Day 365: Grant’s Virtues

I continue to enjoy Ron Chernow’s “Grant.” In fact, if the Warren Buffet biography was to me a continuous revelation, “Grant” is a continuous joy. I have been repeatedly moved by the description of Grant as a man and as a leader. In fact, there is a word that pervades practically every page of the book. That word is “character.”

Sure, Grant was not perfect. Chernow’s glowing description of Grant’s wartime prowess and skill with others is juxtaposed by his drinking problem, which seemed to plague him endlessly, especially for the toll it took on his reputation. Yet I am continually struck by the man’s kindness, integrity, lack of pretension, and character. He was no usual heroic stereo-type: loud, blustery, overly competitive, or narcissistic.

On the other hand, he displayed many heroic, admirable traits. To illustrate this, here are some stand-out moments from my recent reading:

  1. GRANT LACKED PRETENSION OR MILITARY AIRS. During the 1863 Vicksburg campaign of the Civil War, one newspaper man how “Grant constantly fraternized with his men… he sauntered about in worn clothes, his left hand thrust in his pocket, an unlit cigar in his mouth, his brow contracted thoughtfully… Grant never assumed military airs and talked casually with his men, as if he were a peer.” (p278)
  2. GRANT EXHIBITED STRIKING POISE DURING BATTLE. “Everyone noticed Grant’s strangely non-chalant demeanor in a war zone. One day he strolled about in full view of confederate marksmen as enemy bullets raised the dust around him. A newspaper reporter who did not recognize him shouted: ‘Stoop down, down, damn you, down!’ Grant didn’t flinch.” (p278)
  3. GRANT WAS REVERED BY LINCOLN. “[After Vicksburg] Ulysses S. Grant, an uncomplaining man of proven competence, found a new place in Lincoln’s affection. ‘He isn’t shrieking for reinforcements all the time,’ Lincoln said. ‘He takes what troops he can safely give him… and does the best he can with what he has got’….’Grant is my man,’ the President insisted, ‘and I am his the rest of the war.'” (p292)
  4. GRANT EMPOWERED HUMANITY. During the Civil War, Grant actively helped arm and organize former slaves into Union soldiers. This helped bolster the anti-slavery cause of the war, as well as raising the estimation of blacks in many people’s eyes. It also raised many black people’s estimation of Grant to that of liberator or hero. “A few days after Vicksburg fell a northern woman… invited Grant…. to dine in a house that had been damaged by Union shells. That morning, she recalled, the colored children ‘danced a jubilee’ when they found out Grant was coming and began to throng around the house. ‘Black faces were peeping out from the near houses and the fences were black with colored people. It was perhaps the one chance in their lives to see their deliverer, the great captain who had opened the prison-house of Vicksburg, and given liberty to all the people.'”(p299-300)
  5. GRANT’S MENTAL BRILLIANCE AROUND MILITARY MATTERS SHONE THROUGH: There are many examples of this in the book. In one, a Captain Horace Porter observed Grant’s “‘perceptible twinkle in his eyes’ when he was about to utter something amusing… But it was the mind, beautifully organized and well prepared, that most dazzled Porter as a torrent of ideas suddenly issued from this reputedly silent man.”(p313)
  6. GRANT WAS AN EXPERT AT ORGANIZING TROOPS AND GETTING THINGS DONE. There are many, many examples of this. Grant’s assertive leadership style and excellent logistical skills galvanized his troops and ultimately helped the Union win the Civil War. As one colonel explained, upon Grant’s taking charge of the Chattanooga campaign in 1863, “We began to see things move… we felt that everything came from a plan.. Everything was done like music, everything was in harmony.”(p315)
  7. GRANT TOOK DECISIVE ACTION. At one point during the Civil War, Grant approved a major expenditure “with startling speed… [Colonel James] Rushing asked Grant if he was sure he was correct. ‘No, I am not, ‘ Grant shot back, ‘but in war anything is better than indecision. We must decide. If I am wrong, we shall soon find out, and can do the other thing. But not to decide wastes both time and money and may ruin everything.'” (p330)
  8. GRANT WAS SINGLE-FOC– USED AND DETERMINED. Said Theodore Lyman of Grant, “He habitually wears an expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall, and was about to do it.” (p360)
  9. GRANT WAS TACTFUL AND KIND TOWARDS OTHERS. Said Ely Parker of Grant, “He always sought to speak of the good in men rather than the evil, and if he had to speak of the bad qualities in a man he would close his remarks with the mention of his good points, or excuse why he did not have them.” (p363)
  10. GRANT WAS CHIVALROUS. Said Horace Porter of Grant, “He was always particularly civil to ladies, and he rose to his feet at once, took of his hat, and made a courteous bow.”(p363)
  11. GRANT’S EXAMPLE INF– USED CONFIDENCE IN HIS TROOPS. “Grant’s self-confidence, his willingness to act on his own judgments and take responsibility, spread courage through the ranks.” (p364)

(Note: This post concludes my 365 Day Blogging Project… at least for this round. I shall take a pause for a little while to honor this accomplishment, and to open up to what is next!)

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