The battle of Gettysburg was won by a dedicated group of teachers. That was the proud claim made by a school principal, George McFarland, who fought there. "The victory at Gettysburg," he wrote, was "the work of the teacher!"
McFarland was in charge of some one hundred educators who made up a quarter of what became known as the "Schoolteachers' Regiment." His claim had universal appeal: the attitudes and convictions of the fighting men on both sides were the assumed result of the impact teachers had on their lives, long before they arrived at Gettysburg.
"Who that reflects," he concluded, "upon the costly sacrifices the teachers of our country made both in their own persons and in those of their pupils, can doubt this?"
George Fisher McFarland worked on the family farm as a youth and attended school for several weeks during the winter. After doing occasional work on boats that traveled on Pennsylvania's Susquehanna Canal, he began teaching at the unusually young age of sixteen. At age twenty-one he was elected principal of an academy.
An educational entrepreneur of sorts, he bought and principled his own academy three years later. When Lincoln called for more volunteers for the war effort in 1862, McFarland closed his school and recruited his own teachers and students to form a regiment of volunteers.
After doing guard duty in Virginia, these volunteers marched toward Gettysburg with a mission. "We are approaching the state of our birth," McFarland explained in a letter to his wife, "not to enjoy peace and comfort there, but to drive out the invading foe. But they will pay for their temerity.They will not long pollute the soil of Pennsylvania with impunity."
McFarland could not envision the price he and his men would have to pay for their convictions. His patriotism was shared by his fellow teachers: "I regret the loss of the many gallant patriots who lost their lives or received honorable scars in its ranks; but I rejoice it was in the battle of Gettysburg and in defense of human freedom and republican institutions."
Like so many other moments in this battle, McFarland found himself in a position of having to purchase one of war's most precious commodities - time. Being outnumbered, bravery alone could not stop the Rebel advance.
McFarland took what may be regarded in modern terms as an entrepreneurial approach to fighting battles: instead of employing the outmoded tactic of bunching his men together to project a huge mass of fire on the enemy, he had them aim and shoot at specific individuals.
His fire, he later wrote, had an "effectiveness which the enemy himself respected and afterward acknowledged..." [The enemy] "suffered very heavily from our deliberate...fire..." Confirming McFarland's assessment, a Southern officer later offered the compliment that "the enemy [was] stubbornly resisting."
His observation about the fate of his beloved schoolteachers and students was sobering: "...my gallant officers and men fell thick and fast." Witnessing the carnage, McFarland never imagined that another Confederate officer would honor the schoolteachers' fighting as "the most destructive fire of musketry I have ever been exposed to."
The battered remnants of his regiment had regrouped behind fences and trees to withstand another Rebel onslaught. McFarland was shot in both legs and would lie in his own blood for two days before receiving medical attention. The wait and crude surgical skills caused the amputation of one leg; the other caused him discomfort for the rest of his life.
McFarland's commander, General Abner Doubleday, had no doubt as to the sacrifice made by the school teachers on this first day: "...they won, under the brave McFarland, an imperishable fame...and enabled me, by their determined resistance, to withdraw...in comparative safety."
With four hundred and sixty-seven men going into their fight, the Schoolteachers Regiment suffered an astounding casualty rate of more than seventy percent during the battle. The enlistment period for McFarland and his men was to expire in less than thirty days.
Teach by example.
Parents are the first teachers and leaders. What they do, suggests McFarland, has such a powerful influence on their children's actions and moral framework that it determines the outcome of battles, not to mention other less dramatic events. What you say or do, be it positive or negative, is the trigger of someone else's thought or action. Whether you realize it or not, you always have an influence,you are always leading.
Narrow your focus.
As McFarland instructed his men to aim carefully at individual targets, they were more effective in achieving their larger objective. In other words, break down your goal into smaller goals. For example, to lose twenty-five pounds in six months, aim to lose sixteen ounces every week; to read an assigned book of two hundred and eighty pages in two weeks, read only twenty pages a day; to watch a ten-part educational video formaximum gain, watch only one part at a time.
Teach and lead at any age.
You can be certain that McFarland started teaching earlier than at age sixteen. It can be said that a newborn baby exercises the greatest influence because the new mother - now in the role as follower - responds to the infant's every gesture. Similarly a mother complains of the "terrible twos" because the child is demonstrating too much influence in a leadership role.
