Cover image for Lincoln's war : the untold story of America's greatest president as commander in chief
Lincoln's war : the untold story of America's greatest president as commander in chief
Perret, Geoffrey.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2004]

Physical Description:
xv, 470 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Follow me -- Let it come -- Three years or the war -- First martyr, first hero -- Short road to a long war -- The battle for public opinion -- Little Mac -- Manifestly astray -- Great Scott -- Bog of war -- Groping and hoping -- Western horizons -- Sonorous metal blowing martial sounds -- Two irons in the fire -- The meteor man -- Bloody and muddy -- Desperate measures -- Déjà vu carousel -- A chapter closes -- How low can you go? -- Sifting out the hearts of men -- Counsels of war -- The art of command -- North and South -- Man power -- Jailer visionary -- Westward, look! -- Fuglemen lost -- Man, thinking -- Boys in blue - The first general -- Soldier, soldier -- Endgame -- The last tattoo.
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E457.2 .P47 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Drawing on newly discovered documents in the National Archives, Lincoln's War is the only full-length account to date on Abraham Lincoln as Com-mander in Chief. For the first time, readers will see the war unfold as Lincoln saw it.

This wide-ranging account casts new light on Lincoln and his generals, his admirals, his controversial Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and his outspoken confidant Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. The reader will also learn the true story of Lincoln's experiences as a soldier and encounter Lincoln as amateur strategist, Lincoln in his relationship with black servicemen, Lincoln in his dealings with the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and Lincoln in his friendship with weapons pioneer Christopher Spencer, the creator of the Spencer repeater. And Lincoln's War is filled with myriad illuminating anecdotes--including how the President, a frustrated inventor, liked to conduct his own hands-on weapons tests on waste ground near the White House.

It was Lincoln who, over the course of four years, created the role of Commander in Chief as we know it today. In doing so he saved the Union and changed the nation. This was the most important of his duties, and his greatest success. In Lincoln's War , Geoffrey Perret--the acclaimed biographer of Ulysses S. Grant, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F. Kennedy, and the author of four well-received works of military history, including A Country Made by War --offers an original, vivid portrait of both a great leader and a tumultuous conflict.

Author Notes

Geoffrey Perret was educated at Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley. He was enlisted in the U.S. Army for three years. He lives in England with his wife.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Lincoln is lauded for his skills as a political leader, his moral strength, and his unyielding devotion to popular government in the U.S. as the last, best, hope of man. He is seldom praised for his military acumen or even for his choice of subordinates in his role as commander in chief. Perret has written three presidential biographies and four works of military history. Here he provides an interesting and sometimes provocative view of Lincoln that credits him with far greater skills as a commander than is generally realized. Furthermore, Perret asserts that Lincoln redefined forever the role of commander in chief, assuming powers that were previously considered the province of Congress. This is a well-argued work that will be a valuable addition to Civil War collections. --Jay Freeman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Americans have grown so accustomed to presidents asserting and exercising extensive powers in that role that Perret's thesis may prove as surprising as it is accurate. Until "Lincoln's War," Perret (Ulysses S. Grant) argues, there were serious questions as to how far the president's powers to determine military policy extended or whether, indeed, they existed at all. The Constitution assigned the great issues, declaring war, raising armed forces, ratifying treaties, to Congress. At the other end of the spectrum the Mexican War had created a precedent of leaving strategy and operations to the professionals, particularly Gen. Winfield Scott. Perret argues convincingly that Scott's initial plan against the Confederacy, far from calling for its gradual economic strangulation, provided for replicating his triumph in Mexico by combining a holding action in the east and a decisive thrust down the Mississippi, designed to cut the Confederacy in half by the spring of 1862. Lincoln saw even that delay as unacceptable. While he did not have an expanded idea of presidential power at the time of his election, the comprehensive threat to national survival posed by the South's secession changed his mind. Perret uses archival and published sources to show how Lincoln, pragmatic in this respect as in so many others, put national survival above military, political and legal restraints. Creating by stages a "war power" nowhere described in the Constitution that made him a virtual dictator, Lincoln at the same time consistently appealed for support and validation to Congress, the court system and public opinion, themselves all significantly divided on how best to proceed. The president worked closely as well with a fractious high command incorporating military professionals, like Grant and Henry Halleck, and amateur "political soldiers," like Ben Butler. Developing increasing sophistication in coordinating battlefield victories with the wider political objectives of restoring and reintegrating the union, Abraham Lincoln won