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American Civil War Strategy and Leadership Term Paper

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Updated: May 11th, 2020

American civil war strategy and determination

Thesis statement

The paper highlights Abraham Lincoln’s role in the American civil war of 1861-1865 fought during the time when he was the President of the United States of America. The paper aims at proving that ‘Lincoln’s leadership of the Union war effort was instrumental to Union’s victory’.

The cause of the civil war

Abraham Lincoln was known to be an opponent of slavery since the start of his political career. His rise to become the new US president therefore spelt danger for the southern states that were predominantly practicing slavery.

South Carolina’s legislature was the first to vote against remaining in the union in January of 1861. Six more states i.e. Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas followed the suit even before the new president had assumed office. Four extra states-Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina also threatened to secede. This was few months before Lincoln could fully assume office.

In February 1861, at a convention in Montgomery, A constitution for the confederate involving the seceding states was created that stressed on the autonomy of individual states. The Confederate States of America (CSA) was formed under the leadership of Jefferson Davis[1].

President Buchanan failed to surrender to the southern states their sea forts thus sparking an outcry from the southerners. Their armies in retaliation seized these forts and prevented Northern ships from docking in them. In a conversation with his secretary-John Nicholay, The incoming president looked at various options he had if the South maintained its stand, he knew that going into a full scale war was not the right thing but if left with no choice, then he was to do anything he could to keep the government united.

Lincoln knew that no state had the right to secede and that this issue was not debatable. He further understood that it would be his goal to maintain the current government and that dismemberment was out of question. These were his resolution even as he prepared to assume office later. It is reported that in December 1860, he ordered General Scott to immediately reoccupy forts that would fall into the confederacy hands[2].

Lincoln maintained that he would continue to collect revenue from the ports under the Confederacy rule and that any resistance would invite an armed response. From the beginning, Lincoln was faced with the tough challenge of soldier’s shortage, his main garrisons were understaffed. Most of the Union’s soldiers were from the South and this raised the question of loyalty.

Lincoln however constantly reminded the people that the government would not go into war unless forced to. Most of his key addresses before he took office hinted of his willingness to make peace with the seceding states only if they would choose to remain in the union. The incoming president in his inauguration speech on March 6th 1861, sought to end the stand off without warfare by declaring that slavery would remain in the south but that he would not tolerate the secession.

His statement failed to satisfy the seceded states which instead chose to fight with the Union thus leaving Lincoln with no choice. Lincoln’s first commitment in office was to keep his promise of holding, possessing and occupying all that what belonged to the government. Lincoln’s aim of keeping the government united was simple and inflexible and in fact he said that it could only be tried by going into war and that victory was his sole result.

The civil war begins

In April, Fort Sumpter was attacked by the Confederacy troops, the federal troops in retaliation returned fire thus marking the beginning of the civil war that lasted till June 1865 leaving up to 650,000 Americans dead. The attack at fort Sumter resulted in four more states- Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee joining the Confederacy.

To win the war, Lincoln needed to strategize, he was faced with the task of raising a large army and navy, ensuring it was well organized and sustained. He had also to make it clear that foreign influence was not welcome and to get public support during the war.

The incumbent president tried to keep the Union intact and to prevent the states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri and Delaware from joining the Confederacy by stating that the war was not on fighting slavery but was to preserve the US. Once the Federal navy blocked The Sumter fort, the Confederate states were cut off from the larger North and this prevented trade and the importation of manufactured goods from the Union.

At the beginning of the war, the South was faced with a challenge of lack of a common army, instead, each state had its small army but this changed at the “Bull Run’ Creek.

The choice of army Generals

Lincoln showed military control from the very beginning of the war. When he realized that he didn’t have enough men, he called for 75000 volunteers to serve for 90 days in the army. He went on to restrict African Americans from volunteering because he reasoned that the aim of the war would be changed.

