Jim's Reviews > Lincoln's Generals

Lincoln's Generals by Gabor S. Boritt
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Apr 08, 10

bookshelves: history, non-fiction
Read in April, 2010

This book is a collection of essays examining the relation between Lincoln and five of his generals: McClellan, Hooker, Meade, Sherman, and Grant. these relations were problematic, both militarily and politically.

It should be kept in mind that the Union war effort was an ad hoc, learn-as-you-go affair. At the war's beginning, the best American commanders had defected to the Confederacy, and the most promising Northern commanders were still to in subordinate positions. The Union genral-in-chief was Winfield Scott, who had held the job since the Mexican War. Also, the concept of president as commander-in-chief was in development. It was not entirely established at war's beginning what kind of authority Lincoln had over his generals in the field.

A lot of this aforementioned development came down to individual personalities. Many in the Northern establishment saw Lincoln as a rustic buffoon, incompetent and unintelligent. Some generals, like McClellan and Sherman, could be openly insubordinate. While Sherman was aggressive and won battles, McClellan was an overly cautious general, always convinced the enemy had the upper hand. Sherman kept his command; McClellan did not.

One of the themes of Lincoln's tenure as commander-in-chief was his search for a fighting general. Often, officers who were superb in as divisional or corps commanders froze when faced with supreme decision-making responsibility in the field. Meade, despite defeating Lee at Gettysburg, was a case in point, failing to follow up his victory by aggressively pursuing and crushing Lee north of the flooded Potomoc river.

In the end, Lincoln appointed Grant as general of the Union forces. Both Grant and Lincoln's supporters would later portray their relationship as a perfect partnership; however, it evolved over time. Lincoln had his misgivings about Grant, and vice versa. That said, they ultimately were of one mind as to strategy and methods. After the war, Grant would reluctantly enter politics to carry on Lincoln's policies.

This is an interesting book, and the essays are good, solid reads. It's probably more interesting for the moderately informed, however. People who are real Civil War buffs won't find anything new in them. There is a good bibliographic essay on the must-read works on the various generals.
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