NOTE To New Readers: This Saturday blog is not a standard historical narrative. Watch this short video, which explains our purpose. Click here.
Rodes was unlike most other Rebel commanders. He was young, handsome, and described by one historian as “a Norse God in Confederate gray.” He was not educated at West Point, but instead graduated from the Virginia Military Institute where eventually he became a math teacher.
Once the war began, he recruited a company of Alabamians and became its commanding officer. He performed so well in one battle that his superior, West Pointer James Longstreet, observed his “coolness, ability, and determination.” Another Rebel observer wrote that after he would attend to some detail with his men, he would “ride on again, humming to himself and catching the ends of his long, tawny moustache between his lips.” In short, he enjoyed his work.
Rodes suffered injuries in two separate battles, yet his continued bravery earned him a promotion to Major General just before Gettysburg. He became a headstrong commander who took immediate action whenever he saw the opportunity, and his superiors’ expectations were growing with each success. But his aggressiveness was going to be used mindlessly as he charged towards his next challenge.
During the battle Rodes went prematurely into an attack posture before learning the strengths and weaknesses of his opponent. Although his charge was successful, it proved too expensive with the loss of some twenty-five hundred men. Instead of taking advantage of an accomplishment, he stopped to reorganize his men when it was more critical to quickly rush and overtake an enemy in chaos. Recognition now came in the form of disapproving comments from associate officers and ordinary privates. He was never again considered a rising star in the officer class, and was never again considered for further promotion. Instead of changing him, the battle marked him.
Past performance is no guarantee of future success.
To rely on the successes of past performance, as Rhodes did, can lead to failure, or at least encourage a dangerous complacency that keeps you blind to failure. By their influence your past achievements can influence you to take on new and greater challenges, and give you that extra vigilance to minimize your mistakes.
Examine your options.
The average individual is exposed to thousands of advertisements daily, seeking to influence you to take advantage of “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Unlike Rodes, do your homework before acting. Check a proposition for its strengths and weaknesses. Failure to take time to investigate your options can spell disaster.
Copyright 2012 Paul Lloyd Hemphill