Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Book News: Lincoln Takes Command

Practically every aspect of Abraham Lincoln's life has some legend or two attached to it, and one of the early ones associated with his role as Commander-in-Chief involved his famous, and arguably foolhardy, personal reconnaissance of Southside Virginia during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Upset with the pace of the campaign, an impatient Lincoln ordered that troops be landed on the south shore of the James River, and his scouting mission aimed at identifying possible landings sites is often credited with first real recognition of the vulnerability of Norfolk. Though the Confederates evacuated the city before Union troops arrived, it has been argued that Lincoln's efforts sped up the timetable, a process that had the significant added benefit of leaving the then base-less CSS Virginia to be destroyed by her crew. These events have been covered in articles and sections of larger works, but Steve Norder's Lincoln Takes Command: The Campaign to Seize Norfolk and the Destruction of the CSS Virginia (Savas Beatie, 2019 est.) will be the first full-length examination of the topic.

From the description: "For five days that May, Lincoln studied maps, suggested military actions and—in his quiet, respectful way—issued direct orders to subordinate commanders. Helped by movements farther up the Virginia peninsula, the president’s decisions resulted in a host of military actions and successes, including: a naval bombardment of a Confederate fort, the sailing of Union ships up the James River closer to the enemy capital, an amphibious landing of Union soldiers, the capture of Norfolk and the vital Portsmouth and Gosport navy yards, and the destruction of the Rebel ironclad CSS Virginia. Salmon P. Chase, Lincoln’s treasury secretary, described the actions as a “brilliant week’s campaign.” The president returned to Washington in triumph, hailed as a military and civilian leader. Indeed, some urged him to take direct command of the nation’s field armies."

According to Norder, "(t)he successes that crowned (Lincoln's) short time in Hampton Roads changed the nation’s commander in chief by giving him more of an understanding and confidence in his ability to see what needed to be accomplished, insight that sustained him through the rest of the war." Sounds interesting.

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