Fix bayonets…And charge!


I was chatting with a colleague the other day, and we were talking about wrapping up a key phase of a joint project. As we discussed the launch of the next phase, in my exuberance, I said what I always say when I am motivating myself:

“Fix bayonets. And charge!”

The phrase comes from one of my favorite films, Gettysburg. After mentioning it to my colleague, I had a hankering to see it again.

The scene is from Day 2 of the Battle of Gettysburg. The extreme left flank of the Union Army is exposed. The Confederates are trying to outflank and come in from behind to destroy the entire Union Army. It is left to a small regiment, the 20th Maine commanded my Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, to hold the line and keep the left flank from collapsing. (This is a true story, btw…)

Anyways, they have repelled multiple Confederate surges, but are now out of ammunition, exhausted, and suffering from casualties for over half their number. Left with no other options, and no ammunition, Chamberlain orders his regiment to fix their bayonets, and charge down the hill of Little Round Top in one last desperate attempt to hold the flank. Here is the scene:

I don’t mind admitting the scene makes me emotional, and it inspires me every time I see it. When I need a charge or a little boost to lift my spirits, I think of this story about the 20th Maine. It works every time.

So, inspiration in hand, I present you with “Marketing + Life Lessons From Col. Chamberlain:”

1. When you face desperate odds, a little innovation can help you make a last stand. And live to fight another day.
2. Courage – with conviction – will always serve you well.
3. The element of surprise will catch your competition unprepared almost every time. They won’t be prepared for your bold action.
4. When leading a bold action, you must lead the way. As General Longstreet says in the same film, “You can’t lead from behind.”
5. Be sure your team understands what they are supposed to do. Clarity of purpose improves odds of success.
6. Do your duty. When you are charged with a task, fulfill it to best of your ability. Leave no doubt as to your commitment.
7. Keep the task simple. When you think of it, Col. Chamberlain’s order was simple. What made it amazing with the courage it took, but in reality, the task was a simple one. Napoleon said that most generals fail because their plans are too complex.
8. Even in victory, you should be honorable.

Col. Chamberlain went to great heroism during the rest of the Civil War, winning the Medal of Honor, and he went on to serve four terms as Governor of Maine.

Think about how you can pull inspiration from this story, and apply these lessons to both your life and business. And what other lessons can be taken from this scene?

So fix bayonets…and charge!

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  • Todd Youngblood


    Well stated! Hard to internalize that level of courage, leadership and clear communication, but the lessons are so true.

    If you liked the movie, you need to read “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara. It’s a novel, but very true to the facts. I’d loan you my copy, but my #1 daughter “borrowed” it several years ago and now it’s missing in action.


  • Todd

    Oh, I’ve read it multiple times. You might not know, but history is one of two degrees I got in college…

    Yeah, I am inspired by people like Col. Chamberlain, and wonder if I would have that kind of courage when facing a challenge like that…

    Thanks for stopping by, as always…

  • Julian Reid

    One “learning” to consider: “Timing is Everything”

    Remember, the scene starts by re-evaluating the circumstance. From an original position of strength (i.e. high ground, good cover), the Commander is then faced with the facts that he CAN’T retreat, and that his men suddenly have no ammo to defend themselves. The order to “Fix Bayonets” stuns his officers, but he calmly follows up by telling them they’ll have the advantage moving downhill against a tired opponent.

    Clarity-of-thinking in “real-time” to recognize the changes on the battlefield seems at least as important as “innovation” or “boldness” here. The level of desperation limited his choices as a commander, and the only way to maintain an “advantage” was to increase the risk of the tactics. Too often, leaders are too slow to “see” and acknowledge the changes “on the battlefield”.

    Even if the tactic had failed, it was STILL the best available move. “Fear-of-failure” COULD have have been ensured failure in this case. Instead, a bold, tactical surprise saved the day.

    Lots of lessons here…. thanks for raising our awareness!

  • Todd

    Thanks Julien – that is a critical element here. Thanks for adding it to the list of lessons. Appreciate your contribution!