HOW EFFECTIVE WAS XENA AS A COMMANDER?
IAXS Project #095
By Virginia Carper (carperv@FRB.GOV)
Copyright © 1997 held by author
EDITOR'S NOTE: In XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS, Xena is characterized as a brilliant military leader and tactician, but how does she measure up to real life military commanders? Ms. Carper explores this question by using the examples of several commanders from the U.S. Civil War and comparing them to what has transpired on screen with the warrior princess.
HOW EFFECTIVE WAS XENA AS A COMMANDER?
Ares offers Xena many employment benefits to no avail
 Called the 'Warrior Princess' by Ares the God of War, Xena was recognized for her military genius and leadership. Her friends and soldiers knew her as a natural soldier, a tough disciplinarian, and a caring leader. By comparing her to several U.S. Civil War (1861-65) commanders will offer an insight into her generalship.
Lieutenant General James Longstreet
"You can't lead from behind"
--- James Longstreet (Note 1)
 Leadership is one of the most important aspects of command. A general must lead her troops into battle. Until recently, this meant that a commander rode out in front of the troops. Xena, always raced forward to lead the charge for her army. Uttering her unique war cry - "YI YI YI YI," she spurred them on to battle.
Gabrielle and Xena with Kaleipus
 Before the Centaur army under Kaleipus engaged Dagnine (Xena's former general), she challenged him (ORPHAN OF WAR, #25). The Centaurs had convinced themselves that Dagnine was stronger than their combined numbers. Encouraged by Xena's bravery, they roundly defeated him.
Major General Winfield Scott Hancock
"There are times when the life of a corps commander is unimportant."
--- Winfield Scott Hancock (Note 2)
 During the battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania, 1863), Hancock defended the center of the Union line against the Confederates. While they bombarded his line, Hancock calmly rode up and down the line, amid bursting shells and cannon shot. One soldier wrote, "It was a tonic to see his commanding figure, superb and calm as on review, imperturbable, self reliant."
Xena publicity shot
 Like Hancock, Xena understood when the objective was more important than her life. To free Prometheus, Xena was willing not only to give her life to obtain his sword, but also to lose her life in wielding it to free him (PROMETHEUS, #08). When the villagers prepared to defend themselves against the Titans, Xena challenged Hyperion, the Sun Titan, to fight her (THE TITANS, #07). In a less deadly battle, Xena fought the King's guards alone while the orphan children watched, waiting to use their crossbows (A SOLSTICE CAROL, #33).
Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain
"It isn't the land -- there's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value, you and me, we're worth something more than the dirt....what we're all fighting for, in the end, is each other.
--- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commander of the 20th Maine (Note 3)
 On one of the steep hills (Little Round Top) overlooking Gettysburg, Colonel Vincent ordered Chamberlain 'to hold the line'. The 20th Maine marched to the end of the Union Army's extreme right flank. On the left of them was the 83rd Pennsylvania. On the right was the Confederate Army. For three hours, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine repulsed several Confederate charges. When his men ran out of ammunition, he ordered a bayonet charge, defeating the surprised Confederates.
Xena meets up with Lyceus in an alternative timeline in REMEMBER NOTHING
 Xena and her brother, Lyceus, marshaled their village against Cortese, the brutal warlord (REMEMBER NOTHING, #26). Her brother placed great faith in Xena's abilities to inspire their fellow villagers to resist. Xena's other brother, Toris confronts her, later, about fighting Cortese. She tells him, "We all made decisions based on what we thought was right. We did what we did because we cared about our friends." Toris rejoined, "You don't get it. You stayed because you cared for us all." (DEATH MASK, #23)
"To be a good commander, you must be able to order the death of the very thing you love. Hold nothing back."
--- Robert E. Lee (Note 4)
 Xena grappled with this, but she could not let go of her friend Gabrielle. Perhaps it was because she had lost her brother, Lyceus, to Cortese, who ravaged their village. Instead of letting her learn through experience, Xena protected Gabrielle.
Gabrielle's scroll chanting ability is both a blessing and a curse in THE TITANS
 After Xena ordered her to stay where it was safe, Gabrielle left to retrieve the scrolls to turn the marauding Titans back to stone (THE TITANS). When she discovered what Gabrielle did, Xena said, "She's trying to prove herself to me." Even after Gabrielle learned to fight with her staff, Xena was still reluctant to let her fight.
