Read North Dakota Presents; An Evening With James McPherson (2008)


(male narrator)
Award-winning author and
historian Dr. James McPherson was born in Valley City,
North Dakota, in October of 1936. His ancestors were homesteaders and had a farm
in Page, North Dakota. Both of his parents attended
Jamestown College. He received a B.A. from Gustavus Adolphus College
in St. Peter, Minnesota, and a Ph.D.
from Johns Hopkins in 1963. He is the George Henry Davis
Professor Emeritus of United States history
at Princeton University. Dr. McPherson is an author and a leading scholar
on the American Civil War. His Pulitzer Prize winning book
about the Civil War era, “Battle Cry of Freedom,”
was published in 1989. His most recent book,
“Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln
as Commander in Chief,” was published
early in October of this year. Dr. McPherson lives with his
wife in Princeton, New Jersey. His favorite ways to relax are playing tennis and bicycling. “Read North Dakota” proudly
presents “An evening
with James McPherson.” [applause] Well, thank you so much for
your warm welcome this evenin. It’s a great pleasure to e
back here in North Dakota. I’ve been back several times
since I lived here from the date of my birth, which you’ve just
heard about, until my family moved to Minnesota
when I was 6 years old. I went to first grade in
Washburn, North Dakota, and I’ve had the great pleasue
this evening of meeting 2 people who knew my parents
and knew me when I was a little
5 and 6-year-old boy in Washburn, North Dakota. So that’s a special dimension,
an extra dimension, to my appearance this evening. When the American
Civil War began with the Confederate attack
on Fort Sumter in April 186, the United States Presidet
Abraham Lincoln was far less prepared for
the task of commander in chief than was his
southern adversary. Jefferson Davis had graduatd
from West Point. He had commanded
a regiment that fought courageously
in the Mexican war, and he had served as an outstanding
secretary of war in the Franklin Pierce
administration in the 1850s. While Lincoln’s
only military experience had come back in 1832 when he was captain
of a militia unit that saw no action
in the Black Hawk War. During Lincoln’s one term
in Congress, he made a speeh in 1848 mocking
his own military career. “Did you know I am
a military hero?” he said on the floor of
the House of Representative. “I fought, bled, and came away after charges
upon the wild onions and a good many
bloody struggles
with the mosquitoes.” So when
President Lincoln called state militia into federal
service on April 15, 1861 to put down what he called “combinations too powerful
to be suppressed by the ordinary course
of judicial proceedings,” he faced a steep learning cure
as commander in chief. He worked hard at that task. His experience as a largey
self-taught lawyer with a keen analytical mind, who had once mastered
Euclidean geometry just for mental exercise, enabled him
to learn on the job. He read and absorbed works on
military history and strategy. He observed the successes
and failures of his own and the enemy’s
military commanders and drew apt conclusions. He made mistakes
and learned from them. He applied his large quotiet
of common sense to slice through
the obfuscations and excuses of military
subordinates. By 1862, his grasp of strategy
and operations was firm enough almost to justify
the overstated, but not entirely wrong
conclusion of historian
T. Harry Williams, who more than half
a century ago wrote a classic work called
“Lincoln and his Generals” Williams wrote, “Lincoln stans
out as a great war president, probably the greatest
in our history, and a great natural strategis, a better one than
any of his generals.” The one part of that statement
that I would quarrel with is the reference to Lincoln as
a great “natural” strategis. I don’t think
that was true. I think he had
to work very hard at it, and he finally did master i. As commander in chief in tie
of war, a president performs or oversees 3
and possibly 4 functions in diminishing order
of direct activity. First, policy; 2nd, national strategy; 3rd, military strategy; and finally operations,
military operations. Neither Lincoln nor anyone ele
defined these functions in a systematic way
during the Civil War. If they had, their definitions might have sounded
something like this. Policy refers to war aims, the political goals of
the nation in time of war. National strategy refers to
mobilization of the political, economic, diplomatic,
and psychological, as well as military
resources of the nation to achieve those war aims. Military strategy is
fairly obvious, I think. It refers to plans for the
employment of armed forces to win victories that will further the political goas
that will win the war. Operations refers to the actul
organization, logistics, and movements of armies
in particular campaigns to carry out the purposes
of military strategy. As president of the nation
and leader of his party, as well as commander in chief, Lincoln was principally
