Archives For the civil war

Many of us are overwhelmed with a sense of anxiety right now. For the most part, if we are to compare our situation to those in history who have suffered trials, we have some things in common and can glean some lessons.

Here in Nashville, we’ve been tested less than two weeks ago by a tornado which ripped through the middle of our city and surrounding counties. I’ve seen more volunteers than ever rise up to serve as true Tennesseans making me proud as the Church in action, a city of true brotherly love, and a group of Americans gathered to serve their fellow man. Now we face something new yet familiar­ –­– something that forces us to stand together not in proximity but in distance. It is a battle that we have to fight differently. There are lessons from the past to guide us.

Recently I read The Killer Angels, which was made into a movie called Gettysburg in the early 1990s. I hope many of you have read and seen its adaptation. If you have not, it is worth your time since you have a lot of it now. Perhaps one of the most famous stories from the battle is about Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a 34-year old professor of modern languages at Maine’s exclusive Bowdoin College. In 1862, he left there to join the newly formed 20th Maine regiment, which had been organized under President Lincoln’s second call for troops on July 2, 1962. One year later to the date, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine would face their greatest test at the battle of Gettysburg. A unit fielded a total of 1,621 men but at the time leading up to Gettysburg was reduced to some 266 soldiers. Earlier, 120 three-year enlistees from the 2nd Maine Infantry were marched under guard under the 20th Maine. They were mutineers and claimed they had only enlisted to fight under the 2nd Maine flag, and if their flag went home, so should they. By law, however, the men still owed the Army another year of service. Chamberlain had orders to shoot the mutineers if they refused duty but instead, he offered them something different. Almost all of them joined Chamberlain.

On Little Round Top near Gettysburg, the 120 experienced combat veterans from the 2nd Maine brought the 20th’s ranks up to 386 infantrymen and helped hold Chamberlain’s wobbling line together. The rest is history and the 20th Maine does hold the line to save the Union lines. The battle is won and perhaps even the war.

Watch the speech here.

You can read more at Battlefields.org.

Chamberlain’s talk to these men and the way he conducted himself in the battle help us today in the following ways:

  • We reminded in tough times that we are one.

In the book and movie, Chamberlain reminds those who are weary that “What we’re fighting for in the end is each other” Let us not forget that my situation is as dire as yours. But we all must be reminded that there will be others who will suffer more. Let us be compassionate and sacrificial in our ways to serve them.

  • Look to the person on your side.

While this situation requires us to have distance from our neighbor, we can still love them. As Chamberlain was constantly checking in on his soldiers, we can do the same by standing strong with them in good communication, encouragement, and prayer.

  • Be prepared for drastic measures.  

The situation may worsen and could require us to go into full lock down. If this happens, be prepared to fix your metaphorical bayonets like the 20th Maine and charge down Little Round Top. Like them, we will get through this.

I feel like I just competed an ultra marathon after reading Grant. Yet, this is one of the most rewarding reads of my life. I certainly felt the runners high about halfway through it, especially during the height of the Civil War and General Grant moved from being an unknown western leader to establishing himself as the fighter we know him today. I feel like I only learned about the bullet points of his life when I was a student but with “Grant”, I learned more of the story that made the relatable man we should view him as today.

9780525521952Some of what is great about Grant is Ron Chernow’s excellent research and storytelling. Some of it is just the fact that Grant is a great American while possessing great flaws. That is what makes him so much more relatable to other major leaders in US History. He grew up with very little yet struggled and struggled. Juxtaposed with the aristocracy and monarchy of Europe, Grant was a true working American man of the people. He was a champion for those who couldn’t fight for themselves, most notably during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Frederick Douglas praised Grant, “To [President and General Ulysses S. Grant] more than any other man the negro owes his enfranchisement and the Indian a humane policy. In the matter of the protection of the freedman from violence his moral courage surpassed that of his party; hence his place as its head was given to timid men, and the country was allowed to drift, instead of stemming the current with stalwart arms.” Grant continued Lincoln’s legacy as best as he could and knew that nursing the country back to health in the decades after the Civil War was just as important as winning the war.

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Grant posing restless yet determined after the devastating defeat at Cold Harbor.

