The Battle of Antietam: an interview with Tom Vossler

Colonel Tom Vossler has long been the lead historian of Diamond6 TVossler_Headshot_2016Leadership. He has taken many of our groups through various Civil War battlefields, providing a historical playing field in which to discuss important leadership lessons.

In the past he has teamed up with Carol Reardon, the George Winfree Professor of American History at Pennsylvania State University, to write a history of the Battle of Gettysburg—A Field Guide to Gettysburg: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People. They have a1rjerl95mlcome together once again to write A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People.

Diamond6 sat down with Col. Vossler to discuss Antietam, its place in Civil War history, and its leadership lessons. September 17 will be the battle’s 154th anniversary.

Why is Antietam important in the context of the Civil War?

This campaign, this battle, is part of a larger picture called the Maryland Campaign of 1862. There has been a string of Confederate victories as they cross the Potomac to begin this new campaign. What is also important to note is that while the Maryland Campaign is being fought, out west there’s a Confederate campaign for the invasion of Kentucky.

These are two simultaneous Confederate advances into two border states, Kentucky and Maryland. From a political and military strategic standpoint, we must remember that President Lincoln said he must have Kentucky or else he would lose its support.

This battle forces the Confederacy back, which is why this battle is so important. The incursion into the border states is turned back by Union forces.

What are four key moments that turn the tide in this battle?

First, this battle takes place on September 17, following the South Mountain battles, which really disrupted Lee’s plans to invade Pennsylvania. He doesn’t make it that far. Meanwhile, General McClellan, the Union commander, could’ve attacked on September 16, but delayed one full day to get his forces ready. But if you flip that coin, that affords Lee another 24 hours in which to get his forces to the battlefield.

The second moment also has to do with McClellan. During the battle, there is an opportunity for him to commit his reserves to a weak point in the Confederate line, but he hesitates and then doesn’t follow through. He fears if he commits his reserve forces, he won’t have any later. That could have split the Confederate defense. Instead it stays in place and frustrates his movements.

The third key moment is the failure of General Ambrose Burnside to make his attack across the lower bridge. There are three bridges—the upper, the middle, the lower—and his forces were at the lower bridge. He had repeated orders to get across the Antietam to attack the Confederate force on the other side of the creek. He delays, and his delay eats up several hours in the battle. This then ties into that fourth moment.

Number four is the timely arrival of an entire Confederate division commanded by General A.P. Hill. They have forced march from Harper’s Ferry, which the Confederates had captured earlier, and arrived on the battlefield just in time to turn back the advance of the Burnside’s 9th Corps.

There is no clear victor in this. From a larger overview, a strategic and operational overview, what is gained is that Lee’s army is forced out of Maryland and the Potomac River Line is restored.

After the battle, what changes do we see in the Union and Confederate leadership?

In the days and weeks after the battle, President Lincoln goes to Antietam to inquire of General McClellan why he has not followed Lee across the river into Virginia. McClellan essentially sits there with his command. He does not go after Lee, and this frustrates President Lincoln. The end result of McClellan’s delay is Lincoln relieves him of command and appoints a new commander. This leads to a continual roll over of leadership. By the time we get to Gettysburg, none of the higher level Union leadership remains.

The same thing happens in the Confederate Army. They lose a number of key leaders when they reorganize the army. They reorganize in a positive way. The replacement of the leadership leads to a slew of powerful victories.

The leadership question is what fascinates me most about Antietam—figuring out where the leaders who were at Gettysburg were at Antietam.

How then does this battle relate to today’s leaders?

What we’re talking about is the growth of leaders and the sorting out of those less capable. They’re not rising to the top anymore. They’re staying in the same position or getting washed out of the organization. The leadership over time gets better. You can watch this happen from First Bull Run, the first major land battle of the Civil War, as they progress through the war.

For today’s leaders that translates into organizational effectiveness, whether we’re talking about a school district or a corporation. At Diamond6, we’re striving to make them effective organizations through the development of their leadership. These leaders in the army, like in any organization, wherever they are they’re being developed and creating a succession of command. Every organization must think about what they’re doing to allow their leadership to mature and grow. That concept is thoroughly explored at Antietam.

Click here to purchase A Field Guide to Antietam: Experiencing the Battlefield through Its History, Places, and People.

 

Understanding Lincoln – Presidents at War: Conflicts with Generals

If you hadn’t heard, our colleague and resident Abraham Lincoln expert Matt Pinsker has been conducting an incredible on-line course titled “Understanding Lincoln.” Diamond6 CEO Jeff McCausland was asked to participate. This most recent session focused the conflicts Lincoln faced with his generals. The responses to the discussion from grateful teachers has been incredible so far, all of them along the lines of this excerpt:

– “I thought yesterday’s discussion was incredibly intelligent.”

