Book Review: The Rise of US Grant


The Rise of US Grant is an education in leadership, the value of incremental experience at various levels of command and the importance of a proper staff system. First published in 1931, it tracks the career of Ulysses S Grant from an Illinois volunteer regimental (battalion) commander in the early days of the American Civil War (1861-5) to an army group commander at its end.

The author Colonel Albert Conger avers that Grant was “in fact the first commander known in history to deal successfully with the army of a million in size (sic). Others may improve on the methods of the pathfinder; they must still remain his followers.

“Even Napoleon, who had done well with a corps (1796-1800) and an army (1805-1809), failed lamentably when confronted with the problems of a group of armies (1811-1812).

“Each additional thousand men adds to the responsibilities of the general; and when his command outgrows a corps in size, so that he can no longer think in terms of divisions,his task changes not only in complexity but in kind. Commercially speaking, it is the difference between running a small corner grocery and managing a department store,” Conger says.

The accomplishment is all the greater as Grant had to command without the benefit of a formal staff. Thus many “were the generals who failed primarily because they could not appreciate the situation about them and had no organised staff section to study it and keep them informed.”

Writing about Grant’s campaign against Forts Henry and Donelson, Conger observes Grant “should have taken steps to protect himself by a better staff organisation, a systemised courier service,message centres,the numbering of messages, the sending of important messages in duplicate by different routes to provide against loss…

“The practice of sending liaison officers to lower [or flanking] (headquarters), expressly to pass up information, had not yet come into vogue.” How much one takes for granted today!

The Rise of US Grant

Col Arthur L Conger

Da Capo Press

New York