...this fresh tome (nearly 700 pages with notes and bibliography) is far more than a rebuttal to Stanton critics, past and present. What Stahr has harvested here from notes, letters and memoirs reveals the man who could behave as Stanton did on that night and in many other controversial moments ... Stahr shows us Stanton confronting that [asassination] crisis as he had so many others, with specific orders, definite plans and ferocious energy ... Moving swiftly across the enormous landscape of Stanton's life and times, Stahr provides a narrative that is both readily accessible and compelling for scholars long familiar with the basic facts. Stahr finds in even the more ephemeral material insights into the ways Stanton stood out from his cohort while embodying the virtues and limitations of his times. Although not a superlative stylist, Stahr is a steady, even-keel narrator who navigates each controversy with clarity and care.
The author audits Stanton’s wartime record meticulously, criticizing his indifference to civil liberties and his often fraught relationships with field commanders and fellow Cabinet officers. But he spends too little time dealing with reports that Stanton behaved in a cowardly manner when the CSS Virginia attacked the Union fleet at Hampton Roads, Va. ... And Mr. Stahr might have explored the stubborn myth that Stanton was complicit in Lincoln’s assassination—a discredited canard, to be sure, but one that many Lincoln scholars, this writer included, still hear from lay readers ... This exhaustively researched, well-paced book should take its place as the new, standard biography of the ill-tempered man who helped save the Union: It is fair, judicious, authoritative and comprehensive. It is not, however, a literary triumph. Mr. Stahr’s narrative, though well-paced, is straightforward, unadorned and sometimes didactic. Much like Edwin M. Stanton.
...a judiciously sympathetic treatment that tries to calm a still-uncalmable subject ... Stahr admits that his subject was 'duplicitous and even deceitful,' but argues that he was 'a great man' if not a good one. He was almost certainly indispensable in the preservation of a system that has since allowed us to be freely led by a long succession of good and great and awful and, finally, absurd men.
In Stanton: Lincoln’s War Secretary, Walter Stahr, who wrote a biography of Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, brings Edwin Stanton out of the historical shadows and presents him as arguably the third-most-important figure in the outcome of the Civil War, after General Ulysses S. Grant and Lincoln ... But make no mistake, this is an important book about perhaps the most consequential decade in American history ... author presents his subject in his all his many-splendored complexity – flaws and all, of which he had many ... One wishes Stahr had waxed more analytical throughout. He is better at the 'what, where and when' of history than the 'why,' and there are places where a bit more context would be welcome.
Stahr is at his best highlighting Stanton's adroitness in manipulating people, organizational structures, and budgets to accomplish the goal of winning the war ... Stahr is especially effective in demonstrating how Stanton served as a political ally of Lincoln's, using the president's considerable influence to his advantage. Highly recommended for novice and experienced Civil War readers alike.”
Readers may prefer to skim lengthy quotes from speeches and letters in this massive tome, but they will agree that Stanton lived in exciting times. The author provides a chronology and 8-page cast of characters to help keep names and dates straight. A lively, lucid, and opinionated history, and his research supports his skepticism on some historical claims. The book should be Stanton’s definitive biography for some time to come.