Lincoln and Davis as Commanders in Chief

by Brian R. Dirck

Abraham Lincoln Commander in Chief | Jefferson Davis Commander in Chief | Civil War Leaders

“Commander in chief” was a vague phrase for Americans prior to the Civil War. The Constitution named the president “commander in chief” of the nation’s armed forces, but what did that mean, exactly? No one really knew, because the United States had not yet fought a war that truly tested any president’s war-making powers. The various conflicts with Native American tribes were far away on the frontier, the War of 1812 was of relatively short duration, and the War with Mexico in the 1840s was brief and distant. But the Civil War—that was big, terrifying and long.

Both the Union and Confederate presidents found this immense war on their very doorsteps. In Lincoln’s case, he is the only president in American history who was at war just about every day he occupied the White House. Both he and Jefferson Davis—whose short-lived Confederacy operated under a similar constitutional and political system—were forced to improvise, essentially engaging in on-the-job training as commanders-in-chief. Small wonder that each man’s tenure as commander in chief was beset with difficulties and unprecedented problems.

Lincoln was almost comically lacking in military experience when he became president in 1860. He had served briefly as an officer in the Illinois state militia during the Black Hawk War 1832, seeing no combat, but having “a good many bloody struggles with the musquetos [sic],” as he later joked. He distinguished himself during the War with Mexico chiefly as an outspoken critic, using his single term in the United States Congress to blast President James K. Polk for bullying Mexico and engaging in a western land grab that only benefited slaveholders. Lincoln knew very little about actual warfare, and even less about the immense complexities surrounding the deployment of modern armies and navies. [1]

But then again, neither did anyone else. Americans in 1860 were shockingly unprepared for what they now faced. The peacetime armed forces were tiny—the entire United States army numbered only 16,000 men—many of the officers were either old and infirm or young and inexperienced (or worse, had defected to the Confederacy), and the federal government’s bureaucratic structure was inadequate for the task of administering a large and sustained war effort. Lincoln as commander in chief in 1861 was a classic case of the blind leading the blind.

During his first year in office, his unfamiliarity with the job showed. Lincoln made mistakes. He created confusion during the Fort Sumter crisis by issuing conflicting orders to the navy. He put pressure on the army to mount an immediate assault on Richmond in the summer of 1861, despite warnings that the men were too green (“they are green also,” he said, referring to the Confederates, “you are all green alike”), resulting in a humiliating Union loss at the First Battle of Bull Run. He chose as his first Secretary of War a Pennsylvania politician named Simon Cameron, an exceedingly poor (some said corrupt) administrator. Lincoln did not even look like a commander-in-chief, failing to properly return salutes from soldiers and appearing out-of-place at military functions. “There is no need of your being so infernally awkward,” groused a friend, “For God’s sake consult somebody, some military man, as to what you ought to do on these occasions in military presence.”[2]

But there were signs that Lincoln had the makings of a fine commander-in-chief. His mostly volunteer army of citizen soldiers actually liked seeing a frumpy commander-in-chief. He forged a close emotional bond with the rank-and-file privates, who cheered him and yelled “Father Abraham” whenever he rode by in his dusty frock coat and curious stovepipe hat, with “his pants gradually work[ing] their way above his ankles” and giving him the appearance, according to one Union officer, “of a country farmer riding into town wearing his Sunday clothes.” Whatever else happened, these men would fight for Lincoln, and they stood by him throughout the war’s many ups and downs.[3]

He also proved to be a quick study. He sacked Cameron in January 1862 and replaced him with the tireless and grimly efficient Edwin McMasters Stanton. He worked hard at learning the business of war, testing new weapons on the White House lawn and checking out books on military strategy from the Library of Congress.

