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Book review: The Campaigns for Vicksburg, 1862-1863: Leadership Lessons

Recently there have been a spate of business and leadership books which take lessons from military affairs and apply them as “life lessons.” Some have covered Gettysburg, or Lincoln, or other Civil War topics, as well as WWII and other eras. Among the newest 9and best) of these is Kevin J. Dougherty’s recently released The Campaigns for Vicksburg: 1862-1863: Leadership Lessons, published and distributed by Casemate.

Dougherty not only presents a solid overview of the campaign, its battles, personalities, and results, but he applies key learnings to everyday situations to examine the facets of leadership required to make the best decisions under pressure. Whether in the office or at work, at school, or in relationships, we all face tough decisions, ones that may not only impact ourselves, but also those around us. Dougherty provides a glimpse into how the leaders at Vicksburg, both Union and Confederate, faced (or worsened) those challenges.

The author is a former U.S. Army officer and current instructor at The Citadel. He applies lessons from U.S. Grant’s determination, Joe Johnston’s vacillation, Earl Van Dorn’s audacity and daring, William Tecumseh Sherman’s willing subordination to Grant and his ability to augment and fulfill his boss’s ideas, John Pemberton’s ineptness and incompetence with a highly responsible position (promoted over his capabilities), and other key leaders and their defining traits. Each lesson is summarized with a series of key takeaways which can be applied to everyday decisions faced by the reader.

The book is divided into two sections. The first gives an overview of the military situation, its importance, key challenges faced by the leadership of both opposing armies, and the potential implications and outcomes of their decisions. For readers unfamiliar with the Vicksburg Campaign, this is a useful and needed section.

The second section consists of 30 short chapters which are individual vignettes of several Confederate and Union leaders. It is here where Dougherty’s book shines. He analyzes each man from a leadership perspective, studying his strengths and weaknesses and how they applied them (or became overwhelmed by the situations they faced). There is much rich content in these lessons that can be relevant to today’s world.

This book is useful for business and civic leaders, pastors, presidents and officers of organizations, and others in leadership positions. It is, more importantly, applicable to tough situations faced by ordinary people, giving lessons of what to do and what not to do based upon the military personalities at Vicksburg almost 150 years ago during the Civil War.

The Campaigns for Vicksburg 1862-1863: Leadership Lessons

Kevin J. Dougherty

Casemate, 2011

240 pages, illustrated, with an Order of Battle for the opposing armies

ISBN 978-1-61200-003-9