Lincoln Prize Shoulda-Wons
Stumbled across an intriguing “Listmania List” on Amazon.com. It was compiled by Kerry Walters, who, judging by the email address given in his profile, would have to be Prof. Kerry Walters, William Bittinger Chair of Philosophy at Gettysburg College. Here’s his introduction:
Since 1991, the Lincoln and Soldiers Institute of Gettysburg College has been awarding an annual Lincoln Prize to the “finest scholarly work in English on Abraham Lincoln, or the American Civil War soldier, or a subject relating to their era.” Up to two prizes are awarded each year, and the Institute boasts that the prize money — $50,000 — is the largest award going for a Civil War related book.
All of the recipients of the Lincoln Prize have produced interesting and worthy books or films. But most of the Prizes awarded by the judges tend to go to rather safely conventional studies that build on and to some extent duplicate canonical interpretations, perspectives, and approaches to examining the Civil War. There are a few exceptions to this — most notably Charles Royster’s The Destructive War (1992 recipient) and Reid Mitchell’s The Vacant Chair (1994 recipient) — but not many. Moreover, all of the books on Lincoln that have won the Lincoln Prize are so laudatory as to lean toward the hagiographical. Books dealing with the darker aspects of the war — racist massacres, treatment of POWs, civilian abuse, Civil War era Indian abuses,refugees, environmental devastation, pointlessly brutal battles and command incompetence, and violation of civil liberties — just don’t show up on the Lincoln Prize radar. And even though social histories focusing on women, African-Americans, and civilians sometimes get honorable mentions, they don’t often win the Prize.
Of course, the Lincoln and Soldiers Institute of Gettysburg College is free to award the Lincoln Prize to whomever its judges wish. But there are some worthy Civil War studies that in my judgment break refreshingly new ground, and they’ve been by-passed by the Institute (perhaps because they’re too unorthodox or, alternately, fail to jump on the hagiographical Lincoln wagon). I list some of them here.
A list of thirteen books follows, each with a thumbnail explanation about why it deserved the prize. Among his picks: Alice Fahs’ The Imagined Civil War, Chandra Manning’s What This Cruel War Was Over, and Harry S. Stout’s Upon the Altar of the Nation.