his war and in the process redefined the presidency. (Apr. 27) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Well-known military historian Perret (A Country Made by War) casts new light on Lincoln as war president by emphasizing the ways Lincoln used the implicit powers of commander in chief to mobilize an army, suspend habeas corpus, issue money, free the slaves, and suppress a rebellion. Although the story of Lincoln as commander in chief is hardly unknown, no one since T. Harry Williams in Lincoln and His Generals has looked so closely at Lincoln's progress in developing and applying those powers. Especially important in Perret's account are his corrections of old standbys on the origins and purpose of the so-called Anaconda Plan, Lincoln's preoccupation with taking Richmond, and his understanding of military operations. If the book is more anecdotal than analytical, it also is intelligent and informed and an excellent introduction to big questions about war-making, Lincoln's learning curve as president, and the politics of command in Washington and among commanders. For all large public and academic libraries.-Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Analyzing Lincoln's years as president, Perret illustrates that Lincoln was the first president to assume the role of commander in chief, and "created the modern presidency." Focusing on Lincoln's intense interest in all things military, the author demonstrates how directly Lincoln managed portions of the military effort, something none of his predecessors had done. The work, based on Lincoln's papers (the author is on the Advisory Committee of the Lincoln Bicentennial) and other primary sources, provides a good introduction to Lincoln as the wartime president. However, readers should be aware that scholars have noted a number of significant factual errors, which the general public is unlikely to notice, due in large part to Perret's easy-to-read style and the logic of his argument. David Donald's Lincoln (Ch, Mar'96) remains the preeminent work on Lincoln. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General and undergraduate collections. K. L. Gorman Minnesota State University--Mankato



Chapter 1 Follow Me So this was how it would be. At one o'clock in the morning on March 5, 1861, fresh from the inaugural ball, Lincoln stepped into his new office for the first time. The acting Secretary of War, Joseph Holt, was waiting for him. Holt handed Lincoln various letters and reports on conditions at Fort Sumter. Lincoln read, startled, struggling to make sense of a crisis he had thought he understood during his inaugural address. There was more than enough in what Holt had given him to make the scalp tingle, to confound every calculation Lincoln had just brought into the room and into his presidency. The long rectangular office reeked of stale cigar smoke: a whiff of his predecessor, James Buchanan. Stout, white-haired and old before his time, the ineffectual Buchanan had been elected in 1856 on a promise to avert disunion. During his last months in office, Buchanan had roamed the corridors, wringing his hands. Their dingy walls, in need of paint, absorbed his cry: "I am the last President of the United States!" An oil portrait of Andrew Jackson stared down at the new President's bent head from above the marble mantelpiece. Thin-lipped, Old Hickory had made stern demands in life and beyond it. Huge varnished maps, hung haphazardly, covered much of the wall behind Lincoln's chair. They showed coasts and rivers, state boundaries and federal properties-fortresses, arsenals, customs houses, subtreasuries, navy yards-from California to Maine. They showed, too, the seven southern states that had seceded from the Union following his election four months before. Jackson's call to duty caromed off the maps, magnified. Holt had composed a long letter. With it, he enclosed letters from Major Robert Anderson-commanding Fort Sumter, in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina-and a message from Anderson's senior engineer officer. On taking command the previous November, Anderson had abandoned Fort Moultrie, a relic of the Revolutionary War, and moved his entire command into Sumter, a modern fort still under construction but nearly finished. It rose on a man-made island of granite and seashells, dominating Charleston's main shipping channel. Since then, Anderson had repeatedly assured the War Department that he could hold his beleaguered fort, if not indefinitely, at least for a long time. Yet in his most recent communication, which reached the War Department on March 4, Anderson abruptly gave in to despair. The South Carolina authorities had been allowing him to continue the well-established practice of supplementing the fort's official supplies with purchases from the Charleston markets. The authorities had just rescinded that privilege. Anderson calculated that his food would run out in six weeks. More menacing was the massive deployment of artillery around the harbor. The fort could be bombarded from north, south, east and west. Sumter's walls, five feet thick, could take considerable punishment but would eventually be breached. The fort could not be held against prolonged attack, Anderson concluded, unless he was reinforced to a strength of at least twenty thousand men, and he was talking about regulars, not militia. They would have to seize and hold the various strongpoints around the harbor within cannon and mortar range of the fort. The Army currently numbered sixteen thousand men. On the East Coast, mostly artillery guarded the ports; infantry and cavalry were mainly out west, fighting the Indians. Anderson was demanding the impossible, but for a reason. Believing in slavery and Union, he hoped to sustain both by handing over the fort. After a few hours' sleep, Lincoln rose, breakfasted and reread Anderson's