Aug. 21, 2009

116th BCT Soldiers relive Civil War battle

By Spc. J. Erin Jones
116th Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Soldiers with the Headquarters Company 116th Brigade Combat Team spent a day reliving the Battle of Chancellorsville during a staff ride Aug. 8, 2009 near Fredericksburg, Va.

  116th BCT staff ride

Lt. Col. William J. Coffin, the deputy commander of the 116th Brigade Combat Team, uses a map to help set the scene of the Battle of Chancellorsville during a staff ride Aug. 8, 2009 at the site of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s flanking movement outside of Fredericksburg, Va. Coffin was the facilitator of the event which was a follow up to last year’s staff ride of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Photo by Spc. J. Erin Jones, 116th Brigade COmbat Team Public Affairs)

A staff ride is a case study which is conducted in two separate phases. The first phase involves individual study of the campaign and for some participants an in-depth study of one of the key players.  

During the second phase the soldiers visit the site of the battle where they actively participate by putting themselves in the shoes of the commanders while discussing the course of the battle.

You want the people playing the roles of the generals to do most of the talking and immerse themselves in those roles, said Lt. Col. William J. Coffin, the deputy commander of the 116th Brigade Combat Team and the facilitator of the staff ride. They can’t do that without doing the preliminary studying, he added.

Being at the actual site of the battle helps the participants further immerse themselves in those roles and enables them to consider the effects of such things as terrain and weather.

“Military units do the staff ride to learn lessons from the past and to apply them to today’s military operational environment,” said Coffin.

One of the biggest lessons learned during staff rides is how to be an effective leader. The leadership and tactics used back then are still the same today, said Master Sgt. Jacquelin Slater, the senior human resources sergeant for the 116th Brigade Combat Team and a participant in the staff ride.

Slater said the commander she was assigned to, Maj. Gen. John Reynolds, didn’t have a huge part in this war, but he was known to be a good leader. He may not have always agreed with the orders he was given, said Slater. But he carried them out anyway and people can learn a lot about leadership by studying him, she added.

The Battle of Chancellorsville was a great victory for the Confederate forces under the command of General Robert E. Lee. Although Lee was severely outnumbered by Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s Union forces the Confederates proved to have better communication and leadership which lead to their victory.

“On paper the North should have won easily but we learned a lesson here that the leadership of the Army turned the tide,” said Coffin.

Although the Battle of Chancellorsville was fought in 1863 many aspects of the military are still the same. Some areas in which we are able to learn from the past include the challenges faced by operational security, the part the media plays in gathering information and what is done with that information and also the effect of the public’s opinion on the military, said Coffin.

“Issues they were dealing with 150 years ago are exactly the same as we are dealing with today,” said Coffin.                  

The staff ride included a five mile march along a portion of Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson’s flanking moving towards the Union’s exposed right flank May 2.               

This event was a follow up to last year’s Battle of Gettysburg and the brigade is planning to conduct one staff ride per year in the future.

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