Monday, February 20, 2017

C2 It: Mattis's Recommendation – Grant

Review by Bill Doughty

Mattis addresses the Naval War College
Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former U.S. Marine Corps General, is known as a reader, leader and critical thinker – the so-called warrior monk.

Among the dozens of books he recommends as an avid reader, as reported in the Washington Post, is "Grant Takes Command: 1863-1865" (Little Brown and Company, 1968, 1969, and Castle Books, 2000).

Mattis says the book shows the importance of commanders' relationships, even more important than command relationships.

General Ulysses S. Grant, who would go on to become the 18th president, achieved command and control in a fractious environment in what, to date, has been the most fractious time in our nation's history: the Civil War fought to maintain the Union and end slavery in the United States.

General Ulysses S. Grant
On one hand, Grant was challenged with difficult generals such as Banks, Butler, Rosecrans and Thomas. Some of his subordinates were outrageously insubordinate or incompetent. Some went behind his back to members of Congress to complain or spread rumors about their adjutant general.

At the War Department, precursor of the Department of Defense, Grant found "... a crippling knot of jealousy, suspicion and self-seeking ... and furious back biting."

On the other hand, Grand had strong bonds with capable Generals like Sherman, Sheridan and Schofield (among many others) and with Navy Admiral David Dixon Porter, "whom Grant held in high regard." Most of all he had a good relationship with President Lincoln.

Lincoln depicted listening to Generals Sherman and Grant and Adm. Porter.
Catton, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian, shows that "Grant placed a high value on harmony ... and Lincoln placed a high value on Grant."

U.S. Grant, no grandstander or faker, was focused on substance over celebrity or appearance. He personified toughness. In the field, "The man seemed wholly unmilitary, not to say slouchy, and he went stumping about headquarters in an unbuttoned coat an a battered hat, head down, hands in pockets ... worn down by hard service," Catton writes. "Grant was not interested in parades."

Yet, his mind was sharp and focused, as evidenced by his writing and decisions in support of President Lincoln, including his commitment to bring harmony not only in the field but also to the nation. And "Grant was inclined to be optimistic" as he fought for a lasting peace.

Federal volunteers from Ohio form an honor guard.
Grant wrote, "The North and South could never live at peace with each other except as one nation, and that without slavery." He came to support African American Soldiers and integration of his Army, and he demanded equal treatment for prisoners of war, black or white.

Interestingly, "Grant had never been an antislavery man," Catton writes, "but he had said long ago the war for reunion must destroy slavery." The two simple but sublime points demanded by Grant and Lincoln to the South: "that the Union should be preserved" and "that slavery should be abolished."

Grant at City Point, Virginia in 1864.
To his boyhood friend and naval officer Dan Ammen, Grant wrote that any peace with the South must be unconditional: "A 'peace at any price' would be fearful to contemplate. It would be the beginning of the war. The demands of the South would know no limits. They would demand indemnity for expenses incurred in carrying on the war. They would demand the turn of all their slaves set free in consequence of war. They would demand a treaty looking to the rendition of all fugitive slaves escaping into the Northern states, and they would keep on demanding until it would be better dead than to submit longer."

Catton shows how Grant and his generals fought at places like Chattanooga, Spottsylvania/Cold Harbor and Fort Fisher, where the Navy and Army coordinated in amphibious warfare. His writing occasionally becomes almost McCullough-esque when describing Civil War battlefields. For example, at Cold Harbor, which, in the summer of 1864, was neither cold nor a harbor for warfighters:
"The Cold Harbor plain looked empty, and the fact that everybody knew that it ws not empty made it sinister, like the blank face of a dreadful haunted house. The ground was broken here and there by swamps and little ravines, in front of the Federal lines it rose after a few hundred yards to a low chain of flat hills, and all along this higher ground there was a scar on the earth – a trench of freshly turned dirt, zig-zagging in and out, disappearing in thin mist to right and left. It was marked by regimental flags, limp in the windless wet morning, and there did not seem to be anybody in it. Nobody was in the least deceived; and yet, except for the Rebel skirmishers, who were posted far out in front, the advancing Federals could see hardly any of their enemies. They could not see many friends, either, because there were gaps between the army corps, so that each division would have to fight its own battle. No Federal soldier could see more than a fragment of the field."
Battle of Spottsylvania
We see and feel the tension of media coverage during war in how General Meade punished a reporter (with the unfortunate name Crapsey) who misreported with what today are called "fake facts" about leadership in the Cold Harbor battle. Meade had him tied up, set backward on a mule and paraded around the camp wearing a big placard proclaiming him a libeler. In another case, Grant himself had to intercede when General Burnside wanted to shoot another reporter, named Swinton. Grant saved him, and Swinton got a one-way ticket back to Washington. "But (thereafter) neither Meade nor Burnside ever got any favors from the press."

Catton reveals how Grant and Lincoln kept an unswerving focus not on petty concerns but on the bigger picture: unconditional peace and a united nation with no slavery.

When the Confederacy's Gen. Robert E. Lee reached out to discuss ending the fighting, but with conditions, Grant and Lincoln remained resolute and tough. And when peace did come, Grant ensured there was no "poison" of reprisal against Lee and the South.

General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman would take a similar approach with Imperial Japan 80 years, retaining the emperor as figurehead while helping Japan establish a constitutional democracy that embraced human rights and shifting power to the people.

General Mattis visited both Korea and Japan earlier this month to reaffirm U.S. support to both countries.

This book ends with the end of the Civil War and tragic assassination of President Lincoln, setting the stage for General Grant as a "stranger in a strange land," poised to find the next stage in duty to country.

Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that historian Ron Chernow is writing a "painstakingly researched" biography on Grant, due for publication in October 2017. Chernow is the author of "Hamilton," the book that inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda's historical and now historic broadway smash of the same name. Chernow's "Grant" is expected to reevaluate the life of the general and president who has been largely misunderstood and under-appreciated.

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia
Other recommended books by Mattis include T. E. Lawrence's "Seven Pillars of Wisdom," Stephen Pressfield's "Gates of Fire: Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae," John Hersey's "A Bell for Adano," Bing West's "The Village," Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God," Reza Aslan's "No God but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam," Bernard Lewis's "The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror," and Tom Clancy's "Battle Ready."

Mattis's reading lists include several titles by authors familiar to readers of the Navy Reads blog: Robert Kaplan, Thomas Friedman, Bernard Lewis and Peter Bergen.

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