I've mentioned a book previously that has a lot of new thinking in it: The War Within the Union High Command by Thomas J. Goss.
One of the points he makes succinctly (and too briefly, at the end of the book) is that the wartime public operated on a "tactical win/loss standard" of success and that this mapped to a simple political barometer. This is not a strange concept to those who have read Archer Jones or Herman Hattaway, or to those reading the gold market charts from that period, but it has a lager meaning in understanding the historiography of the high command. Let's work with this idea.
On one level, you had the McClellans, the Grants, the Shermans who could envision multi-theatre and even national strategy. Lincoln seemed strategy-averse; I think it was optimistic to imagine that a politician, living in the moment, swimming from one expediency to the next, would ever commit in advance to a train of events over a fairly extended period of time allowing for only little adjustment. Soldiers, a little deaf to politics, tried to get general strategies and policies adopted.
On the next level, you had Lincoln, who could simultaneously see the political and military needs of each situation, trying to operate inside the space of public opinion left to him by a "tactical win/loss standard" of success. Lincoln, a little deaf to strategy, tried to get political considerations accepted in military projects, occupation, and operations.
On the most basic level using the most primitive analysis available, much of the public and Congress measured success one battle at a time; never mind where the battle, or whether the battle was needed, or any other context: batlle won or battle lost represented political capital won or lost. Neither Lincoln nor the generals operated at this level of analysis and no one can make sense of the American Civil War using such a yardstick, though many a pop historian has tried.
Those adhering to the tactical win/loss standard of excellence were those who pushed for more political generals in the army. These generals "talked the talk" of immediate and unrelenting offensive action and they promised to "walk the walk." They were against professionalism on principle as limiting and parochial; they were in favor of genius manifested publicly in non-military areas of life being applied to the needs of war. They saw themselves as delivering streams of victories that would accumulate into one national victory. The idea that there was any need for strategy or that something could be won by strategy was openly mocked by the secretary of war himself on many occasions.
Goss aside, the primary sources are full of this stuff.
Now it is 2004 and we see senior military officers are reviving the framework of the natural genius argument. In my post here on Wednesday, I put up the writings of a colonel and a major recently appearing in Infantry magazine, a publication of the Army's very own Infantry School.
These gentlemen proposed two men for genius rank, Jackson and Patton, and the careful description of their virtues had nothing to do with training or preparation (yes, they read military history but so did the political generals of 1861). They were not held up as exemplars of training or devotion to professionalism: they were natural geniuses. The key point for our modern authors is that Jackson and Patton applied aspects of their personalities to each battle they fought. Look closely at the piece linked Wednesday: neither Patton nor Jackson can transcend the need of an individual battle. Their abilities are highly idiosyncratic in each case and can only be applied one battle at a time. Since military history has to be didactic when presented to military audiences, the authors have tacked on a little window dressing at the end, some tips on how you or I can be more like Jackson or Patton.
By the end of the Civil War all the "non-professional" generals had been run off the reservation. All of them. As Goss points out in his book, the school of "natural talent" and "natural genius" was completely defeated by the school of expert training and education. We are living in a world where the possibility of a Civil War type irruption of political celebrities into the pool of officer talent is impossible. Nor is it even possible that we will see the WWII scenario of accomplished civilian technocrats assuming generals' stars. The man of genius is dead as dead can be, as far as awarding commissions goes. The man of natural attainments and talents is locked out and the key has been thrown away. Those with training and military experience - the consistent ones, the dependable ones - hold sway completely.
Black Jack Logan returned to Congress after the war and fought Grant and the professionaliztion ethos. His vision for the Army was interesting; it is not taught. He lost, short term. But it's a symptom of the long-term failure of Grant and his associates that those arguments routinely used against professionalization could be the bread and butter assumptions of the same officer class his bureaucratic struggles made possible.