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Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War

Discussion in 'Abraham Lincoln' started by Abe Lincoln, Mar 13, 2012.

  1. Abe Lincoln

    Abe Lincoln Guest

    During the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln must have had the most challenging presidency in the history of the United States. War is never an easy problem to solve, whether you choose to fight to win, or just try to settle your differences. However, Lincoln had to deal with not only the challenge of the South seceeding from the United States, but also the challenge of raising an army from Northern States who didn't want to get into a war. Also, and i still have a hard time understanding this, the North just couldn't seem to find good leaders in the Military during the early stages of the war.

    My question about Lincoln is, of these challenges, which did Lincoln face effectively, and which were failures that you can only attribute to him?

    If I had to rate Lincoln with my limited knowledge, I'd guess that Lincoln was not such an effective Civil War military leader, and that he was lucky to find and appoint Grant to lead his army to victory.

    However on a Political perspective, he was highly effective, even if some of his methods might be considered "extra-constitutional".

    What are your opinions on the subject?
     

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  3. DanF

    DanF First Sergeant

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    It is hard to fault Lincoln when his generals simply would not do what he told them to. In the beginning of the war many of the union Generals still believed that all that was needed was an adequate show of force and the rebels would return to the union. Thus their strategies were not attack but maneuver trying to capture PLACES rather than inflict damage on the enemy.

    One thing Lincoln had repeatedly stressed was concerted action by his generals attacking and putting pressure at various points of the Confederacy to prevent the Confederacy from maneuvering troops from one place to another to meet threats. But His generals always balked at this.

    It is unfortunate that Grant was not recognized and given overall command much earlier, if Lee had faced Grant at Antietam rather than the ever timid McClellan the war would most likely have been over much sooner. Grant would have never have let Lee slip away like McClellan did.
     
  4. cash

    cash Colonel

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    He didn't need to raise an army until the confederates fired on Fort Sumter, and when that happened the loyal states of the US had no problem with getting into the war that was started by the rebels.


    I would say the Federals had some very good leaders, but they performed poorly as tacticians.

    Lincoln was a military neophyte, but he studied and learned. He meddled with the Army quite a bit, not always to the good, but he learned to trust Grant and Sherman. He was an excellent politician and lawyer, and anything he may have done that was "extra-constitutional" was ratified by the Congress, so in actuality he really didn't do anything that was "extra-constitutional."
     
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  5. cash

    cash Colonel

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    Or, perhaps that early in the war, Grant hadn't developed into the general he was in the second half of the war. Given that, perhaps he would have failed as well. Grant learned lessons throughout the war. He made mistakes, but he seldom repeated them.
     
  6. DanF

    DanF First Sergeant

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    I would not argue against that. only point out that from the beginning Grant was a fighter. which is more than can be said for Lincolns first choices for Heads of the Army of the Potomac.
     
  7. whitworth

    whitworth 2nd Lieutenant

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    "still have a hard time understanding this, the North just couldn't seem to find good leaders in the Military during the early stages of the war."

    Probably a lot of Americans feel this way, especially Americans who only remember the last twenty years of American history. From the Revolutionary war right up through the Korean War, America has depended on few military to actually be capable of fighting a war. The U.S. was totally unprepared for a war, as it was for the Spanish-American war, WWI and WWII. Fortunately for the U.S., the Confederacy was unprepared to win an early war, and was in many ways unprepared to effectively fight a large and long war. The Confederacy had forms of incompetency from beginning to end.

    Abraham Lincoln was a very talented President, but he was never a well trained military leader. It was therefore difficult to pick out the wheat from the chaff. A general that works his way up to a military leadership role in peacetime small army, often is not a great military leader in wartime. Often the great wartime general, can't survive a bureaucratic peacetime army. The U.S. army was so small, it took some ten years for R.E. Lee to go from Second Lieutenant to First Lieutenant. In just four years of Civil War, some lieutenants just out of West Point, rose to the temporary rank of general. Twenty somethings, like Custer and James H. Wilson, found in a few short years, ranks not seen by American military men in thirty years of duty. It was out of this maaelstrom that we found the amateur military man Lincoln attempting to pick a military leadership team
    .
    In the end, Lincoln did a good job, starting at his starting point in experience. But it took him four years of learning and growth in the job. And look how poorly Jefferson Davis did in his four years. Unlike Lincoln, Jeff Davis graduated from West Point, fought as an officer in the Mexican War, was a U.S. Senator and was the U.S. Secretary of War. How did he miss not winning the war in one year, with that experience.
     
