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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Leadership and Management at Corinth, 1862 Style

by Gordon Thorsby

The Battle of Farmington, Mississippi was the scene of a sharp little skirmish in1862, as Federal General Henry Halleck’s combined three corps force “crawled” toward Confederate General Beauregard’s defense at Corinth. Though casualties were light for both sides on May 9, it was apparent that organizations and officers in the Federal army were still learning their roles. One incident could be an example of where present day managers should know when to “stay in their lanes.”

On this day, Beauregard went on offense to provide greater defense and caught a Union brigade out of position. Colonel Washington L. Elliott (photo above) commanding the 2nd Iowa Cavalry was informed that Brigadier General Eleazer Paine had ordered Elliott’s brigade to assault a Confederate battery without even notifying him. To put it mildly, Elliott was not happy. Elliott, though subordinate to Paine in rank, vented to Paine that was reported, populated with expletives and loud enough for many to hear and at least one to record.

What was Paine’s reply? “I didn’t expect the unit to go as far as it did and incur that many casualties.” Elliott became even more incensed and responded to the General, “I want you to know that I have taught my regiment to go to hell if ordered there, but I didn’t fetch them here to have them ordered there.”

Hopefully, the errant General recognized that when it comes to men’s lives, it is best to respect other commanders. In the case of Paine, he had a three year pattern of poor judgment in various roles in the Western theater, that was followed with court-martials and investigations.

As for Elliott, his action toward Paine is the type of response that builds respect by men toward their commander. Men may not like him, but they will trust him. In leadership, trust isn’t important, it’s everything.

Reference: Corinth 1862, Smith, Timothy B., University Press of Kansas, 2012.

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