Lincoln and His Admirals by Craig L. Symonds
As reviewed by Jm Durney of the Suncoast Civil War Round Table of Florida
• Hardcover: 448 pages
• Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (October 17, 2008)
• ISBN-10: 0195310225
• ISBN-13: 978-0195310221
One of the best books of 2008
If this book is not a finalist for a major award in Lincoln and Civil
War history, we will have a gross injustice. This intelligent,
interesting, readable book is one of the most original informative
Civil War histories I have read this year.
The author is retired from the U.S. Naval Academy after 30 years of teaching. During that
time, he won both the Naval Academy’s “Excellence in Teaching” award
(1988) and its “Excellence in Research” award (1998). This shows in
his ability to construct a sentence that contains a lot of
information without boring or losing the reader.
His portraits of the players are excellent. We never lose sight of
the fact that they have not read the history book and do not know
what is happening. Each crisis has the feel of current events
unfolding as we read. Lincoln’s management style is fully developed
and we understand what a masterful politician he is.
The fighting between the departments of State, War and Navy are fully developed
and completely understandable. While the book is written from the
Navy’s perspective, the author never takes sides and faithfully
reports the whole story.
Most Civil War history ignores the Navy’s role. This book gives us a
detailed history of naval operations and the development of combined
Army Navy actions. Lincoln never had a quite day as President. He
had just sat down when the problem of supplies at Fort Sumter dropped
on him. The author provides a detailed account of the decision-
making and the problems associated with that action. His account of
the Trent Affair could be one of the best accounts in existence. The
same can be said of his Red River Campaign and his discussion of the
impact of cotton on the war.
This is not a book of blazing guns! It is a book of politics,
technology and personalities interacting during war. Ambition,
personal preferences and personality quirks make up the story. This
is not a view of the war we often see but it is a very important view
that we need to be aware of. Craig L. Symonds gives us this view in
an entertaining and informative book that belongs in every library.
Thanks to Wayne Bengston of the FL CWRT for calling my attention
to this book.