Preview: Jeff Applequist, “Sacred Ground: Leadership Lessons from Gettysburg & The Little Bighorn

3 06 2010

I’m a little leery of the recent crop of books that attempt to draw leadership lessons from military history.  Friends have attended seminars in Gettysburg that relate modern business decision-making to incidents of the battle.  They tell me about what they read and what they were told, and most of the time I’m left shaking my head – I find they learn more legend or Civil War dogma than facts, which take a backseat to the more important lessons they supposedly support.  The same with books and programs that hold Abraham Lincoln up as some sort of model for today’s managers.  I’ve asked before and I’ll ask again – would you want to work for a boss who tells you one thing and does another; who interacts directly with your subordinates without consulting or informing you; who has no knowledge of the technical aspects of your job yet meddles in them constantly?  (I did once and it was a catastrophe.)  Though he was many other, perhaps more important things, Lincoln was no manager; certainly not one after which to model oneself.

OK, so I’m not a big fan of these books or programs.  However, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Jeff Applequist’s Sacred Ground: Leadership Lessons from Gettysburg and The Little Bighorn.  He’s a former Marine Corps officer who founded and runs Blue Knight Battlefield Seminars, which teaches leadership lessons and team building on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Little Bighorn.  From the inside jacket:

As leaders we have all faced moments of truth throughout our professional careers.  Important decisions directly impacting the success or failure of our teams and organizations have sometimes rested in our hands.  Is it possible that we could actually learn from historical examples how to make better decisions?  Is it possible to use lessons from history to improve in other dimensions of our leadership as well?  The answer is a resounding yes.

These questions should sound familiar: How do we manage through profound change?  How can we motivate our people in chaotic circumstances?  How do we make good decisions despite imperfect information?  How can we communicate more effectively?  How do we see things from another person’s point of view?  How can we better understand another culture in a global economy?  How will we win or even survive in a highly competitive and uncertain world?  The challenges leaders faced long ago are the same as those that leaders confront today.

In Sacred Ground, Jeff Applequist takes us on an amazing journey of exploration and discovery to the Gettysburg and Little Bighorn battlefields.  By studying these momentous events through the lens of individual leadership and team dynamics, we see that the stories from history are fascinating, the parallels to today are memorable, and the principles of leadership enduring. 

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Preview: Dick Stanley, “Knoxville 1863″

1 06 2010

Dick Stanley of Austin, TX sent me a copy of his new book, Knoxville 1863, a novel about, well, Knoxville in 1863.  (For you folks who have wholeheartedly entered the 21st century, this is also available as an ebook.)  I’ve only skimmed the book, but this fictional account of the seige of Knoxville and the battle at Ft. Sanders seems to focus primarily on the 79th NY (the Highlanders) and Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade.  Stanley’s narrator is a Knoxville resident, the widow of a Confederate officer, through whose eyes and recollections the reader is brought up to speed on the war and Tennessee up to the point of the Confederate encirclement of the city and beyond.  From the back cover:

Gettysburg held.  Vicksburg has fallen.  Now rebel flags ring Knoxville in East Tennessee.  Longstreet means to wrench this railroad hub away from the occupying Union army.

To do it his ragged and starving men, veterans of Gettysburg such as Barksdale’s Mississippi Brigade, must climb the icy, clay walls of Fort Sanders.

Inside are the New York Cameron Highlanders who are on half-rations and have never won a battle.  Yet they have special faith in the young lieutenant who leads them.

In Washington President Lincoln waits for news.  He sees the struggle as one more key to preserving the Union, freeing the slaves, and victory in the Civil War.

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Review: Elizabeth Hoole McArthur, “Bound for Glory”

30 05 2010

Dr. Elizabeth Hoole McArthur was kind – and yes, savvy – enough to send me a copy of her short book, Bound for Glory: A Brief History of the Darlington Rifles, Precursor Volunteer Militia to Company A, Eighth South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, C.S.A, Origin through First Manasas, for review.  I finished off the 68 pages of text pretty quickly.  This is a readable, concise account of the company from its militia days, beginning in 1834, through the end of the First Battle of Bull Run.  However, it draws primarily upon official reports of 8th SC commander Col. E. B. C. Cash, Army of the Potomac commander P. G. T. Beauregard, and memoirs of D. A. Dickert of the 3rd SC, which along with the 8th was part of Bonham’s brigade at Bull Run and afterwards.  Because Dr. McArthur is working on a biography of Co. A’s Captain Axalla John Hoole (her great-grandfather) as well as a history of the 8th SC for Broadfoot’s SC Regimental-Roster series, I suppose I expected more extracts from letters, diaries and memoirs of members of Co. A and the rest of the 8th SC.  But for folks looking for detail on Co. A, the author has included several appendices, including a listing of the members of the Darlington Rifles on 2/9/1861, a listing of the members of Co. A of the 8th SC on 10/18/1861, and three additional rolls for the company from after the war.  I’m hopeful that Bound for Glory represents a good start for Dr. McArthur as she continues her work on her ancestor, his company and his regiment.

