“The battle Chancellorsville was one which I believe neither side, the Union nor the Confederates won. Both sides made major mistakes that hurt them in their efforts to win the war.” With these words our guide from the National Parks Service opened her 45 minute presentation on the battle of Chancellorsville and the events surrounding the death of General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.
This battle is often considered to be General Robert E Lee’s most decisive and best example of his superior military decision making. With less than half the forces of General Hooker, Union Commander of the Army of the Potomac, Lee decisively defeated Hooker in the two day battle that took place on May 1st and 2nd1963. Its decisive events gave Lee the confidence that he could invade the North and ultimately led to the Battle of Gettysburg.
Here’s how our guide and Wikipedia described the strategy for the North: Hooker planned a bold double envelopment of Lee's forces, sending four corps on a stealthy march northwest, turning south to cross the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers, turning east, and striking Lee in his rear. The remaining corps would strike Lee's front through Fredericksburg. Meanwhile, some 7,500 cavalry under Maj. Gen. George Stoneman were to raid deep into the Confederate rear areas, destroying crucial supply depots along the railroad from the Confederate capital in Richmond to Fredericksburg, which would cut Lee's lines of communication and supply. This bold, aggressive plan was later known as Stoneman's Raid.
The problem occurred when first Stoneman’s cavalry were thwarted by the rising river and were unable to achieve their goal of cutting Lee’s lines of communication and supply. Despite this Hooker’s plan still had the chance to succeed if only he would have persisted in his own strategy. Lee broke one of the principals of war by dividing his small force in half with the intent of having Jackson attack Hooker’s flank. If Hooker had kept with his own strategy and continued to concentrate his forces and drive against Lee’s position he would have eventually overwhelmed Lee’s defensive position. Instead he decided to divide his own forces believing what he thought Lee would do when he faced the overwhelming Union Army - retreat. When Hooker spotted Jackson’s forces moving away from Lee’s defensive position he immediately believed Lee was retreating, when in fact Jackson was moving to the left to flank Hooker. Later that evening Hooker’s troops were attacked by Jackson and, totally unprepared, were routed.
Why didn’t Hooker stay with his original plan and continue to move forward in a line toward Fredericksburg? No one knows for sure. However how often do we as leaders change our strategy? It’s a lesson that is often learned the hard way. In this case once again the Union leader of the Army of the Potomac would pay for it with his job. Lincoln quickly replaced Hooker after this battle with General Meade.
When one spends considerable time working on a plan for your business why would you change your plans so quickly? The power of being decisive leads to confidence. Confidence in the preparations you’ve made and in the ability to lead. The contrast in strategy and decision making is most apparent in this battle. Lee, faced with enormous odds against him was decisive. He divided his forces and sent Jackson on a wide maneuver that could have been disastrous. Yet at the end of the day he won the battlefield. Had Hooker only advanced, his concentrated forces would have totally overwhelmed Lee’s greatly reduced forces which were directly in line with his first objective Fredericksburg.
Yet as great a victory as Lee achieved the final outcome was hollow and equally devastating to Lee. As Jackson moved to the head of his battle lines late in the evening of May 1st he was shot by his own troops as he returned from a reconnaissance exercise. As advancing sunset descended on the battlefield, the fog of war and a failure to communicate who he was and where he intended to go was not delivered to the Confederate troops who were in the area Jackson scouted. Jackson hoped to press the advantage his army had gained that day by discovering the measure of his opponent. He was shot several times as he returned to the lines, suggesting just how poorly informed his troops were. In fact when one of Jackson’s officer’s told the Confederates they were shooting at friendly forces, one of the skirmishes shouted back, “That’s a lie, pour it on them men!”
The result, while Jackson’s immediate wounds were not fatal, he did lose his arm and eventually succumbed to pneumonia about 8 days later.
General Lee and Confederate forces won a decisive victory. Yet in the end Lee lost his most trusted General, someone whom he could rely on to carry out his plans exactly as he intended. It would cost him dearly at the Battle of Gettysburg not to have Jackson’s leadership.
Communication is so important in our organizations and how many times do we lose the initiative or end up shooting ourselves in the foot simply because we fail to communicate well?
Meeting Rhythms, particularly the daily huddles offer the greatest opportunity to communicate responsibilities, roadblocks and victories to our co-workers. Victory in our businesses can often be easily attained with just a consistent system for communication.
Have you found communication to be a frequent obstacle in your business? I urge you to ask for our help with the Meeting Rhythms described in Verne Harnish’s book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits which were so instrumental in helping John D Rockefeller achieve his extraordinary success.