In the last post in our blog series on the “Great Resignation,” we looked at how General George Washington retained his demoralized soldiers by snapping his losing streak with an improbable surprise attack on the Hessians in Trenton on Christmas Day, 1776. Washington risked everything to deliver a big win that would re-instill his soldiers’ confidence in both themselves and his leadership. In this post, we will explore how another inspirational leader, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, dealt with a group of soldiers who attempted their own “great resignation” from the Union Army in 1863.
By May 1863, the Civil War had dragged on for over two years—far longer than anyone expected. War weariness had set in, and for the men of the 2nd Maine Regiment, this was compounded by combat experience gained over the course of multiple battles against determined Confederate armies. Now, two years after marching away from their homes near Bangor, Maine, the survivors of the 2nd Maine believed their enlistments were up; however, there was a problem. While some had joined the regiment by signing two-year contracts, the others, amid a muddle of confusion, had signed three-year contracts and were told they had to remain in the Army. Angry and determined to go home, 40 of the men mutinied.
Four days later, the mutineers were marched into the encampment of the unsuspecting Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s 20th Maine Regiment. The guard handed a shocked Chamberlain orders from General George Meade telling him to either make the men serve, or—if they refused—shoot them. Horrified, Chamberlain decided to take a different approach.
After dismissing the guards, Chamberlain learned the men had been poorly treated and had not been fed in three days. He ordered food for them and asked if they had a spokesman who could explain their story. Listening to the man recount the confusion, broken promises, and frustration that framed their experience in the Army, Chamberlain sympathized.
Having grown up in the same part of Maine as the men, Chamberlain knew these weren’t disobedient criminals but good soldiers who felt they were not valued by the Army. Calling them together, Chamberlain looked them in the eyes and told them he was putting them on duty, but he would treat them with the respect they earned as soldiers. Assuring them of their rights, he pledged to do all he could for their claim. Chamberlain then assigned them to vacancies in his existing companies rather than keeping them together. Separating the group had the twin effect of diffusing their collective anger and making each man feel like a valued member of a new team.
Just a few weeks later at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine held Little Round Top against fierce Confederate attacks at a pivotal moment. Nearly all the one-time mutineers fought hard. Some distinguished themselves among the best in the regiment.
Chamberlain’s personal approach resonates through the ages, making him one of the most inspirational and relatable leaders of the Civil War. Join us for our Lessons from the Battle of Gettysburg program, and we will take you to Little Round Top. You will walk in the footsteps of the men of the 20th Maine, see the battlefield as they did, and apply Chamberlain’s timeless leadership lessons to your life.
We will see you on the battlefield.
Through our unique programs, leaders from Fortune 500 companies, government entities and higher education institutions learn how to overcome these challenges and transform their organizations, positioning them for future successes. Find out how Battlefield Leadership can help your team by emailing email@example.com or by calling 864.386.9637.