Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keys to success from Civil War generals

And now for something completely different...

Back when I worked as a book editor in Washington, D.C., I edited this book about dense, dry boring military history. It nearly killed me. I'm just not really a military-history kind of person. But I gave my dad a copy for Christmas that year and he couldn't stop talking about how much loved it, so clearly it's the perfect book for the right demographic.

To pass the time while editing it, I began to write down "life lessons" gathered from the generals' experiences. It really helped me get through that tome. Some days, looking for a "life lesson" to write down was the only thing that kept me reading! When I left that job, I took my list of life lessons with me. Then I completely forgot about it until last week, when I was cleaning out old papers and found the list lurking in the depths. I thought you guys might enjoy reading it!

Life Lessons from Civil War Generals

Grant and Lee, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
1. Give extremely specific and detailed instructions if you care how something gets done.

2. Speed is of the essence. Don't dawdle.

3. It's not about "not losing." It's about winning.

4. Excessive caution can be "disastrous." Don't give your opponent too much credit; action trumps inaction.

5. Be mindful of the condition of your subordinates; do not exhaust or overtax them. Save their strength for when it's really needed.

6. "Divide and conquer" does not always work. Sometimes unity is needed.

7. Know when to retreat. (Here's looking at you, Robert E. Lee.)

8. You lose less men when you're on the defensive versus on the offensive.

9. Use trickery and cunning—i.e., the troops evacuating Corinth, Mississippi.*

10. Have a broad vision. Not everyone thinks like you do.

Do you have any favorite "life lessons" from history?

*I don't actually know what this one means. It's been a while since I read the book!


  1. Oh, I love this! I should post these quotes around the office :) in helping my dad to run a business I can see how these principles can apply across the board to getting all sorts of things done!

    1. I'm so glad you like them! They really are applicable to all kinds of situations, aren't they?