Major Thomas Osborn commanded a Union artillery unit that was taking direct hits from Rebel cannons immediately prior to Lee’s grandest assault. His “guns were hit and knocked off their carriages,” he later remarked, adding that “ammunition chests were blown up and horses were going down by the half dozen.” Major Osborn best describes the ideal personal disposition in such a stressful situation:
“During such time, the force of will which an officer must bring to bear upon himself in order not only to control his men but also to govern himself, is wonderful. He must by sheer force of will shut up every impulse of his nature, except that of controlling the officers and men subject to his command. He must discard all care of his personal safety and even his own life. The difficult person to control is always himself.”
With a hint of self-deprecation to illustrate this self-control, Osborn related an incident when he met with one of General Meade’s aids, Captain Wadsworth, in a “hailstorm of flying lead.” Both were sitting on their horses.
“While we were talking, a percussion shell struck the ground directly under the horses and exploded. The momentum of the shell carried the fragments along so that neither horse was struck nor did either horse move. When the shell exploded, I was in complete control of my nerves and did not move a muscle of my body or my face. Neither did Wadsworth, but I dropped my eyes to the ground where the shell exploded, and Wadsworth did not. I never quite forgave myself for looking down to the ground when that shell exploded under us. I do not believe that there was a man in the entire army, save Captain Wadsworth, who could have a ten pound shell explode under him without looking where it struck.”
Osborn would have us believe that he was not as self-controlled as Wadsworth. To the contrary, God saw fit to make them a pair of synchronized stone walls.
In the crucible of the moment, Osborn’s imagination went into high gear. Under so much enemy cannon fire, he suggested to General Hunt that the artillery cease firing along the entire Union line. The intent was two-fold: first, to save ammunition for a possible Confederate infantry charge, and second, to give the Rebels the impression that the Union had been defeated in the cannonade. Lee’s officers would be influenced to press his plan for a great assault that would deliver the final blow to the Union. Osborn’s idea was quickly executed; the trap was set. Lee ordered his men into an open field where they ultimately received some of the most destructive cannon fire of the entire war.
Self-control allows you to concentrate.
The exploding shells around you are life’s daily distractions, and self-control will help ensure that you remain focused on what you have to do.
Be an Osborn: speak up! The influence of a simple suggestion may save a relationship, a company, a life, or a country.
Think outside of the box.
You can originate great ideas in an environment of tension and pressure. Osborn’s crafty suggestion at one of the most dangerous points in the battle helped win the day. His textbook training did not include how to employ clever deception, a creative use of the imagination in one of his most stressful moments. It was a classic example of thinking outside of the box, not following by-the-book procedures at a critical time. The most influential ideas can originate from anyone on your team.
Copyright 2013 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
Gettysburg Lessons & Gettysburg Leadership