Oh, what miracles have been wrought by the self-confidence, the self-determination of an iron will! What impossible deeds have been performed by it! It was this that took Napoleon over the Alps in midwinter; it took Farragut and Dewey past the cannons, torpedoes, and mines of the enemy; it led Nelson and Grant to victory; it has been the great tonic in the world of discovery, invention, and art; it has helped to win the thousand triumphs in war and science which were deemed impossible.
The secret of Jeanne d’Arc’s success was not alone in rare decision of character, but in the seeing of visions which inspired her to self-confidence—confidence in her divine mission.
It was an iron will that gave Nelson command of the British fleet, a title, and a statue at Trafalgar Square It was the keynote of his character when he said, “When I don’t know whether to fight or not, I always fight.”
It was an iron will that was brought into play when Horatius with two companions held ninety thousand Tuscans at bay until the bridge across the Tiber had been destroyed—when Leonidas at Thermopylæ checked the mighty march of Xerxes—when Themistocles off the coast of Greece shattered the Persian’s Armada—when Cæsar finding his army hard pressed seized spear and buckler and snatched victory from defeat—when Winkelried gathered to his breast a sheaf of Austrian spears and opened a path for his comrades—when Wellington fought in many climes without ever being conquered—when Ney on a hundred fields changed apparent disaster into brilliant triumph—when Sheridan arrived from Winchester as the Union retreat was becoming a route and turned the tide—when Sherman signaled his men to hold the fort knowing that their leader was coming.
History furnishes thousands of examples of men who have seized occasions to accomplish results deemed impossible by those less resolute. Prompt decision and whole-souled action sweep the world before them. Who was the organizer of the modern German empire? Was he not the man of iron?
“What would you do if you were besieged in a place entirely destitute of provisions?” asked the examiner, when Napoleon was a cadet.
“If there were anything to eat in the enemy’s camp, I should not be concerned.”
When Paris was in the hands of a mob, and the authorities were panic-stricken, in came a man who said, “I know a young officer who can quell this mob.”
“Send for him.” Napoleon was sent for; he came, he subjugated the mob, he subjugated the authorities, he ruled France, then conquered Europe.
May 10, 1796, Napoleon carried the bridge at Lodi, in the face of the Austrian batteries, trained upon the French end of the structure. Behind them were six thousand troops. Napoleon massed four thousand grenadiers at the head of the bridge, with a battalion of three hundred carbineers in front. At the tap of the drum the foremost assailants wheeled from the cover of the street wall under a terrible hail of grape and canister, and attempted to pass the gateway to the bridge. The front ranks went down like stalks of grain before a reaper; the column staggered and reeled backward, and the valiant grenadiers were appalled by the task before them. Without a word or a look of reproach, Napoleon placed himself at their head, and his aids and generals rushed to his side. Forward again over heaps of dead that choked the passage, and a quick run counted by seconds only carried the column across two hundred yards of clear space, scarcely a shot from the Austrians taking effect beyond the point where the platoons wheeled for the first leap. The guns of the enemy were not aimed at the advance. The advance was too quick for the Austrian gunners. So sudden and so miraculous was it all, that the Austrian artillerists abandoned their guns instantly, and their supports fled in a panic instead of rushing to the front and meeting the French onslaught. This Napoleon had counted on in making the bold attack.
What was Napoleon but the thunderbolt of war? He once journeyed from Spain to Paris at seventeen miles an hour in the saddle.
“Is it possible to cross the path?” asked Napoleon of the engineers who had been sent to explore the dreaded pass of St. Bernard.
“Perhaps,” was the hesitating reply, “it is within the limits of possibility.”
Yet Ulysses S. Grant, a young man unknown to fame, with neither money nor influence, with no patrons or friends, in six years fought more battles, gained more victories, captured more prisoners, took more spoils, commanded more men, than Napoleon did in twenty years. “The great thing about him,” said Lincoln, “is cool persistence.”
When the Spanish fire on San Juan Hill became almost unbearable, some of the Rough Riders began to swear. Colonel Wood, with the wisdom of a good leader, called out, amid the whistle of the Mauser bullets: “Don’t swear—fight!”
In a skirmish at Salamanca, while the enemy’s guns were pouring shot into his regiment, Sir William Napier’s men became disobedient. He at once ordered a halt, and flogged four of the ringleaders under fire. The men yielded at once, and then marched three miles under a heavy cannonade as coolly as if it were a review.
When Pellisier, the Crimean chief of Zouaves, struck an officer with a whip, the man drew a pistol that missed fire. The chief replied: “Fellow, I order you a three days’ arrest for not having your arms in better order.”
The man of iron will is cool in the hour of danger.
This was what Roosevelt said about his pushing on up San Juan Hill ahead of his regiment: “I had to run like a cyclone to stay in front and keep from being run over.”
The personal heroism of Hobson, or of Cushing, who blew up the “Albemarle” forty years ago, was but the expression of a magnificent will power. It was this which was the basis of General Wheeler’s unparalleled military advancement: a second lieutenant at twenty-three, a colonel at twenty-four, a brigadier-general at twenty-five, a major-general at twenty-six, a corps commander at twenty-seven, and a lieutenant-general at twenty-eight.
General Wheeler had sixteen horses killed under him, and a great number wounded. His saddle equipments and clothes were frequently struck by the missiles of the enemy. He was three times wounded, once painfully. He had thirty-two staff officers, or acting staff officers, killed or wounded. In almost every case they were immediately by his side. No officer was ever more exposed to the missiles of death than Joseph Wheeler.
What is this imperial characteristic of manhood, an iron will, but that which underlies all magnificent achievement, whether by heroes of the “Light Brigade” or the heroic fire-fighters of our great cities?
.:| get up to date: newsletter :. 1&1 .: discussion forum: participate |:.