Commanders at all levels face increasingly challenging scenarios as the operational environment changes. Some instinctively motivate and empower their subordinates to think and act independently, thereby influencing actions during combat. However, those who understand the commanders' activities of mission command will influence not only subordinates, but the outcome of the battle as well. Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders.1 Commanders who understood the importance of mission command was Major General Horatio Gates. General Gates at the Battle of Saratoga successfully utilized mission command through leading, understanding, visualizing and assessing.
The Revolutionary War began in 1775 as a result of the political struggle for American Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.2 By 1776, British strategists devised a plan to isolate the northern colonies where patriot support for independence was greatest. The plan was to advance south from Canada along the Hudson River Valley and converge on Albany, New York.3 The British forces numbered 6,500 and were a mixture of British regulars, Canadians, German Hessians, and colonists loyal to Britain4. Major General John Burgoyne commanded the British forces.
Commanding the Northern Department of the Continental Army was General Gates, a former British officer. Upon assumption of command, General Gates' forces numbered 4,500, and were a mixture of Continental troops and local militia.5 General Gates' mission was to block the British advance on Albany at Saratoga. The Battle of Saratoga consisted of two separate engagements. The first being at Freeman's Farm on September 19, 1777 and the second at Bemis Heights on October 7, 1777. The victory at Saratoga was considered a decisive point in the outcome of the Revolutionary War.6
General Gates displayed leadership by expressing concern for his men and the lack of order and discipline among the rank and file. General Gates also displayed leadership by issuing orders requisitioning new supplies. He ordered better food, clothing and equipment as well as requiring inspections of Soldier support facilities such as hospitals and encampments.7 General Gates desired a ready and able force. He knew that if he took care of the men's needs, he would get their full effort. Resupplies began arriving and the morale was lifted. Soldiers stated that Gates' arrival raised them as if by magic and they began to hope and then to act.8 General gates saw the immediate need to boost the morale of his men. By leading the show of support for their well being and readiness, General Gates was empowering them to affect the outcome of the battle.
General Gates further showed leadership by providing purpose and direction to subordinate commanders. To reestablish good order and discipline, General...