Students studying “Civil War Leadership” had an opportunity to progress from theory to application in a field trip to Gettysburg during the fall semester, 2010.

On a crisp, October day in Gettysburg, 16 students and their two teachers--a social psychologist and a retired Army general--stood on top of Little Round Top. They looked down the rocky cliff to what later became known as “Slaughter Pen.” In 1863, on this land near the tiny town in Pennsylvania, 5,000  soldiers died attempting to capture a hill.

After walking down to the site where Chamberlain and the 20th Maine famously defended Little Round Top from Confederate assaults, General John Mountcastle explained the battle plan and tactics, and Professor George Goethals led a discussion of the leadership qualities Chamberlain displayed during the battle.

Goethals and Mountcastle team teach a course in "Civil War Leadership" at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies. This course is but one example of the creative, experiential learning experiences Jepson offers its students.

Goethals is one of the nation's top social psychologists. He has made particular studies of presidential leadership, peer interaction and performance and heroism and how people see heroes. Goethals holds the E. Claiborne Robins Distinguished Professorship in Leadership Studies and a doctorate in psychology from Duke University.

Mountcastle served as the Army's Chief of Military History from 1994-98. During his distinguished career, he commanded armored units at all levels and worked on a number of staff assignments in the United States and in Europe. Mountcastle previously taught at West Point and served as director of the Army Strategic Studies Institute at the Army War College. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from Virginia Military institute and a master's and doctorate in history from Duke University. 

They Gettysburg field study has become a tradition of the "Civil War Leadership" course, in which students explore the military and political leadership of the American Civil War of 1861-1865. The course examines the war’s political and social context, its military history, the evolving aims of the fighting, and the central actors and events that shape our understanding of leadership. Discussions are informed by readings that include: What Caused the Civil War by Edward Ayers; Grant Moves South by Bruce Catton; Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson; The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara; and April 1865 by Jay Winik. 

Students left the University of Richmond Sunday morning (Oct. 17, 2010) and toured the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center in the afternoon. That evening, their teachers encouraged every student to develop their own questions for the trip to the battlefield the next day. Students applied theories and concepts from class and discussed topics such as group dynamics and the emotional demands of military leadership. They thought further about those themes as they visited seven different sites on the battlefield.

Mountcastle and Goethals led discussions on topics ranging from specifics, such as the opportunities and challenges facing Ewell (Confederate) and Howard (Union) on Barlow’s Knoll, to broader issues, such as leadership challenges when future developments are unclear or in doubt. Different leadership styles, leadership in defeat and leadership against the odds were all discussed in depth.

As Kerrissa Richards, '11, said in describing the trip, “One thing General Mountcastle talks about a lot in class is the principle of choosing ‘the harder right’ instead of the ‘easier wrong.’ Here in Gettysburg, we were able to look across the battlefield and put ourselves in the places of the men we have been studying, attempting to understand why they made the decisions they made. I think that, even though I will probably never be in the military, the lessons I’ve learned about what it means to be a leader will inspire me for years to come.”

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Drs. Goethals and Mountcastle have taught this class previously. Article about the 2008 trip.

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Photos from 2010 trip


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