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A House Divided
Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 04/27/2011

Frank Williams: What legal authority did President Lincoln have to call up 75,000 troops to defend Washington and to order the blockade of most Southern ports?

Chairman of The Lincoln Forum

When the war started both sides underestimated the passion and intensity of the other. President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve for only three months - his estimate of the duration of the rebellion. He pressed for the engagement at Manassas against the advice of General Winfield Scott and field commander General Irvin McDowell. He believed the Union troops to be sufficiently trained to prevail and their three month enlistment period was coming to an end. It was poor judgement on the President’s part.

The Union defeat at Bull Run was a wake-up call for the President, as commander-in-chief, and for the North. Lincoln began drafting orders to expand the Union effort by pressing the contest not only in Virginia but in Tennessee, too. Other engagements in western Virginia in the east and Wilson’s Creek, Lexington and Belmont in the West as well as along the coast foreshadowed a conflict that would not be brief. Once the “dogs of war” were loose the outcome and length of the conflict became indeterminate due, in part, to the varying ineptitude and competence of the political and military leaders on both sides.

By Frank Williams  |  08:00 AM ET, 04/27/2011

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