Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard, the Creole Confederate general, is probably best known for having ordered the first shots of the Civil War when he directed a bombardment against Fort Sumter. However, one of his greatest moments of leadership may have come in 1862 on the second day of the Battle of Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee.
The first day of fighting had been one of success for the Confederate forces, as they had driven the Union soldiers from their positions and had even managed to overrun the toughest stronghold of the Union line, a position on a sunken road that had been nicknamed “The Hornet’s Nest.” At the end of the day Beauregard had assumed command because General Albert Sidney Johnston had been mortally wounded by a shot to his leg that had severed his femoral artery. The fatal wound had come while Johnston had been, heroically and perhaps foolhardily, personally leading his troops in a charge. Nonetheless, Beauregard and his officers were confident that April the 7th would be no different than the 6th and they would run the Yankees all the way back across the river.
However, the next day they were surprised by a counterattack devised by Grant and his generals. To make matters worse, despite their intelligence informing them otherwise, General Buell and his Army of the Ohio had been marching toward them. His arrival and deployment of troops had strengthened the Union forces overnight.
Despite this shock, Beauregard set to work organizing and rallying his troops. As the battle begin to rage, and a hot one it was, Beauregard set out to be the example of fighting spirit he felt his men needed. He personally took hold of the colors of two “wavering regiments” and led them into the fray. Concerned for his wellbeing, particularly in the light of what had happened to Johnston the day before, one of Beauregard’s friends implored him to show caution, no doubt hoping the general would fall back and command the battle from a safer location.
Beauregard’s fiery response? “The order now must be ‘Follow,’ not ‘Go’!”
Leaders, we are in the thick of it. We must lead by example. It will be our fervor that ignites theirs, our dedication that inspires their own, and our willingness to engage that will light the way for those we lead. Let us not lay out plans and shift resources, all while refusing to grab the flag and lead the way. Leader, refuse to sit safely in the HQ tent while your people do the fighting, only to show up later for receipt of adulation. Lead, leaders! The order of the day must be FOLLOW not GO!