Kirkus Star Review - "Awarded to Books of Exceptional Merit” - 11/17/13

kirkus star review"A brilliant account of the doomed effort to end the Civil War through diplomacy.

In February 1865 three "commissioners," all prominent members of the Confederate government, met with Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward on a riverboat near Hampton Roads, Va., to explore the possibility of a negotiated end to the Civil War, an event briefly portrayed in the recent film Lincoln. The project appeared hopeless from the start; schemes were launched to derail the conference before it could begin, deftly defeated by further chicanery on the parts of the commissioners and Ulysses Grant. Legal and political difficulties beset the conference as well, given the commissioners' lack of authority to conclude an agreement, Jefferson Davis' claim that he had no authority to dissolve the Confederacy, and Lincoln's refusal to recognize the existence of a separate government in Richmond. In this excellent debut, Boston-based attorney Conroy vividly captures the hope, weariness, despair and anger of the moment and the complexity of feelings on both sides. Everyone yearned for peace, but in the end, Southern hard-liners clung to an increasingly incredible denial of their impending defeat and Northern radicals bent on vengeance made agreement impossible even at this late stage of the war. The author lays out this tragic and fascinating story in a style that is witty, acerbic and ironic. His characters stand out as strikingly distinctive individuals, including the bitter, delusional dead-ender Davis, a man "with a politeness so studied as to be almost sarcastic"; Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, with his "nerve-chilling stare and his perfumed beard"; and Stanton’s agent, the officious Maj. Thomas Eckert, who "descended from Washington City like the coming of the Lord." Towering over all is Lincoln, desperate to end the killing but, despite the fears of the radical Republicans, adamant about reunion and the end of slavery as the price of peace.

A splendid addition to any Civil War library."

[ read review at Kirkus online ]



the civil war monitor]"I suppose that it’s rare to begin a review with a disclosure—but in this case, it seems well worth mentioning that I began reading this book feeling an unusual common bond with author James B. Conroy. Both of us began our careers working on Capitol Hill for hard-driving liberal Democratic members of Congress from New York. At one point, our respective bosses even finished numbers one and two in a survey of the worst tempered officials in the House and Senate. And both of us turned, ultimately, to writing about Lincoln and the Civil War. I have tried to remain dispassionate about this shared professional arc, but I have to admit I began reading Conroy’s book feeling a sense of kinship. Although I’ve never met the fellow, I feel I’d like to, and assume we would have a grand time swapping stories not only about historical figures Alexander H. Stephens and Abraham Lincoln, but also about modern Congressional legends Bella Abzug and James Scheuer.

Until then, I’ve had to settle for reading this sparkling account of the former pair’s extraordinary, but historically neglected, peace meeting at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in February 1865—the culmination of more than a year of efforts by both Union and Confederate officials to spur armistice talks to end the Civil War. Imagine the scene: three southern “peace commissioners” bundled up against the late-winter cold and shuttled off to the no doubt dispiriting scene of the 1862 Monitor-Merrimack duel because Lincoln didn’t want them crashing the 13th Amendment party in Washington—or, worse, stanching the momentum to pass it in the House. Then imagine the giant Lincoln arriving by sea, then renewing his onetime acquaintance with the spectrally thin, sickly Confederate vice president Stephens, his onetime Whig Congressional colleague whose oratory, the future president once confessed, was so unexpectedly powerful it had brought tears to his “old, withered, dry eyes.” Finally, picture a summit predestined for failure—the Confederacy wouldn’t give up independence, the Union would not budge on emancipation—somehow being churned by the press into one of the epic “battles” of the war. How is it possible that this event has not inspired a book before this?..." - Harold Holzer

[ read entire review at The Civil War Monitor online]


Publisher's Weekly - 10/07/2013

Publishers Weekly"In early February 1865, in the midst of the Civil War, a group of Southern and Northern politicians—including President Lincoln—met at Hampton Roads, Va., to negotiate peace between the two warring factions, however skeptically. Plans centered on a proposal to overcome their differences by invading Mexico together, and throughout the peacemaking attempts, the politicians sought secrecy (often in vain) because of strong disapproval from the media and certain peers. Needless to say, the peace conference was a failure. Conroy’s impressively thorough and engaging document details the events leading up to, during, and immediately after the Hampton Roads Peace Conference, which has never before been the sole subject of a book. The book illuminates the conflicting, passionate views on the Civil War—and on the appropriate way to end the war—while giving fascinating insight into the war’s major players: Lincoln and his secretary of state, William H. Seward; Confederate president Jefferson Davis and his vice president, Alexander Stephens; the Blair family of Washington power brokers; and generals Grant, Meade, Lee, and Longstreet. Conroy draws on private journals, official notes, newspaper reports, and more as he untangles this important, but often overlooked, moment in history." (Jan)

[ read full review at Publisher's Weekly online]