Even Leaders Must Be Loyal
Loyalty shines brightest when disagreements are the strongest. What a leader does when his or his opinion conflicts with that of a superior is a true test of leadership mettle. In this post we share an interesting interaction between Major General Ulysses S. Grant and two of his commanding generals during the Civil War. Their interactions demonstrate both the importance and power of loyalty.
Trying Times Conflicting Opinions
The Siege of Vicksburg (May 18 – July 4, 1863) was a crucial campaign in the Civil War. Many consider it — along with the Battle of Gettysburg — the turning point for the North. Prior to the siege, Union forces had endured a lengthy and costly campaign to take the city. One writer called the struggle, “The long, gruesome fight to capture Vicksburg.” The effort demanded the best of thousands of soldiers. It occurred under hostile attacks, over rugged terrain, without adequate provisions, and at times in miserable conditions. Hundreds paid the ultimate sacrifice and thousands were wounded.
When Grant first determined to take Vicksburg, General Sherman, one of his three division generals, was hesitant. Sherman made his doubts known to his commanding officer. Grant records the encounter in his memoirs:
He said that it was an axiom in war that when any great body of troops moved against an enemy they should do so from the base of supplies, which they would guard as they would the apple of the eye, etc. He pointed out all the difficulties that might be encountered in the campaign proposed, and stated in turn what would be the true campaign to make.
Grant listened to his general, but determined that the need for immediate action overrode Sherman’s concerns. When Grant failed to heed his advice, Sherman took up the matter with Colonel J. A. Rawlins, to whom he wrote a letter outlining his concerns and offering his opinion for next steps. Determined to press on, Grant again ignored Sherman’s cautionary pleas.
Fast forward to May, 1863. With exhausting marches and hard-won skirmishes behind them, the Union victory at Vicksburg was now in sight. When this news reached the north, “visitors” began to arrive: some to gawk, some to see family, and some to care for the sick and wounded.
One of the dignitaries to arrive was the Governor of Illinois who came with most of his State officers. They too wanted to see the progress of the Union campaign. Grant wanted to oblige them. He determined that Sherman’s front gave them the best view of the war effort while still providing protection, so he took them to Sherman’s headquarters. In his memoirs Grant records the scene and the conversation that took place:
Sherman’s self-deprecation combined with the quickness with which he credited Grant is an amazing picture of loyalty.
What Sherman Teaches Leaders About Loyalty
The interaction between Sherman and Grant during the Vicksburg campaign provide six lessons as to how leaders practice loyalty:
1. Loyal leaders do not operate on “blind trust.
Being loyal does not mean one never disagrees. Sherman was a staunch supporter of Grant. He did not let his support for his commanding officer become a strip of duct tape over his mouth. Instead, he spoke up when he saw a problem.
2. Loyal leaders address differences early.
Sherman did not let his disagreements with Grant simmer. Addressing his concerns immediately and forthrightly kept his differences from boiling over into animosity and antagonism.
3. Loyal leaders disagree in private, but support in public.
Grant noted, “But for this speech (to the dignitaries) it is not likely that Sherman’s opposition would have ever been heard of.” Sherman publically supported Grant, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his commander throughout the Vicksburg campaign.
4. Loyal leaders support their leader’s plans as if it were their own.
Once the decision was made, Sherman gave great energy to Grant’s plan to take Vicksburg. Never once did his subordinates know about his reservations. Sherman put his disagreements behind him and marched on.
5. Loyal leaders give credit where credit is due.
Both Grant and Sherman were quick to give credit for the victorious campaign: Sherman lauding Grant’s plan, Grant praising Sherman’s energy and efficiency.
6. Loyal leaders are not glory hogs.
Sherman’s humility is refreshing. He knew that there was something far greater at stake than his pride. The cause was preserving the Union, not getting a pat on the back.
Sherman calls to mind one of the most memorable pictures of loyalty in the Bible. Jonathan, son of King Saul, embarks on a covert operation to take down an enemy outpost. His only comrade in this effort is his armor-bearer. The enemy outnumbers them, has greater firepower, and is on higher ground. But Jonathan has the confidence that God will give them them victory. As Jonathan explains his plan, he hears the words from his armor-bearer that every leader longs to hear from those that follow:
Loyalty is a powerful motivator and a powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal. Sherman was loyal. He was Grant’s “armor-bearer” in the Civil War.
What McClernand Reminds Leaders About Disloyalty
General McClernand, like Sherman and McPherson, was one of the three division commanders under Grant at the Siege of Vicksburg. Just two weeks into the siege, McClernand issued “General Order #72.” This order was largely a (self) congratulatory address to his troops. While the order praised his troops, it was also critical of his fellow generals and of his commander, Major General Ulysses S. Grant.
General Order #72 was leaked to the press and published. As one might imagine, when the news reached the troops on the front lines, it created quite a negative reaction from generals McPherson and Sherman. Grant looked into the matter. Once he determined its validity he relieved McClernand of his command. The publication of the order was in violation of the War Department orders and of General Grant’s.
While Sherman’s actions highlight loyalty in the life of a leader, General McClernand’s actions provide an unfortunate example of what happens when leaders stop serving others and put themselves first. When loyalty to self trumps loyalty to others and to the cause both the leaders and the followers serve; distrust, division, and defeat are sure to follow.
Servant Leader or Self-Serving Leader?
Leadership is opportunity to stand at the front and take the hill. At times it is also an opportunity to serve under another leader and to help that person take the hill.
Both opportunities call for whole-hearted loyalty. Servant leaders are loyal — loyal to their leaders, loyal to their cause, and loyal to the people serving with them and under them. Like Jonathan’s armor-bearer, their battle cry is, “Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul.”
Question: How can you apply the loyalty lessons from Sherman and McClernand to your leadership?
1. “The long gruesome fight…” from “The Long Gruesome Fight To Capture Vicksburg” in www.civilwar.org. Bob Zeller, Hallowed Ground Magazine, Summer 2013. Accessed February 6, 2014.
2. “When General Sherman first learned of the move…” in Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Selected Letters 1839-1865. The Library of America. Page 364-365.
3. “General Sherman to Colonel Rawlins” in The Life Of Ulysses S. Grant (Google eBook) in www.books.google.com. Gale Cengage Learning. p 436-437.
4. General Order #72 from “June 13, 1863: McClearnand’s Order #72 gets him in hot water” in www.gathkinsons.net. Accessed Feburary 6, 2014.
5. The publication of his order was in violation … from Grant’s memoirs, p. 367.