A Lesson from Gettysburg
July 1st-3rd marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
53,000 died in this epic battle.
Even though the Union won, Lincoln was not happy with the Commanding General – George Meade – and drafted a letter to him.
I have had the pleasure to visit the hallowed grounds of the battle of Gettysburg twice. Each time I sat and reflected at Cemetery Ridge, where that last and deciding assault took place on the afternoon of July 3rd.
Picket’s Charge – named after one of the three Commanding Southern Generals, Major General George Pickett, who led the attack – included 12,500 soldiers who charged the Union lines. Its repulsion and the mass casualty of the Southern attackers of this frontal assault sealed the fate of the battle, and many think of the war for the side of the Union.
The reason this frontal assault failed was in part because the artillery barrage from the Southern forces completely missed the Union lines and landed 200 to 300 yards behind where it was supposed to. One theory as to why this happened is because the Southern army was using a new factory for its gun powder, which had a different explosive quality.
Even though the Southern army went to retreat after the failure of Pickett’s charge, the Civil War lasted almost another two years. The reason, as President Lincoln and many others reasoned, was because the Commanding Union General at Gettysburg, George Meade, decided not to pursue the retreating Southern army and force a surrender of the legendary General Robert E. Lee.
President Lincoln was so distressed by this, as he thought this could have been the end of the war. He wrote a letter to General Meade that included this section:
“Again, my dear General, I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within your easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few more than two-thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect, and I do not expect you can now affect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.”
When I first read this letter, I was surprised as to the leniency of it. I thought, “I would have probably sent a stronger letter.”
What did General Meade think of it?
He never received it.
The President did not send it. It was found in the effects of the President.
Historians assume he did not send it because of the maturity of his leadership – a wise, patient, and highly effective approach – an approach not quick to condemn and criticize.
What lesson do we learn?
Think of how to constantly empower people,
and not how to consistently correct them and criticize their shortcomings.
Next time one of your people makes a mistake, think of this letter and the Battle of Gettysburg.
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