responsible for shaping and defining
national policy. From first to last,
that policy was preservation of the United States
as one nation, indivisibl, and as a republic
based on majority rule, the same majority rule tht
had put Lincoln in office. In May 1861, he explained
that, “The central idea pervading the struggle is
the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular
government is not an absurdit. We must settle
this question now, whether in a free governmen,
the minority have the right to break up the government
whenever they choose.” On another occasion,
Lincoln described succession as “the essence of anarchy,” because if one state
may secede, it will, so may any other, until there is
no government and no nation. In the Gettysburg address,
Lincoln offered his most eloquent statemet
of policy. “The war was a test whether
the nation conceived in 177, might live or would perish
from the earth.” This issue of national
sovereignty over a union
of all the states was for Lincoln,
nonnegotiable. No compromise between
a sovereign United States and a separately sovereign
Confederate States was possible. “This issue,”
Lincoln said in 1864, “is distinctive,
simple, and inflexible. It is an issue, which can
only be tried by war,” that’s where I got
the title for the book, “and decided by victory.” The next level of Lincolns
duty as commander in chief was to mobilize the means
to achieve that policy by winning the war. The president, of course,
shared with Congress and key Cabinet members the
tasks of raising, organizin, and sustaining
an Army and Navy; preventing foreign interventin
in the conflict; and maintaining public support
for the war. But no matter how much these
functions of national strategy required maximum effort
at all levels of government and society,
the ultimate responsibiliy was the president’s
in his dual roles as head of government
and commander in chief. And this responsibility ws as much a political
as a military one, especially in a civil war,
whose origins lay in an internal
political conflict and had been precipitated
by political decisions. Although Lincoln never red
Carl von Clausewitz’s famous treatus “Vom Kriege,”
or in English, “On War,” his actions were
a consummate expression of Clausewitz’s
central argument. “The political objective
is the goal, war is the means
of reaching it, and means can
never be considered in isolation
from their purpose. Therefore it is clear that war should never be thought of
as something autonomous, but always as
an instrument of policy.” Some professional military men tended to think of war
as something autonomous and deplored the intrusion of political consideratios
into military matters. Take the notable example of what were called
“political generals,” prominent politicians
whom both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln appointed
as brigadier or major general, but these people were more
prominent and more frequent, more numerous,
in the North. Lincoln appointed several
prominent politicians with little or no military
training or experience to the rank of brigadier
or major general. Some of them received
these appointments so early in the war that by
seniority, they subsequently outranked professional
West Point educated officer. Lincoln also commissioned
important ethnic leaders as generals with little regard
to their military merits. Some of these political
and ethnic generals proved to be incompetent
on the battlefield. As one of the consummate
professionals, Henry W. Halleck
who was general in chief from 1862 to 1864 put it in a letter to Generl
William Tecumseh Sherman, another consummate
professional who had little use for politician, as Halleck wrote
to Sherman in early 1864, “It seems but
little better than murder to give important commands to such men as Nathaniel Bank,
Benjamin Butler, John McClernand,
and Lew Wallace,” all prominent politicians, “but it seems impossible
to prevent it.” Historians who
likewise deplore the abundance of political
generals sometimes cite an anecdote to mock
the whole process. One day in 1862,
so the story goes, Lincoln and Secretary of War
Edwin M. Stanton were going over
a list of colonels for promotion
to brigadier general. Coming to the name
of Alexander Schimmelfennig, the president said, there hs
got to be something done unquestionably in interest
of the Dutch– Deutsch, Germans,
German Americans, and to that end, I want
Schimmelfennig appointed. Stanton protested
that there were better qualified
German Americans. “No matter about that,”
Lincoln said. His name will make up for
any difference there may be. As some of you may be aware, General Schimmelfennig
is remembered today mainly for hiding 3 days in
the woodshed next to a pigpn to escape capture by the
Confederates at Gettysbur. Other political generals
are remembered more for their military defeat, and supposed blunders, than
for any positive achievements. Nathaniel Banks for
the Red River Campaign and other defeats, John C.
