Begin Your Mission

At the start of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln assumed the role of commander-in-chief of the armed forces as delegated to him by the US Constitution.  Although he had no practical military experience Lincoln played an active role in devising and executing plans for the defeat of the Confederacy.  Lincoln worked hard to bring himself up to speed on military theory and as early as 1862 showed a clear understanding of the established principles of war.  However, Lincoln was still only a part-time amateur student planning military strategy with professionals of many years experience.  Additionally, the development of the telegraph and to a lesser extent the steamboat and railroad, allowed Lincoln to keep in closer contact with his commanders than was possible in previous wars.  This leaves the scholar with several questions about Lincoln’s role in the conduct of the war.  Did Lincoln’s active participation in military planning help or hinder the Union cause?  How did Lincoln influence the conduct of some of his best known commanders?  Did McClellan, Grant, and Sherman perform as they did because of Lincoln or in spite of him?  The documents provided here provide the opportunity to analyze the interaction of Lincoln with his commanders and determine the extent to which Lincoln can claim some credit or blame for his commanders’ performance.

Evaluate Lincoln as Commander in Chief.   Analyze the extent to which he contributed to the success or failure of his best known commanders. How did Lincoln influence the conduct of the campaigns?  What factors effected Lincoln’s ability to influence the outcome?

Click here to explore the question further then return to begin your investigation of the documents provided.


Website created by Benjamin Bolger for Understanding Lincoln, The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History