messages. From the corridors, staircases and adjoining rooms came the laughter and chatter of Lincoln's wife, Mary, two of the Lincoln boys, Tad and Willie, various Lincoln relatives and several old friends discovering the mansion, guided by servants. How exciting it was! What an adventure! In their hold rested a fleeting privilege that few would possess, even briefly, however long the great republic stood. Lincoln sent for the General in Chief, Winfield Scott. Shortly, the magnificent old warhorse arrived, dressed in a blue frock coat with gold braided shoulder straps, large yellow lapels folded back and a broad yellow sash diagonal across his massive chest. He was an inch taller than Lincoln-who stood six feet four-and weighed three hundred pounds; at seventy-four, he limped from wounds picked up in the War of 1812, the war with Mexico and, more recently, a fall from a horse; he wheezed from dropsy and looked forward to his next nap. The President was not sure what to make of Scott, who was a Virginian and presumably attached to his state. He was a soldier, but one whose political ambitions during and following the Mexican War occluded a dazzling military campaign. Following his election, Lincoln had sent a friend, Thomas Mather, to fathom Scott's loyalties in the unfolding secession crisis. Scott had said he guaranteed Lincoln's inauguration. "I shall plant cannon at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and if any of the Maryland or Virginia gentlemen who have become so threatening and troublesome of late, show their heads, or even venture to raise a finger, I shall blow them to Hell!" Scott was also trying to beat back the strident demands for the surrender of federal military posts in the seceding states. He urged Buchanan and the Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, to reinforce the seven most important forts (including Sumter) with a hundred to two hundred men each. That would make them sufficiently strong to hold out long enough for Congress and the incoming President to raise a host of volunteers and send relief. Save the forts, save the Union. Floyd, a Virginian, rejected Scott's recommendation but resigned a few weeks later. At that point Buchanan might have accepted the plan and ordered Holt, acting as Secretary of War until the new administration was sworn in, to reinforce all seven forts. Instead, he compromised. Buchanan would allow Scott to try to put two hundred extra men, plus rations and ammunition, into only one fort-Sumter. Scott at first proposed using a powerful warship; but, deferring to Buchanan's paralyzing fears, he hired a slow-moving unarmed civilian steamer, Star of the West. South Carolinian gunners opened fire on the vessel-and its large United States flag-as it approached Charleston. Reversing course, her captain sailed back to New York. The seven forts remained vulnerable, and when Lincoln became president, only two of them remained in federal hands-Sumter and Fort Pickens, at the entrance to Pensacola Bay, Florida, athwart the main shipping routes transiting the Gulf. The Army and Navy were top-heavy with secessionist officers awaiting their chance and others, such as Anderson, who were deeply conflicted. That winter of 1860--61, military installations across the Deep South had surrendered without a shot being fired. The general commanding United States forces in Texas, David Twiggs, eagerly handed over every base under his control to the state. In the first draft of his inaugural address, Lincoln had addressed these surrenders: "All the power at my disposal will be used to reclaim the public property and places which have fallen." That did not mean he had any plans for doing so, but it made clear his will. Lincoln handed Holt's letter and its enclosures to Scott, and the general departed to ponder and consult. For the rest of the day, Lincoln was busy with visitors, including Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune. Lincoln owed his 1860 nomination to Greeley and his friends; they had blocked William H. Seward from getting it. Yet as if to demonstrate that he did not feel beholden, Lincoln had chosen Seward as his Secretary of State, knowing that this was certain to annoy his would-be patron. Greeley's mild aspect-watery blue eyes behind half-moon spectacles, pallid cheeks, a mighty dome fringed with lank gray strands-was flesh to a prickly temperament. He was intense, blunt, always sure he was right and others were wrong. Not a man for conversation; a man for demands and commands-"Go west, young man!" Today he brought a warning: "Do you realize that you may have to fight for the place you now hold?" Lincoln: "There is no necessity for deadly strife." The theme of his inaugural. Greeley, disgruntled, departed. That evening Elmer E. Ellsworth, a talented twenty-three-year-old almost consumed with military ambition, came to the White House. Ellsworth yearned to go to West Point but had too little education for admission. Instead, he studied law in Lincoln's Springfield office, though law had never held his heart or his mind. Slightly built, a little below average height, Ellsworth was quick and strong, with an exuberant mustache that imparted a hint of maturity to the cherubic features and long curly hair that seemed to have an independent existence; he was a poor boy, on old terms with hunger. Impecunious, he had slept on the floor of the law office. A keen intelligence shone in his eyes and directed a mind that turned naturally to systems, plans, close analysis, orderly thought. Acute, he grasped early what many never understand-organization is power. As Ellsworth was welcomed into the Lincoln fold in the fall of 1859, his hero was already a candidate for the Republican nomination. His quick imagination flared-mentor in the White House, preparing to save the Union, protégé in the War Department, preparing the militia