THE public which gives its sons to fight is in time of war subjected to a novel and exhausting strain. Even the more phlegmatic Anglo-Saxon peoples tend in such times to become neurotic, and are apt to be aroused to enthusiasm or indignation on very slight grounds. This is one of the difficulties with which the statesmen of modern democracies must reckon. The experienced soldier knows how manifold are the chances and the uncertainties of war, how incomplete in normal circumstances is the information on which he has to make decisions; he is only too aware that with the highest skill and the best judgment he cannot hope to guess right all the time. It is the duty of the statesman to know this, too, for the public does not read the Maxims of Napoleon and is not aware that the victory falls to the general who makes fewest mistakes; it judges by results and readily becomes intolerant of any error which has caused loss of life. The statesman who understands his business will stand between his soldiers and hasty popular judgment. Both Lincoln and Davis have it to their eternal credit that they did this, and prevented the outstanding military figures of the war from being swept by blasts of popular criticism into oblivion in the early days of the conflict.
McClellan’s easy success in Western Virginia caused the Northern public to hail him as a hero. The Southern public expected, when Lee was sent to the same theatre, that he would return with greater glory than had been won by the Northern general. It did not, it could not, know that Lee’s problem was entirely different from McClellan’s. Lee failed to obtain results and therefore was condemned. So it happened that, while he was in the act of preparing those masterly combinations which saved Richmond, Davis had to support him against the outspoken and sarcastic comments of the Southern press. In this case Davis, knowing Lee, backed his own judgment against that of the public, to find it triumphantly vindicated.
Lincoln had not had Davis’s opportunities of becoming acquainted with the officers of the army of the United States. He did not know Grant, and could only judge of him as the public did, by his performances in the field. On April 6, 1862, Grant made, at the battle of Shiloh, a blunder which could be retrieved only by a heavy sacrifice of life. Public feeling was immediately stirred. Stories of the failing which had caused his resignation from the army were revived, and it was even said, on no evidence at all, that he had been drunk during the battle. Lincoln was pressed to remove him, but the President remembered that at a time when his other generals were finding abundant reasons for inaction Grant had captured Forts Henry and Donelson, and that, if he had made a mistake at Shiloh, that mistake caused him not to retreat but to attack. His answer came pat to those who sought Grant’s disgrace: ‘I cannot spare this man. He fights.’
As late as March 1863, when the remarkable campaign which ended in the fall of Vicksburg had begun, Grant was still being pilloried in the Northern press. His troops, struggling with the floods of the Mississippi, had a hard life. ‘Visitors to the camp,’ Grant tells us, ‘ went home with dismal stories to relate; Northern papers came back to the soldiers with the stories exaggerated. Because I would not divulge my ultimate plans to visitors they pronounced me idle, incompetent, and unfit to command men in an emergency, and clamored for my removal.’ Lincoln said at this time: ‘I think Grant has hardly a friend except myself.’ He wanted a fighter, and, believing that he had found such a one in General Grant, he stuck to him against all opposition.
In May 1863, before any decisive success had been won in the campaign for the control of the Mississippi, Lincoln had grasped what Grant was at, and had him informed that he had ‘the full confidence of the Government.’ ‘With all the pressure brought to bear upon them,’ Grant writes, ‘both President Lincoln and General Halleck stood by me to the end of the campaign. I had never met Mr. Lincoln, and his support was constant.’ Such should be, but too often is not, an invariable rule with statesmen in their relations with commanders in the field. The generals must be supported or removed; to keep them in command when they have evidence that they are distrusted at home is to place upon them a burden which may break them, and will certainly make it harder for them to win victories. Yet in 1917 we find the French Government, on the eve of a great campaign, making it evident to the French commander, General Nivelle, that it had no confidence in his plans, while retaining him in military control and directing him to proceed with his battle. The story of Lincoln’s early relations with Grant is evidence that it was no eagerness on the President’s part to do the work of his soldiers, nor any dislike of soldiers in general, which brought about the friction between himself and McClellan.
