Abraham Lincoln: Letters to His Generals, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln: Letters to His Generals, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln: Letters to His Generals, 1861-1865

Abraham Lincoln: Letters to His Generals, 1861-1865

Synopsis

Abraham Lincoln can be a challenging exercise for, from a historical perspective, he emerges as an extraordinary individual--one who was clearly many things to many people. The most comprehensive portrait of noteworthy public figures can generally be seen in their personal letters and journal entries. Lincoln's wartime correspondence is no exception, and the letters he penned to his Civil War generals--through one of the most critical episodes in American history--are of singular importance.While Abraham Lincoln is responsible for a significant body of correspondence, this is the first time an editor has focused principally on the strategic and analytical comments to His Generals during the course of the American Civil War.Interpreting the thoughts and actions of Abraham Lincoln can be a challenging exercise, for he was clearly many things to many people. Precisely because of this complexity, he has become so much a part of America's ongoing search for itself, so deeply entwined in the tapestry of American history, that in many instances succeeding generations have been largely unable to picture him clearly and objectively in his own life and times.The selected pieces are specifically directed to Lincoln's observations on command and military operations, topics that have not been singularly addressed in previous Lincoln books. My intention is twofold: first, to add to the body of literature exploring leadership and governance during the American Civil War; and, secondly, and perhaps more importantly, to provide an additional glimpse into the character and thought processes of Abraham Lincoln as president and commander-in-chief.The letters collectively provide a unique glimpse into the character and thought processes of Lincoln as a military commander. Lincoln was not a natural strategist. He worked hard to master the subject, just as he had done to become a lawyer. Still, despite being forced to learn the functions of a commander-in-chief on the job, he demonstrates an oftentimes striking understanding of the issues. And, whether the subject might be a general memorandum of military policy, a reflection on the sentencing of a deserter, or pressing the attack on Confederate forces, he writes with remarkable clarity, insight, and concise eloquence.This text is both a comprehensive reference resource and a unique supplement to the existing literature. The original written communications, which succeeding generations of historians have repeatedly cited as the basis for the interpretation of events or conclusions of fact, are reproduced in their entirety. While more recent Lincoln books--Generals in Blue and Gray (Jones); Lincoln's Generals (Boritt); Lincoln and his Generals (Williams); and Lincoln on War (Holzer); among others--offer either general or specific examinations of selected aspects of Lincoln's presidency, any correspondence is usually treated as brief excerpts that may be cited out of context, or incorrectly interpreted by the reader. Here, by contrast, the format of the selected letters, as Lincoln wrote them, is preserved whenever possible, and they are presented for the interest of a general readership as well as for students of military, cultural, or political history. The addressees are identified, particularly those who have been lost to history, and, where indicated, explanatory notes are provided to assist the reader in placing the correspondence in its particular historical, political, or conceptual context. Readers are encouraged to arrive at their own conclusions as to the intention of a specific piece of correspondence.

Excerpt

During the administration of President James Buchanan, 1857–1861, tensions over the issue of extending slavery into the western territories mounted alarmingly and the nation ran its seemingly inexorable course toward disunion. Along with slavery, the shifting social, economic, political, and constitutional problems of the fast-growing country fragmented its citizenry. After open warfare broke out in the Kansas Territory among slaveholders, abolitionists, and opportunists, the battle lines of opinion rapidly hardened. Buchanan quieted Kansas by calling in the Regular Army, but it was too small and too scattered to suppress the struggles that were almost certain to break out in the border states. In 1859 John Brown, who had won notoriety in “Bleeding Kansas,” seized the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in a mad attempt to foment a slave uprising within that slaveholding state. Again Federal troops were called on to suppress the new outbreak, and pressures and emotions rose on the eve of the 1860 elections. Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected to succeed Buchanan; although he had failed to win a majority of the popular vote, he received 180 of the 303 electoral votes. The inauguration that was to vest in him the powers of the presidency would take place March 4, 1861. During this lame-duck period, Mr. Buchanan was unable control events and the country continued to lose its cohesion.

Abraham Lincoln’s election to the Presidency on November 6, 1860, triggered the long-simmering political crisis. Lincoln’s party was opposed to the expansion of slavery into the new western territories. This threatened both the economic and political interests of the South, since the Southern states depended on slavery to maintain their way of life and their power in Congress. South Carolina on December 20 enacted an ordinance declaring that “the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the ‘United States of America,’ is hereby dissolved.” Within six weeks, six other deep-South states seceded from the Union and seized Federal property inside their borders, includ-

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