"Things will get out of hand. That is why we have orders"
--- Robert E. Lee
 Lee reprimanded Major General Harry Heth for engaging the Union Calvary at Gettysburg before the Confederate Army was ready to fight. Heth's disobedience allowed the Union Army to take the high ground, and successfully defend the town of Gettysburg.
"No, we don't. I just don't have time to convince you right now."
--- Xena reprimanding Gabrielle (THE TITANS).
"It's not that I don't trust you. It's what I trust you to do."
--- Xena to Petracles (A FISTFUL OF DINARS, #14).
Xena and Autolycus diverting some nosy guards
 Until Xena impressed Autolycus with the necessity of obeying her, the self-proclaimed 'King of Thieves' ignored her, imperiling their mission to retrieve the 'ark of the covenant' (THE ROYAL COUPLE OF THIEVES, #17). Later Xena occupied his body (THE QUEST, #37) to have him retrieve her body and the ambrosia to bring her back. Autolycus preferred to 'fool around' stealing baubles but Xena kept him line by dragging him about.
Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee
"You were right. And I was wrong. And now you must help me see what must be done."
--- Robert E. Lee.
 After losing the battle of Gettysburg, Lee admitted his mistake to Longstreet, who had counseled him against charging the Union Center (the ill-fated Pickett's Charge). (Note 5)
 Leadership is more than knowing how to win battles. A leader must also have a moral core. Without it, a commander becomes a marauder. To admit to being wrong, and asking for help are signs of a great leader.
The Dred Pirate Xena
 When Xena first fought Cortese, she dictated, "I will destroy all those who are enemies of Amphipolis." (DESTINY, #36) Later, she told Toris, "I didn't have time to feel anything. Maybe that was the problem. I knew he'd come back so I decided to form an army for defense. And then I figured to take the surrounding villages, for a buffer. And then somewhere...I don't know where. I changed. I didn't have the time to feel anything." (DEATH MASK)
 After the Romans killed her friend M'Lila, her creed became "Hard times breed hard people --- there's no avoiding that" (HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS, WARRIOR PRINCESS, #09). Her berserker rage over the death of M'Lila signaled Xena's descent into savagery. "Look out Hades, I'm sending a lot of people your way." (DESTINY)
 She admitted to Ares, the God of War, "I didn't know any better then. I thought your ways were all there was." He replied, "My dear, Xena, you were always fighting to a better world. You were going to conquer it and then...You were going to rule it. The perfect way to bring order out of chaos. And you were doing very, very well.' (THE RECKONING, #6)
 When Xena became a warlord herself, she lost her moral bearings. She ravaged the countryside, burning villages. She controlled her commanders through sexual favors, and then sent them on suicide missions to prove their love. (HTLJ: WARRIOR PRINCESS). Contrary to Ares' belief, Xena lost control of her commanders. One killed the father of her son without her knowledge and against her orders (ORPHAN OF WAR, #25). Another challenged her leadership, and then expelled her from her own army. (HTLJ: THE GAUNTLET, #12).
Hercules and Xena cozied up in THE GAUNTLET,
and got even cozier in UNCHAINED HEART
 When Xena asked for Hercules' help, she ceased to be a common bandit. She took his guidance back to a moral path. Hercules told her, "Killing isn't the only way to prove you're a warrior, Xena. I think you know that." (HTLJ: THE GAUNTLET).
 She admitted to Gabrielle her past evils (DEATH MASK). Gabrielle asked her, "He's [Cortese] the one who made you so...?" Xena replied, "It was fighting him that twisted me into what I became." She accepted Gabrielle's gentle prodding toward goodness. When Toris confronted Xena about her annoying friend (Gabrielle), Xena quashed him with, "She knows more about wisdom and justice than you'll ever know."
Callisto's favorite moments were when she was egging Xena on
 Xena carried the guilt of making Callisto what she was. "I'm good, as good as you, and why not? You made me," Callisto tormented her (CALLISTO, #22). But Gabrielle counsels Xena, "There's only one way to end this cycle of hatred and it's through love and forgiveness."
