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Dr. Peter Campbell examines leadership and strategy through the life of President Ulysses S. Grant

On June 10th, The Institute of World Politics hosted a webinar entitled “Strategy, Statecraft, and Character in Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War Memoir,” led by Dr. Peter Campbell of Baylor University. Dr. Campbell examined Ulysses S. Grant’s memoir, discussing how Grant’s development and experiences informed his strategy and decision-making during the Civil War.

About the Speaker

Dr. Peter Campbell is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Baylor University. He holds an M.A. in war studies from King’s College London and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Military Realism: The Logic and Limits of Force and Innovation in the U.S. Army (University of Missouri Press, 2019). His areas of research include national security decision making, civil-military relations, strategy, international relations scholarship and policy relevance, insurgency and counterinsurgency, the just war tradition, and cyber warfare.

Ulysses S. Grant’s Foundations

Dr. Campbell began his lecture by discussing important character foundations for Ulysses S. Grant. For instance, he noted that Grant likely adopted the seriousness of his mother. He also examined Grant’s time at West Point. Dr. Campbell explained that Grant spent a majority of his time at the Academy reading novels and views this as a distinct benefit for Grant’s future military career. Finally, Dr. Campbell spoke on the definitive importance of Grant’s service during the Mexican-American War because he served with many of the men who would stand opposed to him during the Civil War. These foundations influenced both Grant’s strategy and leadership.

Ulysses S. Grant’s Strategy and Leadership

Dr. Campbell spent the bulk of his lecture speaking on how Grant’s strategies and leadership led him through the Civil War and juxtaposed him to other military leaders of his time. Grant’s understanding of people aided him both in his command of the Union Army and in battles against the Confederate Army. Grant’s understanding of people within his army allowed him to ensure that he was placing subordinates in roles in which they could excel. His knowledge of the Confederate commanders also allowed him to take educated risks in battles. Dr. Campbell went on to give specific examples of such campaigns and battles as Vicksburg and Fort Donelson.

Dr. Campbell identified Grant’s most important quality as humility. This quality makes a leader a better leader. Grant did not want to become so arrogant that he stopped listening to reason. Grant was humble, making him open-minded to the people around him, especially his subordinates.

Lessons from the Life of Ulysses S. Grant

In closing, Dr. Campbell listed lessons that strategists can learn from Grant’s memoirs. These lessons include: a strategist’s education must be broad, including the reading of fiction; the necessity of the capacity to accept responsibility and to trust subordinates; becoming a good judge of character; and rigidity in the application of rules.

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