Skip to comments.Do We Still Have Grants and Shermans?
Posted on 05/22/2008 3:03:45 AM PDT by moderatewolverine
Who becomes a general and why tells us a lot about whether our military is on the right or wrong track. The annual spring list of Army colonels promoted to brigadier generals will be shortly released. Already, rumors suggest that this year, unlike in the recent past, a number of maverick officers who have distinguished themselves fighting and usually defeating insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq will be chosen.
For example, scholar-soldier Col. H. R. McMaster, Special Forces Col. Ken Tovo, and Col. Sean MacFarland all of whom helped turn Sunni insurgents into allies could, and should, make the cut.
These three colonels have had decorated careers in Iraq mastering the complexities of working with Iraqi forces in hunting down terrorists and insurgents. And they like David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq in the past have not always reflected the Army establishment in Washington. Their unconventional views about counterinsurgency warfare do not hinge on high-tech weaponry, tanks, artillery, and rapid massed advance.
But most wars are rarely fought as planned. During the fighting, those who adjust most quickly to the unexpected tend to be successful. And in almost all of Americas past conflicts, our top commanders on the eve of war were not those who finished it.
(Excerpt) Read more at primetimepolitics.com ...
McMaster has already been passed over once, so if he makes the cut, that will be a good sign IMHO. There’s been some grumbling about SF officers being shortchanged in favor of Big Army types at promotion time, too.
We should be so lucky. I certainly hope we do.
Any Grant or Sherman will retire at 0-5 or 0-6 after being passed over, or, if they stay in, will be put in charge of the daycare benefit for unwed mothers.
Victor Davis Hanson is a national treasure. We need to find some way to download his brain.
A good article, thanks for posting it. I do hope those who have engineered the successes in Iraq and Afghanistan are well rewarded for their efforts. They do deserve it. Thanks to VDH for bringing this to light.
No. And even if we did, the politicians would muzzle them and the media would.....well, you get my drift.
I apologize for the following long post in advance:
VDH is indeed a National treasure, but he, like most journalists and others who use HR as an example of some perceived fight within the ranks of GOs between warfighting GOs and Pentagon bureaucrats, has this one completely wrong.
Neither HR nor Sean was passed over for being a maverick by the “Pentagon-types”. I have no love of bureaucrats in the Pentagon, but HR and Sean’s challenges with making GO lay elsewhere, and in fact their work in Iraq is what will likely get both of them on this next list.
I am a close friend of both HR and Sean, and we have served many times together since our LT days. I believe HR has been passed over twice. There are some other issues involved with HR that got him on the wrong side of many GOs (all whom are also Iraqi vets) but these issues have nothing to do with his success in Iraq. He also spent five years away at West Point (with me, so I am not insulting him for it) getting an Advanced Degree and teaching. The last one, which used to be a major plus, has in recent years been a kiss of death on Boards (mistakingly in my opinion).
Sean is a case of a late bloomer. Rightly or wrongly, by the time he made LTC his “paperwork” was not as strong as many of his contemporaries. We both then went to work for GEN Tommy Franks some years back, and GEN Franks saw his outstanding potential and literally saved his career (as he should have). Sean was not going to get a battalion most likely, but GEN Franks wrote great OERs on him and then lined him up to be GEN Shinseki’s aide. Since then he has continued to shine. I am thrilled, because I believe he is tremendous strategic thinker.
Anyway, I do hope they are both on this upcoming GO list. But it will not signify a great shift in the thinking of Boards or anything else, which is what we will all read in the coming months. It will just be a case where their strong performances finally overcame a couple of their earlier ‘perceived’ weaknesses. I hate the Army promotion system, but in this case it probably will get it right.
I will also be thrilled because they are both Armor/Cavalry officers, and in the last couple of years Armor has been taking it on the chin in boards with respect to the Infantry. I have nothing against the Infantry, but we are not promoting or giving Brigade Commands to many Field Artillery or Armor officers these days (we are all waiting to see what happens with Battalion Command Boards), and we are in danger of becoming myopically focused if we are not careful. Each of these three branches brings a unique viewpoint to the fight, and we need all three to remain viable in the future.
