He came from a French family with a two-hundred-year history of knights, counts, and military men. After his father moved the family to New Jersey, he had his fourteen-year-old son continue his education in Paris, later matriculating to a government school for officers in the French army. Learning social graces with a countess who was his aunt, Louis became an attractive and affable young man. He now enjoyed the image of a scholar and a gentleman. In 1858, he returned to his New Jersey home, and by the outbreak of the war he seemed destined for a leadership role. He was selected to be captain of his own regiment.
With the admiration and great respect of his men, he was described by one of his sergeants in a New Jersey newspaper: “Our boys are in perfect love with him, and will follow him through ‘thick and thin’…Capt. Francine will leave his mark.” In two separate instances that were highly unusual during the war, when two higher officer positions became vacant, petitions from his own men were signed so that Francine could be promoted. One petition read that a promotion was “due to him for his untiring efforts towards promoting the efficiency and discipline of the regiment.” Within his own ranks this impressive captain became a colonel by petition, practically unheard of in the annals of war. The fact remains that he made his men models of precision and drill, a discipline that would serve them well in the days ahead.
At Gettysburg Francine’s regiment was ordered to support an artillery battery that was already dueling with a Rebel unit. With no cover and no place to go under intense fire, Francine ordered his men to hug the ground with no way to escape the terror of the moment. With enemy shells making direct hits, dismembered bodies started to populate quickly. Francine had no alternative but to order a retreat. He was stopped by a general’s aid, reminding him that he had to hold his position at all costs since his men were “doing fine execution.” His immediate response: “I was only trying to get a better position for my men, who I am losing very fast.”
Confusion was killing the notion of making a last stand. More Rebels were pouring in on a hopelessly vulnerable Union position. Colonel Francine ordered his men to fix bayonets and make a desperate charge, but it was too late. In a matter of minutes, half of his men were either dead or wounded. Francine received a severe wound to the thigh, which would prove mortal two weeks later.
Within a year his father died after being so stricken with grief. The very men who petitioned to have their leader promoted convened a meeting a month later to commemorate his death with these words:
Resolved, That we…feel deeply the loss of one who by his many acts of kindness, and who, as a soldier, friend, and gentleman had won our highest esteem and regard.
Use the Golden Rule.
The best leader can be the one who practices the Golden Rule. Understand, trust, respect, and above all, appreciate your followers as Francine did. As a group their positive responses will influence you to continue your positive behavior. Treat others as you would like others to treat you, and you can influence a person, a team, or an army to do just about anything.
Copyright 2012 Paul Lloyd Hemphill, from the book, Why You Are Already A Leader
Gettysburg Lessons and Gettysburg Leadership