BROOKS D. SIMPSON
Many historians view the elevation of Ulysses S. Grant to the position of general in chief of the United States Army as a critical step in securing the triumph of the Union in the American Civil War. Appraisals of his performance in the campaigns of 1864, however, range from lavish praise to contentious criticism. Historians have looked at Grant's relationship with Lincoln, his management of grand strategy, his approach toward the Virginia theater of operations, and his supervision of operations against Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Rarely, however, have they examined Grant's performance in these four related areas systematically, demonstrating how these levels of command interacted, or explored the constraints upon Grant's freedom of action. It is worth examining once more the situation Grant faced as he assumed overall command in order to offer an informed assessment of his performance. In so doing, one must remember the constraints under which he operated and that served to restrict his alternatives; one must also keep distinct the various levels of command just enumerated as well as the interplay between these levels of command.
In Lincoln and His Generals ( 1952), T. Harry Williams offered what still stands as the classic assessment of Abraham Lincoln's performance as commander in chief of the Union military effort. A major feature of this work was Williams's interpretation of the relationship between Lincoln and his final general in chief. Previous scholarship had suggested that Lincoln left Grant alone and gave him a "free hand" to conduct operations as he saw fit. Williams countered that Lincoln "approved of Grant's strategy and let the general execute it because Grant conformed his plans to Lincoln's own strategic ideas." Williams's Lincoln was always in charge, kept a close eye on Grant, and often corrected Grant's initial impulses, thus demonstrating