Gettysburg: A Test of Leadership

Each year our Cahn Fellows begin the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) with a trip to Gettysburg led by licensed battlefield guide John Zervas.

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Link to the Gettysburg National Military Park Website

Following is an outline of the curriculum.

It’s the summer of 1863 and following a series of stunning victories, Robert E. Lee marches his Confederate Army of 75,000 battle-tested soldiers north into Pennsylvania. His vision: win southern independence. His strategy: defeat the Union army once more, do it on Northern soil and capture or threaten a major Union city such as Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore or Washington, DC. His opponent, Union General George Meade, moves his veteran army of 90,000 north into Pennsylvania to confront Lee and protect these very cities. They meet at the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg. Who will prevail will be a test of leadership.

Day One – They meet at Gettysburg

Unplanned and unanticipated, the armies meet at Gettysburg. With the commanding generals far from here, critical decisions are made by subordinates to seize this town. Why is this town important? Who will prevail?  We will tour the Day One Battlefield and stand where these decisions were made and we will meet those officers who take the initiative to choose this battlefield. 

Day Two -“If he is there tomorrow, I shall attack him.”

Lee decides he will attack the Union’s defensive position. He will try to break the Union line by attacking the three hills that dominate Gettysburg. We will walk the ground and analyze the decisions made and the initiative taken by officers and men of the North and South. Communication and Empowerment will prove to be critical. For three days, the battle will turn on three principal factors:

  • Communication – Can the commanding generals clearly communicate their orders, goals and strategies to others? Can officers clearly delineate their vision to their subordinates? The battle will turn on communication and miscommunication through the chain of command.
  • Initiative – How much information is required before an officer will take a risk and commit his forces? Will officers take on more than their formal responsibility? The presence or absence of initiative will impact critical moments of the battle.
  • Empowerment – How will officers respond to crisis when their superiors are not present? Has there been proper delegation? Are their opinions important? Do they feel they understand their mission well enough to make decisions on their own? Crucial moments of the battle will be decided by empowered individuals.

 Reflection: Lee vs. Meade: After two days of battle, who managed their resources and used their data more effectively? Whose leadership style was more effective? How were decisions made that night?

Lincoln and Leadership

Dr. Matthew Pinsker is the author of two books:  Abraham Lincoln –a volume in the American Presidents Reference Series from Congressional Quarterly Press (2002) and Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln and the Soldiers’ Home (Oxford University Press, 2003).  Pinsker’s next book is forthcoming from W.W. Norton & Co., tentatively entitled, Boss Lincoln: Understanding Abraham Lincoln’s Partisan Leadership.  Matt has also published widely in the history of American politics, contributing to the Journal of American History and several other academic journals as well as to newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and USA Today.  He appears regularly on TV channels such as C-SPAN and A&E’s History.  He leads numerous K-12 teacher-training workshops for organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He currently serves the Organization of American Historians (OAH) as a “Distinguished Lecturer.” Finally, Matt sits on the advisory boards of several historic organizations, such as Ford’s Theatre Society, Gettysburg Foundation, National Civil War Museum, and President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home.




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