil War, Stephen D. Engle examines how these politicians were pivotal in securing victory. In a time of limited federal authority, governors were an essential part of the machine that maintained the Union while it mobilized and sustained the war effort. Charged with the difficult task of raising soldiers from their home states, these governors had to also rally political, economic, and popular support for the conflict, at times against a backdrop of significant local opposition.

Engle argues that the relationship between these loyal-state leaders and Lincoln’s administration was far more collaborative than previously thought. While providing detailed and engaging portraits of these men, their state-level actions, and their collective cooperation, Engle brings into new focus the era’s complex political history and shows how the Civil War tested and transformed the relationship between state and federal governments.


The American Civil War was as much a story of cooperation as it was of conflict. For all we know about why Southerners left the United States, historians still grapple over how and why Northerners restored them to the Union. Secession provided Unionists with an alarming example of just how fragile the federal system was in the mid-nineteenth century. Withdrawal in any form appeared destructive, almost madness, and it inspired loyal political leaders to demonstrate that states had more rights in the Union than outside of it. This revelation motivated loyal state leaders to unite in hopes of vindicating democracy. The ensuing war caused by the Southern departure, ironically, forged a powerful federal-state alliance that produced a Northern army powerful enough to defeat Confederates. Scholars seeking to uncover the Union’s formula for victory have therefore expanded their investigations to include the character of governments (Northern and Southern) as contributing factors.

Northerners witnessed a surge of governmental activism at both the state and national levels that sustained mobilization throughout the war. The Union’s defense in 1861 revealed intense nationalist feelings, but marshalling the resources necessary required an extraordinary coordination between the federal government and the states. Yet before Northern soldiers organized and marched off to war, the mobilization of men and matériel necessary to fight the war rested on the partnership between Abraham Lincoln and loyal state governors. It was this alliance that established and shaped the ways the Union applied its military power against the Confederacy in pursuit of victory. Only by examining this crucial partnership can we begin to understand how it contributed to the “new nation” Lincoln referred to at Gettysburg. In short, this work explores how Lincoln dealt with the “war governors,” and they with him.

For all that has appeared in print on Lincoln and the Civil War in the 150 years since the conflict, only William Best Hesseltine’s classic, Lincoln and the War Governors, serves as the seminal work on this important relationship. Characteristic of its time in contributing to the Lincoln idolatry, Hesseltine portrayed Lincoln as a master manipulator of political opinion . . .

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