The 8-Year Old Girl

· This true story comes from the memoirs of Edward Porter Alexander. He was a Confederate officer from Georgia, the author of what’s considered to be one of the best war memoirs of the Civil War. You’ll see his book pop up consistently in footnotes or endnotes of nonfiction books on the Civil War. Before I forget, the year was 1863, not 1864. October. Sorry for the slip.

· Take a breath and re-imagine that little girl. We have two daughters, one aged 10 and the other 3 as I write this in August 2012. I just can’t comprehend a world where they need to answer the door like the girl did in 1863. We’re very, very fortunate and blessed.

· Your youth, childhood, and upbringing are immeasurably important to your leadership. With all due respect, to insist otherwise is simply to ignore reality. My urgent advice is to better understand how your younger years—your Up River, in my construct—continue to flow down to your present and future. And it’s not just restricted to your schooling or your previous jobs or adult experiences. Your youth, childhood, and upbringing are still with you. Everyone around you, whether they realize it or not, feel the effects of your Up River.

· This 8-year old girl had lived in a war zone for probably at least two years. That would have made her about 6 years old when war came to her life, to her home.

· What sort of leader do you think she would have been with an experience like this one?

· Eastern Tennessee was a strong pro-Union area during the Civil War. When Abraham Lincoln ran in 1864 for re-election as president, he chose a man from Tennessee as his vice-presidential running mate, Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a Democrat while Lincoln was a Republican.

· The girl’s home region was both a war zone and a war borderland. Not only did armed combat arrive at her home but so did divided opinion on the very issues that made the war happen. So, people fought from both sides (Yank and Reb) and from no sides (Bushwack). The girl’s experience was all the more intense and other-worldly because of this.

· Life degenerates into its most basic, animalistic form in such settings. If’ you’ve ever read Thomas Hobbes the political philosopher then you might recall his phrase “state of nature.” He meant nature in its more brutal and brutish form. That’s the world of the 8-year old girl in 1864. Survival is the goal in safety, shelter, and sustenance.

· Maybe we have more of this than I think. As I write these words I’m beginning to think of life in sections of some American inner cities. Both Hobbes and that little girl would know all about it.

· Children are amazingly resilient. This girl has absorbed the shock of war at her doorstep. She’s learned to seek the answers she needs to survive. You don’t ever want to purposely test or prove the resilience of children. Still, it’s one of the wonders of the world that they can suffer and, scars and all, continue to move ahead. The costs, though, are indeed staggering.

· Why is this girl even answering the door? Mull the possibilities: is no one else there? Is she the closest to the door? Does her maturity make her a likely person to want to open the door? Or is it her being impetuous? Does the family depend on her? Is either or both parents dead?

· Let’s go back to Edward Porter Alexander for a moment. No question that his role in this is critical. In addition to being the recorder of the event, his conduct at the door could have made led to a very different outcome. You might think he left out any misbehavior of his own. I can tell you that after reading his memoir a person is quite struck by Alexander’s natural grace, decency, and sense of honor. I’m certain he treated the girl with respect, courtesy, and compassion.

· This story was clearly important to Alexander. It left an impression on him. That’s why he recorded it as he did.

· Go Up River. While you’re going, think about a few things: 1) what is the overall effect of my youth generally? 2) what specific moments stand out? 3) what does it say that these moments are still with me? 4) if I were to make an effort to find out more, where would I go or to whom would I talk? 5) what does all of this imply for Down River, the future?