Strategies of Grant
Ulysses S. Grant conjures a multitude of impressions when his name arises. His detractors will lambaste his character as a corrupt president and drunkard. His defenders highlight his leadership in battle and reconstructing America after the deconstruction from the war. Historians will tell you that he was one of the most brilliant strategists who took the field of battle. A patient General that out thought and maneuvered his opposing General Robert E. Lee. Grant also bore the full brunt of a southern revisionist history that degraded Grant’s legacy so that they could raise Lee to a heroic status as the last gentleman of the South.
Born and raised in Point Pleasant, Ohio, near present day Cleveland, Grant had a normal childhood for his time. A quiet child that loved tending to his family’s horses no one would have pictured him as a future leader. His father, worried about his son’s career prospects lobbied with his congressman to secure Grant an appointment at West Point. While just an average student graduating number 21 out of 39, he excelled at military drill and was the best horseman of his class.
After Grant was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, tempers began to flare between the United States and Mexico. Ten years prior, Texas had won its independence from Mexico but later agreed to joining the United States. Following the annexation of Texas war broke in 1846 and thus began the Mexican American War. Grant was assigned as a quartermaster for the war where he managed the supply chain of providing rations, ammunition, and supplies throughout a long-distanced attack. Grant not only showed a knack for problem solving during the engagement but also flashes of logistical genius. His tour ended while serving under Major General Winfield Scott and receiving commendations for his bravery during the battles of Molino del Rey and Chapultepec.
The end of the Mexican American War led to the United States annexing California and Grant’s eventual posting near San Francisco. There his military career stagnated. It is believed that he was later asked to resign his commission due to his heavy drinking. As Grant transitioned to civilian life, he moved to Missouri where his family had been harboring with his wife’s family. There Grant failed as a farmer, real estate agent, and entrepreneur. Dejected he moved to Galena, Illinois to work for his little brother in a tannery owned by his father.
Just as Grant settled into his new life in Illinois, the Civil War began, forever changing his life. Joining the Union as a Colonel of Illinois Volunteers his command led to early victories in Kentucky and Tennessee. Shortly after his promotion to Major General he made an name for himself at the Battle of Shiloh as an aggressive General. One would not take Grant for being the aggressive type with his laid-back nature, but also that he took to witling during battles to think through various tactics.
The war out west continued with the Union Army moving south. Their goal was to control the Mississippi River which would split the Confederate Army in two. The remaining obstacle was the heavily fortified city of Vicksburg which sat atop the river. Grant opted to run his troops south of Vicksburg and cross from Louisiana into Mississippi below their enemy. The risk being that Grant just placed his troops deep into enemy territory and was now cut off from their supply chain.
Grant realized that being dependent on a supply chain proved to be a vulnerability of self-containment and an approach that would never win this war. However, Grant’s previous experience of logistics gave him the insight that Vicksburg was supplied by the city of Jackson, 45 miles to the east. He knew that his troops would be able to not only live off the land but that they would be able to intercept Vicksburg’s supply chain and live off that.
Vicksburg was a heavily fortified city with 33,000 Confederate Troops with additional support in Jackson, Mississippi. Grant chose to split his Army first surrounding Vicksburg and then attacking Jackson. The forces in Jackson slowly retreated leaving the Union in control of the former state capital and in control of Vicksburg supply chain. In tow, the Union Army starved out the city of Vicksburg before finally ransacking the town and neutralizing the Texas and Louisiana Confederate forces.
The Eastern half of the Civil War had been a different tale as Robert E. Lee amassed victory after victory. Abraham Lincoln had grown increasingly impatient with his Union Generals and their passive, low risk nature resulting in Lincoln firing four commanding Generals. Lincoln had long been watching the career of Grant and liked his analytical but aggressive style and made him the Commander of the Union Army.
Grant’s knew that he had not only the advantage in the number of troops but in economic resources against the Confederates. The previous Generals had fought to take hold of land and obstacles. Grant knew the War wouldn’t end until he destroyed Lee’s Army, not an object attained. Grant then changed the focus of the Civil War to constant pressure of fighting Lee everywhere Lee took his forces. While in this constant contact Lee was unable to stop Union General Sherman who came through the West to the South destroying the entire Southern economy and supply chain. A demoralized Confederacy capitulated shortly after.
Grant’s legacy is more complex than just a few pages can explain. While he had epic failures in life, it also awarded him the ability to pause and look at scenarios with different eyes while never having a fear of failing. Known as just an average student at West Point. The Generals he fought against considered superstars when compared to the quiet Grant. However, Grant’s lowly role as a quartermaster during the Mexican American War he walked away with a keen ability to understand the logistical constraints that brought an advantage over a standard way of war thinking. Lastly, while out of the limelight Grant famously knew all the Generals he fought against and how to exploit their weaknesses.
Strategies of Grant
Strategies of Grant
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