I love to read and when I know I am going to be traveling or taking a vacation, I start looking for a great book to read, preferably, history or a biography. I know I will have some extra down time on planes and maybe relaxing on a beach or sitting by a pool and time for some good reading. This last trip I picked up a great biography, Rebel Yell, The Life of Stonewall Jackson, one of the most celebrated Commanders of the Civil War. He was also recognized for his strategic innovations that shattered the conventional wisdom of how war was being waged. He was so far ahead of his time that his techniques would be studied for generations.
Now think about this description of him fourteen months before he steps on to a battlefield in the Civil War. As a Professor at the Virginia Military Institute he was an unpopular Professor, seen as eccentric, he had odd habits, strangely silent in manner, a host of health problems and was thought by almost everyone who knew him to be lacking in even the most basic leadership skills. However, the Confederate Army was in desperate need of any one with military experience and Colonel Jackson did fit that bill!
Now go figure this one…He enters the Civil War leading a brigade, (approx. 2,500 men) and in 78 days, he has engineered one of the greatest military campaigns in American history and was one of the most famous men in the Western World. How in the world did he do that? Well trust me, you know the answer to this story, if you read this blog regularly you know what “Old Jackson” was up to LONG BEFORE he entered the Civil War…Building Mastery!
You see, Jackson knew one thing for sure, you will fail but that is only an opportunity to try again. He was a terrible public speaker and was even made fun of as he spoke at Village Council Meetings. So what did he do, he sought out more opportunities in his church to offer prayers or speak. He knew he was not popular with his students but he never quit preparing for each class and perfecting the content he offered. Studying, reading and learning as much as he could. He taught the mechanics and principals of Artillery Warfare at VMI and clearly demonstrated real mastery of the subject but struggled to impart this knowledge to his students. Jackson had this strong intestinal fortitude that never allowed him to quit anything, it was merely another opportunity for him to practice, to seek out mentors, which he did regularly and to always be as prepared as he possibly could.
What you have in Colonel Jackson is a man who understands who he is, his strengths, weaknesses, his discipline, focus, Faith in God and a resilience that doesn’t allow him to quit anything……….AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…Building Mastery!
From March 23 rd. to June 9th 1862, what Jackson did in those 78 days made him one of the most celebrated field commanders of the war. Using a combination of speed, deception and sheer audacity, Jackson now with 17,000 men, had taken on and beaten Union forces that totaled 52,000 men. Jackson marched his men at a pace unknown to soldiers of the day, covering an astounding 646 miles in 48 days, fighting five major battles almost daily and routing the Union Forces in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign.
So there you have it, a man who is eccentric, quirky, introverted, quiet and totally committed to personal excellence. AND goes down in history as one of the most celebrated Field Commanders of all time!