Emerging Civil War welcomes back Nathan Provost…
Antoine-Henri Jomini was a general in the Napoleonic Wars who served under various generals, including Napoleon himself. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile, Jomini began writing a series of works that dealt with the principles of war. He claimed that great captains possessed the coup d’oeil, or comprehensive view. They could quickly analyze a battlefield or map and determine the next action. Carl von Clausewitz includes the coup d’oeil as one of the many traits needed for a military genius. By the end of winter 1864, General Robert E. Lee proved to the American public he possessed such an indomitable trait. No other Union general could match Lee’s ability to repeatedly beat them with fewer men and resources. President Abraham Lincoln saw only one man that possessed such a comprehensive view of the war. That man was Ulysses S. Grant.
Lincoln appointed Grant as general of all armies given his military record out west. His objective was to end the Confederacy, but that meant the end of the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee. General Lee successfully defeated the Army of the Potomac or evaded capture in 1862 and 1863. He later fought Union General George Meade to a stalemate around Mine Run. President Lincoln needed someone with a comprehensive view or someone that possessed the coup d’oeil to beat Robert E. Lee and his army into submission. Grant proved to be Lee’s equal, and proved time and again that he possessed the rare quality of the coup d’oeil.
Grant applied both Jomini and Clausewitz’s principles of war in the western theater from Belmont to Chattanooga. All of their ideas came naturally to him as “common-sense.” Grant wanted to pressure the Confederate armies at every point, rendering them unable to reinforce one army or the other. He ordered General Franz Sigel down the Shenandoah Valley; Generals George Crook and William Averell moved against the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad; General William T. Sherman marched onto Atlanta from Tennessee; General Benjamin Butler landed on the James River Peninsula with the Army of the James to pressure Richmond; and Grant would be on the field with Meade, as it was his objective to destroy the Army of Northern Virginia. He saw the strategic objective as both the Confederate armies and their supply lines, and he used the coup d’oeil at the strategic and operational levels. He followed strictly to one of Jomini’s essential maxim’s “To throw by strategic movements the mass of an army, successively, upon the decisive points of a theater of war, and also upon the communications of the enemy as much as possible without compromising one’s own.”
The first engagement between the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia took place at the Battle of the Wilderness. General Meade still retained command of the Army of the Potomac, and while Grant attempted to stay out of tactical decisions, some events would force his hand. Grant received information from the Bureau of Military Intelligence that Longstreet had not yet joined the Army of Northern Virginia, but the Confederate III Corps threatened the intersection of the Orange Plank Road and the Brock Road. On May 5, Grant personally took over the tactical command by issuing orders to Sedgwick’s lead division commander, George Getty, to cull Confederate General Richard Ewell’s movements near the intersection of the Orange Plank Road and Brock Road. During the battle, Ewell’s men bent back the Union line on the turnpike near Grant’s headquarters. One officer approached Grant anxiously, stating the need to move his headquarters further from the line. Grant’s response was decisive as he told the officer to bring forth their artillery to push the rebel line back. Not long after the Confederate attack was repulsed.
During the Grand Review in May of 1865, Grant stood by three-star studded flags emblazoned with the names of “Shiloh,” “Vicksburg,” and “the Wilderness.” It should be no surprise to the military historian that these battles stand among his greatest victories. He snatched the initiative from Lee and never relinquished it. J.F.C. Fuller rightfully stated, “Strategically, it was the greatest Federal victory yet won in the East, for Lee was now thrown on the defensive – he was held. Thus, within forty-eight hours after crossing the Rapidan, did Grant gain his object – fixing Lee.” Grant displayed a strength of mind during the battle which Clausewitz described as “a strong mind is one which does not lose its balance even under the most violent excitement.” Apart from being able to decisively seize the initiative after the battle of the Wilderness, Grant could see the calm through the storm. He did not let the hysteria of battle drive his decision as so many others had fallen victim to. Nonetheless, calmness in battle without being able to see the objective is impractical. It is the strength of mind that made it easier for him to refine his decision-making. This trait only becomes more evident as the Army of the Potomac marched onto Spotsylvania Courthouse.
Bartholomees, J. Boone. U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues: Theory of war and strategy. Washington D.C.: Defense Department, 2012.
Catton, Bruce. A Stillness at Appomattox: The Army of the Potomac Trilogy. New York: Doubleday, 1953.
Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Translated by J.J. Graham. New York: Digireads Publishing, 2018.
Feis, William. Grant’s Secret Service: The Intelligence War from Belmont to Appomattox. Lincoln, Neb: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
Fuller, JFC. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.
Grimsley, Mark. And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
Jomini, Antoine Henri. The Art of War: Strategy & Tactics from the Age of Horse & Musket. London: Leonaur Publishing, 2010.
Rhea, Gordon. The Battle of the Wilderness. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994.
White, Ronald C. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant. New York: Random House, 2016.
 Antoine Henri Jomini, The Art of War: Strategy & Tactics from the Age of Horse & Musket, (London: Leonaur Publishing, 2010), 285.
 Mark Grimsley, And Keep Moving On: The Virginia Campaign, May-June 1864, (Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 4.
 J. Boone Bartholomees, U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security Issues: Theory of war and strategy, (Washington D.C.: Defense Department, 2012), 22.
 William Feis, Grant’s Secret Service: The Intelligence War from Belmont to Appomattox, (Lincoln, Neb: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 201.
 Gordon Rhea, The Battle of the Wilderness, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1994), 133.
 Bruce Catton, A Stillness at Appomattox: The Army of the Potomac Trilogy, (New York: Doubleday, 1953), 87-88.
 Ronald C. White, American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant, (New York: Random House, 2016), 417.
 JFC Fuller, Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), 215.
 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, translated by J.J. Graham, (New York: Digireads Publishing, 2018), 57.