High ground was the highest-priced real estate in battle. Possession was nine-tenths of the law for victory. Woodward was in charge of an infantry regiment that joined forces with three others. Their task was to keep the Confederates from occupying an important hill.
Woodward observed that one particular unit to the immediate left of his position was taking more casualties under repeated attacks, was running out of ammunition, and was on the brink of being overtaken. He sensed that unless he stretched his own line farther to his left, the entire hill would be lost.
By this simple act of extending his own line, Woodward made it possible for the commander of the other regiment to stretch his, thus keeping the hill in Union hands. Woodward’s observation was surprisingly modest, as if to indicate that his action was insignificant: “The contest continued lively,” he wrote later, “until nearly 6 p.m., when the enemy fell back.” The commander whose unit was desperate for assistance, and to this day receives all the credit for holding the hill, expressed a debt of gratitude to Woodward whose “cooperation made his movements conform to my necessities, so my right was at no time exposed to flank attack.” The comments were made by the commander who years later became the most famous citizen-soldier of the Civil War, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
A little can mean a lot.
When a winning team is suddenly in need of help, one person’s action can keep the team from losing. Woodward proved that a seemingly insignificant decision can lead a team to a great victory.
Copyright2012 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
Gettysburg Lessons and Gettysburg Leadership