Fremont for the mess he made of affairs in Missouri
and Western Virginia, Daniel Sickles for endangering
the Army of the Potomac and losing his leg
by moving out to the peach orchard
at Gettysburg, Benjamin Butler for alleged
corruption in New Orleans ad for botching the first attak
on Fort Fisher, and so on. Often forgotten in this litany of criticism
of political generals are the excellent military records
of several of them. Such men as John A. Logan
of Illinois and Francis P. Blair
of Missouri, both of whom became corp
commanders under Sherman, among a good many others. And some West Pointers,
notably Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman
might have languished in obscurity if it had not ben
for the initial sponsorship of Grant by Congressman
Elihu Washburne of Illinois, and of Sherman
by his brother John, a United States senator
from Ohio. Even if all political
generals, or generals in whose appointments
politics played a part, had turned out to have medioce
military records however, the process would have had a positive impact
on national strategy. The main purpose
of commissioning prominent political
and ethnic leaders was to mobilize their constituencis
for the war effort. The United States Army on
the eve of the war consisted of approximately 16,000 mn
in a nation of 32 million, and most of them were scattered on the frontier
policing that frontier. By April 1862 when
the war was a year old, the volunteer Union Army, and they were all volunteers
from civilian life, consisted of 637,000 men. From 16,000 to 637,000
in a year, all volunteers. This mass mobilization could
not have taken place without an enormous effort by locl
and state politicians as well as by prominent
ethnic leaders. In New York City, for example,
the Tammany democrat Daniel Sickles raised a brigae and earned a commission
as brigadier general. The Irish born Thomas Meaghr helped raise the famous
Irish Brigade. And the German American leade,
the famous 48er Carl Schurz, helped raise several
German regiments and eventually became
a major general. Northern State governors,
nearly all Republicans, played an essential part
in raising and organizing volunteer regiments and claimd
brigadier generalships for their political allies
in return. At the same time, Lincoln
needed the allegiance of prominent Democrats like
John McClernand and John Loga, whom I mentioned earlier,
in southern Illinois where support for the war
was initially questionabl. As even the staunchly
Republican newspaper, which rarely had anything good
to say about any Democrat, the “Chicago Tribune” put it
in September 1861, “These 2 prominent Democrats
have labored night and day to instruct
their fellow citizens in the true nature
of the contest and to organize
their aroused feelings into effective
military strength. They have succeeded nobly” Then both eventually
became major generals. And, of course,
prominent Republicans could not be ignored. Lincoln’s party supplied mot
of the energy and manpower for this mass mobilization
for the war effort. John C. Fremont,
who had been the first Republican
presidential candidate in 185, and Nathaniel Banks,
former Speaker of the Houe and governor of Massachusetts,
were made major generals
early in the war. By the 2nd year
of the war though, after this mass mobilization
had been accomplished and after
the sifting process had weeded out some
of the less able generals, political generals and
ethnic generals and otherwise, performance in action became the principal determinant
for promotion. Though, of course, politis could never be completely
absent from the process. The national strategy
of mobilizing political support for the wr
through military patronage had served its purpose. As the leading historian
of that process concluded, “The political general’s
reputation for battlefield defeats
is certainly accurate for many in this group, but this Orthodox caricature
neglects their vital contribution in
rallying support for the war and convincing the people to join the mass citizen ary
as volunteers.” And Lincoln certainly
would’ve agreed. Some of those high-ranking
political generals helped shae military strategy and thus
straddled the boundary between national
and military strategy. And I’ll be taking a look at military strategy
a little later. But first, another important
issue that began as a question of national strategy eventualy
crossed the boundary in the other direction
to become policy as well. That was the issue of slavey
and emancipation. During the war’s first year,
one of Lincoln’s top prioritis was to keep border state
Unionists, that is
supporters of the Union from the 4 boarder slave stats
that had not succeeded, to keep those border state
Unionists and northern antiabolitionist Democrats
in his war coalition. The issue of Union, of preserving the Union,
united these groups. The issue of slavery or emancipation
badly divided them. Lincoln feared with good reasn that the balance in 3 importat
border slave states might tip to the Confederacy
if his administration took premature steps
toward emancipation, which he was
being urged to do by the radical wing
of his own party. When General Fremont issud
a military order freeing the slaves of Confederate
supporters in Missouri, he issued this order at the ed
of August 1861, Lincoln revoked it
in order to quell an outcy from the border states
and northern Democrats. Lincoln feared that
to sustain Fremont’s order as many in his own party
urged him to do would, as he explained
to one of them, “alarm our Southern
Union friends, and turn them against us– perhaps ruin our rather fair
prospect for Kentucky. I think that to lose Kentucy
