Just as Abraham Lincoln admitted to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, I, too, "know but little about ships." But when asked if I would be willing to review Lincoln And His Admirals, by Craig Symonds, I agreed, somewhat hestitantly since, admittedly, I am not too well versed in the historiography of Civil War navies or even naval operations. Nor was I very much familiar with the Union's admirals. Land battles and army commanders have always been my main focus.
I discovered almost from the outset, however, that one need not be a naval scholar to enjoy this book.
In Lincoln And His Admirals, historian and prize-winning author Craig Symonds, Professor Emeritus at the United States Naval Academy, fills a surprising void in Civil War historiography: Lincoln's management, as commander in chief, of United States naval operations and his dealings with his naval commanders. Through a masterful narrative and lively prose, Symonds charts Lincoln's trials and triumphs and steady growth as commander-in-chief--from the days leading up to Sumter to the capture of Fort Fisher and beyond--as he came to oversee the largest fleet of U.S. warships until the outbreak of the First World War while gradually becoming a perceptive and effective military strategist. Symonds presents excellent accounts of how Lincoln responded to both domestic and international crises on the water--including the infamous Trent affair and the capture of the Confederate privateer Florida off the coast of Brazil--and how he formulated his decisions in decreeing naval strategies and operations. But Symonds's greatest contribution with this work is in presenting Lincoln's interractions with and management of his cabinet officials and his naval officers, some of which, notably Charles Wilkes and Samuel DuPont, presented their fair share of headaches for Lincoln and the administration.
With Lincoln And His Admirals, Symonds has given us an excellent, meticulously researched and well-written account of an understudied aspect of both Lincoln's presidency and of the Civil War and I do not hesitate in recommending this work to anyone with even a passing interest in either the Civil War or American naval history.
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