Devil’s Own Day
In business we all have good days and bad days, victories and defeats. We’ve written about the manic/depressive nature of CEO’s of startups and I hear probably once a month from someone with the exact same experience. How gracious we are during the good times is important. Being humble and showing respect for all the team member’s contributions is important. Even more important than how we behave during victories is how we react during the bad times, after being defeated.
On the western bank of the river, at Pittsburg Landing, an angry, confused and terrified mob of Union skulkers sought shelter alongside the bluffs that overlooked the river. That morning, many of these same troops had been routed from their campgrounds near the primitive Methodist meeting house called Shiloh, 2 1/2 miles southwest of the landing, by onrushing Confederate troops led by General Albert Sidney Johnston’s onrushing Confederate troops, who were seeking to drive the Union invaders from their stronghold in southwestern Tennessee.
The ensuing battle, the bloodiest single day of fighting yet experienced on the North American continent, had settled by nightfall into an exhausted stalemate, with troops on both sides hunkering down for the night in the vine-choked gullies and brambles that gutted the battlefield. By then, Johnston himself was dead, having bled to death from a bullet wound to the knee, and the badly rattled Confederate high command was unsure what to do next. Some argued for an immediate retreat before the enemy could be reinforced; others wanted to renew the battle at dawn.
The Union Commander, Major General Ulysses S. Grant tried to catch a few hours’ sleep in the shelter of an oak tree but was unable to because of the rain and an injured ankle. He relocated to a log cabin on the bluff above the river but surgeons had taken over the cabin and the screams of the wounded were too much. “The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire,” Grant recalled in his memoirs, “and I returned to my tree in the rain.” It was there that his second-in-command, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, found him chewing on a cigar. “Well, Grant,” said Sherman, “we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”
How did Grant reply? Did he blame his lieutenants for not leading properly or question the bravery of his soldiers? How would you have reacted? It’s tempting when suffering from a major defeat to give into your own sorrow and think about yourself. No doubt as business leaders we still have families and obligations outside of the business that we have to think about. These pull on us to not remain stoic for our troops, not to be the inspiration most needed at this time.
To Sherman’s “we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”, “Yes,” Grant replied “lick ’em tomorrow, though.”