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GWhole books have been written on the leadership lessons of the Battle of Gettysburg, so this will, in no way be a comprehensive list of those lessons.

I grew up near Gettysburg in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I have noticed that we tend to not appreciate what’s in our backyard until we move away. I know that’s the case with Gettysburg and me. As a youth I didn’t visit Gettysburg that often, even though it was merely 30 miles away. Forty years later, sitting here in Georgia, I’d give anything to live near Gettysburg again.

Because there is so much material here for leadership lessons, I’m going to concentrate on just two: 1) Robert E. Lee’s instructions to his subordinate, General Richard Ewell and 2) Jeb Stuart’s irresponsible actions.

Richard S. Ewell

Richard S. Ewell

On the first day of the battle, the Confederates had successfully pushed the Federals from the ridges north west of Gettysburg, back through the town and onto Cemetery and Culp’s Hills, almost directly south of the town. General Richard Ewell’s troops were fresh and were approaching Gettysburg from the north. Lee watched as the Federal troops, in disarray, fled through the town pellmell, and he noticed that as they regrouped on Cemetery Hill and ridge that they were still disorganized.

…he felt instinctively that victory was in his grasp. He immediately dispatched his Adjutant General, Colonel W.H. Taylor to tell General Ewell that he, Lee, could see the enemy retreating over the hills in confusion and apparently greatly disorganized. Colonel Taylor’s account quotes Lee using these words: “It was only necessary to press ‘those people’ in order to secure possession of the height; and if possible, he wished General Ewell to do this.” Taylor writes that he immediately galloped over to General Ewell and delivered Lee’s order and Ewell did not indicate any objection but left the impression on Taylor’s mind that the order would be executed.1

As it turns out, Ewell first delayed and then called off the attack. This gave the Federals time to organized and take firm command of the high ground. Two more days of hard, vicious fighting would not change the fact that the Federals had command of the field and won the battle.

Meanwhile J.E.B. Stuart, Lee’s eyes and ears calvary was no where to be found. He had not reported in and the only reason Lee knew to regroup his scattered troops was because Confederate General James Longstreet employed a spy (Harrison) who on June 28 reported to Longstreet. Lee was hesitant to move on the word of a spy, but he had no choice. Stuart disobeyed Lee on several salient points of Lee’s instructions.

Leadership Lessons

  • When giving instructions to a subordinate, follow-up; do not assume they are being implemented as you wish until you confirm.
  • When given an opportunity by your boss that will bring success to you and your boss, do it! Don’t hesitate, don’t be a Richard Ewell.
  • If you’re not sure about instructions, ask for clarification.
  • Don’t “showboat” just because you can; do your job.
  • Keep your boss in the loop at all times.
  • Seek the betterment of the organization, not yourself.

1 from They Met at Gettysburg by Edward Stockpile