The Military Genius of Abraham Lincoln: An Essay

By Colin R. Ballard | Go to book overview
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A MAN may be a great statesman and yet a hopeless muddler in the science of war. Such was the younger Pitt; he was the soul of European coalitions, his courage and intellectual powers have never been questioned; but during his administration the land forces of England were frittered away in expeditions which were badly planned, badly commanded, and badly carried out.1 The blame may be laid on his military advisers, but had he been a strategist he would have recognized their weakness.

To set a true value on Lincoln as a strategist we must shut our eyes to the glamour which surrounds the statesman and get down to his military work. Pictures have been drawn which put him in rather a pathetic light, struggling to fathom a subject too deep for his powers: bombarded with advice, good and bad, interested and disinterested, from soldiers and politicians, from semi-independent Governors of States, from very independent journalists: firm in the determination to gain his end but acting only as a hindrance to his army:2 yes, of course he was a great man, but he knew nothing of war -- how could he? -- and of course he did his best, but the inference is that it could not have been much worse.

Well -- to get at some standard by which Lincoln can be measured let us look for a moment at ourselves in

Expeditions in 1793 to Toulon and Belgium, in 1795 to Quiberon, in 1798 to Lisbon, in 1805 to Naples.
Henderson, vol. i, p. 407; 'The mistakes of Lincoln and Stanton are not to be condoned by pointing to McClellan.'

Vol. ii, p. 5: 'In assuming control of the Union armies Lincoln and Stanton made their enemies a present of at least 50,000 men.'


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