Most importantly of all, Lincoln eventually developed an effective strategic vision for the Union’s armed forces, emphasizing attacks at different points along the Confederacy’s lines simultaneously, the better to stretch Confederate resources to the breaking point. He wanted his generals to focus on annihilating enemy’s armies, rather than simply occupy fixed points on the map. Above all, he wanted relentless, constant pressure on the enemy. “Hold on with a bulldog gripe [sic],” he exhorted General Ulysses S. Grant, and chew and choke, as much as possible.”[4]

Lincoln could be a very hands-on as a commander in chief. He personally reviewed court martial cases for soldiers convicted of desertion and other capital crimes, and he sometimes intervened directly in the military hierarchy on behalf of family members, friends and colleagues who had personally visited him at the White House to beg for this or that favor for their loved ones in the ranks. During times of battle he haunted the War Department’s telegraph office, reading each dispatch from the front as it arrived, and sometimes sending requests for more information. “How does it look now?” he would ask in tersely worded telegrams to the front. When he could, he visited army headquarters himself on what amounted to presidential fact-finding missions, reviewing troops in the field, taking the collective pulse of the army and personally conferring with his generals. [5]

But he also knew when to back off and let the military professionals do their jobs. He avoided micromanaging, especially later in the war as he grew more comfortable as commander-in-chief. He let Secretary of War Stanton do his job with relatively little interference or difficulty; and while the two men were as different as could be—Stanton was an irascible, dyspeptic grouch with no sense of humor—they forged an effective working relationship.

Lincoln never much cared about Stanton’s moodiness, or whether he appreciated a joke; he just wanted the Secretary of War to do his job. The same went for Lincoln’s relationship with his generals. He did not care whether or not an officer was friendly, or politically opinionated, or overly deferential to his status as President of the United States—he just wanted victories. When General Joseph (“Fighting Joe”) Hooker said half-jokingly that both the army and the government needed dictators, Lincoln replied, “only those generals who gain successes, can set up dictators. What I now ask of you is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship.”[6]

Hooker would enjoy neither success nor dictatorship—one of a long line of semi-competent and even downright disastrous generals through which Lincoln was forced to sort during his search for a winning general. He tolerated the shortcomings of the highly arrogant George McClellan, until “Little Mac” proved unable or unwilling to aggressively engage the enemy. “I said I would remove him if he let Lee’s army get away from him,” Lincoln informed a Republican colleague, “and I must do so. He has got the ‘slows.’” He replaced McClellan with Ambrose Burnside, who then presided over arguably the worst Union defeat of the war at the Battle of Fredericksburg. “Fighting Joe” Hooker managed yet another Union debacle at the Battle of Chancellorsville, after which Lincoln replaced him with General George Meade—just prior to the titanic showdown at Gettysburg. Meade won that battle, but his failure to pursue the defeated Confederate army drew the president’s ire; Lincoln never entirely trusted him again. [7]

In 1864 Lincoln finally found in Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman two men who shared his broad strategic philosophy of waging a hard, effective war. The president had his misgivings about Grant’s campaign to take the Confederate river town of Vicksburg; and later he was likewise skeptical of Sherman’s famous march through Georgia, worrying that Sherman was risking defeat by deliberately cutting his own lines of communication and supply for a rampage across the Georgia countryside. But when Grant succeeded in taking Vicksburg, and Sherman’s march proved a resounding success, Lincoln displayed another valuable trait as commander-in-chief: a willingness to admit mistakes. “I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right and I was wrong,” he wrote to Grant. [8]

When he appointed Grant to command the entire Union war effort in March 1864, Lincoln assured him that he wanted nothing more than victory. “The particulars of your plans I neither know, or seek to know,” he wrote Grant in April, “You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you….If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it.”[9]

Lincoln’s willingness to step back and let the generals do their jobs was not however the mark of a passive leader. On the contrary, he was in many ways a bold commander in chief. He did not hesitate to take severe and unprecedented steps for winning the war: a military draft, confiscation of Rebel property, and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, a legal measure allowing Union military authorities to arrest suspected Confederate sympathizers and hold them without trial. Lincoln also occasionally ordered the closure of Northern newspapers that published information he and his advisors believed endangered national security.

