Then comes Jomini:
It has been thought, in succession, in almost all armies, that frequent councils of war, by aiding the commander with their advice, give more weight and effect to the direction of military operations. Doubtless if the commander were a Soubise, a Clermont, or a Mack, he might well find in a council of war opinions more valuable than his own; the majority of the opinions given might be preferable to his; but what success could be expected from operations conducted by others than those who have originated and arranged them? What must be the result of an operation which is but partially understood by the commander, since it is not his conception?The careful reader, noting the use Lincoln made of his cabinet's counsel, understands that it was never really about councils of war anyway.
I have undergone a pitiable experience as prompter [aide] at headquarters, and no one has a better appreciation of the value of such services than myself, and it is particularly in a council of war that such a part is absurd. The greater the number and the higher the rank of the military officers who compose the council, the more difficult will it be to accomplish the triumph of truth and reason, however small be the amount of dissent.
What would have been the action of a council of war to which Napoleon proposed the movement of Arcola, the crossing of the Saint Bernard, the manoeuvre at Ulm, or that at Gera and Jena? The timid would have regarded them as rash, even to madness; others would have seen a thousand difficulties of execution, and all would have concurred in rejecting them; and if, on the contrary, they had been adopted, and had been executed by anyone but Napoleon, would they not certainly have proved failures?
In my opinion, councils of war are a deplorable resource, and can be useful only when concurring in opinion with the commander, in which case they may give him more confidence in his own judgment, and, in addition, assure him that his lieutenants, being of his opinion, will use every means to ensure the success of the movement. This is the only advantage of a council of war, which, moreover, should be simply consultative and have no further authority; but if, instead of this harmony, there should be difference of opinion, it can only produce unfortunate results.