Poor Abraham Lincoln. He had to learn to be commander in chief while on the job - and without much help from those whom he placed in command as general in chief of his armies. Other commanders werenít of much help, either. General Winfield Scott, who was general in chief at Lincolnís inauguration, was past his prime, too old and too sick to be of any great help to Lincoln. Besides, ways of waging war were changing drastically. The numbers of soldiers involved in the Civil War was beyond the comprehension of those who had served in previous wars. Everyone on both sides of the war had to learn how to adjust.
As respected Civil War author James McPherson shows, Lincoln did adjust and learn how to be a commander in chief: he read up on how to conduct warfare; he learned how to strategize and win battles; he picked up quickly that General Leeís army should be the object of his armiesí attention rather than the Confederate capital of Richmond. Unfortunately, many of his generals couldnít see this. Lincoln had to wait until 1864 and General Ulysses S. Grantís ascension to general in chief for a general who would see what he saw as to what should be their focus.
Lincoln had to endure various struggles to get his generals to even attack their enemies. If the generals had listened and obeyed Lincoln, the war would have been over sooner with less death and destruction, but many of the generals would not listen or obey. Many times Lincoln had to remove them to push the Unionís efforts forward.
In this narrative history, McPherson shows Lincoln learning quickly how to be a commander in chief. Some of his actions led to the creation of some of the war powers that succeeding presidents would use in times of war. He helped to clarify what presidents must do in order to save the Constitution and the nation. Of the various strategies Lincoln used to win the Civil War, one was to emancipate the slaves and to allow African-Americans to join the Union Army. He had to do bold things to save the Union, and in the end he succeeded.
Several photographs of Lincolnís generals and Civil War scenes are featured in the centerfold. There are endnotes and an index (the endnotes compensate for the lack of bibliography). Tried by War is highly recommended to those interested in the Civil War, how Lincoln conducted the war, and those interested more generally in Abraham Lincoln. This book comes out in time for the bicentennial of Lincolnís birth.
James M. McPherson is professor emeritus of history at Princeton University and the bestselling author of numerous books on the Civil War, most prominent being Battle Cry of Freedom, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and For Cause and Comrades, which won the Lincoln Prize.