Unity of command: the command relationship between Generals Grant and Meade in the campaign of 1864-1865
Grant, Arthur Vernon
Vandiver, Frank E.
Master of Arts
Napoleon once wrote, "Nothing is more important in war than unity of command; thus, when war is waged against a single power, there must be one army, acting on one line, and led by one chief." For three years, the eastern armies of the United States had been unsuccessful in defeating their opponents. But in March 1864, the President appointed Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to command the armies of the United States. A general who had served only in the western theater of the war, Grant went east to assume command. Soon after his arrival in Washington, Grant changed the entire nature of the eastern campaign. Complex problems faced the new General-in-Chief. Not only did he have to formulate grand strategy, he also had to decide where the main effort was to be made. This would enable him to establish the location of his field headquarters and insure that the key theater received the greatest command emphasis. In addition, the leaders of his principal armies had to be interviewed and perhaps be replaced by more competent officers. After a brief review of the strategic situation, Grant decided to remain in the East. His decision surprised William T. Sherman, Grant's replacement in the West, but it did not surprise George G. Meade, the commanding general of the Army of the Potomac. Meade had commanded the army for almost a year and he knew the importance of the eastern theater. But Grant's decision changed Meade's command prerogatives. Although Meade frequently had felt harassed by the demands of the War Department, at least he had been an independent commander. The arrival of the General-in-Chief, however, altered Meade's autonomy. No longer did the Army of the Potomac only move according to Meade's wishes. Now there were two generals traveling with the army and its unity of purpose was in jeopardy. Since Grant was commander of all of the armies of the United States, his presence completely overshadowed Meade's. Journalists extolled Grant's virtues while Meade hovered somewhere in the background. Still, the Army of the Potomac belonged to Meade and he did his best to keep control of his army. But Grant also was certain of the eastern army's role in the overall strategic plan. A collision between the two commanders easily could have resulted from their divergent views. But both Grant and Meade realized the importance of maintaining a unified effort. Each worked hard to insure that victory did not become lost because of their personal differences. They put aside everything to guarantee that the war would be pursued by "one army, acting on one line, and led by one chief."