One man’s opinion anyway.
Very interesting. Thank you for your insight.
On the other hand Lee was the direct result of the Army at the time. That said, most of the good senior officers at the beginning of the war were southerners.
After the first day of battle at Shiloh the Union forces were pushed back to the banks of the Tennessee River. One of Grant’s generals, possibly Sherman, commented to general Grant, “They sure whooped us today”. Grant replied, “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow.”
I’m not telling what happened on that “tomorrow”, you all should already know.
General Grant was different than others, he was willing to keep ordering his men into battle, even after thousands of deaths and maiming injuries, he kept pushing them forward at the enemy. He was called “The Butcher”. Cold Harbor. General Grant saved the Union of the States.
Wow. Thank you to you and your friends for saving western civilization.
“That said, most of the good senior officers at the beginning of the war were southerners.”
and most of those were made in the Mexican War, including Lee who was probably on the way out. He was just an aging Captain engineer building forts before the Mexican War. He had been passed over many times.
Well, as Sherman knew, there is nothing NEW about the media’s treachery and mendacity.
The Southern strategy was very much like Hitler's. Gamble with an insufficient population and material base, and hope you can win quickly.
He is called a butcher and yet while Grant commanded army-sized units longer than Lee did, Lee had more of his men killed and wounded under his command then Grant did. Lee has the better PR I guess.
German reviews of American leadership gave good marks to small unit leaders and to high Generals but was very critical of the quality of division level officers.
"If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast." - William T. Sherman
Just because mssers McMaster, Tovo, and MacFarland have not yet been selected does not mean there are not those out there who are selected.
VDH is obviously lobbying for some soldier-scholar compatriots.
We do but very few of the competent officers are willing to put up with the ass kissing politics and backstabbing that it usually takes to attain star ranks.
Grant was a disgraced captain at the start of the war and the political generals and politicians did their best to keep Grant and Sherman out of the army and command. It took a war to eventually move them to a position where they could make a difference. Generals like McClelland (the McArthur of his time) prolonged the war and caused more troops to die while keeping leaders like Grant and Sherman out.
It has only become worse in modern times.
We have them....but the wars they fight in are too different to compare. If you send a general on a Sherman march In Iraq, every soldier under him would be brought up on war crime charges and found guilty. Much like in the movie The Patriot, when wars are fought with hand tying rules, it’s the ones with their hands tied that suffer the most.
“General Grant was different than others, he was willing to keep ordering his men into battle, even after thousands of deaths and maiming injuries, he kept pushing them forward at the enemy.”
Grant knew that he had a much larger base of men and material than Lee, thus he was not averse to using them. I think it was Shelby Foote who said that the North fought the war with just one hand.
The only way to find the best leaders is to fire the bad ones and only stop when you get a good one. Beyond battle field success, mankind does not appear to have ever been able to devise a system that consistently produced master leadership.
Frankly, I think the real warriors get bored to tears during peace time and perform mediocre in what they consider to be unimportant tasks. They aren't necessarily winners in other fields or peace time drudgery, but when it comes to battle their eyes light up and they feel their calling. Certainly that's been my observation.
bump & a ping
Thank you for the info and insights - that is very helpful to all of us who are trying to evaluate VDH’s column.
I know someone who is a big Civil War buff (I’m not particularly) who argues that Grant has gotten a really unfair rap on the “butcher” charge and that when you analyze all of the battles and casualty figures as percentages, etc. that Grant comes off just as well (maybe badly, depending upon your views) as Lee, a bit better in fact, and that Lee has simply enjoyed better PR.
Anyone know where to find that argument or the relevant stats? I know I’ve seen it before in an email years ago, I’ll try to find out more.....
Both Grant and Sherman were fighting during a period of technical change in warfare.
They fought like their muskets had an effective range of 100 yards.