is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. Kentucky gone,
we cannot hold Missouri, nor as I think, Maryland. These all against us
and the job in our hands is too large for us. We would as well consent
to separation at once, including the surrender
of this capitol.” But during the next
9 months or so, the thrust of national stratey step-by-step gradually,
fitfully, shifted away from conciliating the border states
in antiemancipation Democrats. The antislavery Republican
constituency grew louder and more demandin. The argument that the slave
power had brought on the war and that reunion with slavey
still in the Union would ony sow the seeds of another war
in the future. That argument became
more insistent. The evidence that slave labr sustained the
Confederate economy and the logistics of Confederate
armies grew stronger. Counteroffensives by Southen
armies in the summer of 1862 wiped out many of the Union
gains of the winter and sprin. Many northerners
including Lincoln became convinced that
bolder steps were necessary. To win the war over
an enemy fighting for and sustained by slavery, the North must strike
against slavery. So in July 1862, Lincoln mae
an historic decision to undertake a major chane
in national strategy with respect to slavery. Instead of deferring
to the border states and northern Democrats,
he would activate the dynamism of the
northern antislavery majoriy that had elected him
and mobilize the potential of black manpowr
on the Union side by issuing
a proclamation of freedom for slaves
in rebellious states. “Decisive and extreme measures
must be adopted,” Lincoln told his cabinet in an historic meeting
on July 22, 1862. “Emancipation,” he went o, “is a military necessity
absolutely necessary to the preservation
of the Union. We must free the slaves
or be ourselves, subdued. The slaves are undeniably
an element of strength to those who have their
service, and we must decie whether that element should be
with us or against us. We want the Army to strike
more vigorous blows. The administration must set
the army an example and strike at the heart of the
rebellion…slavery.” After a 2-month wait
recommended by Secretary of State
William H. Seward, 2-month wait for a Union
military victory to give such an emancipation edict
credibility as a positive war measure
instead of a desperate appeal
for a slave insurrection, Lincoln issued
a preliminary proclamation 5 days after the Union victory
in the battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862. This preliminary proclamatin
of September 22nd warned that on January 1st, 1863,
the president would invoke his war powers as commander in
chief to seize enemy property, slaves, by proclaiming
emancipation in all states or parts of states
then in rebellion. January 1st came,
the rebellion, of course, still raged, and Lincoln issud
his historic proclamation. Emancipation thus became
a crucial part of the North’s national stratey
by attempting to convert a Confederate resource,
slave labor, to Union advantage,
free black manpower. But this step opened up
a potential inconsistency between national strategy
and policy. The Emancipation Proclamatin
might free many slaves if northern armies could conquer
the states to which it applied, but what about slaves
in the states to which it did not apply? Four states were exempted
and parts of 2 others becaue they were deemed not to be
at war with the United Stats and therefore this emergency
war measure did not apply. And what would happen once the
war was over and emancipation as a product of the war powers
no longer would apply? Could the North
fight a war using a strategy of emancipation
to restore a union in which slavery
still existed and to uphold a constitution
that still sanctioned bondage? During the last 2 years of
the war, that contradictin was resolved,
and the abolition of slavery evolved from a means of winnig
the war to a war aim. That is, from national stratey
to national policy. Lincoln was reelected in 184
on a platform calling for unconditional surrender
of the Confederacy and the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery
everywhere and forever. And a year later,
that was accomplished. Lincoln also shifted
from a national strategy of opposing the recruitmet
of black soldiers to fight for the Union to one of vigorous support
for that action. Although he lagged
a few months behind a similar shift
on emancipation. The idea of putting arms in
the hands of black men provokd even greater hostility among
northern Democrats and border state Unionists
than did emancipation itsel. In August 1862, this is nw a month after Lincoln
had made a decision, although had not yet
announced it, to issue an emancipation
proclamation, Lincoln told delegates
from Indiana who had offered to raise
2 black regiments, that “The nation cannot afford to
lose Kentucky at this crisis.” He’s still concerned
about Kentucky, and that “To arm the Negroes would turn 50,000 bayonets frm
the loyal border states…” by that he meant 50,000 whie
soldiers from those states, “against us
that were for us.” But only 3 weeks later, Lincoln quietly authorized
the war department to begin organizing
black regiments on the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands
that had been occupied since early in the war
by Union forces. Then the Emancipation
Proclamation of January 1st,
1863 openly endorsed the recruitment of black
soldiers and sailors. And by March 1863, Lincoln
told his military governor of occupied Tennessee that “The colored population
is the great available and yet unavailed of force
for restoring the Union. The mere sight of 50,000 armed
