Lincoln as Strategist

21 07 2010

Another comment I made on Facebook the other day:

I saw a new book in the store today, The Grand Design: Strategy in the Civil War by Donald Stoker. Since the title has a colon in it, it must be a serious book ;-)

Anyway, this one quote from the jacket bothered me:

Lincoln, in contrast [to Jeff Davis], evolved a clear strategic vision, but he failed for years to make his generals implement it.

Here’s where I’m bothered: the statement implies that this vision of Lincoln’s evolved quickly relative to his attempts to get his generals to do what he wanted. And also implicit is the notion that he clearly and effectively communicated this vision to those same generals. I’m not sure I’m in agreement. Has anyone read this yet?



4 responses

21 07 2010
Terry Johnston


I haven’t; but there’s an article (presumably an excerpt of the book) by Stoker in the latest N&S. Haven’t read that either, but it should give you a taste.


21 07 2010
Drew Wagenhoffer

That eye roller bothered me, too. The other thing in the jacket description about Davis’s mistake in invading KY was also curious. Davis didn’t authorize the initial incursion (although, he sustained it after the damage was already done), but, if not that and the author is instead talking about the Fall 1862 campaign, the author’s contention doesn’t make much sense there either as the activist citizens had already made their choice by that late point.

That said, I do have a copy of the book and am looking forward to reading it.



21 07 2010

I think the reason your not in agreement, to the extent of my knowledge, is because Lincoln never ordered his generals into implementation of any specific war strategies. Aside from ordering McC to make some general movement of the army (to get him off his … ), I never read of some specific plan that he directly (or intended to) implement through his generals.

I think what you see here, is a case of Monday morning quarterbacking. Its easy in hindsight to attribute fault to Lincoln’s generals for not implementing the commander in chief’s wishes. However, that is taken with the assumption that Lincoln, in fact, had a well thought out military strategy in hand that he was passing down to his subordinates. However, I don’t think that’s the case, as Lincoln preferred to let his generals develop strategy, as he knew he was nothing more than an armchair military strategist.

I think Lincoln knew that no matter how many of those strategy books he read from the Library of Congress didn’t make him a military strategist.


28 07 2010
Military Strategy at the Battle of Bull Run « Bull Runnings

[…] 28 07 2010 Donald Stoker, whose new book on strategy in the Civil War was the subject of this post, sent me a link to his summary of military strategy at the battle of Bull Run.  Check it out, see […]


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