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Lincoln and His Generals (Vintage Civil War Library) Paperback – January 11, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Authoritative. . . . A seminal work. . . . Williams’s assessment of Lincoln’s military prowess has never been seriously challenged.”
The Washington Post

“Fascinating. . . . A full-bodied, swift-paced narrative. . . . The reader will gain as clear and shrewd an overall comprehension of the Northern effort from this volume as from any other in print.”
—Allan Nevins, Saturday Review

“Convincing. . . . As a story-teller [Williams] displays a craftsmanship that holds the reader in suspense even when he knows exactly how the incident ends.”
The New York Times

“An admirably planned and executed work which well fulfills the author’s expressed hope that it will contribute both to the history and to the understanding of the American system.”
American Historical Review

From the Publisher

8 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Civil War Library
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307741966
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307741967
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #443,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By John A. Barnes on March 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Lincoln and His Generals" is an absolute must for anyone who aspires to a true understanding of the American Civil War and how it was fought, especially from the high command perspective on the Union side. Poring over the orders that passed back and forth between Lincoln and his top commanders, Williams paints a highly opinionated portrait of Lincoln's efforts to find the commander who will at last win the war. Williams' portrait of McClellan is extensive - and unforgiving. How this classic study could have been allowed to pass exclusively into the realm of the used book seller is a mystery to this reviewer.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Theo Logos on October 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In Lincoln and His Generals, T. Harry Williams concentrated on telling the story of Lincoln as commander in chief during America's greatest and most devastating war. In the preface he states his goals clearly; "my theme is Lincoln as a director of war and his place in the high command and his influence in developing a modern command system for his nation." Williams expertly develops this theme throughout this fascinating book. Though many may disagree with some of his conclusions about how effective Lincoln was in this role, few, after reading this book, would dispute the fact that it is a well written and reasoned account of the topic, and that it is an important contribution both to Civil War and Lincoln studies.
William's views Lincoln as a genius - a man, who came into office with no military knowledge, yet had the flexibility of mind to adapt and learn from his mistakes to guide his country to victory through its greatest wartime crisis. He states that, "Lincoln, by the power of his mind, became a fine strategist...a better natural strategist than were most of the trained soldiers." He claims that Lincoln grasped the war's big picture from the very beginning, and even claims that Grant's final end-game strategy from 1864 on was fundamentally Lincoln's plan, though the details and execution were Grant's. I believe that he overreaches with some of these claims, yet he still makes a great case for Lincoln's genius, and his role as the indispensable man behind Union victory.
Williams also writes of the generals who were Lincoln's tools for winning the war.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Richard Frantz Jr. on July 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
An absolutely engrossing explanation of how Lincoln and his top generals fought the Civil War and how the war forced the adoption of a modern command structure.
If you've seen pictures of Lincoln when elected in 1861 and compared them to pictures from 1865 and wondered why he looked so worn, here's the answer: he had generals (and oh what generals they were!).
The fault I find is that it gives too much emphasis to Mclellan and most of the remaining attention to Grant. While these were the major Generals in Chief, I would have liked to have seen more on the other generals who served under them.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on January 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
T. Harry Williams spent a lifetime seeking to understand the role of leadership and power in American history. This book is an elegant analysis of how a wartime president with little military service led a nation during its most desperate era, and rose to the occasion not only to get by but to excel. Williams agrees that Lincoln is the United States' most impressive leader, holding together the nation while desperate centrifugal tendencies tore it asunder. He asserts that Lincoln understood that the Civil War was the first "total war," in which all elements of the population, economy, and every other aspect of society must be mobilized. "Lincoln and his Generals" is an elegant narrative of the evolution of the Civil War from the standpoint of Lincoln and his high command.

Williams argues most eloquently the thesis that Lincoln was a brilliant military strategist. His generals did not understand this, wedded as they were to older Napoleonic battlefield tactics that were outmoded with the weaponry available during the Civil War. The drama in this book, and it is considerable, revolves around the controversies between Lincoln and the Union Army's leadership. The central foil for Lincoln's brilliance was Gen. William B. McClellan, the first commander of the Army of the Potomac and overall a superb general, at least as measured against the standards of Napoleonic warfare. He brought together an army, trained it well, organized its logistics, and failed to use it effectively during his time in command. Lincoln was not pleased at his reticence to fight, complaining that "He has got the slows" in his willingness to take the field.

Conversely, Williams describes the effectiveness of Gen. U.S.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Christopher J. Martin VINE VOICE on May 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is a wonderful look at Lincoln and his relationship with his generals and why he went through so many prior to finally appointing Grant, he just couldn't find one that would not when under pressure find all the reason they could not to attack.
The book also does an excellent job of detailing Lincoln's involvement in strategic policy for the Union armies. Surprisingly for a man who'd never held a high military rank, Lincoln displayed an incredible grasp of strategy and frequently understood things generals such as Meade did not. Williams also expands into how upon the appointment of Grant to general in chief, the Union high command evolved into a modern military command, the first of its kind in the world, even more advanced than anything seen in Europe until Moltke the Elder, with the Union army high command consisiting of Commander in Cheif, General in Chief, and a new office designed for Halleck and to keep Grant from having to be in Washington, Chief of Staff. Williams also makes clear the different military culture of the 19th century, in stark contrast to most instances today, a general who disagreed with Lincoln or thought his plan to have dissatisfied the president or simply disliked somone they were told to collaborate with in a battle, instead of trying to work out differences, asked to be relieved of command.
The one major drawback to this book is its lack of maps. There are no maps to follow the action along, so its advisable to have a Civil War atlas at hand in order to be able to place some of the places the battles take place. Also, if you're looking for a detailed "what happend" in the many battles, in most cases you won't get it with this book.
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