Category Archives: life

Forgiveness Will Not Change the Past, but It Could Change the Future: Dealing with the Aftermath of a Painful Experience

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
As my regular readers know I went through a decidedly difficult time over the past coupled of months. If you are a new reader or have not read the post in which I wrote about this experience let me explain.
In mid-June I substituted for one of my chaplains so that he could have a weekend off. The preached from Second Corinthians chapter five regarding Christian responsibility towards other people and the creation. I discussed how the Trump Administration’s border policies were in opposition to that. I explained that the words used by the President and administration about darker skinned immigrants and refugees was dehumanizing. That the use of terms such as “animals” and ‘infestations” while labeling them all as “rapists” and “criminals” of the worst kind was little different than what others had done in the past. I used a number of historical examples; including the American experiences dealing with the extermination and forced relocation of native American tribes, slavery, Jim Crow, the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II, and the Nazi treatment of Jews and others deemed “subhuman.” I quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others to emphasize that such treatment and demonization was in complete opposition to the teaching of the Gospel and the Christian tradition.
It was probably one of the most powerful and heartfelt sermons that I have ever preached. One of the chapel members present told one of my staff chaplains that it was like “hearing the voice of God thunder from the pulpit.” 
For that I had a member of the congregation try to have me tried by court martial for conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards the President of the United States. The man accused me of many things including comparing the President to Adolf Hitler and law enforcement officers to the Nazis. I did no such thing but that is what I was accused of. I was investigated and had to retain an attorney. The investigation confirmed that I had not done what the man said and exonerated me.
Since then I have tried to work through my feelings and emotions and decide what to do. I talked with a number of people and decided that I would need to address the subject before the congregation at a future point.
So I did that today and am pleased to report that my talk with the congregation regarding went well. I was very nervous and fearful going in to the service and during the half hour or so before the service while sequestered in my office I thought that I was going to throw up. 
 
I talked for a little over 8 minutes and humbly explained what happened without any judgment on the man or the congregation. In fact I confessed my fear about even coming before them. I explained that of all the things in my 37 year career that this was the most difficult, including going to combat, getting shot at and dealing with PTSD. I explained that I never expected anything like that. I explained that I had thought that even if someone disagreed with the sermon that they would come to me as is taught in the words of Christ and the writings of the Apostle Paul and not try to have me punished by attempting to have me punished. 
 
I explained that I had worked through my anger but that I was still hurt and that I did not feel safe with the congregation. I invited anyone that wanted to see me either after the service or make a time with me to talk over coffee, lunch, or a beer at a later time. I discussed forgiveness and remarked that even though I had gotten through the anger and forgave my accuser and those who turned their backs on me after that service that the pain remained and that I did not feel safe or that I was fully able to trust them. I also asked forgiveness for anything that I might have said to offend anyone present. I noted that forgiveness will not change the past but could very well change the future. 
Likewise I explained that during my anger I had considered taking revenge on my accuser by suing him in civilian court for libel and defamation of character. But I realized that if I did so that it would not be helpful to anyone. When I was binge watching The Blacklist over the past few weeks I remembered a comment made by Raymond Reddington. He said: “Revenge isn’t a passion. It’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.” 
When I completed my remarks, I exited the pulpit and handed the service back to my Protestant pastor and waited in my office.
 
The response was good, I don’t think that I could have asked for more. A number of people came to me after the service and were very kind. Two of them were men who in their interviews with the investigating officer refuted all of the accusations against me. The response of the people who came to me was quite touching and very encouraging. 
Since I do not know what the man who made the charges looks like I do not know if he was in attendance today. At the end of my talk I announced my plans to retire and that I may not preach again at this chapel, but that the decision was not final. Those who visited with me all told me that they wanted me to continue to preach the truth, all of them said that it was badly needed in our chapel if it were to survive. One elderly couple said that the congregation was dying. I haven’t decided if I will preach again because I am not there yet, but I haven’t ruled it it. 
As far as forgiveness, I do forgive, but it is a process, but it is impossible to forget. Maybe that is one thing that makes us human. The memories of such experiences will always be a part of us, and just maybe that is a good thing. That may sound strange because so many people say to “forgive and forget” as if that is part of scripture or a Biblical command. In fact that the phrase is not found anywhere in the Bible. I believe that we should forgive but that because we cannot forget we should remember what was done so that we learn from it and are able to move on and do better ourselves.
So for tonight I thank all of my readers for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers over the past two months.
Until tomorrow.
Peace
Padre Steve+
Advertisements

