Lincoln and His Admirals

Lincoln and His Admirals

by Craig L. Symonds
     
 

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Abraham Lincoln began his presidency admitting that he knew "but little of ships," but he quickly came to preside over the largest national armada to that time, not eclipsed until World War I. Written by naval historian Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals unveils an aspect of Lincoln's presidency unexamined by historians until now, revealing how he

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Overview

Abraham Lincoln began his presidency admitting that he knew "but little of ships," but he quickly came to preside over the largest national armada to that time, not eclipsed until World War I. Written by naval historian Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals unveils an aspect of Lincoln's presidency unexamined by historians until now, revealing how he managed the men who ran the naval side of the Civil War, and how the activities of the Union Navy ultimately affected the course of history.
Beginning with a gripping account of the attempt to re-supply Fort Sumter—a comedy of errors that shows all too clearly the fledgling president's inexperience—Symonds traces Lincoln's steady growth as a wartime commander-in-chief. Absent a Secretary of Defense, he would eventually become de facto commander of joint operations along the coast and on the rivers. That involved dealing with the men who ran the Navy: the loyal but often cranky Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, the quiet and reliable David G. Farragut, the flamboyant and unpredictable Charles Wilkes, the ambitious ordnance expert John Dahlgren, the well-connected Samuel Phillips Lee, and the self-promoting and gregarious David Dixon Porter. Lincoln was remarkably patient; he often postponed critical decisions until the momentum of events made the consequences of those decisions evident. But Symonds also shows that Lincoln could act decisively. Disappointed by the lethargy of his senior naval officers on the scene, he stepped in and personally directed an amphibious assault on the Virginia coast, a successful operation that led to the capture of Norfolk. The man who knew "but little of ships" had transformed himself into one of the greatest naval strategists of his age.

Co-winner of the 2009 Lincoln Prize

Winner of the 2009
Barondess/Lincoln Prize by the Civil War Round Table of New York John Lyman Award of the North American Society for Oceanic History Daniel and Marilyn Laney Prize by the Austin Civil War Round Table Nevins-Freeman Prize of the Civil War Round Table of Chicago

Editorial Reviews

Michael F. Bishop
Symonds…charts Lincoln's development from uncertain amateur to masterful leader…through the refreshingly unfamiliar prism of naval affairs…Lincoln and His Admirals is that rare thing, an important Lincoln book of genuine originality.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Lincoln 's role as commander-in-chief during the Civil War is most often assessed through his dealings with his Union generals; thus, Symonds's expert and accessible work on the naval side is a real boon. He gives us a meticulous and graceful interpretive narrative, rich with primary-source anecdote, of Lincoln's relationship with the U.S. Navy and his evolution as a naval strategist. Symonds (emeritus, U.S. Naval Academy; Decision at Sea) keeps the characters central to his story, from the crusty, haphazardly bewigged secretary of the navy, Gideon Welles, to whom the new President confessed, "I know but little about ships," to assistant naval secretary Gustavus Vasa Fox and admirals with such familiar names as Farragut, Porter, DuPont, and Dahlgren. The Department of War and the Department of the Navy were cabinet coequals in Lincoln's time. Lincoln's dedication to the latter in pursuit of coastal and river dominance was crucial to Civil War victory. Essential for all Lincoln collections.

[For a review of Tantor Media's audiobook of William Lee Miller's President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, see p. 179.-Ed.]


