Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Three Very Different Leaders; Grant, Johnston, and Bragg




There is little doubt that the best military leader in the Civil War was U.S. Grant. He led the Union to victory. In the early days he gave the Union hope as a general who fights. “Unconditional Surrender” Grant’s hard-nosed determination and ability to concentrate were traits that marked his leadership. Grant didn't quit and didn't turn back, always moving towards the enemy.  Due to his ability as a strategist, especially his ability to coordinate military operations on a grand scale and because of his impressive determination displayed throughout the war, his leadership was a main factor in determining the outcome of the Civil War.
Braxton Bragg was incompetent. His failure to follow through at Chickamauga, and his handling of the Siege of Chattanooga were perfect examples of his inability to lead. All that kept him in command was his lasting friendship with Jeff Davis. Leadership means directing the activities of others, and Bragg could not get along well enough with any of his subordinates to do this.  While Generals don’t necessarily have to be popular they have to be respected. Bragg’s men normally saw through his lack of ability and fought accordingly.
Joe Johnston undoubtedly had real ability, but he never did much with it. It is reasonable to expect that a general who has sustained opportunities will achieve something decisive. Johnston had the opportunities, but there is no decisive success on his record. For example, he proved powerless in attempting to relieve the garrison at Vicksburg and following the river city's fall, he was defeated in a feeble attempt to hold Jackson against General Sherman. Following the defeat at Chattanooga, Johnston was given command of the army and ended up in a fighting withdrawal against Sherman during his advance on Atlanta. However, his continued withdrawals irritated Jefferson Davis, and he was relieved.
The key differences between these three Generals were first the ability to inspire their men to success, and second the ability to fight. In Grant’s mode of fighting, his men were always pushing forward. This created sheer momentum that the Confederates under Bragg and J. Johnston rarely felt. Grant’s men loved him, not because he was a General, but because he was a winner, and he made them winners. There is no winning in ineptitude, as in Braggs case, and there is no winning in withdrawal, as in Johnston’s case. Grant’s men had the attitude of winners, the Confederates in the western theater rarely did.