Archive for the Civil War Category
When we reflect upon the great danger which so many soldiers in history have endured, it can be hard to understand how they did it. Many thousands and millions have fought on terrifying battlefields, seen their impending death before them, and yet have pressed on.
Writing after the Civil War, one Federal officer recounted how he did it during the battle of Fredericksburg. He was ordered to back to bring some troops to the front, but in doing that he would be exposed to a dreadful fire.
The distance was about four hundred yards. I can truthfully say that in that moment I gave my life up. I do not expect every again to face death more certainly that I thought I did then. It did not seem possible that I could go through that fire again and return life. The grass did not grow under my feet going back. My sprinting record was probably made then. It may be possible to see the humorous side at this distance, but it was verily a life and death matter then.
One may ask how such dangers can be faced. The answer is, there are many things more to be feared than death. Cowardice and failure of duty with me were some of them. I can full appreciate the story of the soldier’s soliloquy as he saw a rabbit sprinting back from the line of fire: “Go it, cotton tail; if I hadn’t a reputation at stake, I’d go to.”
Reputation and duty were the holding forces I said to myself, “This is duty. I’ll trust in God and do it. If I fall, I cannot die better.” Without the help and stimulus of that trust I could not have done it, for I doubt if any man was ever more keenly susceptible to danger than I…. The nervous strain was simply awful. It can be appreciated only by those who have experienced it. The atmosphere seemed surcharged with the most startling and frightful things. Deaths, wounds and appalling destruction everywhere.
From War from the Inside by Frederick L. Hitchcock (Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1904) p. 117-118.
While he was a young cadet at West Point, the future General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson began writing down a book of maxims which he wished to apply to his life. He drew some of them, at least, from the books he read, such as the Bible or Politeness and Good-Breeding. Men and women of today would be well advised to take these maxims for themselves.
You may be whatever you resolve to be.
Through life let your principal object be the discharge of duty.
Disregard public opinion when it interferes with your duty.
Endeavor to be at peace with all men.
Sacrifice your life rather than your word.
Endeavor to do well everything which you undertake.
Never speak disrespectfully of any one without a cause.
Spare no effort to suppress selfishness, unless that effort would entail sorrow.
Let your conduct towards men have some uniformity.
Resolve to perform what you ought ; perform without fail what you resolve.
Temperance: Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation.
Silence: Speak but what may benefit others or yourself ; avoid trifling conversation.
Frugality : Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself ; waste nothing.
Industry: Lose no time ; be always employed in something useful ; cut off unnecessary actions.
Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit ; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.
Justice: Wrong no man by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Moderation: Avoid extremes ; forbear resenting injuries as much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, nor at accidents, common or unavoidable.
Motives to action
- Regard to your own happiness.
- Regard for the family to which you belong.
- Strive to attain a very great elevation of character.
- Fix upon a high standard of action and character.
It is man’s highest interest not to violate, or attempt to violate, the rules which Infinite Wisdom has laid down. The means by which men are to attain great elevation may be classed in three divisions — physical, mental, and moral. Whatever relates to health, belongs to the first; whatever relates to the improvement of the mind, belongs to the second. The formation of good manners and virtuous habits constitutes the third.
Choice of Friends
- A man is known by the company he keeps.
- Be cautious in your selection.
- There is danger of catching the habits of your associates.
- Seek those who are intelligent and virtuous; and, if possible, those who are a little above you, especially in moral excellence.
- It is not desirable to have a large number of intimate friends ; you may have many acquaintances, but few intimate friends. If vou have one who is what he should be, you are comparatively happy.
That friendship may be at once fond and lasting, there must not only be equal virtue in each, but virtue of the same kind : not only the same end must be proposed, but the same means must be approved.
Be kind, condescending, and affable.
Any one who has anything to say to a fellow-being, to say it with kind feelings and sincere desire to please; and this, whenever it is done, will atone for much awkwardness in the manner of expression.
Good-breeding is opposed to selfishness, vanity, or pride.
