Well, I have finally finished reading James M. McPherson’s very interesting book “TRIED BY WAR: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief”. Being totally honest, I am conflicted, confused, and somewhat disappointed in our hero, Abraham Lincoln, after reading this well researched work.
If you’re interested in both the Civil War, and Lincoln, I suggest you get a copy of this book at your local book store or library. It quickly becomes apparent that when the Civil War started, the Union Army was very short on leadership and the Confederate Army, while much smaller had a far superior leadership cadre. Many of the finest West Point graduates were from Southern states, and chose to fight for the Confederacy.
Politics reared its ugly head in the appointment of many untrained and untested northern individuals to command Union positions purely on the basis of political influence. A few went on to successful careers in the Union Army, but most were so totally incompetent that they caused great loss of life and victories for the Southern Confederate forces. Many of the north’s politically appointed generals were ultimately transferred or relieved of their commands, often following disastrous defeats.
Shortly after assuming the Presidency Lincoln immersed himself intensely into the study of military theory, because he had little or no confidence in his Army’s leadership or ability to create battle plans. Repeatedly Lincoln was conflicted by political issues, and delayed or failed to replace ineffective Union Army Generals because of the possibility of causing political fallout to his party.
A question that kept coming into my mind as I read this book was why did it take our government from 1776 until Lincoln came into office to address the issue of slavery? The Declaration of Independence clearly stated ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, but every subsequent President and administration failed to address the issue squarely. Several Presidents and many governmental leaders actually owned slaves and regretfully deferred the issue to later administrations. Political considerations caused the delay of 85 years before Lincoln stood firm on the Abolition of Slavery.
Of concern and disappointment is the fact that Lincoln repeatedly delayed the replacement, retiring, or reassigning General George B. McClellan, the ineffective Commanding General of the Army of the Potomac. There are numerous examples cited by McPherson of Lincoln’s acknowledgement of McClellan’s failures to follow direct orders and battle plans. The delay in the ultimate replacement of McClellan caused the needless loss of tens of thousands of Union soldiers and Confederate troops, as well. McClellan is but one general that should have been replaced far earlier.
Lincoln and his Republican Party ran on an anti-slavery platform, and upon his election Southern States began to secede. He determined that the elimination of slavery was the thing to do, but he put his plan in his desk drawer for many months due to political concerns, and hoped the Civil War could be won quickly. Lincoln’s plan became known as the Emancipation Proclamation. Why did he delay when his re-election was far into the future, and why didn’t he provide the appropriate leadership in replacing underperforming Generals?
There is a very interesting report titled “American Civil War Stories” that establishes the fact that more Americans (north and south) died in the Civil War than in all other U.S. Wars combined since our country was founded. (http://civilwarstories.blogspot.com/2007/10/civil-war-more-troops-died-than-all.html )
I draw your attention to this alarming report because it specifies those killed and wounded in all the Wars with U.S. involvement from 1775 through March, 2007 Operation Iraqi Freedom. In the Civil War the Union Army suffered 363,020 killed, and the Confederacy lost 199,110. Additionally, the wounded totaled 281,104 for the Union, and 137,102 for the Southern forces. Just consider the impact upon families, wives, and children with the loss of 562,130 men killed in the North and the South, plus the disabling of another 418,206 wounded. Combined, the nation was impacted by the death or wounding of 980,336. Can you imagine any politician surviving in office today with those individual statistics during their term in office? Granted, you cannot compare today’s medical treatment, facilities, etc. to 1775, the Civil War era, or even World War I.
I urge you to take a look at the numbers outlined by The American War Library, and go to their link http://members.aol.com/usregistry/allwars.htm . The information covered in this report is very revealing, and a sad indication of nations not solving their issues without War.
Another website of interest that outlines the start of the Civil War and, in particular, events surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation is http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2967.html .
Maybe I am too hard in my appraisal of Abraham Lincoln, who is still a President of great note, but in my opinion his image is somewhat tarnished after reading TRIED BY WAR. Political considerations all too frequently cause greater harm than necessary.