If you’ve ever been to Chattanooga, Tenn., you know it is a beautiful place. Surrounded by mountains with the Tennessee River running by, its tree-lined streets are dotted with historic brick buildings dating back more than a century. It is home to start-up companies, trendy coffee shops, breweries, new-age condos, and award-winning restaurants.

But exactly 156 years ago, this idyllic spot was ground zero during the Civil War. On November 23, 24 and 25, 1863, more than 100,000 Union and Confederate soldiers clashed at scenic spots such as Lookout Mountain, Orchard Knob and Missionary Ridge.

For various reasons, the battles for Chattanooga are often overlooked. But it is without question that the events in Chattanooga were critical to ending the Civil War. Moreover, without General U.S. Grant’s victory here, the post-war Reconstruction era would have been much different.

Union Soldiers at Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Union soldiers pose atop Lookout Mountain.  Our Battle of Chattanooga participants stand in the actual spots where history was made, adding to the rich, immersive experience.

The Background

The battles for Chattanooga were fought during the third year of the Civil War. By this time, both the North and the South had lost an unimaginable amount of men to death, injury and capture. At the war’s outset, no one could have anticipated it would have lasted so long or come at such a ghastly expense. By 1863, both sides were looking for a spark that would tip the balance to their favor. For the Union, that came with stunning back-to-back victories at Gettysburg, Pa., and Vicksburg, Miss., in July.

But those victories were quickly negated. In September, the Confederates defeated the Union at the Battle of Chickamauga in Northwest Georgia. The Union defeat was devastating. Not only had the Federals lost a staggering 16,000 men, but the remaining 40,000-man army was also forced to retreat back into Chattanooga. Soon surrounded by the rebels who held the high ground at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, an entire Union army faced annihilation. What’s more, Chattanooga, a strategic supply hub, was now in danger of falling back into the hands of the Confederates.

The Union Mobilizes with U.S. Grant

US Grant who led the Union Army at Chattanooga

Participants discover the skills and traits that made U.S. Grant an exceptional leader.

The Lincoln administration quickly realized the severity of the situation. Within weeks, tens of thousands of Union soldiers were mobilized, making their way to Chattanooga from Virginia and Mississippi. The hard-charging Ulysses S. Grant, recovering from a severe leg injury in Louisville, was immediately ordered to the city and placed in command.

Within days of his clandestine arrival, Grant was setting in motion plans to break the siege. He began by putting his focus on his men: Getting them fed and providing them with warmer clothes for the winter months ahead. He next assessed the territory and enemy positions first-hand. He then created bold, proactive plans to not simply break the siege, but actually decimate his enemy.

In the aftermath of the battles, and with hindsight, Grant’s plans were not without their faults. Nor were they executed flawlessly; both Grant and his trusted lieutenant William T. Sherman had overestimated several elements, leading to sloppy execution and missed expectations. But Grant’s leadership style – aggressive, forward-thinking, adaptable and quick-witted – eventually won the day.

Grant’s leadership style – aggressive, forward-thinking, adaptable and quick-witted – eventually won the day

Grant’s victory at Chattanooga was a springboard for his career. The plainspoken, former leather goods clerk was soon put in charge of all Union forces. His command was colossal: It spread across 21 army corps, 18 military departments and more than 500,000 battle-ready troops. By the end of the Civil War, Grant was without a doubt the most popular American, even more so that President Lincoln. Grant, of course, would go onto become the 18th president of the United States.

The Confederates Lose Focus

Ironically, and unfortunately for the rebels, at the exact same moment when Grant was preparing his battle plans, the Confederate high command lost its focus. Political infighting, a lack of strategic alignment and incomprehensible neglect of details contributed to the Confederate’s undoing. More importantly, the rebel loss at Chattanooga was a lost opportunity that could have changed the face of the Civil War…and one that would never appear again.

A history lesson can be a historic act if, by modifying an understanding of the past, it alters future behavior.

Application to Today

The events and leadership decisions made during the Battles of Chattanooga are more than worthy of remembrance. They prove that history is a great teacher with far-reaching applications. To paraphrase George Will: A history lesson can be a historic act if, by modifying an understanding of the past, it alters future behavior. Indeed, the same principles for effective leadership, better communication, team-building, problem-solving and innovative-thinking from 150-plus years ago are just as applicable today.

Matt Spaulding at Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Expertly researched, Matt Spaulding leads the Battle of Chattanooga Leadership program. He has developed and led historical and traditional leadership and team training sessions for organizations of all sizes.

The 9 Benefits

Our Battle of Chattanooga Leadership program is unlike any corporate leadership or team-building program available. This one-day, fully immersive program offers nine key benefits.

  1. A Keen Focus on Leadership – What made U.S. Grant an exceptional leader? How did he go from a “down-on-his-luck” unsuccessful businessman with no promising career to the President of the United States in just eight years? We go deep to explore Grant’s skills and how those can be applied in today’s work world
  2. Delivered in a Non-Traditional Setting – Getting out of the typical conference room or training facility opens up thinking. Participants stand in the actual spots where history was made. This creates long-lasting memorable impressions
  3. Expertly Researched – The events, as well as the leaders, the information they knew and the decisions they made, have been expertly researched and captured in our Participant Booklets.
  4. Business-Themed Case Studies – Participants are required to read several case studies in advance, which guide the group learning, discussions and discovery
  5. Built-In Group Participation – Participants will debate and evaluate the leadership decisions made on both sides, engaging in a robust group conversation that can lead to those important “ah-ha” moments
  6. Stronger Team Camaraderie – By sharing time together outside of the office, participants will have the chance to bond and form deeper connections with their teammates
  7. Immediate Workplace Implementation – An expertly facilitated After-Action Workshop at the end of the day ensures participants implement actions back in the workplace immediately
  8. Customization to Specific Organizational or Team Needs  – Each organization, each team is unique, with its own set of challenges and goals. We create customized programs that focus specifically on your group’s needs
  9. Easy Integration with Existing Training  – As a one-day program, this session can easily integrate with – and enhance – your company’s existing training initiatives. Or, it can easily be added as part of a monthly, quarterly or annual strategic planning session.

If you’re interested in learning more about how the Battle of Chattanooga Leadership program can benefit your group, please contact me at matts@spauldingcommunications.com

For more about the Battle of Chattanooga, visit the American Battlefield Trust’s Battle of Chattanooga page.

Media Training On Demand

On Demand Media & Message Mastery Training

Let’s start a conversation. Send us a message or give us a call.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Please share a little information and we’ll email you our curated list of brand visibility opportunities.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

5-Step Strategic Plan Process

To download the PDF, enter your Name and Email Address: