My theme is Lincoln as a director of war and his place in the high command and his influence in developing a modern command system for this nation. Always I have tried to describe and evaluate Lincoln's acts as a war director from the perspective of military developments since 1865 and to measure the correctness of his decisions by the standards of modern war. (vii)
"Before Grant, Lincoln acted as commander in chief and frequently as general in chief" - after Grant he stayed more to the former role.
T. Harry Williams argues that the Civil War was a clash between tradition and modernity, with the Confederacy squarely in the old camp and the Union moving toward modern techniques. He plays with the notion that the North won because it had more people and greater industrial assets - i.e., the "overwhelming manpower and resources thesis." Williams did not mean modernity in the sense of economic development so much as governmental organization and strategy. He shows how Abraham Lincoln struggled with his less than competent generals of the early years, like George McClellan and John C. Fremont. Williams emphasizes that the United States started off the war with little infrastructure for its military - few good leaders with experience, few soldiers, practically no way of collecting and coordinating useful information for strategizing, and little notion of how to organize and administer an efficient military force. (4-5)
Indeed, the North could not make much of its advantages of population and industrialization until a "modern command system" came into place in 1863-4. "The arrangement of commander in chief, general in chief, and chief of staff gave the United States a modern system of command for a modern war," Williams wrote. (302) This was a new, more efficient structure for administration and handling information. The general could focus on military strategy without keeping up with the details himself. "Those not skinning can hold a leg," said Lincoln to Grant. Grant understood that the objective must be total war - the complete destruction of the enemy army - and thought in grander, strategic terms than Lee, although Williams credits Grant's "global thinking" partly to the greater resources available to the Union Army. "Lee looked to the past as the Confederacy did in spirit." (313) Williams casts the Southern power as anti- or pre-modern. "What was realism to Grant was barbarism to Lee."
"But hardly ever is war purely military, especially in a democracy where it is dependent on the resolution of the people to support and fight it. (337-8) Morale matters - Sherman's capture of Atlanta revived the flagging masses of the North (338), while Mr. Tecumseh's general rampage through the South worked parallel damage on the Southern psyche (345). The move helped cripple Southern society, but it also contributed politically and psychologically to the war's completion - aiding Lincoln's reelection and weakening the Confederates' resolve even further.
There is an implicit correlation between the Civil War and World War II, and with the New Deal more generally. Many historians have noted that during the 1930s and 1940s a new, bureaucratic state with more centralized authority came into being to deal with the vicissitudes of a modern, industrial economy and international politics. World War II was an extension of this same drive on a global scale and a life-and-death plane. The "organization thesis" about the New Deal can be read backwards into Williams's Civil War. Also, he highlights the importance of morale politics and public relations in the winning of war, a theme shared with the World War II. Words like "perfect," "prudent," "proper" and "greatest" often hang around Lincoln's name. "Always the complete strategist" - Lincoln not only had political skill to handle people well, but thought in comprehensive, "global" terms that conceived even of a great victory as a piece of a bigger puzzle. It could be that the shadow of Franklin Roosevelt, idolized president and successful war leader, falls over the book, written as it was in 1952. Williams' idea of modernity might be characterized as follows. Consider the parallels with the Roosevelt era:
Modern = a strong commander in chief, i.e. a powerful presidency; plus an actual structure of centralized authority to complement him; and unremitting, remorseless total war that seeks to undermine the entire structure of the enemy society rather than army.