Neely on Lincoln
Now, Neely moves on to Abraham Lincoln, about whom he wrote a book on the president’s constitutional ideas.
He admits that Lincoln learned on the job as U.S. commander in chief, but says it’s not clear how.
Lincoln secretary Stoddard wrote after the Battle of Fredericksburg, a terrible Union defeat, that the president said there some sense in the “awful arithmetic” about the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Lincoln’s strategy was simple: attack.
He was resigned to continuing the Union army’s attempts to break the Confederacy, even if it took another week of such casualties, Lincoln told Stoddard: ”No general can yet face the arithmetic, but the war will end when he shall be discovered.”
Wanted Lincoln wanted from his generals, the president said, was ” hard, tough fighting that will hurt somebody.”
Neely says Lincoln’s seminal ideas about the constitution and warfare come from his youth on the American frontier, where he imbibed the painful lessons about the War of 1812 that fueled the American age of nationalism.
Basically, Lincoln–who as a young men beat bully Jack Armstrong in a fabled wrestling match in New Salem, Ill.,–thought of battle as “a big wrestling match, without much science to it,” Neely says.
Neely says recent books that chart Lincoln’s growth as a wartime president miss the mark.
He thinks Lincoln didn’t have to grow very much as commander in chief: “All the great qualities in Abraham Lincoln were present from the beginning.”