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Lincoln and his generals

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Lincoln and his generals

Book Report: Lincoln and His Generals

Author: Williams, T. Harry

Harry T. Williams was born on May 19, 1909. When in college, he was encouraged by a professor to study history. This professors main interest was the Civil War era and had a great effect on Williams. He attended Platteville State Teachers College (later Wisconsin State University at Platteville) where he received a B.Ed in 1931. Williams continued education into graduate school was mainly due to the lack of work during the Great Depression. He went on to earn a Ph.M. in 1932, and Ph.D. in 1937, from the University of Wisconsin (Dawson 431).

Lincoln and His Generals was the breakthrough book for Williams who had only written one book previously. This book provided him with many national and local acclaims. He book was on the best seller list, he received rave reviews in national publications, and scholarly awards where he was teaching at the time, L.S.U. He would go on to become a very respected writer during his forty-year career. He would also win the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his book Huey Long (437).

Williams main theme in Lincoln and His Generals is about the Civil War being the first modern war and Lincoln's function in the position of President. He introduces the state of the Union army as one that has no shape to it. This includes the lack of any plan of attack, as the thought of war had not been translated into any type of scheme. The armies lacked organization and communication, and existing qualified generals were old and inept. The first task that Lincoln had was the immediate selection of Generals. Lincoln's selection process was sometimes based on political and personal grounds, and he was in the position of selecting from a pool of generals that had no experience leading a large army. Williams

tells us that even if the selection was for political reasons, Lincoln had the 'national cohesion' in mind. It appears that control was an important factor in Lincoln's selections, however, Williams continually argues that if Lincoln had had generals who were more competent he would not have interfered as much. In Lincoln, one sees a willing amateur, one who had the ability to bring out the best in some men, and also learn from them (Williams 11).

Williams gives us insight into Lincoln's thought process into who Lincoln really was. Williams superbly supports this with various examples and numerous interactions that Lincoln had with his Generals. For example, Lincoln's selection of General Scott, the first General of the Union forces. When Lincoln interacted with Scott, he showed a deference for Scott's age and knowledge. Thus allowing Scott to share his skills, this humility was shored by General McClellan. Lincoln later changes his approach towards McClellan, trying to boost his confidence and courage. Williams continually shows McClellan as an egotist, who eventually replaced Scott as General in chief. McClellan is depicted as unsure, indecisive, self-centered and fearful of declaring war. Lincoln continually defends McClellan but is not afraid of tactfully sending criticism his way. One could easily be lead to believe that Lincoln was more of a placator. Williams shows us that Lincoln never hesitated in making difficult decisions based on results. Lincoln's people skills are easily ascertained in Williams writings. Lincoln seems keen at applying pressure as well as giving his generals a free hand when necessary.

Williams shows an interesting side of Lincoln's patience that wears thin when there are no early victories and from the lack of aggressiveness on the Union side. Williams shows a gradual transformation on Lincoln's selection process. Initially each general was selected on characteristics such as battle experience and political backing. As the enemy holds out and there is inaction, Lincoln starts to doubt the ability of his generals and starts to seek generals who can win without excuses.

Williams captures the pressures that are placed on Lincoln. The union government and the public were questioning the inactivity of McClellan and his troops. Lincoln is willing to absorb most of this

pressure but eventually seeks answers to the same questions. Williams shows the desperate side of

Lincoln. Lincoln starts to recklessly agree to attack plans that he did not agree with, just because he was desperate to see action from McClellan.

Williams indicates that Lincoln is a much misunderstood man through the eyes of his Generals. His chief general McClellan thought little of him and yet Lincoln had few doubts about him early on. The Generals were sometimes lacking in appropriately feeding information back to Lincoln. Often a simple suggestion was taken as a direct order. I feel that William ...

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