Leadership Lessons From Gettysburg


This past week, we commemorated the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, which many historians target as the turning point of the Civil War.  The 3 day battle is a sad reminder of one of the darkest times in our course as a nation where 8,000 Americans were killed and 28,000 were injured.  It was a tragedy which pit brother against brother and friend against friend.

Interestingly, it was a David and Goliath type scenario with the seasoned General Robert E. Lee and the less experienced Union commander, General George Meade.  Lee, while a brilliant military strategist, allowed internal problems to cause a decisive loss for the Confederate Army.

He stopped short of the goal.
Historians believe that Lee retreated before they were able to properly assess their losses.  There is a Roman war term referred to as a Pyrrhic Victory in which the “victors” suffer just as many or even more losses that the defeated.  The Union and Confederate casualty numbers are roughly the same.  Lee’s colleagues concur that while they lost the battle, they still met their own objectives.  How often do we stop short?  We give up early because we face adversity and trials.  Yet we know that not only is God’s power demonstrated more powerfully in the darkness, but that He gives us strength to persevere (2 Corinthians 4:6, Romans 5:2-5).

He had a false sense of security.
Again we see someone reviewing his resume and counting his medals.  He based his confidence on past victories instead of properly reading his current situation.  He was really under the notion that his men were invincible because of their previous battles.  Perhaps his focus was on winning one more medal instead of his army’s welfare and the greater cause.  Samson made the same mistake when the Philistines cut his hair and bound him.  “I’ll shake myself free as before” he said, not realizing that God’s spirit had left him.  We don’t strut over our accomplishments but redirect attention and praise to God! (1 Corinthians 1:31).

His closest associates weren’t trustworthy.
While Lee was a master tactician, he didn’t necessarily surround himself with the best and wisest counsel or allies.

  • General James Longstreet didn’t attack at the time Lee instructed and when he acted, it was half-hearted.  He disagreed with Lee’s plans and tried to insert his own opinions.
  • General J.E.B. Stuart left Lee hanging and deprived him of intelligence by moving the 3 strongest brigades away from the army.  They were aware of some of the Union’s weaknesses but never communicated that to Lee.
  • General Richard Ewell failed to carry out Lee’s orders and left the Confederate Army vulnerable.
  • General A.P Hill is actually credited with causing the battle to begin and escalating it which directly violated Lee’s orders.

If we are to accomplish what we’ve set out to do, we must choose carefully those with whom we spend our time.  Are they people who help us to be better?  Are they pointing us back to God?  Encourage us?  Will they have our back through any and all situations?  (Proverbs 24:6, 1 Corinthians 15:33)

He focused so much on the cause that he didn’t take care of himself.
Lee had a serious case of angina which is caused by coronary artery disease.  He later confessed to Jefferson Davis that his physical condition prevented him from offering his best on the battlefield, and said, “I am so dull that in making use of the eyes of others I am frequently misled.”  He either shouldn’t have been on the battlefield, or should have known when to bow out and let another general lead the charge.

But like many other “successful” people, his job came first with no regard to longevity.  God wants us to be healthy not just spiritually but physically and emotionally as well.  It is our responsibility to eat balanced diets, to exercise, get enough sleep, observe the Sabbath, and to be aware of our limitations.  If we can’t master these key areas, we will not make it long term (Exodus 20:9-10, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).


God wants us to make it for the long haul.  He will give us what we need for the journey and the specific tasks He has for us to accomplish.  But let’s remember it’s a cooperative effort in which we have to do our part to remain faithful not only to His Word but to common sense.

Disclaimer:  I am in no way endorsing the political and social views of the Confederate Army.  


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