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What can today's military learn from the Gettysburg battlefield?

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by pamc153PA, Aug 22, 2013.

  1. pamc153PA

    pamc153PA Captain Forum Host

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    I'll say right off the bat that I am not military, nor do I come from a military family, so my disclaimer is that if I say anything inadvertantly offending or just downright silly in this post, please forgive me in advance, for I know not what I do (and I would appreciate if you correct me gently, because I'm always willing to learn!).

    Just about every time I go out to Gettysburg (and since I am going tomorrow, probably tomorrow, as well), I see groups of cadets from U.S. military academies like West Point touring the field, sometimes with a LBG, sometimes with their own guide. They are very intent on listening to what they're being told, and they study the battlefield intently, often with maps in hand. It's really very impressive to me to see their focus and interest, but it always makes me wonder--what, exactly, are they learning/looking at/studying? Why does our military today still visit the battlefield from 150 years ago?

    Obviously, there is much to be learned from history, including military history--that whole idea of "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it" is one I wholly agree with, on many levels. So studying a battle--whether your ancestors were on the "winning" or "losing" side--is enlightening. But specifically, what things can our military today, in an age so far advanced from that battle, learn from the Battle of Gettysburg?

    I know many of you are/were military, and perhaps you visited Gettysburg battlefield as a cadet. I know a lot of you just might have some idea about what I'm asking. I know the battle very well from my years of study, but I'd like to get some specific reasons for why our military studies it today.

    Thanks in advance for enlightening this civilian! :smile:
     
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  3. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    There are a myriad of things.

    There is the use of the terrain. Terrain shapes the way a battle is fought. Identifying the key terrain is important. Seizing and holding the key terrain is important. Just as important is the lesson of misidentifying what the key terrain is and then making your position worse by trying to hold terrain that really isn't key. [I'm looking at you, Dan Sickles, and also at you, Frank Barlow]

    There are a number of things to consider regarding leadership. I have an acronym I use to illustrate a few key points:

    PICK IT UP

    Preparation
    Initiative
    Commitment
    Knowledge

    Inspiration
    Technology's impact

    Use of Resources
    Planning

    You can demonstrate how leaders used or failed to use those points, or other points you want to identify.

    You can discuss command decision making and talk about the factors that go into it. You can discuss the key decision points for different commanders and talk about why they made the decisions they made and whether or not that was what they should have done.

    You can discuss strategic considerations. For example, the XI Corps had a large number of German units. How were they treated? Does that have any implications for us today with US men and women serving side-by-side with coalition units?

    There are three levels of warfare: tactical, operational, and strategic. A staff ride to Gettysburg can be conducted to look at it from the tactical level for cadets and junior officers, at the operational level for mid-level officers, and at the strategic level for senior officers. So an officer may get to Gettysburg on a formal staff ride at least three times, each time looking at different aspects, stressing different things, and asking all different questions.
     
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  4. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    To the modern military, the war can been seen as validation of most, if not all, of von Clauswitz Principles on War.
     
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  5. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    Just to clear up any confusion before it occurs, while Clausewitz did write an essay called "The Principles of War," where he elucidated some of his principles, the nine Principles of War used by today's military [MOOSEMUSS] were adapted from the principles first formulated by J. F. C. Fuller. A modern military staff ride would use those principles instead of the Clausewitzean principles.
     
  6. OpnCoronet

    OpnCoronet Major

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    I was referring the von Clauswitz's writings, but assume the war probably validated J.F.C Fuller also.
     
  7. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    Understood. I don't disagree. In practice, it seems to me Clausewitz would be a bit unwieldy for the field in that he posited a number of things in his writings, where as the 9 Principles are studied by every officer in the US military, and the staff riders can name them on cue. I think bringing Clausewitz into it is most appropriate before and after where you pick a few things and say, "Be on the lookout for how this applies" and "So how did this apply at Gettysburg?" Maybe during the ride, if they have been prepared for it, they can talk about one or two things from Clausewitz. The 9 Principles are compact enough to be able to talk about at each stop.
     
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  8. redbob

    redbob 1st Lieutenant

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    Military "Staff Rides" are held on many Military Parks with one group being the North and one the South. They go over what, when, where and why things were done, what could have been done differently and what lessons for today's military can be brought away from the actions that took place on those fields150 years ago.
     
  9. pamc153PA

    pamc153PA Captain Forum Host

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    Thanks, cash! I appreciate the specifics.

    Are the things discussed on the staff rides the kind that get tested, or is it more, apply what you learned?
     
  10. rhp6033

    rhp6033 Sergeant Major

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    I'm sure that these were the sorts of things which the original post was addressing. But to me, untrained in the military, I can' help but look at Gettysburg and think: "Gee, some 155's with HE and proximity/fragmentation shells could do some real damage here. And what if Picket's charge included about a dozen M1A1 tanks? And what if the federal response was a close-support air strike dropping napalm on the marching Confederates?"

    See how silly I can get sometimes?

