He could qualify as the best coach in the National Football League. A highly aggressive and proud man from Mississippi, he declared that he had “never been whipped and never can be.” A former newspaper editor and congressman with a silver tongue for oratory, he gave inspiring speeches to his men who made up one of the best fighting units in the war. Overly anxious to make a charge in battle and utterly convinced that he could decimate the enemy in five minutes, he was frustrated with an order to wait. That his enemy had a stronger position did not matter. Convinced of success he was emotionally and mentally prepared to demonstrate his desire to achieve it.
When finally given the order to advance, one of his captains observed that Barksdale’s face became “radiant with joy.” While his attack was in motion, one Union officer would later remark that “it was the grandest charge that was ever made by mortal man.” He refused to retreat even when opposing fire was ripping holes in his own line. Urged to halt and regroup, he yelled, “No!…we have [the enemy] on the run.” It was vintage Barksdale, encouraging his men with his own optimism in the very heat of battle: “Brave Mississippians, one more charge and the day is ours!” After using only 4 regiments to whip more than 10 of the enemy’s, his next charge was pushing his luck a little too far.
With unfettered zeal and a ballooning sense of his own prowess, his long white hair simply drew too much attention. While shot in his saddle and in the confusion that followed, he was presumed dead and left on the field. He was captured by Union soldiers and taken to the rear. Defiant to the end, he knew that the only fight left in him was what he could discharge verbally, the kind he demonstrated so well in the halls of Congress. Perhaps he was duty-bound to utter his last words in a final burst of bravado: “Beware! You [Yankees] will have [Confederate General] Longstreet thundering in your rear in the morning!” Warrior William Barksdale would not be whipped
Balance enthusiasm with responsibility.
Barksdale had the vision of an independent South to inspire and motivate his men. They internalized his vision – led by his influence – and fought successfully against all odds. But you cannot win at anything if you choose to be unaware of potential problems. Like Barksdale you cannot win against an opponent if all you have is vision and excitement. You cannot expect something positive to happen unless you are prepared to spend the time, personal energy, and the proper amount of resources to justify your enthusiasm.
Good followers reflect good leaders.
Soldiers are often as good as their commander wants them to be, as players are with their coach, students with their teacher, children with their parents, and employees with their employer. People in leadership positions, who encourage achievement, usually see positive results. People in followship positions, who see results, are easily led. It is no wonder that an encouraging word is good leadership verbalized.
Copyright 2012 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
The Definition Of Leadership