Usually, military leaders have just one or the other quality. Pershing and Eisenhower, for example, were excellent commanders but neither had combat experience before assuming command.
Grant proved himself because he saw strategic advantages and took personal charge of exploiting them.
Here are some hallmarks of Grant’s :
- Speed. As a colonel early in the Civil War, he chased Confederate troops led by Thomas Harris down a river, aiming his regiment straight at Harris’s forces and attacking. Grant’s speed created surprise.
Two modern examples of speed: both Gulf War offensives, the first by air and the second by land. They were typical Grant-style attacks.
- Courage. Writing later about his pursuit of Harris, Grant describes being afraid and feeling that he “would have given anything to be back in Illinois,” but then bursting into a deserted camp and realizing that Harris was every bit as afraid as he was.
Victory goes to those who overcome their fear and keep fighting.
- Resolve. In November 1861, the North had won only two of nine engagements against the Confederates. At the next battle — Grant’s raid at Belmont — he used speed and surprise, but he also came equipped with the cavalry and artillery to fend off a counterattack.
When his men started celebrating too early and the counterattack did come, Grant was ready to rally and win.
What most leaders would have regarded as a disaster, Grant saw simply as another hill to climb. He did it, aggressively, and turned the war in the North’s favor.