Synopsis: Reviled as a butcher and a drunkard, Ulysses Grant helped win the Civil War with a simple strategy. He kept moving forward no matter what was put in his way.
"Hurry up and wait,” he sighed, “I suppose waiting is the bane of all soldiers, no matter their rank.” The slight man with a closely cropped beard stared into the fire and drew on a cigar. A good cigar at that, given to him by the President.
“Yes sir, I suppose you are right. But in this business, patience is usually rewarded.” Colonel Rawlins looked into the same fire with a wan smile on his face. He wasn’t used to seeing his chief put out.
“Usually?” General Grant stroked his beard.
Rawlins’ shrug was barely perceptible in the dancing firelight. “Well sir, nothing is ever for certain, is it?”
“I suppose not. Thank you, Rawlins, you are dismissed. Let me know if anything arrives from…well, if any orders come in.”
“Of course, General.” Rawlins took the liberty of patting the Commanding General on the shoulder as he departed, a display of friendship he would never have engaged in around the rest of the staff or in daylight. Grant continued to stare, lost in thought. He knew the rumors of reorganization of the army were swirling like mini
balls, but he also knew what it was like to be disappointed by political maneuvering and intrigue. It was entirely possible that the same President Lincoln who had sent him such fine cigars was now reconsidering his options.
Grant’s mind wandered through campaigns in Mexico, where it had all gone right for him and then to his time in the west, where it had all gone wrong. He thought back to his time at Fort Vancouver where he had endured a soggy and miserable winter, overcome by feelings of loneliness, despair and abandonment. He had missed Julia powerfully then, as he missed her now. Then he had turned to drink for solace, whiskey to create a dulling of all feelings. It had also dulled the thing in him she most admired, an unwavering belief in himself. It had cost him his commission and without the war that now raged about him, he’d have been nothing more than a failed shop keeper.
Of course, they’d accused him of drinking again after Shiloh. Was that why orders were slow in coming from Washington? Were the old demons and the old accusations coming back to haunt him? Where he had once relied on the bottle, he now relied on Rawlins to keep him steady. He and Julia. But he remembered the shock of that first day at Shiloh, the surprise of the Rebel attack. There had been no time to dig in and no sign that it was necessary, so the Confederate wave had rolled over them, pinning them to Pittsburg Landing where the bodies were piling up faster than the steamships could take them away. Amid the carnage, his subordinates calling for retreat, Grant saw only opportunity. His counter attack swept the enemy from the field and drove them out of Tennessee for good. Was that enough? Were his victories enough to overcome his past? He dwelt on that for a long time as flames licked upward and the logs on the fire crackled like musket fire.
“General.” He hadn’t noticed Rawlins approach. “You asked me to tell you if there were orders, sir.”
“Of course, John. What do you have?”
“Good news, General. Or should I say, Lieutenant General?” Grant raised an eyebrow. “You are ordered to report to Washington and take command of all Federal Armies in the field. And the President has resurrected the rank of Lieutenant General, which no commander has held since George Washington. Congratulations, sir.”
“Yes, that is good news Rawlins, other than having to go to Washington, however brief it may be. Time to get to work.”
Grant did go to work, displaying his determination and fighting spirit immediately during the Battle of the Wilderness. Handed a tactical defeat, instead of retreating to lick his wounds, he continued south to pressure Robert E Lee’s diminished and poorly supplied army. It is a tactic he uses throughout the following year until the South capitulates.
Here are five lessons investors shouldn’t take for granted from the life of the failed shop keeper, conquering hero and future president:
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Links & Sources:
1.Chernow, Ron. Grant. New York: Penguin Press, 2017.
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