Jeff has had a great time participating in these sessions and can’t wait to take part in the last discussion Wednesday, July 9 at 10 am EST. Please take a moment and watch the video embedded below.

Understanding Lincoln

Our colleague and resident Abraham Lincoln expert Matt Pinsker is conducting an incredible on-line course titled “Understanding Lincoln.” Diamond6 CEO Jeff McCausland was asked to participate. The responses to the discussion from grateful teachers has been incredible. We’ve included some below:

– “Wow!!! Great Session!!!! Best Ever!!!!  I learned so much and I have watched it again after the live presentation. I can never thank you enough for the education I get from your amazing vision on how to make better teachers in our country. It was just a big fat WOW today!!!”

– “Thank you for reading my question – how thrilling to watch a panel of experts discuss my thoughts! I really enjoyed the round table from beginning to end!”

We think the exclamation points say it all. Jeff had a great time participating in this Presidential War Powers session and can’t wait to take part in the next one on January 25 at 10 am EST. Please take a moment and watch the video embedded below.

The top three leadership lessons from the battle of Gettysburg

Article was originally published in The Guardian on July 2, 2013

Gettysburg_General_Armistead_Picketts_Charge_smallThe United States has fought many battles in its history. During two battles, however, the fate of the entire nation hung in the balance. The first was Yorktown where the combined forces of George Washington’s Continental army and a French fleet defeated the British army and forced its surrender. If Washington had lost at Yorktown, the American war for independence might well have failed. The second was at Gettysburg during the American civil war.

For three days, 1-3 July 1863 the future of the US as one nation was in jeopardy. A Confederate victory could have resulted in recognition of the south as an independent state by several European powers, and Abraham Lincoln would likely have lost the election in 1864.

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. We have an opportunity to reflect on many important leadership lessons that are as relevant today as they were in 1863. Let’s consider three:

1. The importance of time and timing
When a leader makes a decision for his/her organization, timing may actually be more important than the decision taken. The battle of Gettysburg occurs largely because a Union cavalry commander, John Buford, recognizes the critical importance of the town’s crossroads. As a result, he positions his troopers on the best terrain west of the city, resulting in the initial fighting on 1 July.

Today, we often believe that leaders are better equipped to make decisions based on a plethora of available technological devices (cellphones, iPads, computers, etc) and data. But if leaders today are not careful these very devices can rob their organizations of initiative. Buford made a decision for the entire Union army. If he had had a cellphone he might well have called his boss to ask his opinion, left a voicemail, sent a text, etc and then waited for a reply before acting thus wasting precious time.

2. Effective leaders must “park” their personal ego and focus on what is best for their organization
Jim Collins, author of Good to Great argues his research of the best modern companies demonstrates that so-called “Level 5 leaders” who make decisions solely based on what is best for their organizations are the most successful. Robert E Lee arrived at Gettysburg following a string of victories at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg. Consequently, some civil war historians have suggested that Lee, despite his brilliance as a tactician, may have suffered from hubris. He appears to have believed that he and his army of Northern Virginia could not be defeated. As a result he orders the now famous “Pickett’s Charge” on the third day, which resulted in disaster.

3. An effective leader must articulate and communicate a strategic vision to his/her organization
The full story of Gettysburg encompasses both the battle and the Gettysburg Address delivered by President Lincoln on 19 November 1863. This iconic speech of less than 300 words described a clear vision for the nation’s future – “a new birth of freedom”. It followed naturally from his first inaugural address that focused on preserving the Union, and the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in the “states under rebellion” but did not end slavery as an institution.

Lincoln would continue to communicate his vision for the nation to the end. At his urging, the US Congress passed the 13th Amendment ending slavery in America in January 1865. On 4 March, Lincoln was inaugurated for a second term. During his brief remarks (only slightly over 700 words) he described a vision of reconciliation: “With malice towards none, with charity towards all.” He later provided guidance to his Generals Ulysses S Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman that they should let them up easy when dealing with the impending surrender of Confederate troops.

On 10 April, there were celebrations throughout Washington following the announcement that Robert E Lee had surrendered. Lincoln addressed a crowd outside the White House that evening, and his final speech argued that former slaves who had fought for the Union should receive full citizenship including the right to vote. One of the onlookers was John Wilkes Booth, a relatively famous actor. On 14 April, Booth shot Lincoln during a play at Fords Theater. The president would die the next day – Good Friday. Sadly, the vision he articulated would not be realized for over a century.

Leadership is clearly an art and not a science, and we can learn much from the past. As we prepare for the future, leadership is as critical to any organization today as it was during a few days 1863.

Image from HERE.

