Lincoln and His Generals Essay

This essay has a total of 1531 words and 7 pages.

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
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