—Margaret Heilbrun
Kirkus Reviews
A former history professor at the Naval Academy examines Lincoln's growth as commander in chief through his relations with the United States Navy. Lincoln's invention of a device to lift boats over river shoals belied his early confession to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles that "I know but little about ships." The Civil War forced the 16th president to know a lot more, and Symonds (Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History, 2005, etc.) expertly demonstrates how he learned about ships, strategy, new technologies and, above all, about dealing with the fractious personalities to whom he delegated naval operations. At crucial times throughout the war, Lincoln asserted himself as advocate or arbitrator, sorting out quarrels among the dutiful but rebarbative Welles, who deeply resented interference in his department with Secretary of State William Seward and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Lincoln also oversaw the officious Gustavus Fox and subtly shaped the careers of senior officers like ordnance expert John A. Dahlgren and the initially successful, finally disappointing Samuel Francis Du Pont. Symonds limns these and many other striking personalities and examines the signal naval incidents of the war, including the unsuccessful effort to resupply Fort Sumter; the Kearsarge's sinking of the notorious Confederate raider Alabama; the blockade of Southern ports; the Trent affair; the historic battle of the ironclads Monitor and Merrimack; David Dixon Porter's gunboats mastery, which helped capture Vicksburg; and David Farragut's heroics at Mobile Bay. But the focus remains on Lincoln-how he mastered people and the problems touching the Navy and his direction of theriver, harbor and ocean war that proved every bit as crucial to Union success as the more celebrated battlefield victories. For scholars and the general reader alike, an insightful and highly readable treatment of a neglected dimension of Lincoln's wartime leadership. See also James M. McPherson's forthcoming Tried By War (2008) for a broader portrait of Lincoln's role as commander in chief.
From the Publisher
"Lincoln and His Admirals is that rare thing, an important Lincoln book of genuine originality."—Michael F. Bishop, Washington Post Book World

"Splendid...By the end of the Civil War, Mr. Symonds shows us the Navy, both on the oceans and on the Western rivers, had played a major role in bringing about a Union victory, thanks in no small part to Lincoln's persistent naval leadership."—The Wall Street Journal

"Outstanding...the wide-ranging naval war was fought on vast oceans and inland rivers, and Mr. Symonds restores Lincoln's passion for the Navy to its proper place."—James L. Swanson, Washington Times

"Scores of books have detailed Lincoln's struggles with reluctant generals during the Civil War, but few have examined his relationship with naval leaders. Craig Symonds, professor emeritus of history at the Naval Academy, sets out to change that in 'Lincoln and his Admirals'...Symonds delivers a fast-paced, crisply written account of the naval war and Lincoln's patient handling of Welles, Fox and the men who served them, including such famous admirals as David Glasgow Farragut, David Dixon Porter and John Dahlgren."—Seattle Times

"We know a great deal about President Lincoln's relations with his generals but much less about his dealings with his admirals and his Navy Department. Craig L. Symonds, a professor emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy, has filled this gap with a compelling tale about Lincoln's dealings with the Navy and the prickly men who ran it...Mr Symonds has provided more than a splendid study of the Civil War at sea; he offers fresh insights into Lincoln as commander in chief."—John M. Taylor, Washington Times

"Craig Symonds took the challenge, and the retired Naval Academy professor has produced a study as fascinating as it is revealing...Symonds has the rare ability to bring history alive through individuals who made it...Symonds has given us one of the year's best additions to Civil War history, whether or not you are a landlubber."—Roanoke Times

"Readers already familiar with Lincoln's experiences with the army will find much to commend in Symonds' eye-opening Lincoln and His Admirals, as McPherson attests in a dust-jacket comment on the book. The book, he says, finally gives the Union navy and its commander in chief the credit they deserve for their important role in winning the Civil War."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Symonds, a prize-winning historian who taught at the U.S. Naval Academy, brings us yet another new way of looking at Lincoln - as a commander in chief who, by his own admission, knew "little about ships." Lincoln's relationship with his generals is one of the better-known side stories of the Civil War. Symonds reminds us that Lincoln had to keep his eye on the seas, rivers and admirals as well. "—Newark Star Ledger

"Solidly researched, well argued, and engagingly written. What really makes the book stand out, however, is the insight that Symonds provides into the minds and actions of the key players."—Civil War Book Review

"The definitive work on the 16th president's leadership of the navy."—Publishers Weekly

"The Civil War forced the 16th president to know a lot more, and Symonds expertly demonstrates how he learned about ships, strategy, new technologies and, above all, about dealing with the fractious personalities to whom he delegated naval operations... For scholars and the general reader alike, an insightful and highly readable treatment of a neglected dimension of Lincoln's wartime leadership."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Superbly researched... Symonds has written an excellent work that describes both Lincoln's growing confidence and competence as a naval strategist as well as his relations with various naval commanders... This will be a fine addition to Civil War collections."—Booklist