    What I should really do is give my nephew a call. He grew up on Harrisburg and visited Gettysburg quite a few times, and went on to get his ROTC commission and serves as G2 in Afganistan a couple of times. He's only been out of the service for a couple of years.
     
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  11. cash

    cash Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    The big test comes later.
     
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  12. rhp6033

    rhp6033 Sergeant Major

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    Experience is a hard teacher. First comes the test, then the lesson.
     
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  13. pamc153PA

    pamc153PA Captain Forum Host

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    I think the thing that is interesting to me, even though I am a firm believer in that "history repeating itself" line I used in my first post, is that a battle like Gettysburg, which took place 150 years ago, can still be relevant to today's military. Sure, the more "famous" parts of the battle, like Pickett's Charge, are obvious learning touchpoints (I can think of quite a few for that one!), but what about the not so famous parts? And the cavalry actions, as well?
     
  14. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy Major

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    You should always go to the right? :wink:

    R
     
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  15. Samuel.Sohm

    Samuel.Sohm First Sergeant

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    Spent 9 years in so far, and I will give you my opinion on what gettysburg has taught me personally and how I have tried to communicate it to my soldiers:

    Morale: The ANV came off of one of its largest (if not it's largest) win against the AOP after chancellorsville. Morale on the confederate side was very high, with the union camp not fairing so well in that department. When the battle started, all seemed set to continue along the same path it had before. However Lee (IMO) interpreted his previous victories and his men's morale as giving them a large advantage. This proved not to be the case later on when the union occupied a good solid defensive position and were there to fight.

    Good Commanders, Good Orders: We all know about the "well if Jackson had been there e would have done XXXXXXXX." and as a consequence there is alot of Ewell hating. People often forget that Lee's orders clearly allowed Ewell to not take Culp's Hill. Moreover he told his commanders not to "bring on a general engagement" which to mee says that Ewell would not be at liberty to push units forward and start a general engagement. Lee also had LOTS of very new senior commanders, like Hill and Ewell who were not used to his command style. Longstreet was and (IMO) did as well as any Corps commander could in his situation. Concise orders, though limiting, allow a commander to control the actions of a subordinate commander in the breach until both commanders feel each other out. Another problem was that (IMO) Pickett was not the commander to use for the 3rd day action. Not to say the charge should have been made, it was a disaster, but I think that Pickett should not have been chosen either.

    intel, Intel, INTEL: While Lee did order Stuart to go on his raid, it seems Stuart was not an unwilling participant in the fiasco that followed. "Movie" Lee said that he was the eyes of the ANV, and while the setting may be fictitious, the truth remains just that. Stuart let the army down by not giving them the intel as they had in the past. Time was too short, though noone knew it at the time, for another grand ride around the AOP. He should have found the positions of the enemy, and reported back ASAP with accurate intel. I will translate that to the RTS game that I play, Starcraft 2. In the game, if you don't have intel on your opponent you will most likely lose everytime. It seems little surprising that Lee lost as a result of a similar situation.

    This is all just my opinion.
     
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  16. pamc153PA

    pamc153PA Captain Forum Host

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    That's one important one, yes!
     
  17. Samuel.Sohm

    Samuel.Sohm First Sergeant

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    I'll give a perspective from the union side as well since I was overly concerned with the confederates before.

    Good Commanders: Many people have said that the AOP and it's generals did at gettysburg what the ANV did at chancellersville not long before. I think the former was much less of a victory than the latter, but it does give some clarity in thinking. Meade seemed to perceive what Lee was going to do in a general sense before Lee did it, which allowed him to transfer units, with a few close calls, to the trouble spots. His subordinates also showed great initiative in this respect, Hancock and G.K. Warren come to mind here.

    Good Ground: One of the most memorable situations in the movie is when Meade asks Hancock "Is this good ground?" and Hancock was not lying when he said it was. The union army, occupying the position it had, was a force to be feared on the defensive, and Lee played into their hands generally perfectly with a few exceptions. The ground at the union positions is excellent for defense, minus what sickles did anyway :tongue:
     
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  18. pamc153PA

    pamc153PA Captain Forum Host

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    Yes, I guess Sickles could be used as one of those "don't let this be you" examples.:smile:
     
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  19. Samuel.Sohm

    Samuel.Sohm First Sergeant

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    Staff rides can be any of the above, generally they are a time when Officers and Senior NCOs get a chance to learn something about history and in more of a personal sense, apply it to their lives/commands. I did a staff ride on the dropzone during the Anniversary of Operation Market Garden. A great opportunity!
     
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  20. pamc153PA

    pamc153PA Captain Forum Host

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    Okay, sort of sidebar question: does anyone know if Gettysburg was chosen for Camp Colt (pre-WWI) because of the battlefield, or because there was plenty of space for tents and tanks?
     
  21. bankerpapaw

    bankerpapaw 2nd Lieutenant

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    Don't do what Lee did and take for granted the abilities of your men.
     
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