Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th President of the United States (Library of Congress)
A critical component of Ulysses S. Grant’s rise from failed civilian businessman and alcoholic to leader of the victorious Union forces in the Civil War was his ability to communicate with subordinates. At the beginning of the war, though the Union was chronically short of trained, qualified officers, Grant at first received a position training Illinois volunteers rather than the field command he desired. But by autumn 1861 Grant was finally in command of his own force. He began a meteoric rise: conqueror of the vital Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg within two years; head of all the Union armies in three years; and victorious general of the nation’s bloodiest war in four years.
Historian Christopher Hamner uses Grant’s often-overlooked 1864 Overland Campaign as an excellent window into his special gift for clear communication. As commander, Grant had to manage a team of officers spread across multiple theaters, including the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, where some of the war’s worst battles took place. Grant provided his lieutenants with plans that outlined precise goals for their operations while also affording them the latitude to exploit opportunities as they arose. His effectiveness as a commander and communicator proved crucial in driving the Union toward its overall victory the following year.
Today, Grant’s orders are still used as models of clarity in American military education.
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