What the 54th Massachusetts Taught Me About Success

One hundred fifty years ago, Union Army Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and 272 soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, perhaps the most famous regiment of African-American troops during the war, were killed in an assault on Fort Wagner, near Charleston, South Carolina. The approach to Fort Wagner was a fifty-foot-wide strip of beach, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and swampy marshland on the other. Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts, and other Union regiments, managed to penetrate the 600-foot-wide walls at two points but didn’t have sufficient numbers to take the fort. By the end of the battle, there were more than 1,500 Union soldiers that became casualties or were taken prisoner (compared to the Confederates’ 222).

Image of the Battle of Fort Wagner 1863 from the movie GloryImagine what was going through the minds of those Union soldiers, the smell of gunpowder. The sounds of the surf, gunshots and exploding shells. Even though they knew it was likely a suicide mission, there was a greater cause for which they fought. Something larger than themselves compelled them to fight on against overwhelming odds. Although the battle (which was immortalized in the 1990 motion picture Glory, starring Mathew Broderick and Denzel Washington, who won an Academy Award® for his role) was a failure for the Union, it illustrates the amazing feats that human beings are capable of accomplishing.

“Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up.”

Sometimes the goals and objectives we set before ourselves seem insurmountable. They seem virtually impossible. But that belief comes from negative self-talk. The fact of the matter is that human beings throughout history have accomplished great things throughout history. No matter how great the “mountain” that stands before you, know that other people have moved larger mountains, overcome larger obstacles, than the one you are facing today. How did they do it?

The did it by believing and by having a powerful reason “why.” A great man once said, “If your ‘why’ is powerful enough, the how doesn’t matter.” It’s time to reach down inside, to visualize what you want and understand why you want it. Write it down. Turn your sporadic thoughts and wishes into a detailed paper explaining your vision and what it means to you. Create a success board, with pictures depicting what you wish to have, who you wish to be, where you wish to live, and who you wish to impact. Make your vision of tomorrow real for you today.

I imagine that many of the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts believed they were fighting for a righteous cause – freedom. The freedom to be given an opportunity to prove themselves. Freedom to make a better life for themselves, their famlies, and for their future generations. I imagine their vision of the future was a very powerful one. So powerful that they were willing to fight for it and to literally lay down their lives so that one day their vision would become a reality, if not for them then for their descendants.

In Glory, Colonel Shaw wrote in a letter to his mother, “We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.”

“We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.”

By embracing your “why” and having a clear and compelling vision for the future, you will be able to charge down that narrow path and ultimately accomplish your goals, despite every distraction, nay-sayer, fear and self-doubt. Talk to that prospective client. Do that presentation. Connect with that mentor. Start that fitness program. Enroll in that class. Do those things you were once afraid to do.

Commit to achieving your goals and go after them. Decide to plant your flag and go get it, and don’t let anything stand in your way. Make the achieving of your goals and dreams a “must” instead of a “should.” Before long, as you start to see small successes along your journey, you’ll realize that the mountain you’re facing today isn’t nearly as big as you once thought it was.

photo of the 54th Massachusetts monument in BostonThis article is in no way meant to minimize or diminish the sacrifices of those soldiers. Just the opposite. They were willing to pay the ultimate price so that others could live in the world they envisioned. They are true heroes and their actions should inspire others. I know they inspire me. When I was in Boston I visited the monument to the 54th Massachusetts that’s near Boston Common. I felt a great sense of gratitude for their sacrifice, both as a veteran who has experienced war and as a citizen who has benefitted from the freedoms they helped secure for me.

I encourage you to find your own inspiration. Whatever it takes for you to resolve to win. You deserve to win.

Here’s to your success.

Special thanks to my buddy Rob whose Facebook post inspired me to write this post.
Originally published on JoinMeForSuccess.com




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