Monday, December 20, 2010

Abraham Lincoln, one of the truly great leaders of all time

Lincoln was one of the best leaders of all time. I have studied his actions, especially how he dealt with the war. He was a chess player no doubt and studied much about the opponent, and knew what he ultimately had to do. He had hired many Generals to do the work, however, it was only General Ulysses S. Grant that got the job done because he undestood that it wasn't about pushing Lee out of the area, it was about decimating him. If he did not, he would not have won the war and the great US of A, may have been two countries. Notice how Lincoln gives all of the Generals a chance, but it was the General from Illinois who truly understood only a complete victory over Lee would win the war.
This article is adapted from Timothy Johnson, but it really gives a good picture of the key turning point of the Civil War.
When Robert Lincoln arrived at the White House on the afternoon of July 14, 1863, he found Abraham Lincoln in tears. It was the only time the son ever saw his father cry. What had brought about the president's display of anguish? As Gabor Boritt explains in "Lincoln's Generals," he had just received word that the Confederate army had successfully retreated from Pennsylvania to Virginia.
It was a week and a half after the Battle of Gettysburg and the Union Army, although victorious, had just missed another chance to finish the rebels and end the war. One of the most vulnerable times for an army is when it is retreating, especially after the kind of devastating defeat that Robert E. Lee's men had suffered in the Keystone State.
Here was a chance to pursue the men in gray and crush them before they reached the safety of home soil, but Union Gen. George Meade lacked that killer instinct.
Missed Moment
Lincoln's Keys
  • Defeated the Confederate states' rebellion.
  • "You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was."
Part of President Lincoln's despair was because he understood a golden opportunity had been lost but his commander in the field did not.
By the second year of the Civil War, Lincoln had emerged as a sound strategist who sometimes understood military necessities better than his generals. That is nowhere better illustrated than in the aftermath of Gettysburg.
According to Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson, author of "Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief," after the battle "Meade issued a congratulatory order to the Army of the Potomac and declared that their task would not be completed until the enemy was driven completely out of Pennsylvania."
When Lincoln saw the order, he exclaimed: "My God, is that all?"
He clearly understood the changing nature of the conflict, that it had become a total war, and that to win, the Confederates had to be wiped out, not merely driven away. Meade's timidity let the enemy escape to fight another day.
Lincoln (1809-65) had not always been so astute. His military strategy evolved during the war "from a concept of a limited war to suppress an insurrection and restore the status quo ante bellum to an all-out war to destroy not only the enemy's armies, but also the infrastructure of its society," McPherson wrote.
In 1861 and 1862, Lincoln's limited military strategy involved capturing key locations as a way of forcing the South to acknowledge defeat. Thus the battle cry "On to Richmond!" in the opening weeks of war. Results: the First Battle of Bull Run, the push up the Cumberland River and the capture of Nashville, Tenn.
Some Union generals had the mistaken impression that if they won a battle or two and captured a couple of cities, the Southern rebellion would collapse. Such objectives required the North to gain favorable positions, outmaneuver enemy forces and occupy geographic areas.
This represented a classical strategy, which to Lincoln seemed to be sufficient at the outset. Such an approach had the advantage of limited destruction of the Southern landscape, with political benefits in a postwar reunification process.
Yet as the war dragged on, Lincoln saw that limited war was not enough. Holding key positions would not force the Confederacy to capitulate.
Victory would come only when the North used its superior resources and manpower to crush the South's military. A clear indication that Lincoln had progressed beyond the "on to Richmond" strategy came prior to Gettysburg when Gen. Joseph Hooker proposed yet another advance on the enemy capital.
The president's blunt response was, "I think Lee's army, and not Richmond, is your true objective point." He went on to suggest ways Hooker might bring Lee to battle.
He Had It Right
Seizing the initiative and taking advantage of opportunities are always traits of successful commanders. What separates a good strategist from a bad one is sometimes as simple as recognizing when an opportunity presents itself. As illustrated by two examples in 1862, Lincoln had a knack for such recognition even when his generals did not.
During Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's Shenandoah Valley Campaign, 17,000 rebel soldiers out-marched and out-fought three Union armies totaling 52,000 men.
During the battle, Lincoln sent his field commanders instructions on how to do the obvious: trap Jackson in the valley and slay his small army.
Union forces failed to close the trap that Lincoln described, but the episode is illustrative of the president's superior strategic grasp.
Three months later in the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, Lee retreated from Maryland into the Shenandoah Valley.
For a time, the Confederates were farther away from Richmond than Gen. George McClellan's Union troops, says Joseph Glatthaar, a history professor at the University of North Carolina and author of "General Lee's Army."
More Frustration
"Lincoln implored McClellan to advance rapidly, blocking mountain passes and drawing supplies along the various east-west rivers, which functioned like spokes of a wheel," Glatthaar told IBD by e-mail.
Such a move would serve the Union cause well, but, said Glatthaar, "McClellan simply would not budge," and the North lost another opportunity.
These examples underscore that Lincoln developed a sophisticated battlefield outlook. That he felt comfortable enough to give his generals such instructions indicates his confidence and conviction as well as his growing suspicion that he possessed a better strategic mind than some of his commanders.
Lincoln quickly saw the North's need to use its numerical advantage.
Union forces in the Eastern and Western theaters often acted without coordination. One army would advance and fight while another retreated or remained stationary.
Such lack of harmony allowed the less numerous rebels to shift troops fast to meet threats. "Lincoln realized that with overwhelming manpower and strength, the Union needed to launch simultaneous and coordinated offensives to exploit that overwhelming strength," Glatthaar said.
Numerous times Lincoln tried to get his generals to understand this obvious principle. At one point he wrote Gen. Don Buell, pleading for him to use his greater numbers to advance against several enemy points simultaneously in order to find and exploit Confederate weaknesses.
Through the first three years of the war, Lincoln searched in vain for an aggressive general who would use the full force of the North's superior resources. An understanding of this frustration explains why the president was distraught to the point of tears in the aftermath of Gettysburg.
Lincoln was steelier when it came to poorly performing subordinates. He hired and fired numerous generals in his search for competence, and by 1864 he had found his man.
What Lincoln liked about Ulysses S. Grant was that this general never complained. He took what he had, went after his opponent and won. So the president promoted him to commanding general of all federal forces in March 1864.
Winning Duo
When Grant reached Washington, Lincoln discovered that they shared the same strategic mindset. Beginning in the spring of 1864, Union armies advanced on all fronts simultaneously and for 11 months pounded Confederate forces in a war of attrition.
This was now total war, and despite the harsh criticism from Northerners sickened by the bloodletting, Lincoln supported Grant to 1865's bitter but successful end.
What began in 1861 as a limited conflict to pacify the South and preserve the Union was three years later part of Lincoln's aim to level the South's forces and its slave-dependent social order.
That flexibility contrasted starkly with his counterpart, the rigid Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Lincoln's pragmatism and astute grasp of strategy prompted historian David Potter to assert that if the North and South had switched presidents, the South might have won.