12/20/05 - confidence under fire

In today's excerpt - Grant reflects on his commanding general, Zachary Taylor.  Taylor was not a stickler for regulation, uniforms and parades, nor did his plan of battle look particularly elaborate. What he did have in abundance was a quiet confidence under fire. No soldier could face either danger or responsibility more calmly than he, Grant later recalled. These are qualities more rarely found than genius or physical courage. The general did what he could with what the administration had given him instead of demanding more; indeed, he gave those short-term volunteers who wanted to leave the opportunity to do so. In contrast, newspaper reports played up the battlefield exploits of several officers much to Grant's disgust.

"Two of Grant's friends, Sidney Smith and Calvin Benjamin—who had seen Grant care for the wounded and the dead at Monterrey—were dead; another, James Longstreet, was wounded. Smith's death opened up a first lieutenancy for Grant; he gained brevets (a form of honorary promotion) as first lieutenant and captain for his bravery in this final week of the campaigne. Logstreet observed that Grant was 'always cool, swift, and of hurried in battle ' ... as unconcerned as if it were a hailstorm instead of a storm of bullets.' Garland himself remarked, 'There goes a man of fire.'...

"If Grant had little use for President Polk—especially Polk's willingness to slight the regular army to advance his own political agenda—he admired both Winfield Scott and Zachary Taylor. Of the two, Taylor was his favorite because of his simplicity, lack of pretension, and directness of expression. Scott, in contrast, believed in wearing 'all the uniform prescribed or allowed by law' during reviews, and in elaborately worded reports was 'not adverse to speaking of himself, often in the third person, and he could bestow praise upon the person he was talking about without the least embarrassment.' Still, both men fought well; as Grant put it, 'Both men were pleasant to serve under—Taylor was pleasant to serve with.' ...

"Finally, Grant learned something about himself under fire. Horrified as he was by bloodshed and death, he was not unnerved by the experience. He kept his cool, performed brave deeds, and displayed initiative as bullets and shells whizzed by. Aware that he might be hit and perhaps even killed, he accepted those chances as a functioning of fate. He remained the same quiet, unassuming fellow he had always been, although he knew that he had passed the test of combat."


Brooks D. Simpson


Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865


Houghton Mifflin Company


Copywright 2000 by Brooks D. Simpson


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