He was related to the Revolutionary War soldier and legend, Ethan Allen, of Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys. At Gettysburg two very special soldiers were related to Randall: his two sons. One was a junior officer and the other a twelve-year-old drummer boy. One can only imagine the anguish suffered at home by a wife and mother.
Randall had recently recruited a new group of soldiers whose commitment to service was only ninety days. Their jobs were menial: guard duty on railroads, or building fortifications and roads. They had no battle experience, and within days they would be discharged. They thought the war was an unpleasant drudgery that would soon be over. They did not know they were about to be involved in the war’s greatest battle on the last day of fighting. When asked in a stressful moment if his men could fight, Randall responded, “…my regiment being a new organization has seen but little fighting, but I have unbounded confidence in them.” Yet one incident described later by a private in Randall’s regiment would clarify his perception of men not accustomed to battle. He wrote: “…a whole regiment (what was left of it) came running…to escape the deadly shower of shot and shell that hailed down among them. They were simply frightened and were seeking cover against danger…” Randall could have arrested these men for desertion, but instead he
…placed himself in front of these boys…and tried to shame them and restore confidence by referring to his boys of the 13th, saying to them… “See these boys, they don’t run and they were never in a battle; you ought to be ashamed to run because a few shells are being fired over this way, better hasten back to your position…” The officers of that regiment, with Colonel Randall’s assistance, induced them to return to their position and back they went up the hill in good order no doubt feeling ashamed for their momentary undue weakness and folly.
Randall and his men later faced an opponent who had captured cannons he was asked to retake. Due to the inexperience of his soldiers, Randall harbored some doubt as to whether he could get the job done. “I told him [General Hancock] I thought I could, and that I was willing to try.” After giving the order, “my men sprang forward with the bayonet with so much precipitancy that they [the Rebels] appeared to be taken wholly by surprise…surrendering…” With some knee-bruising along the way, Randall succeeded in his attempt, but not before his officer-son endured the scare of his life. Prior to his father retrieving the cannons that were captured earlier, his son witnessed his father and horse fall to the ground. Assuming the worst he rushed to his father and saw that only the horse had been shot.
General Hancock observed the results of Randall’s men and shouted: “That was well done! Give me Vermonters for a charge.” What Randall accomplished next was what career officers dream about, that is, having a substantial impact on the course of a major fight. Randall led his men on a flanking attack hitting the Confederates from the side as they were moving forward. His men so crippled the Confederates during Pickett’s Charge that he had to order his men to cease-fire. Fortunately for Mrs. Randall, she was able to see her husband and sons again.
If you do not try at the first opportunity to do anything, you may never get another chance. Or, if you simply do not try, you will never know if you would have succeeded. Lack of experience usually holds people back from acting. But with no experience, Randall tried and succeeded. Based on successes in your past, regardless of how small, your self-confidence will influence you to try possibilities never before considered. The first step in self-confidence is to accept your past achievements as real and indisputable. Or, as Yoda in Star Wars would say, “Do or not do. There is no try.”
Copyright 2013 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
Gettysburg Lessons and Gettysburg Leadership