Copyright 2013 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
From the book, Gettysburg Lessons in the Digital Age
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By Paul Lloyd Hemphill
by Andy Ward, Licensed Battlefield Guide and guest author for March, 2014
Colonel Charles W. Tilden was only thirty-one years of age when he commanded the 16th Maine Infantry at Gettysburg. Before the war, Tilden had been active in a local militia group in his native Castine Maine. This company of militia enlisted in the 2nd
Maine Infantry in May of 1861. Tilden joined with the rank of lieutenant. By the time his enlistment had expired in June of 1862 he held the rank of captain.
The 16th Maine mustered into service during the late summer of 1862 with Tilden as the lieutenant-colonel. With their colonel absent, Tilden commanded the regiment during the battle of Fredericksburg. Although they suffered heavy casualties, the men were impressed with Tilden. They remarked how cool and inspiring he was under fire. The men were delighted when he was promoted to colonel and given permanent command of the regiment.
During the afternoon of July 1, 1863, Tilden and the members of the 16th Maine found themselves in a very difficult situation on Oak Ridge at Gettysburg. Confederate solders were converging towards Gettysburg from three directions. Things looked bleak for the outnumbered Union soldiers. It looked like they would be overrun and defeated before they could reform on the high ground south and east of town. Union division commander General John Robinson would basically sacrifice the 16th Maine in an attempt to delay the Confederates long enough for the rest of his division to make their way toward the high ground!
First an aide arrived with the order to hold at all cost, and then Robinson conferred directly with Tilden. As the rest of the Union soldiers quickly left the ridge, Tilden and the less then three hundred men of the 16th Maine began to advance toward the edge of the Mummasburg Road with Tilden in the lead limping badly. Earlier in the fighting, Tilden’s horse had been shot from under him and his leg was bruised but he had refused to leave the field. In a testament to his leadership ability, one of Tilden’s men later recalled that “every man knew that the movement meant death or capture”, yet every man followed him to the edge of the road. With Confederate soldiers converging from three sides, the 16th began to fall back firing, contesting every inch of ground. Eventually Tilden and over one hundred of his men would be captured near the railroad cut, but their heroic action undoubtedly saved the lives of countess Union soldiers who were able to reform on Cemetery Hill.
Don’t panic, and keep calm when confronted by difficult situations
Keeping ones composure and thinking with a clear head is important in any situation. Tilden had the utmost respect from his men because of his coolness under pressure. He showed this ability at both Fredericksburg and Gettysburg so his men responded likewise. Had Tilden panicked, been unsure of himself, or been outwardly upset it is doubtful that the regiment could have advanced to the road in an orderly manner and been successful at delaying the Confederates. The attributes that Tilden displayed would be applicable in any situation today.
Lead by Example
It is important for any effective leader to have the respect of his men, and there is no better way to do this then lead by example. Through out the afternoon of July 1, 1863, Tilden was with his men urging them on, and he was right out front leading them towards the Mummasburg Road. Tilden also set an example by refusing to leave the field when his horse was shot from under him.
Take Commitment Seriously
Under the circumstances it would have been easy for Tilden to order his regiment to fall back much more quickly than he did. However, he had given his word to General Robinson that the regiment would delay the Confederates as long as possible. Tilden took this commitment seriously, and the fate of the Union Army at Gettysburg may have been saved as a result of his actions. Prior to being captured, Tilden was confronted by a young Confederate soldier who threatened to kill him if he did not surrender his sword. The sword had been presented to him by the people of Maine, and Tilden had undoubtedly promised to guard it with his life and he did so at Gettysburg. He broke his sword rather then surrendering it. Following Tilden’s example the men of the 16th Maine showed commitment by tearing up their precious flags to keep them from getting captured.
Copyright 2014 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
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Paul Lloyd Hemphill, a life-long marketing specialist, is frustrated with how American history is taught in our schools - through boring textbooks and too many uncommitted teachers. On his own initiative, he chose the battle of Gettysburg as the vehicle to change how American history is taught. Convinced he needed to entertain students in order for them to be receptive to learning history, he employs the digital media they prefer as a learning tool: video and audio. These stories reveal an unexpected bonus which historians are not obliged to discuss: the ingredients of success that are a proven part of your DNA. This blog complements his digital approach since so many adults still treasure reading the written word.