On July 4th, 1863, the tide of the Civil War finally turned because of leadership. In the 27 months preceding that date, Abraham Lincoln was setting his people up for success.
After two years of struggle, the Union Army was finally living up to expectations. By the end of this day, the North had sealed its two biggest victories of the Civil War, Gettysburg and Vicksburg, within hours of each other. General Robert E. Lee’s army was finally on the run, and the North took control of the strategically vital Mississippi River. Total victory was finally in sight. Finally.
When the war first started, the Confederacy had the momentum. It seemed far more capable and ready to fight. Despite being heavily outnumbered in population and manufacturing capacity, they had more experienced military leaders; they were the ones with the desire to win; it was their fight for independence. The South had much more to gain, and much more to lose.
So, how did Lincoln’s leadership meet that moment when momentum finally shifted?
Continuing Education: Lincoln had little more to start with than a green military “division” of 17,000 soldiers from coast to coast with few capable leaders at the rank of general. With no military experience of his own to speak of and minimal expert advice, Lincoln faced a vertical learning curve. Yet, by reading everything he could and listening to the soldiers and commanders in the field, the self-educated President got himself up to speed quickly.
Gathering the Best: Lincoln constantly looked for those people who could bring him the victory. The hiring of Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War was a huge step in the right direction. An excellent manager and administrator, Stanton was a tireless worker who could be counted on to get the Union what it needed. Together, Stanton and Lincoln planned the strategy for victory. Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, another outstanding manager, made sure that Stanton and Lincoln always had enough money in the bank to accomplish their goals.
Terminating the Worst: Although Lincoln primarily brought in General George McClellan to organize and train the army, it soon became apparent that he didn’t have what it took to fight. When Lincoln finally realized that he was better off taking a chance on others than sticking with Little Mac, he made the move too few managers are willing to make. On a side note, when General George Meade failed to chase Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln replaced him with the winner of Vicksburg, Ulysses S. Grant. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Despite being heavily outnumbered in population and manufacturing capacity, they had more experienced military leaders; they were the ones with the desire to win; it was their fight for independence. The South had much more to gain, and much more to lose.
Giving People What They Need to Succeed: As the war would still carry on for almost two more years, the stories on both sides of the battle lines became very different. On the Southern side, tattered clothes, lack of proper footwear, miniscule food rations, and lack of ammunition were the topics of conversation and letters written home to loved ones. Up North though, the story was quite the opposite: By example, by inspiration, and by decree if necessary, Lincoln made sure his troops would benefit from the gigantic Northern industrial machine that was behind them, as well as the millions who volunteered, rationed, and supported the young men they sent to bring them home victory.
Being Flexible: Six months and four days before this game-changing moment, Lincoln also unleashed the power of thousands of African-American soldiers on the South with the Emancipation Proclamation. The number one goal was victory. An obstacle as huge as prevalent racism was not going to stop Lincoln from winning. The risk of alienating some people was too small and the rewards were too big not to let these men help fight for freedom.
- General William Tecumseh Sherman filled in Grant’s position and decimated what was left of the Confederacy’s manufacturing capacity.
- Close to 180,000 African-Americans would fight on the side of the Union before the war’s end.
- Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia less than two years later not because he couldn’t fight anymore – but because there was “no hope.”
Be prepared for the moment. When facing an improbable situation, leaders must remain optimistic and start the process of winning. Bring in the people that can do, move the ones who won’t out of the way, gather your resources, be flexible, and keep learning. The time will come.
For more on the Battle of Gettysburg, visit http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg.html.
For more on the Battle of Vicksburg, see http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/vicksburg/maps/vicksburgmap.html.