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Lincoln and His Generals (1952)

de T. Harry Williams

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Offers a portrait of President Lincoln as commander-in-chief of the Union forces during the Civil War and his emergence as a master strategist.

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This book is very detailed based with footnotes for every conversation Lincoln had or should have had, and debates the merits of each side that recalls each conversation. Very well documented for historical purposes. And it does explain to the modern mind, the reasons and personalities that caused the Union side of this vast conflict to be so mismanaged for so long.

What, I would have liked was more maps explaining the various points and routes of march and conflict. (Probably the same thing that the Generals in question would have liked.) I can't imagine trying to create a battle plan when most of the terrain wasn't mapped and documented like it is today.

Clearly Lincoln had a better sense of what the battle planning should have been all along, although I'm surprised that he put up with incompetent Generals for too long and at the cost of so many lives and effort.

In the end only the fractured Southern military structure was worse than the Union command structure. Robert E. Lee was caught up managing minor supply issues, when he should have been surrounded by lesser Generals planing the day to day issues, while he did the larger strategic planning. Also, the commanders of Corps, Brigades, etc, in the South, relied on the orders coming from each state's own command. I.E. Thus Robert E. Lee, could in some cases only suggest that the Georgia regiments attack, and not directly order them. Also, the numbers were against the South, as they could not begin to replenish troops, once they were lost, while the North was still taking in immigrants and signing them up in the streets of New York, some, soon after they embarked.

It would be a good comparison to do the same effort for the command structure of World War I, (with Black Jack Pershing commanding US Marines as well as US Army troops in France), and with the World War II command with Theatre of Operational commanders like Douglas McArthur and Dwight Eisenhower.

I'm afraid that the lessons we learn from historical conflicts, are only used to entrench the learned battle techniques into the next war, until they stop working, and we have to go back to the drawing board all over again.

Military secrets are the most fleeting of all secrets, and the tactics for one set of technology can be disastrious if used for the following conflict when the technology has seriously changed. See Pickett's charge which is regarded in some circles as the last Highland charge. Marching into well aimed rifle fire, and double canister fire from cannons, was just impossible. Doing the same years earlier, when smooth bore muskets had a wildly inaccurate firing pattern, was entirely possible.

Of course, some one may be writing a book now, on how the US military command structure of the Afghanistan conflict, is totally screwing up the ability of US troops to fight that war. ( )
  McBadger | Sep 25, 2012 |
T. Harry Williams was a fine teacher and writer in the field of American History. He is probably best known for his extensive biography of Huey Long.
Mr. Williams book, '"Lincoln and His Generals", is an account of the difficulties President Lincoln went through with the generals who commanded The Army of the Potomac.
George McClellan was the first general who held the position commanding the Army of the Potomac for a lengthy period. He reorganized the Army after the First Battle of Bull Run and was extremely popular with the men. The relationship between McClellan and Lincoln was extremely difficult. McClellan was arrogant and distrustful and once went to bed while Lincoln was waiting to see him. McClellan always doubled the number of the army he was facing justifying his slowness in proceeding. He belittled Lincoln's attempts to understand strategy and tactics and constantly pestered Lincoln for supplies and reinforcements. Lincoln exercised a great deal of patience and diplomacy to no avail. McClellan was fired once and then reinstated. When he delayed pursuing Lee's army after the Battle of Antietam or Sharpsburg he was removed for the duration of the war. In 1864 McClellan was the Democratic nominee for president opposing Lincoln.
After McClellan came Ambrose Burnside who correctly doubted his qualifications for the position. He substantiated his doubts at the Battle of Fredericksburg and was relieved shortly after. Next Lincoln selected Joe Hooker. With his appointment Hooker received from Lincoln a personal letter plainly setting forth what Lincoln saw as Hooker's strengths and weaknesses. This letter was a unique event in communications between a President and a leading general and shows Lincoln's efforts to find and work with a general to lead the Army of the Potomac. Hooker worked diligently and moved to attack Lee's army with 120,000 men. He became the victim of Lee's superbly executed plan of battle at Chancellorsville. He was relieved shortly after Lee brought his army north in June of 1863.
George Meade won a defensive victory at Gettysburg but was criticized for his failure to pursue Lee's army as it moved back south. Then U. S. Grant was appointed to lead the Northern army. He established his headquarters with the Army of the Potomac and became the de facto commander of that army.
U.S. Grant was vastly different than his predecessor's. Lincoln had finally found a general who would lead the army without excuses or endless demands for more supplies or men. Grant did not require daily supervision or prodding to initiate action. Lincoln could concentrate on his duties as the President while Grant led the army.
This book is a well written detailed story of problems encountered in finding a competent commander for the North's most important army. This is one of the many reasons that the war dragged on so long before the victory of the North. ( )
  wildbill | Sep 1, 2008 |
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I have written in this book the story of Abraham Lincoln the commander in chief.
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Offers a portrait of President Lincoln as commander-in-chief of the Union forces during the Civil War and his emergence as a master strategist.

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