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Lincoln and the Military

Lincoln and the Military

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John F. Marszalek


E-book (Other formats: Hardcover)
10 illustrations

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

When Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1860, he came into office with practically no experience in military strategy and tactics. Consequently, at the start of the Civil War, he depended on leading military men to teach him how to manage warfare. As the war continued and Lincoln matured as a military leader, however, he no longer relied on the advice of others and became the major military mind of the war. In this brief overview of Lincoln’s military actions and relationships during the war, John F. Marszalek traces the sixteenth president’s evolution from a nonmilitary politician into the commander in chief who won the Civil War, demonstrating why Lincoln remains America’s greatest military president.

As tensions erupted into conflict in 1861, Lincoln turned to his generals, including Winfield Scott, George B. McClellan, and Henry W. Halleck, for guidance in running the war. These men were products of the traditional philosophy of war, which taught that armies alone wage war and the way to win was to maneuver masses of forces against fractions of the enemy at the key point in the strategic area. As Marszalek shows, Lincoln listened at first, and made mistakes along the way, but he increasingly came to realize that these military men should no longer direct him. He developed a different philosophy of war, one that advocated attacks on all parts of the enemy line and war between not just armies but also societies. Warfare had changed, and now the generals had to learn from their commander in chief. It was only when Ulysses S. Grant became commanding general, Marszalek explains, that Lincoln had a leader who agreed with his approach to war. Implementation of this new philosophy, he shows, won the war for the Union forces.

Tying the necessity of emancipation to preservation of the Union, Marszalek considers the many presidential matters Lincoln had to face in order to manage the war effectively and demonstrates how Lincoln’s determination, humility, sense of humor, analytical ability, and knack for quickly learning important information proved instrumental in his military success. Based primarily on Lincoln’s own words, this succinct volume offers an easily-accessible window into a critical period in the life of Abraham Lincoln and the history of the nation.


John F. Marszalek is the Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Mississippi State University; the executive director of the Ulysses S. Grant Association's Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at Mississippi State University; and the editor of the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant. He is the author or editor of fourteen books, including Sherman: A Soldier’s Passion for Order.


“John Marszalek’s briskly written survey of the Civil War illuminates and underscores the central, even decisive, role that Lincoln played in crafting Union strategy and managing his often uncooperative generals. In particular, Marszalek shows clearly how a politically skilled Lincoln integrated his antislavery policy with war planning.”—Craig L. Symonds, author of Lincoln and his Admirals

“No conflict in our history better illustrates the positive impact that decisive thinking can have on the outcome. No president to date offers more examples of the difference between being decisive and just making a decision. In its brief compass, Lincoln and the Military ably demonstrates how Lincoln’s thinking impacted military affairs great and small. He was much more than the quaint dilettante testing a new rifle behind the White House. Lincoln integrated political, material, and social weaponry in his handling of his armies and their commanders, applying statecraft in his personal relations, and keen—though not infallible—insight in his strategic counsel. This book is a fine précis of Lincoln’s interaction with his military, demonstrating yet again that Father Abraham was himself one of the Union’s most potent weapons of war.”—William C. Davis, author of The Rogue Republic: How Would-Be Patriots Waged the Shortest Revolution in American History

 “The strategic plans, the operational decisions, the bitter disagreements, the shocking defeats, and the brilliant victories of the Union high command are superbly covered by John Marszalek, who illustrates in compelling fashion how Abraham Lincoln grew into the position of commander in chief. The president was not, as some have argued, a natural military leader who had to tutor West Point generals in the art of war. As Marszalek brilliantly argues, Lincoln learned on the job, and he had many bad days in the office. Yet, through the trials and tribulations, Lincoln eventually found partners in command in Generals Grant and Sherman. They were united in their advocacy of hard war and simultaneous advances against the South. Marszalek concludes this incredibly thoughtful book by suggesting that Lincoln’s greatest gift to the Northern war effort was his management of the dysfunctional politics of the nation’s capital, ensuring that the armies in the field had the necessary material and moral support to secure the cause of Union and emancipation.”—Peter S. Carmichael, Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of History and director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College

"This concise, convincing, and compelling accounting of Abraham Lincoln and the military provides the best "short" treatment of a big subject in print. It should be required reading in courses on the Civil War, and, indeed, is a book that all students of Lincoln and the war will read with profit."--Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's University