Gallagher also criticizes recent studies of soldiers' letters and diaries, which find that an antislavery purpose emerged early in the war. These works, he argues, remain highly "impressionistic," allowing the historian "to marshal support for virtually any argument." Whereupon Gallagher embarks on his own equally impressionistic survey of these letters, finding that they emphasize devotion to the Union.Ultimately, Gallagher's sharp dichotomy between the goals of Union and emancipation seems excessively schematic. It begs the question of what kind of Union the war was being fought to preserve. The evolution of Lincoln's own outlook illustrates the problem. On the one hand, as Gallagher notes, Lincoln always insisted that he devised his policies regarding slavery in order to win the war and preserve national unity. Yet years before the Civil War, Lincoln had argued that slavery fatally undermined the nation's ability to exemplify the superiority of free institutions. The Union to be saved, he said, must be "worthy of the saving." During the secession crisis, Lincoln could have preserved the Union by yielding to Southern demands. He adamantly refused to compromise on the crucial political issue -- whether slavery should be allowed to expand into Western territories.Gallagher maintains that only failure on the battlefield, notably Gen. George B. McClellan's inability to capture Richmond, the Confederate capital, in the spring of 1862, forced the administration to act against slavery. Yet the previous fall, before significant military encounters had taken place, Lincoln had already announced a plan for gradual emancipation. This hardly suggests that military necessity alone placed the slavery question on the national agenda. Early in the conflict, many Northerners, Lincoln included, realized that there was little point in fighting to restore a status quo that had produced war in the first place.
The Union War
Reacting to the "New York Times" review of Gary Gallagher's new book, "The Union War"