Learning From the Past to Ensure Victory in the Future

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Dressed in a period correct Continental uniform, Guilford Courthouse National Park Ranger Jason Baum fires a rifle similar to those Continental Soldiers would have employed against the British Army during the Revolutionary War. The demonstration was part of a staff ride conducted by the 108th Training Command (IET) at the Greensboro, N.C., park on Feb. 6. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. Photo by Sgt. Javier Amador, 108th Training Command (IET), Public Affairs

GREENSBORO, N.C. — As one looks on the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, the first impression, on the senses, is how quiet and peaceful the park is. For the Soldiers of the 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training) the entrance to the park on the cold, brisk morning of Feb. 6, gave little indication that it was once the site of one of the most bloody and pivotal battles of the Revolutionary War.

The visit was facilitated by Dr. Jay Boyd and Mr. Allen Skinner, the Command Historians for the 81st Regional Support Command (RSC) and Christopher Ruff, curator for the National Museum, both of the U.S. Army Reserve.

Ruff, as well as Jason Baum, a park ranger who works at the Guilford Courthouse National Park, provided an extra air of historical presence by wearing period correct Revolutionary War uniforms. Baum also lent his extensive knowledge of the battle and how its sequence of events unfolded.

Visits to the sites of battles, such as this one, are called staff rides. Capt. Ryan Williams, the G3 Operations Officer, organized this staff ride which, coincidentally, was also his first. He explained their purpose:

“The staff rides give you a contextual perspective of prior battles and lessons learned, reviewing them, (seeing them as an) opportunity to learn and see how our current staff sections would have functioned back then. Each of the staff sections briefed on their role or what their role would have been back in that engagement,” said Williams.

Williams also explained and gave examples of what tasks were assigned to the staff sections and why, using one staff section and their function of providing logistical support; the flow of supplies, services and information both to and from the battlefield.

“For the most part, they were briefing what their section was responsible for. For instance (the) G4 (logistics section) were responsible for logistics during that battle. Then we threw in key figures, individuals within that battle itself, to provide a brief bio(graphy) that would kind of give us insight as to the actual people that fought in that battle,” said Williams.

Much was also discussed about what was or was not done well during the conflict and how it affected its outcome. These are important topics when studying the history of past battles when the emphasis is on what can be gained in order to avoid tactical mistakes and to prevent unnecessary loss of life in future conflicts.

“The study of military history serves a couple of purposes. First, a leader that fails to study the past will repeat the same errors made by others,” said Skinner, “Second, successful commanders design their operations around logistics and not the other way around.”

This was also Capt. Yolanda Mason’s, 108th Readiness Officer, first staff ride. Mason, originally from Charlotte, North Carolina, was tasked with leading a contextual discussion on the operational objective of the battle, its lines of effort and the current considerations as they relate to today’s battlefield. Like Skinner, she sees how much the success of a mission hinges on efficient logistics.

Mason went on to relate what she learned regarding the role logistics, or in this case the lack thereof, played in the outcome of the battle.

“One of the things I learned was preparation and planning are very important as far as the logistical part of planning,” said Mason, If they would have taken more time on the logistical part then maybe the whole outcome of that campaign, as well as the Revolutionary War, could have been completely different.”

Skinner also concluded that the British Army’s poor planning of their logistics efforts left them combat ineffective after the battle.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was between The British Army, led by their General, Lord Charles Cornwallis and Maj. General Nathaniel Greene, who led an army numbering approximately 4,500 American militia and Continental Soldiers on March 15, 1781.

Cornwallis and his troops, numbering about 1,900 combat hardened regulars as well as some German allies, were tasked by Cornwallis’s Commander, King George III, to conduct a campaign in order to secure South Carolina, an order which he chose not to obey.

Cornwallis prevailed at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse after Greene’s troops retreated from the battle. The British victory came at a heavy cost as the losses incurred, along with the tactical errors made by Cornwallis, played a significant part that ultimately lead to his surrender at the Battle of Yorktown in Virginia.

“Cornwallis won a narrow tactical victory, but his campaign failed because he did not follow the orders of his higher commander to secure South Carolina.” said Skinner.

One the most interesting facts, that everyone present learned, was the manner in which some of the key people of the battle attained their ranks. Mason, a former commander shared that fact.

“What I learned was that back then, you could actually buy your commission,” said Mason, “I had no clue that you could do that (back then).” said Mason.

As with all training conducted by the Army, a special emphasis is placed on leaders sharing the knowledge they gained with their subordinates so they also have everything possible to ensure they too do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Standing in front of the statue of Maj. General Nathaniel Greene, Guilford County Courthouse National park Ranger Jason Baum explains the sequence of events that took place as the lines of effort that both the Continentals and militias, the British Army and their German allies followed as the battle of Guilford County Courthouse unfolded to leaders and Soldiers of the 108th Training Command (IET) during their staff ride on Feb 6. The staff rides are training events used by staff members of the unit to learn important lessons from the past in order to ensure success in future conflicts. Photo by Sgt. Javier Amador, 108th Training Command (IET), Public Affairs

“Communication, definitely,” said Mason, “Communication up and down the Chain (of Command). You always have communication with them in order for things to work out. To understand how different personalities, different backgrounds and education (levels) come from in order to get to this point.”

Skinner also had three timeless, key lessons that commanders of Soldiers must take with them from this battle.

“First, clear orders and visible leadership at a critical point in the battle can make the difference between success or failure. Second, successful commanders design their operations around logistics and not the other way around. Thirdly, the commander has to ensure his operation meets the higher command’s intent.” said Skinner.

While the staff ride was a serious training event where everyone left more knowledgeable, there was also some enjoyment that came from their learning experience. Soldiers, such as Sgt. Timothy Gibson, a supply Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) and native of Bessemer City, North Carolina, appreciated the experience as one who really enjoys history.

For Gibson, also his first staff ride, said he enjoyed the experience and it was interesting to see some of the tactics used 250 years are still in use today.

For all Soldiers, juniors or seniors, leaders or subordinates, who are interested in learning more about our Army’s history, Skinner recommends a variety of official on-line sources.

“I would start with the Army’s Center of Military History (CMH). The CMH has over 600 publications that cover the Army’s history at https://www.history.mil/catalog/browse/title.html.

For more analytical studies from a historical perspective, try the Army’s Combat Studies Institute at https://usacac.army.mil/organizations/cace/csi/pubs.

Lastly, Army Reserve specific history, go to https://www.usar.mil/AboutUs/HistoryCorner/Publications.aspx.

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