Book Review: Lincoln Takes Command: The Campaign to Seize Norfolk and the Destruction of the CSS Virginia


by Steve Norder

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2020. . Pp. xxxvi, 300. Illus., maps, chron., personae, appends., notes, biblio., index. . $32.95. ISBN: 1611214572

Lincoln Captures Norfolk

In his newest work, Steve Norder, a journalist, teacher, genealogist, and author who has done considerable work on the Civil War, takes on an event that, although extraordinary in many ways, has literally never been the subject of a book, and rarely mentioned in other works, President Lincoln’s experience personally planning and commanding the Union’s recapture of Norfolk, Virginia, and the adjacent naval base in May of 1862.

Norder opens by explaining why Union military and naval commanders seemed unable to come up with a plan to retake Norfolk and the adjacent navy yard and eliminate the ironclad Virginia, which posed a threat to George McClellan’s army on the Peninsula.

To resolve the impasse, Lincoln went down to have a look for himself. In a small boat, he undertook a personal reconnaissance of the Confederate positions, interviewed the various commanders, devised a plan to coordinate naval and military movements, and then set his plan in motion. Virtually the only occasion on which a president directed forces in battle, the plan worked; Norfolk was recaptured on May 10th, and the Virginia, unable to run up the James River to the safety of the Confederate defenses at Richmond, was scuttled the following morning.

Norder tells this tale well, adequately covering the Confederate side of the matter, and explains technical issues that may be unfamiliar to most readers. In addition, Norder includes an appendix with brief profiles of many of the people who took part in these events, most of whom are today largely forgotten.

Lincoln Takes Command is an important contribution to Civil War studies.



Note: Lincoln Takes Command is also available in several e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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