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In the Queue: Four Previews and a Review

28 05 2010

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received four books from publishers and authors.  Sorry for the delay, but I hope to get three of them previewed and one reviewed here in the next week.  I also have one highly anticipate release that I just received from Amazon – it’s not Bull Run related, but concerns another campaign that is near and dear to me.  It’s a very important book, probably the most significant ever produced by its publisher.  I’ll have a preview of that, too.  Of course, just when I have this backlog work has picked up as well.  A good problem to have, I suppose.  Stay tuned!

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Interview: Ed Bearss “Receding Tide”

17 05 2010

On April 8th I interviewed NPS Historian Emeritus Ed Bearss (via telephone) about his new book, set for release tomorrow, May 18.  I’ll get to the interview in a minute, but first here’s what I submitted to America’s Civil War for my July 2010 previews, courtesy of the good people at the magazine:

Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War, Edwin C. Bearss with J. Parker Hills

Ed Bearss is known as the Pied Piper of the National Park Service.  His battlefield tours are legendary, as are his photographic memory, stentorian voice, and physical stamina.  If there has been one criticism of Mr. Bearss’s work it is that his ability to spellbind tourists on the battlefield has not translated to his writings.  The good folks at National Geographic tried to remedy this deficiency – if it can be called that, since Bearss’s The Vicksburg Campaign is a tour de force after 25 years – with 2006’s Fields of Honor, which consisted of transcriptions of Bearss tours of about twenty Civil War sites.  This year they follow that up with Receding Tide, which uses more detailed transcriptions to focus more narrowly on the period from the end of 1862 through the early days of July and the twin Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

I was a little nervous about the interview, which was set up courtesy of Penny Dackis at National Geographic.  I bought a digital recorder for the event, and like most of you I really hate the way I sound on tape (or digital).  Add that to the fact I was going to be talking to possibly the most recognizable name – definitely the most recognizable voice – among students of the war, and you see where I’m coming from.  I tried my best to throw my questions in quickly, step back and let the man speak.

BR: Your new book, Receding Tide, covers a broad period and is concerned with more than simply the campaigns of Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

EB: It starts with the Union setbacks of Fredericksburg and Chickasaw Bayou, when the Union has run into severe difficulties.  It follows through to the early stages of the Vicksburg Campaign when the Confederates are doing fairly well, and through Chancellorsville, playing [the two theaters of operation] off against each other, and ending for all practical purposes on the Fourth of July, 1863, though Gettysburg doesn’t really end until Lee crosses [the Potomac] and Vicksburg doesn’t end until Sherman drives the Confederates out of Jackson.

BR: The concept behind this book is similar to that of Fields of Honor, which National Geographic published in 2007?

EB: Yes, both books are basically transcriptions of recordings of my tours at the various sites.  In Receding Tide, [co-author J. Parker Hills] edits them down and fills in the connecting parts.

BR: In what ways do these projects differ from traditional works, like your Vicksburg Campaign?

EB: I’m standing on the spot when I’m talking about what happened there.  People who liked the first volume said it comes across like I’m talking, that it’s like being on the field with me.  Talking in the field, you can get more emotions in than if you’re writing and footnoting everything.  People who like oral presentations like it the best.  Fields of Honor has sold better than any book I’ve written.

BR: How do you think the two types of works, the tour transcriptions versus traditional works like your Vicksburg set, differ – that is do you like one better than the other, or are they really apples and oranges?

EB: The three-volume Vicksburg study is for people who want to know everythingReceding Tide looks more at the highlights, interesting facts and personalities.  It has more of an emotional appeal.

BR: Would you say it tells a better story?

EB: Yes.

BR: What different challenges are presented when conducting a tour of Vicksburg versus Gettysburg?

EB: Gettysburg is much better known – in the English language, there are more books on Gettysburg and Little Big Horn than any other campaigns because they sell well.  Little Big Horn sells well because nobody really knows what happened in those last thirty minutes or so.  Gettysburg sells well because so much has been written and is known about it, particularly the controversies.  I can do a complete tour of Vicksburg, for a well-informed group, in about three days: two on the campaign up to the seige, and one on the seige.  Gettysburg, because of the knowledge of the general public and the interest in the personalities, the fighting of the Lost Cause, the Meade/Sickles controversy, and the fact that more people know a lot more about Gettysburg, it takes longer to tour.  The buffs know a lot about Vicksburg, but the general public doesn’t. 

When I took the job with the National Park Service at Vicksburg in 1955, I did so because it was the only Civil War site that had an opening.  If I had had my choice, I would have said “Give me an eastern battlefield, give me Gettysburg”.  That’s what everyone wanted, what everyone was writing about.  Catton had just finished his trilogy, and Lee’s Lieutenants focused primarily on that.  But when I got out there I found out Vicksburg had a lot going for it.  I’d more or less become convinced that the Vicksburg Campaign is why Grant became General-in-Chief in February of 1864.  Meade’s result after the Battle of Gettysburg was not what the President wanted.  In his mind, Vicksburg was a more important victory than Gettysburg – except for the address he gave there.

