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Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives

Four Women Who Influenced the Civil War—for Better and for Worse

Award Winners, Civil War Era, Civil War in the North, Explore Women's History, History, Understanding Civil War History, Women’s Studies

Award Star IconWinner of the 2017 Bronze IPPY (Independent Publisher Book Awards), US History.

Award Star IconWinner of the 2017 Silver IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) Ben Franklin Award, History.

Award Star IconWinner of the 2017 Sarton Women’s Book Awards under Biography

“Candice Hooper’s vivid new look at the lives of these Union generals’ wives reveals a hidden chapter of Civil War history. Brimming with rich detail, Hooper’s brisk and beguiling narrative weaves together the military and the personal to introduce a fascinating cast of characters: John Charles Frémont and Jessie Benton, George McClellan and his wife Nelly, Ellen and William T. Sherman, and Ulysses Grant and Julia Dent. These Union women emerge from the shadows and take their rightful place in the forefront of Civil War women’s history.” – Catherine Clinton, author of Mrs. Lincoln: A Life

Book iconCWBA interview with the author


DescriptionHow a quartet of military wives aided—and sometimes undermined—the Union cause
The story of the American Civil War is not complete without examining the extraordinary and influential lives of Jessie Frémont, Nelly McClellan, Ellen Sherman, and Julia Grant, the wives of Abraham Lincoln’s top generals. They were their husbands’ closest confidantes and had a profound impact on the generals’ ambitions and actions. Most important, the women’s own attitudes toward and relationships with Lincoln had major historical significance.

Candice Shy Hooper’s lively account covers the early lives of her subjects, as well as their families, their education, their political attitudes, and their personal beliefs. Once shots were fired on Fort Sumter, the women were launched out of their private spheres into a wholly different universe, where their relationships with their husbands and their personal opinions of the president of the United States had national and historical consequences.

The approaches and styles of Frémont and McClellan contrast with those of Sherman and Grant, and there is equal symmetry in their wives’ stories. Jessie Frémont and Nelly McClellan both encouraged their husbands to persist in their arrogance and delusion and to reject the advice and friendship of their commander in chief. In the end, Jessie and Nelly contributed most to the Union war effort by accelerating their husbands’ removal from active command. Conversely, while Ellen Sherman’s and Julia Grant’s belief in their husbands’ character and potential was ardent, it was not unbounded. Ellen and Julia did not hesitate to take issue with their spouses when they believed their actions were wrong or their judgments ill-advised. They intelligently supported their husbands’ best instincts—including trust in and admiration for Lincoln—and rebuffed their worst. They were the source of strength that Sherman and Grant used to win the Civil War.

Relying on a close reading of letters, memoirs, and other primary sources—and, for the first time, mapping the women’s wartime travels—Hooper explores the very different ways in which these remarkable women responded to the unique challenges of being Lincoln’s generals’ wives.

“Cliches ought to be avoided like, well, cliches, yet occasionally one has substance, and none more than the old adage about there being a good woman behind every successful man. It is almost always true, and demonstrated nowhere better than in Candice Hooper’s fine new work Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives. No women gave their husbands greater entree into high political and military circles than Jesse Benton Frémont, ‘Nelly’ Marcy McClellan, and Ellen Ewing Sherman. None acted as a greater stabilizing force and safe haven from the pressure of command than Julia Dent Grant. Among them they reveal the full gamut of a spouse’s potential influence on her husband’s career, from the harm to be done by Jesse’s too strong an advocacy, to the damage done by Nelly’s ego boosting, to Ellen’s unflinching faith and loyalty that sustained her ‘Cump,’ and perhaps most of all in Julia, whom Hooper aptly summarizes in three perfect words: ‘center of gravity.’ This is a fine book, imaginatively conceived, deeply researched, and ably written. Our hats should be off to all five of the women involved.” – William C. Davis Jr., author of Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee–The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged

“Candice Shy Hooper’s Lincoln’s Generals’ Wives offers unprecedented opportunities to appreciate heretofore unheard voices in the strategic debates that shaped wartime polices in the Civil War North. The four generals whose spouses are profiled in this work all benefited from both the overt and subtle input of their closest confidante who might serve as a moral compass, calm doubts or rein in overconfidence, or quietly and simply provide a secure sounding board for important decisions. As the author clearly shows, the wives of Generals Frémont, McClellan, Sherman, and Grant each tried to meet these challenges, and Hooper’s evaluation of their methods and priorities—as well as their successes and failures–merits our attention.” – Carol Reardon, George Winfree Professor of American History, Penn State University

“For those who think they know everything about the Civil War, here are fresh, revealing, well- crafted portraits of women who not only helped propel their husbands to major military careers, but established themselves, for better or worse, as formidable battlers in their own right. Yet this is even more than behind-the-scenes history. For in turning the spotlight on the generals’ wives, the author invariably shines humanity on chieftains we have heretofore imagined only in tents, not homes; in the company of fellow officers, not families. Candy Hooper’s research and analysis helps us better understand what inspired—or inhibited—these generals, and how their spouses helped shape them into heroes—or failures.” – Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (winner of the Lincoln Prize)

“If ever there has been a need for a particular book, it is certainly for this one. Candy Hooper has studied the wives of four Civil War generals and demonstrated the essential roles they played in their husbands’ lives and the life of the nation. She presents important insights into military history, the Civil War, and gender history. Scholars and the general public will find this book well-written and intriguing. It is a must read.” – John F. Marszalek, executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association’s Ulysses S. Presidential Library, Mississippi State University and the author of important books on Grant, Sherman, and the Civil War

AuthorCandice Shy Hooper’s writing has been published in The Journal of Military History and The New York Times. She received her M.A. in history from The George Washington University and is a member of the Board of Advisors of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., and of the advisory board of the Ulysses S. and Julia D. Grant Historical Home in Detroit, Michigan.