Thursday, March 19, 2009

Lincoln as Commander in Chief

Historian James McPherson has a new book out that looks like it would be a good read for people who are interested in grand strategy and strategic thinking and is now at the top of my wish list: Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. Here's an essay on this topic by McPherson in the Smithsonian Magazine:

When he called state militia into federal service on April 15, 1861—following the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter—Lincoln therefore faced a steep learning curve as commander in chief. He was a quick study, however; his experience as a largely self-taught lawyer with a keen analytical mind who had mastered Euclidean geometry for mental exercise enabled him to learn quickly on the job. He read and absorbed works on military history and strategy; he observed the successes and failures of his own and the enemy's military commanders and drew apt conclusions; he made mistakes and learned from them; he applied his large quotient of common sense to slice through the obfuscations and excuses of military subordinates. By 1862 his grasp of strategy and operations was firm enough almost to justify the overstated but not entirely wrong conclusion of historian T. Harry Williams: "Lincoln stands out as a great war president, probably the greatest in our history, and a great natural strategist, a better one than any of his generals."

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