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Partners in Command, American Civil War Book Review

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JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR. Partners In Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War New York: The Free Press . 1994. Pp. xi, 286. $16.95.

Warriors are at their core human beings who succeed or fail in their endeavors in some part because of the their ability to relate with others, whether peers, subordinates, or superiors. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the interplay between commanders during the American Civil War. The forging of successful working relationships is foundational to success on the battlefield and signals compatibility on some level between the personalities or natures of respective commanders. What does “compatibility” mean when applied to military commanders? What evidence is there that this really matters? What happens when commanders, civilian or military, lack compatibility at senior levels?

Joseph Glatthaar tackles these questions in an insightful and important addition to the study of the American Civil War that focuses on the relationships between several senior commanders. Foundational to his monogram is research conducted from primary sources and used to develop course lectures. Glatthaar  first examines Lee and Jackson and their brilliant performance in the eastern theater. He then explores the complicated interplay between McClellan and Lincoln that ultimately resulted in failures at both strategic and tactical execution in the East. Thirdly, Glatthaar examines the relationship between Joseph E. Johnson and Jefferson Davis set against the struggles of the Confederate defense of the West. In a chapter on Grant and Sherman Glatthaar explores how two very different personalities can complement one another and still work together superbly. A chapter dedicated to army-navy collaborations reveals the special bond  (soul-mates is used to describe it) that developed between Sherman and Admiral David Dixon Porter. The mutual respect between the two extends to Grant and results in unprecedented cooperation between the army and navy. The book’s final chapter is excellent overview of the command relationships on both sides of the war and his conclusion could inform organizational leaders both inside and outside the military. Compatibility and intimacy are not required. Professional attitudes are key.

Glatthaar provides a solid academic notes section and index as well as a bibliographic essay that is quite informative. Most interesting in the “after“ sections of the book, however, is an appendix in which the author argues that George McClellan’s interpersonal relationships were handicapped by a condition known in today’s psychiatric parlance as  “paranoid personality disorder.” He makes a strong case that the disorder undermined McClellan’s ability to successfully lead and manage men in wartime and that the only person with whom he could interact effectively was his wife.

JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR

JOSEPH T. GLATTHAAR

Glatthaar brings to the work the credentials of a historian who has paid his dues. He received his Ph.D. in 1983 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, specializing in American Military History. He received his B.A. from Ohio Wesleyan University and M.A. in history from Rice University. At the time of the book’s publication in 1994, he taught history at the University of Houston. Glatthaar is now the Stephenson Distinguished Professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill where he specializes in the American Civil War and American military history. Glatthaar has twice taught at the nation’s military colleges, once in 1984-85 as a visiting professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and again in 1991-1992 as the Harold K. Johnson Distinguished Visiting Professor, U.S. Army Military History Institute. He has published extensively with some considerable emphasis on the experience of black soldiers during the Civil War. His has won numerous awards for his work most notably for the 1989 work, Forged in Battle and an earlier work, The March to the Sea and Beyond.

Partners In Command stands out among studies of command and leadership during the Civil War because of a focus not on the tactical execution on the battlefield but rather in the interplay among senior commanders. It complements major General J. F. C. Fuller’s 1982 monograph, Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality (Indiana University Press). Glatthaar’s work is both highly readable and academically rich. Of note, the publishers have made the book available in digital format on the Amazon Kindle platform as well as traditional print.

See more Civil War book reviews here.

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Book Review: Lincoln and His Generals

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Lincoln and His Generals T. HARRY WILLIAMS. Lincoln and His Generals.  New York: Random House, 1952. Pp. viii, 363, $2.40.

Tried by War

T. Harry Williams

T. Harry Williams

Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.

This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.

Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.

Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.

The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.

John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.

Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.

Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)

Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.

Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)Tried by War

Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.

At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of  Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.

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