To keep Maryland in the Union[3], Lincoln declared a martial law in Maryland and imprisoned many of the secession leaders forcing Maryland to remain. Lincoln’s plans were well laid and involved blocking ports, routes of supply, using the resources from the south thus depleting them, taking control of the Mississippi river; he aimed at dividing the staff of the confederate and blocked shipping routes to the south.

Lincoln chose great Generals e.g. Philip Sheridan, Nelson miles, George Meade, George McClellan, Joseph Hooker, Hayes Rutherford, General Grant, General Edward Canby, General Ambrose Burnside and General Don Carlos. Abraham Lincoln constantly kept tight control of the Union’s army.

The Generals he engaged at times disappointed him, but they were generally good. Lincoln directly influenced and controlled what happened on the ground. The invention of the telegraph enabled him direct commands to Generals in far places. He was able to organize his army in all battlefronts at the same time. He also monitored his generals closely and many times he was forced to replace those who didn’t show commitment.

The battle of Bull Run was the first show that Lincoln’s leadership was determined to win the war. When the federal troops lost the battle of Bull Run, the president realized the need for the reorganization and training of his army; he immediately recalled General McDowell and replaced him with General George McClellan in June 1861. Lincoln determined cut off the coast of the South improved his navy and by July the confederacy was completely cut off[4].

At the start of the year 1862, Lincoln determined to win the war laid down strategies to aggressively attack the confederacy but General McClellan ignored him prompting Lincoln to demote him and again reorganized the army especially in Virginia and replaced him. General McClellan was made a commander for the army at Potomac.

During the battle of Shiloh in April 1862, the President sent reinforcement after General Ulysses Grant’s federal troops almost lost to the Confederacy’s army. Lincoln’s able General Quincy Gilmore also won the battle of Fort Pulaski. Able General McClellan also began and won the peninsular campaign three months later.

Lincoln realizing that Washington D.C. was about to fall under the hands of the confederacy in may 1862, ordered the Union troops to defend it after they lost the battle at the Shenandoah Valley to General Thomas ‘’stonewall’ Jackson of the South. A new General-in-chief of the federal; army-Major General Henry Halleck was named on July 1862.

Lincoln was initially satisfied with major Halleck but with time, he lost confidence in him when Halleck lost motivation of the war. Though Lincoln continued to use Halleck, it is reported that he used the newly established telegraph to communicate commands directly to his commanders in the field.

General Fritz John was forced out of the army when he failed to motivate hi troop at the second battle of Bull Run in August 1862. When General Robert Lee of the Confederacy army withdrew his troops from an otherwise drawn battle, General McClellan was announced the winner of the battle of Antietam on September 1862.

Lincoln took this opportunity to speak about his intention to free all the slaves in the Confederacy staring January, 1863, in the famous Preliminary Emancipation proclamation. President Lincoln occasionally visited his army in the battlefield like an incident when he visited McClellan’s headquarters at Potomac. There was a series of the army Generals replacement in December 1862 starting with General McClellan who was replaced by Major-general Ambrose Burnside when he lost the battle of Fredericksburg[5].

Ambrose, now in control of Potomac army was very successful at first and was able to win major battle but he too was replaced with General Joseph Hooker. Though General hooker proved to be the president’s critic, Lincoln kept him because he proved to be a good leader of the army. The president at one time commended him and gave him a go ahead as he was showing signs of weariness. Lincoln often sent his representatives to the warfront to supervise on his behalf.

The First Conscription Act was passed in March 1863 by President Lincoln on realizing that he was facing a shortage of army men. The Emancipation proclamation act went into full force in January 1863. Lincoln once again was faced with a shortage of soldiers and in March 1863, he made it mandatory for anyone between 20-45 years of age to join the military. Lincoln’s aim was to split the Confederacy into two and in May 1863, his strategy succeeded through General Grant.

Grant was a very persistent general, he was determined to place under his control the whole of Mississippi River and in May, he conquered Memphis and eventually divided the Confederate into two.

