ABRAHAM LINCOLN COMMITTED HIS SHARE OF ERRORS, BUT HE RARELY REPEATED THEM.
“I am slow to learn, and slow to forget that which I have learned. My mind is like a piece of steel—very hard to scratch anything on it, and almost impossible thereafter to rub it out.” –Abraham Lincoln
The first major land battle of the Civil War (Bull Run) was a disaster for the Union, and the blame could be placed solely on the new President.
After talking to soldiers, generals, and other eyewitnesses (many Washington officials had reportedly taken their picnic baskets with them to the battle to watch the Rebels get routed and watch the conflict come to an end), Lincoln came to the swift conclusion that his army was not professional.
The soldiers had not been drilled, disciplined, or instructed.
Worst of all, they were short-term, hastily enlisted by Lincoln for 90 days under a law first used by President George Washington.
In preparing for a short-term conflict, Lincoln had made a serious mistake that would lead to a much longer war (even though he did not have much choice at the time).
Meanwhile, the Confederacy had been preparing for the long term, so Lincoln understood what he had to do.
He called on Congress to allow him to enlist soldiers for a longer term, and he brought in General George McClellan, known for his organizational and preparatory skills, which was exactly what was needed at the time.
Of course, this would lead to another long-term problem.
After the tenure of the non-aggressive McClellan finally ended, Lincoln resolved not to put up with any more generals that wouldn’t bring the war to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Lincoln began studying military history and strategy after the debacle at Bull Run, and obviously was feeling educated enough after dismissing McClellan.
Lincoln also took his hard lessons to heart in the political theater.
The 1862 mid-term elections were not kind to the Republicans, and many placed the blame for the losses on Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, the right to appear before a judge after arrest.
Democrats railed against the measures taken against this civil liberty, and it obviously had affected voters.
Lincoln had given it scant attention until that point, but after the election he began to communicate his rationale to the public in letters and speeches for the use of this Presidential war power.
- By the election of 1864, the civil liberties issues faded away as a potent argument for the Democrats, especially in the wake of major Union victories.
- Lincoln fixed the problems his mistakes had caused, and took great pains not to make them again.
- When Meade failed to chase Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg, he was replaced by Ulysses S. Grant, who eventually won the war.
You are going to make mistakes. Learn from them; write them down if you must. Try to learn from others’ mistakes, but definitely don’t repeat your own.