Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year

With Steven Spielberg’s highly touted Lincoln biopic having just opened, theBlaze Books thought it apropos to bring you a trio of titles about the man viewed by many as America’s greatest commander in chief.

The year: 1862.

The state of the union: On life support.

The United States of America was anything but.

A divided north and south was shredding the federal government to bits.

The U.S. Treasury sported empty pockets.

The Union’s top general was gravely ill.

On the flip side, the Confederacy—with its booming economy, experienced military leadership, and dominant position on the battlefields—could smell ultimate victory.

Facing gigantic obstacles to its survival, the young country (or more accurately those within it who wanted to keep it intact) looked to an unschooled frontier lawyer who had recently been elected president: Abraham Lincoln.

Fast forward 12 months, the bloody Civil War had finally turned.

The Union generals who would win the conflict had at last emerged, and the Confederate Army had suffered key defeats that led to its demise.

And more than that, the raw clay of what would become modern America—a wildly expanding landscape replete with industrial and financial power—had been solidified.

In the end, the man who brought the nation through its darkest hour—who walked through the fiery kiln with his fellow citizens—was forged into a leader we haven’t seen since.

In Rise to Greatness, acclaimed author David Von Drehle has created a deeply human portrait of arguably America’s greatest president fueled by a rich, dramatic narrative focusing on our most fateful year.

Check out this excerpt from the Prologue:

That balmy January day began what would prove the most eventful year in American history, and perhaps the most misunderstood. It was the year in which the Civil War became a cataclysm, the federal government became a colossus, and the Confederacy came nearest to winning its independence, yet suffered the key losses that led to its doom. Eighteen sixty-two sounded the death knell of slavery, and it forged the military leaders who would eventually win the war, men like Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Farragut. In indelible ink, it fashioned the astounding blueprint of modern America, an America of continental breadth, rapid communication, networked transportation, widespread education, industrial might, and high finance. At the same time, it revealed the dear cost of entry into that future, payable in blood and misery, on battlefields from Shiloh to Sharpsburg, Pea Ridge to Fredericksburg. Most of all, though, 1862 was the year the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, rose to greatness.

As the year approached, one U.S. senator presciently observed: “Never has there been a moment in history when so much was all compressed into a little time.” And never since the founding of the country had so much depended on the judgment, the cunning, the timing, and the sheer endurance of one man.

Here’s a Von Drehle TV interview that delves into more details about Rise to Greatness: