I take my morning coffee with the General. Of all the great generals in history -- and Grant was a great one -- he's the one I identify with most. Here's why:
Grant wasn't the smartest general that either side of the Civil War put into the field. He wasn't the best with tactics or strategy. He wasn't particularly loquacious. By all accounts, he was taciturn. Sensitive. And he could be a drunk. But he knew how to fail. He knew how to take a punch.
After the battle of Shiloh, which resulted in a Union Pyrrhic victory with 13,000 casualties, the talking heads of the time were clamoring for his termination. President Lincoln dismissed the suggestion: "I can't spare this man; he fights."
Grant ground it out in the Wilderness, and at the sieges of Vicksburg and Petersburg. He stood his ground when he had to. He did something previously unheard of in the Union army -- he advanced after defeat.
After the first day of fighting during the Wilderness Campaign, where 2,000 Union men died, Grant is said to have broken down and cried in his tent at the loss of life. Grant knew the ugliness of the war. But he didn't shy from it. He did what had to be done.
Back to Shiloh. After the first day of fighting, Gen. William T. Sherman found Grant smoking a cigar under a tree. The day had gone horribly for the Union Army. Sherman said to him, "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?"
"Yes," Grant said. "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though."