Neither Lincoln’s support nor the triumph of Vicksburg made Grant a popular hero. The critics had been chanting too recently upon one note to change enthusiastically to another. Indeed, few at the time realized the full significance of Vicksburg and of Gettysburg. The memories of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville were too fresh to let men rejoice without fear of some early disillusionment. But when, in November 1863, Grant put energy and decision into the halting operations of the Union forces in Tennessee and won the victory of Chattanooga, the first genuine Thanksgiving since the outbreak of the Civil War was made possible, and the North realized that it had found a man. The rank of Lieutenant-General was revived for Grant, and he was summoned to Washington to be Commander-inChief of the Union forces.
In his account of his first interview with the President, Grant says Lincoln told him that all he wanted or had ever wanted was someone who would take responsibility and act and call on him for all the assistance he needed, and he pledged himself to use all the power of the Government in rendering such assistance. ‘The President told me he did not want to know what I proposed to do.’
It needed some severe self-control on Lincoln’s part to say that. He had formed the habit of going daily to the War Department, and there, studying the latest telegrams and the maps with the position of the troops marked, he had taken to reading books on strategy and had been accustomed to make suggestions for their military movements to his generals. His brain was of that not uncommon type which finds delight in the intellectual exercise of framing military plans. Even now, when he had found his man and given him his complete confidence, he could not resist the temptation to produce a plan of campaign.
‘He submitted,’ Grant goes on, ‘a plan of campaign of his own which he wanted me to hear and then do as I pleased about. He brought out a map of Virginia on which he had evidently marked every position occupied by the Federal and Confederate armies up to that time. He pointed out on the map two streams which empty into the Potomac, and suggested that the army might be moved on boats and landed between the mouths of these streams. We would then have the Potomac to bring our supplies and the tributaries would protect our flanks while we moved out I listened respectfully, but did not suggest that the same streams would protect Lee’s flanks while he was shutting us up.’ That little story should be on the desk of every minister who finds himself in office during war.
When Grant assumed the chief control of the Union forces, effective unity of command was for the first time achieved in the North. He planned a great campaign against the Confederacy from the north, from the west, and from the coast, and decided himself to accompany the Army of the Potomac, commanded by Meade, in its operations against Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. By thus keeping his most formidable opponent under his eye, and by selecting for the Army of the Potomac a line of advance which he believed would sufficiently cover the capital, while the Shenandoah Valley was controlled by another force of Federal troops, he allayed the anxieties for the safety of Washington which had proved the undoing of others. Halleck became Chief of the Staff and remained in Washington to act as the channel of communication between Grant and the Government, and as the interpreter of the soldier’s military language. This arrangement, arrived at early in 1864, was not merely practical and sensible: it was ahead of any system for the conduct of war which had been devised in Europe until von Moltke, in 1866 and 1870, displayed the Prussian methods to an astonished military world.
The encouragement which Lincoln had given Grant when the soldier was in the West naturally tended to make relations between them easy when they met. But, apart from this, Grant was exactly fitted by character and mentality to coöperate with the President. He had not Lee’s extraordinary skill in manœuvre, but he had the vision to see the military problem of the Union as a whole, the imagination to draw his plans on a big scale, the courage to stick to his plans in adversity, and a real understanding of the responsibilities and anxieties of the Government. He was not a talker, though he could express his ideas on paper clearly and succinctly; he was a man of action who thought before acting and knew his own mind, and that was the typo of man for which Lincoln had been seeking.
‘You are vigilant and self-reliant,’wrote the President to him soon after Grant had taken the field, ‘and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any restraints or constraints upon you.... If there be anything wanting in my power to give, do not fail to let me know. And now, with a brave army and a just cause, may God sustain you.’
The pages of the Official Records are a clear indication of the change which Grant’s appointment made in the conduct of the war. Until the LieutenantGeneral entered upon his functions the correspondence between Lincoln and his generals had been frequent and voluminous. On the part of the soldiers it often consisted of complaints of the inefficiency of the administration or of requests for guidance upon matters which they should have decided for themselves; on Lincoln’s part it comprised too frequently suggestions for military manœuvres forced from him because his generals showed doubts and hesitations. From March 1864 all this ceased. The bulk of Grant’s correspondence was addressed to Halleck; he and the President rarely exchanged letters, and the latter, relieved from many worries and perplexities, became definitely master of his house. Grant took an early opportunity of assuring the powers in Washington of his gratitude for their zeal in supplying his needs, a pleasing change from the usual tenor of correspondence from the army. Soldier and statesman set about their business without interfering each with the other, and consequently the work of both prospered. This does not mean that Lincoln handed over to another his responsibility for the conduct of the war. The statesman cannot divest himself of such responsibility, and Lincoln made no attempt to do so. He read every line of Grant’s reports and followed all his movements with the closest attention.