Never weary your company by talking too long or too frequently.
Always look people in the face when addressing them, and generally when they address you.
Never engross the whole conversation to yourself. Say as little of yourself and friends as possible.
Make it a rule never to accuse without due consideration any body or association of men.
Never try to appear more wise or learned than the rest of the company. Not that you should affect ignorance, but endeavor to remain within your own proper sphere.
Drawn from Memoirs of Stonewall Jackson by Mary Anna Jackson (Louisville, KY: The Prentice Press, 1895) by p. 35-38.
Culp’s Hill is a less known section of the Gettysburg battlefield, but thousands of men fought fiercely along its wooded and rocky slopes. The evening reenactment of Culp’s Hill at the BGA 150th Gettysburg was particularly memorable, with the dusky forest lit up by the flash of thousands of rifles.
Editor’s Note: This post on Tales of Mighty Men comes to us from Stephen Huffman
In many ways, Elisha F. Paxton exemplified the Confederacy whose uniform he wore. He had a typical Southern background. His family was Scots-Irish, and had fought the Stuart monarchs in the 17th century. After immigrating to the American colonies, his ancestors had settled on the Virginia frontier and espoused the Patriot cause in the War for Independence. His domestic life was typical of the Southern gentleman farmer. Although he had aspired to military service, poor eyesight prevented him from attending West Point. Instead, he studied law, but when he became completely blind in one eye, he took up farming.
Paxton had strongly Southern political views. Devoted to constitutional liberty, he advocated secession long before most Virginia moderates were willing to take that step. After the war began, he had a successful military career. He was noted for gallantry at First Manassas and had gained the trust of Stonewall Jackson, who appointed him his Chief of Staff. Later, Jackson promoted him directly from the rank of Major to Brigadier General (bypassing all the colonels) and placed him in command of the Stonewall Brigade.
At home and on the battlefield, Paxton exemplified Southern chivalry. Although he was a fierce fighter on the battlefield, he was very tender to his three small children and to his wife, to whom he wrote every week. Moreover, he had a great respect for Christianity. When at home in Lexington, Virginia, he attended the same Presbyterian church that Jackson attended, and he was very courteous to the chaplains in his brigade. But at the time he took command of the Stonewall Brigade, he had made no profession of faith, although admiring “religion” in others.
Perhaps it was in this that he most resembled the Confederacy. Throughout the formation of the Confederacy, Southern politicians made frequent appeals to God, and many were the assertions that the new Confederacy was to be a Christian republic. But the Confederacy failed to recognize the full ramifications of what it means to be “Christian.”
In 1861, when the Confederate Constitution was being drafted, James H. Thornwell proposed the following provision: “We, the people of these Confederate States, distinctly acknowledge our responsibility to God and the supremacy of Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and hereby ordain that no law shall be passed by the Congress of these Confederate States inconsistent with the will of God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.” Tragically, the churches of the South refused to support Thornwell’s proposal, and it never made it into the Constitution.
Thus, in spite of its many virtues, the Confederacy was destined for ultimate failure—not because it was wrong to resist federal tyranny, or because of inept military leadership in the west, or the lack of foreign recognition, or the industrial might of the North. Rather, the South’s defeat was due to its refusal to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Throughout the struggle, the South’s great theme was defending the liberty granted to them by their fathers. God had given liberty to the American people as a reward for the early intention of men such as William Bradford and John Winthrop to establish a godly society based solely on the law of God. Because they made God’s law their first priority, God granted them liberty from the tyranny of the Stuart monarchs, economic prosperity, relative security from the persecutions and wars of Europe. These blessings were not their aim, but because they sought first the kingdom of God, these things were added to them.
