Book Review: A General Who Will Fight: The Leadership of Ulysses S. Grant

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by Harry S. Laver

Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2012. Pp. xiv, 196. Maps, notes., biblio., index. $32.50. ISBN: 0813136776

The Leadership of Ulysses S. Grant  is essentially an account of the education of U.S. Grant as a commander.

Prof. Laver (Southeastern Louisiana), who previously wrote a useful book on American military leadership, examines the career of U.S. Grant.  Despite his West Point education and experience in Mexico, by 1861 Grant would certainly not have seemed likely to attain great success in the profession of arms, yet he did.  Laver sees Grant as a man who could learn and did not often make the same mistake twice.  Laver opens with a short account of Grant’s early life and his service in Mexico, a campaign of great importance because it not only exposed Grant to the very different yet equally able command styles of Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott, but also taught him how to lead troops and, perhaps even more importantly, manage logistics.  Grant’s early operations during the Civil War were hardly distinguished, but usually successful, notably the Henry-Donelson Campaign, and by his own admission they were definitely educational.  Where most other generals started out with inflated notions of their skills, and didn’t seem to learn much – not even Robert E. Lee – Grant began modestly, and slowly grew better, with occasional rough moments, such as Shiloh.  Gradually the rough moments grew fewer as Grant acquired more and more experience.  The man’s great talent was that he was able to identify and learn from both success and failure, which began early, when he learned not to take counsel of his fears.

Although it has some flaws, including an occasionally dubious quotation and a tendency to neglect “the other side of the hill,” The Leadership of Ulysses S. Grant will prove good read for anyone needing a short introduction to Grant and for those interested in the problem of military leadership.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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