Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lincoln and His Admirals

by Craig L. Symonds

From the publisher:
Abraham Lincoln began his presidency admitting that he knew "little about ships," but he quickly came to preside over the largest national armada to that time, not eclipsed until World War I. Written by prize-winning historian Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals unveils an aspect of Lincoln's presidency unexamined by historians until now, revealing how he managed the men who ran the naval side of the Civil War, and how the activities of the Union Navy ultimately affected the course of history.

Beginning with a gripping account of the attempt to re-supply Fort Sumter--a comedy of errors that shows all too clearly the fledgling president's inexperience--Symonds traces Lincoln's steady growth as a wartime commander-in-chief. Absent a Secretary of Defense, he would eventually become de facto commander of joint operations along the coast and on the rivers. That involved dealing with the men who ran the Navy: the loyal but often cranky Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, the quiet and reliable David G. Farragut, the flamboyant and unpredictable Charles Wilkes, the ambitious ordnance expert John Dahlgren, the well-connected Samuel Phillips Lee, and the self-promoting and gregarious David Dixon Porter. Lincoln was remarkably patient; he often postponed critical decisions until the momentum of events made the consequences of those decisions evident. But Symonds also shows that Lincoln could act decisively. Disappointed by the lethargy of his senior naval officers on the scene, he stepped in and personally directed an amphibious assault on the Virginia coast, a successful operation that led to the capture of Norfolk. The man who knew "little about ships" had transformed himself into one of the greatest naval strategists of his age.

A unique and riveting portrait of Lincoln and the admirals under his command, this book offers an illuminating account of Lincoln and the nation at war. In the bicentennial year of Lincoln's birth, it offers a memorable portrait of a side of his presidency often overlooked by historians.

"We know a great deal about Lincoln and his generals, but until now very little about Lincoln and his admirals. With a compelling portrait of personalities and a sharp analysis of strategy, Craig Symonds offers a gripping narrative that finally gives the Union navy--and its commander-in- chief--the credit they deserve for the important part they played in winning the Civil War." --James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"This is an epic story-the quintessential, mal-de-mer-prone landlubber morphing into the admiral-in-chief of the mightiest armada on the planet. Spinning the yarn with resourceful scholarship and narrative verve, peerless naval historian Craig Symonds succeeds in creating an entirely new portrait of Lincoln: not only as healer of the land, but conqueror of the sea."--Harold Holzer, Co-Chairman, U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission

"Craig L. Symonds has filled a gap by giving us a superb account of Abraham Lincoln's relationship with the navy and the people who ran it. Beautifully written, the narrative is also lively and informative. He eloquently describes how Lincoln's judicious temperament complemented his irascible 'Neptune,' Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles along with the calumny, envy, personal conflicts, and thirst for promotion that permeated the deep sea and riverine forces. This is the most complete and edifying story of Mr. Lincoln and his 'webbed-feet.'"--Frank Williams, Chief Justice, Rhode Island State Supreme Court and Lincoln Scholar