“If you want a decision, go to the point of danger.” The quote, famously stated by General Jim Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II, was a key point during the 18th Field Artillery staff ride that occurred Jan. 19 at Chancellorsville, Virginia.
Colonel John L. Rafferty Jr., the 18th Field Artillery Brigade commander, echoed the famous quote to brigade leaders on the terrain where the Confederate Army defeated the Union Army during the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Rafferty emphasized the importance of leaders being present at critical times and places. In small groups, leaders discussed the battle using contemporary military doctrine, including the warfighting functions, the principles of war, and fundamentals of mission command.
According to Civil War historians, Maj. Gen. Joseph Lee Hooker, the Union commander, was confined to his headquarters during most of the fighting. He did not move to the point of “danger.” However, Gen. Robert E. Lee and his confidant, Maj. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson of the Confederate Army, traveled throughout the field of battle and gathered information, enabling them to decide on a flanking maneuver to attack the Union Army.
Rafferty mentioned that Hooker was a victim of confirmation bias. All indicators simply reinforced his belief that his plan was perfect.
“When Hooker was presented with the reality of the battle, it was too late and he did not adjust,” Rafferty said.
The Confederate Army won the battle despite having limited resources and being outnumbered by the Union Army two to one.
Artillery fires also played a decisive role in the battle. In the beginning stages of the battle, Hooker reorganized the Union Army by ordering artillery and infantry commanders to pull back from Hazel Grove, one of the few elevated locations that gave artillery units a clear field of fire. The Confederate Army seized Hazel Grove, and massed the majority of their artillery firepower against the Union Army, which gave them another tactical advantage in their victory.
1st Lt. Alexander Smith of the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment learned that “the proper employment of artillery can make or break you.”
“General Hooker did not trust his commanders,” said Smith. “You need to trust your subordinates and allow them to take disciplined initiative.”
Capt. Jenkins Dove, a native of Virginia, is well versed in Civil War battles in his home state. He attended his first Civil War battle re-enactment, the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness at Chancellorsville, while in elementary school.
“I am glad to come back here now with the lens of experience gained from a deployment to Afghanistan,” said Dove, who majored in history with a focus of on the Civil War at the University of Virginia. “I will be able to use this experience as I prepare for Battery Command.”
Rafferty said the staff ride was a high payoff leader development and teambuilding event.
“The fundamentals of mission command and principles of war might be “abstract” to some leaders, especially younger leaders,” said Rafferty. “But when you walk the battlefield and study the events that occurred, it brings those fundamentals and principles to life. You gain a better understanding of why decisions were made and whether the outcomes were positive or negative for the Union or Confederate Army.”