The Battle of Cold Harbor in spring of 1864 was one of General Ulysses S. Grant’s worst offensive defeats during the Civil War. Grant failed to describe his mission command to his subordinate, direct his units to correct movement, understand his operational environment, and lead his army with a coordinated plan. Grant had a stronger, bigger, and better-equipped army than his enemy, but his failure in the mission command process led to fatal mistakes before and during the battle. Due to failed leadership, the Union preparation for this war was so poor that it suffered nearly 7,000 casualties in under an hour, making it one of the most brutal confrontations of the Civil War.
Commanders must be able to describe their operation visualization to staffs and subordinates. It fosters a working relationship and a shared understanding of the situation, mission and intent. Without description of mission command from the commander, a unit may not be able to accomplish their task or mission.
General Grant failed at describing during his mission command with his relationship to his subordinate, General Meade.
Grant viewed the Battle of Cold Harbor as a means to complete his Overland Campaign, and ultimately, be the driving force for Union victory of the Civil War. Grant chose the Army of the Potomac to be the decisive operation and General George G. Meade acted as the commander. Though both Generals were experienced leaders, they had different skills, abilities and opinions that not only led to a dysfunctional command climate, but also was a major reason for the Union loss of the Battle of Cold Harbor. Grant viewed his command position as a strategic role with subordinate Meade making the tactical decisions, but Meade did not view himself as a tactical leader.
“General Grant accompanied the main force under Meade, which created an awkward common situation. Grant viewed his role as formulating general policies for the Union armies and leaving tactical decisions to theater commanders. He favored bold attacks and maneuvers, however, while Meade felt more comfortable waging set-piece battles. Their approaches to fighting Lee were incompatible, and friction was inevitable.” (Civil War Series)
Grant created a command problem that eventually resulted in disaster when he decided to headquarters himself with the Army of the Potomac, Meade’s forces, and keep a close watch on Meade’s every action. Grant explained that his concept was to make Meade’s commanding role seem as if Grant was in Washington and Meade were in the field with the troops as much as possible, Grant issuing strategic orders for movement of the Potomac Army to Meade and Meade executing them. Grant would issue the broad, general intent commands for moving and maneuvering the Army of the Potomac and other Corps and Theatres, giving tactical control to Meade.
Though this was Grant’s intent, his words and actions proved something different. Grant would often take a much more active...