Over Lincoln's Shoulder
The Committee on the Conduct of the War
Choice Outstanding Title
Shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, Congress established the Joint Committee on the Conduct of War to investigate such matters as military contracts, trade with the enemy, treatment of the wounded, and the causes of Union defeat. But its greatest efforts were directed toward a more vigorous war effort—endorsing emancipation, the use of black soldiers, and the appointment of fighting generals—leading President Lincoln to fear that this watchdog committee would become little more than an "engine of agitation."
“Draws together far more material about the JCCW than any previous study and places the JCCW’s activities firmly in the larger political and military context of the war.”
—Journal of Military History
“This excellent history of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War provides an instructive example of the work of congressional committees, leaving the reader to judge the merits for better or worse.”
—ParametersSee all reviews...
“Tap’s survey of the activities of the Joint Committee is the most comprehensive treatment of this powerful political forum we have had yet.”
—Civil War News
“An exemplary study. It will no doubt stand for a long time to come as the definitive account of the Committee on the Conduct of the War.”
“This well-written book should be of interest to all readers who seek a better understanding of the role of Congress during the Civil War and its relationship with the army and Lincoln.”
—North Carolina Historical Review
“An excellent introduction to an often overlooked area of northern political management of the Civil War.”
—Michigan Historical Review
“Tap’s case is one worth making. He argues that the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War produced little good and some harm, polarizing politicians against professional soldiers, limiting strategic options, and inflating the reputations of military incompetents. These errors, he shows, stemmed from ignorance of military art and from partisanship. Although his conclusions will raise some eyebrows, he provides good evidence for his case. A solid and readable old-fashioned political history, this book will correct our image of the relationship between Republicans and the army in the Civil War.”
—Mark E. Neely, Jr., author of The Last Best Hope of Earth
“This book fills a major gap in the study of the Civil War and does so in a way that is authoritative and probably definitive. It will achieve a permanent place in Civil War scholarship.”
—Albert Castel, author of Decision in the WestSee fewer reviews...
The COCOW generated controversy throughout the war, and its legacy sparks debate even today over whether it invigorated or hampered the Union war effort. In the wake of both critical and sympathetic appraisals, Bruce Tap now offers the first history of COCOW's activities, focusing on the nature of its power and its influence on military policy in order to show conclusively what its ultimate impact really was.
Tap presents solid evidence, including examples of contact between Congress and the military, to show that the COCOW produced little good and no small amount of harm. The Committee's principal members entertained simplistic notions about warfare that led to rash judgments about its conduct, and because its goals were congruent with Republican ideology, its principal criterion in evaluating military leadership was adherence to anti-slavery beliefs. As a result, the COCOW polarized Congress and the Army, limited strategic options, demoralized the Union's top generals, and inflated the reputations of incompetent soldiers. As Tap demonstrates, it was in many ways a serious impediment to the war effort, due not to its fanaticism or vindictiveness as some historians have suggested, but rather to its members' total ignorance of military matters.
Over Lincoln's Shoulder is a revisionist account that corrects prevailing images of the relationship between Republican politicians and the Army during the Civil War. By examining the conflict between Congress's constitutional right to investigate and the impropriety of its actions, it raises questions that are applicable today about the ability of legislative bodies to function in areas where specialized knowledge is required.