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First in War but Then....
on June 11, 2001
Here is another of the "leadership lessons from" volumes which seem to be published in an ever-increasing number. I was curious to know what Kaltman had to say about one of our nation's most successful generals who is also generally viewed as one of our least successful Presidents. The bulk of the book focuses on Grant the general but Kaltman adds a brief section in which he attempts to place Grant the President within an appropriate historical context. The material is organized within 11 chapters, ranging from "Seize Opportunities: April 1822-August 1848" to "Always Do What's Right: February-December 1865." Kaltman then provides a Conclusion ("The Quintessential Grant") and an Addendum (The aforereferened "Grant's Mismanaged Presidency"). The net result is much more than a portrait of Grant. Indeed, Kaltman has carefully examined all manner of primary sources from which he has selected what he considers to be those "leadership lessons" which are most relevant to our own time. (I wish he had included a Bibliography.) At the heart of this book is an essential paradox: the same leadership principles and strategies which enabled Grant the general to achieve great success are precisely the same which (for various reasons which Kaltman suggests) Grant rejected or failed to use while serving for two terms as President. I am among those who consider Grant's Personal Memoirs a literary masterpiece as well as one of the most valuable historical accounts of the American Civil War. Therefore I was not in any way surprised by the eloquence of Grant's remarks which Kaltman generously and skillfully includes together with appropriate comments by others best-qualified to comment on Grant, both in terms of his military leadership and qualities of personal character.
With regard to the title of this book, Kaltman shares three quotations from those who had direct association with Grant. One observer noted that Grant "smokes almost constantly" and the most famous is of remarks by President Abraham Lincoln concerning Grant's fondness for whiskey ("...if it made fighting generals like Grant I should like to get some of it for distribution"). However, the remarks which I found most revealing were made by Robert E. Lee to a professor at Washington College where Lee served as president after the Civil War: "Sir, if you ever presume to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university." I urge those who share my high regard for Kaltman's book to read or re-read Grant's Personal Memoirs.