Grant’s plan was to combine all the forces of the Union, naval and military, east and west, in one great coordinated effort, and with these forces ‘to hammer continuously against the armed force of the enemy and his resources until by mere attrition, if in no other way, there should be nothing left to him but an equal submission with the loyal section of our community to the Constitutional laws of the land.’ The Northern forces were to work together with one object, that object being to deprive the centrally placed enemy of his chief weapon, manœuvre, by fastening on to his armies and compelling them to fight often and to fight hard. Some of the details of the execution of this plan may be criticized as lacking in finesse and as causing avoidable loss of life, but it gave to the Union forces a definite goal and a precise purpose for their efforts, which had been lacking heretofore, and was the simplest method of bringing the superior military power of the North into play.
Grant’s appointment had been hailed with enthusiasm in the North, and the hopes which it aroused ran high. The appearance of a new commander in war is generally the signal for an outburst of popular acclamation. But a public always greedy for results quickly becomes impatient if it does not get them, and impatience is apt to change to disappointment and anger. When Grant’s eagerly expected advance began and was followed by the long lists of casualties from the battlefields of the Wilderness, of Spotsylvania, and of Cold Harbor, grief produced anxieties which turned to grumblings against the new Commander-in-Chief. These grumblings had their political reactions, which, with the approach of the presidential election, were of importance. On July 2, 1864, Congress moved the President to appoint a day of humiliation and prayer.
The situation was, indeed, not unlike that which, in l916, followed the close of the battle of the Somme. That great battle, the first in which the British Empire was engaged as a whole, brought mourning into thousands of homes, and opened the eyes of the British public to the cost of a struggle for national existence. In return for the terrible price paid, the gains which the map showed appeared insignificant, and the exhaustion of the German armies, which Ludendorff has since disclosed to us, was unknown to the citizen if it was more than suspected by the soldiers. It is not surprising in the circumstances that the Allied statesmen wavered in their confidence in their generals, and determined to have ‘no more Sommes.’
With the recent memory of those days in our minds, we may the more admire Lincoln’s firmness and constancy. A few days after the illplanned and costly assault at Cold Harbor he told Grant: ‘I have just read your dispatch. I begin to see it. You will succeed. God bless you all.’ Here was a reënforcement to Grant worth many thousands of men. Lincoln, having made up his mind to keep Grant, supported him when he most needed support; he saw that Grant was wearing out Lee’s army and holding to it so tight that it could not manœuvre, and he told him that he both understood and approved. Two months later, on August 16, 1864, when Grant’s assault upon Lee’s lines at Petersburg had failed, when despondency in the North had again become general, and the demands for a peace of accommodation were increasing, Lincoln again wrote: ‘I have seen your dispatch expressing your unwillingness to break your hold where you are. Neither am I willing. Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.’ This message, which gave Grant as clear an endorsement of his policy as any soldier could desire, is the more remarkable in that it followed on a mistake of Grant’s which might well have shaken the President’s confidence in him, and was sent at the time when Lincoln’s political difficulties probably were greater than they were at any other period of the war.
When Grant moved the Army of the Potomac across the James to the siege of Petersburg, he was no longer well placed to supervise and direct the other forces of the Union. He had left a force in the Shenandoah Valley to block that favorite line of Confederate invasion; but this force, unskillfully handled, had been manœuvred out of the Valley in the middle of June by a Confederate contingent under Early, who promptly marched for the Potomac, crossed it, and moved on to Washington, arriving before the capital on July 11.
