(The title for this post is an in-joke with my board-game playing friends: Whenever my best laid plans gang aft agley, I turn into a trickster whose sole purpose is to ruin their plans and frustrate them.)

This Disunion article turns into an explanation of how Dennis Mahan’s teachings of Jomini’s Napoleonic tactics made for a standard generalship of the West Pointers in the war, but it starts with this:

The Civil War’s first year was one marked by inactivity and battlefield frustration. There was just one major battle, at Bull Run, and only a handful of minor engagements, most of them semi-guerrilla fighting in and around Missouri.

Yet as the leading Union generals in the field refused to directly engage Confederate troops, President Lincoln began to display an almost intuitive understanding of the aggressive military strategy that would win the war, a wisdom that would lead him to bring in new generals and push for more aggressive engagements in 1862. How did Lincoln, a lawyer by training with no military background to speak of — get the nature of the conflict so right, and his seasoned generals get it so wrong?

While I agree that Lincoln “understood the aggressive military strategy that would win the war” – that sheer force of numbers meant the North would prevail – I take issue with some of his early pushing attempts. Lincoln famously ordered movements of McClellan and Burnside, with these orders published and circulated, of more use to the Confederate planners than the Union leaders. He eventually speed-dated his way to Grant, but his learning curve through military strategy helped rein him in enough to let Grant go about his business unmolested.

Leave a Reply