Lincoln and His Generals by T. Harry Williams
Harry T. Williams was born on May 19, 1909. When in college, he was encouraged by a professor to study history. This professor's main interest was the Civil War era and had a great effect on Williams. He attended Platteville State Teachers College (later Wisconsin State University at Platteville) where he received a B.Ed in 1931. Williams continued education into graduate school was mainly due to the lack of work during the Great Depression. He went on to earn a Ph.M. in 1932, and Ph.D. in 1937, from the University of Wisconsin (Dawson 431).
Lincoln and His Generals was the breakthrough book for Williams who had only written one book previously. This book provided him with many national and local acclaims. He book was on the best seller list, he received rave reviews in national publications, and scholarly awards where he was teaching at the time, L.S.U. He would go on to become a very respected writer during his forty-year career. He would also win the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his book Huey Long (437).
Williams main theme in Lincoln and His Generals is about the Civil War being the first modern war and Lincoln’s function in the position of President. He introduces the state of the Union army as one that has no shape to it. This includes the lack of any plan of attack, as the thought of war had not been translated into any type of scheme. The armies lacked organization and communication, and existing qualified generals were old and inept. The first task that Lincoln had was the immediate selection of Generals. Lincoln’s selection process was sometimes based on political and personal grounds, and he was in the position of selecting from a pool of generals that had no experience leading a large army. Williams tells us that even if the selection was for political reasons, Lincoln had the ‘national cohesion’ in mind. It appears that control was an important factor in Lincoln’s selections, however, Williams continually argues that if Lincoln had had generals who were more competent he would not have interfered as much. In Lincoln, one sees a willing amateur, one who had the ability to bring out the best in some men, and also learn from them (Williams 11).
Williams gives us insight into Lincoln’s thought process into who Lincoln really was. Williams superbly supports this with various examples and numerous interactions that Lincoln had with his Generals. For example, Lincoln’s selection of General Scott, the first General of the Union forces. When Lincoln interacted with Scott, he showed a deference for Scott’s age and knowledge. Thus allowing Scott to share his skills, this humility was shored by General McClellan. Lincoln later changes his approach towards McClellan, trying to boost his confidence and courage. Williams continually shows McClellan as an egotist, who eventually replaced Scott as General in chief. McClellan is depicted as unsure, indecisive, self-centered and fearful of...