Lessons From The Battle Of Fredericksburg 1862 - For The Martial Arts

By Dennis Lawson
Published on Dec 31st, 2009

As part of my continuing research on how organizations function, I look for lessons wherever and whenever they present themselves. Recently, I watched Fredericksburg again. This documentary film concerning a decisive battle early in the American Civil War offered many lessons that can aid any martial arts organization.

General Henry Halleck was responsible for providing the pontoon bridges that would be necessary to allow the Union forces to cross the Rappahannock River into the town of Fredericksburg. The pontoons were not made available in a timely manner. Halleck’s poor planning produced a 10 day delay. The Union delay in crossing the river allowed Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia to move up and reinforce Fredericksburg. An organization’s management must learn to evaluate each available asset and be aware of its strengths and weaknesses. An individual manager must follow up and facilitate any orders that are given, making sure that they are capable of being followed and executed in the required timeframe. It’s important to remember that any delay in executing a plan may allow the opposition to press their advantage. Because of this delay, Southern forces were able to position themselves on Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road. This was the highest (Marye’s Heights) and best protected (Sunken Road) ground in the area. The importance of this prior positioning cannot be underestimated. The high (moral) ground could be a symbol of a values-based focus for an organization’s leadership. Leadership must define the larger goals and values for the company, organization, project, battle, etc. Roy Disney said, “Decision making is easy when values are clear.” Sharing the organizations values allow leadership to build general consensus with associates through dialogue. Then, various associates can follow up to fulfill specific tasks that have been agreed upon as important.

The Battle of Fredericksburg itself is an example of the importance of regular and consistent communication with associates. The assault on Marye’s Heights was, in theory, a diversion for a more focused assault on Prospect Hill. Marye’s Heights turned into a bloodbath as wave after wave of Union forces were thrown against a force with the advantage of higher ground and artillery. The commander of the Union army, Gen. Burnside, gave vague orders, so the assault on the Heights continued. On Prospect Hill, Gen. Meade’s army needed support to press their advantage. If Meade had good and timely communication and proper backup, that part of the battle may have gone in the Union forces favor. The Union army was unable to press the battle effectively due to Burnside’s unclear orders and especially, a lack of updated information during the battle. Coordinators on the “front line” must understand and communicate the goals and values of the operation/organization. Conversely, on the Sunken Road, the Southern forces used a relay system to reinforce the speed and effectiveness of their firing. Their “management” coordinated events and supported activities that kept associates informed, protected, and their motivation at a peak. Leadership must stay in communication with the “battle line” to alter and adjust tactics as necessary. This communication is essential in fulfilling the larger mission and maintaining the agreed on values. Burnside assumed that the attacks on Prospect Hill would continue and be reinforced --- this did not happen. Burnside also assumed that the attacks on Marye’s Heights would be limited to a diversion --- these attacks continued, resulting in devastating losses. Burnside suffered from “misguided bravado”. He urged renewal of the attacks even after realizing the extent of Union losses. A realistic evaluation of the consequences of management’s directives and actions is essential to make the necessary changes to assure “victory’ in the next project.

Finally, war is often necessary to restore the moral sphere once someone has broken it. In a war between cultures, philosophies, or any conflict; the glory goes to the politicians. In defeat, the blame falls on the general; but win or lose; it is the rank and file that must suffer. To prosper in the 21st century, organizations must support and preserve the desires of the rank and file (associates), not the politician of the generals.

Filed under History

Author Bio :: Dennis Lawson

Dennis Lawson has trained for 4 decades in Ed Parker's Kenpo. During his varied career, Mr. Lawson has been an IKKA Regional Director for Region #3, has acted as Master of Ceremonies for the International Karate Championships, and has published numerous articles in publications for the International Kenpo Karate Association, The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC), and Kenpo 2000.

Mr. Lawson has had the opportunity to study other Martial Arts and holds advanced rank in Aikido and Takemusu Aiki Budo. Dennis taught, competed in, and promoted events in the New Orleans area for 20 years. Among his list of favorite achievements is choreographing and performing Kenpo for the Dance Council of New Orleans. His academic background in psychology and love of music allow Dennis to offer a unique and entertaining approach to tailoring "the Art" to the individual. Dennis has taught seminars in Ireland, Jersey Channel Islands, The Netherlands, Portugal, and throughout the United States.

Dennis holds a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Ed Parker's Kenpo and was awarded the title “Professor” under the auspices of The Martial Arts Learning Community (TheMALC). Mr. Lawson was inducted into the International Black Belt Hall of Fame as Master Instructor of the Year for 2006.

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