Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kennesaw Mountain leadership lessons still relevant

By Maj. Dustin Krack
Joint Force Headquarters Operations

National Park Service Ranger Willie Johnson
refers to a map to show the array of forces
just prior to the battle of Dead Angle.
Soldiers of the G3 (operations) office of Joint Force Headquarters, Georgia Army National Guard, along with students of Georgia's Regional Training Institute (RTI) military intelligence school, recently had the opportunity to conduct a staff ride of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park located just outside Marietta, Ga.

The first staff ride was conducted in 1906 by a group of U.S. Army students stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kans. as a means of leader development and professional military education. By definition, a staff ride consists of a preliminary study of a selected campaign, a visit to the actual sites associated with the campaign, and an integration phase where participants can discuss ideas and lessons learned.

The field study portion of the Kennesaw Mountain staff ride took place on June 2nd, 2013 guided by ranger and historian Willy R. Johnson of national park services. Johnson has been a loyal employee of the National Park Service for over 39 years, earning the Ancient Order of Saint Barbara, a coveted distinction sought after by the field artillery community.

The Battle for Kennesaw Mountain took on June 27th, 1864 as a significant part of the Atlanta campaign during the Civil War. The battle pitted Maj. Gen. Sherman’s Union Army of 16,225 against Gen. Joseph E. Johnson’s Confederate Army of 17,733. The battle is characterized by numerous flanking maneuvers by the Union Army along with the Confederate Army withdrawing to southern locations until both armies reached the Kennesaw Mountain area. Soldiers and students in the group visited 2 two of the battle sites (Kolb’s Farm and Dead Angle) and ended their field study on top of Kennesaw Mountain with a view of the surrounding terrain and the railroad system that is still in use today.

Members of the staff ride commented on how relevant and applicable the characteristics of the battle are to modern military operations as the 150th Anniversary of the Atlanta Campaign approaches. Timely and reliable communications, carefully planned logistics, and understanding the effects of weather and its impact on equipment and personnel were key elements for military planners.

The Union Army capitalized on the aspect of modern communications and believed it could give their leaders a strategic advantage. This allowed Union leaders to manage forces and supplies in a focused manner. In fact, Gen. Sherman kept communications relevant by constantly running telegraph lines and employing telegraph operators.

Camouflaged cannons atop the Dead Angle Battlefield.
Confederate cannoneers waited silently until Union
forces were at point blank range before causing
massive losses upon the advancing troops.
Furthermore, the Union army recruited rail workers as a part of their force. This gave the Union Army an advantage by allowing them to quickly repair and build rail lines in order to have a steady supply of food and equipment for the Union forces. This is similar in nature to the advantage of the National Guard having its own “Citizen-Soldiers.” The National Guard has Soldiers that are not only skilled in their MOS, but also possess a civilian occupation. Most of the railways in the south went through the Atlanta Depot thus making it key terrain for both the Confederate and Union armies. A key strategic advantage to capturing Atlanta for the Union was to cut off logistical support for the Confederate Army while maintaining their own logistical and communications lines.

Finally, understanding the aspects of weather along with the role it plays is still relevant today. It rained heavily during the battle and caused area creeks to become impassible by the Union Army. The Union Army had to change its plan to maneuver across the creeks by using pontoons and rafts. The only other option was for the Union Army to change its route of advance which was considered a riskier option by the Union leadership.

It is interesting to note that facets and lessons learned from the battle are still relevant to today’s Army National Guard leaders and Soldiers. Georgia in particular still has logistics, military intelligence, and signal units to this day operating in a variety of worldwide locations with complex and dynamic mission sets. The equipment and uniform may have changed, but the key elements of planning for communications, logistics, intelligence, and command and control from the Battle for Kennesaw Mountain are still relevant in today’s fighting force.

Soldiers from the Georgia National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters and Regional Training Institute (RTI) pose for a picture on top of Kennesaw Mountain after completing the field study portion of the Atlanta Campaign staff ride.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting article. The Office of the Inspector General, Georgia Guard executed the same staff ride when we hosted the SE Region IG Conference in 2002 at the Air HQ at then-Dobbins ARB. We had two guides from the Park Service, and the guide pictured above looks like one of the same guides! These guides were very professional and made the trip worth the effort.


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