Now Early’s force was far more formidable than Jackson’s, which had created such alarm two years before, and the garrison of Washington in July 1864 was far weaker than that which McClellan had left when he sailed for the Yorktown Peninsula. Yet the contrast of the effect in Washington of Early’s and Jackson’s raids is remarkable. Grant had, of course, been informed of Early’s progress and had dispatched troops to cover Washington, but the information had come to him somewhat tardily, and the troops had not arrived when Early was in Maryland and within a day’s march of the scantily garrisoned forts covering the capital. In spite of this there were none of the hectic and ill-considered orders which Lincoln and Stanton had showered upon their perplexed generals in 1862. Instead we find Lincoln telegraphing to Grant on July 10: ‘General Halleck says we have absolutely no force here fit to go to the field. He thinks that with the 100-days men and the invalids we have here we can defend Washington and scarcely Baltimore. . . . Now what I think is that you should provide to retain your hold where you are certainly, and bring the rest with you personally, and make a vigorous effort to destroy the enemy’s forces in this vicinity. I think there is really a big chance to do this if the movement is prompt. This is what I think upon your suggestion and is not an order.’
The calls upon Lincoln for help against the bold raider came from all parts of Maryland and of Pennsylvania in 1864 as they had in 1862, but they were very differently answered. Here is his reply to one urgent appeal for troops: ‘I have not a single soldier but who is being disposed by the military for the best protection of all. By latest accounts the enemy is moving on Washington. Let us be vigilant and keep cool. I hope neither Washington nor Baltimore will fall.’
Neither Washington nor Baltimore fell, though it is possible that Early might have been able, on July 11, to get some troops into the capital for a few hours. Actually, he retreated on learning that the transports with Grant’s troops had arrived off Washington. Grant well knew that the reënforcements he had sent would be ample to drive Early back, and he knew too that the purpose of the raid was to cause him to weaken his pressure on Petersburg. Therefore he replied to the President’s suggestion that he himself should come to Washington with more troops: ‘I think on reflection it would have a bad effect for me to leave here.’ Lincoln accepted that decision without question, and that acceptance, indeed the whole incident, displays his implicit confidence in Grant — a confidence due not to blind trust but to the effect upon Lincoln’s mind of close and continuous observation of the soldier’s methods and actions. Most of Lincoln’s correspondence with Grant begins with the words ‘I have seen’ or ‘I have read your dispatch’; and as proof that very little escaped the President’s eye it may be mentioned that once, when — during the siege of Petersburg — the usual supply of Richmond newspapers did not reach Washington, Lincoln promptly telegraphed to know the reason for the intermission. Grant was well aware that there was in Washington one ready to support him when he needed help, to give him a hand if he tripped, to remove him if he failed. Lincoln left Grant to his task, but he did not leave him without control and assistance.
Early’s raid, which might under a looser system of conducting war have saved Richmond, as it was saved in 1862, had no military results for the Confederacy save the material and supplies which he captured, and this was due to the relations Lincoln had established with his Commander-inChief. In fact, the one serious military consequence of the raid was Grant’s determination to close finally the famous covered way from Virginia into Maryland, which had so vexed his predecessors and eventually himself. For that purpose, and at Lincoln’s instigation, he personally supervised the preparation of Sheridan’s expedition, which not only prevented the Confederates from again using the Valley as a means of relieving the dangers to Richmond, but also deprived Lee’s army in the lines of Petersburg of its most convenient granary.
I have said that Grant personally directed the preparation for the last campaign in the Shenandoah Valley at Lincoln’s instigation. He had told Halleck from his headquarters before Petersburg what he wanted done, and on reading this communication Lincoln had at once telegraphed to him: ‘I have seen your dispatch in which you say, “I want Sheridan put in command of all the troops in the field with instructions to put himself south of the enemy and follow him to the death. Wherever the enemy goes let our troops go also.” This I think is exactly right, but ... I repeat to you that it will not be done nor attempted unless you watch it every day and hour and force it.’ Promptly came the answer: ‘I start in two hours for Washington.’