"Lincoln's role as commander-in-chief during the Civil War is most often assessed through his dealings with his Union generals; thus, Symonds's expert and accessible work on the naval side is a real boon. He gives us a meticulous and graceful interpretive narrative, rich with primary-source anecdote, of Lincoln's relationship with the U.S. Navy and his evolution as a naval strategist... Essential for all Lincoln collections."—Library Journal

"We utter the names of Lincoln's admirals, such as Farragut and Porter, far less often than the names of his Generals, good or bad. And Craig L. Symonds' Lincoln and His Admirals is one of the relatively few books on the role of the maritime, studies focusing on Lincoln and his admirals being rarer still."—Baton Rouge Advocate

"'Lincoln and His Admirals' is an important book. It is easily the most comprehensive study to date on the development of Union naval strategy during the Civil War. Meticulously researched from primary sources, it concentrates on President Abraham Lincoln's role in the naval war...Much has been written on the relationship of Lincoln and his generals; now we have the same for Lincoln and his admirals. Anyone wishing to understand the naval Civil War and its relation to the fighting on land will want to read this book."—Journal of Military History

"We know a great deal about Lincoln and his generals, but until now very little about Lincoln and his admirals. With a compelling portrait of personalities and a sharp analysis of strategy, Craig Symonds offers a gripping narrative that finally gives the Union navy—and its commander-in- chief—the credit they deserve for the important part they played in winning the Civil War." —James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"Symonds is one of the finest American military historians in this generation."—Gabor Boritt, Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director, Civil War Institute, Gettysburg College

"This is an epic story—the quintessential, mal-de-mer-prone landlubber morphing into the admiral-in-chief of the mightiest armada on the planet. Spinning the yarn with resourceful scholarship and narrative verve, peerless naval historian Craig Symonds succeeds in creating an entirely new portrait of Lincoln: not only as healer of the land, but conqueror of the sea."—Harold Holzer, Co-Chairman, U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

"Craig L. Symonds has filled a gap by giving us a superb account of Abraham Lincoln's relationship with the navy and the people who ran it. Beautifully written, the narrative is also lively and informative. He eloquently describes how Lincoln's judicious temperament complemented his irascible 'Neptune,' Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles along with the calumny, envy, personal conflicts, and thirst for promotion that permeated the deep sea and riverine forces. This is the most complete and edifying story of Mr. Lincoln and his 'webbed-feet.'"—Frank Williams, Chief Justice, Rhode Island State Supreme Court and Lincoln Scholar

"Lincoln and His Admirals is simply superb and Craig Symonds' analysis of US Navy leadership during the Civil War is magnificent! The Lincoln-esque gems placed throughout the book made reading it a delight. The chapters on the Fort Sumter crisis and the Trent affair are incisive and the best discussions of these dramas I have ever read. Symonds brought back to life our Civil War admirals and Navy Secretary Gideon Welles and shared their triumphs and their setbacks as they richly deserved."— David Sutherland, President, Indianapolis Civil War Round Table (2001-02 and 2007-08)

"Symonds's book is a necessary addition to the Civil War scholar's bookshelf. Casual readers will enjoy it for its wonderful prose and anecdotal style."—Centre Daily Times

"Symonds is a talented author who keeps the reader engrossed from the first page. I particularly appreciated his ability to show Lincoln's strong interest in technology, ranging from ironclads to new weapons. The book is superbly researched with a portfolio of primary and secondary sources. I recommend this book to all officers attending professional military institutions for the insights it offers to the Civil War period at sea and Lincoln as commander-in-chief."—Military Review

"Symonds is tilling some important new ground in this pioneering study.... [It is] revelatory in its scope, vivid in its characterizations of the key figures, and thought-provoking in the way a fresh story emerges from an oft-covered subject.... a strong and original contribution."—Naval History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199751570
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
10/15/2010
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
525,197
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Craig L. Symonds is Professor Emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy and the author of ten previous books, including Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History, which won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Prize in 2006.

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