Part of our vacation was spent at my brother, John’s home in Virginia. Located just outside of Washington, D.C., you can’t help but be in the midst of many historic battle sites from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, predominantly.
For many years I have wanted to attend one of the Civil War reenactment events, but they always fall on a weekend. This is fine for most folks, but when you’re a pastor, it really restricts your mobility as the Lords’ Day pops up in the midst of these proceedings.
My wife, Isaura and I arrived in Virginia on the 18th of July which gave us ample opportunity to plan to visit the reenactment of the 150th anniversary of the first Civil War battle, known as the First Battle of Bull Run as it was called by Northern Forces, and the First Battle of Manassas as it was known by the Southern forces. This battle was fought July 21, 1861. These armies would meet a second time at this location thirteen months later to slug it out once again.
The best day for us to attend the event was Sunday, so Isaura, brother John, and our sister Joy and I headed out for the battlefields. Manassas Battlefield National Park was the location located just outside of D.C., and is well worth the time to make the visit. They were prepared and handled the crowds with great efficiency. Grandstands were set up at the edge of a field used for the reenactment. Others stood down both sides of the field behind roped partitions. We watched as the re-enactors marched to and fro, maneuvering into position against their enemies. Circling around were mounted cavalry representing both sides in the conflict. Horse drawn cannons boomed their murderous sound, drowning the crackle of musket fire and creating havoc with the billowing cannon smoke that settled across the field blinding the eyes of the combatants from seeing each other. This replay of the actual event lasted about an hour or so, before we began our walk back to the buses that would return us to the parking lots. Re-enactors remained in costume all along our route, helping us to further experience the realism of what we had witnessed.
However, it was later that week that John and I decided to drive to Maryland and visit the Antietam Battle site. It was here that the Federals (Northern troops) engaged the Rebels (Southern troops) in a battle of immense loss of life. This was the first time that General Robert E. Lee would bring his Confederate forces into the Northern states (referred to as “Free States,” as opposed to “Slave States” for the South). Unlike the Bull Run/Manassas battle, this was not a live reenactment. At the Antietam Historical Center, we watched an hour-long movie that was a documentary replete with battle reenactments of this decisive engagement in the war. The most sobering part of this visit to Antietam was the driving tour you could make with a map directing you to eleven different historic spots. These rolling hills are still farm land, just as it was then. One of the characteristics of this battle was the corn fields (still growing today) the Union forces marched through in their imminent encounter with well entrenched Confederate forces. Back and forth through these corn fields the two armies advanced and mauled each other. The center of the action was a Dunkard church (German-American Baptists) which was at the end of one of the corn fields.
But the bloodshed was enormous. More than twenty-three thousand men met their end in this battle. Of historic note, the loss of life at Sunken Road, euphemistically referred to as “Bloody Lane,” about a half-mile from the church, witnessed 3,000 Union troops killed and 2,500 Confederate troops dead.
As my brother and I stood there, you couldn’t help but be hushed to silence, realizing the huge loss of life spent on this dirt road.
After I returned home, I researched this particular part of the battle to see what more I could find. One survivor of this engagement from the Union’s Sixth Corps, writes, “Further to the left there was a narrow road (Sunken Road), not more than fifteen feet wide, with high fences on each side. Here a regiment of rebels was posted; when our batteries getting an enfilading fire (gunfire that strikes a body of troops along its whole length) upon them, and the infantry at the same time opening a murderous fire, the regiment was literally destroyed; not more than twenty of their number escaping. Their bodies filled the narrow road (Bloody Lane). Some were shot while attempting to get over the fence; and their remains hung upon the boards. A more fearful picture than we saw here, could not be conceived.” (George Thomas Stevens, Surgeon for the New York 6th Corps)
It has been rightly said that “War is hell.” War seems to be an integral part of man’s existence. Will it ever end? I’m pleased to say, “Yes!” The Bible says when Jesus comes back, all wars will cease, and peace will reign. Won’t that be glorious! Even so, Lord Jesus, come!