But the sequel showed how truly Lincoln had understood the situation and the men around him. One visit from Grant did not suffice, for the cautious Halleck and the nervous Stanton were holding Sheridan’s ardor in chains. Grant gives us an account of his second visit. ‘On the fifteenth of September I started to visit General Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley. My purpose was to have him attack Early and drive him out of the Valley and destroy that source of supplies for Lee’s army. I knew that it was impossible for me to get orders through Washington to Sheridan to make a move, because they would be stopped there, and such orders as Halleck’s caution (and that of the Secretary of War) would suggest would be given instead. . . . When Sheridan arrived I asked him if he had a map showing the positions of his army and that of the enemy. He at once drew one out of his pocket, showing all roads and streams and the camps of the two armies. He said that if he had permission he could move so and so (pointing out how) and he could “whip them.” ... I asked him if he could be ready to get off by the following Tuesday. This was on Friday. Oh yes, he said, he could be off before daylight on Monday. I told him then to make the attack at that time and according to his plan.’
Again we see the fallacy of supposing that Lincoln left Grant entirely to himself. Sheridan’s Valley campaign was due primarily to the President’s initiative and judgment. He no longer intervened as he had done in May 1862; he had learned how to intervene wisely and opportunely.
But I must return to the message of August 16, telling Grant to play the bulldog. If the one military result of Early’s raid was to bring Sheridan down upon him, it had serious political consequences. The appearance of Confederate troops nearer to Washington than they had ever been before, and in more formidable guise, caused many in the North to despair of victory. These persons held that Grant’s campaign had demonstrably failed, and that his fierce assaults upon Lee’s lines had been so much useless butchery. Early in August, Horace Greeley had gone to Niagara Falls to meet a party of Confederate Commissioners, and a few weeks later he was imploring the President ‘to inaugurate or invite proposals for peace forthwith,’ while two other unofficial negotiators went to Richmond, where they met Davis. The wily Southern President, well aware of the feeling of depression in the North, was at pains to explain to them how much more favorable was the military situation of the South. Furthermore, the opposition to the Conscription Act, which had recently become law, threatened to provoke serious disturbances in several states. Even the gallant Army of the Potomac was at the time depressed by the failure of its assaults on the Petersburg lines; while, to crown Lincoln’s embarrassments, McClellan was preparing to take the field as a rival in the presidential campaign, with a plank in the party platform declaring the war to be a failure. The one bright spot was Farragut’s victory on August 3 over the Confederate fleet at Mobile Bay.
Now Grant had undoubtedly been to blame for not preventing the cause of this public unrest, the appearance of Early before Washington. He had not watched events in the Shenandoah Valley closely enough, and he had not made sufficient provision for the protection of the capital, and he had timed the arrival of reënforcement to meet Early too finely. In such circumstances the head of the Government might well have said to him, ‘You have let me into a pretty mess. For God’s sake stop your bloody assaults; the public can’t stand any more losses at present. Give me some showy success somewhere to enable me to restore confidence.’ Instead he told Grant to play the bulldog and ‘chew and choke,’ and in so doing he thought of nothing but what was the right military policy, when he had every temptation to urge what was politically expedient. In every prolonged war there arises a time for both contestants when the strain has all but reached the breaking point. Victory then falls to that side which has the man with the courage and the vision and the skill to splice the rope and call for another pull. Such a man was Abraham Lincoln.
The President had not long to wait for the reward of his constancy. Within three weeks of his telling Grant to hold on, Sherman had entered Atlanta, and within five weeks Sheridan had twice defeated Early in the Valley, at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill. On September 3, Lincoln was able to reply to the demand for a day of humiliation which Congress had made two months earlier by calling for a day of thanksgiving for the victories of Farragut and Sherman, victories which had resolved political doubts and made his reëlection certain.
But even when the success of Grant’s combination against the Confederacy was becoming patent to the most pessimistic, Lincoln continued to watch his general as carefully as he did when fortune seemed to be withholding her smiles. I could furnish many proofs of this, but will be content with one more. In February 1865, Sheridan had completed his task of clearing the Shenandoah Valley, and Grant wanted his cavalry to move toward Richmond and help in the process of gradually overlapping Lee’s lines around Petersburg. A part only of this correspondence appears to have been seen by Lincoln, and that part announced Sheridan’s departure from the Valley. On February 25 the President telegraphed to Grant: ‘General Sheridan’s dispatch to you of to-day in which he says he “will be off on Monday” and that he will have behind him about five thousand men causes the Secretary of War and myself considerable anxiety. Have you considered whether you do not again leave open the Shenandoah Valley entrance to Maryland and Pennsylvania or at least to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad?’ Grant’s answer explained that Sheridan was referring to his cavalry only and that ample troops had been left to close the Valley entrance to Northern territory. This message actually crossed another from Lincoln, saying that he had discovered Sheridan’s meaning and apologizing to Grant for having troubled him. This little incident, due to a misinterpretation of correspondence speedily rectified and trifling in itself, shows at least that Grant was under no illusion that even the smallest of his actions were unobserved; and, while he had every reason to be confident that the President would not interfere with his military functions, he knew that he might at any moment be asked to explain either a commission or an omission.