General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Xena, General Willam Tecumseh Sherman
"War means fighting and fighting means killing"
--- Nathan Bedford Forrest
"Don't confuse nobility with anger and revenge."
--- Xena (ORPHAN OF WAR)
"He [Forrest] had never read a military book in his life but he had a genius for strategy which was original and to me incomprehensible."
--- William Tecumseh Sherman (Note 7)
 Xena and Nathan Bedford Forrest (Lieutenant General of the Confederate Army) were alike in many ways. Both combined sheer audacity with an innate cunning that baffled their foes. Like Xena, he lost his father at an early age. He became the mainstay of his family as Xena did during the time of Cortese. Xena had gentle Gabrielle to temper her. Forrest had his wife, Mary Anna, who was his conscience.
 Forrest was a near illiterate from the backwoods of Tennessee, who enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. He raised a mounted battalion and was appointed lieutenant colonel. Xena, an uneducated peasant girl from a small Greek village, helped her brothers to fight the marauding warlords who threatened their neighbors. Afterwards, she raised her own army to govern the surrounding territory.
 When Fort Donalson (Tennessee, 1862) was surrounded by the Union Army, Forrest and his men cut their way out in a raging blizzard. He succeeded in getting away, and continued to plague the Union Army. At the fall of Troy, Xena lead the survivors safely out of the city. She refused to surrender, and instead, had the Trojans sneak out inside the discarded Trojan horse (BEWARE GREEKS BEARING GIFTS, #12).
 After four hours of hard fighting, Forrest lead his dismounted calvary in an attack that resulted in one of the most famous Confederate victories of the Civil War. Forrest explained his stunning victory at Brice Crossroads (Mississippi, 1864): "I know they greatly outnumber the troops I have, but the road along which they will march is narrow and muddy and with it being so hot, they will make slow progress. The country is densely wooded and the undergrowth so heavy that when we strike them, they will not know how few men we have." Xena often used the same tactics when she fought.
 Xena had the most important qualities of a good commander -- courage, intelligence, skill, and honor. In the beginning of her career, she was an able general but when she 'lost her way' (SINS OF THE PAST, #01), she descended into bribery and trickery to keep order in her troops (HTLJ: WARRIOR PRINCESS). When she could not defeat Hercules, Xena questioned her abilities until she realized that she had become as evil and vile as the warlords that she originally fought against.
 When Xena admitted her mistakes, she became once again a good commander. She was able to listen and take direction from people she trusted. She regained the trust of her new companions and could lead them into battle, knowing that they would follow her.
On a good day, Xena could subjugate thousands
(1) James Longstreet: Lieutenant General of the Army of Northern Virginia (Confederate). He was called 'Lee's Old Warhorse' for his solid defense and military preparedness.
(2) Winfield Scott Hancock: Major General of the Army of the Potomac (Union). He was called 'Hancock, the Superb' for his ability to effectively handle his men.
On the day before his famous ride, Hancock ordered the 1st Minnesota to fill a hole in the Union line before the Confederate Army over ran his position. They knew it was a suicide mission, but followed orders, giving Hancock needed time to bring the rest of the army on line. The Minnesota regiment suffered over eighty percent casualties.
(3) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain: Colonel of the 20th Maine Regiment, the Army of the Potomac. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his defense of Little Round Top in the battle of Gettysburg (1863). His biographers referred to him as 'The Soul of a Lion'.
Just before Gettysburg, he received 120 men of the former 2nd Maine, mutineers convicted by the regular U.S. army. He convinced all but three to fight with the 20th Maine.
(4) Robert E. Lee: The Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee was beloved by his men and respected for his military abilities. He was considered one of the 'Great Commanders' of the United States.
(5) Pickett's Charge: On the third day of the battle of Gettysburg, Lee ordered Major General George Pickett to take the Union center. Thirty five thousand men marched to Cemetery Ridge, only to be decimated by Union fire. Longstreet believed that a frontal assault across an open field was sheer suicide. He said that Hancock who commanded the Union line was *the best they got*.
(6) William Tecumseh Sherman: Major General, Commander of the Army of the Tennessee (Union). He was famous for the Burning of Atlanta and the March to The Sea. Nathan Bedford Forrest was a thorn in his side.