Lee & Grant: Profiles In Leadership From The Battlefields Of Virginia, by Maj. Charles R. Bowery Jr., U.S. Army
If you thought from the title of the book, or even the cover of the book, that this volume was a work of biography or military strategy, you would be mostly mistaken. That is not to say that this is a bad book, for the author presents Lee and Grant in a mostly even-handed way, only occasionally lapsing into that hagiography of Lee and his supposed virtues and honor that makes a large part of the Civil War prosography so distasteful to me given the wretched and abominable nature of the cause of the Confederacy for which he fought. Be that is it may, this is a book written for business leaders encouraging them to take a critical but fair-minded appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of both Lee and Grant in their handling of the Overland campaign (May-June 1864) and adopting elements to one’s own approach as an executive. This is not a new concept, as there are many books in existence which seek to use military strategy as an analogous sort of art to business strategy . There are some people who really enjoy this sort of book, and some people who have no interest in them, so it is good to know ahead of time what one is getting into.
The contents of this book take up between 200 and 250 pages, and focus on the time that Grant and Lee were opposed in Virginia before the siege of Petersburg. The book begins in looking at the early experience of first Lee and then Grant to show how their experiences shaped them as leaders. The second part of the book then looks at the organizational planning for both armies before the Overland Campaign began and then looks at the planning and execution of the Battle of the Wilderness, the adaptation that took place in Spotsylvania, Grant’s focus on the greater war and issues of grand strategy, the crisis management of the North Anna, friction and failure at Cold Harbor, and the transformational leadership beyond the James. The afterword of the book then looks at the meeting between Grant and Lee at Appomattox, and three appendices look at the order of battle during the campaign, give suggestions for future reading, and encourage executives in the area to tour the battlefields of the Overland Campaign as part of a staff ride. Although labeled as a book on military leadership and biographical history, it is more or less a transparent attempt to appeal to the armchair general tendencies of business executives who are prone to view the competition of the business world as an activity akin to warfare.
The author shows himself to be conversant with the jargon of leadership as it applies to contemporary business leaders, and readers would be well-served to be familiar with the jargon as well. There is little in this book that would be unfamiliar to those who have an interest in Civil War history and business strategy, but readers of this book would be well-advised to have a high degree of knowledge of and interest in at least one of if not both of these subjects before reading this book. While the author shows a willingness to explain the historical context of the Civil War while being immensely gracious to Lee in particular, the author does assume a high degree of knowledge of business jargon for the reader. In some respects, this book feels like a play for increasing the cultural status of military leaders as armchair business strategists, a way of ensuring that ambitious mid-level officers like the author can make a profitable transition from military service into corporate consulting. Not everyone is likely to appreciate the salesy approach to this work and how the author seems to bend over backwards to charm and flatter his intended audience of executives. Be that as it may, there is much to learn from this book for those who are not put off by its approach and tone.
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