Lincoln’s Code: The Laws of War in American History

This is a terrific book.  Its main subject is the Lieber Code, promulgated by Abraham Lincoln as General Orders No. 100 which, while approved on April 24, 1863, was released in May of that year.  The author, John Fabian Witt, puts the Lieber Code in its historical perspective, discussing the evolution of the Laws of War and their impact on American wars.  He also discusses how the Laws of War were used from the very beginning of the Civil War to shape Federal actions and policy.  There is a lengthy discussion of Francis Lieber and how he developed the code, and its effect on the Civil War.  There is a fascinating discussion of how it played into Emancipation and how it was used in Reconstruction and the Indian Wars.  It ends with a discussion of how the laws of war evolved through the Spanish-American War.  Meticulously and deeply researched, the book is packed with facts, and I learned a lot from it.  Witt writes in a highly readable style, even when dealing with some arcane legal concepts.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I highly recommend it.


  1. Thanks loads for subtracting more from my wallet 😉

    1. Anytime, Jim. You were having problems sitting down on it anyway. Your back will feel better. 🙂

  2. I’m reading it now and plan on writing about Lieber next year.

    1. How do you like it so far, Pat? I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  3. Good. I used to do quite a bit of litigation than involved the laws of war in the asylum context, so it was interesting to see where they came from. I was familiar with Lieber, but not really with his biography. Since he was one of the many immigrants who made a major contribution during the Civil War, I’ll be writing about him and the issues his family faced due to secession.

    1. Especially the way his family was split, I would imagine. I’ve had an interest in what we call today the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) for quite awhile, and I’ve done some reading in Grotius, Vattel, and Lieber. I learned quite a bit from this book as well.

  4. Recently lectured on Vattel and his use by the “birthers”. They claim the phrase “natural born citizen” in the Constitution comes from him. Not too many people know who he is, but he was read by Hamilton and Madison.

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