Leadership Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg Oct 22, 2013 12:41:08 GMT -5
Post by oldpop2000 on Oct 22, 2013 12:41:08 GMT -5
I've just finished a small book entitled "Leadership Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg". Now, why would I read this book, especially since I've been retired for twelve years. Well, I have no idea but I had to see how leadership techniques in the 21st century could be gleaned from a battle that took place, 150 years ago. My first problem with the book was the authors bone fides. He graduated from the USMA in 1997. He states " I have had the tremendous experience of working with selfless leaders....". Okay, nice but you've only been in the working environment for sixteen years, how much could you have learned unless you started at the middle and worked up. But no matter, now the meat of the book.
His main reference is Gettysburg a Day by Day Account edited by Time-Life books. Really, and his other source includes classes at the USMA and battlefield tours. He includes his personal experiences. Which ones and how many battles have you fought and led troops in. I know, I 'am being rotten, but "C'mon, Man".
Ok, to the main event, Chapter 1: The Importance of knowing your Communication Style(First, know thyself). He chooses George Gordon Meade and Robert E. Lee, with comparisons of their styles, to illustrate this first point. Meade was the CinC of the Army of the Potomac during Gettysburg and was in fact the last in a long line. He was appointed three days before the battle after Hooker submitted his resignation not expecting it to be accepted, but alas Lincoln was waiting for it, because he had decided that Hooker was never going to lead the AOP into battle again. As the author explains, Meade was leading his first battle with an army that had lost to Lee many times. He had to reinvigorate the army but make them understand his goals and objectives. He used a war council of corps commanders and consultation to perform that. This ensured that they realized he had confidence in them, however, ultimately any and all decisions rested with himself. He was especially good at providing clear orders and followed them up with staff officers to ensure they were being followed. Nice touch, I think.
He compares Meade's style with lee's. Lee, the author claims, never discussed his leadership style with his two new corps commanders, men who had previously fought under officers who gave specific commands and expected them to be followed. Lee gave general orders, rarely asked for advice and had become used to his two excellent corps commanders especially Stonewall Jackson. Both had superb leaderships and battlefield skills. Now, I agree that Lee's leadership style was suited to an organization that had fought together for a long time and understood each other. Interesting, because that does match the ANV precisely. All these officers had fought together for well over two years, since Lee had taken command. A month before the operation, Lee had conferences with his new leaders to explain his conops. He must have had discussions about how it was going to be approached and what to do about encounters with the AOP. Longstreet states that he did.
Now, we know that Lee had specifically ordered all commanders to avoid contact with the enemy until the whole army was in position and we know that Harry Heth of A.P. Hill's corps failed to follow that command. This is the point at which the author uses the disagreement between Ewell and Lee about the order to take Culp's Hill on the first day. This hill is located east and north of the main fish hook position. It commands the rear area and the back of Cemetery Ridge and the associated hill by the same name. It is connected by a spur. it is steep on the northern edge and difficult to bring up artillery from that side and there are few spots to site artillery for support. But, on the first day, even into the evening it was unoccupied for all intents and purposes. Lee could see that if he took that position and held it, the Union would have to abandon the fish hook and retreat to the Pipe Creek line. He sent an order to Ewell to take the hill, "if practicable". Those last two words were the fatal flaw, because Ewell, against the recommendations of three other general officers decided his troops were too disorganized, lacked water and ammunition plus they were exhausted. He could only manage about 6-7000 troops to take the hill. Lee was furious, and rode over to him, wondering why he hadn't taken the hill.
Now, Lee's own memoirs state " Without information as to its proximity, the strong position which the enemy had assumed could not be attacked without danger of exposing the four divisions present, already weakened and exhausted by a long and bloody struggle, to overwhelming numbers of fresh troops. General Ewell was therefore instructed to carry the hill occupied by the enemy if he found it practicable, but to avoid a general engagement until the arrival of the other divisions of the army, which were ordered to hasten for forward. He decided to await Johnson's division, which had marched from Carlisle by the road west of the mountains to guard the trains of his corps, and consequently did not reach Gettysburg until a late hour".
Without going to more boring details, it appears that based on his memoirs, and "Gettysburg" by E.F.Coddington, a book that is considered the most detailed, and even handed book written, that Ewell followed Lee's orders all day. He moved his corps from Carlisle to the northern flank of the AOP, fought a hard won battle, then chased the Union soldiers all the way through the town, over barricades, snipers etc. to reach the base of Culp's hill. The battle of the northern end of McPherson's ridge started at 1430 hrs in the afternoon after 20 mile march in the heat, for Ewell's Corps and now at 1800 hrs, with no food, low on ammunition and low on water, they were expected reorganize and take a hill which might or might not be occupied and with more enemy corps moving from the east to the fish hook position. These corps were seen and investigated. Lee's orders were explicit, don't cause a general engagement until all of the army is up. Don't attack the hill unless practicable. In Ewell's opinion, based on his knowledge of his corps and what it had already accomplished, this was a fool's errand and Ewell, the commander on the scene and in charge knew it. It is my belief that Ewell decided that while he might take that hill, the enemy might attack and push him off just as easily either that evening or in the morning, if he could not reinforce it.
The author has failed to make his point because he failed to research the details of the incident completely. He based his leadership point on an incident that did not represent his leadership problem as stated. This does not mean his leadership point is not valid, on the contrary, with a new management team, discussing your objectives and goals along with how you want to address issues both externally and internally is a good policy. I've done it with new teams, however, this was a critical wartime situation. Did these men actually have the time to sit down and discuss all this or was moving the operation along more important. All of these men were USMA graduates and had fought together in the Mexican War. They had all plenty of experience with Lee. There is no reason to expect them to have to sit down and discuss all this. This was war, not the conference table at a major corporation.
This is the first installment of my critique of this short book. I am going to go chapter by chapter.