Book Review: Leadership Lessons - The Campaigns for Vicksburg 1862 - 1863
Paul Robinson cracks open a book by Kevin Dougherty about one of the most important campaigns during the American Civil War.
Here is something to bring out the inner management consultant in all of you! This book by Kevin J Dougherty combines a succinct history lesson of one the key campaigns of the American Civil War along side advice for leaders that are applicable to all endeavours and not just to the military sphere. Mr. Dougherty is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and he has authored numerous books on the subject of the American Civil War (The Peninsula Campaign of 1862, Civil War leadership and Mexican War Experience, Great Commanders Head to Head and The Strangling of the Confederacy: Coastal Operations in the Civil War). He is formerly a faculty member in the history Department at the University of Southern Mississippi and is currently a Tactical Officer at the Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina.
The author begins the book by explaining his understanding of the meaning of the term Leadership. This, he states, is "the process of influencing others to work towards organizational goals; it provides purpose, direction, and motivation. In war it is the most dynamic element of combat power." He then goes on to state that the lessons of American Civil War leaders learned during the Vicksburg Campaign are transferrable to a variety of leadership situations, both in battle and elsewhere. Thus he gives himself a clear mandate that is not just about exploring the whys and wherefores of a particular military event but one that is to provide a wider explanation and application of leadership itself.
The book is split into two unequal parts. The first (and shortest) has a brief but informative overview of the organization of the armies, the way communications and staffs functioned and the culture of the troops of both sides. This is then followed by a fairly straightforward but very readable re-telling of the Vicksburg Campaign plus a limited but informative strategic overview of the plans of the Federal forces to overcome the Confederacy. The second part is a series of thirty short chapters, which the author terms Leadership Vignettes. These pick out a particular leadership lessons from the Campaign. There is a description of the particular incident or action from the Campaign or the War in general. Then the leadership lessons themselves are identified, dissected and discussed. At the end of each vignette a short bulleted list or Takeaway (on average of between 3 to 5 points) of key learning is provided for the reader. For example in the Vignette on Ulysses Grant and Taking Risk the Takeaways are:
- Leaders must be willing to take risks
- Risk-takers must be prepared for criticism
- There is a difference between a risk and a gamble, and risk takers must initiate measures to mitigate the risk
- Risk-taking should result in a temporary condition that furthers opportunity elsewhere
The subject matter of the vignettes ranges from the influence of the Anaconda Plan proposed by Winfield Scott (The Mighty Mississippi) through different types of leaders, using the raids of Forrest and Van Dorn (The Self Made man and the Reinvented Man) to the influence of personal initiative (The Federal Mine) and finally selfless service of the individual (A Tragic Hero). All levels and issues are discussed from the strategic to the tactical and from the competent to the incompetent. Also comparisons are made with leadership or management lessons (both civilian and military) from more modern times for example the "Illumination Studies" of the nineteen twenties or the German phenomena of Auftragstaktik.
In the final chapter Mr. Dougherty summarises the main lessons under the headings; Strategy, Confidence, Unity of Effort, Frame of Reference, Situational Awareness, Risk-Taking, Problem-Solving, Personal Bravery and finally Technical Skill, referring the reader back to particular Vignettes. It is interesting that the author leaves the reader to pick up their own learning from this book and does not preach or try to convert you to a particular way forward or method of leadership merely re-directing you back to the places in the book where one might reflect on these issues!
The book is occasionally punctuated with black and white pictures of some of the locations and personalities discussed. These are interesting but add nothing particularly to the text other than "atmospherics".
There is also a useful Appendix, Vicksburg Campaign Order of Battle. For the Federal side this gives the breakdown by Corps, Brigade and Division to individual regiments and batteries (plus their commanders). For the Confederate forces it is a similar breakdown. Troop numbers are not given for any formation level.
After a somewhat sceptical start (I thought the short Vignettes would be too "bite size" and therefore somewhat unsatisfying) I found this book grew on me. It is well written in a clear and lucid style and the leadership lessons that are drawn down from the Vicksburg Campaign are relevant and, in my opinion, valid. I have to say caveat emptor -- though this isn't a history of the Vicksburg Campaign as such, it is a book definitely about Leadership. And therefore I would recommend it as such; the fact that the lessons are based on a fascinating part of a well known conflict is a bonus to those of us whose interests span the fields of military issue and personal self improvement!
Leadership Lessons The Campaigns for Vicksburg is available now from Casemate in hardback priced £25.00 or $32.95 (ISBN 9781612000039).
Book review written by: Paul Robinson, Staff Writer