He could trace his roots to John and Priscilla Alden of the Mayflower. With a Puritan pedigree, his was a heritage of patriots who always answered the call to defend their country. With ethnic and religious prejudices so prevalent in this period of the nation’s history, Cushing had no trouble working with heavily-accented Germans or men with thick Irish brogues. They reciprocated with a great deal of admiration for their young commander.
He still looked like a boy at the age of twenty-two. Having proven his courage on other fields of battle, he did not allow his youthful appearance to stand in the way of his desire to succeed. Perhaps to add some semblance of manhood to his image, occasionally he could be seen smoking a pipe or a cigar.
He was planted squarely in the middle of the most dangerous moments of the battle. When a small group of cannoneers panicked, Cushing drew his revolver and screamed, “…come back to your post! The first man who leaves his post again I’ll blow his brains out!” While assisting his cannoneers with loading their guns, they were quickly falling wounded and dead. One particular gun was overheating, and the escaping gases from the barrel burned his thumb to the bone. The pain was unbearable. Suddenly two bullets hit him, one in his right shoulder and one in his stomach area. Seconds later he suffered a direct shrapnel blast to his groin. Bleeding profusely and in excruciating pain, Cushing was going into shock, but somehow continued to give orders that could hardly be heard in the deafening noise of overworked muskets and cannons. His sergeant begged him to go to the rear. Cushing refused, barely uttering the words, “There’s no time…I stay right here and fight it out, or die in the attempt…. I’ll give them one more shot!” With one hand firmly committed to stopping his own bleeding, he continued to direct the firing of whatever shells he had left.
In addition to his brutal wounds, his life ended when a bullet entered through his mouth and plowed a path to the back of his brain. Cushing’s singular effort became another brave contribution to the success of his team, the Union army. His fighting had been terrific, but not void of results.
In addition to exploding artillery shells at the enemy, Cushing exploded perceptions of all those who knew him. He performed with persistence because of his commitment to winning. Cushing also illustrates that although your appearance may have you feeling insecure, your sense of commitment and responsibility may prove to be your ticket to safety, your way out of a jam, your resolution of a conflict, your solution to a problem, or winning a victory in the face of impossible odds. Some influences are neatly disguised.
Place no limits on yourself.
Unlike Cushing most people place limitations on themselves with such thoughts as, “I don’t look old enough for this job,” or, “I’m not educated enough.” However, like Cushing, successful people will overcompensate for deficiencies and succeed. Abraham Lincoln had less than a year of formal education, but he mastered the English language enough to leave us the most powerful speeches ever written to sustain the world’s greatest constitutional republic.
Confide in someone you trust.
Look for positive people to keep you motivated. That is what Cushing did for his men. Positive people may be another teammate, a coworker, or a spouse. These are people who do not think of themselves as leaders, but demonstrate leadership’s most fundamental quality,influencingthose around them to think and act positively. They say an encouraging word, enough for you to make that extra effort. Recognize your own individual ability to influence others for better outcomes in their daily lives. Good employers, good teachers, good friends, good parents, and good children do it every day.
Life is not fair.
Cushing was young, brave, determined, and admired. Yet he was struck down viciously in his prime. Like so many soldiers on the field that day, he suffered under no illusion that nothing adverse would happen to him. If you understand that bad things can happen to you, and you take responsibility for the mistakes you make, you will never think of yourself as a victim.
Copyright 2012 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
The Definition Of Leadership