11 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, life, ministry, Pastoral Care

What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been: This Navy Chaplain’s Work Becomes Part of an Army Operational Manual

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I received word yesterday of something that I think is really cool. I was asked by the Army Combined Arms Directorate at Fort Leavenworth for permission to include an adaptation of a portion of my Gettysburg text as a one page vignette for the new edition of Army Doctrine Publication 5-0, The Operations Process. This will be published in January 2019 and gives the Army permission to use it in this as well as other Army and Joint publications for twenty years.

This is kind of a big thing for me. Now it will not generate any royalties, but it will get my work out to a much larger audience than I have ever reached before. The publication of this vignette in the publication may end up in getting my Gettysburg trilogy in print of other publishers and actually published. The trilogy is very different than most accounts of the battle due to its focus on biography as well as overall operational and tactical decision making within the scope of the battle narrative.

You might wonder what difference of a vignette like this in such a publication makes on the readers who in this case are the current and future leaders of the Army. Let me tell you. When I was a new Army Lieutenant in 1983 the Army published FM 22-100, Military Leadership. For a field manual it was one of the best ever written. In it there was a vignette about Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg.

The vignette captured my imagination and it was hard to believe that some thirty years later as a Navy Chaplain and historian that I would be leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride at the Joint Forces Staff College. It inspired me to take seriously the human dynamic in war and in history. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time can attest to how serious I take the human factor whether it be in military history, politics, religion, civil rights, and even baseball.

The new edition of ADP 100-5 will be standard reading for NCOs, as well as junior and senior officers, and operational planners. Because of the Army’s oversize role in producing doctrine for the Joint force it will likely be a part of Marine Corps and Joint planning manuals and courses. For a Navy Chaplain and historian at the end of a 38 year military career which included 17 1/2 years in the Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve this is a big honor. In the words of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in their classic song Truckin’ “What a long strange trip it’s been.”

The vignette as written will include segments of my text that I published on this blog. According to the Army the vignette will read like this:

Collaboration: Meade’s Council of War

In June 1863, General Robert E. Lee prepared the Army of Northern Virginia for a second invasion of the North. Moving through the Shenandoah Valley and north toward Harrisburg, Lee’s Army made contact with the Army of the Potomac near the town of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. Day one of the battle saw initial Confederate success. By the afternoon of day two, Major General George Meade (who had just recently assumed command of the Army of the Potomac) had moved the bulk of his force into defensive positions on the high ground south of the city. The battlefield was set.   

Late in the afternoon of July 2, Lee launched heavy assaults on both the Union’s left and right flanks. Fierce fighting raged at Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill, and Cemetery Hill. Despite heavy losses, the Army of the Potomac held their lines. That evening, Meade reported back to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck, “The enemy attacked me about 4 P.M. this day…and after one of the severest contests of the war was repulsed at all points.” Meade ended his message: “I shall remain in my present position to-morrow, but am not prepared to say until better advised of the condition of the army, whether operations will be of an offensive or a defensive character.” Having essentially made his decision, Meade summoned his corps commanders and chief of intelligence to assess the condition of the army and to hear from his commanders on courses of action for the next day.

The meeting began around 9 P.M. in which Brigadier General John Gibbon noted, “was at first very informal and in the shape of a conversation.” The meeting lasted about two hours as General Meade listened intently to his subordinates’ discussion.  The tradition in such meetings or council of war is a discussion and then a vote by the officers on the course of action. Meade’s Chief of Staff Major General Butterfield posed three questions:

 “Under existing circumstances, is it advisable for this army to remain in its present position, or retire to another nearer its base of supplies?

 It being determined to remain in present position, shall the army attack or wait the attack of the enemy?

 If we wait attack, how long?”

Meade’s commanders responded from junior to senior in rank. All wanted to remain on the field another day, but none favored to attack. When the discussion concluded Meade decided that the question was settled and the troops would remain in position.  The two-hour discussion and vote formed consensus of the commanders and improved their confidence, resulting in the outcome Meade was seeking-to stay and fight.

