Sunday, September 12, 2010

Donald Stoker Gets Two Right

Having given Donald Stoker some grief in a recent post, I feel duty bound to report that in the following pages of The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War he makes two very nice points in quick succession.

First he pinpoints what I believe was the most bone-headed decision of the war: the determination to shell Fort Sumter:
Robert Toombs had warned of the consequences of firing on the fort, believing it would “inaugurate a civil war greater than any the world has yet seen. . . . You will wantonly strike a hornet's nest which extends from the mountains to the oceans, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal.”

Not only was Toombs correct regarding the effects of the bombardment, both immediate and long-term, he was also insightful regarding its futility. The South did not need to attack Sumter when it did . . ..
Second, Prof. Stoker crystallizes nicely a key difference – perhaps the key difference – between Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis:
The Union had no real strategy when the war began. Lincoln quickly approached his professional military leaders for guidance . . .. Even in the conflict's opening days, Lincoln was asking Winfield Scott what plans he had for winning the war. Lincoln always pondered how to achieve victory, and . . . was willing to do what was required. David, historian David Potter argued, “always thought in terms of what was right, rather than in terms of how win.” Lincoln tried to get his generals to figure out the path to victory. If they could not, he would try to figure it out for them. By contrast, “there is no evidence in the literature that Davis ever at any one time gave extended consideration to the basic question of what the South would have to do in order to win the war.” This is perhaps the most important difference in how these men led.


  1. Good stuff. I just got that book in the mail and look forward it to reading it. I may not read any more posts you make on it, just to let me try to form my own impressions, but I like what I see so far, especially about the difference between Lincoln and Davis. I had not heard it expressed like that before. (And it's hard to believe Robert Toombs of all people would be the one providing level-headed advice...)

  2. Captain,

    Isn't the Toombs quote great? I hadn't seen it before, and I love it!



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