You can argue that the worst day of Meade’s life was when he issued the congratulatory order to his troops on July 7th, where he calls on them for “further exertion to drive the enemy from our soil.”  Lincoln will say “My God, my God!  What does the man mean?  It is all our soil!”  On the same day, Lincoln gets the message from Grant that Vicksburg has fallen.  And not only had Grant accomplished the military objective, he has opened the Mississippi river to divide the Confederacy, and has destroyed a Confederate army of 40,000 men.

BR: The letter that Lincoln wrote to Meade, the one he never sent, it has always struck me that we can give so much import to a letter like that, one that Lincoln thought better of and didn’t send, when we don’t have any idea how many other letters like that were written and to whom.

EB: We only know about this one because he kept a copy.

BR: And because Nicolay and Hay made sure it was preserved.

EB: Right.

BR: Are there any similar studies like this from National Geographic in the works?

EB: Yes.  Because of the increased interest in the Revolutionary War, we’re considering doing a book on those conflicts similar to Fields of Honor, which will again be based on my battlefield tours.

There was more, but we moved far afield from the focus of the book, talking a lot about Meade and the bad spot into which he was put after Grant was named General-in-Chief and how history has perhaps misrepresented what Meade would or would not have done had Grant not come east; the influence of surviving correspondence (or lack of same) on the way history has treated various commanders; and even an interesting tidbit regarding why he doesn’t spend much time on the internet and what influenced his decision to retire from the NPS (in short, in the 1940s real men didn’t type).  Maybe at some later time I’ll cover that material here.

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July 2010 America’s Civil War

1 05 2010

I received the new America’s Civil War in the mail yesterday.  Again, lots of good stuff inside.

  • Rebels in Check by Ethan Rafuse – Nobody played the game better than Bobby Lee.  Until his luck ran out at Gettysburg.
  • Could This Man Have Stopped the War? by Thomas Horrocks – James Buchanan left a monumental mess for the next guy to clean up.
  • “It’s No Use Killing Them” by Zack Waters and James Edmonds – The 2nd Florida fought in Lee’s army, but forged its own stature.
  • Tracing Natchez by Joe Glickman – From Grant’s mansion quarters to funky watering holes, Natchez oozes atmosphere.

These are but prelude to the real reason folks buy the magazine: my reviews.  As I mentioned before, Smeltzer’s Six-Pack has bitten the dust.  In the last couple of installments we had fallen off the formula of pairing new releases with older books on the same or similar topic – a formula which I felt set the column apart, but which fell victim to the need to preview an increasing number of new books in every issue.  July debuts Harry’s Just Wild About…, in which I’ll preview four or five new or re-issued titles (I’m not sure what they’ll call it if I happen to not be wild about any of the books).  Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like – that’s me at the Pittsburgh Irish Festival a few years ago:As you can see, I lead off with Ed Bearss’s new Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War.  Also in this issue: The Great Task Remaining: The Third Year of the Civil War, by William Marvel; Gray Ghost: The Life of Col. John Singleton Mosby, by James A. Ramage; and The Battle of Cedar Creek: Victory From the Jaws of Defeat, by Jonathan Noyalas.

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Review: Gettysburg Battlewalks

22 04 2010

If you’re lucky enough to live in Pennsylvania (or otherwise receive PCN on your TV package), then you’re probably acquainted with the channel’s annual Gettysburg Battlewalks.  Every July 1, 2, & 3 since 1996 they have broadcast specialized tours conducted by NPS Rangers and Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides during the anniversary of the battle.  (Although for the last few years the PA legislature can’t seem to finalize the budget by the July 1 deadline, so we’ve been treated to endless hours of truly bizarre bickering which has pushed the air dates back a week or more.) These tours are very popular with the 37 million people who converge on Gettysburg the first three days of July, who are happy to wear shorts in 90 degree weather and hip high grass (check out the guides, folks: they NEVER, EVER wear shorts.  Guess why?).  The tours are pretty specific, focusing on the actions of individual corps, divisions, brigades, even regiments.  PCN trails along and films each tour, panning over the crowd and the terrain but devoting most of the face time to the guides.  Then in the evening three or four of the tours are broadcast.  The rest of the day, tours from previous years are shown.  I have dozens and dozens of these tours on VHS and DVD.  They’re awesome time suckers.

The good folks at PCN sent me a copy of one of the Battlewalk DVD’s for review.  This particular tour is Ranger Troy Harman’s Longstreet’s Flank Attack:

General Longstreet authorized an after-dark scouting party to search for ways “by which we might strike the enemy’s left.”  He began to implement a tactical turning maneuver early on the last day of the battle, before General Lee cancelled it.  National Park Service Ranger Troy Harman poses the question – what if Lee had followed through with Longstreet’s plan?

Go here to order this or one of the many other Battlewalks that PCN has made available on DVD for $25.25 plus shipping and applicable sales tax.  Run times vary – Longstreet’s Flank Attack is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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