and drilled black soldiers on the banks
of the Mississippi”– now instead of worrying
about 50,000 white bayonets, he’s talking about recruitig
50,000 black soldiers– “would end the rebellion
at once. And who doubts that
we can present that sight if we but take hold
in earnest?” And they did
take hold in earnest. The prediction that recruiting
that many black soldiers would end the rebellion at one
proved overoptimistic, but in August 1863 after
black regiments had proved their worth at Fort Wagner
and elsewhere, the subject of the movie “Glory” for
those of you who have seen it, Lincoln told opponents
of their employment, and there still were a lot
of opponents in the North, that “in the future,
there will be some black men who can remember that
with silent tongue, and clenched teeth, and steady
eye, and well-poised bayonet, they have helped mankind n
to this great consummatio; while I fear, there will e
some white ones, unable to forget that,
with malignant heart, and deceitful speech, they hae
strove to hinder it.” A year later in August 184 with more than 100,000
black men then under arms, Lincoln considered
their contribution
essential to victory. “Without those soldiers,”
he said, “we cannot longer maintain
the contest. Abandoned all the posts nw
possessed by black men, and we would be compelled to
abandon the war in 3 weeks.” Lincoln’s dominant role
in determining policy and national strategy
is scarcely surprising, but he also took
a more active hands-on pat in shaping military strategy than presidents have done
in most other wars. That was not necessarily
by choice. Lincoln’s lack of military
training inclined him at first to defer to General in Chief
Winfield Scott, America’s most celebrated soldier
since George Washington. But Scott’s age, his poor
health, his lack of energy placed a greater burden on the
president than he had expecte. And Lincoln also had grown
somewhat disillusioned with Scott for his advice
back in March 1861 to yied both Fort Sumter and Fort
Pickens to the Confederates, and by the seemingly passive
strategy of what was called “Scott’s Anaconda Plan”
once the war began. That is, imposing a blockade
on the South, sealing it off from the outside world and jut
waiting for it to collapse. Scott’s successors as
generals in chief after he resigned in Novembr
1861 because of ill health and age, General
George B. McClellan and then General
Henry W. Halleck proved to be even greater
disappointments to Lincol. Nor did some of his field
commanders, Don Carlos Buel, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside,
Joseph Hooker, and William S. Rosecrans measure up to his
initial expectations. When Ulysses S. Grant became general in chief
in March 1864, Lincoln told him,
according to Grant’s memoir, that, and Grant is here
paraphrasing Lincoln, he had never professed
to be a military man or to know how campaigns
should be conducted and never wanted
to interfere in them, but that procrastination
on the part of commanders had compelled him to
take an active part. Grant’s account here
written 20 years later does not ring entirely true. By that time, Lincoln had
some pretty definite ideas on how campaigns
should be conducted. But it is certain
that procrastination, as Grant quoted Lincoln,
especially by McClellan and Buell, caused
Lincoln to become, in effect, his own
general in chief as well as commander in chif
during key campaigns. We don’t have time to discus
all of those campaigns. Instead, what I would like
to do is to focus on a few key facets of Lincolns
military strategy. The first was his emphasis
on what military analysts call concentration in time o
counteract the Confederacy’s ability to use interior lins
to concentrate in space. Now, what does that mean? To invade and conquer
the Confederacy, Union forces were
compelled by circumstances to operate mainly
on exterior lines. That is, lines from
outside the perimeter of the Confederate States
of America, which was surrounded
on 2 sides, the North and the West,
by the United States. On the other 2 sides
by the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The Confederacy
defending that territory could use interior lines to shift forces from one
or more less threatened points to the most threatened on. To illustrate, in January 186,
Generals Henry W. Halleck and Don Carlos Buell
commanded 2 Union armies in Kentucky and Missouri that Lincoln wanted to
cooperate in a joint campain against Confederate defenses
in Kentucky and Tennessee. Both generals stalled
and made excuses for their inability
to cooperate, and Halleck lectured Lincoln
by letter. “To operate on exterior lins
against an enemy occupying a central position will fail,”
he wrote to Lincoln. “It is condemned by
every military authority I have ever read.” But Lincoln by this time
had been reading his own military authorities
in a kind of cram course to learn more
about military strategy, and his response to Hallek showed how well he had
learned a key lesson. “I state my general idea
of this war,” Lincoln wrote, this is in January 1862, “that
we have the greater numbers, and the enemy has
the greater facility of concentrating forces
upon points of collision. That we must fail
unless we can find some wy of making our advantage
an overmatch for his, and that this can only be done by menacing him
with superior forces at different points
at the same time, so that we can safely
attack one or both, if he makes no change, and if he weakens one
to strengthen the other forbear to attack
the strengthened one, but seize and hold the weakend
one, gaining so much.” This is one of the clearet