What I have stressed in my text and teaching about Gettysburg is just how George Gordon Meade actively sought the input and collaboration of his Generals while Confederate General Robert E. Lee did nothing of the sort at Gettysburg. I think that at every level of leadership that Union leaders were much more involved and able to adapt to a rapidly changing situation which any leadership failure could had led to an epic battlefield disaster. George Meade, who had just taken command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28th set the tone for his commanders.

Sadly, among many students of the battle and Civil War history buffs, Meade gets little recognition. But without his leadership and active direction of the battle and trust in his subordinates the battle of Gettysburg might likely become a great defeat for the Union. I do not think that it would have led to a Confederate victory in the war, but it would have complicated the Union War effort.

If you are interested in reading more from the articles used in this vignette please go to the following link on this blog.

“A Council of War: Meade and His Generals Decide to Stay and Fight at Gettysburg July 2nd 1863.” Padre Steve’s World. https://padresteve.com/2014/04/25/a-council-of-war-meade-and-his-generals-decide-to-stay-and-fight-at-gettysburg-july-2nd-1863/

Have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, life, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, us army

You Have to Make Choices and be Happy with Them

img_5808-1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was an exhausting day. Last night I found out that one of the military personnel that I had served with in a previous assignment many years ago was in a bad way. It was already well after midnight but since I didn’t have his phone number I sent him a personal message on a social media site. I asked him to call me and gave him my number. I cannot divulge any details but he was struggling and our conversation lasted a long time. I didn’t get to sleep until almost 3 AM. But the good thing is that he is getting help at the VA and I am sure that he will be okay. But his trust in me was a validation of the work that I do, and will continue to do for the people that I have served with for the rest of my life, long after I retire from the Navy next year.

Unfortunately before I went to bed I found my wife’s car keys in my pants. I decided to go hang them on the key rack downstairs. I was tired and wasn’t paying attention, didn’t keep a grip on the railing and slipped on the second or third stair from bottom and jammed my left leg and less badly my right leg. I hurt like a son of a bitch. I ended up getting less than three hours of very uncomfortable sleep and when I swung  my leg out of be was jolted by excruciating pain.

It would be that this morning I had to get up early to cover a number of meetings that lasted until noon. I had to limp to those meetings and in the midst of fighting off the sleep monster and trying to keep myself in a position that my legs didn’t hurt. After my meetings I limped back to my car and the office and handled before driving to the Naval Medical Center ER.

The ER and the radiology techs were great, despite bending me into positions that made me scream. The good thing was that they found no broken bones. I have some bruising on my femur, and have some pulled muscles and sprains and they discovered that I have some arthritis in my knees, hips, and ankles. No doubt from all of my running, athletic injuries, and from lugging around too much gear in criss crossing Al Anbar Province back in 2007-2008, and far too many field exercises in the Army and while serving with the Marines.

That made for a very long day, I left the ER about 5 PM and drove to my favorite local German restaurant, the Bier Garden, in Portsmouth to avoid rush hour and the pain in the ass known getting through the Downtown Tunnel, but I digress…

I usually have the Sauerbraten with a Semmel Knodel and red cabbage or sauerkraut, or sometimes their Bockwurst. Both are great and their rotating beer selections of German, European, and American craft beers is wonderful, But today I had their Ruben on German sourdough bread. I haven’t had that in a long time and and it is still to die for. The wonderful owner and operator of the Bier Garden is a German lady named Hannelore. She is an absolute doll, Judy and I love her to death.

But while I was out I was able to read the comics and check the news only to find that the President had stripped former CIA director’s security clearance and is looking at doing so to others. The interesting thing as that of those he is looking at doing this to none have committed any crimes, they are simply critics. Of course the reason that these men and women retain their clearances is not to give them access to information when they leave the organization, but rather if their expertise is needed that they can be used to help the agencies that they once ran.

