Daily Archives: January 20, 2009

Presidential Leadership: The Military Command Decisions of Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush by Gregory Hilton – Part One, Abraham Lincoln

The Bush Adminiatration came to a close at noon today.

The Bush Administration came to a close at noon today.

Presidential Leadership: The Military Command Decisions of Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush by Gregory Hilton, (Part One, Abraham Lincoln).  Armed Forces Radio Network. (This commentary was originally recorded in two 90 second segments. The complete transcript is below).
WASHINGTON, D.C. (AFRN) – President Barack Obama’s inspiring Inaugural ceremonies included many references to the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. The Inaugural theme “A new birth of freedom” came from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Obama began his campaign in Lincoln’s hometown, Springfield, Illinois.On Monday he visited the Lincoln Memorial, he took the oath on Lincoln’s Bible, his train ride and even the menu was similar to what was used for our 16th President.
This emphasis on
Lincoln’s legacy is commendable, and Obama is close to matching Lincoln’s eloquence. Hopefully in the years to come he will also have the lonely resolve to match Lincoln’s leadership abilities. This will most involve critical decisions which will not be popular. In his address today the new President was off to an excellent start by warning of “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age.”  He even promised not to put off “unpleasant decisions.”
We do not know the future of the Obama Administration, but the new Commander-in-Chief is another war president who spoke today of defeating our enemies.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan are in the process of being doubled, and the chant “Death to America” is still repeated on a daily basis by numerous terrorist organizations. Obama will have to meet military challenges and I hope he recognizes the strong parallels between the difficult command decisions of Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush.
Both Lincoln and Bush had little military experience, they were confronted with significant domestic opposition to a war, and it took them years to find a commander who could implement a successful strategy. Both Presidents had to reluctantly learn military strategy. They read the current books and closely questioned the experts. They courageously had to overrule practically all of their advisers to implement plans which involved a major change in tactics. They made decisions which were not popular at the time, but were in hindsight were clearly in our nation’s best interest.
The Union Army was solidly opposed to
Lincoln’s decision to remove the popular General George McClellan, who would become Lincoln’s opponent in 1864. Lincoln’s cabinet was against the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves. Lincoln’s advisors emphasized the dangerous political consequences of an Emancipation Proclamation.
They felt the Civil War should focus on restoring the
Union rather than abolishing slavery. Advocates of emancipation were set back in the 1862 election when Republicans lost 28 House seats. The cabinet vote was 7 to 1 against the Proclamation. The sole vote in favor came at the end of the discussion from Lincoln himself who opposed everyone and said “The ayes have it!” The Cabinet was also unanimously in favor of harsh post-War reconciliation policies for the South, and President Lincoln noted “You are all against me.”
Lincoln became a brilliant military strategist, but it took the President a long time to acquire that skill. Lincoln was in the forefront of advocating what became the modern military command structure. The Civil War’s final end game strategy was primarily the President’s plan, while battlefield tactics were left to General Grant.
Lincoln’s problem was that his initial commanders were reluctant to engage the enemy without having overwhelming force behind them. In the early years of the war the South made significant gains despite having far fewer troops and equipment. On the Antietam battlefield Lincoln told his commander, “General McClellan, if you don’t want to use the Army, I should like to borrow it for a while.”
Lincoln had to fire five Union commanders (Generals Irvin McDowell, George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker and George Meade) before he found the winning formula in U.S. Grant. McDowell lost the first major engagement of the war at Bull Run. McClellan won at Antietam but did not strike a fatal blow against Robert E. Lee who he failed to pursue. Burnside was defeated at Fredericksburg, and Hooker was defeated by Lee’s army at Chancellorsville despite having a huge advantage in troops. Meade let Lee and the Confederate army escape after Gettysburg.
Over 620,000 soldiers were killed in the Civil War. President Lincoln would have lost his 1864 bid for re-election without the public jubilation which resulted from General William Sherman’s victory in
Atlanta two months prior to the balloting. Many of these stories are best told in “Lincoln and his Generals” by T. Harry Williams (1952).