He did not apologize for any of this. Extraordinary times called for extraordinary measures; and while accusations of dictatorship and tyranny flew thick and fast at Lincoln for abusing his authority as commander in chief, those accusations were overblown and, in Lincoln’s opinion, totally unrealistic. “What would you do in my position?” he rather irritably asked a critic, “Would you drop the war where it is? Or, would you prosecute it in future, with elder-stalk squirts, charged with rose water? Would you deal lighter blows rather than heavier ones? Would you give up the contest, leaving any available means unapplied? ... I shall do all I can to save the government, which is my sworn duty as well as my personal inclination.”[10]

Most controversially of all, Lincoln developed a grand vision for the war that tied battlefield victory to emancipation and the destruction of slavery. This was not his original purpose. In fact, he went out of his way in his first inaugural address to assure Southerners that he would not interfere with slavery where it already existed. But as the war ground on, he came to see that he could not have victory without emancipation.

The war wrecked slavery, often merely by (as Lincoln said) its “friction and abrasion.” African Americans took the opportunities offered by the war—absentee white owners and overseers, invading Union armies, thin law enforcement—to free themselves, running away by the tens of thousands. Once gone, they were very difficult to re-enslave. While some Union generals returned fugitive slaves, others did not; and by mid-1862 official Union military policy classified runaways as “contrabands” of war, no more liable to be returned to their Confederate masters than a captured Confederate horse or cannon. [11]

Such considerations, along with the initiative undertaken by the runaways themselves, probably made slavery an inevitable casualty of the war. Yet President Lincoln could have made a variety of choices that would have slowed or greatly complicated slavery’s end. Instead, in the summer of 1862 he chose to make emancipation—and eventually some measure of racial equality—a central component of the Union war effort. Lincoln confessed to having been driven by war to emancipation as a military necessity; and yet once he embraced emancipation as a war policy, he never retreated, telling critics who urged him to retract emancipation for political reasons (pandering to white racism among Northern voters) that he “should be damned in time and in eternity for so doing. The world shall know that I will keep my faith.” Despite the fact that he stood for re-election in 1864, and in the face of relentless race-baiting by his opponents, Lincoln made emancipation a centerpiece of his administration. [12]

Lincoln’s stand was rooted in his authority as commander in chief. The Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order, written by Lincoln as a military measure: slaves were a vital part of the Confederate war effort, and as commander in chief Lincoln possessed the power to hinder that war effort in any way necessary. This included depriving Confederates of slave labor by liberating their slaves. It also included enlistment of African American men in the Union army, a measure Lincoln later believed was decisive in turning the tide in the Union’s favor.

But Lincoln went further than simply putting black men in blue uniforms. He won re-election in November 1864, and afterwards worked quietly behind the scenes to ensure that his officers in the field treated African Americans fairly, and enforced reasonable labor conditions for freedmen in occupied areas. In the final months of the war, he even publicly advocated African American suffrage, something no previous president would have dared contemplate, and he both encouraged the passage of and then happily signed the Thirteenth Amendment, outlawing slavery forever. Had he lived, it is reasonable to believe that, as commander in chief, Lincoln would have used the Union army as a powerful referee in the troubled new racial landscape of the postwar South.

Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln had more in common than one might have thought. Both were native Kentuckians, for example, born only one year and ninety miles apart. And in some ways, Davis’ task as commander in chief closely resembled Lincoln’s. The Confederate Constitution was nearly identical to its United States counterpart in its provisions for presidential war powers. Davis did operate in a different political environment—the Confederacy never developed formal political parties, and the Confederate Constitution limited the presidency to a single six year term, meaning that, unlike Lincoln, Davis did not have to stand for re-election—but on the whole, as the Confederacy’s commander in chief, Davis faced many of the same questions that bedeviled Lincoln.

