Licensed Battlefield Guide (unedited)
He was a 50 year old Union Colonel at Gettysburg leading men half his age. He had been a farmer, a tanner, a State Senator and Congressman from upstate New York. When the 126th New York was recruited in August, 1862 he became its first commander.
After minimal training, the unit was sent to Harper’s Ferry. Sherrill received a severe wound to his mouth and jaw, while leading his men, but that did not stop others from calling the 126th a part of the “Harper’s Ferry Cowards” because of their capture. At Gettysburg, Sherrill and his command face withering combat on July 2nd and 3rd. On the second, facing the collapse of the Union left-center, General Hancock sends the Brigade, of which Sherrill is a part, to counterattack some of the same Mississippians that captured them at Harper’s Ferry.
The Brigade successfully stops Barksdale’s attack and recaptures several cannons. In the pullback from that area, the Brigade Commander, George Willard, is killed and Sherrill is thrust into that command. The then “excitable Hancock” later places Sherrill under arrest. On July 3rd, supported by his Division commander and other officers of the Brigade, who were angered by his removal, Sherrill resumes command just in time to lead his men to defend against “Pickett’s Charge.” Near the climax of that charge, Sherrill is mortally wounded, where the 126th’s monument now stands in Ziegler’s Grove.
Determination & Commitment
No matter one’s age or experience level, all are capable of inspiring others. At Harper’s Ferry, a lieutenant wrote of Sherrill that he “never saw a man exhibit such courage…he being continual along our lines from the commencement till he was hit!” On July 2nd at Gettysburg, he shouted to his Adjutant, “I want to lead these boys once more!” as the cry of “Remember Harper’s Ferry” rang out. If you expect others to work hard and follow, you need to lead by example. Once you have gained your team’s respect by your actions, they will be more likely to follow your lead and achieve collective goals.
Serve as a role model.
On July 3rd at Gettysburg, Sherrill, while riding behind his lines, shouted to his men “Remember Harper’s Ferry, Boys. Fix Bayonets. Load and wait and wait until they get close to us.” Even well after Gettysburg, at Bristoe Station, in October, Sherrill’s former Division Commander, Alex Hays, would state that the men of his command “have remembered poor Colonel Sherrill & have shown him up another round.” You need to lead as you want your leader to be. You can do this by empowering, trusting and setting an example of yourself, instead of just “showing up” and assuming others will.
Copyright 2013 Paul Lloyd Hemphill