It is amazing how unprepared both sides were for war, but particularly the North:
In 1861 the general in chief of the army, which at the beginning of the war numbered about 16,000 men, was Winfield Scott…born in 1786…he was physically incapable of commanding an army in the field. He could not ride, he could not walk more than a few steps without pain, and he had dropsy and vertigo.
The South, while possessing better generals, was equally unprepared and confusion reigned more than competence. Couple the confusion with rivalries (on both sides) for the best commissions and it’s a wonder fighting (on battlefields) ever began.
T. Harry Williams does a wonderful job of leading the reader through the development of the command structure and the commanders. In particular, as one might assume from the title, Abraham Lincoln emerges as perhaps our ablest commander-in-chief ever. He certainly took more of a direct hand in the affairs of the war than any previous president and probably any since.
The development of Lincoln into a competent commander-in-chief is the underlying plot line of this book. It is ironic that the generals pictured on the cover, George B. McClellan, Nathaniel Banks, John C. Frémont and John Alexander McClernand were some of the commanders who gave Lincoln the most headaches.
There’s a saying that one’s favorite child is the one giving you the least trouble. I would have liked to see more pages devoted to U.S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, George Thomas, and other competent generals and less of the likes of the commanders on the cover. However, it was commanders like those pictured on the cover that developed Lincoln into the commander-in-chief who lead the north to victory.
Abraham Lincoln emerges from this pages as a man with superior strategic grasp and as a man who knew how to get the best out of his subordinates—even George B. McClellan, who considered Lincoln an ignoramus and was Lincoln’s opponent in the 1864 presidential race.
Along the way we learn a lot about the war, the various personalities and why we had the conflict to begin with.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone seeking to broaden their knowledge on the Civil War and more specifically on the northern war effort and strategy.
Other books that tie into this book include:
- Lincoln on Leadership—an excellent book on how Lincoln developed into a leader and how we can use his principles today.
- Jefferson Davis and His Generals—focus is most on the western theater, but a good contrast to Lincoln’s style.