As the nation slid towards disunion and war in 1860, Davis looked like a much better bet than Lincoln to successfully address those questions. Where Lincoln looked out of his depth, Davis seemed confident, and decisive. “It is joyous in the midst of perilous times, to look around upon a people united in heart, where one purpose of high resolve animates and actuates the whole,” he declared in his inaugural address. Davis had the pedigree to lead such a people. In addition to a distinguished political career in Congress, he possessed impressive military credentials: West Point graduate, seven years of service with the frontier army, a veteran of the War with Mexico (where he was wounded in battle), and Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. In that last role he worked to modernize the army’s weaponry and strove to eliminate waste and abuse in the army’s ossified prewar bureaucracy and seniority system. Some of his ideas went awry—a scheme to equip some units with camels for traversing arid portions of the West did not work so well—but on the whole he was an excellent Secretary of War, “of great capacity and energy… [who] infused a new spirit into the war department, and introduced various reforms and improvements,” according to one observer. [13]

Davis viewed himself primarily as military man, and when he was instead tapped to be the Confederacy’s first president, his disappointment was palpable. He received the news at his plantation in Mississippi, and then immediately informed his wife, Varina. She later remembered that he told her of his new job “as a man might speak of a sentence of death.” He dutifully assumed the role of his new nation’s chief political leader; but sometimes Davis struggled to restrain his combat instincts. During the first major battle of the war at Bull Run in July, 1861, he left his office in nearby Richmond and sped towards the sound of the fighting. Some believed he intended to assume command of the troops personally and lead them into battle. In any event, he arrived just as Confederate forces swept to victory, waving his hat at the cheering troops and shouting words of encouragement. “Your little army, derided for its want of numbers…has met the grand army of the enemy, and routed it at every point,” he enthused, “We have taught them a lesson in their invasion of the sacred soil of Virginia.”[14]

He had good reason to sound confident, for despite the Confederacy’s disadvantages in men and material, they boasted excellent rank-and-file soldiers and (at least early in the war) superior generals; and Davis himself brought significant strengths to the job as Confederate commander in chief. “Many people have remarked to me that Jefferson Davis seems in a peculiar manner adapted for his office,” wrote a British traveler in the South in 1863.[15]

Unlike Lincoln, Davis looked and acted the part. He was a polished, dignified man with a perfect West Point posture and impeccable manners, often described as a quintessential Southern gentleman. “He bears the marks of greatness about him beyond all persons I have ever seen” thought one Confederate soldier, “A perfect head, a deep set eagle eye, an aquiline nose, and mouth and jaw sawed in steel.” He suffered from recurring health problems, including bouts of painful neuralgia and the consequences of malarial fever he had contracted before the war which left him nearly blind in his left eye. But Davis managed to hide his ailments with impressive willpower and self-control.[16]

He was a good motivator of men, and he knew the value of showing himself to the soldiers. If Union troops found Lincoln endearing in his scruffiness, Confederate soldiers thought Davis was inspiring in his stoicism, his dignity and his West Point bearing. When he inspected Confederate forces in the field, the men rallied around their leader. “The president’s visit to the army roused enthusiasm once more to fever heat,” noted one observer in the fall of 1861.[17]

Davis was also a good administrator, albeit a bit more prone to micromanaging than Lincoln. Where Lincoln eventually learned to delegate smaller tasks to his very able Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Davis wanted to scrutinize every piece of paper pertaining to military affairs that crossed his desk. His observations and endorsements were everywhere on Confederate War Department correspondence: calling for a general rule on exemptions from the draft, asking for special attention to be given to Kentuckians who wished to enlist in the Confederate cavalry rather than the infantry, pardoning a fourteen year old boy convicted of theft, making observations on the quality of a new type of gunpowder purchased in Germany…the list of details attended to by the president was nearly endless.[18]

In constitutional terms, Davis operated under much the same command structure as Lincoln. He was president and commander in chief, served by the Confederate Secretary of War, who in turn issued orders to the army and navy high command. In reality, however, Davis did not allow his Secretary of War to make many substantive strategic decisions. He was in effect his own Secretary of War, with the various men who actually held that office (five in all) reduced to mere ciphers, often much to their chagrin.

