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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Won't Someone Bring This Classic Back Into Print?
"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...
Published on March 3, 2000 by John A. Barnes

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a good authors opinion
While I enjoyed this book, I felt the title was deceptive. The author, T. Harry Williams, trys to convince us, that Lincoln was a master strategist, and it basically was his strategy that helped win the war. ( I HAD thought this book would be about Union Generals, as Douglass Freemans- Lee's Lt's was about his. That may have been my fault, for misunderstanding)
I...
Published on February 12, 2003 by Lamont G. Sible Jr.


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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Won't Someone Bring This Classic Back Into Print?, March 3, 2000
By 
John A. Barnes (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
"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
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive work on Lincoln as Commander In Chief, October 27, 2004
By 
Theo Logos (Pittsburgh, PA) - See all my reviews
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. McClellan and Grant get the most ink, the former because, despite his great talent, he was ultimately a failure and Lincoln's greatest disappointment and the latter because, in William's estimation, he was the greatest general on either side of the war. Of Lincoln's other generals, Williams writes more about the ineffective, incompetent ones such as Fremont and Banks than he does of effective and even great generals like Sherman and Thomas. He explains in his preface that the reason for this is that the incompetent generals were headaches to Lincoln, forcing him to have intimate command relationships with them, while he had to interfere very little with the moves of the effective Sherman and Thomas.
Whether or not you agree with all or even any of the author's conclusions, he has written what still stands as the definitive work on this topic - the launching point for discussion and debate on Lincoln's role as commander in chief. Not only that, he has done it in fine style, creating a clear, interesting, and well-written book that stands as a masterpiece in its field. I give it my highest recommendation.

Theo Logos
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The war from the top, July 20, 2002
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars A Striking Assessment of Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief, January 20, 2006
By 
Roger D. Launius (Washington, D.C., United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
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. Grant, who started the war as a minor commander in the Midwest but who demonstrated quickly and effectively that he understood the nature of modern, total war. His concepts of war, and his sense of military strategy matched well with Lincoln's. t. Harry Williams gets into the debate over who was the better general, Grant or Robert E. Lee, and sides resolutely with Grant's place in the pantheon of great military commanders. But he goes a step further, arguing that Lincoln was an even more effective "general" than both Grant and Lee. Both Lee and Grant admirers may dislike that assessment, and there are reasons to question it.

Williams establishes that Lincoln had a superb grasp of strategy and some sense of how to accomplish it. Grant appreciated and accepted that strategy, according to Williams, and designed effective tactical plans to accomplish it. This made them an exceptionally successful team that played to each others strengths and minimized their individual faults. The author also criticizes Lee by questioning his grasp of a strategy for victory in the war. This may be a valid criticism, but as Avery O. Craven pointed out in his review of this book, Lee "served under a West Point graduate as the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, took over the `global' side of things; Lee, of necessity, commanded the Army of Northern Virginia. How well he did his job compared with how well Grant did his is a matter of opinion and bias and little else" (Avery O. Craven review in "Mississippi Valley Historical Review," 39 (September 1952): 338).