President Lincoln advised that Grant’s army fuse with that of Major Nathaniel Banks who was positioned in New Orleans, the same sentiments were expressed by Halleck but Grant chose to follow his own Instincts. Grant took the more risky option by not following the military logic, he chose to ferry his men across the Mississippi river at night under the full glare of the enemy’s fire.

His plan succeeded and by the end of the month, Grants army captured Vicksburg and later Memphis thus bringing the division of the Confederacy. Another proof of the fine men Lincoln chose to lead his army was Major General Daniel Butterfield; He engaged the Confederacy troops in a battle at chancellorsville that lasted three days without authority from either General Hooker or the president.

When this battle seemed to be lost, Lincoln was worried and he in fact was ready to give a hand of help in prosecuting a plan for this army. General Rosecrans was another of Lincoln’s great general but was inactive and unmotivated however, Lincoln decided to tolerate him in the hope that he would change[6].

General George Meade replaced Hooker when he resigned as the commander. The promotion of General George Meade as the commander of Potomac army was to enable him fight on the home ground He (Meade) fought and defeated the Confederacy army at Gettysburg which retreated to Virginia. The president paid a visit to Gettysburg battlefield and made a portion of it a cemetery where he also delivered the Gettysburg address.

May 1864 saw General Grant promoted to command the Union army. His military strategies had proved to the president that he a talented commander. Grant relieved General Rosecrans of His duties as it proved futile to keep on pushing him to act. Another skillful soldier was a general William Sherman who fought and subdued Atlanta.

This win caused the re-election of Lincoln for a second term in office in November 1864. General Alfred Terry was yet another of Lincoln’s whose war tactics helped him win back fort fisher. President Lincoln, in February 1865, turned down a southern delegate for peace conference and the recognition of the south independence.

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the end of the war

The Confederacy finally surrendered in April 1865 and 13 days later, President Lincoln was short and killed at Ford’s theater in Washington[7]. May 10, 1865 marked the end of the civil war with the capture of President Jefferson Davis.


Lincoln’s choice of great commanders to lead his troops and the tight control he exercised on reluctant general, replacements and promotions in the army helped in in the Union’s survival. His military strategies and personal involvement in the war were also pivotal in achieving his war aims.

The navy leaders were never replaced and this ensured stability. The establishment of army academies ensured dedicated cadres of military men who led the war that culminated into a win. Lincoln was determined to end abolish slave trade, extend protection to all and allow equal voting right[8]. His determination to keep the union whole motivated him and in fact his time in office was dedicated to winning the war.


Essortment, 2010. Abraham Lincoln and the Civil war. Web.

Freeman Joanne, n.d. , 1861. Web.

Fehrenbacher, Don. 1987. Lincoln’s Wartime Leadership: The First Hundred Days. Journal of Abraham Lincoln association, Vol. 3. 1

Holzer Harold 2008. . Web.

James, T. Hickey. 2010. . Web.

Jennifer, Erbach. 2004. Lincoln, Patriotism and Protest. Web.

Kennedy Hickman, 2010. . Web.

McPherson, James. 2008. Tried by War, Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief. New York, penguin press.

Monroe R.D. 2000. Indian Fighting and Politics in New Salem, 1831-1836A. Web.

National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2010. . Web.

Stephen R. Taaffe. 2009. Commanding Lincoln’s Navy: Union Naval Leadership during the Civil War. New York, Naval Institute Press.

WBGH Education Foundation. 1998. . Web.


  1. Jefferson Davis was a Mississippi senator
  2. 3 months before he was sworn in as president.
  3. If Maryland seceded, Washington would be surrounded by the Confederacy states.
  4. The South countered with fast boats that it used to cross the coast
  5. Burnside failed on the December 13th 1862.
  6. Rosecrans was disinterested in the war
  7. John Wilkes Booth, from Maryland short Lincoln, he was an actor.
  8. Slaves were not allowed to vote.
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