"I kept right on."
Hiram Ulysses Grant was another man who reached the presidency by virtue of his success as a leader of warriors. He was credited with being the North's preeminent military leader during the Civil War, the general who finally led the Union forces to victory over the Confederacy. The reputation seems warranted; without him the war might have dragged on for much longer and its conclusion might have been much less favorable to the North.
His autobiography makes interesting reading not just for historians, by the way, but also for those interested in temperament. Grant shows an extremely terse use of language and this particular reminiscence is a good example of his dry, tightly controlled, even self-effacing writing style. Note for example his comment, "I had not the moral courage to halt and consider what to do; I kept right on." It would hardly be possible to write more tersely of such an important event. This compact style characterized Grant's writings all his life, whether he was writing his memoirs or issuing orders, and is not unlike the eloquent terseness of his Commander in Chief, the Rational Abraham Lincoln.
Though Ulysses Grant hated the violence and bloodshed of battle he seemed finally to come to life in the face of its demands. The Civil war seemed to pour vitality into him even as it tore the life from so many other men. During the initial period of hostilities Grant was constantly busy, thinking, planning, writing out his clear and concise orders, offering encouragement, issuing commands, almost jaunty in his demeanor. Though his dress and manner continued to be rather off-hand and even sloppy (Rational commanders in any war and any of nation are usually reluctant to observe the "spit and polish" of military decorum), his plans and his orders were clear and crisp and far-sighted. This brilliant Organizer(NTJ), this superbly directive Rational had at last found his niche.
As the war wore on Grant quickly rose in rank, partly because of his own obvious strategic good sense and partly because of widespread incompetence in the Union Army's officer corps. Though like most Rationals he never stood out as a brilliant tactician, he seemed to understand the broad strategy of the war in terms of both its military and its political goals. In spite of an early opinion that the war would be quite brief, his own observations soon convinced him that it was likely to continue for a very long time. The North's dreams of rapid victory and quick glory, he decided, were to be terribly disappointed.
Grant responded to this recognition by becoming a more ruthless and more grimly determined strategic leader. With his remarkable ability to see the larger picture he understood that the war would be won not by a few clever battlefield maneuvers, but by prolonged and bloody pressure on the enemy. The north had many more men than the south and its casualties could be made up fairly readily while those of the Confederacy could not. Grant saw the long term implications of this situation. He took the battle to the Confederates whenever he saw the chance to gain a strategic advantage and fought them stubbornly until they withdrew or surrendered.
It was a heartbreaking strategy and a terrible one for a man who so hated bloodshed that he refused even go game hunting. Rationals, whether directive or nondirective, see neither honor nor glory in bloodshed and find no satisfaction in it. They are never thrilled, as are their utilitarian cousins the Artisans, by skirmishes or warfare. But there was iron behind Grant's casual and sloppy dress and manner. He insisted on fighting almost every battle to the bitter and bloody end, grinding down the enemy forces until they were helpless or exhausted. It was Ulysses Grant who became famous for having said "I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer." The statement has become a symbol of grim, unyielding determination, and as such it characterizes Grant extremely well. His usual facial expression fit equally well, for Grant was said to wear an expression on his face which indicated that he was considering driving his head through a brick wall, and that he did not intend to be prevented from doing so.
Many people were appalled by the horrendous casualties that his units endured in the execution of this strategy. Some bitterly suggested that the initials in U. S. Grant's name stood for "unconditional surrender." In those days the suggestion was not complimentary; instead it indicated instead an ignoble viciousness. Some even called him "Grant the Butcher." But, as Grant recognized it would be, the cost to the South was proportionally far greater than to the North in terms of both men and resources. Grant would have preferred to win by maneuver rather than by pitched battle, but by one of the ironies of history, late in the war Confederate General Robert E. Lee kept blocking Grant's maneuvers, while Grant blocked his. Each sought to win by outmaneuvering the other rather than spilling blood, and Lee did as much through his stubborn and wasteful persistence to spill southern blood as did Grant "the Butcher." Grant pursued this strategy only as long as he considered it necessary. After the successful battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863 the Southern heartland was accessable, and Grant sought territorial gains that would cripple the South rather than seeking only the bloody attrition of the battlefield. But history has been kinder to Lee who is still, in spite of his role in the battles in the Wilderness and at Gettysburg, considered a gentleman and a brilliant war leader.
