Section VI: The Commander in Chief

Lincoln was not a natural warrior. He had to learn about military command. As a lawyer, he knew how to draft lucid and cogent directions. As commander in chief, however, he was uncompromisingly clear in laying out strategy. When the security of Washington, DC, was threatened, Lincoln erupted at the bureaucratic delay and angrily ordered General Russell to move troops to Fort Monroe, 180 miles from the capital, exhorting: “I want you to cut the Knots, and send them right along.”

Lincoln’s words circulated in the military camps through publications that addressed the troops. He spoke to many volunteers individually. They admired the common touch of a president who lacked airs and graces, remained approachable, and mixed kindliness with good humor, jokes, and easy familiarity.

I want you to cut the Knots, and send them right along.

— Abraham Lincoln, 16 May 1861