432 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 22 illus., notes, bibl., index
Civil War America
Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky
2012 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize, Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Joseph Holt, the stern, brilliant, and deeply committed Unionist from Kentucky, spent the first several months of the American Civil War successfully laboring to maintain Kentucky's loyalty to the Union, then went on to serve as President Lincoln's judge advocate general. In Lincoln's Forgotten Ally, Elizabeth Leonard offers the first full-scale biography of Holt, who has long been overlooked and misunderstood by historians and students of the war.
In his capacity as the administration's chief arbiter and enforcer of military law, Holt strove tenaciously, often against strong resistance, to implement Lincoln's wartime policies, including emancipation. After Lincoln's assassination, Holt accepted responsibility for pursuing and bringing to justice everyone involved in John Wilkes Booth's conspiracy. It was because of this role, in which he is often portrayed as a brutal prosecutor, and because of his hard position toward the South, Leonard contends, that Holt's reputation suffered. Leonard argues, however, that Holt should not be defined by what Southern sympathizers and proponents of the Lost Cause came to think of him. Lincoln's Forgotten Ally seeks to restore Holt, who dedicated both his energy and his influence to ensuring that the Federal victory would bring about lasting positive change for the nation, to his rightful place in American memory.
"[Leonard] has admirably brought Holt to life. . . . A sympathetic and sensible reading of a difficult personality and the making of federal legal power, recommended for serious readers and university libraries."
"Leonard's book is biography at its best in that it illustrates, informs, and deepens the written history of the American people and one's understanding of human nature."
--Journal of Illinois History
“An outstanding example of how even a diffident life like Holt’s can be made emblematic of great themes in an era of great conflict.”
--Civil War News
“Leonard skillfully and meticulously reconstructs Holt’s 84-year life . . . . Judge Advocate General Holt will no longer be forgotten.”
--Civil War Book Review
“A model of scholarly biography.”
--Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society
"Joseph Holt was a fascinating fellow who found himself thrust into the midst of extraordinary events. A staunch Kentucky Unionist surrounded by secessionists, this brilliant attorney entered the public stage as part of the Buchanan administration, and rose to national prominence--and historic significance--as Abraham Lincoln's judge advocate general. For too long historians have neglected Holt's career. Until now. Elizabeth Leonard has done a superb job of capturing the life of one of the Civil War era's most significant and intriguing public men."
--J. Matthew Gallman, University of Florida, author of Northerners at War: Reflections on the Civil War Home Front
© 2012 The University of North Carolina Press
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