But it was not only in his correspondence with Grant that Lincoln showed how nicely he appreciated the functions of the civil and the military power in war. As the hold of the Union upon Southern territory grew firmer, attempts were made to organize some form of government in the occupied territory. Certain of the Northern generals found themselves in difficulties when confronted by the, to them, unwonted task of reconciling military necessities with civil government. In August 1864, General Butler proposed to settle such difficulties with the inhabitants by taking a popular vote. Lincoln promptly wrote him: ‘Nothing justifies the suspending of the civil by the military authority but military necessity, and of the existence of that necessity the military commander and not a popular vote is to decide. Whatever is not within that necessity must be left undisturbed.’ Similar problems arose in West Mississippi, where General Curly was in command. To him Lincoln wrote: ‘I do not wish either cotton or the new state government to take precedence of the military while the necessity for the military remains, but there is strong public reason for treating both with so much favor as may not be substantially detrimental to the military.'
Lincoln had in fact worked out a definite formula for the relations between statesmen and soldiers in a democracy at war, and that formula has not since been improved. That he was fully conscious of the dangers of an excessive exercise of his dictatorial powers, and of the necessity of adjusting to a nicety the claims of military necessity and of popular control, is shown by a little speech which he made on November 10, 1864, two days after his reëlection to the Presidency, to a party of supporters who had come to serenade him: ‘It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its existence in great emergencies. On this point the present rebellion brought our government to a severe test, and a presidential election . . . added not a little to the strain.... In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we will have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us, therefore, study the incidents of this as philosophy to learn wisdom from, and none of them as wrongs to be revenged.’
It is in the belief that ‘the incidents of this’ may still be studied ‘as philosophy to learn wisdom from’ that I have prepared these papers.
Before I say good-bye to Lincoln and Grant I must give a last example to show how clear was the line which the President had drawn in his mind between the functions of policy and strategy. In the last days of February 1865 the agony of the Confederacy was nigh and there were suggestions for a conference between Lee and Grant with the object of reaching a settlement. Grant applied to Washington for instructions and the answer came from the War Secretary, but it had been drafted by Lincoln himself: ‘The President directs me to say to you that he wishes you to have no conference with General Lee unless it be for the capitulation of General Lee’s army or on some minor and purely military matter. He instructs me to say that you are not to decide, discuss, or confer upon any political question. Such questions the President holds in his own hands, and will submit them to no military conferences or conventions.’
When that famous meeting between Lee and Grant took place at Appomattox Court House, Lincoln made no attempt to dictate to Grant the terms of surrender to be imposed upon the Army of Northern Virginia, that being a ‘purely military matter.’ But it is hard to believe that Grant’s noble generosity was not inspired by those yet more noble words with which, just a month before, Lincoln had closed his second inaugural address: ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up t he nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’
‘Fools,’ wrote Bismarck, ‘say they learn from their own experience. I have always contrived to get my experience at the expense of others.’ We might have learned from the experience of Germany how to create a system for the conduct of war. We did not do so, because we did not fully understand what that experience was. We were disposed to think that Germany’s striking military success in 1866 and 1870 was due entirely to her methods of training soldiers and the organization of her General Staff. When, toward the end of his life, von Moltke said that, in whatever direction other nations might develop their strength, Germany would remain superior in the command, most of us thought that he was referring to the German General Staff system. We were, I think, wrong in this. Von Moltke meant that Germany had thought out a system for the conduct of war and the other nations had not. When mobilization was ordered the old King William, Bismarck, and von Roon knew their duties and places as thoroughly as did the humblest reservist tramping to his place of muster. This was not because they wore the Pickelhaube instead of the top hat, but because they had thought about the matter.