If you look up the definition of resilience, you should find Grant as he fought literally until the day he died. There are many lessons like this you take from his life. Along with his ability to fight through difficult circumstances in the Civil War to falling prey to bad business deals, I highly appreciate that he never lost the enthusiasm to learn. The press and his enemies would often call him a Cretan yet he became incredibly well read and his two and a half year journey around the world after his presidency is unmatched for his time.

Next up, I am hope to read the Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (published by his friend Mark Twain).

If you are not up for the 1,000 page epic, I highly recommend listening to Ron Chernow’s podcast interview on The Art of Manliness. Listen here.

 

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:43-45 ESV

In my Christian life, I have struggled with identifying who “my enemy” is and how to respond to them. Facing an enemy, I feel frustration, confusion, and hatred. These emotions can eat me up if gone unchecked. What do we do with this struggle of emotion?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up how we deal with our enemies properly.

“The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified.”

As I read this quote from Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship against scripture, three portraits of reconciliation come to mind that help me work through reconciliation and suggest ways to love my enemies.

I pray they help you too.

1. Reconciliation after Apartheid

In the dramatic storytelling of the 1994 Rugby World Cup through the movie  Invictus (2009), we see the nation of South Africa struggling to overcome decades of abuse under Apartheid. Black South Africans had been persecuted for generations under the white ruling class. But a new president had come to power: Nelson Mandela. Mandela was an activist and then a prisoner under the old regime for twenty-seven years. But now he recognized that in order to bring the nation together, he must lead by example and embrace the mostly white rugby team in their quest for the cup. The nation would see white and black, former foes, all as newly united South Africans. And it could not have been done without courage and leadership by Mandela and the rugby team. Invictus is a beautiful portrayal on how a few with great courage can make such a difference.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Morgan Freeman as South Africa President Nelson Mandela shaking hands with South Africa Rugby Captain Francois Pienaar played by Matt Damon. Courtesy of Warner Bros.

2. Reconciliation after The American Civil War

On April 9th 1865, General Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States of America surrendered in Appomatox Courthouse, Virginia to General U.S. Grant of the Union forces. The fate was sealed for the Confederacy after four years of intense battle. Typically the conquered like Lee would be placed in prison, hanged, or publicly humiliated after defeat. But this name was like no other before it.

The American Civil War was one of the bloodiest in the history of mankind. Most of the south was destroyed, and there were over one million casualties, among these 650,000+ dead soldiers, and 50,000 dead civilians. Both sides had good reason to hate one another after four years of extreme bloodshed and destruction.

In the book April 1865 the author described Lee’s exit after agreeing to the terms of surrender. As he left the house of surrender, General Grant walked out after Lee with his staff and all saluted the famous General as he left. Lee was not to leave as one conquered, but as a man with dignity and honor. Other soldiers showed similar grace.

“Without having planned it-and without any official sanction (Joshua L.) Chamberlain suddenly gave the order for Union soldiers to “carry arms as a sign of their deepest mark of military respect. A bugle call instantly rang out. All along the road, Union soldiers raised their muskets to their shoulders, the solute of honor.”

Enemies had been made from smallest to greatest, from the smallest families and most rural communities up to the largest cities, the most prosperous states, and even to the nation itself. And now each one who fought as enemies needed healing. The time after The Civil War is known as “Reconstruction” but it should be called “Reconciliation”.

"The Last Offer of Reconciliation" courtesy of the Library of Congress

“The Last Offer of Reconciliation” by Kimmel & Forster, courtesy of the Library of Congress

3. Reconciliation through a Handshake

Described at the end of Unbroken, after Louis Zamperini spent years in prison being tortured by the Japanese he went back years later to visit his captors. The author noted,

“Before Louie left Sugamo (the prison), the colonel who was attending him asked Louie’s former guards to come forward. In the back of the room, the prisoners stood up and shuffled into the aisle. They moved hesitantly, looking up at Louie with small faces. Louie was seized by childlike, giddy exuberance. Before he realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the aisle. In bewilderment, the men who had abused him watched him come to them, his hands extended, a radiant smile on his face.”

Beautiful.

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Along with scripture, I encourage you to read these stories and watch these movies to better understand reconciliation. My faith is strengthened by these stories, and they have helped me to better understand how to love my enemies.

Your enemy may be a person in a far away culture, or it could be your next door neighbor. Consider offering that hand as Christ offered it to you through the cross.

Reconciliation is beautiful because Christ was the example of it on the cross.

For me. For you.

What does reconciliation teach you about your own faith? What stories teach you about reconciliation?