“Why Study the Civil War?”
The American Civil War 150th Anniversary Project:
A Personal Study with a View to Application
Bryan E. Walker
This year, 2011, marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the War Between the States, or, if you are a Southron, The War of Northern Aggression. Therefore, it seems appropriate for me to do some serious study of this great conflagration over the next five years. My plan is to read 3-4 of the large books that cover the entire time period and to read books about the various battles in chronological sequence. I have begun with James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom http://www.amazon.com/Battle-Cry-Freedom-Civil-War/dp/0345359429 winner of the Pulitzer Prize, which covers the entire time period, but my initial book for reading about the various battles or stages of the war is John G. Nicolay’s The Outbreak Of The Civil War, in the “Campaigns Of The Civil War” series, published in the 1880’s http://www.amazon.com/Outbreak-Rebellion-Campaigns-Civil-War/dp/0306806576. My desire is to write book reviews of the various books I read over the next five years and thus, perhaps come to a better understanding of this huge and complex piece of American history.
I must state my biases upfront: I am from the American Southwest, raised a Southern Baptist, married to a girl from the Deep South, yet my sympathies lie almost entirely with the Northern cause and against, for the most part, the Confederates. I am reading history, and writing these reviews, as a born-again Believer in Jesus Christ, in the Calvinist strain of Baptist life. I am a conservative Republican, a part of the original Tea Party of 2009, and am an Army veteran from a family that has four generations of soldiers who have fought in WW1 and WW2, the Cold War andIraq.
Why would a Minister of the Gospel write about the Civil War on a blog which is primarily about ministry? First of all, I have always been interested in history, military history especially, ever since I was a small child. To an extent then, God gave me this desire. Personalities are partially determined by genetics and then by early childhood environments, and then our personal choices and decisions. I view evolution and determinism with disdain. While we cannot help what genes were given to us, and hence a large part of our nature and personality, I believe that God is Sovereign over our genetic makeup and our early childhood environments. God’sProvidence allowed me to be born into a godly, conservative, patriotic family where I was nurtured and taught well. As a small child I developed patriotic feelings and a desire to know more about my country’s history and to serve as a soldier when I grew up.
Essentially what I am claiming is that God intended me to be interested in history in general, American history especially, and military history in particular. Reinforcing this trend in my life were countless Sunday School lessons, sermons, and personal devotions from the Bible where the military exploits of Joshua, Gideon, Samson, and David were taught and explained. Even Jesus praised the faith of the Centurion, a Roman soldier, in Matthew 8:5-13. The New Testament NEVER tells soldiers to stop soldiering. John the Baptist in Luke 3:14 tells soldiers to not extort money from people and to be content with their wages; but he does not tell them to stop soldiering. When I was in college at OU on an Army ROTC scholarship in the years just afterAmerica leftViet Nam, I was an outspoken Christian while wearing the uniform. Many people asked how I could serve the Lord and be a soldier too. I would respond by pointing to the numerous positive examples of soldiers in both the Old and New Testaments. My interest in history and my service as a soldier go hand in hand and do not conflict with my faith. I view my service as a soldier and my interest in history as legitimate callings upon my life placed there by the Lord.
Secondly, I believe that all of history is His Story, and is moving in a purposeful direction that will ultimately result in the Apocalypse, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I do not just study history for the fun of it, (although it is fun!), but to try to see what God is doing in history and see where things are heading. I believe in Providence, that is, that God is in control and has declared the end from the beginning. Isaiah 46:9-11 “…remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”
Third, I believe that great saying by George Santayana “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it,” from Reason in Common Sense, the first volume of his The Life of Reason. The study of history is inherently valuable whether we are remembering our own personal history so as to avoid repeating mistakes, or if we are American citizens preparing to vote. My studies in the Book of Genesis have opened my eyes to what is going on in theMiddle East today, and, to some degree, I believe that my studies in the Civil War are instructive in what is going on inAmerica today. Everything eventually becomes history.