But the South ignored the requirement in pursuit of the reward. Instead of adopting Thornwell’s proposed preamble, the Confederacy adopted a preamble similar to that of the United States, listing as their purposes “justice,” “common defense,” “domestic tranquility,” and the “blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Confederate preamble did invoke “the favor and blessing of Almighty God,” but without any mention of the law of God, this was mere lip-service. “Southern rights” took priority over Christ’s kingly right to have his law enforced by his ministers in civil office. In a lecture on Stonewall Jackson, Robert L. Dabney commented:
How righteousness exalteth a people! Shall this judgment and righteousness be the stability of thy times, O Confederate, and strength of thy salvation? And these mighty deliverances, . . . were they not manifest overtures to us to have the God of Jackson and Lee for our God, and be saved? “Here is the path; walk ye in it.” And what said our people? Many honestly answered, “Yea, Lord, we will;” of whom the larger part walked whither Jackson did, and now lie with him in glory. But another part answered, “Nay,” and they live, on such terms as we see, even such as they elected. . . . But they would not be free on such terms. Nay; they preferred rather to walk after their own vanities. Verily they have their reward!
Until late 1862, Paxton, like most Southerners, was content to fight for freedom on his own terms. But shortly thereafter, he became a recipient of God’s saving grace. His conversion was not dramatic, but genuine, and it was soon evident that the commander of the famous Stonewall Brigade was thoroughly changed. Some have traced much of the fruit of the subsequent revivals in the Army of Northern Virginia to the example of General Paxton’s conversion.
But for Paxton, conversion did not only mean a home in heaven. It meant a change in everything he did, including the way he fought battles—and why. An extended quotation from his last letter home sums up his new views of life and of the Confederate cause.
Our destiny is in the hands of God, infinite in his justice, goodness, and mercy; and I feel that in such time as he may appoint he will give us the blessings of independence and peace. We are a wicked people, and the chastisement which we have suffered has not humbled and improved us as it ought. We have a just cause, but we do not deserve success if those who are here spend this time in blasphemy and wickedness, and those who are at home devote their energies to avarice and ambition. Fasting and prayer by such people is blasphemy, and, if answered at all, will be by an infliction of God’s wrath, not a dispensation of his mercy.
Whenever God wills it that [my life] pass from me, I feel that I can say, ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ In this feeling I am prepared to go forward in the discharge of my duty, striving to make every act and thought of my life conform to his law, and trusting with implicit faith in the salvation promised through Christ. How I wish that . . . every thought, act, and feeling of tomorrow would have its motive in love for God and its object in his glory!
On the morning of May 3, 1863, Paxton led his brigade into action at Chancellorsville. He was not involved in Jackson’s night attack on the Union right flank. Rather, he had been detailed to guard the Orange Plank Road. But during the night, his fresh brigade was summoned to spearhead the morning assault on the reinforced Union position at Fairview. When the order to attack came, Paxton put his Bible in his pocket and led forward his brigade. Moments later, he fell, pierced through the heart by a Yankee minié-ball.
Jackson, who himself lay mortally wounded, wept when he heard of Paxton’s fall, for perhaps, more than any other man, Paxton shared Jackson’s whole-hearted devotion to Christ’s kingdom.
As Dabney said, those who sought first God’s kingdom and righteousness died as heroes. The South at large was condemned to reap the fruits of disobedience. The difference between Paxton and his Confederacy was in “striving to make every act and thought” conform to God’s law.
Prove All Things
Hold Fast That Which Is Good
So reads a tombstone of one of the most splendid “mighty men” the continent of North America has ever produced. Before we reveal his name, let us consider his influence. This elegant epitaph, drawn from I Thessalonians 5:21, accurately sums up the life of this man. The Greek word translated “prove” here is δοκιμάζω and means “to test” as an assayer or a metallurgist examines the quality of the metal of a coin. Our hero spent his long and useful life “testing” and “examining” the various trends of his day. He sounded warnings that anticipated some of the greatest disasters that befell the Christian world in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Yet, our hero was misunderstood and largely hated in his own lifetime, which was lived in the latter two-thirds of the 1800’s. He bore all sorts of hateful labels. Called an old fogey, a kill-joy, a racist, a critic, and a complainer, our hero ignored all the mud-slinging of his antagonists. Most of these angry labels were piled on him near the end of his long and useful life, and an ungrateful people hated the man who was trying to warn them of dangers lurking within their own homes and churches.
