9 a.m. July 3, 1863
Good morning! What a fantastic day. You’re an impressive group of soldiers. I’m grateful to General Lee for inviting me to talk to you when I know you have plenty on your plate. My name is Phil Blake. I’m what most people—the polite ones anyway—call a motivational speaker, but I consider myself more of a liberator who breaks the shackles you’ve put on yourselves without even realizing it.
Right now, I see a lot of scared faces, a lot of doubt, a lot of nay-saying and nay-thinking. You’re ragged after two days of tough fighting. Now you’re about to march a mile over open ground straight at a line of Union soldiers licking their chops, rifles loaded, cannons at the ready, itching to unleash a torrent of shot, shells, and shrapnel at your flesh. Plus it’s already pretty hot and I bet it gets worse.
It sounds bad. I’m here to show you it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
Close your eyes. I want you to shut out the noise from the amputations—yes, it’s awfully loud—and start listening to the kid inside you. The one who used to lie on his back, look at the clouds, and dream of blazing his name upon the sky.
Consider this: A scorpion asks a frog to carry it over a river. Halfway across, the scorpion starts to sting the frog and gets pitched into the water. The frog reaches the other side and vomits. Other scorpions sting him the next day and he’s fine. He realizes the first sting helped give him a tolerance to venom. He also finds he loves the taste of scorpions. Every one of you is a frog. Your scorpions are out there. Could be in that group of trees you’re supposed to head for. Or behind you. What did you miss? Were you paying attention? Can you hear the music?
Don’t resist. Take it in and watch what happens. The power is in you. When I told the frog story to the Union boys at Shiloh you should have seen the fire come into their eyes. Next morning they couldn’t be stopped. A magnificent sight.
I know that look. I can read your faces. Not only do I have to walk uphill with no cover while thousands of Yankees fire at me, I have to pause halfway and climb over a goddamn rail fence, giving them target practice. Well, that’s not a fence at all. It’s a ladder. Climb it. Lift yourself to a higher place. Confucius may have been a Chinaman but he was pretty smart: “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
Bullets may hit you, but it’s up to you to decide how to react. Do you fall in the dirt? Or do you turn those wounds into scars that are tougher, more resilient than the flesh that was there before? Will you take what you gain from this battle into the world so you command the respect of everyone back home and become the top wheelwright, tailor, or salesman in the county?
(Takes out a confederate dollar and lights it on fire.) Believe it or not, this is what you’re doing to your Greybacks every time you… actually that’s more for the talk I give to the merchants. Never mind.
Right now you’re looking at your wounded comrades, thinking you may soon be one of them, and worrying about sepsis. But what you’re really afraid of is success. What it might do to you. It’s knocking on your door. Are you going to answer and take control of your life story?
You are. I know Johnny Reb, and he doesn’t retreat.
Now, I want to see you all stand up and clap clap clap for yourselves and what you’re going to do today and the rest of your lives. I know you got one of those rebel yells just bursting to get out—let those rascals hear it a mile away and know what they’re about to be hit with!
I get it, you want to conserve your strength. Probably a good idea.
Okay, very funny boys, but I think you want to save that for the… oh, please don’t.