expressions of the strategy
of concentration in time that I’ve read. By advancing on 2
or more fronts simultaneously, Union forces
could neutralize the Confederacy’s use
of interior lines to shift troops to an endangered
front because 2 or more fronts would be simultaneously
under attack. The proof of Lincoln’s point
came quite soon after this exchange of
correspondence with Hallek in February 1862,
when Halleck’s and Buell’s 2 armies advance
more or less simultaneously after Grant, who was under
Halleck, had captured Forts Henry and Donelson
and forced the enemy out of Kentucky
and most of Tennessee. When Grant became
general in chief, he put Lincoln’s strategy
of simultaneous advances against several enemy points
into effect on the major fronts of the war by coordinating or trying
to coordinate the invasios of key parts
of Confederate territory by several armies
simultaneously. Lincoln was pleased by this
and told his private secretary John Hay in April 1864 that
Grant’s plans reminded him of, as Hay quoted Lincoln,
“his own suggestion, so constantly made
and as constantly neglected, to Buell and Halleck et al
to move at once upon the enemy’s whole line,
so as to bring into action to our advantage our great
superiority in numbers.” A 2nd key aspect
of Lincoln’s strategy, and Grant’s, was
to go after enemy armies and attack them
where they were rather than maneuver
to try to capture places, most prominently,
of course, Richmond, but other key rail junctions
or river ports. This was one reason why Lincoln
opposed McClellan’s strategy to take the Army of the Potomc all the way down
the Chesapeake Bay to the Virginia Peninsula
in 1862 to begin a campaign againt
Richmond from there instead of attacking the enemy where he was
in northern Virginia only 25 miles from Washington
protecting Manassas Junction. When Lincoln reluctantly
approved McClellan’s plan despite his continuing
skepticism about it, and when McClellan then
hesitated to attack a small Confederate
blocking force at Yorktown despite overwhelming
numerical superiority, Lincoln wrote to him, “It is indispensable to yu
that you strike a blow. You will do me the justice to
remember I always insisted tht going down the bay,” Chesapeae
Bay, “in search of a field instead of fighting at or near
Manassas was only shifting and not surmounting the
difficulty, that we would find the same or equal entrenchmens
at either place. The country will not fail
to note, is now noting, that the present hesitation to
move upon an entrenched enemy is but the story
of Manassas repeated.” Lincoln then went on to write
a couple of sentences about hw he would continue
to support McClellan. He was not chastising him as
preparation for firing him. But then concluded with
something that McClellan should’ve paid
more attention to, 4 words that he underlined
for emphasis. “But you must act.” However, the general
who acquired the nickname of “Tardy George” never
learned that lesson. Lincoln finally gave up,
as he put it, trying to “bore with an augr
to dull to take hold,” his description of McClella,
and removed him from comman. But the President had
similar problems with some
of McClellan’s successors. When the Army of Northern
Virginia began to move north in the campaign
that led to Gettysburg, Union General
Joseph Hooker proposed to cut in behind them
and attack Richmond. Lincoln rejected that ide. “Lee’s army and not Richmond is
your true objective point,” he wired Hooker
on June 10th, 1863. If he comes toward the upper
Potomac, follow on his flank and on the inside track,
shortening your supply line, whilst he lengthens his. Fight him when
opportunity offers.” A week later as the army
was entering Pennsylvania, Lincoln told Hooker that
“This invasion gives you bak the chance I thought
McClellan lost last fall to cripple Lee’s army
far from its home base.” Hooker’s complaints
and bickering with General in Chief Hallek finally caused Lincoln to
replace Hooker on June 28h with General
George Gordon Meade as commander of the Army
of the Potomac. Meade and the army punished Le
and his army at Gettysburg, but did not destroy them. When the rising Potomac Rivr
trapped Lee in Maryland, Lincoln urged Meade
to close in for the kill. “If Meade,” he wrote,
“could complete his work so gloriously prosecuted
thus far by the literal or substantil
destruction of Lee’s army, the rebellion will be over.” Lincoln was distressed by
Meade’s congratulatory order to his army on July 7th, 4 days after the end
of the battle of Gettysburg, which closed with the wors
that the country now “looks to the army for greater
efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presene
of the invader.” When Lincoln
read these words, his shoulders slumped,
and he cried out, “Great Go! Will our generals never get
that idea out of their head? The whole country
is our soil.” That, of course,
was the point of the war. The war could never be won merely by driving the eney
back to Virginia, but only as Lincoln put i,
“by the literal or substantial destruction
of enemy armies.” When word came on July 14h that Lee had escaped
across the Potomac without further significat
damage, Lincoln was both
angry and dejected. He sat down to write a lettr
of congratulations to Meade for his great victory
at Gettysburg, but after a sentence or two, that letter took on
quite a different tone. “My Dear General, I do not
believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortue
involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grap
and to have closed upon him would, in connection with
our other late successes,” the capture of 30,000
Confederates and the river bastion
