Lincoln's Leadership Style II'm reading Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War, by Craig L. Symonds, professor emeritus at the U.S. Naval Academy and finding it quite illuminating, even given that I've previoously polished off quite of pile of books about Lincoln.
A passage from Symonds' book that got me thinking today:
"The unseemly denouement to the naval careers of both Samuel Francis Du Pont and Charles Wilkes was due almost entirely to Welles' judgmental worldview, and differed dramatically from the way Lincoln handled most of the generals he had to dismiss. [Gideon Welles was Lincoln's secretary of the navy.] The president seldom criticized anyone directly, even when he felt compelled to dismiss them, and he never employed the kind of confrontational language that Welles used in writing to Du Pont. The closest Lincoln ever came was in the fall of 1862 when he read a report from McClellan that the horses of his army were fatigued. Lincoln was in the telegraph office when the message arrived, and in an instinctive response he shot back a question: "Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the Battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?" The passage has been widely quoted by historians as a clever riposte, but its sarcastic tone was uncharacteristic of Lincoln, and it is possible he regretted sending it almost as soon as it left his hand. He knew that he was more likely to produce good results by encouragement than by hectoring." (pp. 265-266)
Symonds' book was published last year by Oxford, and is an excellent complement to Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief, by James M. McPherson, also published in 2008 by Penguin.