Born in Virginia in 1820, our hero was one of the most eloquent and lucid writers of his age. His background fully prepared him to handle the many areas of life and culture he addressed. He was a pastor, a farmer, a husband, a father, a university professor, an army officer, a lawyer, a scientist, an author, and a world traveler. Nothing escaped his penetrating gaze, and when his eyes were fixed upon something he considered a threat to the cause of Christ, woe be to that man who stood in his way. His pen cut deep. His arguments carried with them a cultivated and keen mind. He drew his authority from the Scripture, and wielded it with sharp and cutting precision. Here are some of the things that fell before his pen.
He discerned the early dangers that feminism would bring upon a patriarchal society. He loved the Biblical role of the wife and mother, being deeply devoted to the wife of his youth. He feared that feminism would destroy not only Biblical femininity, but Biblical manhood as well. He attacked it ferociously and defended the Biblical, time-honored role of a wife and mother as the crowning virtue of womanhood.
Long before the rise of Nazi-Germany, he asserted that the autocratic policies of men like Abraham Lincoln in the United States and Otto von Bismarck in Germany, as popular as these men were and still are in large parts of the modern world, would eventually lead to tyranny and centralized control of banking, education of children, farming, food production, religion, and local affairs. His views were not popular in his day, and the cause for which he fought was eventually suppressed by the brutal heel of Federal power, but our hero did not cease to warn that centralized power would become a major problem both in Europe and in America in the coming decades.
He also decried against Darwinian science. Long before the modern Creation science movement, he ferociously asserted the authority of God’s Word and the futility of any system of Christian synthesis with Darwinian evolution.
He also asserted that the new “higher textual criticism” coming out of the German rationalistic schools of thought would have a huge impact upon the honor that Christians gave to the Bible. He feared that men applying their depraved reasoning to the Bible would try to “explain away” its Divine origins. He feared that the rationalistic questioning of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch would lead to the undermining of the very authority of Scripture, and give so-called “scholars” a loop-hole to live as they chose, and take or leave the passages of Scripture they found.
But, closer to home, he also attacked things inside the church. He warned against worldliness in Christian families. He wrote a long and scathing paper against Christians engaging in popular amusements such as dancing and theatre. He wrote against innovation in church music. He asserted that novels, even “Christian novels,” and historical novels, were dangerous reading and should have no place in a Christian home.
For all these things, he was bitterly hated by many. He was viewed as out-dated, cynical, and overly harsh. But he labored on, his copious pen producing thousands of pages in his long and useful lifetime.
Though hated, our stalwart hero remained convinced of the Biblical truth of the positions he so firmly maintained. He closed one of his books with these words,
Let the arrogant and successful wrongdoers flout our defense with disdain. We will meet them with it again, when it shall be heard in the day of their calamity, in the day of impartial history, and in the Day of Judgment.
The name of our stalwart hero was Robert Lewis Dabney. The words quoted above were the words with which he concluded his Defense of Virginia and the South.
Dabney’s life was full of heartaches. He lost two of his sons to a malignant fever. He was stricken with malaria at the same time which led to his eventual blindness. He saw bitter feuds divide the churches over which he presided. He fought on the losing side of a war, and saw the cause which he loved trampled into the dust by the strong arm of centralized power. He lived the last of his life an exile from the university where he had taught so long, despised, ridiculed, and only enjoying the domestic comforts of the loyal love of his wife and children. He was blind and he suffered from severe pain, but he labored on, preaching and writing whenever he had the opportunity.
Dabney delivered a series of lectures shortly before his death. The elderly saint of God had to be led into the pulpit, where he lifted his sightless eyes to heaven and implored God’s blessing upon the young men and women of a new generation, that they might learn from the mistakes of the past, and be discerning in their time, “proving all things and holding fast that which is good.”