Americans of today are not, by and large, very interested in history; we are a people who live for the moment and might think of tomorrow in some optimistic way. But we are not good about remembering our past nor planning for things 50 years from now. We have become enslaved to the fleeting pleasures of the moment and are blind to the impact of the past upon the present. We cannot “fix” the problems of today if we forget how we got the problems. A people who forget who they were will be rootless and easily led into subjection.Libertyrequires the gospel of Jesus Christ and a well informed historical sense.
Fourth, I believe that CHRISTIANS should know their history. Obviously, if Christians want to understand their faith they must have a firm grasp of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, much of which is historical in nature. My church regularly teaches church history to our members. The Youth Minister teaches church history to the youth; we have two professors from Southwestern Theological Seminary who teach church history and historical theology at the seminary but who also teach church history in our church. We have an annual Reformation Celebration in the Fall where we celebrate our Reformed Faith.
But what about American history? Or Civil War history? Why include that in this blog? Why should Christians know much about this subject? I believe that Christians, in order to minister the gospel effectively, need to understand the times in which they live. 1Chronicles 12:32 speaks about the armed troops who came to help David in Hebron, “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.” While understanding all the battles and tactics, weapons and generals may not be as helpful, certainly knowing the causes of the Civil War and the political techniques used by both sides is something that Christian people inAmerica need to know and understand today. Why? Because, I believe,America is almost as divided today as we were in the years leading up to the Civil War. There has been a huge Culture War going on in our country since about 1963; and it is getting worse. Some are predicting thatAmerica will break up in the next couple of decades. The Church needs to be peacemakers but we also need to prepare for what may be coming. Prior to the Civil War many people failed to understand what was about to happen. The Church needs to be proactive.
Here is a particular application of what I am saying. Race relations between blacks and whites inAmericaare still a difficult problem. One way to help both sides come to a greater understanding is read about the years leading up to the Civil War to understand the issues surrounding slavery. Then, reading about the Civil War will inform both whites and blacks of the price Americans paid to rid our land of the plague of slavery.
Fifth, Christians should be model citizens and give honour to the memories of those who have built this great and free country and seek to preserve the liberty we enjoy which was passed down to us by those who have fought, bled and died to maintain it. The obvious danger is compromising the gospel with the culture. We cannot afford to wrap the cross in the flag. But there is a tendency also to ignore the flag and the history it represents. Yes, Believers should be gospel focused and Christ centered and live their lives in a missional manner. But a part of that is to be a well informed, engaged citizen. We must stand firm with the early martyrs and refuse to say, “Ceasar is Lord”, but we should be able to sing proudly “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” which includes in vs. 4 “Our fathers’ God, to thee, Author of Liberty, To Thee we sing..” Or “America the Beautiful” vs. 1 “America!America! God shed His grace on thee” and verse 2, “God mend thine every flaw”, vs. 3 “May God thy gold refine”, and vs. 4 “God shed His grace on thee.” And few people seem to know that our National Anthem has other verses; vs. 2 “Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n rescued land Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!…And this be our motto: In God is our trust!” I believe that we can glorify God and improve our evangelism by being model citizens and that must include knowing and paying proper respect to our nation’s history. If Christians do not act as salt and light in our culture by sharing and living out the gospel and preserving that which is good in our history and culture, then we will abandon the field to those with ungodly motives who will fundamentally change this “land of the free and the home of the brave”. All that remains for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
In conclusion then, I am beginning a personal journey of studying the American Civil War and I am going to attempt to share some of my discoveries with you on this blog. I invite you to share your own adventures in history here with me through your comments and questions. I want to thank a local radio talk show host (retired) and Facebook friend, David Gold, for inspiring me to begin this study through his postings of New York Times articles about the Civil War. And I want to thank my 8th grade American History teacher, Ron Carter, and my 11th grade American History teacher, Janet Entwhistle, for inspiring me to study American history. Soli Deo Gloria!
Civil War Book Reviews: