Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies

Commander of All Lincoln’s Armies

A Life of General Henry W. Halleck

John F. Marszalek

ISBN 9780674014930

Publication date: 12/17/2004

In the summer of 1862, President Lincoln called General Henry W. Halleck to Washington, D.C., to take command of all Union armies in the death struggle against the Confederacy. For the next two turbulent years, Halleck was Lincoln's chief war advisor, the man the President deferred to in all military matters. Yet, despite the fact that he was commanding general far longer than his successor, Ulysses S. Grant, he is remembered only as a failed man, ignored by posterity.

In the first comprehensive biography of Halleck, the prize-winning historian John F. Marszalek recreates the life of a man of enormous achievement who bungled his most important mission. When Lincoln summoned him to the nation's capital, Halleck boasted outstanding qualifications as a military theorist, a legal scholar, a brave soldier, and a California entrepreneur. Yet in the thick of battle, he couldn't make essential decisions. Unable to produce victory for the Union forces, he saw his power become subsumed by Grant's emergent leadership, a loss that paved the way for Halleck's path to obscurity.

Harnessing previously unused research, as well as the insights of modern medicine and psychology, Marszalek unearths the seeds of Halleck's fatal wartime indecisiveness in personality traits and health problems. In this brilliant dissection of a rich and disappointed life, we gain new understanding of how the key decisions of the Civil War were taken, as well as insight into the making of effective military leadership.


  • Often ignored, often disparaged, Henry W. Halleck has long required a serious biography by an accomplished Civil War historian. John Marszalek's effort was worth the wait. This book finally sheds light on how 'Old Brains' earned his moniker, and what he did-and gallingly failed to do-that caused him to forfeit it. Here is a highly valuable, highly readable contribution to Civil War scholarship that not only paints a vivid portrait of a complex life, but sheds much new light on the complexities of 19-century military command.

    —Harold Holzer, co-Chairman of the US Lincoln Bicentennial Commission


  • John F. Marszalek is W. L. Giles Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, and Executive Director and Managing Editor of the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s U. S. Grant Presidential Library, at Mississippi State University.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press