I haven’t been able to post weekend book reviews of Nonfictions in a while so here is one! Why is this posted? Because Pastors need a break from heavy theological readings too.
James M. McPherson. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, October 7th, 2008. 329 pp.
4 out of 5
The author James McPherson is a distinguished Civil War historian and author of books on the topic of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. In this book he narrows his focus to Abraham Lincoln as the military leader of the Union in terms of the Constitutionally given role of Commander in Chief. In the beginning of the book McPherson made the point that while there are many books about Abraham Lincoln as a politician and there are many books on the military dimension of the Civil War yet surprisingly there’s not that much discussion of Lincoln as the Civilian commander of the military. Certainly this book makes an important contribution.
This book was very insightful. In the beginning of the book the author quoted Lincoln himself before the war admitting how he’s not fully adequate concerning military matters. This is in contrast with Jefferson Davis who was the president of the Confederacy. Davis had an impressive military career before running for US Senate and even was the Secretary of War before the North and South divided. In many ways Lincoln was an unlikely Commander in Chief. Lincoln’s only prior military experience was during the Black Hawk War in which he did not get any combat experience. Yet Lincoln would go on to become an impressive Commander in Chief in his role as President of the United States.
This accomplishment is made even more impressive in the sense that prior to Lincoln what exactly that role as Commander in Chief was not fully spelled out even though the Constitution does allow for this role. Lincoln in a sense had to invent the role as he went along.
I was amazed at the book’s discussion of Lincoln’s relationship with incompetent generals. In particular General George B. McClellan stood out. I knew even before the book that McClellan was a problematic general but readers will see more the frustration that President Lincoln must have felt with his over-caution and lack of decisive move. Lincoln was more than patient and tactful in his handling of McClellan as the commander of the army of the Potomac. I was surprised at how many other less than satisfactory generals that Lincoln had to put up with. There were even times in the book where Lincoln had to console his generals and the irony was not missed by Lincoln that he was propping up professionals who were breaking down or at their wits’ end. Most shocking to me were times in the book in which military leaders obeyed a direct order from the President. As the book progressed with the chronology of the war we see a mature Commander in Chief who readily understood what was needed to win the war; for instance Lincoln realized the goal of the US Army is not to capture Confederate capital Richmond, Virginia but to go after Lee’s Confederate Army. Lincoln was able to see the bigger picture even though some of his generals did not.
An insightful read. Great reading for those who are into the civil war, the US Presidency, military history or all three.