of Vicksburg, the capture of 7000 more at Fort Hudson downriver
from Vicksburg, victories in Tennessee
driving that army, the Confederate Army of
Tennessee into northern Georgia, “would, in connection with
our other late successes,” all of them happening
in July, 1863, “in connection with
our other late successes have ended the war. As it is, the war will be
prolonged indefinitely. Your golden opportunity
is gone, and I am distressed
immeasurably because of it.” Well, as he read over this
letter and blotted the in, Lincoln realized that
he could not send it unless he was ready to provoke
Meade’s resignation at a time when Meade was
still basking in the praie for his victory at Gettysburg. So having gotten
these feelings off his ches, Lincoln filed
that letter away unsent. But he never
changed his mind. And 2 months later when
the Army of the Potomac ws maneuvering and skirmishing
again over the devastated land between Washington and Richmond,
the president declared that “To attempt to fight
the enemy back to his entrenchments
in Richmond is an idea I’ve been trying to repudiae
for a quite a year. I have constantly desired
the Army of the Potomac to make Lee’s army and not
Richmond its objective poin. If our army cannot
fall upon the enemy and hurt him where it is, it is plain to me it can
gain nothing by attempting to follow him over a successin
of entrenched lines into a fortified city.” Five times in the war,
Lincoln tried to get his field commandes
to trap enemy armies that were raiding
or invading northward by cutting in south of thm and blocking
their routes of retreat and forcing them
to fight at disadvantage. Lincoln saw every one of these
raids or invasions, including the invasion of Pennsylvania
that led to Gettysburg, as more of an opportunity
than a threat. These 5 occasions were
Stonewall Jackson’s drive norh through the Shenandoah Vally
in May 1862; Lee’s invasion of Maryland
in September 1862, which led to Antietam; General Braxton Bragg’s and
General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Confederate invasion
of Kentucky in that same month
of September 1862; Lee’s invasion, of course,
of Pennsylvania and the Gettysburg campaign;
and finally Jubal Early’s raid to the outskirts of Washington
in July 1864. Each time, his generals
failed him, and in most cases, they soon found themselves
relieved of command. John C. Fremont
and James Shields after failing
to intercept Jackson, McClellan after letting Lee
get away following Antietam, Buell after Bragg and Kiry
Smith got safely back to Tennessee after their
aborted invasion of Kentuck, and General David Hunter
after Jubal Early’s raid to the outskirts of Washingto. Meade was the only one
to retain his command despie Lincoln’s disappointment wih
his failure to do more damae after Gettysburg,
but Meade then played second fiddle to Grant
in the last year of the war. In all of these cases,
the slowness of Union armies trying to intercept
or pursue the enemy played a key part
in their failures. Lincoln expressed repeated
frustration with the inability of his armies to march as ligt
and fast as Confederate armie. Union armies were much bettr
supplied than the enemy. In fact, Union armies were the best supplied armies
in history to that time. But they were
actually slowed down by the abundance
of their logistics. Most Union commanders never
learned the lesson pronouncd by Confederate General
Richard Ewell that “The road to glory cannot be
followed with much baggage.” Lincoln’s efforts
to get his commanders to move faster
with fewer supplies brought him into active
participation at the operational level
of his armies. In May 1862, he sat in the War
Department telegraph office hour after hour sending
telegrams to various generas directing them to put all possible energy and sped
into the effort to trap Stonewall Jackson
in the Shenandoah Valley. “It is for you
a question of legs. Put in all the speed you ca. I have told Fremont
as much and directed him to drive at them
as fast as possible.” But Jackson’s troops marched
twice as fast as those of Fremont
and of the lead division coming the other way to try to trap Jackson
under James Shields, and the Confederates slipped
through that trap with just hours to spare. Lincoln was disgusted with
the excuses offered by Fremont for not moving faster. His men were tired,
the roads were muddy, they were hungry, and so on. The same pattern
of excuses from Buell during his pursuit of Bragg
after the Battle of Perryville and from McClellan after
Antietam deepened his disgust. Lincoln told Buell that
he could not understand “why we cannot march as the enemy
marches, live as he lives, and fight as he fights, unless we admit the inferiority of
our troops and our generals” Now, it may be true
that Lincoln did not fully appreciate
the logistical difficultis of moving
large bodies of troops, especially
in enemy territory, although many
of these operations were actually
in friendly territory. On the other hand, the president did
comprehend the reality expressed by the Army of
the Potomac’s quartermastr in response to McClellan’s
incessant requests for more supplies,
more of everything, before he could
advance after Antietam. The quartermaster wrote
in some frustration, “An army will never move if it waits until all
the different commanders report that they are ready
and want no more supplies” Lincoln told another general
in November 1862 that “this expanding and piling p
of impedimenta has been so far
almost our ruin and will be our final ruin
if it is not abandoned. You would be better off
for not having 1000 wagons doing nothing
but hauling forage to feed the animals