Like Lincoln, Davis was inundated with favor-seekers, well-wishers and advice-givers from the day he took office, many of whom thought they could give the Confederacy’s new president sound military advice. Both Lincoln and Davis were driven to distraction by such people. “If we can achieve our independence, the office-seekers are welcome to the one I hold,” Davis grumbled in early 1862, for “I announced my preference for the commission of a general in the army.” In Davis’ case, however, much of this irritation also stemmed from a healthy ego. He genuinely believed he understood military affairs better than nearly everyone around him—certainly better than the average Confederate man (and woman) on the street who wandered into his office and spouted unsolicited, amateur opinions, and better even than most of the military professionals who held high rank in the Confederate army. Davis was not one to borrow library books on military tactics and strategy; he thought he knew everything he needed to know. [19]

This self-assuredness rubbed some people the wrong way. Davis was “haughty, persistent, repellent of advice, the approach to his vanity always open, and the avenue of his patronage beset by a conceit as easily bribed as by an obstinacy that was inexorable,” railed a particularly harsh newspaperman named Edward Pollard, who savaged the Confederate president throughout the war as editor of the Richmond Examiner. Pollard’s rants were unfair; and what he called Davis’ stubborn arrogance was perceived by many other Southerners as Davis’ commendable sense of purpose and resolve. “I never saw quiet determination more strikingly manifest in any person than in Jeff. Davis,” noted one admiring observer.[20]

Lincoln also faced his share of Pollards in the Northern press. But where Lincoln was able to either ignore such critics or laugh them off with a joke, Davis took such matters more personally. The Confederate president was a proud man; he had every right to be, given his talents and accomplishments. But his pride could lead him to be thin-skinned and overly sensitive, unwilling to either forget or forgive. His usual response to detractors was to adopt an icy formality and dig in his heels, which conveyed an impression of intellectual and political rigidity that did not serve him well.

He struck many who knew him as one who held grudges, and was unable to be forgiving towards his enemies. This was particularly true in relationships with his commanding generals. Lincoln avoided turning disagreements into personality clashes; but Davis never could do so. He did not work well with generals whom he did not like, or who did not like him.

He did develop an excellent rapport with the most important military man in the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee. But this had more to do with the general than the president; the ever tactful and polite Lee learned how to handle Davis. Others weren’t so adept; General Joseph Eggleston Johnston, for example. Johnston was, like Davis, a proud and rather difficult sort, sensitive to slights (real and perceived), and concerned with his reputation. Early in the war he came to believe that Davis had unfairly slighted him in matters of rank and public credit for his battlefield victories. For his part, Davis saw Johnston as vainglorious and stubborn. “I have just received and read your letter,” Davis wrote in reply to a particularly offensive letter Johnston had penned to the president complaining about his rank, “its arguments and statements [are] utterly one-sided; and its insinuations as unfounded as they are unbecoming.” By mid-war the two men were barely on speaking terms; and while Johnston certainly bore a great deal of responsibility for this state of affairs, it is also fair to point out that Davis seemed prone to these personality clashes.[21]

On the other hand, Davis could also be extraordinarily loyal to his friends in uniform, sometimes to a fault. Early in the war he formed a favorable opinion of General Braxton Bragg, a fellow West Pointer and Mexican War veteran whom Davis believed was blessed with more tactical skill than he actually possessed, and who also had a habit of alienating those around him with his harsh discipline and sour personality. Bragg was responsible for several Confederate setbacks in the Western theater, as well as crippling morale problems in the Army of the Tennessee. But Davis stuck with him, even after Bragg was denounced by his own subordinate commanders in a tense showdown during Davis’ visit to the army in the fall of 1863. Even some of the president’s staunchest supporters were stunned, believing that Bragg richly merited dismissal. Davis eventually did recall Bragg to Richmond following a series of defeats in and around Chattanooga, but he then installed Bragg as his personal military advisor, and continued to defend him even after the war.

Davis also received a great deal of criticism for his larger strategic vision. Critics (including many modern historians) castigated Davis for trying to defend too much of the Confederacy’s sprawling territory. Given the lack of men and resources, the argument goes, Davis would have been better served to simply write off large portions of Confederacy territory, enabling him to concentrate his forces around a few key areas vital to the nation’s survival. Some even suggested the wisdom of abandoning conventional warfare entirely and dispersing Confederate soldiers into the countryside, to wage guerrilla warfare on Union occupation forces.

Davis did pursue these options to a limited extent. After the Union seized complete control of the Mississippi River in the summer of 1863, he allowed the states west of the river to more-or-less fend for themselves as a quasi-independent theater of the war. And he permitted Confederate guerrilla (what were then called “irregular”) units to operate without much interference from his administration.