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  8. Potomac Pride

    Potomac Pride Corporal

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    Lincoln was a master politician who served in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Congress before he became President.
    As President, few politicians have ever matched his skills in the White House. Unfortunately, Lincoln only had limited experience as a military leader compared to some of the other Presidents. Lincoln's only military experience before he became President was a brief stint in the state militia.
     
  9. KeyserSoze

    KeyserSoze 1st Lieutenant Forum Host

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    My opinion? Lincoln was the deciding factor in the war, through his drive and brilliance and his unshaking devotion to the Constitution and the country. With Lincoln as president then there is no way the Confederacy could have won. Had Lincoln been running the show in Richmond then there is no way the Confederacy could have lost.
     
  10. CSA Today

    CSA Today Major

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    "Then came the Black-Hawk war; and I was elected a Captain of Volunteers -- a success which gave me more pleasure than any I have had since." :nah disagree:
    -- December 20, 1859

    Abraham Lincoln
     
  11. Jantzen

    Jantzen Private

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    It's interesting to study Lincoln's papers to see the evolution of his meddling; with McClellan through Meade, the letters are full of ideas, "suggestions", directives etc. Then, when Grant takes over, you can see Lincoln's messages take on a different tone - always solicitous of not wanting to meddle in Grant's business.
     
  12. jenkingish

    jenkingish Corporal

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    Maybe he just felt Grant didn't need a shove or personal invitation to get moving.
     
  13. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    I have to disagree on this. Lincoln, too, would have lost. The very government structure and the principles upon which the Confederacy was based led as much to its downfall as Davis did. This is a "doomed from the start" scenario, IMO.
     
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  14. Jantzen

    Jantzen Private

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    Exactly. I think Lincoln did meddle in the first several years because he felt the pressure/expectations of the country to take action. I always loved his letter to Hooker (who was rumored to be threatening to launch a military coup) reminding him that only generals who actually win victories can get a chance at taking over power. Cheeky.
     
  15. cash

    cash Colonel

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    Turns out, McDowell may have been absolutely right when he told Lincoln the army wasn't ready to move. Lincoln overruled him.
     
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  16. Jantzen

    Jantzen Private

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    Agreed. But the intersection of political necessity and military practicality is a tricky one indeed.

    I always felt a bit sorry for old Irwin, because he didn't too badly for 90% of the battle, given the rawness of his trrops and inexperience of his leaders. It's that last pesky 10% where he lost absolute control over the battlefield.
     
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  17. diane

    diane Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    One of Lincoln's problems with finding good generals at the beginning of the war was Scott. Scott, a Virginian, had tended to favor Southerners for higher ranks because he felt they were more martial. So, when their states seceded, these generals mostly left. However, many capable Northerners were sitting underneath them. It just took Lincoln some weeding to get men like Grant out where he could use them. Another important thing was Lincoln knew he didn't know - so he read everything on military command and operations that he could get his hands on. His method of learning was to keep reading until things began to stick, and once they stuck in his mind they were there for good! Davis' problem was he thought he knew! He was a West Pointer, after all, and he had had good success in the Mexican War with the Mississippi Rifles. (They were probably the best disciplined outfit there.) He had plenty of good generals to work with right off the bat - except they kept getting killed and there was no one better to replace most of them. He didn't have two important gifts that Lincoln had - to recognize the ability of a lower ranking man and promote him to where he did the best good, and to set aside personal pride. Davis took a great dislike to Jackson, for example, despite Lee's affirmations that he was a dang good general, and would have kept him on a sideline but for Lee. (And it was mutual - Jackson didn't like Davis one tiny bit either!)
     
