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Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War

by Burrus M. Carnahan

Availablepaperback$19.95 978-0-8131-3459-8
Availablecloth$60.00 978-0-8131-2569-5
176 pages  Pubdate: 08/26/2011  6 x 9  15 maps

In light of recent controversies and legal actions related to America’s treatment of enemy prisoners in the Middle East and Guantánamo Bay, the regulation of government during wartime has become a volatile issue on the global scene. By today’s standards, Lincoln’s adherence to the laws of war could be considered questionable, and his critics, past and present, have not hesitated to charge that he was a war criminal. In Lincoln on Trial: Southern Civilians and the Law of War, Burrus M. Carnahan conducts an extensive analysis of Lincoln’s leadership throughout the Civil War as he struggled to balance his own humanity against the demands of his generals. Carnahan specifically scrutinizes Lincoln’s conduct toward Southerners in light of the international legal standards of his time as the president wrestled with issues that included bombardment of cities, collateral damage to civilians, seizure and destruction of property, forced relocation, and the slaughter of hostages. Carnahan investigates a wide range of historical materials from accounts of the Dahlgren raid to the voices of Southern civilians who bore the brunt of extensive wartime destruction. Through analysis of both historic and modern standards of behavior in times of war, a sobering yet sympathetic portrait of one of America’s most revered presidents emerges.

Burrus M. Carnahan, a retired Air Force officer, professorial lecturer at George Washington University Law School, and foreign affairs officer in the U.S. Department of State, is the author of Act of Justice: Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War.

An extensive analysis of Lincoln’s leadership throughout the Civil War as he struggled to balance his own humanity against the demands of his generals. -- Southern Independent Booksellers Association Okra Picks

Lincoln on Trial is excellent in every respect: writing, content, and relevance. With America at war in many places involving civilians, this study is a primer on the laws of war and the treatment of noncombatants who are subsumed by armed conflict when the dogs of war are unleashed. -- Frank J. Williams, retired chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court and author of Judging Lincoln

Carnahan’s Act of Justice stands as one of the most important studies of Lincoln’s emancipation policy. Now with Lincoln on Trial, he has written an equally compelling book on the subject of Lincoln’s wartime conduct. What distinguishes Carnahan’s work in both cases has been his rigorous and nuanced understanding of nineteenth-
century international law, and his clear explanation of its impact on the policies of the Lincoln administration. -- Matthew Pinsker, author of Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home

Carnahan amply illustrates the legal, political, and moral difficulties that Lincoln and the military forces of the Union had in dealing with Confederate rebels. -- books, etc.

This is a book to delight the legal mind in all of us. . . . Carnahan focuses on the President’s reactions to the treatment of Southern civilians by Union forces and explores the law and usages of war accepted in the mid-nineteenth century. -- Northern Kentucky Heritage

By providing context, background and corresponding examples about various (and often tragic) events, the author produces a good source for those seeking a better understanding. This book would interest those who enjoy lively debates about Lincoln-providing ammunition to both sides. -- Matthew Rector -- Bits and Pieces (Hardin Co. Historical Society)

The problems of determining how to deal with civilians in enemy territory abs irregular enemy combinations will resonate with students and should lead to lively discussion. -- H-Net Reviews

Covers Lincoln’s policies as they affected Southern civilian property, his attitude toward Union counter-guerrilla tactics and his views on the bombardment of Confederate cities. -- Journal of Military History

This useful and insightful book addresses some very pertinent issues in the mid-19th century. As an introduction to the legal issues of the Civil War, Carnahan’s work is advanced in its arguments yet simple enough for novice readers to understand. -- Choice

As an introduction to the leagl issues of the Civil War, Carnahan's work is advanced in its arguments yet simple enough for novice readers to understand. -- Choice

[A] readable, interesting, and compelling book. -- West Viginia History

Carnahan provides us with quality research and a provocative and stimulating interpretation of these sources, and this helps him both clarify Lincoln and the nature of the war. -- Law and Politics Book Review

Burrus M. Carnahan's short Lincoln on Trial nicely extends the consideration of Lincoln as a wartime president and an international lawyer. Carnahan insightfully discusses Lincoln's interpretation of the nineteenth century's emerging law of war and this interpreation's impact on civilians.

Of particular interest are Carnahan's explanations of Lincoln's approach to governance of southern churches, his directives about foraging and the capture of private 'property,' and his doctrines on guerilla fighters and Southern sailors. Readers will also find enlightening Carnahan's explanation of Lincoln's failure to codify for his officers clear policies for their war-time decions-making when dealing with non-combatants in the South. -- Studies in American Culture

Lincoln on Trial offers readers a fresh insight into a long discussed issue and also allows for a greater understanding of the character and values of one of America's most revered presidents. -- Lone Star Book Review

An authoritative history of a subject that was an almost completely undeveloped part of the Civil War research agenda just a few years ago--namely, that of the formation, development, and application of the international law of war during the Civil War by Lincoln, his cabinet, and his officers. -- Journal of Southern History

Demonstrates how the Lincoln administration’s use of law helped to bring about defeat of the so-called Confederacy. This significant work should be read by professional historians and non-historians for the insights it brings into Lincoln and his administration’s policies. -- Journal of East Tennessee History