13. Lincoln the Civil War general
When the American Civil War erupted in the spring of 1861, Abraham Lincoln became the first American president to act as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. Lincoln assembled the first truly modern General Staff at the war department, in reaction to Union defeats in the east, and successes in the west, and communicated directly with all of his commanding generals, in particularly close communication with his commanders of the Army of the Potomac, usually located in Virginia unless responding to Confederate incursions in Maryland and later in Pennsylvania. It was Lincoln who throughout the war stressed that the destruction of the Confederate Army under Robert E. Lee was the true goal of the war, rather than the capture of the Confederate Capital at Richmond. When generals allowed opportunities for that destruction to slip through their fingers, it was Lincoln who fired them.
Lincoln’s hands on approach to the conducting of the war was present in all theatres of operations. The latter stages of Grant’s operations during the siege of Vicksburg coincided with Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania and Lincoln remained in nearly constant communication with his commanders in both areas, even firing Joseph Hooker in Pennsylvania for his lack of aggression, replacing him with George Gordon Meade. When Grant used tactics with which Lincoln disagreed, the president later sent his general a letter in which he acknowledged his doubts and then informed Grant, “I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right, and I was wrong”. Lincoln suffered from incompetent generals in the field early in the war, including McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker, but by the end of the conflict he had created a reflexive and professional general staff on a stage not seen again until the Second World War.