But he never was comfortable with guerrilla warfare, which he viewed as a barbaric form of combat (an opinion shared by many Southerners, including Robert E. Lee); and overall Davis tried to defend as much Confederate territory as possible, shifting men and material back and forth to shore up weak points throughout the Confederacy’s sprawling—and steadily shrinking—750,000 square miles. “He never contemplated voluntary surrender of territory,” notes his chief biographer, William J. Cooper.[22] While Virginia and the area around Richmond tended to pre-occupy Davis, he sometimes detached units from the famed Army of Northern Virginia to help the embattled Confederate armies further west. He always thought strategically in terms of a unified, conventional defense of the entire Confederate nation.

Why? Because Davis was also confronted with a key feature of American constitutionalism, as true for the Confederacy as it was for the United States: “commander in chief” was both a military and a political office. Abandoning entire areas of the Confederacy to Union occupation may have been wise strategically, but politically it would have been disastrous. A fair proportion of the Southern population had been lukewarm towards the Confederate cause from the very start, and Davis believed that any abandonment of Confederate soil to the enemy would feed their discontent. “Always aware of the newborn fragility of Confederate nationalism, he worried that any such concessions also meant loss of loyalty and troops,” Cooper points out.[23]

Above all else, Commander in chief Davis was totally committed to Confederate independence, willing to sacrifice nearly everything for victory. Unlike many of his fellow Southerners, he shed the South’s states’ rights ideology in the name of wartime efficiency, encouraging a surprising expansion of the Confederate national government’s power. With his support and leadership, Richmond instituted a draft, seized private property for the war effort, regulated what crops could be grown on Southern farms and what cargoes could be carried by Southern ships, and seized control of key industries like the railroad and telegraph systems. Davis was also willing to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, and his administration created a pass system and other internal security measures that seemed incongruous in a South that had long trumpeted its reverence for local autonomy and individual liberties.

Several Confederate governors and even Davis’ own vice president, Alexander Hamilton Stephens, fumed that the Confederate president was abusing his authority as commander in chief, making himself into a dictator and creating a “new order of things…odious to our ancestors, and so inconsistent with constitutional liberty.”[24] Quite a few Southerners agreed; and Stephens had become the ostensible leader of a loud and angry anti-Davis faction by the middle of the war. But just as many other Southerners rallied around the president, and were inspired by his willingness to do whatever was necessary to secure victory. “He is an austere man, quiet, grave, devoted to his work, without a vice in the world,” wrote South Carolina diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut, who defended the president throughout the war and excoriated his enemies. “They have made Jeff Davis their scapegoat,” she complained, “for their sins he is tied to the altar.”[25]

For better or worse, Davis’ relentless pursuit of Southern independence led him down some strange roads. The Confederacy was founded primarily to preserve slavery; yet at the very end of the war, Davis proved willing to sacrifice even that cherished Southern institution in the name of Southern independence. Facing severe manpower shortages and a steadily rising desertion rate among Confederate soldiers at the end of 1864, the president (along with Robert E. Lee) publicly endorsed a congressional effort to recruit black soldiers into the Confederate army, and then offer these men their freedom. This certainly did not indicate any change of heart on Davis’ part, who was always proslavery. Davis the planter and Davis the politician probably cringed at the idea of black Confederate soldiers: but Davis the commander in chief wanted to win, and he needed men. “It is now becoming daily more evident to all reflecting persons that we are reduced to choosing whether the negroes shall fight for us or against us,” he observed.[26] In the end, it would not matter; the war ended before African Americans in gray uniforms could see combat.

Historian David M. Potter once wrote that “it seems hardly unrealistic to suppose that if the Union and the Confederacy had changed presidents with one another, the Confederacy might have won its independence.”[27] This rather uncharitable assessment was not altogether wrong; ultimately, the only way to assess each man as commander in chief is to look at results. Lincoln won the war, and he did so by developing into an effective commander in chief. Davis lost the war, and he made mistakes. But he was also handed a monumental, nearly impossible task in trying to lead a fledgling nation with limited resources in a grueling, modern war.

