The Value of the Historical Staff Ride

By Major Matt Cavanaugh

Having just returned from a historical staff ride to Gettysburg, there are still some things fresh in mind that seem worth sharing.  There are generally three phases to a historical staff ride: preliminary study, an in-depth site visit, and an integration (or reflection) period.  The step which connects the site visit to the reflection is the most important, as this is when memories are formed and lessons stored for future use.  What follows are some thoughts I offer cadets at the start of the reflection period to help enable this connection along (Note: the use of “you” – this is typically directed toward cadets).

Beginning Integration/Reflection

First, you must learn to fight wars in your mind before learning to fight with your hands. Three days at Gettysburg is every bit as important, as, say, three days in formal military schooling (i.e. Officer Basic Course).  It’s often said that the greatest weapon on the battlefield is the radio (or the rifle), but one could counter that it is actually the sound military judgment of a member of the Profession of Arms. When one thinks in specific of the Battle of Gettysburg, many consider Major General John Buford’s vision on June 30/July 1st as critical in Union victory.  Certainly his judgment – his simultaneous consideration of a multitude of factors (time, space, and firepower to name just three) – is noteworthy and indicative of the lessons on offer for military professionals at Gettysburg.

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