Don’t Forget Your Ladder
Today is a big day for me! While most of my work, as you know, centers on sports and business, all of my work revolves around leadership. Today, I get a chance to see my 27th book get published, and my third with Brian Kilmeade. We have studied U.S. history for great lessons in leadership, bravery, and moments that changed the world. I hope that you will enjoy this blog...and even go out and grab a copy of our new book!
With cannons firing and rifles cracking, the British army surged forward towards the huge earthworks the Americans had erected to block the invaders’ path to New Orleans.
On this cold, foggy January morning in 1815, the last battle of the War of 1812 was being waged across a narrow strip of land that would decide the fate of the city and potentially even the whole of the Louisiana territory.
For the past few weeks, General Andrew Jackson and a ragtag army of volunteers, militia, locals, Native Americans, fishermen, slaves, and pirates had fought to hold the city at all costs, but they were bruised and battered. The redcoats seemed poised at last to succeed. Their only obstacle left was to scale a small moat and massive bulwark that the Americans had constructed out of the Louisiana muck across the stretch of dry land of Chalmette Plantation between the Mississippi River on one side and a swamp on the other.
The night the before, the British had made their final plans. General Packenham asked Lt Col Mullins to confirm the location of the essential supplies: ladders, fascines, and bales of sugarcane tied together to fill the moat. Mullins, in turn, had reached out to an engineer officer, who assured him that everything was secured in the advance redoubt—the temporary shelter the British had erected en route to the American line, in anticipation of the battle to come. Satisfied with the engineer’s answer, Mullins had assured the general all was as it should be and the attack launched as planned the following morning.
Despite the constant barrage of bullets from the Americans, Mullins and the men of the 44th Regiment pushed past one redoubt 1200 yards from the American line, and towards the second one that had been erected overnight, 500 yards closer to the earthworks. This was the location, Mullins believed, of the supplies necessary to carry out their mission. Clawing their way towards the structure, Mullins was elated to reach it—only to feel his stomach drop as he saw no ladders and no fascines waiting for them. The engineer from whom he had received his report the night before had clearly not been aware of the construction of this new redoubt. The 44th had fought all the way forward, only to arrive empty-handed.
Without the ladders, their press was useless; there was no way to ford the moat or scale the wall. Mullins had no choice but to order his men to retreat backwards to the other redoubt to get the material. In the meantime, the other regiments continued to push forward, past the 44th. Other men were nearing the earthworks now, but without the 44th’s assistance, they had nowhere to go. The British may have been vastly superior in number and discipline, but with no means of charging the American line, they were sitting ducks.
This story was just one of many powerful lessons I encountered as I was working on my latest book with Brian Kilmeade, Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans, which is released today.
Have you ever forgotten your ladders? Have you ever been poised for a major victory, only to discover that you overlooked something seemingly insignificant? Or have you ever taken someone else’s word for something you should have confirmed for yourself? Often, by the time we realize our mistake, it’s too late to do anything about it.
Just imagine how the tide of history might have changed if one person had not failed to follow up on the details. Of course, in this case, Mullins’ oversight turned out well for the Americans, but that is because Jackson’s men were ready and waiting to pounce on that opportunity. Just as we must be vigilant in checking our ladders, we cannot count on our competition to forget theirs; we have to be prepared to fend off any charge, no matter how weak or strong.
For more great lessons in leadership from American history, read Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans and share your thoughts!
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