Attention to detail could have made him the ideal accountant. He is reputed as having reminded a cannoneer, who was firing too many cannon balls in the heat of battle, that for each round fired it was costing the United States government two dollars and sixty-seven cents.
Before the final attack on July 3, he was heard to say, “Do not waste ammunition, and do not engage small bodies of men.” He even calculated how many cannon rounds were expended in the three-day battle: 32,781.
He was the Chief of Union Artillery. In the final hours of the battle, he had taken the advice of a junior officer that amounted to a clever trap of Lee’s infantry. When he saw his enemy counterpart, Porter Alexander, pouring huge amounts of cannon fire on the Union position to little effect, he knew it was a prelude to an offensive infantry attack by the enemy. Hunt reasoned that if he answered Alexander in kind, he would be doing nothing more than depleting his own ammunition supply.
The advice he received was to trick Alexander into thinking Hunt no longer had enough firepower, so a cease-fire was ordered. Thirteen years later, Alexander observed: “The Federal batteries were, I thought, most remarkably amiable all that morning…” Alexander never understood what was already in motion. Hunt discussed his cease-fire strategy with General Hancock, who simply chose to ignore it. Hancock believed that artillery fire was good for the morale of his infantry, perhaps equal to the excitement created by firecrackers on the 4th of July, and proceeded to countermand Hunt’s order to keep the cannons silent.
Exactly who had command jurisdiction was not clear. But it was clear that Hancock and Hunt was Gettysburg’s odd couple.
Not one to be distracted, Hunt later countermanded Hancock’s order and proceeded to bluff his counterpart by having a few of his cannons taken away to the rear. The bluff worked: Confederate commander Alexander concluded that Hunt was low on ammunition, or simply could not sustain the Union position. Being low on ammunition himself, Alexander urgently recommended to Pickett that he hurry his forces onto the field and commence his attack.
With what little ammunition he had left, he could offer only limited support. Hunt’s strategy was about to work, but to a point. Pickett’s Charge was in motion. As the Confederates walked across nearly a mile of open field, Hunt unleashed some one hundred and twenty guns in a cannon barrage from several directions. Because of Hancock’s previous order to have all cannons firing in immediate response to Alexander, much of Hunt’s ammunition supply was already depleted.
His cannon fire was not enough to do the damage that could have been done. The primary cause of the problem, Hunt recalled, “was in the obscurity of our army regulations as to the artillery, and the absence of all regulations as to the proper relations of the different arms of the service to one another.” In other words, army regulations did not make room for combining responsibilities; it was not a seamless mechanism where the integration of activities was the standard.
In spite of antiquated rules of engagement (by modern standards), his artillery contributed to the killing and wounding of over six thousand Rebels in less than an hour. With a veiled attack on these regulations and perhaps on Hancock himself, Hunt wrote later: “Had my instructions been followed…I do not believe that Pickett’s division would have reached our lines. We lost…the fire of one-third of our guns…it cost us much blood, lives, and for a moment endangered the success of the battle.”
With blurred lines of authority, Hunt’s only failure, if there was one, was not convincing Hancock of the merits of his intent. The imperatives of the moment demanded a collaboration that did not exist. To the end, Hunt was the skilled perfectionist: to be certain that each cannon was well-placed and ready, he spent nearly three hours inspecting his forces. If the Devil was in the details, Hunt was everywhere to control him.
You can pay a high price for failing to communicate effectively. Men may have died because Hunt failed to convince Hancock. He could have taken General Hancock aside and stated the benefits of his strategy in no uncertain terms, that his artillery could soften up the enemy lines and make Hancock’s own infantry less vulnerable. Hunt proved that if you do not influence someone to your way of thinking, you will be ignored and the results can be disastrous.
Listen to subordinates.
Good leaders listen. Hunt demonstrated that under great pressure, no matter what your position in life, there is much to be gained from listening to the suggestions of others in lesser positions. Such posture creates an environment of trust that ultimately results in win-win situations. Allow yourself to follow, to be led by positive influences.
Be unpredictable with opponents.
To win a contest you must assess the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent. Hunt knew the strength of the Southern force and proceeded with an imaginative strategy despite restrictive army rules. Sometimes it takes imagination to beat your opponent at his own game, like pretending to make a move in one direction when you are actually going in another. Be unpredictable. Keep your opponent off-guard. Lead your rival to where he does not intend to go by the influence of your imagination.
Hunt could simplify the cost of something so that the common soldier understood. If you allow someone to spend your money, for example, be sure they know and respect your limits. Once you give someone a clear and simple picture of your finances, it will influence them not to treat your money frivolously.
Concentrate on winning.
When Hunt instructed his men not to “engage small bodies of men,” it was because he was concentrating his resources (cannon balls and canister shot) on the larger issue of winning. In other words, diluting your resources on the small things will drain what you need to tackle the big things.
Copyright 2013 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
Gettysburg Lessons & Gettysburg Leadership