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Lincoln and His Admirals
By Craig L. Symonds

Symonds approaches his study of Lincoln by looking at large themes and campaigns to scrutinize the president's handling of situations and his subordinates. During the Fort Sumter and Fort Pickens relief expeditions, Lincoln revealed that he was not ready to take the helm as Commander in Chief. His wait-and-see attitude to resolve these problems failed. While this exposed the president's inexperience, he learned from his mistakes, which would later make him a better leader. Symonds shows that during the war Lincoln grew in confidence and competence and found he had to become more assertive. Thus, the book is as much about Lincoln's emergence as a wartime commander as it is about his relationships with the Navy leadership and the conduct of war.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was one of only two cabinet members who remained in office during the length of Lincoln's presidency. In personnel issues, Lincoln almost always deferred to Welles's decisions. While the president remained interested in the appointments and might have intervened frequently, he let Welles, a capable manager, make the final decisions. The president did make clear that he preferred officers who were energetic and not cautious. Symonds's understanding of the personalities involved helps him make his points effectively.

Lincoln had to deal with issues such as privateering, the establishment of the blockade and the international issues associated with the blockade's enforcement. Symonds argues that Lincoln failed to be proactive for the first year of his presidency and he did not start acting as Commander in Chief until the beginning of 1862. He also concerned himself in issues such as the aftermath of the CSS Virginia's attack on the Union fleet in Hampton Roads, the Norfolk campaign, the 1863 attack on Charleston, and the Red River campaign. In these cases, Lincoln showed flexibility regarding strategic goals.

Craig Lee Symonds is the Distinguished Visiting Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is also Professor Emeritus at the U. S. Naval Academy where he served as chairman of the history department.

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