War Between the States Pt. 2
As we have seen throughout this year, the world is as complicated as people. Virtues and vice, the image of God and our fallen nature, greed, lust, and wisdom are the tangled realities of the world we live in. This was no less true of the War Between the States. But given the fact that it occurred means that it was part of God’s working in this world, even given the confused and complicated snarls that are entailed. But this means that we must recognize that God sovereignly oversaw, planned, and brought about the war, even in all of its shocking cruelty.
God of Calamities
“I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Is. 45:7
By the mouth of Isaiah, God declares who he is. He rules over all the affairs of men, whether war or peace, whether good or evil. And not only does he rule over them and plan them, He in the mystery of providence actually does them. It is the Lord who does “all these things.” In Amos it is written: “If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?” Amos 3:6
But we know that the Triune God is not Zeus. He is not a petty god with whims and mood swings. God is righteous and holy, and though he uses evil things for his own good purposes, he has no delight in wickedness. This means that there is a ‘method to the madness.’ The disasters, calamities, and horrors of life are delivered by the God of heaven for a reason. There are not the random temper tantrums of an erratic deity. While this does not mean that we can figure out everything or that every hardship is easily traced, God does deal with humanity through covenants. A covenant is essentially a solemn bond or friendship with sanctions (blessings and curses). This means that God has given us some insight into how He runs the world. And Scripture bears this out: “Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people — The fruit of their thoughts, Because they have not heeded My words, Nor My law, but rejected it.” (Jer. 6:19) Here God plainly states why calamity is being brought upon Israel: they have rejected God’s ways. In another passage we read: “’And they came in and took possession of it [the land], but they have not obeyed Your voice or walked in Your law. They have done nothing of all that You commanded them to do; therefore You have caused all this calamity to come upon them.” (Jer. 32:23) Again, disobedience brings God’s judgment. Thus we may state that generally speaking, calamity is God’s method of discipline. Just as a faithful father exhorts, rebukes, and spanks his children (Prov. 22:15, 29:15, Eph. 6:4) so our heavenly father disciplines us his children (Heb. 12:9-11)
But we must also recognize that the covenant is not cosmic vending machine. God has revealed himself to us, but his purposes and plans are still beyond our full reach or comprehension. We see now only dimly the plans and purposes of God. This means that we must live by faith, and we must be humble. Luke records the following: “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Lk. 13:1-5) Here Jesus teaches the disciples at least two things. First, no one is innocent. We are all sinners before God, and thus God is just in dealing us any hardship or tragedy. Life is far better than we deserve, even under the worst circumstances. Secondly, Christ teaches us that we must not consider ourselves better or more invincible to God’s judgments than others. Our immediate response to disaster whether in distant lands or in our own lives must be to search our hearts and lives for sin to repent of. Otherwise, as Jesus says, we will “all likewise perish”.
Lastly, we should remember the following story related in John’s gospel: “Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (Jn. 9:1-3) Here, we are reminded that even though God has given us His covenant, He is still free to do as he pleases. This is also the story of Job. God sent disaster upon Job, utterly destroying his family, health, and welfare. Job’s friends council him to confess his sins that God will relent, but Job insists throughout that he is righteous. As it turns out Job was righteous, and that was precisely why God sent the hardships upon him to display him to Satan and (presumably) the rest of the world, a faithful man of God even in the midst of horrific tribulation. The blind man and Job remind us that God is still God, and we cannot account for everything. But there is one constant, and that is the love of God. Whether he is chastening a wayward people or trying the hearts of his faithful or merely preparing to show us some amazing deliverance, he does it all in love. This is the mystery of God.
The Loss of War
Thus we return to the war. War is never lovely. While it is true that the battlefield is often the greatest display case of valor, courage, and duty; regardless of its outcome or real necessity, it is always a disaster. And the War between the States was no different. Perhaps there it was also magnified in ways never seen before by human eyes. Where in the past, guns had been poorly made and unstandardized munitions and equipment the norm, the Civil War was perhaps the first experience of the horrors of modern warfare. It is true that in every war women loose husbands, children loose fathers and older brothers, and those that do return are often maimed, sickly, and spiritually scared from the intensity and devastation of the conflict. But because of the train system, North and South alike were enabled to mass transport soldiers to any given area for battle. Thus it became the norm for armies of tens of thousands to meet on a given day, and thus casualties and mortalities increased at the same rate.
