- Wig-Wags Series
Emulate Grant! Leadership in the American Civil War
On June 12, 2009
I wrapped up reading Lincoln and His Generals by T. Henry Williams and found it quite good.
I confess to being impressed by the extent to which Lincoln became an able strategist by the mid-point of the war. No doubt contributing to this was Halleck’s liaise-faire attitude. Lacking a strong military leader and much in the way of battle successes, Lincoln obviously felt compelled to step in and fill the strategic voids for his armies.
I was also struck by the characteristics that Lincoln valued and devalued in his generals. The lesson would serve many aspiring to leadership today. The takeaway?
Do the best you can with what you’ve been given.
Communicate minimally but effectively “up.”
Respect and follow the leadership of the man in charge when it is offered. Don’t argue with him excessively.
Don’t aspire to take his job, at least overtly.
Don’t criticize or blame others. Respect your subordinates enough to let them do their jobs.
Do not overly criticize them either. Control yourself and your emotions.
Be manically focused on getting the job at hand done.
Be informed by the past but fully engaged in the realities of the present.
For Grant and Lincoln, this latter point meant something more than merely implementing Jominian tactics. It appears that together, they evolved toward the modern notion of war as “total” in Clausewitzian terms. Is it possible that only Lincoln saw this truth in the war’s earliest years? I say yes.