Shortly before his death, Dabney wrote to a friend,
Have I not written? My arguments, founded on Scripture and facts, are as impregnable as the everlasting hills. But who reads it? The self-satisfied insolence of the pharisaical slanders makes them disdain my work – they never condescend to hear of it. I have no audience.
Although relatively few in his own generation gave heed to his warnings, it is encouraging that there is a rising interest in the writings of Robert Lewis Dabney, and a number of his works have been republished by several publishing companies. His warnings against feminism, Unitarianism, rationalism, statist control of education, centralized national power, national banking, and the worldliness of the church have been fully realized, and we can stand amazed at his prophetic insight into the creeping errors of his own generation.
There are those that say to men like Dabney, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” But the same Christ that said this in Matthew 7:1, went on to call men swine and dogs in just a few verses, and to urge His disciples to beware of “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Dabney was not being critical or judgmental in the harmful sense that Jesus warned against. He was being discerning, warning all who would listen that wolves in sheep’s clothing were creeping into the Church and State.
Finally, the day came when the mortal remains of Robert Lewis Dabney were laid to rest in the soil of his native State, Virginia. It was 1898. He was buried on the grounds of Hampden-Sydney College, where he had spent the majority of his life warning against the innovations of his era. Dabney was buried in the old Confederate uniform he had worn serving on the staff of Stonewall Jackson. The words said in the book of Hebrews concerning the first martyr, Abel, apply well to the life of R. L. Dabney, “He, being dead, yet speaketh.” As long as men shall read the writings of R. L. Dabney, his life of careful discernment will not be in vain. As long as lovers of truth shall make their pilgrimage to this quiet spot in central Virginia, they will read the motto of his life inscribed in stone, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
Dabney’s Best Works
Defense of Virginia and the South,
Life and Campaigns of Lt. Gen. T. J. Jackson,
Five volumes of his published Discussions
Join us with historian Garry Adelman of the Civil War Trust, at Little Round Top, one of the Civil War’s most iconic spots.
We join Garry Adelman, Director of History and Education at the Civil War Trust, to discuss the Trust’s mission to save America’s Civil War Battlefield.
Over the past few years, while filming our Battles of the Civil War series, we have visited most of the major battlefields of the American Civil War. In this post we present out top ten favorite battlefields. They are ranked according to a few criteria – the importance of the battle, how well the battlefield is preserved, how interesting it is to visit, and how easy it is to understand the battlefield based on its terrain.
10. Bull Run / Manassas
Manassas National Battlefield Park just outside of Washington, DC, preserves the site of two important Civil War battles. It has the site of both the catastrophic Union defeat in the first battle of the war as well as one of Stonewall Jackson’s grandest flank attacks of the war. While the landscape is not necessarily dramatic, you can trace the progress of the fighting across the rolling fields and woods, and see several iconic sights, like the Henry House from the first battle, or the Railroad Cut from the second.
Braxton Bragg’s defeat of William Rosecrans in 1863 was one of very few major Confederate victories in the west. The site’s woods and fields in northern Georgia, not far from Chattanooga, Tennessee, is well preserved by the National Park Service. The progress of the battle can be roughly determined by the area’s roads, the Brotherton Farm, and the dramatic slopes of Horseshoe Ridge.
8. Harper’s Ferry
The small town of Harpers’ Ferry, West Virginia sits at one of the Civil War’s vital crossroads, the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers at the base of the Shenandoah Valley. Its importance began before the Civil War, when John Brown chose it to launch his attempt to start a slave rebellion. The town’s engine house, in which his raid came to a bloody end, is still extant. It changed hands fourteen times during the war, most memorably when Stonewall Jackson laid siege to it in 1862 during the Sharpsburg campaign. It is one of the most beautiful of Civil War sights – dozens of historic houses sitting in a picturesque setting right in the middle of the Appalacian Mountains. For the more adventerous, try a climb up Maryland Heights for a great view overlooking the town.