Their muskets and mini-balls actually had an effective range of 200-300 yards.
This combination led to wholesale slaughter that can only be attributed (in 20/20 hindsight) to both sides military leaders failure to recognize that war had changed.
Grant deserves to be called a butcher. He just had more cannon fodder then Lee and a willingness to ‘spend it’.
Lee on the other hand doesn’t deserve the praise he gets. Granting he was tactically a genius that doesn’t give him a pass on his lack of insight into the effective range issue. He could have blitzed Washington DC.
I am not one to disagree with VDH but he seems to give a hard time to Rosecrans. He was able to advance from Nashville to Chattanooga by continously outflanking the Confederate forces. Although I suppose that could be a negative since he did not physically destroy the Confederate army like Grant was eventually able to do with Lee. Of course Rosecrans deserved to be sacked after Chickamauga.
Oh, if you close your hippie eyes and really wish, someday there will be a war where nobody gets killed.
Appreciate your comments and insight on the current state of the Army promotion system for the upper echelons. I have enjoyed the various appearances of HRM on History Channel, etc. and have found his commentary to be on target. It would be a shame if he were not to make flag rank for the exact reasons you and VDH have written.
I would like to know how HRM remains on AD if he has been passed over for O-7 twice — used to be two strikes and you were out. Has that changed?
Excellent analysis. IQ tests should count as much as PT tests. Too often its the guy who can run 10 miles, as opposed to the guy who can figure out how to get there without the effort, who gets the promotion.
Check out these stats...
Note that at Gettysburg, where Lee was on offense, southern casualties were higher.
At, say, Cold Harbor, where Grant was on offense, northern casualties were much higher.
I don’t know if it used to be different many years ago, but during at least the recent past once you make Colonel you can stay in until 30 regardless of how many times you are passed over for General. Most 06s don’t make General as you know, and tend to stay in until at least 26 years (when the pay sort of maxes out).
I do believe he will make it this time. He came in the Army in 1984, so has 6 more years regardless. I believe Sean came in about 1982, but I could be off a year. I also believe he will make it.
And while we're at it, I recently had the opportunity to question the experts (Civil War park rangers) about civilian deaths. Typically there were few to none, with the total for the war less than 1,000.
In fact, the biggest single number of civilians who died happened during Sherman's march through Georgia, but it was not of white Georgians. It was freed slaves following Sherman's army, hundreds of whom drowned trying to cross a river where one of Sherman's generals had destroyed the bridge.
Let me know if you want in or out.
Links: FR Index of his articles: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/keyword?k=victordavishanson
His website: http://victorhanson.com/
NRO archive: http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson-archive.asp
These three colonels have had decorated careers in Iraq mastering the complexities of working with Iraqi forces in hunting down terrorists and insurgents. And they -- like David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq -- in the past have not always reflected the Army establishment in Washington. Their unconventional views about counterinsurgency warfare do not hinge on high-tech weaponry, tanks, artillery, and rapid massed advance.Thanks neverdem.
What about Robert E. Lee???
For the Appomattox campaign, the chart shows 10,780 casualties for Grant; none for Lee. That’s obviously incorrect. Lee’s army suffered numbers of casualties from the time when the Petersburg defenses were evacuated to the surrender at Appomattox.
I copied that chart to Excel and did some calculations.
Total casualties comes to 506,359.
Comparison of Grant/Sherman (which includes Thomas but not Sheridan) to their opponents: Grant/Sherman: 88,733; Opponents: 111,458.
I don't know if he considered the Confederacy an appendage, or an ally of Virginia, but he doesn't seem to have seen it as a polity superior to his native state.
Case in point, the run up to the Gettysburg campaign. There were major discussions in Richmond about sending Lee and two Corps of his army to the West, which was the critical theater of operations in the Civil War, to help Bragg.
Lee did NOT want to go. So he proposed the raid into Pennsylvania in its stead. That is strategic myopia to the level of near blindness. And the South paid.
That’s Andrew Jackson.