This paper examines the applicability of the Vroom-Yetton model of leadership and decision making to the battlefield behavior of ten commanding generals in six major battles of the American Civil War. The purpose of the paper was twofold. The first objective was to see if it is possible to utilize official war records, autobiographies, biographies of close associates, and scholarly works to reconstruct the thinking of decision makers in the past and frame this thinking within a contemporary theory of leadership and decision making. The second objective was to illustrate the potential value of using prior events as retrospective test cases for a contemporary leadership theory.
Although no attempt was made to suggest that the selection of the appropriate decision making and leadership style was the determining factor in the outcome of major battles of the Civil War, the study provided some interesting findings. The findings suggest that when the selected commanders on the field acted consistently with the prescriptions of the Vroom-Yetton model they were more often successful in accomplishing the goals of the campaign. In addition, the findings suggest that even though the commanders tended to favor autocratic styles, the lack of information sharing and consensus building resulted in serious disadvantages. In the cases examined, the pressure for prompt decision making was not sufficient to justify the loss of information that resulted from the determination to act alone.