We know now that there was a defect in von Moltke’s system. It did not provide for the fact which von Moltke had not foreseen: that in the modern nation in arms the military part in the combined effort is but twenty-five per cent of the whole. So that when the system was directed by second-rate men in 1914 the immediate military advantage to be gained by violating the frontier of Belgium was seized and the consequences of tearing up a treaty in the eyes of the world were overlooked. There was at no time much fear that we should give the military element in any system for the conduct of the war excessive prominence, and we might, had we been ready to learn from the experiences of others, have taken the good in von Moltke’s plans and adapted them to our use. That good was the outcome neither of militarism nor of Prussianism, but of thought and common sense.
Were we shy of turning to Prussia for lessons in political science, we might have learned from the experience of Abraham Lincoln, who, when he visited the armies of the Union, did wear a top hat. We had gone into the war against Russia in 1854 with a system which invited defeat. ‘The expedient,’ says Kinglake, ‘of dividing the control of our army between the Sovereign and the Sovereign’s Government continued to work its effects upon our military administration throughout the time of the Regency, throughout the two reigns that followed; and even after that time, during many a year, there was no removal of the constitutional deformity, no abatement of the evil it caused.
‘A due sense of justice, however, commands us to remember and own that before our quarrel with Russia, and indeed until several years afterward, the idea of constituting a War Department upon sound principles had not passed through that long ordeal of discussion which is commonly required in England for the ripening of great public questions.’
The ‘long ordeal of discussion’ lasted more than fifty years. It left us eventually with a reorganized War Department and General Staff, but we had not, in August 1914, reached the position at which Lincoln had arrived in March 1864. We had not got so far even as considering the organization of the great General Headquarters of the Empire, the establishment of a system for the conduct of war.
One of the reasons why we did not learn what to my thinking is the chief lesson of the American Civil War is that this subject has been curiously neglected by British students of war. Hamley does not mention it. Henderson, who more than any other has moulded modern British military opinion, in his Life of Stonewall Jackson is concerned with the least fortunate period of Lincoln’s war administration. He devotes a good many pages to the evils of civilian control and makes but a brief reference to Lincoln’s abdication of his military functions in Grant’s favor. The consequence of this is that it has been a common practice for British writers on military matters to fulminate against political interference in strategy, and it has not been difficult for them to find numerous instances, both in the history of the American Civil War and in the history of other wars, in which political interference has been utterly mischievous. These fulminations leave the statesman cold because he is aware that there must be civilian control of strategy, and he is therefore apt to ascribe them either to military ignorance of political science or to the soldier’s lust of power.
I think it is true to say that the general impression in the minds of students of the American Civil War is that Lincoln, great as he was, failed as a war minister save when he handed over the entire direction of military affairs to Grant. have endeavored to show that this is not a correct judgment. The fathers of the study of strategy, Jomini and Clausewitz, both recognized that political control is not merely unavoidable but essential. Clausewitz, who wrote the military gospel of the most militaristic of modern Powers, said: —
‘None of the main plans which are necessary for a war can be made without insight into the political relations, and people say something quite different from what they mean when they talk of the harmful influence of policy on the conduct of war. It is not the influence but the policy which they should blame. If the policy is sound — that is, if it hits the mark — it can affect the war only in its own sense and only advantageously; and when this influence diverts the war from its purpose the source must be sought in a mistaken policy.’
We can, I think, carry Clausewitz’s conclusion a stage further and say, from the experiences of the American Civil War and of the Great War, that it is necessary both that policy and strategy should be sound and that statesman and soldier should mutually understand each other’s functions and needs. Jefferson Davis had no clear policy, and a brilliant soldier could not win victory without that aid which policy should have given. The Confederate President cannot, as I have tried to show, fairly be charged with undue interference with the operations of his generals in the field; the charge, rather, should be that he did not interfere enough and in the right way. Abraham Lincoln had a very definite and an entirely sound policy from the beginning of the war, but he did not know how to translate that policy into instructions to McClellan, and McClellan did not know what advice to give his political chief, nor indeed was he aware that it was his duty to advise him at all.
