Stephen Engle, Ph.D., professor in the Department of History at the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, is garnering national acclaim with his most recent book, "Gathering to Save a Nation: Lincoln and the Union’s War Governors." In it, Engle examines the role of Union governors in securing victory in the Civil War while providing detailed and engaging portraits of them, their state-level actions and their collective cooperation.
The publication earned him the prestigious Barondess/Lincoln Award, and an invitation to speak at Ford’s Theater for the Abraham Lincoln Institute’s “The Latest in Lincoln Scholarship” symposium, which aired live on C-SPAN. We asked Engle to speak with us about his book and what all the recognition means to him.
Q. What prompted you to explore Union governors and their role in the Civil War?
A. I've been interested in the political history of the 19th century for most of my career, but the Civil War presents a rare opportunity to study just how cooperative federalism worked in the nation's critical era. Our national political leaders demonstrated how to work together to save the nation from itself.
Q. This book was many years in the making. What motivated you to keep going?
A. Yes, this volume took nearly 20 years to complete, both in terms of research and writing. I cast my net wide to study history on a grand scale.
I traveled extensively in the northern states and conducted research in a variety of repositories that allowed me to gain some perspective about the political culture of the period. The major struggle was making sense of all that I uncovered in less than 1,000 manuscript pages, as the initial draft was about 1,400 pages.
Q. What‘s the major significance of "Gathering to Save a Nation"?
A. I think it provides new insights about how federalism worked 150 years ago, and continues to work in war and in peace. Our democracy is a work in progress, so perhaps there is something in the past that could prove useful or even instructional to our political leaders of the modern era.
Q. How does it feel to be receiving so much attention for your book?
A. I am humbled by the recognition the book has received. It's quite gratifying to know that people think I've done something in political and Civil War history that is worthy of such acclaim. Given that more than 17,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, I'm glad to have contributed something critics believe is new.
Q. What does your book add to the scholarly conversation about the Civil War?
A. I want readers to understand just how difficult saving the United States truly was for a generation of Americans who struggled several long and fatiguing years to preserve the Union that afforded them many freedoms.