Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Civil War Gettysburg Battle

In June, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee marched his army into Pennsylvania. The Federal forces under General George Gordon Meade met the southern forces near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on June 30, 1863. During the next three days one of the great battles of the Civil War erupted, culminating in “Pickett’s charge.”

The evolving strategies, command structures, and battlefield decisions of the Gettysburg struggle contain enduring messages for thinking about our own leadership, teamwork, and decision making, whatever the moment. This Wharton Leadership Development Workshop is a one-day walking program on the battlefield that is intended to draw out enduring messages for decision making, strategy, and leadership.In visiting the battlefield, we will seek to understand how the Federal and Confederate commanders, both high and low, faced their moments of decision. Among the focal issues of our visit will be:

General Lee placed great confidence in his commanders and gave them wide latitude in the field. But did this leadership style also deny him the use of his cavalry at Gettysburg (“blinding” him at a moment of ultimate need) because its commander had wandered far afield?

  • General Meade had been appointed just days before the battle. Did his newness result in overly cautious leadership on the battlefield? At the same time, was this also an asset as Meade consulted extensively with his top commanders before reaching his most fateful decision on how to respond on the battle’s third and final day?
  • Joshua L. Chamberlain, regimental commander of the 20th Maine, and William C. Oates, regimental commander of the 15th Alabama, were under order to occupy the same ground on Little Round Top, an extreme end of the Northern line. With little guidance from above, each was able to lead his troops into extraordinary actions. How did they do so?We will compare these and other leadership styles, systems of authority, and reactions to the ever changing conditions on the battlefield. Our tour will be accompanied by a licensed guide who specializes in leadership and strategy during the Gettysburg engagement. We will leave by bus from Philadelphia at 6:30am and return by 6:30pm. No preparation is required for the visit, though we will provide in advance a copy of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, the Pulitzer-prize winning book focusing on Lee, Chamberlain and others and upon which the “Gettysburg” film is based.

Facilitated by Prof. Michael Useem

William and Jacalyn Egan Professor of Managment and Director, Wharton Center for Leadership and Change Management. 

  • Date: Friday, April 19, 2019
  • Time: 6:00am – 6:30pm
  • Location: Gettysburg, PA (bus leaves from 2401 Walnut)
  • Facilitator: Professor Mike Useem


Students selected to attend this Workshop will be notified by email 3 weeks in advance of the event date. If a Workshop is oversubscribed, preference may be given to second-year students and to those who have not yet participated in a Workshop. Students not selected will be automatically placed on the waitlist and will be notified as such 3 weeks in advance of the Workshop. Those on the waitlist should check their emails for updates on their status. If you were selected for but cannot attend a Workshop, please email Michael Pratt as soon as you can. Failure to notify us of your absence 4 days before the event may result in a ban from future McNulty Leadership programs.