The Clausewitzian method of the abstract study of these problems is not one which is calculated to rouse much interest, save in a few professional students, and that does not suffice. If we are to deal effectively with that great evil, war, when it comes, then the methods of dealing with it must be understood by all men and women of intelligence who have the interests of their country at heart. If we leave the organization of government in time of war to be evolved by experience, then we shall, history tells us, have to buy that experience at a terrible price.
I have great hopes that the authority and influence of the League of Nations will eventually be such as to make war on a great scale impossible. But no one can say that this is so yet. Even the Covenant of the League envisages the possibility of war, and while war is a possibility it behooves the many among us who have had experience of war to ponder these things, and to leave to our descendants a better system of conducting war than we enjoyed.
There is another reason for seeking to create some greater interest than is at present taken in this all-important matter of relations between soldiers and statesmen. Public opinion has become an element of the first importance in the conduct of war. I am among those who believe that in future wars the prime object of the contending nations will be the destruction, not of the opposing forces, but of what the Germans call the ‘will to victory’ of the opposing peoples. The immense extent of the increase of the zone of danger due to the introduction of aircraft has, it is generally admitted, brought the civil population into a jeopardy almost, if not quite, as great as that which confronts those who bear arms. The moral of the nation is therefore likely to be as important a factor in war as the moral of armies has always been. The defeat of the enemy’s main forces, hitherto held to be the first aim of strategy, becomes only a means to an end, which may even be obtained without that means. For a people may find the continuance of war to be intolerable. The statesman who can hold a nation to its purpose, as Lincoln did in July and August 1864, is to-day as necessary as was and is the general who can rally the drooping energies and spirits of a weary army for a further effort. In a long and fiercely contested war there comes a time when exhausted human nature craves for any alternative to conditions which seem beyond endurance. Then the most gallant spirits lose confidence, the less brave become craven; and it is then that ‘the spark in the breast of the commander must rekindle hope in the hearts of his men, and so long as he is equal to his task he remains their commander. When his influence ceases and his own spirit is no longer strong enough to revive the spirit of others, the masses, drawing him with them, sink into the lower region of animal nature which recoils from danger and knows not shame. Such are the obstacles which the brain and courage of the military commander must overcome if he is to make his name illustrious.’
The qualities which Clausewitz required of his general at the beginning of the nineteenth century are to-day also required of the statesman — leader of the nation in arms. But if statesman and soldier are to accomplish their hard tasks they must be protected against the pressure and abuse of the ignorant. The mischief which an ill-informed public opinion could do in wars of the past, in which it was subjected to no such strain as it may have to endure in wars of the future, is clear to anyone who cares to read the history of war. Clamor in the press for the removal of this statesman or that soldier may, if it is made without knowledge of what the conduct of war is and requires, cause the downfall of a Lincoln, a Lee, or a Grant.
As long as war is a possibility, we need, as a beginning of preparation, a system of government in time of war that is known and understood by statesmen, soldiers, and people, or at least by those who guide public opinion, and in which the precise functions of ministers and military chiefs are clearly defined. One of the reasons why almost every war upon which we have entered for the last hundred and fifty years has begun disastrously for us is that we have never understood the difference between government in peace and in war. We have tried slowly and painfully to adapt the peace machinery during the struggle to purposes for which it was never intended. War may be likened to epidemic disease. The first object is to prevent the occurrence of the evil. That is the task of one kind of expert, who discovers the cause of the disease, isolates the germ, and prepares the antitoxin. If the evil comes, specialist and general practitioner work together, each in his own rôle, to drive off the disease with the least possible loss of life, but the task of both is rendered tenfold more difficult if they are dealing with an ignorant people, who know not the virtues of cleanliness and sanitation, who mistrust and resist their efforts to heal. So it is with war. The first task of the statesman is to prevent it by discovering and removing its causes. In that task he needs the intelligent coöperation of the people. If war comes, he calls on the soldier practitioner, but again the coöperation of the people is required. The three — statesman, soldier, and people — can only work together in harmony when the duties and functions of each are understood by all.