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A Leadership Story that will Move and Inspire You

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Inspirational Leadership Story

A “stories of leadership” series

I heard a remarkable story yesterday that I surprisingly had never heard before, and one that reminds me of the reason I blog. The mark of the greatest leader, in my opinion, is one who is willing to give his life for another.

The Civil War was a bloody and vicious war. At least 618,000 Americans died and some say the toll reached 700,000. Casualties exceeded all of America’s other wars from the Revolution through Vietnam.

In the winter of 1862 General Robert E. Lee’s forces had claimed several key battlefields in the Eastern Campaign. One of those key battles was as one-sided a victory as a battle could be. It was the Battle of Fredericksburg. On December 13, 1862, Union forces began what was termed a desperate and eventual doomed assault on a heavily fortified position known as the “stone wall at the sunken road.”

After crossing a river the Union confidentially took the town of Fredericksburg with little resistance. The confederate army had voluntarily given up the town so that they might fortify themselves along a stone wall at the base of a sloping hill. As the union army begin to approach the wall they were attacked and by the morning of December 14th over 8,000 Union soldiers had been shot in front of the stone wall. Many of those remaining on the battlefield were still alive, but suffering from their wounds, the cold and thirst.

During that night both sides were forced to listen to the cries and moans of those soldiers for hours. A Confederate soldier stationed near the wall later stated that it was “weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear the cries of dying soldiers filling the air – lying crippled on a hillside so many miles from home – breaking the hearts of soldiers on both sides of the battlefield.”

, an infantry sergeant for the Confederacy could not rest or sleep due to the suffering of the Union soldiers and that morning asked his commanding officer if he could scale the wall and provide water for the suffering Union troops. The commanding officer was reluctant at first because of the danger to Richard, but later allowed him to. As Richard climbed the wall several shots were instantly fired thinking that Kirkland’s motives were to wound more, but after realizing what was happening shooting ceased. Richard Rowland Kirkland made his way to each soldier comforting them the best he could by laying his jacket over one and providing water to the thirsty lips of all. For the next hour and a half he would scale the wall a number of times with his canteen to get more water for his enemy. It was a moment that temporarily stopped the Civil War.

This story deeply touched me. To me this exemplifies the highest calling of leadership. And it embodies the purpose of leadership. That purpose is to care and to serve. Is there one man on that battlefield that wouldn’t have been willing to follow such a servant if asked to? He was the enemy of course, but how much more powerful the example.

What are your thoughts? Are there leaders like this you have admired in your life? Who are they? Please comment below.

Other Leadership Stories you Might Enjoy:

My Favorite Leadership by Example Story Ever – Powerful

A Powerful Story that Could Change a Leader’s and Other’s Life…

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  • Innocent John March 9, 2011, 9:58 pm

    Great story.. Thank you for sharing.. A great example of “Doing the Right Thing”.. Sgt Richard displayed the fortitude that is often missing in Leaders today; but more importantly he showed empathy a virtue hard to find amongst leaders these days…

  • James McIntosh April 10, 2011, 12:07 pm

    Great story – thanks Mike

  • Arlene Day April 19, 2011, 11:45 pm

    This is a story to learn by & tell to our children. Richard Rowland Kirkland was the “Hero” of this story & he was awarded many times on earth & when he went back to Heavenly Father!

  • Jennifer Touma April 20, 2011, 7:13 am

    An emotionally moving story of selfishness and compassion. A lesson that teaches us that being a leader is more than providing direrction and setting vision, its about servant leadership.

  • Mike Rogers April 20, 2011, 10:12 am

    Thanks everyone. I am glad you liked the story! Sometimes what we define traditionally as a leader doesn’t encompass leaders like this that serve in such extraordinary ways.

  • Tia Prang April 25, 2011, 4:03 am

    What an inspirational story! I wish there’s more of Richard Rowland Kirkland in this world. I can’t control what others are acting or thinking. I think leadership starts with yourself.
    My husband and I lived in the States for about 29 years but now, in Qatar. We can not change the world but we sure try to make a difference by giving back to the community. There is a lot of poverty in this world.
    We have had the Cambodian Project for over 8 years and the main focus is to help the poor. We choice a countryside Buddhist Temple (very poor) that lack of basic needs like water, sugar, salt, needs roof repair, clothing, lack of medications, etc. The Buddhist Temple is a holy place where all villagers come together and pray. We start with 1 temple and now, we have 4 of them. Some of our recent projects are cleaning water wells for the temples and purchase the electricity generator. Some villagers walk miles just to get good drinking water or re-charge their battery so they can have light at their home. I can go on and on of what we have done.
    My point of telling you all this is… don’t wait for the leadership to come. Do something about it. Take part in making this world a better place to live.
    Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

  • Bob Horton April 26, 2011, 5:54 pm

    Great story, but what do you mean “He was the enemy of course”? He was helping the enemy.

  • Mike Rogers April 27, 2011, 7:03 am

    Thanks for your comments Tia and Bob. Tia, you are right. There are three types of people, those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who say, what happened. I am happy there are people like you and Richard who make things happen.
    Bob, what I meant by that was that he was the enemy. They were both enemies to each other and would continue to be after this kind act of service. Yes, he was helping the enemy and for that brief moment they were friends I believe. That is what makes this story so interesting to me. It is complex, but yet simple.

  • John Schinnerer May 6, 2011, 11:34 am

    Dear Mike:
    Thanks for sharing that story. A fantastic example of compassion in action which temporarily halted the violence.
    John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
    Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

  • A U D Ugwuadu May 17, 2011, 7:32 am

    Tia, thanks for your assertions. Yes leadership begins from oneself, the family and then the units of the larger society.
    In today’s world, leadership is about being informed, being proactive with compassion, empathy, altruistic, and thereby earning respect and followership.
    If one possesses such characteristics, then one can make things happen, ask questions about what is happening and react in time to make corrections and seize the initiative again.

  • Qu Terry November 15, 2012, 6:45 pm

    Great Story!

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  • phoenix garage installation February 19, 2013, 6:36 pm

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  • Luis A Suarez January 20, 2018, 7:56 am

    will TO Have stories to teach leadership


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