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Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.
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Lincoln and Strategic Vision

The movie Lincoln is a case study in how a leader creates a vision for an organization, communicates that vision, and evolves the vision over time.  Lincoln realized a leader must develop and articulate a vision in a fashion that followers can “digest” and accept.  The leader must also take advantage of important moments to communicate changes to the vision.  These refinements must be both timely and timed to occur when the organization is focused on an intermediate step.

Abraham Lincoln arrived in Washington in the spring of 1861 firmly opposed to slavery.  Still in his first inaugural address he stated that he did not intend to interfere with slavery where it existed.  Rather he described a vision focused on preserving the Union and preventing war.  He knew that to argue for the elimination of the so-called “peculiar institution” at that moment would insure war, prevent any possibility of reconciliation with Southern states, and might not be widely accepted even in the North.

Following the attack on Ft. Sumter the nation rallied to preserve the Union.  By the summer of 1862, however, Lincoln realized that the time had come to expand on his initial vision and began secret discussions with his cabinet on the Emancipation Proclamation.  Late that summer he achieved agreement on a draft document and announced it following a Union victory at the Battle of Antietam in September.  Still it only freed slaves in the “states under rebellion” and did not go into effect until 1 January 1863.  Consequently, it had no effect on slaves in the border states and if any southern state had returned to the Union in the intervening months they could have retained their slaves.  When any leader announces an evolution in the organization’s vision it is met with opposition.  Frederick Douglass (himself a former slave) ridiculed the President for not ending slavery throughout the entire nation.  Others who had supported the war to preserve the Union announced their firm opposition to any effort to expand the goals of the war to end slavery.

On a cold day in the autumn of 1863 Lincoln mounted a stage at the Gettysburg cemetery to make “a few appropriate remarks”.  He delivered an address of 272 words which may be the clearest and most concise statement of a strategic vision in the English language.  He began by telling the audience where they and the country had been – four score and seven years ago which connected these remarks with the Declaration of Independence and its opening statement of essential values – we hold these truths to be self-evident that all Men are created equal.  He then moved to where the nation was that afternoon.  Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war.  Lincoln concluded with a statement of a revised vision for the future.  That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 

By the spring of 1864 the Union Army was bogged down outside Richmond in a series of bloody battles of attrition. Many Republicans had begun to argue that Lincoln should not be nominated for a second term.  The fall of Atlanta in September to General Sherman, however, restored the nation’s confidence.  Lincoln was reelected President on a campaign slogan of “Liberty and the Union” which summarized the theme of the Gettysburg Address.

As dramatically portrayed in the movie the stage was set for the debate over an amendment to end slavery forever in January 1865.  Many of Lincoln’s supporters argued that this was premature and urged him to wait until the war was over.  But the President overrode the opposition and succeeded in securing passage of the amendment.

On March 4, 1865 Lincoln ascended the podium at the Capitol for his second inaugural address.  The war had lasted four years and over 600,000 Americans had died, but Union armies appeared close to victory.  Everyone in the audience had lost someone – brother, father, son, nephew, etc.  The President could called for retribution against Confederate leaders (Lee, Davis, etc.), and the audience would have likely endorsed the sentiment.  But Lincoln returned to his initial vision of preserving the Union.  In 703 words carefully crafted words the re-elected president delivered what he believed to be his finest speech.  He would anchor the hope of the nation’s future with malice toward none and with charity towards all.  In the days that followed the pace of events would accelerate.  In late March Lincoln met with his principal military leaders – General Grant, Admiral Porter, and General Sherman to discuss the end of the war.  As he departed the President gave his commanders his final guidance – Let them up easy.  They would follow this counsel in the terms they offered during the surrender of Confederate armies.

On April 9, 1865 General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.  The nation rejoiced and on the following evening there were fireworks and parades in Washington.  Crowds assembled on the White House lawn, and Lincoln delivered his final speech.  He reiterated his desire to reconcile the southern states into the Union, but used this opportunity to expand the vision once more.  Lincoln argued that in the war’s aftermath the nation should offer former slaves that had served in the Union Army (over 200,000) full rights of citizenship.  This might seem a logical next step that would be non-controversial, but this was not the case in 1865.  Lincoln knew he was setting the stage for another bitter political debate.

In the crowd that evening was a well-known actor, John Wilkes Booth.   Later that evening Booth met with his fellow conspirators and announced, “that is the last speech that man will ever give”.  Four nights later Booth shot Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, and the President died early the next morning, Good Friday.  Sadly, the vision that Abraham Lincoln had created, evolved, and communicated to the nation would largely remain unrealized for the next hundred years.  Not until the civil rights movement of the 1960’s would the nation return fully to the ideals he had articulated.  It remains a vision of equality and human dignity that we continue to strive for even today.

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Dr. Jeff McCausland is Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership and Strategy, LLC. His most challenging and unique leadership experience was leading and commanding 750 troops into the first Gulf War. He is proud to say that everyone came home healthy and safe.
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