Air Force General Counsel Blog The chief legal officer and chief ethics official of the Department of the Air Force


Lessons From the Battle of Gettysburg

Today is the 150th anniversary of the first day of the three day Battle of Gettysburg.  James Holmes offer five lessons leaned from this historic battle.  Here is a sample of this must-read essay:

Battle by accident. We often assume that master tacticians hatch master plans that yield great victories. Gettysburg implies that master tacticians are those who improvise on the fly amid shifting surroundings. Neither Confederate commander Robert E. Lee nor Union commander George Meade set out to fight for the town, for the nearby heights, or for any other piece of local terrain. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia invaded Pennsylvania, and Meade's Army of the Potomac followed. They met at a then-obscure town in the Pennsylvania outback. Opportunism matters in combat situations.

Dispersal v. concentration. Lee's army had dispersed across southern Pennsylvania to forage when Meade's more or less concentrated host crossed the Potomac River into northern Maryland to constitute a threat. Lee hastily gathered his army lest isolated units be entrapped and annihilated, subjecting the Army of Northern Virginia to the death of a thousand cuts. Clausewitz's counsel that there's no higher or simpler law than to concentrate at decisive points on the map at crucial junctures applies. As Corbett observes, channeling Clausewitz, successful military forces exhibit a sort of elasticity. They disperse and concentrate as circumstances warrant.

Read it all here.

Charles A. Blanchard
General Counsel
United States Air Force