Just Don't Lose
Historians have debated the wisdom of Pickett's Charge for almost 150 years. Was Lee overconfident in the ability of his troops to take the hill? Did Confederate planning fail to account for the sturdy fences and road they would have to cross under fire? Were Lee's subordinate Generals, Longstreet and Pickett less than capable leading the charge? Did Lee over estimate the ability of Confederate artillery to silence Union artillery? Was Pickett's Charge just a big mistake?
As Bob watched the documentary that counted the dead, recreated troops crossing fences against a stop watch, and asked all those questions, Bob couldn't help but wonder if the biggest mistake was having the battle of Gettysburg at all. Bob remembered General George Washington's leadership during the winter at Vally Forge. General Washington believed that he did not have to “win” the war. All he had to do was NOT LOSE the war. There is a huge strategic difference between winning a war, and not losing a war. In the American Revolution in the 1770s, Washington lost many battles, but he never lost the war. In the end, the English Parliament got tired of spending the money and men, and agreed to leave. By not losing, Washington had won.
Again in Viet Nam we see an example of not losing a war. In Viet Nam the US military won every battle. But the NVA never lost. At the end of the decade the US Army was called home by politicians tired of paying for a war that never ended. The NVA was the last army standing on the battlefield.
When General Lee took his Army of Virginia to invade the north he had over reached his power. He had abandoned the strategy of “Just don't lose” and was moving out on a campaign for victory. Before Gettysburg, Lee had won all the battles. He was over confident in his army. There is a huge gap between not losing at home, and winning on their territory. The defending army can occupy the high ground. The defending army can dig in fortifications. The defending army does not have long supply lines, and confusion of the unknown territory.
General Lee did not lose at Gettysburg because he was overconfident about Pickett's Charge. He lost at Gettysburg because he forgot the prime directive of a revolutionary army. You aren't trying to win, you just can't lose. At Gettysburg, Lee got overconfident. He tried to win the war, and in doing so, he lost the war. It takes many more troops, many more arms, many more cannon, many more cavalry, and a lot more money to win, but winning is not needed. All you have to do is not lose. General Lee got over confident and tried to win. Big mistake. It was the turning point of the US Civil War. Lee should never have invaded Pennsylvania. He should never have fought at Gettysburg.
Any revolutionary Generals should learn from George Washington. You don't have to win. You just have to not lose. This is one of the great lessons of history. Any General planning any revolution should study and remember the eventual success of George Washington and the failure of Robert E. Lee, just don't lose.