  18. damYankee

    damYankee Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    There is no simplistic reason for history, it is made up of a combination of factors, personalities, circumstances and manipulation and is always clouded by emotion.
    One truth we should be able to agree on about the Civil War is that the great generals of both sides were Americans. They were not somehow all born Rebels that appeared out of the southern soil. They were products of the West Point!
    VMI was not established to supply leaders for the Confederacy, it's graduates for all of it's history except for a short period between 1860 and 1865 have served the US. Therefore I find it ridicules to claim the US didn't produce a good military commanders for the first few years of the Civil War. The US produced all the great Generals of the Civil War!
    Lee did not attend West Point with the intention of leading the ANV! He was every bit as much an American as was Grant. This is something it seems all Civil War "nuts" of today have forgotten.
    The next great truth that we should be able to agree on is that at the beginning of the war both armies were comprised of little more then armed mobs. Neither side had an advantage, neither side had the ability to force the other into submission of the others will. Every soldier involved in those early battles were Americans! This idea that there was somehow two separate nations sharing one common federal government is totally bogus. Every law passed between George Washington's administration and Buchanan's was influenced as much by Southern states as by their Northern counter parts. The way some people act you would think the Southern states had been forced into the US against their will. Bogus again! They were instrumental in the founding of the US and in fact produced 15 Presidents including Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler, Taylor (all Virginians), and Jackson.
    Until the late 1840's the Senate was controlled by slave states. So lets start this discussion from the understanding that the South was and remains as much a part of the US as it has since the beginning of our revolution.
    In the early years of the Civil War both sides suffered from the plague of "political military commissions" much to the dismay of Lee in the South and Grant in the North. Grant was not a unknown person in military circles (which was a very small circle in 1860). Longstreet knew him very well, was his best man if I recall, and had introduced young Grant to his cousin one Miss. Dent. whom he married, and had even advise others on Lee's staff when word that Lincoln had appointed Grant to lead the AoP that he would fight them at every turn.
    Grant openly wept when news of the deaths of Confederate leaders he knew well reached him. These men that were produced by the small and elite military academes in the small nation that we were then, were members of a small fraternity. There was little chance of advance to higher rank in the US Army that Grant had resigned from earlier. With only 16,000 men serving in 1858, most of them stationed in the western frontier, the chances of advancement had little to do with ability, but more from opportunity and the inevitable political gamesmanship that plague the military institutions of the time.
    However, upon secession the states that formed the CSA lost the resource of West Point, the North did not. West Point continued to supply the North with young officers to replace those that were lost during the war. The South had to depend more and more on promotion of those who either had political influence and very little military knowledge, or were promoted from the rank and file. If the South had an early advantage from experienced leadership it quickly evaporated. The CSA in general suffered more from the lack of institutional and bureaucratic infrastructure through out the war. The South just didn't have the overall co-ordination the North enjoyed. The departments of procurement and command cohesiveness was lacking, as Davis told one newspaper man early in 1861 when asked about the CSA'a state department, "I keep it under my hat" as he pointed to his head gear. When the Davis administration relocated to Richmond the little town of 37,910 grew to 125,000 by 1863. Those seeking political power and offices bloated and overwhelmed it's resources. When the war was over the political hacks and hustlers quickly abandoned the CSA's capital city and by 1870 it had shrank to 52,000. DC also under went great pressure from expansion but the government agencies needed had been in existence and were already functioning, they were forced to expand, the CSA had to create them out of thin air, at the same time it was creating a Navy and a Army and doing so with out the same support for a federal style central government as existed in the North.
    So who had the early advantage?
     
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  19. PlowKing

    PlowKing Corporal

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    enough said! very good post!
     
  20. damYankee

    damYankee Sergeant Major Forum Host

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    Thanks PlowKing I had to make one correction, Richmonds population by 1870 shrank to 52,000, not 70,000.
     
  21. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Lincoln's big failure in 1861 was overestimating Unionist feeling in the white South. His words and actions are conciliatory, and even standing firm at Fort Sumter was done in the lowest profile way. He thought there would be a general "coming to their senses" and the secession crisis would peter out.

    Obviously southern politicians underestimated Unionist feeling in the North. But Davis was preparing to fight, even if he hoped he didn't have to.

    Lincoln's success, although not all his action, is that he held on to Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland, three slave states that the Confederates hoped would join them.
     

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