1865: America Makes War and Peace in Lincoln's Final Year. Edited by Harold Holzer and Sara Vaughn Gabbard. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2015. 199 pp.
Momentous events occurred in the opening months of 1865, as the end of the Civil War brought four years of bloody conflict to a close. The cessation of any war brings its own unique problems and conditions, and the Civil War was no different. The nation had to contend with a spectrum of military, political, racial, and social issues that had remained unresolved from before the war or were created by the war itself. In this collection of essays, several historians analyze and recount key events of the final months of 1865 through depictions of President Abraham Lincoln's decisions, activities, and influence on the end of the war. Some of the events depicted in the book, such as passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, are traditional and expected, but others, such as the description of Lincoln's visit to a defeated Richmond, are oft-overlooked events in Lincoln's presidency.
Two essays stand out as particularly interesting. Richard Striner's "Lincoln and the Hampton Roads Conference" shines some light on an important diplomatic event in the final state of the Civil War. The conference, between Lincoln and a Confederate delegation led by Vice President Alexander Stephens, failed in its hoped-for purpose of ending the war, but Striner's narrative underscores both the doomed Confederate cause and Lincoln's political and diplomatic skill. Lincoln arrived at the meeting on a winning streak after gaining reelection by a wide margin among the Union electorate, congressional approval of the Thirteenth Amendment, and Union armies gaining ground on a daily basis. Stephens, on the other hand, came to the conference seeking negotiations on the basis of Confederate independence, a very weak position considering the dwindling state of the Confederate military and economic power.
Frank J. Williams' "Military Justice, Right or Wrong: Judging the Lincoln Conspirators" explores the nuances of judging civilians by military commission in the uncertain area between civilian constitutional rights and military authority in time of war. Williams concludes that the military commission was the appropriate venue for the trial, although he does point...