President Lincoln, another Rational with his own strongly-developed strategic sense, appreciated Grant's determination to fight and his string of successes. Lincoln throughout most of the war was cursed with a batch of generals who seemed more concerned with winning newspaper headlines to enhance their reputations than with winning battles with the enemy. Lincoln once responded to criticism of Grant by the simple but heartfelt comment that "I cannot spare this man -- he fights."
Grant wrote later that "One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go anywhere or do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished." Even when he was still a young man he would never turn around to return to a house he had walked past. Instead he would find a different way to work his way back, even if it meant going around a block. As a Civil War commander Grant was similarly resistant to retreating or retracing his steps. Lincoln also noticed this characteristic and once commented happily that "when General Grant once gets in possession of a place he seems to hang onto it as if he had inherited it."
General Grant seemed to have an almost unerring sense of the best strategy for a given situation and a remarkable ability to give complex orders for executing that strategy simply and clearly. His tactics might have been coarse rather than clever, but they were in the service of overall plans that were sometimes novel and often daring. His final decisions were clearheaded, made with a utilitarian detachment, and his communications about them were clear and incisive. He was typical of the Organizers in his particular single-mindedness which screened out everything irrelevant to the task at hand, focusing with laser-like sharpness on his own goals and plans. When it was time for important decisions, and while his subordinates discussed what course of action would be best, Grant sat quietly and without commenting made up his own mind as if unaware that the others were present.
Grant's single-mindedness was a very important aspect of his military talents. The Union army had learned to live in a rather unseemly anxiety about what the Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his famous Army of Virginia would do next. Speculations about what Lee's next move would be were a constant distraction to Grant's staff, as they were to so many others. Grant finally became exasperated by the worrying of his officers. Unwilling to be cowed by anyone, Grant declared to his subordinates that "I am heartily tired of hearing what Lee is going to do. Go back to your command, and try to think what we are going to do ourselves."
Rational warriors contrast sharply with Artisan warriors in this respect too. The latter are often avid hunters and weapons masters. The former either never hunt or, if they do, soon tire of the sport and end up even repelled by it. General Grant seemed to have an almost unerring sense of the best strategy for a given situation and a remarkable ability to give complex orders for executing that strategy simply and clearly. His tactics might have been coarse rather than clever, but they were in the service of overall plans that were sometimes novel and often daring. His final decisions were clearheaded, made with a utilitarian detachment, and his communications about them were clear and incisive. He was typical of the Organizers in his particular single-mindedness which screened out everything irrelevant to the task at hand, focusing with laser-like sharpness on his own goals and plans. When it was time for important decisions, and while his subordinates discussed what course of action would be best, Grant sat quietly and without commenting made up his own mind as if unaware that the others were present.
Grant possessed a confident reliance on his own ability that was almost absolute and had a tenacity so fierce that it might make a bulldog whimper. Though it usually served him well that stubborn tenacity could at times be costly for him precisely because it was so single-minded and unyielding. Of course this propensity for focusing very tightly on one's own plans is always a potential weakness in the Organizer. Grant's sharp and narrow focus meant that he didn't always pay sufficient attention to the possible actions of his foes. This was troublesome when his enemies had a good tactical sense, as some of the Confederate generals did.
At the outset of the war the Confederates put their regiments and armies under the command of Artisan generals, most of whom were very capable tacticians, especially in cavalry and artillery operations. Unfortunately for the Union, the command of regiments and divisions was mainly in the hands of Guardian generals, commanders suited more for logistics than for strategy and tactics. It appears that a large proportion of Southern graduates of West Point were Artisans, perhaps because the military still had a glamorous patina there while in the north it was seen more as a career or profession. The result was that the Confederacy was at the outset far better equipped to win battles in the field. However, though his enemies could sometimes surprise Grant, even then they could rarely defeat his plans.
His hard-won victories seemed to afford Grant little pleasure. After accepting General Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, an event that effectively signalled the end of the Civil War, he refused to engage in any victory celebrations while on Southern soil. He felt no personal triumph, nor did he want to add to the distress already inflicted on the land, on Robert E. Lee, or on the brave and loyal soldiers of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Many of Lee's officers, after all, had been Grant's friends and colleagues before the war. When he saw them after the surrender at Appomattox he immediately urged them to resume their friendships with him. In spite of the prolonged suffering of the war Grant showed neither a conqueror's glee nor any vindictiveness toward his recent enemy. There was a dirty, bloody job to do, he did it, and it was finished. There was no glory in death, no honor in murder. Enough.
Excerpted from Presidential Temperament by David Keirsey, PhD and Ray Choiniere
Rational Overview |