Ulysses S. Grant is remembered through history for many reasons: as a President, champion of manifest destiny, Civil War general, and cigar connoisseur. Throughout his career, he demonstrated a knack for alternative analysis of strategic and tactical scenarios that he honed through his internal red team. While reading the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, I’ve noticed that his ability to gauge his opponents’ thought patterns correctly and influence their operations is marked by the insights of a masterful tactician and red teamer.1
This first installment of “Historical Red Teamers” focuses on Grant and his relationship with his adversaries.2
Grant was an “old army” veteran of the west and the Mexican War. At the onset of the Civil War, he had a great deal of combat experience against foreign enemies. Additionally, he was in a unique situation in American history to know many of his opponents very well due to previous service together at West Point and during the Mexican War. He learned several early painful lessons about not taking his opponents’ plans into consideration, most particularly at Fort Donelson in 1862 and later at the vicious battle of Shiloh. Quick decisive action by Grant and a little luck saved the day in both cases, but he learned an important lesson he would carry forward: always respect and acknowledge the adversary in your decision making processes.
As he led the Army in the west through the Vicksburg campaign and into Chattanooga, his knowledge of his adversaries’ strengths and demeanors aided him greatly, but he never again took the enemy’s plans for granted. During the battle of Chattanooga, where the goal was control of a vital logistics hub, Grant faced a classmate and close friend from the Mexican War, Confederate General James Longstreet, who was himself subordinate to a brilliant but uptight tactician, General Braxton Bragg. The fractured relationship between these two generals led to a diversion of Confederate forces toward Knoxville, which Grant and his generals were able to exploit during their operations in the fall of 1863.
As the Confederates split their forces to deal with Chattanooga and Knoxville, Grant led his forces to defeat Bragg first, while allowing a delaying action against Longstreet’s forces besieging Knoxville. Due to Grant’s knowledge of his opponents’ thoughts processes, he was able to apply an economy of force against Longstreet while massing the remainder of his forces to seize Chattanooga. After Chattanooga, he was able to release Union forces under Sherman to relieve the siege of Knoxville, setting the stage for Sherman’s march through Georgia and history.
There is always an alternative means of pursuing a situation, but one must be cautious to not discount an enemy’s capabilities due to your own feeling of confidence in your personal or organizations capabilities. As Grant put it, “If men make war in slavish obedience to rules, they will fail.”
- Since Grant wrote his memoirs while dying slowly and painfully from throat cancer, he pulled no punches and described in detail his stratagems without romanticizing the war, as common in texts of the period. [↩]
- Per RTJ Red Teaming Law #26: “Never regard your adversary with contempt. No good can come of it. The superiority you feel is not worth the surprise that invariably follows.” [↩]