The same is true for military personnel who leave the service. It is a pain in the ass to start a new clearance and takes time, that’s why the government allows such men and women to maintain clearances. It was interesting to note that the one person not being looked at to have their clearance revoked was an actual convicted criminal, Trump’s first National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn. I find that fascinating, only non-criminal critics are being looked at while an actual criminal is not. This leads me to believe that this unprecedented action was done to silence not just Brennan, but all critics. But then I have recently experienced the kind of fanatical vengeance from a Trump Cultist parishioner that tried to get me tried by court martial for a sermon. So I understand the what John Brennan is going through, but I digress…

Anyway, when I was done with dinner and a couple of marvelous beers, I limped to the car and went home to Judy and the the Papillon puppies and have been binge watching The Blacklist. It may not be much but I am happy. It was a fascinating day,, I got to reflect on the good things that I have been able to do in my career, muse on my current situation, think about what I will say to the congregation that the man who tried to get me tried by court martial this weekend, and be thankful for the people that I now work with, as well as Judy and the our Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre. So I didn’t make Captain or get any of the assignments, except the Staff College that I wanted after I made Commander, but Raymond Reddington once said:

“You can’t do every silly thing you want to in life. You have to make choices and be happy with them.”

I have to say that I am really learning to be happy with those choices, even the ones that were forced upon me and even with the recent experience with my parishioner. So have a great night,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under faith, life, ministry

The Broken Fragments of Antique Legends and the Kaleidoscopic Present

Twain
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I am still enjoying a time of reflection following the submission of my retirement request from the Navy I am re-posting an article from about a year ago which I still think is relevant to today. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

I am trying to place what is going on in the Trump White House, the country, and the world in some frame of reference for some time now. There are many historical parallels to draw from and make analogies, but like all analogies they tend to break down at some point, none are perfect, but some tend to resonate more than others. Mark Twain wrote “History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.” 

In the Trump world I see fragments of the worlds of Richard Nixon, of Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Leopold of Belgium, Adolf Hitler, and Pierre Laval; of of the Robber Barons, the owners of the Titanic, and other leaders going back to antiquity. I have written about some of those parallels, even recently; however the past few days of turmoil have caused me to step back a bit as I try to find the right manner in which to write about them.

Marcus Tillius Cicero wrote something that in the midst of the self-inflicted chaos of the Trump administration that we should try to heed right now. I wish that the President would stop for a brief moment to ponder before he does something incredibly rash that leads him and the nation to disaster. Cicero wrote: “To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?”

So I am reading and researching and trying to make sense of the madness that we are all witnesses to, and if we do not speak out complicit in.

 

2 Comments

Filed under History, life, philosophy

Raymond Reddington, Me, and the Forgiveness of Sins

7852066-12185069

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In spite of being very busy working in the house and going  back to work to deal with the crisis d’jour I have been very reflective about all I have been through over the past few months. Unlike past times of reflection this has been a rather uplifting experience of grace and not a de-evolution into a morbid state of moroseness.

As I wrote on Saturday I drafted and sent up my retirement letter today for my Commanding Officer’s endorsement. I also let my detailer, the officer who manages officer assignments know that I was putting in my papers so he can plan to replace me. I also let the men and . It was a strange but very freeing. I will have much to do to get ready for that day about a year from now but knowing that I can begin working on everything that I need to accomplish. There is much to do but I am at peace and really looking forward to what comes next, whatever it may be.

Due to a situation dealing with my Catholic congregation  I am having to do a town hall meeting to explain howe things work to all of my faith group leaders and contractors on Sunday afternoon. Thus I will be going in to the chapel on Sunday and I will make an appearance before my Protestant congregation to discuss my feelings about the member that tried to get me sent to court martial. I have finally been able to deal with the anger from that experience but the pain is still there. At least I am in a better place to talk about it and know now that I won’t do anything to blow the situation up.

This experience has taught me something about grace, forgiveness, and trust, but I digress…

The fact is that I have a tremendous ability to dwell upon injustices and I have a terrible time with forgiveness. I do really love the concept and as a Christian I have no idea of how Jesus managed to forgive nor the great saints of every faith who managed to live lives full of grace and forgiveness have managed to do so. It probably goes back to my Irish-Scottish DNA, the DNA that can make one a hilarious hoot one minute and a brooding bore the next regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

But there is something that I have learned recently: forgiveness doesn’t require me to be dishonest about how I feel about something. I learned that from Raymond Reddington, and yes I have been binge-watching The Blacklist of late and I find Reddington’s grip on philosophy, religion, and the human condition to be quite fascinating. Reddington observed:

“Sins should be buried like the dead. Not that they may be forgotten but we may them and find our way forward nonetheless.”