to fight. While studying law-or as an escape from it-Ellsworth, at twenty-one a full colonel in the Illinois state militia, had organized and trained a sixty-man drill team capable of holding large crowds enraptured for two and a half hours of live firing, rifle twirling, acrobatic gyrations and quasi-military evolutions of jaw-dropping precision. Ellsworth thought hard about new possibilities for the amateur soldiery. Even as Lincoln was sworn in, Ellsworth had the product ready for publication, his Manual of Arms for Light Infantry, Adapted to the Rifled Musket, with or Without the Priming Attachment. No pamphlet, this. Printed, it ran to 192 pages.10 The manual was filled with drills and commands, but at its heart was a bolder design. Ellsworth aimed to make militia service attractive for men in skilled, well-paid occupations to form "skeleton regiments." He would also recruit men with recent military service to serve as officers. In wartime, these skeleton units could be brought rapidly to full strength. In peacetime, they would train rigorously and often. Their arms and equipment would be standardized with those of the Regular Army. In its essentials, Ellsworth's system anticipated the post--World War II National Guard and Ready Reserve. And so, an evening visit with the President, who had come to love him like a son. Ellsworth asked for a note of introduction to Simon Cameron, confirmed that afternoon as Secretary of War. Lincoln wrote a formal request to Cameron for an innovation at the War Department, "If the public service admits of a change, without injury." He wanted to appoint "my friend" Ellsworth as chief clerk of the department. That would allow Ellsworth to organize a Bureau of Militia dedicated to raising the skills and discipline of state militias. Late in the evening came another visitor: Seward, the new Secretary of State. Scott and Seward had become close in recent days, and it was Seward who brought back the papers the President had handed to Scott earlier that day. Lincoln turned over Holt's long and alarming letter. There, in a large, spidery hand so legible it could be read at a glance by a harried lieutenant in the middle of battle smoke, was Scott's endorsement. Anderson's letter left "no alternative but to surrender, in some weeks, more or less," wrote Scott. "Evacuation seems almost inevitable." He had written in red ink, like a man dipping the steel nib into blood. **** It was military service that got him into politics. Lincoln's eleven and a half weeks as a soldier in the Black Hawk War were his first steps on the journey to the White House. Settlers surged westwards following the War of 1812, sparking clashes with tribes great and small. The government's solution was to push the Indians across the Mississippi. Among them were the Sauks of Illinois. Like many another tribe, the Sauks were first swindled out of their land, then, under military pressure, forced to cross the broad river. In 1831, Black Hawk, a Sauk war chief and medicine man, made a brief foray into Illinois to reclaim some of the land his people had lost. He was chased back across the river by a show of force from the militia. In April 1832 he returned at the head of four hundred warriors and hundreds more women and children. The sudden appearance of armed Indians created alarm across central Illinois, and the Governor, John Reynolds, called for sixteen hundred militia to meet the threat. The Regular Army would also provide troops. The twenty-three-year-old Lincoln, recently arrived at the settlement of New Salem, was among the first to answer the call for militia volunteers. He was currently unemployed, and this was a type of employment, with the prospect of a bonus when the campaign ended. In a militia company, the men elected their captain. Lincoln was chosen unanimously over another volunteer, William Kirkpatrick. A candidate hinting-or even promising-to buy a barrel of whiskey for the men who voted in his favor sometimes won such elections. At other times the decision went to some local worthy, someone whose gratitude might be valuable once the troops returned home. But Lincoln was not a figure of note, and it's hard to see him bribing his electors with the prospect of getting drunk. A number of Lincoln's New Salem acquaintances had enlisted with him, and they provided a potential base of support, but he was still a newcomer, not one of their own. His election probably owed much to the fact that he was the strongest man in the company, easily the tallest and a skilled wrestler. On April 28 the newly elected captain drew thirty smoothbore muskets and bayonets, a supply of flints and a keg of powder from the militia quartermaster. His men were mounted infantry, and, lacking a horse, he borrowed one. A Regular Army officer, Lieutenant Robert Anderson-the future commander at Fort Sumter-swore Lincoln and his company into military service. Black Hawk's band had been attacked by white settlers and fought back. Blood had been spilled on both sides. With the militia in pursuit, Black Hawk moved north, looking for a safe place to recross the Mississippi into Iowa. Lincoln's men joined in the chase, and along the way Lincoln studied a manual written with junior officers such as himself in mind, Scott's Infantry Tactics. He also showed a natural ability to remain calm and firm when his leadership was challenged. One day an Indian came into the regiment's lines. The man was probably of the Sioux, whose tribe had taken the side of the United States against their old enemies the Sauks. To show that he had no hostile intent, the Indian produced a letter from none other than the Secretary of War, Lewis Cass, vouching for his reliability. Excerpted from Lincoln's War: The Untold Story of America's Greatest President as Commander in Chief by Geoffrey Perret All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.