The Battle of Shiloh in 1862 was one of the first major battles in the Western Theater, when Ulysses S. Grant beat off a surprise attack from Albert Sydney Johnson and P. G. T. Beauregard. Although much of the battlefield is wooded, making it hard to trace the progress of the combat, there are several highlights. You can see Pittsburg Landing on the Tennesse River, where the Federal troops landed, Shiloh Church, around which the fighting raged, the Sunken Road, the subject of many Confederate assaults and the site near which Johnson was killed, and where Grant made his last stand.
6. Charleston Harbor
The harbor of Charleston, South Carolina saw several seminal events. The 1860 Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter signaled the start of the war, and later in the war the United States troops fought several battles to capture the city. Three main forts survive to this day, Fort Sumter, Fort Moultrie, and Castle Pickney, which is closed for visitors. The town of Charleston itself is one of the prettiest historic towns in the south, and home to the H.L. Hunley, the Confederate vessel that was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship.
It was during the Siege of Petersburg, from 1864 to 1865, that the rebel army under Robert E. Lee began to crumble before Ulysses S. Grant. The positions of the troops are easy to see, since they built elaborate earthworks, many of which are preserved. The battlefield is inside two parks – Petersburg National Battlefield, which has a large crater and several important forts, and Pamplin Park, the site of the Union breakthrough. Make sure to visit the reconstructed earthworks at both parks, and the excellent National Musem of the Civil War Soldier at Pamplin Park.
Although only portions of the Chattanooga battlefield are preserved, and some of the monuments are literally in the front yards of houses, it is, without a doubt, the most dramatic of Civil War battlefields. The important topographic features of Lookout Mountain, Missionary Ridge, and a bend in the Tennessee River encircle the city of Chattanooga and make it easy to see the armies’ positions during the siege. Chattanooga was an important city during the war, and when Braxton Bragg laid siege to the troops inside after his victory at Chickamauga, Grant and Sherman went to the city and led the successful breakout attacks.
The fortifications around Vicksburg were impressive in the Civil War era – Jefferson Davis called it the Gibralter of the West – and they remain so today. Situated on a bluff high above the Mississippi River, visitors can see plenty of remains from Grant’s 1863 siege of the town. Some portions of the battlefield, however, are not quite so well preserved. Also interesting are the many monuments which speckle the landscape, the Old Warren County Court House Museum, which has a large collection of Confederate relics, and the USS Cairo, one of only four surviving Civil War ironclads.
Lee’s first invasion of the north was stopped by George McClellan at the Battle of Antietam, or Sharpsburg as it is also called. It is a beautifully preserved battlefield, and visitors can trace the progress of the fighting, from the Bloody Cornfield and Dunker Church on the Confederate left, Bloody Lane in the center, and Burnside’s Bridge on the right. Also on the battlefield is the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, where you can learn about Civil War medicine in what was McClellan’s headquarters during the battle.
Gettysburg may be the classic Civil War battlefield, and it is easy to see why. It was the spot where George Meade was able to defeat Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the north. The location is well preserved, and has many iconic locations, including the rocks of Devil’s Den, Little Round Top, where you can get a great view of much of the battlefield, the famous angle in the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge or the lesser-known Culp’s Hill, where fighting raged for much of the battle. Much of the landscape has been preserved as it was in the 19th century, and the fields are dotted with cannon and monuments. The stories of the battle really come alive at Gettysburg.
Bonus: The Museum of the Confederacy
While not strictly a battlefield, the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, is a must-see. It has an amazing collection of artificats, and Civil War buffs will recognize nearly every artifact as assosiated with some of the most iconic of Civil War stories – like General Armistead’s hat from Pickett’s Charge, or Stonewall Jackson’s coat. It is right next door to the Confederate White House, from which Jefferson Davis ran the Confederate government throughout the war.
Is your favorite site missing? Disagree with our choices? Leave us a comment and let us know!