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It is the strangest thing in the world to me, that this war has developed so little talent in our generals. There is not a single one… fit for a great command… Union Chief of Staff Henry Halleck Aug 13 1862

The war within the Union high command : politics and generalship during the Civil War Thomas J. Goss Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, c 2003 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xx, 300 p. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 273-281) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

goss001Cartoon showing President Abraham Lincoln leaning around a door, his left arm extending toward General Benjamin Butler, shown full-length, facing slightly right, standing with carpet bag labeled, “Butler N.O.” next to his feet, holding a bucket labeled “Suds” in his left hand and a brush in his right hand, a mop, brush, and a sword under his right arm and a long bar of soap under his left arm; he has a tired, dejected look on his face.

With Union armies poised to launch the final campaigns against the Confederacy in 1864, three of its five commanders were “political generals”—appointed officers with little or no military training. Army chief of staff Henry Halleck thought such generals jeopardized the lives of men under their command and he and his peers held them in utter contempt. Historians have largely followed suit.

goss002Scott, Winfield; McClellan, George Brinton;Banks, Nathaniel Prentiss; Wool, John Ellis; United States History Civil War, 1861-1865; Military personnel – Union.

Thomas Goss, however, offers a different assessment of the leadership of Northern commanders. In the process, he denies  the evidence of political generals as superfluous and largely inept tacticians, ambitious schemers, and military failures. Goss examines the reasons why the selection process yielded so many generals who lacked military backgrounds and explores the tense and often bitter relationships among political and professional officers to illuminate the dynamics of Union generalship during the war. As this book reveals, professional generals viewed the war as a military problem requiring battlefield solutions, while appointees (and President Lincoln) focused more emphatically on the broader political contours of the struggle. The resulting friction often eroded Northern morale and damaged the North’s war effort.

goss003Antietam, Md. Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand

Goss challenges the traditional idea that success was measured only on the battlefield by substituting military success for the achievement of Lincoln’s political objectives. Examining commanders like Benjamin Butler, Nathaniel Banks, John McClernand, John Fremont, and Franz Sigel, Goss shows how many filled vital functions by raising troops, boosting home front morale, securing national support for the war— even while achieving significant success on the battlefield. Comparing these generals with their professional counterparts reveals that all had vital roles to play in helping Lincoln prosecute the war and that West Pointers, despite their military training, were not necessarily better prepared for waging political war – even though he is not bold enough to suggest that the political generals could have secured victory.

goss004Female figure of Columbia and Doctor Jonathan conversing about a small man, probably John C. Frémont, with his head labeled “Lincoln.” Columbia says: “Tell me doctor, what is the matter with him? Do you think his brain is affected?” Doctor Jonathan replies: “Oh! No my dear Madam; it’s only a rather aggravated case of Sore Head!”

Whether professional or appointed, Goss reminds us, all Union generals could be considered political. He shows us that far more was asked of Union commanders than to simply win battles and in so doing urges a new understanding of the military failures of those appointed leaders who were thrust into the maelstrom of the Civil War.

goss005Print showing Major General Franz Sigel, full-length portrait, facing right, riding on horseback with troops marching in formation.


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