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U. S. Grant and the Coming Revolution in Military Affairs

As I concluded in the last “Historical Red Teamers” article, alternative means of pursuing an end always exist. Overconfidence can sap opportunity by leading a decision maker to discount the enemy’s capabilities, and true flexibility in thought and action is essential. As Grant wrote, “If men make war in slavish obedience to rules, they will fail.”
      One of the areas where Grant excelled was seizing the offensive and integrating the combined arms team in Civil War combat (and he would later take the combined arms approach forward in dealing with political enemies during Reconstruction). During the War in the West, Grant integrated riverine naval forces in logistics and fire support roles as a means to restore battlefield mobility. Later, forces under Grant pioneered tactics which closely resembled those of the Western Front. Grant’s innovations foreshadowed the coming butchery during World War I and would have been an excellent source of lessons–both positive and negative–for European military tacticians to study in detail.1
      The superior red teamer consistently seeks to learn lessons from past experiences and manufacture new solutions to complex problem sets. Red teamers are naturally students of history, and historical examples can provide a blueprint for action. Grant repeatedly challenged the traditional assumptions on the offensive nature of war, and was ultimately successful, as the thirteenth RTJ Law of Red Teaming suggests.2
      Up until Grant took command of the Union armies in 1863, President Lincoln had routinely sought a commander willing to pursue the offensive relentlessly in order to bring a quicker end to the destructive war.3 As Grant learned in the Mexican-American War, maintaining the offense prevents the opposing force from regaining terrain and mounting a proper defense. His goal throughout the Civil War was to retain pressure on Confederate forces by maintaining the offensive. As a means to maintain mobility in an area constrained by limited roads and large rivers, Grant used gunboats and logistics ships to augment his ground forces’ ability to maneuver in the American west. Gunboat squadrons were instrumental in the battles at Forts Donelson and Henry and in the Siege of Vicksburg.
      Grant will never be judged as a tactical visionary or strategic demigod by historians, but he did apply the simple lessons of warfare vigorously for success. The abilities to bring mobile firepower and rapidly reposition large bodies of troops represented painful lessons that European militaries were slow to learn even after the defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian war by Prussians utilizing rail transport for operational mobility. The use of brown-water naval forces was a specific means of restoring battlefield mobility.4 Instead of set piece frontal attacks against fixed fortifications, river boats provided the same capability that the introduction of tanks later provided on the Western Front.
      Despite the fact that European nations provided military observers on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, few strategic or tactical lessons learned were transported across the Atlantic. The Civil War was a revolution of military activities in a short four years, changing from an army that was not too different from a Napoleonic force to one that was closer to an early 20th century one. Grant’s offensive throughout the Petersburg campaign more closely resembled the Battle of the Somme some 50 years later than the battle of Gettysburg one year prior. The Napoleonic tactics studied by leaders on both sides became irrelevant as the industrialization of weaponry fundamentally altered the battlefield. The Siege of Petersburg used the same tactics to initiate a battlefield breakout that would later be used on the Western Front, including creeping barrages and subterranean mines under enemy positions. A closer study of previous conflicts such as the U.S. Civil War by European leaders could have prevented large scale butchery some 50 years later.
      What is the lesson here for the modern day red teamer? Many of the solutions for your organizations’ mind-blowing new problems are firmly rooted in the past. Even cyber warfare and corporate espionage can be seen as means of flanking an enemy and attacking through unprepared lines of defense. Grant later used many of his multi-echelon offensive tactics against political enemies, namely the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction or in his unsuccessful annexation of the Dominican Republic as a means to end slavery in that country. A superior red teamer can recognize when the past is repeating itself, or at the very least find a historical anecdote to help hold the Gates of Thermopylae on his or her personal battlefield.
      My next “Historical Red Teamer” article is going to focus on an individual known for consistently having an alternative and often unpopular viewpoint throughout his storied career as a journalist, soldier, politician, and Prime Minister. He also shared a professional relationship with one of RTJ’s personal favorites, Dr. R.V. Jones, during the darkest of days. If you guessed, Sir Winston Churchill then you might be ready for the next “Historical Red Teamer.”

  1. Williamson Murray, Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change, 2011. []
  2. RTJ Red Teaming Law #13: “Exploit collective assumptions, especially when attacker and defender share the same ones.” Why would anyone want to throw that ring into Mount Doom? Review all the laws here. []
  3. President Lincoln removed multiple generals after they failed to properly display an offensive initiative or capitalize on Union victories: Scott, McClellan, Hooker, Meade. []
  4. See []