Stanton: The Life and Times of Lincoln's Secretary of War

By Benjamin P. Thomas; Harold M. Hyman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
THE MISFORTUNE OF THAT STATION

WITH Lee's surrender foretelling an early end to the war, Stanton took on stature as the organizer of victory. He had made a war greater impact on the public consciousness than any of his predecessors and had lifted the office of Secretary of War out of obscurity. His countrymen knew his name as they recognized Lincoln's and Grant's, and his popularity was close to theirs, although then as now Americans understood better how to evaluate and reward the services of generals and Presidents than to judge the achievements of an appointed official. It is therefore even more remarkable that Stanton should have achieved the wide recognition that he did.

Only the terrible, revolutionary nature of the war can explain this. To Stanton's generation it was a shocking experience; the cost in lives and money was unprecedented. War needs had prescribed that the Negro must go free. Battles had stricken secession from the remedies available to a state in the federal union. Blood and suffering had kept the nation together, although the question of the further purposes for which that centripetal force had been exerted was still unanswered.

Was Stanton's contribution to Union victory as extraordinary as the nature of the conflict? Persons close to Stanton believed that it was. Dana was sure that the Union would have lost its fight without him. Admiral Porter, who privately wished that Stanton rather than Welles controlled the Navy, concluded that "Lincoln's Mars" was "the man for the times." From the vantage point of his cosmopolitan education and career, Francis Lieber adjudged that democratic government, a new

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