Truthfully I don’t believe in the forgive and forget bullshit, it’s a nice thought, but our brains don’t work that way. We can forgive someone every day, but the memories will still be there. That’s what makes it so hard. That is why the Christian understanding of the forgiveness of since is so important and so difficult. It wasn’t meant to be easy or painless, but it might make a difference, as Reddington noted:

“A friend told me recently that forgiveness won’t change the past but could very well change their future. Apparently, everything is forgivable.” 

So that’s all for tonight. Yes I know there are many things going on that I can write about but right now I need to stay in this place for a moment.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, life, ministry, philosophy

All Good Things: My Decision to Retiree from the Military

img_4376

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the Star Trek Film Generations Captain Jean Luc Picard told Commander William Riker:

“Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they’ll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we’re only mortal.” 

Today was like any other Saturday for me except that I made the decision to put in my retirement papers from the Navy. Lord willing about this time next year I will be “piped ashore” in a retirement ceremony.

When that day comes it will be the end of a thirty-eight year military career in which I have served as an enlisted man, then an officer. I have served in the active duty Army, the Army Reserve, and California, Texas, and Virginia Army National Guard. Then in February of 1999 after 17 1/2 years in the Army I declared free agency so to speak and joined the Navy.  On February 8th I was a Major in the Army Reserve and on the 9th I was taking the oath of office as a Navy Lieutenant. My wife and my paternal grandmother were there when I took the oath in a humble, and now abandoned Naval Reserve Center in Huntington West Virginia.

So now, some 19 years and 8 months later I have made the decision to put in my retirement papers. For me it is a time for reflecting and realizing that it is the right time to do this. The last number of months in my assignment have been difficult and brought me little joy. I have sought to serve my congregations and to mentor, help, and protect the personnel assigned to me.

I have grown weary of the frustrations of dealing with a moribund bureaucracy, decaying facilities with no money to fix them, the prospect of losing most of my experienced enlisted personnel with no experienced personnel coming in, and dealing with Protestant and Catholic congregations that try my very soul. When one of my Protestant parishioners attempted to have me tried by court martial because he disagreed with my sermon content and then wrote a lying letter to my commander forcing an investigation in which I had to spend money on a lawyer to defend myself I crossed the Rubicon. I knew that I was going to retire at the end of my current tour.

Then this week I hit the culminating point when the faith group leader of my Catholic congregation and my new contract Priest raised such a ruckus and problems for my enlisted personnel and one of my Chaplains that I had to intervene despite being on leave and in the middle of massive work on my house. I spent Friday evening texting that lay leader and it only made me more upset. I realized that no matter what I did that had done to keep them going in the absence of a priest and how I fought for them that they had no loyalty of concern for me or my personnel. Gratefulness to others is not a virtue for most American Christians today, I knew that but learned it again.

This morning I read a Navy Message announcing a Selective Early Retirement Board for Captains and Commanders. I am in the zone and if chosen to be retired I would have little lead time to plan my retirement and do all the things that I would need to do medically, administratively, and personally to retire and have a decent chance of landing on me feet. Honestly, I would have rather spent the last year in a combat zone in Iraq like I did in 2007 and 2008 than deal with the bullshit that I have been dealing with lately.

I know that did the best that I could and I can say that the team of chaplains and Religious Program Specialists whose work I help direct and support are some of the finest people I have ever served with. Their honesty and likewise their care for me has been about the only thing that got me through. Honestly, I am so grateful for them and I treasure them all, just as I have so many of my other soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, and civilians employed by the military for the last thirty-seven years.

