Elizabeth Leonard (history) was awarded the 2012 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize for her biography of Joseph Holt, Lincoln’s top prosecutor and a key but often overlooked player during and after the Civil War.
Leonard, a co-winner of the $50,000 prize, was honored for Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky. A Civil War and American women’s history expert, Leonard is the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History. She shared the award with William C. Harris, Lincoln and Civil War historian and professor emeritus of history at North Carolina State University.
Past Lincoln Prize winners include historian Doris Kearns Goodwin ’64 and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. This year’s two winners were selected from 116 nominations. Notified of the prize in January, Leonard said in an e-mail to colleagues, “I am speechless.”
Relying on Holt’s letters and other primary sources, Leonard traced Holt’s political trajectory from a privileged upbringing in Kentucky to his place in the administration of four presidents. He was best known as the prosecutor who upheld the execution order for Mary Surratt, a conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination, and as an opponent of efforts to undo many of the changes wrought by Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Lincoln historians praised Leonard’s work for raising Holt from obscurity and recounting his crucial role in many events of the Civil War period.
The award was presented in New York City April 11 by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.