This is first and foremost a magnificent narrative of this titanic struggle between great armies. Almost as important, it is an eloquent statement on behalf of Lincoln as a superb commander-in-chief. It is still a significant book more than fifty years after its publication.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book that nearly misses five stars, May 18, 2003
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. This book is purely about the command and control structure of the Union army and how the players interacted with each other. My one final and biggest grip with Williams is that he at many points assumes too much in my opinion. There are many instances where the documentary record when he wrote the book did not state what happend, so Williams assumes that things "must have" or "certainly happend" a certain way without in some cases anything approaching a clear reason why he draws this conclusion.
Other than these few gripes, this is a wonderful book and should be read by anyone wishing to understand why Lincoln went through so many generals.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a good authors opinion, February 12, 2003
While I enjoyed this book, I felt the title was deceptive. The author, T. Harry Williams, trys to convince us, that Lincoln was a master strategist, and it basically was his strategy that helped win the war. ( I HAD thought this book would be about Union Generals, as Douglass Freemans- Lee's Lt's was about his. That may have been my fault, for misunderstanding)
I read this book with an open mind, yet with a good knowledge of the Civil War, and of McClellen, Meade, Grant, Hooker, Burnside, Pope and McDowell. McClellen stated many times, that Lincoln could not hold on to a secret, and that was his reason for not keeping him informed. Also, many of the plans McClellen devised, were later used by Grant. Hooker built the Union Military up, and did a fantastic job of organization, from the bottom ranks up. Meade, did much of the work, that we give Grant credit for, ( though Meade did make the newspapers mad at him, and refused to name him)
Lincoln is a very interesting man, but I feel it is a stretch to call him a master military strategist.
If you enjoy reading someone elses view, or opinion of the Civil War, this is a really nice book. But, that is why I can only give it three stars, it is good, but too much of the authors opinion.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched and Comprehensive, June 1, 2003
By 
Matt (Minnesota USA) - See all my reviews
Williams notes in the preface of my 1952 edition that it is not about the Generals of the Union, but rather about Lincoln and his problems with the Union military commanders. While much of the text is dry details about this letter or that between Lincoln and his generals, the Williams does interject some bits of interesting facts and educated theories on why Lincoln often acted as he did. This is a well researched book, with most pages having between about 3 footnotes, and it is very helpful in understanding the political climate of the American Civil War.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Study of Lincoln's Command Skills, April 2, 2006
Although published some 50 years ago, Williams' book is a fascinating read of the relationships President Lincoln had with his various generals. While some were quite strained (McClellan, Butler, Pope), others worked quite well (Grant, Sherman, Thomas). Williams takes each relationship to show how Lincoln was truly a brilliant strategist who had a much firmer grasp of the North's true strategy of defeating and destroying Southern armies instead of the strategy of many Northern generals - just controlling territory.

The narrative is smooth and flows freely and the writing style is simple without being simplistic. While other more learned students of the Civil War may have issues with some of the author's conclusions, I thought Williams was resonably sound in his analysis.

The only problem I had with the book was the lack of maps. Granted, this book is a study of the relationship between Lincoln and his generals and the Northern command structure during the Civil War. However, in my humble opinion, having a few maps would have enhanced the reader's grasp of the strategy Lincoln was trying to implement during the war.

Complaint aside, I heartily recommend this book as an excellent study. Read and enjoy!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Listen to me, Everyone, October 27, 2010
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There are so many people that dance across the stage of the Civil War. So many names come up again and again in the story, and its hard to know and remember each general's particular contribution and role in the War.

This is a GREAT BOOK for explaining Lincoln as Commander in Chief and his relationship with EACH of the Generals along the way.

This book is well written, and is GREAT for learning of the Generals and their style's.

This book doesn't get bogged down in the boring minutiae of every little statistic along the way.

BIG PICTURE, and how the Generals fit into Lincoln's plans.

So many books get bogged down into this battle or that person and its hard to rise above and see that BIG PICTURE of how the war could be won.
Lincoln had the big picture, and this book proves he was even a better strategist than his career military officers.

If you're looking for a GREAT BOOK, about Lincoln's relationship with his Generals, and their style.......

THIS IS THE BOOK. IT'S A MUST READ FOR YOU CIVIL WAR BUFFS.

Enjoy!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid, Unsentimental History, March 7, 2007
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This is not a history of the war or a detailed description of the battles (see Foote's trilogy for that). It's just what it says it is -- a history of Lincoln's dealings with his generals.

At the onset of the war, the US had almost no army, few weapons, no officers trained in large strategic warfare and an outmoded system of command. Lincoln himself had no real military experience. It took time and many blunders before Grant marched south in 1864 with a clear strategy for ending the war behind the most powerful, well equipped army in the world.

Lincoln was highly intelligent and had an innate strategic vision that outclassed all of his generals (the prime objective was to destroy Lee's army, not capture Richmond). Lincoln took his commander in chief role seriously and often took an active part in the campaigns, at least before he finally found Grant. The strengths and (mostly) weaknesses of McClellan, Hallack, Buell, Fremont, Banks, Burnside, Hooker, Rosecrans, and others are explored in just the right amount of detail.

While Williams concludes that Lincoln was our greatest war president, there is no hero worship in this book. He relies on facts, as shown by telegrams (Lincoln lived at the telegraph office during battles), letters, journals and memoirs. Lincoln wrote some wonderfully pithy telegrams, like the one to Grant as he was flanking Lee's army down to Petersburg ("Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible").

This book is very well written and moves along at a smart pace. It's certainly one of the best Lincoln books. Although out of print, I was able to get a new hardcover through Amazon.
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Lincoln and His Generals (Vintage Civil War Library)
Lincoln and His Generals (Vintage Civil War Library) by Thomas Harry Williams (Paperback - January 11, 2011)
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