I am at peace, and I am going to spent the time leading up to my retirement to cherish every moment. Now I know that my situation at work is not going to change but I am going to cherish the moments with the people that I care for and do my best to serve without getting to stressed out because I know now that I my future is only beginning. “Second star to the right and straight on till morning.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

17 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, History, iraq, leadership, life, Military, ministry

Winfield Hancock and Lewis Armistead: Friends Separated by War


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been posting a number of articles based on my yet to be published book on the Battle of Gettysburg. This one deals with the relationships of close friends in war. In this case, these men were friends who had served together for many years then ended up fighting each other at Gettysburg. Their story is tragic, because none of them hated each other, or held any animosity towards each other, but instead had followed what they believed to be their duty.  Some like Winfield Scott in the continued service of the Union, and others like Lewis Armistead to that of their home states.

Even so the bonds of friendship were never severed. Of course, unless you have served with people in war and in the military it it hard to comprehend such a fate. Even now, I know men that I consider friends, men who now hold very different political and social beliefs than me, and if God forbid there was ever another civil war, we would most likely be on opposite sides, but they would still be friends, and I would grieve the fact that we would be fighting. 

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

The bonds of friendship forged by soldiers are some of deepest and long lasting that are formed anywhere.  For American military professionals those bonds are formed in the small rather closed society that is the regular United States military. They are formed in war and peace, and are marked by years of deployments, isolated duty and combat. They are part of a culture that is often quite different than that of civilian society. That is the case now as it was in 1860.

When the Southern States seceded from the Union men who had spent much of their adult lives serving together discovered had to say goodbye and prepare to fight each other. Most did so with a heavy heart even though many had strong convictions about the rightness of their region’s cause. Those who left the army to serve the Confederate states were often torn by doubt and questions of where their loyalty lay.

Robert E. Lee was a good example of the conflict that many Southern officers faced. “The Southern professional officer in 1861 was confronted with a cruel choice symbolized by Lee’s anguished pacing at Arlington. On one hand, the Southern officer’s political allegiances drew him to the Confederacy; on the other his professional responsibility drew him to the Union.” [1] They wrestled with their oath of office and the costs of perhaps having to face their dearest friends on future battlefields. Lee’s letter to his sister Ann Marshall, who remained a supporter of the Union, after he resigned from the army he had served for 32 years reflects that anguish, torn between his loyalties Lee wrote “With all my devotion to the Union, and the dear feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home.” [2] He added: “I know you will blame me…but you must think as kindly of me as you can, and believe that I have endeavored to do what I think right.” [3] 

These career officers were different from the mass levies of civilian volunteers who rallied to the flags of the Union and Confederacy in 1861. The volunteers, most of whom did not have the deep and abiding friendships of the professionals were often motivated by ideological, sectional or religious hatred of the other and went to war with great aplomb. However, the professionals for the most part went to war against former comrades with heavy heart, “old army colleagues found themselves wrenched from the normal course of their lives when their states joined the Confederacy.” [4]

The American Civil War has many such tales. Porter Alexander wrote of his final words with his superior James B. McPherson, who later went on to be a highly successful corps commander under Grant and Sherman before being killed outside Atlanta in 1864. McPherson desired that Alexander remain in California as an Engineering officer. He warned Alexander about the nature of the coming war and gave him his counsel, not as a superior, but as a friend:

“Now this is not going to be any 90 day or six months affair as some of the politicians are predicting. Both sides are in deadly earnest & it is long & desperate & fought to the bitter end. ..God only knows what may happen to you individually, but for your cause there can be but one possible result. It must be lost….” [5]

Alexander  realized the implications of his friends words but his loyalty to his state and people was more than his loyalty to the Union, and he feared what friends and family at home would think of him more than the illogic of what he was about to do. He wrote of their parting visit and how it shook him:

“Nothing could exceed the kindness & real affection with which McPherson urged these views on me…. His earnest talk impressed me deeply & made me realize that a crisis in my life was at hand. But I felt helpless to avert it or even to debate the question what I should do. I could not controvert one of McPhersons’ statements or arguments; I could only answer this: “Mac, My people are going to war, & and for their liberty. If I don’t come & bear my part they will believe me a coward…” [6]

However perhaps the most remembered of these interrupted friendships is that of Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Armistead. For many people their friendship is best recalled in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Killer Angels which was immortalized in the movie Gettysburg. 


