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THE MYSTERY OF INSPIRED LEADERSHIP: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 26, 2022 at 12:10 am

Joan of Arc.  William Barret Travis.  Volodymyr Zelensky.

The first two names long ago burned themselves into the pages of history. The third one is now doing the same.

They seem to come out of nowhere—people who have never had military training nor even any experience with violence. Yet they display an utter fearlessness and eloquence that inspires others to great deeds in the face of overwhelming danger.

  • Joan of Arc (c. 1412 – 30 May 1431) was an illiterate peasant girl who, in France’s darkest hour, became its greatest hero. 

In 1428, when she was about 17, Joan traveled to Vaucouleurs and asked for an armed escort to King Charles V11. She said that she had received visions from the archangel Michael, Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine of Alexandra, instructing her to deliver France from English domination.

An image of a woman dressed in silver armor, holding a sword and a banner.

Joan of Arc

Her request was rejected twice, but eventually Robert de Baudricourt, the garrison commander, relented and gave her an escort to meet Charles at Chinon. She had never seen Charles, but even though he disguised himself among his courtiers, she instantly recognized him.

After their interview, Charles sent Joan at the head of a relief army to lift the siege of Orléans.

She had never wielded a lance or sword, or even ridden a war horse. She had never studied military strategy nor even seen a battlefield. Yet nine days after arriving at Orléans, she lifted the siege on May 8.

On May 4, her army attacked the outlying fortress of Saint Loup. She arrived just as the French soldiers were retreating after a failed attempt. Her sudden appearance roused the soldiers to cheer and launch another assault—which overwhelmed the fortress.

In June, Joan decisively defeated the English at the Battle of Patay. She then advanced on Reims,  entering the city on July 16. The next day, Charles was consecrated as the King of France in Reims Cathedral with Joan at his side.

These victories paved the way for the final French victory in the Hundred Years’ War at Castillon in 1453.

Joan never attributed her success to anyone but God. She referred to herself as “Joan the Maid” and demanded that her soldiers refrain from sexual activity. At her orders, prostitutes—the camp followers of both French and British armies—were driven out of her encampments.

She did not expect to live a long life—and warned that the French had only about a year to claim their victories before she died.

On May 23, 1430, while relieving the siege of Compiegne, she was captured by Burgundians troops and exchanged to the English. Tried for heresy, she was declared guilty and burned at the stake on May 30,1431. 

Only 19 when she died, she had, through her inspired leadership, restored the kingdom of France.

  • William Barret Travis (August 1, 1809 – March 6, 1836) was a South Carolina lawyer whose courage and eloquence inspired 200 Texans to hold back a Mexican army at the Alamo.

An early advocate of Texas’ independence from Mexico, Travis entered the newly-formed Texas army as a regular officer. Although he had no experience in battle, he burned for glory as a cavalryman. But he accepted the order of Governor Henry Smith to go to San Antonio and defend the Alamo from the approaching Mexicans.

William B. Travis by Wiley Martin.JPG

William Barret Travis

Arriving there, he found himself overshadowed by the popularity of co-commander James Bowie, the legendary knife fighter. But when Bowie collapsed with pneumonia on February 23, 1836—the first day of the siege—Travis took command.

According to historian T.R. Fehrenbach:

“The true measure of this man, with his soldier’s cap, his sword, his exalted ideas of honor, and his florid rhetoric, was that he captured these violent frontiersmen and bent them to his purpose.

“No competent Texas historian really believes Travis drew his line on the ground with his sword and invited his men to leave or stay. That was not Buck Travis’ style. He intended to keep his command on the walls regardless of what the men wanted. He was consciously guarding the ramparts of Texas.”

A sprawling complex of buildings with low walls sits in a shallow valley overlooked by rolling hills.

The siege of the Alamo

On February 23, 1836, Travis penned one of the most famous letters in early American history. Addressing it “To the People of Texas and All Americans in the World,” he wrote: 

“I am besieged with a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna [the president and dictator of Mexico]….

“The enemy has demanded our surrender at discretion, otherwise the garrison is to be put to the sword. I shall never surrender or retreat. Thus, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism, and everything dear to the American character, to come to my aid with all dispatch…

“If this call is neglected I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due his honor and that of his country. VICTORY OR DEATH.” 

On March 3, Travis wrote his last letter, addressing it to the newly-declared Republic of Texas. “I shall have to fight the enemy on his own terms….The victory will cost the enemy so dear it will be worse for him than a defeat.”

On March 6, 1836, his prophecy came true.

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