Lincoln's Political Generals

( 2 )

Overview

 

 

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sought to bind important political leaders to the Union by appointing them as generals. The task was formidable: he had to find enough qualified officers to command a military that would fight along a front that stretched halfway across the continent. West Point hadn't graduated enough officers, and many of its best chose to fight for the Confederacy. Lincoln needed loyal men accustomed to organization, administration, and command. He also...

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Overview

 

 

At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sought to bind important political leaders to the Union by appointing them as generals. The task was formidable: he had to find enough qualified officers to command a military that would fight along a front that stretched halfway across the continent. West Point hadn't graduated enough officers, and many of its best chose to fight for the Confederacy. Lincoln needed loyal men accustomed to organization, administration, and command. He also needed soldiers, and political generals brought with them their constituents and patronage power.

 

As the war proceeded, the value of the political generals became a matter of serious dispute. Could politicians make the shift from a political campaign to a military one? Could they be trusted to fight? Could they avoid destructive jealousies and the temptations of corruption? And with several of the generals being Irish or German immigrants, what effect would ethnic prejudices have on their success or failure?

 

In this book, David Work examines Lincoln's policy of appointing political generals to build a national coalition to fight and win the Civil War. Work follows the careers of sixteen generals through the war to assess their contributions and to ascertain how Lincoln assessed them as commander-in-chief. Eight of the generals began the war as Republicans and eight as Democrats. Some commanded armies, some regiments. Among them were some of the most famous generals of the Union--such as Francis P. Blair Jr., John A. Dix, John A. Logan, James S. Wadsworth--and others whose importance has been obscured by more dramatic personalities.

 

Work finds that Lincoln's policy was ultimately successful, as these generals provided effective political support and made important contributions in military administration and on the battlefield. Although several of them proved to be poor commanders, others were effective in exercising influence on military administration and recruitment, slavery policy, and national politics.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780252078613
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2012
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,445,929
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

 

David Work has published articles in Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Journal of Arizona History, Gulf South Historical Review, Vermont History, and Western Historical Quarterly.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Highly recommended

    The 19th Century glorified the idea of the citizen solider! The idea that courage and patriotism are a substitute for training, tactics and supplies enjoyed wide acceptance. The Spoils System controlled Civil Service during this time. Dismissal of the losers and hiring the winners after an election is accepted and expected policy. Add a civil war to the citizen solider ideal and the spoils system. Mix in political considerations, personal ambitions, raising armies and sustaining public support. The result makes awarding general's stars to political figures a requirement. Lincoln understood this and was willing to "pay" for support from important politicians and community leaders with general's stars.David Work takes a close look at Lincoln's reasoning, promotions and handling of sixteen generals appointed for political reasons. The logic of the promotion is apparent. Rewarding important Republicans, securing the support of important Democrats or ensuring ethnic support is the reason in all cases. These generals are a mixed bag. Banks and Butler, important politicians, never seem to succeed in the field. After the requirement for their support passes, Lincoln allows their removal from active commands. Sigel, Meagher and Schurz secured the support of the Irish and German communities. Sigel, for all his failures, is so popular that Lincoln must give him command after command. Fremont, the darling of the Radical Republicans, fails quickly and disappears. McClernand creates problems even as Lincoln is withdrawing his support until Grant is secure in dismissing him. These are the best known of the group. Logan, Blair, Dix and Wadsworth serve throughout the war compiling good to excellent records.The combat portion of the book is by year and theater, allowing the reader to follow the development or lack thereof as both individuals and as a group. This organization brings the full weight of the political pressure to the forefront. Fremont is the quickest failure while having one of the strongest pressure groups. Sigel is a protracted failure with many problems both on and off the battlefield. The large German community continues to support him forcing Lincoln to give him command after command. Banks and Butler present a different set of problems with uneven performance but never completely failing until late in the war. Histories tend to overlook the successful political generals or down play the political aspects of their appointments. This book performs a real service in seeing how Logan, Blair and Wadsworth were able to learn the art of war. The author spends as much time on the successes as the failures, giving us a balanced picture.The chapters "Quasi-Civil Support", "Slavery, Freedom, and Black Soldiers" and "Exerting Political Influence" are more important than the combat chapters. These chapters look at the contributions the political generals made off the battlefield. In many cases, these contributions overcame battlefield mistakes prolonging their time in the army. In other cases, this was their major contribution to winning the war. The seven-page Conclusion is excellent and could be a stand-alone article.This valuable book is fully footnoted with formal portraits of the men. The author writes well with a good narrative style. This is an easy fun informative read and is highly recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 25, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    The 19th Century glorified the idea of the citizen solider! The idea that courage and patriotism are a substitute for training, tactics and supplies enjoyed wide acceptance. The Spoils System controlled Civil Service during this time. Dismissal of the losers and hiring the winners after an election is accepted and expected policy. Add a civil war to the citizen solider ideal and the spoils system. Mix in political considerations, personal ambitions, raising armies and sustaining public support. The result makes awarding general's stars to political figures a requirement. Lincoln understood this and was willing to "pay" for support from important politicians and community leaders with general's stars.
    David Work takes a close look at Lincoln's reasoning, promotions and handling of sixteen generals appointed for political reasons. The logic of the promotion is apparent. Rewarding important Republicans, securing the support of important Democrats or ensuring ethnic support is the reason in all cases. These generals are a mixed bag. Banks and Butler, important politicians, never seem to succeed in the field. After the requirement for their support passes, Lincoln allows their removal from active commands. Sigel, Meagher and Schurz secured the support of the Irish and German communities. Sigel, for all his failures, is so popular that Lincoln must give him command after command. Fremont, the darling of the Radical Republicans, fails quickly and disappears. McClernand creates problems even as Lincoln is withdrawing his support until Grant is secure in dismissing him. These are the best known of the group. Logan, Blair, Dix and Wadsworth serve throughout the war compiling good to excellent records.
    The combat portion of the book is by year and theater, allowing the reader to follow the development or lack thereof as both individuals and as a group. This organization brings the full weight of the political pressure to the forefront. Fremont is the quickest failure while having one of the strongest pressure groups. Sigel is a protracted failure with many problems both on and off the battlefield. The large German community continues to support him forcing Lincoln to give him command after command. Banks and Butler present a different set of problems with uneven performance but never completely failing until late in the war. Histories tend to overlook the successful political generals or down play the political aspects of their appointments. This book performs a real service in seeing how Logan, Blair and Wadsworth were able to learn the art of war. The author spends as much time on the successes as the failures, giving us a balanced picture.
    The chapters "Quasi-Civil Support", "Slavery, Freedom, and Black Soldiers" and "Exerting Political Influence" are more important than the combat chapters. These chapters look at the contributions the political generals made off the battlefield. In many cases, these contributions overcame battlefield mistakes prolonging their time in the army. In other cases, this was their major contribution to winning the war. The seven-page Conclusion is excellent and could be a stand-alone article.
    This valuable book is fully footnoted with formal portraits of the men. The author writes well with a good narrative style. This is an easy fun informative read and is highly recommended.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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