                                         Major General Winfield Scott Hancock USA

Hancock is an interesting character. He was a West Point Graduate from Pennsylvania and like many Army officers of his day he was a Democrat as they were then the conservative party. Hancock was not a political ideologue but was since he was a Democrat he was suspect by leaders in the party establishments of both parties; Republicans for being a Democrat, and Democrats for serving under Lincoln. As such, despite his immense talent and accomplishments he never was given independent command of an Army but remained the beloved commander of the Union Second Corps.

As the nation split and friends went their separate ways Hancock gave some advice to his best friend, Lewis Armistead and their commander, Brigadier General Albert Sidney Johnston who were preparing to leave the Union in early 1861. In response to the states rights arguments of his friends he made himself clear. He fully believed in the principal of states rights, but he could not compromise his faithfulness to the Union. He told his friends as they departed company on their way to their destinies during the Civil War:

“I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.” 

During the war Hancock served with distinction. At Gettysburg he was influential in determining the choice of the Union defense, in helping to repel the Rebel attacks on July 2nd 1863 and the final repulse of Pickett’s Charge where he was severely wounded and his friend Armistead died. After he recovered from his wounds he continued to lead Second Corps until the end of the war. Ulysses Grant wrote of him:

“Hancock stands the most conspicuous figure of all the general officers who did not exercise a separate command. He commanded a corps longer than any other one, and his name was never mentioned as having committed in battle a blunder for which he was responsible. He was a man of very conspicuous personal appearance…. His genial disposition made him friends, and his personal courage and his presence with his command in the thickest of the fight won for him the confidence of troops serving under him. No matter how hard the fight, the 2d corps always felt that their commander was looking after them.”

After the war Hancock supervised the execution of those convicted of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Following that duty he served in various postings in the occupied South and attempted to mitigate some of the actions of those bent on vengeance against African Americans as well as others who tried to exploit the defeated Confederates for political or economic gain. His balanced attempt at justice was not appreciated by many people in the North or the South.

The Interrupted Friendship 

In 1861 Hancock was stationed in California as a Quartermaster under the command of Colonel (Brevet Brigadier General) Albert Sidney Johnston with the Sixth Infantry Regiment. One of his fellow officers was Captain Lewis Armistead, a twice widowed Virginian who also served as a commander of the New San Diego Garrison under Johnston’s command, and Richard Garnett commanding a company at Fort Yuma. Hancock and his wife Almira became fast friends with the widowed Virginian.

Armistead was a nephew of the officer who defended Fort McHenry from the British in the War of 1812. Armistead had academic and personal difficulties at West Point and “was bounced out, not once but twice.” [7] His troubles included an altercation with Jubal Early in which he broke a plate over Early’s head.  Between his academic difficulties and the fight with Early he resigned from the Academy. However, his father helped him obtain a commission as an Infantry officer in 1839. Armistead’s career from that point on was similar to many other officers of his day. He served with distinction in Mexico, the Great Plains, Kansas, Utah and California.

As the war clouds built and various southern states seceded from the Union numerous officers from the South were torn between their oath, their friendships and their deep loyalty to their home states and families. In the end most Southern officers resigned their commissions, many with mixed feelings and quite often sadness. A large minority, some “40 to 50 per cent of Southern West Point graduates on active duty in 1860 held on to their posts and remained faithful to the Union.” [8] The most prominent of these men were General Winfield Scott and Major General George Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga.” Likewise Union Brigadier General John Buford’s family in Kentucky supported the Confederacy.

For those southern officers who remained loyal to the Union to was often at a great personal cost. Thomas’s action cost him his relationship with his immediate family who deemed him to be a traitor. He and others were pilloried and demonized in the basest ways by many in the South. Some Southerners who served the Union were executed when they were captured. George Pickett, who called for his fellow Virginian Thomas’ death ordered 22 North Carolinians who he captured fighting for the Union in Kinston North Carolina to be executed. Pickett was not alone in such sentiments.


