Washington County's leaders need to look to the future

February 13, 2011|By ART CALLAHAM

Hello readers, and hello to my good friend Spence Perry, who recently submitted a wonderful piece (Herald-Mail, Feb. 7) on the challenges facing our community as we select new leadership in crucial positions. Great job Spence!

Taking off on Spence’s lead I thought I might submit a series of articles concerning my views about leadership. These articles will be based on a number of lectures I give to students I teach who are studying in the management curriculum at some of our local colleges. I hope that the points made in these articles are helpful to us, as a community, in meeting the challenges that Spence outlines.

In a letter home, an anonymous Confederate soldier, his name lost to history, wrote the following concerning doing his duty during battle: “I am no more or less a coward than anyone else, God knows that I am not brave; but give me the bullet instead of the coward when my friends march forward to do their duty.” Do their duty; do your duty, an individual or corporate trait of a leader, second only in this soldier’s thought about moving forward.

The Color Bearers story: In December 1862, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was arrayed on the heights above the town of Fredericksburg, Va. In the history of warfare, up until that cold December day, there may never have been a more defensible position or a more capable army in the defense. On the right of the defensive line was the Wing of the Army commanded by “Stonewall” Jackson, his far right was anchored on a curve in the Rappahannock River and his left was butted against a presumed impenetrable swamp.

Across the swamp and continuing left was the Wing of the Army commanded by James “Old Pete” Longstreet. The center of Old Pete’s wing was concealed behind a long stone wall in a sunken road along Marye’s Heights. Further to the left and securing both sides of the Confederate line was the indomitable cavalry of J.E.B. Stuart. Longstreet was so confident in the Confederate position that he commented to Robert E. Lee, commander of the entire Army of Northern Virginia, that even if the entire Union Army crossed the river and attacked in mass, if Longstreet had enough ammunition no Union soldier would get within 100 feet of Longstreet’s position.

Any attack by the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Ambrose Burnside, would first have to cross the Rappahannock River and then attack up hill. Yet attack they did.  Fourteen Color Bearers were shot down that day, and fourteen times some unnamed Union soldier picked up what amounted to a bright piece of cloth and moved the Colors forward. Forward into the killing slope that was Marye’s Heights.  Longstreet’s prediction was nearly accurate; at the end of the battle only one dead Union soldier was found within 30 feet of the stone wall at the center of the Confederate line. The overall attack failed miserably. Lee, in a famous quote, said after the battle: “it is well that war is so terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.”  

But this column is not about war; rather, it is about leadership and the leadership trait of moving forward and doing your duty. It is my ardent prayer that no leaders in our community will ever have to give their lives while leading this community. The story here is a shocking example of leaders, through self-sacrifice, moving forward and doing their duty.

You see the Union leaders that day in 1862 were the Color Bearers, when the colors moved forward the line moved forward, when the line moved forward the unit and the entire army moved forward. Leadership locally is, in part, moving the community forward and new leaders must concern themselves with moving into new areas and not looking back at ground already covered. In this story that is what each successive Color Bearer did. In spite of adversity, our new community leaders, like the Color Bearers, must move us forward. Therefore, we as a community must look for new leaders that will do this.

So, to Washington County and to my friend Spence, one trait of the new leadership in our community must be forward thinking coupled with moving forward. In a later column, I will address some thoughts on what is one’s duty and what inspires individuals to do their duty. In the meantime, I will look forward to meeting our new leaders.

Art Callaham is a local community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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