Vox Blogoli 2.2: Learning the Lesson of Grant

Hugh Hewitt has dangled another Vox Blogoli before us, and I couldn’t resist the temptation for this one…

“Does the Senate GOP Go McClellan or Go Grant if Harry Reid ‘Goes Gingrich?'”

According to the New York Times, Senate Minority Leader Reid has threatened to shut down the business of the Senate if Bill Frist and the Republicans remove the filibuster rule for judicial confirmations.

While awake to the danger of carrying the US Civil War-era historical analogy too far, I decided to address Hugh’s question creatively and analytically. I write as someone who grew up a Civil War buff – voraciously devouring all sorts of literature on the subject by the time I entered college – and later made the transformation to junior Civil War scholar, acquiring a masters degree in 19th century American history from Penn State University. I also write as an active Republican partisan.

The answer to Hugh’s question is simple: the Senate GOP needs to go Grant! The Ohio-born general did indeed resolve in 1864 “to fight it out on this line if it lasts all summer.” The lesson of Grant is that he devised a grand strategy for securing military victory over the Confederacy and stuck to it.

While not insensitive to the mounting Union casualties that dwarfed earlier losses in the War, Grant did not allow the losses and the criticism of squeamish civilians and politicians to persuade him into abandoning his strategy.

Like his predecessors, Grant made tactical mistakes and faced unforeseen setbacks. Unlike his predecessors, he protected his line of supply and continued to advance toward the goal – the destruction of Lee’s army and the Confederacy’s will to wage war.

George McClellan is perhaps the most notorious of Grant’s predecessors, a New Jersey Democrat and West Point graduate who did not share in the least Grant’s vision for victory. McClellan was masterful in building the organization and morale of the Union’s Army of the Potomac but when it came to putting the army to its intended use (fighting!) he was reluctant, to say the least. And in the end, he hoped for a relatively bloodless victory that would lead to reconciliation. McClellan wanted to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond and hoped to persuade the Southerners to rejoin the Union.

Grant (and his able sidekick William Tecumseh Sherman) realized a more complete, substantial, and devastating military victory needed to be achieved. And what they realized and pursued has a close application today’s political context. We are attacking dangerous ideologies, not armed citizens, but there is ultimately no concession to be made with these ideologies.

If the GOP wants to be successful, it needs to get busy about doing the job for which it was elected. The GOP’s McClellans are concerned only about building and protecting the party’s majority status. When it comes to actually using that status to push forward the agenda, well, they get a little squeamish. What they may not realize is that such a defensive attitude about the Republican majority status will ultimately not only fail to advance the agenda but also will lose the majority status they are so concerned to protect. That’s why these are not the people the GOP needs to be in charge!

General McClellan relied on faulty intelligence to believe that the enemies’ numbers were far greater than they really were. Today’s GOP McClellans overestimate the power of the liberal political-media citadel.

I agree with Hugh: following the example of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant is the way for the GOP to go. One lesson of 1864 and 1865 is that the fight was difficult, costly, and not always clearly leading to ultimate victory. But the dogged stubbornness that earned Grant the harsh criticism of many contemporaries also earned him victory and the admiration and respect of many military historians.

The GOP needs a long-term vision and the determination to carry it out. The fight to put qualified jurists who will resist the sway of liberal activism on the federal benches is a most worthy and important one. We must be prepared to carry on the fight all summer and beyond.


  1. lawyer Pat says

    Great analysis! And the GOP would be following its leader, President Bush, in its dogged determination and resolve to fight for what is right.


  1. Let Slip The Dogs…
    Democrats know what is at stake, and mean to hold their last piece of ground along the Left edge of their flat Earth. By all means, do let’s grant the Left the fight they have been picking and finish this struggle with irrational lunacy once and for …

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