After Action Report
We are home again and I am mostly recovered from the trip. We learned a lot; at least I did. I came away with a greater understanding of the American Civil War and how very difficult it was on those who fought it, especially the Confederates, who were not nearly as well supplied as the soldiers from the North—not that they had it easy-peasy either, but they were better equipped and supplied. Late in the war, many Confederates were shoeless and their uniforms were rags or a mixture of military and civilian clothing.
I also came away with a greater understanding of the brutality of the war and its staggering loss of life. For those who survived and returned home, it is hard to imagine most did not suffer from PTSD or “nostalgia” as they called it back then. I have seen no records on that, and likely they don’t even exist. I suspect it was the faith of many that precluded at least some of that. Which brings me to ….
I brought back only one souvenir, a book I purchased in the gift shop at the Gettysburg Battlefield, Christ in the Camp by J. Williams Jones, first published in 1886. Jones was a chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia (ANV), and his book is about the Awakening or Great Revival that took place during the war, especially in the ANV. I devoted a whole chapter to this in An Eternity of Four Years (Chapter 16). Ethan was a man of faith, and also a man “fallen from grace” because of his loss of Rachel and the situation he found himself in (the war) that prevented his searching for her. That chapter was one of the moments he recovered his faith, at least for a while, and attempted to respond to God’s calling for him. It gives some details on this Great Awakening that took place.
Christ in the Camp is full of interesting stories from many soldiers of many denominations. I am barely through about 20% of the book and will be writing more about this in future posts. If these men in the book are examples of what Christianity is suppose to look like, then we are badly missing the mark today. Their faith pervaded everything they did. They lived what they believed. For example, General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s application of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 …pray without ceasing… was eye-opening for me. (I will explain that in a future post.) Today, we often just go through the motions of being spiritual.
Did they get everything right? No, because like us they were fallen men. They got slavery wrong, for one thing, and used Scripture to support their position. But keep in mind, not everyone then was an ardent Bible-reading/believing Christian that lived the Life of Christ through faith. Some were merely “Bible-thumpers” that used Scripture for their own ends. We sometimes have a tendency to read into Scripture what we want to see there, and I suspect a lot of that was happening in the South. It would be unfair to judge all Christians by those kinds of “Christians.”
One thing that has come out in what I have read so far is the issue of slavery is rarely if ever mentioned associated with the war. What they speak of in the many letters and comments is their desire to build a new nation free from a tyrannical government seeking to subject them through force and protect their homes and families from the invaders. For them, the fight was a “good fight.” Today, we look back and see that “good fight” tarnished by the issue of slavery, but that was not their perspective.
I hope you have enjoyed this series of Dispatches From The Front. I certainly enjoyed writing and experiencing them.
I will close with an excerpt from An Eternity of Four Years, Chapter 16 – The Awakening.
The long line of caissons and cannons, ambulances, supply wagons, and weary men crossed the Potomac and slowly plodding south away from the killing fields of Sharpsburg, Maryland. The army was both physically and mentally spent, incapable of taking the field again anytime soon. It needed to rest, to recover, rebuild and re-equip before it would again be an army.
In that September of 1862, the giddy victories of the year before had given way to the soul-numbing realities of a brutal and bloody war. Beginning with the Valley Campaign in the early spring and continuing all summer through to Sharpsburg, what had seemed glorious the year before became for all a dreaded experience that promised only more pain, suffering, and death. Those who believed this war would be over quickly came face-to-face with the sobering realization that it would likely go on for a long while and cost many more lives.
Thomas Paine once said of another war, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” When a man’s soul is tested by the worst of what life can throw at him, especially when he looks death in the face, he becomes contemplative of his mortality. Unnoticed by all but a very few, a change was taking place; an “awakening” was slowly spreading over the army. It would begin in the Army of Northern Virginia and eventually spread to all of the armies of the Confederacy. It would profoundly impact the lives of the many soldiers touched by it, and it would eventually be felt elsewhere in the nation long after the war ended.
I first became aware of its presence during our withdrawal from Maryland. I was dismounted and walking along with Blue as we led our weary mounts south. One of the Tigers from the 1st Louisiana, his face still blackened with gunpowder from biting off the ends of the paper cartridges to reload his musket, a bloody bandage around his head, shoeless, and his uniform in tatters, stepped out of the formation and approached us. “Beggin’ yer pardon, Captain, may I have a word with you?”
“Of course,” I replied. “How may I be of service?”
That is when I noticed he was weeping though he tried to hide it. “Sir, I understand you are a good man, a godly man who knows the Scriptures, an’ I need to ask ya something.”
“What is it?”
“I ain’t much for church-goin’. Preachers just seem to preach, but I‘ve seen the Lord in you. I seen you in that bloody-awful Cornfield, how you helped the wounded, protected them, and gave comfort to the survivors when we were driven back to Dunker Church. You weren’t ‘fraid a nuthin’. They was balls flying all around you, but you weren’t scart at all. But I was scart, plumb scart of dying and especially knowing I’m going to hell. An’ I don’t want to go there. I been through enough hell right here, and I reckon the one in the Bible has be a whole lot worse.” He paused to collect his thoughts. “Something happened to me in that Cornfield, and some of the boys said you were the man I need to speak to about it.”