Partners In Command: The Relationships Between Leaders in the Civil War by Joseph T. Glatthaar

images-1     Nothing happens in a vacuum, and this axiom is never truer than actions conducted during the American Civil War. The relationships between Abraham Lincoln and his generals, and Jefferson Davis and his generals had consequences that reached every soldier and sailor in the conflict. Partners In Command presents a study of the high-level command structures of both armies.

Napoleon might have been able to direct a military campaign on his own, but by 1861 such an undertaking was far too complex for one person. Collaboration at the highest levels for both military and political leaders was a necessity.  However, the needs of the overall objective were often sacrificed to the needs of the disparate personalities involved at the highest levels of command. There was an equal amount of disruption and cooperation, as Glathaar explains in his six short biographies of Lee and Jackson, Lincoln and McClellan, Davis and Joseph Johnston, Grant and Sherman, and Lincoln and Grant. In addition, the author presents a compelling analysis of the relationship between the Federal Army and Navy, who shared command in the Union attacks on the southern city of Vicksburg. This is a little-discussed partnership, as joint operations did not often occur at that time.


Not all of the couplings were favorable. Much has been written concerning the imagesantagonistic relationship between Lincoln and McClellan. Although the author sheds no new light on this, he does include an appendix: “McClellan’s Tragic Flaws in the Light of Modern Psychology.” Depending upon how much credence the reader gives such efforts, this may or may not be enlightening. It does, however, explain that McClellan’s issues began long before he became the leading Union general. If a paranoid personality disorder was truly to blame, perhaps someone should have noticed earlier and not given McClellan the opportunity to add at least a year to the war. Abraham Lincoln finally fired McClellan in late 1862, and moved on, which is usually the advice therapists give to those negatively affected by the issues of others.

The character studies of the other relationships are presented in a straightforward, factual way. This is an advantage to the researcher who needs a brief refresher course, and to the Civil War buff who is looking for a deeper understanding of command relationships and structure without plowing through a series of larger volumes of analysis. Each relationship is explained in a manner that is clear, unbiased, and backed by a great deal of research. Glathaar’s analyses are serious and enlightening.

The rare time the author shows any preference lies in the chapter on the images-3relationship between Grant and Lincoln, “‘I cannot spare this man. He fights’. Lincoln, Grant, and Ultimate Success.” Grant and Lincoln had no relationship prior to the war. In fact he did not meet Grant until late in 1863. Nevertheless, Lincoln had been aware of Grant and his efforts, even to the extent of opposing General-in-Chief Halleck as to whether Grant should remain in command after rumors of drunkenness began to circulate.

Lincoln, used to military disappointment and losses, took a while to gain confidence in any of his generals from July 1863 onward.  He was still, in the days immediately after the Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, unsure of their veracity. The trial-and-error relationship between Lincoln and all his commanders only began to solidify in mid 1863, but as it did, success followed success.

The team Lincoln built is illustrated in an image on page 190. This poster shows the President surrounded by his key military personnel: Grant, Sherman, Farragut, Thomas, Porter, and Sheridan. There is no parallel image for Jefferson Davis who, in fact, built no such team. This excellent little book helps the reader understand why, and how this lack ultimately resulted in the fall of the Confederacy.images-4

About Meg Groeling

CW Historian
This entry was posted in Armies, Book Review, Books & Authors, Civil War Events, Emerging Civil War, Leadership--Confederate, Leadership--Federal, Personalities and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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