QUORA QUESTION: WHAT MADE ULYSSES S. GRANT SUCH AN EFFECTIVE GENERAL? WHY DID HE SUCCEED WHERE SO MANY OTHERS FAILED?
I think it was because of a number of things, including but not limited to the following:
First, his talent as a strategic thinker. He was probably the best strategist on either side, possibly excepting Winfield Scott, who was too old to be effective when the war began. Sherman stood in awe of Grant’s strategic grasp.
Second, he didn’t panic under fire. When he returned to Shiloh on the second day, he walked into the middle of a disaster. George McClellan would have panicked and ordered a full retreat. Most Union generals would have done so. Grant calmly put things back together, rallied the troops, and won the battle.
Third, he was tenacious. In the Vicksburg Campaign he faced logistical defeat at every step of the way, but he just regrouped and went at it again until he got the job done.
Fourth, he was willing to pay the blood price of victory. In the Overland Campaign he suffered battle casualties on a titanic scale, but kept on pushing. After the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse he wrote to Secretary of War Stanton:
“We have now entered the sixth day of very hard fighting. The result to this time is much in our favor. Our losses have been heavy as well as those of the enemy. I think the loss of the enemy must be greater. We have taken over five thousand prisoners, in battle, while he has taken from us but few except stragglers. I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.” (Grant was wrong about casualties. By the end of the Campaign, Grant had suffered over 50,000 casualties while Lee suffered approximately 31,000–35,000).
Can anyone imagine George McClellan writing such a letter as that under such conditions as that? Compare the Seven Days Battles, where McClellan arguably won a string of tactical victories over Lee, but retreated after each battle because of his horrendous casualties. (Lee's casualties were a little over 20,000; McClellan's a little over 15,500). If Grant had been in charge at that stage, he would not have been deterred. He would have attacked Lee after each battle rather than retreating, and Richmond would have fallen.