Saturday, June 19, 2004

June 19, 2004

The Civil War Tour-Day 5 Our group started the day in Richmond and ended it in Hagerstown, Maryland. I started in Richmond and ended the day back home in Oak Park. More about that later. 7:59 AM Everyone is one the bus except Phyllis Zelek. She arrives a few minutes late, explaining that she’s been a bit “pokey” all her life. Vern Henriksen reminisced about the times he and Pat used to ride a tandem bike together. Paul Lavenau reports that the Cubs won on Thursday night. 10:05 AM Our day started with a visit to the Tredegar Iron Works in downtown Richmond. When the Civil War started, this was the largest and best-equipped iron works in the nation. During the Civil War, the factory produced 1100 artillery pieces for the Confederacy. When Richmond burned in 1865, the workers surrounded the buildings to keep them from going up in flames. The factory closed for a few months, then opened again in November 1865. Work continued at the site until well into the 20th century. The whole area has been turned into a Civil War Museum-very high quality, with electronic maps detailing the many battles around Richmond. Excellent discussion of slavery and the other causes of the Civil War. Ruth Howell pointed out that Tredegar got its name from an ironworker who came to Richmond from the village of Tredegar, Wales in the 1830s. Last year the center unveiled a bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad to commemorate his visit to Richmond the day after it fell to Union forces in April 1865. As President Lincoln walked through the still-smoldering ruins of the former Confederate capital, the black population of Richmond welcomed him as their liberator. The white population greeted him with stony silence. It was, one writer said, one of the most unforgettable scenes of America’s most unforgettable war. It took enormous courage for Lincoln to visit the Rebel capital one day after its surrender. Engraved in stone above the statue are these words: “To bind up the nation’s wounds.” Once the war was over, the union restored, and slavery finally abolished, Lincoln intended to “let ’em up easy.” His untimely assassination meant that reconstruction would go into another, harsher direction. Side note: Richmond today seems like a clean, prosperous, bustling, first-class business center. While we didn’t see the entire city, the downtown area seems to be doing very well. I walked out on a metal footbridge that goes about a third of the way across the James River. From that vantage point, you can see why controlling the waterways was so vital to winning the war 140 years ago. Bob Johnsen talked to me about the Shroud of Turin … Al Greenquist told me about his life as a bus driver for Greyhound and later for Mid-America … John Tahl saw the Civil War video at the museum and commented on many lives were lost in the various battles. Interesting side note: More troops died from disease than from enemy fire during the Civil War. The staggering casualty totals finally overwhelm the senses-3,000 one day, 7000 the next day, 4,000 the day after that. Wayne Watkins noted that there were over 13,000 Union casualties at Second Cold Harbor in June 1864. One observer called those futile attacks on the Confederate positions “not war, but murder.” 10:33 AM On our way to the Museum of the Confederacy, we passed St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, which included among its worshipers Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Davis was in church on Sunday morning, April 2, 1865, when he got word that the Confederate lines at Petersburg had been broken, and Richmond must be evacuated. After the war ended Robert E. Lee was attending services at St. Paul’s when a black man shocked the congregation by coming forward and kneeling at the bench to receive communion. To call it a breech of social custom would be an enormous understatement. The congregation froze for a moment until General Lee came forward and knelt at the communion rail not far from the black man, as if to say, “The war is over. We are one nation now.” For simple, courageous gestures like these, and for speaking out in favor of national unity, Robert E. Lee upon his death in 1870 became perhaps the most beloved general in American history. 10:42 AM I told the folks on the tour that I would be flying back to Chicago in the afternoon. When I agreed to go on the Civil War tour last year, I didn’t know that Josh (our oldest son) would be leaving for a year to teach English in China. It turns out that he will leave very early on Monday morning. I felt it was important for me to spend the last couple of days at home if I could. And the only way to do that is to fly from Richmond to Chicago on Friday afternoon. Everyone was very gracious and understanding when I made my announcement. Quite a few said they would be praying for Josh as he goes to China. 11:45 AM Al Greenquist helped me get my bags from the bus. He’s a big Green Bay Packers fan so my final words to him were, “Go Packers-except for when they play Chicago.” He laughed and we said goodbye. I can’t imagine a finer bus driver for a trip like this. Just before the cab picked me up, I chatted with John and Barb Tahl and Dolores Seifert who now lives outside of Dallas-and loves it. They waved goodbye and I thanked them for a great week. Then I hopped in the cab and started my journey home. A few closing reflections: It is good to visit the battlefields and remember the conflicts of long ago. While I was strolling through the fields at Manassas, I could see the cars from Washington whizzing by one after another, in a hurry, most of them of oblivious to the titanic struggle that took places on those same fields in 1861 and 1862. And the men who fought and died there could not have imagined the world we live in today. But their heroism and sacrifice and devotion to duty made America what it is today-one nation indivisible. The Civil War is the defining moment in American history, so much so that I doubt that anyone really understands America who does not know what happened when North and South met in deadly combat. Christians believe in the sovereignty of God over the affairs of men. We affirm that strength comes from the Lord, and that nations rise and fall by God’s design (Psalm 75;6-7). “By me kings reign” (Proverbs 8:15). Visiting the various battlefields this week reminded you of how great conflicts sometimes turned on momentary events, tiny decisions, sometimes even a set of battle orders that a solider “happens” to find. What seemed like chance at the time turns out to be the sovereign hand of God. Though badly outnumbered in terms of men and supplies, the South had its chances to win the war. Certainly we can imagine ways in which the Civil War might have been avoided altogether. But the war did come, over 600,000 soldiers died, and the nation was torn in two. These things did not happen by chance. Two good things happened as a result of the war that should be a ground of thanksgiving for us all: The nation was reunited and the curse of slavery came to an end. As a final note, touring the battlefields with a group makes the trip all the more enjoyable. I thank those who traveled with me from Gettysburg to Richmond, and I hope we can do it again sometime.

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