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Lincoln and His Admirals


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 ...

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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 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

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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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199751570
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/15/2010
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 422,972
  • 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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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements Introduction
1. "What Have I Done Wrong?" Lincoln and the Fort Sumter Crisis
2. "A Competent Force" Lincoln and the Blockade
3. "No Affront to the British Flag" Lincoln and the Trent Affair
4. "I Wont Leave Off Until It Fairly Rains Bombs" Lincoln and the River War
5. "It Strikes Me There's Something In It" Lincoln and the Monitor
6. "We Cannot Escape History" Lincoln and the Contraband
7. "The Peninsula All Over Again" Lincoln, Charleston, and Vicksburg
8. "I Shall Have to Cut This Knot" Lincoln as Adjudicator
9. "Peace Does Not Appear So Distant as it Did" Lincoln and Wartime Politics
10. "It Becomes Immensely Important to Us to Get the Cotton" Lincoln and the Red River Campaign
11. "A Vote of Thanks" Lincoln and the Politics of Promotion
12. "I Must Refer You to General Grant" Lincoln and the Fort Fisher Expedition
1865: FINAL HARBOR Epilogue: "Thank God I Have Lived to See This"
Abbreviations Used in Notes Notes Bibliography Index

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