Every time you view a military funeral, or attend a Memorial Day salute to America’s war dead, you will hear the musical notes he ordered a young private to write: Taps, originally known as Butterfield’s Lullaby.
A scholar and former law student, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for picking up a fallen flag and bravely leading a charge in a battle one year earlier. By contrast at Gettysburg he did sloppy staff work for the commanding general of the Union forces, George Meade. Disliked by other generals who had to report to his boss, one of them remarked with prophetic accuracy, “…that he knew Butterfield well, that he was a bad man & feared Gen’l Meade would regret retaining him.” When orders were given to shift a large body of soldiers from one position to another on July 2, he failed to send orderlies or staff officers to guide them. That left twenty-five hundred men in suspension when they could have been used to defend important positions.
His apparent incompetence took a seemingly positive turn. To his credit Butterfield had taken it upon himself to draw up a contingency plan of retreat in case Meade found his forces in serious trouble, a plan that would anticipate nearly everything the enemy might do. It was Meade’s method of operations to anticipate every contingency, but since he did not order any retreat plan, it is entirely possible that Butterfield was only anticipating his superior’s wishes.
What Butterfield did not anticipate was the bitterness he would cause by not telling his commander about it, and later proclaiming that Meade had actually intended a retreat. Butterfield professed later to be following orders from his superior, but Meade made no such request and only learned of Butterfield’s plans of retreat eight months later. It was a startling piece of revisionist history in the making. For sinister reasons Butterfield’s version of the retreat story was intended to benefit his friend and Meade’s most contemptible critic, Dan Sickles.
Butterfield lied repeatedly to certify unfounded claims by Sickles. The controversy he unleashed was not settled until thirty-five years later when Alexander Webb, one of Meade’s generals and now his one-man truth squad, weighed in with convincing statements regarding the absurdity of the retreat allegation. Webb’s return fire scored a direct hit, and Butterfield’s years of harvesting a dual crop of controversy and ill-feeling came to an abrupt end. Instead of passing into history with military distinction, he stewed in the toxic juices of his own making and slithered into obscurity.
Butterfield proved his bravery in battle, but he forfeited his honor by confirming his duplicity. If people come to know you as a fraud, you will influence them to distrust you. Isolation from others will be your fate.
Get along with cohorts.
In the world of office politics where one person may engage in self-important activities, it often takes the form of disparaging someone else’s performance. In a highly competitive marketplace, or in any place, there is no justification for Butterfield behavior. Consistent twisting of the truth will shorten your employment and contaminate any attempts to establish or maintain long-term relationships.
Copyright © 2011 Paul Lloyd Hemphill