  • [1] Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 10 vols. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953; hereinafter referred to as CW), 1:510.
  • [2] Lincoln caused a fair amount of confusion by assigning David Dixon Porter to command a vessel for the Sumter relief expedition, and in doing so bypassing the normal navy chain of command; T. Harry Williams, Lincoln and His Generals (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1952), 21; Craig L. Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 23-25; Harold Holzer, ed., Dear Mr. Lincoln: Letters to the President (New York: Addison-Wesley, 1992), 148.
  • [3] Horace Porter, Campaigning With Grant (New York: Century, 1907), 218.
  • [4] CW, 7:499.
  • [5] See e.g. ibid., 5:410.
  • [6] Ibid., 6:78-79.
  • [7] Don E. Fehrenbacher and Virginia Fehrenbacher, eds., Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 32.
  • [8] Lincoln to Ulysses S. Grant, July 13, 1863, CW, 6:326.
  • [9] Ibid., 7:324.
  • [10] Ibid., 5:346 (emphasis in original).
  • [11] Ibid., 5:318.
  • [12] Ibid., 7:507.
  • [13] Brian Dirck, Lincoln and Davis; Imagining America, 1809-1865(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001), 182; Robert Tomes and Benjamin G. Smith, The War with the South: A History of the Late Rebellion, 1888 ed., 3 vols. (New York: Virtue and Yorston, 1888), 1:95.  
  • [14] Varina Davis, Jefferson Davis: A Memoir by His Wife, 2 vols. (Baltimore: Nautical and Aviation Co.,  1990 ), 2:19; Lynda Lasswell Crist, et. al., eds., The Papers of Jefferson Davis, 13 vols. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1991-2012; hereinafter referred to as PJD), 7:261.
  • [15] Sir Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern   States, April-June 1863, 1991 ed. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), 213.
  • [16] William C. Davis, Jefferson Davis, The Man and His Hour (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 454.
  • [17] C. Vann Woodward, ed., Mary Chestnut’s Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), 208.
  • [18] Draft exemption rule, PJD 8:507; Ibid., 515; Ibid., 9:153.
  • [19] PJD 6:102.
  • [20] Pollard quote at , accessed September 20, 2014 ; Woodward, Man and His Hour, 600.
  • [21] Davis, Jefferson Davis, 2:154.
  • [22] William C. Cooper, Jr., Jefferson Davis, American (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), 451.
  • [23] Ibid., 451.
  • [24] Stephens quote at , accessed September 27, 2014.
  • [25] Woodward, Mary Chesnut’s Civil War, 609-10.
  • [26] PJD 11:412.
  • [27] David M. Potter, “Jefferson Davis and the Political Factors in Confederate Defeat,” in Why the North Won the Civil War, ed. by David Donald (New York: Collier Books, 1960), 109.

If you can read only one book:

Dirck, Brian R. Lincoln and Davis: Imagining America, 1809-1865. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.


  • Boritt, ed., Gabor S. Lincoln the War President. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

  • Cooper, Jr., William J. Jefferson Davis, American. New York: Knopf, 2000.

  • Davis, William C. Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour. Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1996.

  • ———. Lincoln’s Men: How President Lincoln Became Father to an Army and a Nation. New York: Free Press, 1999.

  • Donald, David H. Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

  • Foner, Eric. The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 2010.

  • Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

  • Hattaway, Herman and Richard Beringer. Jefferson Davis, Confederate President. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

  • McPherson, James M. Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief. New York: Penguin, 2008.

  • ———. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief. New York: Penguin, 2014.

  • Neely, Jr., Mark E. Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

  • ———. Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999.

  • Woodworth, Steven E. Davis and Lee at War. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995.


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Web Resources:

  • This is a New York Historical Society video featuring William C. Davis, Harold Holzer and James M. McPherson discussing Lincoln and Davis and Commanders in Chief.

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  • This is a video from the University of Virginia Miller Center featuring a conversation between Gary W. Gallagher and James M. McPherson on the topic of Lincoln and Davis: War Presidents.

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Other Sources:

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