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Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War

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Even before the first shots were fired, there were many in America who believed the coming conflict would be one of slavery versus freedom. Abraham Lincoln, although no friend to slavery, and certainly not as radical as many Republicans, sensed that Northern sentiment was not ready for such a move, despite the cries of abolitionists and their movement.  Despite his idealism, the legal reality of Lincoln’s actions took precedence, even concerning slavery in America.

Lincoln and Key Civil War Strategies

Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War

Abraham Lincoln's importance in the Civil War can be noted in two key strategies:

  1. Making Ulysses S. Grant head of the North forces
  2. As a Lawyer, Lincoln knew that the law was with him

In the summer of 1861, John C. Frémont proclaimed martial law in Missouri and declared that the slaves of any civilian found carrying arms would be freed.  Lincoln knew that this policy would not only run counter to every statement he had made as President, but would turn sentiment in the border states against the Union cause.

Despite the objections of abolitionists, Lincoln ordered Frémont to withdraw the order.  He explained that military authority could not overrule civilian government and that Frémont was establishing a dictatorship.  He knew that simply freeing the slaves was the desire of many Northerners, but also knew that following the Constitution was even more important in preserving the Union.  His idealism for what America was had to fit in to the timing of public sentiment.

Abraham Lincoln spent much of the Civil War trying to direct a military strategy without the support of the men charged with carrying out his wishes.  His conflicts with McClellan are legendary; he even chastised Meade for failing to destroy Lee’s army after Gettysburg.  Lincoln, although not a military man, had an innate sense of the new type of warfare that the Civil War was, a war not of tactics but of victory.

Lincoln and Grant

Lincoln found one man who agreed with his strategy: Ulysses S. Grant.  Both men saw that winning the war meant killing as many of the enemy as possible.  When asked to dismiss Grant, Lincoln pointed out, “I can’t.  He fights.”
Lincoln had nothing to fear from promoting Grant.  First, Grant’s character did not give him airs such as McClellan.

Second, Lincoln knew he had the force of law on his side in retaining civilian control over the military.  McClellan was popular, but Lincoln was legally able to dismiss the man twice.  Grant knew his job was to win the war; he and Lincoln (and Sherman, Grant’s protégé) had sympathetic goals. this led to Lincoln's Secession Theory.

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