Book Review: Lincoln And His Generals

Lincoln And His Generals, by Clarence Edward Macartney

Is this book necessary?  To be fair, there are a lot of books about Abraham Lincoln in existence, many of which I happen to have read and reviewed and many more of which remain unread because it is hard for people to become familiar with the body of work that exists in Lincolnia.  The author attempts to justify the existence of yet another book about Abraham Lincoln by pointing to the fact that the author has chosen to write about an area that is neglected in material concerning Lincoln’s relationships with his generals.  The author attempts to tow a moderate line that shows Lincoln’s seriousness in studying military matters despite a lack of knowledge and background in the area but without claiming that Lincoln was any kind of military genius.  The author does not explore Lincoln’s relationships with all or even most of the generals of the Union army, which would be a monumental task, but rather focuses on the highest generals in roughly the order that he met them and has the perspective that the generals, in pushing for a harder line against rebellion than Lincoln did, were in the right and Lincoln was in the wrong for being too generous-hearted.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages long and consists of several chapters that detail Lincoln’s relationship with various Union leaders.  The book begins with a discussion of Lincoln’s relationship with Winfield Scott, whose poor health and aging made it impossible for him to lead to the extent that he had in the past and whose efforts at influencing Lincoln’s policies were largely unwelcome.  After that the author explores Lincoln’s relationship with Fremont and Butler, whose interference in political matters were of irritation and annoyance to Lincoln but who the author praises for their antislavery behavior and for their strong actions against rebels.  Lincoln’s relationship with McClellan is treated with surprising gentleness and Lincoln is viewed as being more fond of him than anyone else in his cabinet was.  After that the author discusses Lincoln’s relationship with Sherman.  Various discussions of failed efforts for Lincoln to get along with Burnside, who he viewed as an honorable if not particularly talented leader, Hooker, who he treated with considerable paternal fondness, Meade, whose prickly attitude and whose failure to attack Lee the author faults, and Halleck, who was a clerk but not generally very good as an overall leader.  Of course, the book ends with Lincoln’s successful relationship with Grant and some cited sources.

In reading this book it seems unlikely that this book will get appreciation in the way that the author seeks.  Lincoln’s relationship with some of his generals has become a major part of the historiography, especially with regards to Grant, and this book, while unusual in focusing on Lincoln’s troubled relationships with generals, generally adopts a sort of abolitionist approach that some readers will enjoy and others will not.  As a great part of Lincoln’s greatness as a president involved his generosity of spirit, the author’s slighting of these qualities demonstrates a lack of understanding about what at least in part made Lincoln so great.  The result is that this book is a bit more disappointing than it would be if it were a more neutral book.  The choice we make when it comes to political and worldview commitments can really make a great deal of difference in appreciating leaders, as the author has nicer things to say about Fremont and Butler than almost anyone else would.  By and large this book will be appreciated to the extent that the reader brings the same perspective and worldview to it that the author has and that is not the case with me personally.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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