that draw them and taking at least 2000 men o
care for the wagons and animas who otherwise might be
2000 good soldiers.” With Grant and Sherman, Lincoln finally had generals
in top commands who followed Buell’s dictm
about the road to glory and were willing to demand
of their soldiers and of themselves the same
exertions and sacrifices that Confederate commandes
required of their men. After the Vicksburg campaig, Lincoln said of General Grant,
whose rapid mobility and absence
of a cumbersome supply lie was a key to the success
of that campaign, that “Grant is my man, and I
am his the rest of the war.” Perhaps one of the reasons
for Lincoln’s praise was a tongue and cheek
report from Elihu Washburne. Incidentally, the town
where I mentioned I lived for several years
in North Dakota, Washburn is named after
one of Elihu’s brothers. Elihu Washburne,
who traveled with Grant for part of the campaign, “I’m afraid Grant will have to
be reproved for want of style” Washburne wrote
tongue and cheek to Lincoln on May 1st, 1863. “On this whole march
for 5 days, he has had neither a horse
nor an orderly or servant, a blanket or overcoat or
clean shirt, or even a swor. His entire baggage consiss
of a toothbrush!” To Lincoln, the contrast with the endless wagons
of supplies and the headquarters pomp
of a McClellan or Fremont could not have been greater. In the end,
Lincoln put together the 3 principal functions
of commander in chief in such a way as to win the wr and give the nation
a new birth of freedom, first, by refusing
to compromise his policy of preserving the United Stats
as one nation, indivisible, and after the
Emancipation Proclamation and 13th Amendment,
forever free; second by a national strategy
of mobilizing northern resources and weakening the enemy
by destroying its resourcs as much as possible,
including slavery; and finally, 3rd, by putting into place a team
of military commanders in the final year of the wa,
most notably Grant, Philip Sheridan,
and George Thomas, who actually did destroy
enemy armies, mostly by capturing them,
and a 4th commander, William Tecumseh Sherman,
who destroyed enemy resources. Whether the war could have
been won in any other way, with anyone other than Lincoln
as commander in chief is, of course, unknowable,
but frankly, I doubt it. Thank you. [applause]. [piano plays softly] I think there are 2 major
reasons why there is so much interest in
the American Civil War, and then maybe
some auxiliary reasons. First, in terms of its
impact on American life in its time and ever sinc, it had a far
greater impact than any other single experiene
in American history. For one thing, just the impact
of loss of life in the war and destruction of resource. The United States, including
the Confederate states in 1861 had a population
of about 32 million, and in the course of the wa,
620,000 of those people die. That’s exactly 2% of the
American population at the time. Today, the United States
population is over 300 millio, and if 2%
of the American people were to be killed
in the war fought today, the number of American war ded
would be more than 6 million. Well, imagine that impact
on America today if 6 million people died
in the war, and you can kind of get an ida
of the impact on America in the 1860s
and especially on the Souh where the percentage
was almost twice as high. So it had a huge impact, and the destruction
of southern resources, the destruction of slaver, the destruction
of the planter class, the confiscation of $3 billion
worth of slave property, which would be
the equivalent of, I don’t know,
a trillion dollars today in terms of its proportion
of the American economy. So that impact was huge. Then, I think the Civil War
radically changed the course of American history and shaped
the future of American society not only by abolishing slavery and by putting
into the Constitution the 14th and 15th Amendment, the 14th Amendment being the most important single part
of the Constitution ever sinc, but changing the trajectoy
of American history. Up until 1860, there were kind
of 2 competing visions of what kind of future should
dominate in the United States. The one vision was
southern agrarian society based on slave labor with a rigid hierarchical
structure in that society, based on semitropical
production of crops for a largely export market,
and the other was the kind of entrepreneuril
democratic capitalism rapidly urbanizing society
in the North, and those 2 societies
fought it out in the Civil Wa, and one of them triumphed,
and the triumphing society shaped the future
of the United States. So those are the reasons why I think the Civil War
is so important. And something
of auxiliary reasons is the widespread interest
in military history and in some of the leading
figures in that, Lee and Jackson in the Sout, Grant and Sherman in the Nort,
Lincoln above all. In some ways, these are
larger-than-life figures. There’s nobody
in American society today quite like them,
or so it seems. We have a tendency
to romanticize these giant figures
from the 1860s because they were involved
in such a giant conflict, and that makes them stand ot
in American history. And they were interesting
to people to read about. They did have, in some case,
colorful personalities. In other cases,
outstanding qualities of leadership or generalshi. They’re just fascinating
people to read about, and that’s why I think
the History Book Club and Military History Book Club
and the Book-of-the-Month Club finds Civil War books to e
among their best sellers.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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