A. P. Hill’s commander, Robert E. Lee, believed that God had a lot to do with the outcome of battles. But God was not in the details for Hill. As an impulsive warrior, Hill was convinced that victory came with a heavy dose of self-confidence. Not a religious man, he was probably superstitious, wearing a red flannel shirt into every battle and keeping a good-luck hambone from his mother in his pocket.
In spite of being ill on the first day of the battle, he was eager for a fight. He loved the thrill of defeating an opponent and the exhilarating feelings that came with victory. He wanted to be in the thick of the battle and again accomplish feats for which he was known in other engagements, like “rescuing” General Lee at the battle of Antietam. Such achievements perhaps validated for Hill an impulsiveness that would wreak havoc later on Lee’s plans for an offensive battle.
With his ability to motivate troops who admired him and a reputation for molding the best fighting unit in the Confederate army, Hill was a one-man command team. Although he spearheaded victory for the South on the first day at Gettysburg, he made significant errors in judgment. Prior to the battle he practically dismissed a subordinate officer’s warning that there was a group of Yankee cavalry ahead. He considered it a mere “detachment of observation” (He was calling a looming hurricane a gentle breeze) that could not withstand an assault by a large body of Rebel infantry.
Without notifying his commander, a hasty Hill ignored signs of the greater danger and allowed one of his commanders to take the initiative that would eventually blow in the storm. As a result, Lee was forced to abandon his plan of concentrating his entire army at Cashtown (eight miles from Gettysburg) that called for preventing the Union army, in Lee’s words, “from advancing farther west, and intercepting our communication with Virginia.”
Hill’s impetuosity was history’s way of guaranteeing that the Civil War’s greatest battle would never be called the Battle of Cashtown.
On the second day, ordered by Lee to support another commander in an attack and to make certain that his own commanders were following their assignments, Hill was nowhere near the top of his game. With opportunities being lost, it was apparent that illness was trumping command responsibilities.
The third day for Hill was a near repeat of the second. Lee ordered him to be ready as a support force during Pickett’s Charge. His participation was never ordered. As a warrior abandoned to the periphery, Hill allowed his artillery to engage in a wasteful use of precious ammunition on a barn, and disallowed its use when it could have been most effective. In short, the talented but sickly Hill contributed little to the Southern effort at Gettysburg.
Use the ASK formula.
When immediate problems demand immediate solutions, find people who are willing to help, especially the most enthusiastic like Hill who are eager to prove themselves. They will assist you by the influence of your request. If perfect strangers will take the time and energy to give you travel directions when you are lost, people known to you will come to your rescue. They may be family members, associates, or employees. Always use the ASK formula for success: Ask and you shall receive; Seek and you shall find; Knock and it shall be opened to you.
You cannot always lead others to act out your intentions if you are ill. Hill proved it for three days. He was not always available when he was needed. He was ineffectual, and by extension, delinquent in his performance thereby contributing to the defeat of the South. Take care of yourself everyday so that you, your team, group, company or family can perform at its best.
Make your talents known.
If you have Hill’s talent and enthusiasm, but you are not appreciated, there is always someone looking for good talent, and it will be your enthusiasm that will influence someone to tap your abilities.
Copyright © 2011 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
Coming this Saturday: O.O. Howard