One of the first battles known as Bull Run was fought between armies of 22,000 and 30,000 men with large losses on either side. Antietam was the single bloodiest day of the war, with 23,000 casualties. A general described one battle at Malvern Hill, “As each brigade emerged from the woods, from 50-100 guns opened upon it, tearing great gaps in its ranks. Most of them had an open field half a mile wide to cross, under fire of field artillery and heaven ordnance. It was not war—it was murder.” As Perryville, where there were 7,600 casualties, a soldier writes, “It was an awful sight to see there men torn all to pieces with cannon balls and bomb shells. The dead and wounded lay thick in all directions.” At Shiloh there were 23,000 casualties, and a couple days after the battle of Antietam, a soldier reported that field smelled horrible covered with about “5 or 6,000 dead bodies decaying over the field…I could have walked on the bodies all most from one end to the other. A day after Chancellorsville where there were about 30,000 casualties, a man wrote, “the shrieks and groans of the wounded… was heart rending beyond all description.” A soldier from Maine wrote after Gettysburg, which had around 50,000 casualties, “I have seen… men rolling in their own blood, some shot in one place, some another… our dead lay in the road, and the Rebels in their haste to leave, dragged both their baggage wagons and artillery over them and they lay mangled and torn to pieces so that even friends could not tell them.” In all, it is estimated that around 620,000 men lost their lives in the War Between the States.
After the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, almost immediately the seven states of the ‘deep south ‘ seceded from the Union: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. Intense debate continued in the central states until the outbreak of war in 1861. At that point, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Caroline, and Virginia also seceded. Incidentally, West Virginia was first recognized as a separate state at this time. Western Virginia refused to participate in seceding from the Union. Thus it was recognized as loyal to the Union in 1861 and formally entered the Union as a separate state in 1863. Only Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland remained undecided.
Fort Sumter was the site of the first fighting of the war. Where almost every other federal fort or arsenal had been seized by the southern states, Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina held out. Finally Jefferson Davis, the new president of the Confederate States of America realized that if the confederacy was to be taken seriously they would have to use force, and he ordered the Confederate troops to attack.
Scare tactics and house arrests swung elections in Maryland and Kentucky toward the favor of the Union, and by the end of the year, Maryland, Missouri, and Kentucky were all securely held by the Union. However, to the surprise of many, the first two years of the war generally favored the South. Although many of the battles were stalemates or slight victories for the South, the North was generally on the defensive. The Seven Days Battle, Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg were fought in 1862, with huge casualties on either side, the South nevertheless seemed to have the greater head of steam.
Many consider Gettysburg the turning point in the war. A gigantic clash of armies, it appears that the North had the advantage in position, and the South had somewhat of a disadvantage in communication. Lee, leading the armies of the South, had at least one officer under him who was reluctant to follow his orders, another officer who simply went missing for the day of July 2, and perhaps most devastating of all, his favorite officer Stonewall Jackson, beloved by all, had died in the months previous, due to wounds inflicted by friendly fire at Chancellorsville. Invading Pennsylvania, General Lee hoped to deal the Union forces a decisive blow on their own territory. Beginning on July 1st, the two massive armies faced off. There were huge losses on either side, culminating for the Confederate Army in what is remembered as “Pickett’s Charge” and attempt to break the center of the Union army in two. But Union lines held, and the Confederate troops returned in tatters.
Hopefully it is not difficult to see how brutal and sickening war is. It should be enough to read of these events for intelligent men to hate and detest the great loss it accrued to all sides. But we must simultaneously recognize that these are the kinds of calamities that the God of the Bible brings upon societies. May merely studying these calamities be enough, causing us to turn from our evil ways lest the Lord come smite us with His wrath.