Head-Quarters, Army of the Potomac, July 4, 1863
General Orders, No. 68.
The Commanding General, in behalf of the country, thanks the Army of the Potomac for the glorious result of the recent operations.
An enemy superior in numbers and flushed with the pride of a successful invasion, attempted to overcome and destroy this Army. Utterly baffled and defeated, he has now withdrawn from the contest. The privations and fatigue the Army has endured, and the heroic courage and gallantry it has displayed will be matters of history to be remembered.
Our task is not yet accomplished, and the Commanding General looks to the Army for greater efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader.
It is right and proper that we should, on all suitable occasions, return our grateful thanks to the Almighty Disposer of events, that in the goodness of His Providence He has thought fit to give victory to the cause of the just.
By command of Major General Meade.
Good leaders provide immediate recognition.
Immediate recognition is a powerful incentive. As in the case of the Boy Scouts of America who immediately advance a Scout to the next rank when the Scout overcomes the challenges of the rank and merit badge requirements. This immediate recognition builds the Scout’s self-confidence and encourages the Scout to accept new challenges in order to achieve the next rank on their trail towards Eagle Scout. In this letter, Meade uses immediate recognition the same way. Notice the date of the order, July 4th, immediately after the battle but Meade was not assured that the Confederates were in full retreat until July 5th. In fact, right before issuing the order Meade telegraphed Major General Halleck stating the Confederates had merely thrown back their left. Much like the Scout who has overcome a challenge, Meade takes the time to praise his troops before they face the next challenge. It is a simple “thank you” statement where he acknowledges the “privations and fatigue” suffered and “heroic courage and gallantry” displayed. He acknowledges the “Almighty Disposer” who he called on previously to motivate the troops. Simple as it is, there are leaders who fail to do this. Some because they convince themselves that “the troops know I care for them” or worse, the leaders take all the credit but most of the time, it is because the leaders want to hold a big ceremony at a later date. Just think about your own experiences. Which felt better, the pat on the back right after accomplishing a challenging task or the plaque received weeks later at some quarterly award ceremony? Meade did not have time to wait weeks. He hoped to catch the Confederates before they crossed the Potomac. His troops needed the immediate boost in self-confidence. Meade provided that boost with this simple note. The big ceremony would come, in 1865 at the Grand Review.
Good leaders build on success.
In April, we looked at how good leaders set tough, realistic goals. Meade established a tough, realistic goal to "relieve it [the country] from the devastation and disgrace of a hostile invasion." Now that the Army had stopped the invasion, it was time for Meade to raise the bar and build on the success. Meade asked “the Army for greater efforts to drive from our soil every vestige of the presence of the invader.” To encourage the troops to accept and overcome this challenge, Meade states the Confederates are “utterly baffled and defeated.”
Admonishment: Good leaders find success in failure.
Unfortunately it is the statement “from our soil” that will haunt Meade until the end of the war. While Meade was trying to encourage his troops with this letter, he was sending reports back to Washington trying to moderate the expectations of those expecting the total destruction of the Confederate Army. When the Confederates escaped across the Potomac, President Lincoln said, “Will our generals never get that idea out of their heads? The whole country is our soil.” In the days that followed: Lincoln expressed his disappointment to Halleck and penned a letter to Meade that was never sent; Halleck passed on the disappointment to Meade; Meade took it as a censure and offered his resignation; and Lincoln declined the resignation stating, “I am grateful to Meade for the great service he did at Gettysburg.” It is amazing to think that after winning a three day battle, Meade would almost be fired over three words. Obviously, it was not just the words. But how many times in our lives do we overlook someone else’s accomplishments because they failed to live up to our expectations? Then we focus on some small act or words to admonish them instead of praising them and encouraging them to achieve new goals. Meade was able to find success. He stated in a letter to his wife, “the men behaved splendidly; I really think they are becoming soldiers.” Whatever admonishment Meade received, he refused to let it spoil the success achieved by the Army of the Potomac.
Copyright 2014 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
Gettysburg Lessons in the Digital Age
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