Daily Archives: May 5, 2017

Walking the Lines: A Day on McPerson, Seminary, and Oak Ridge at Gettysburg


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today’s post is a bit late but I had a great day yesterday with my students as we had dinner and I taught about the strategic and operational conundrums faced by the Union and the Confederacy in early 1863 and the operational and command aspects of the Gettysburg campaign. This first night helps my students to link the lessons faced by commanders in the Civil War with what they are learning at the Staff College.

I went up to the battlefield early yesterday as we had stayed with friends near Washington DC where Judy and the Papillon puppies are staying with friends who have four Papillons. I arrived on the  battlefield a little after 11AM and did some exploring of the grounds around the Seminary building before going in to the building to see the Seminary Ridge Museum which opened there in 2013. It is worth the visit. One floor deals with the first day of the battle; another, slavery and abolition; another, the wounded and dead including fascinating exhibits on medical care; and the last which dealt with religion in that era. I was able to go up to the famous cupola of the Seminary from which the Union Cavalry commander, John Buford directed the initial phase of the battle.


After that I drove over to McPherson’s Ridge, where I parked my car and  walked the lines of the Union First Corps along McPherson. Seminary, and Oak Ridge. Arriving early I as able to walk and see parts of that portion of the battlefield that I had only read about before, despite my many trips here. For those who have never walked the ground of such a battle it is a remarkable experience. As I walked the Union line I could almost see the massed ranks of Union infantry; walking through Herbst Woods I could imagine the chaos that enveloped Archer’s Confederate Brigade as it was hit by the Union Iron Brigade; descending into the railroad cut I could imagine the desperation of the Confederate soldiers whose commanders had led them into a trap from which few would emerge alive, unwounded, or uncaptured. When I got to Oak Ridge I was able to walk out to the spot the the 88th Pennsylvania had destroyed Iverson’s Confederate Brigade and captured its colors. As I walked through those places I could  sense the desperation and the need to win a victory by the men on both sides.

After a long time on the battlefield I checked into my hotel, and in the evening met my students for dinner, drinks and the introductory class on the campaign  of 1863 which helps to tie together the understanding of strategy and the operational art involved in the Gettysburg campaign and the broader aspects of what was happening in 1863 and what drove Robert E. Lee to insist on the invasion of the North instead of sending his troops west to relieve Vicksburg, or perhaps attempt to relieve Vicksburg by defeating Rosecran’s Union army in East Tennessee and then moving to Threaten Cincinnati and the Ohio River which potentially could have drawn Grant away from Vicksburg.

I spent today with my students on the battlefield and hopefully will post something about that tomorrow.

So have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Thoughts on Being Passed Over for Promotion 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was a tough day. I failed to select for promotion to Captain for the second time. It wasn’t so much not being selected for promotion as I neither expected it or wanted it, but it was a reminder to me of the many painful experiences that I have had with senior leaders in both the Army and Navy Chaplain Corps in my 25 years of service as a chaplain. But that being said I was warned. When I was a young Medical Service Corps Captain in the Army I felt the call to go to seminary to become a chaplain. As I got close to leaving active duty, my brigade executive officer pulled me aside. He told me: “Steve, if you think that the Army Medical Department is political and cutthroat, we can’t hold a candle the the Chaplain Corps.” 

Sadly, Lieutenant Colonel Wigger was all too correct. Much of the senior leadership in all of the military chaplain corps, as well as Federal, State, and hospital chaplaincies are as toxic as Zyclon-B. Of course they are not alone, many leaders in church hierarchies are just as bad if not worse. Maybe there is something in humanity that makes some people when given authority in both the temporal as well as spiritual realms exhibit the worst aspects of human nature. 

I have always said that I would never be that way and I have always tried to best to value and care for the chaplains, as well as enlisted personnel who have worked for me. Honestly I think that I’ve done pretty good in that, and I hope that when they remember me that they don’t have the visceral reaction I have at the thought of some of the chaplains and other clergy who have used, abused, and then thrown me under the bus, especially in the depths of my post-Iraq experience with PTSD, mild TBI and moral injury. 

I am not bitter about not getting promoted, but I still bear much animus to those who have used, abused, and then did not care for my spiritual or emotional needs when I needed them. Betrayal is a big part of moral injury and I really do not think that we ever fully recover from that. People, especially Christians say that we should forgive those who have committed acts that have harmed us. I am a priest and I do understand that necessity to forgive, but when one has been harmed over the course of many years it is difficult to do. Actually, until today yesterday I thought that I was pretty much over those feelings and that the wounds had pretty much healed. I was wrong, I have a long way to go. 

After I found out that I hadn’t been selected I took a long walk. I was on my way to Gettysburg and I was dropping my wife and our dogs off with good friends before departing this morning. My walk took me through about five miles of woods along the banks of the Potomac River, including the place that JEB Stuart and his Confederate cavalry forded it during the Gettysburg campaign. That walk in the quiet as well as a conversation with a senior chaplain who has been there for me got me to a better place. When I got back both Minnie and Izzy did what they could to comfort me. Good dogs, they act like nurses. 

I am grateful for the career that I have had. I have been very lucky and very blessed. While there have been some that have gone out of their way to hurt me, or just didn’t give a damn about the way their words and actions impacted me or others, I have been lucky to have some who have done whatever they can to help me and in some cases protected me from myself. Their care, mentoring, and practical, observable love means more to me than anything. I was able to let a number of them know that last night. 

I also know a lot of other fine chaplains and ministers who have been screwed worse by varies chaplain systems or churches than I ever was. Good men and women who deserved far better. I will land on my feet. Some of them are dead, a couple by their own hand because of how they were treated and abandoned when they needed help. I have friends, a wife who loves me and three great Papillons. I am not alone. 

Likewise, had I gotten the operational assignments that I wanted when I was selected for Commander, I never would have gotten my orders to the Staff College. That assignment has opened doors for life after the Navy that I would never have had. I now get to be an academic and hopefully I’ll have my first Civil War era book published in a year or so, and that is when the fun will really begin, so I have nothing to bitch about, but I still hurt. Some say that God has a plan, but honestly I don’t know who true that is, but even so I’m hurting but okay and I’d rather have Judy, my dogs, and my friends than some pie in the sky theology. 

So today I will be going up to Gettysburg early. I’ll arrive well in advance of my students and today my plan is to walk the battlefield from McPherson’s Ridge, to Herbst Woods, and on to Seminary Ridge where I also hope to visit the museum now located in the old seminary building. This is important to do because one never fully appreciates what happened in a certain spot until they have walked the ground. Likewise, there are many markers at Gettysburg that have a lot of meaning that most people never see because they are too busy driving around to see the high points like Little Round Top, the Angle and High Water Mark, and the Virginia And Pennsylvania memorials. 

As I do so I will remember the heroes of the Union side who held their ground, and the men who were not recognized for their actions, and in some cases, like Abner Doubleday, after having done well and fighting heroically were relieved of duty simply because some above them didn’t like them, and acted on false reports. I think that will be a healthy experience for me. Later, I will meet my students for dinner and discuss the strategic and operational aspects of the campaign that connect with what they are learning in regard to planning at the Staff College. 

So anyway, I know that there is a lot of other stuff going on in the world. I’ve seen bit and pieces about the GOP Health Care repeal but have not had time to read anything. Maybe I’ll get to it later in the weekend or early next week as it’s not going to go away. 

I’ll post something small from Gettysburg the next two days. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Gettysburg, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD