Lincoln and the political generals

In the ongoing Grant revival, it behooves us to search out the work of Brooks Simpson, one of two indispensable Grant scholars. (The other indispensable scholar compiles the papers of Grant; Simpson interprets the meaning of those papers.)

If I can be cartoonish about his work, I'd say that Simpson, recognizing the denseness of the political jungle around Civil War generals, demands full credit be given Grant for negotiating that jungle successfully to the benefit of the national cause.

The widespread view that Grant was working in a purely military capacity, in easy partnership with the President while enjoying his full confidence is ... well ... you already know what that is.

Usually, Simpson is dealing with incidents of Grant exercising his acute political sensibilities to avoid or mitigate political trouble. In this essay on political generals, we get recap of one sort of mischief wrought through politics. A few thoughts, excerpted:
One is hard pressed to conclude that Lincoln derived any benefit from his association with Frémont...

Nor can one find much that is worthy of praise in Lincoln's dealings with John A. McClernand.

The episodes involving Frémont and McClernand serve to call into question the willingness of many scholars to excuse or even defend Lincoln's employment of political generals in independent commands, for whatever initial benefit the president derived from these appointments was more than negated by what followed.

The incident revealed both the costs of appeasing a powerful political personage and its failure to secure loyalty. Butler's incompetence contributed to the collapse of Grant's 1864 spring offensive.

And this is quite strong medicine for the current consensus:
Perhaps Lincoln would have been wiser to dismiss these three men [Butler, Banks, Sigel] and risk whatever short-term damage his actions might have caused. Awarding their vacant commands to successful successors might well have led to a decisive victory achieved in timely fashion.

Try Simpson's questions on for size. They are worth pondering and no one else seems to be asking them.