Lincoln’s Autocrat: The Life of Edwin Stanton

Here’s William Marvel speaking at the National Archives about Edwin M Stanton, Abraham Lincoln’s second Secretary of War.  A prodigious researcher, Mr. Marvel obviously believes in being a curmudgeon.



  1. Don’t think he likes Stanton too much :). I’ve always found his books to be edgy.

  2. I attended Mr. Marvel’s talk and I thought he was overly critical of Edwin Stanton, who, in my opinion, was a valuable member of Lincoln and Johnson’s cabinet. I thought it was quite odd that he listed Jacob Thomson among those who had a low opinion of Stanton as Thompson was no friend of the United States, serving the Confederacy in Canada at the latter part of the Civil War. I wonder why Jacob Thompson’s opinion would be relevant as to what sort of man Stanton was. Lincoln’s Autocrat appears to be very well researched and Mr. Marvel is to be commended for that but I would like to check some of the things he said but probably won’t have the chance to do so until I return to Washington.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment. One thing is certain: Mr. Marvel is not shy about sharing his opinions. Also I agree he’s a very good researcher.

      1. Yes and no. His work on the actual events at Appomattox was first-rate. His work on Andersonville was very shoddy (IMO), and his work on Burnside was, in many places, special pleading. I very much enjoyed his dual “ship-biography” of the Alabama and Kearsarge, but have no basis for assessing his work there.

        1. Tell me more about the Andersonville book, Jim. What are your objections?

          1. My apologies for the delayed response, Al. I thought I had clicked the notification thingie.

            I have two problems with Marvel’s Andersonville book, and they are slightly interconnected.

            1. He sets out to tell the “truth” about Andersonville, claiming it has never been done. But Ovid Futch wrote a very good (if very dry) book on Andersonville years before Marvel did, making essentially the same points. I think it is the case that Marvel misrepresents what is in Futch in his Preface/Introduction/somewhere. (It has been a while since I looked.)

            2. Part of Marvel’s thesis is that Andersonville became a hellhole because of the overcrowding. True that. But in assessing why the overcrowding occurred, he totally misrepresents the issues relating to the collapse of the POW cartel. Totally.

          2. Thanks, Jim. I’ll have to take another look at it.

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