                                          Brigadier General Lewis Armistead CSA

A Parting of Ways

However, for most it was different. As talk of secession and war heated up officers stationed on the frontier debated the issues and asked each other what they would do if war came. In California Armistead and other officers asked Hancock, who was a Democrat and not openly hostile to the South, advice on what he would do if war came. Hancock’s reply was simple. I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided” [9]

The parting came in 1861. When it was apparent that many officers would be resigning and heading home to join their state’s forces the Hancock’s hosted a going away party for their friends. Almira Hancock wrote of the party that “Hearts were filled with sadness over the surrendering of life-long ties.” [10]

Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s wife Eliza went to a piano and sang sentimental songs such as Mary of Argyle and the popular Irish song Kathleen Mavourneen[11] Almira Hancock wrote “Those songs…will ever be remembered by survivors of that mournful gathering.” [12]

“Mavourneen, Mavourneen, my sad tears are falling, 

to think that from Erin and thee I must part!

It may be for years, and it may be forever, 

Then why art thou silent, thou voice of my heart?

The parting was especially emotional for Armistead who had been a friend of the Hancocks for seventeen years. They had helped in following the death of both of his wives and children, in a way they had become family. Armistead was tearful. He put his arm on his friend’s shoulder as he said: “Hancock, good-by; you can never know what this has cost me, and I hope God will strike me dead if I am ever induced to leave my native soil, should worse come to worse.” [13] As he departed Armistead gave a wrapped Bible and Prayer book to Almira Hancock, in case of his death, inscribed were the words “Trust in God and fear nothing.” [14]

Armistead took a commission in the Confederate Army and quickly was appointed to command a brigade. He led his brigade during the Peninsula campaign and battles around Richmond. During that campaign his brigade was decimated in Lee’s failed assault on prepared Federal positions at Malvern Hill. Armistead was a proud professional soldier and did suffer fools or incompetents. As such he not endear himself to many of the volunteer officers who served in the Confederate ranks. One of his Colonels resigned over Armistead’s supposedly harsh treatment to which Armistead replied: “I have felt obliged to speak to him as one military man would to another and as I have passed nearly all my life in camps my manner may not be understood or appreciated by one who has been all his life a civilian.” [15] Armistead’s words can easily be understood by military professionals whose lives have been shaped in a different manner than their civilian counterparts.

“I Hope God Will Strike Me Dead…”

At Gettysburg Armistead spoke his fears about the charge to his comrades. One was Brigadier General Dick Garnett, another of Armistead and Hancock’s comrades from the California days on the night of July 2nd. Garnett’s career had paralleled that Armistead, the same age Garnett struggled at West Point in his third year “he failed and withdrew. Taking the same courses again during the next term, he finished fourteenth among his new classmates, then graduated in 1841 standing 29th of fifty-two graduates.” [16]

Armistead and Garnett served together in the Sixth Infantry for most of their careers. They were promoted at similar times, a pattern of promotion that continued into their Confederate service. The next afternoon, the two friends who had served together so long and whose careers were so similar led their brigades of Pickett’s Division across the valley between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge against their friend and comrade Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps which was defending Cemetery Ridge.

Garnett had to lead his brigade on horseback, having been injured during the army’s march to Gettysburg. During the engagement Garnett was killed just before reaching the Union lines and Hancock gravely wounded. Armistead, lead the remnants of his decimated brigade to the Stone Wall, near the Copse of Trees. He rallied his troops fearing that some were faltering calling out: “Come on boys, give them the cold steel! Who will follow me?” [17]

His troops breached the Union line and his black hat atop his sword led his troops forward. He reached the now unmanned artillery of Cushing’s battery and called to his remaining men “The day is ours men, come and turn this artillery on them.” [18] It was then that he met more Federal troops who unleashed a volley of musket fire that cut down many of the survivors. Armistead was wounded in the right arm and shoulder and fell near one of the Union artillery pieces, a point now known as “The High Water Mark” of the Confederacy.


As Armistead lay wounded he was approached by Major Bingham of Hancock’s staff. Bingham, a Mason noticed that Armistead was making a Masonic sign of distress. When Bingham told Armistead of Hancock’s injury Armistead was grieved and told Bingham to “Say to General Hancock for me that I have done him, and you all, an injury, which I shall always regret.” [19]

The meaning of those words is debated, especially by Southerners who cherish the myth of the Lost Cause. However, based on Armistead’s conduct and behavior in the time before he left California, it is not unreasonable to assume that as he lay dying he truly regretted what he had done. Armistead died from infections caused by his wounds which were initially not thought to be life threatening. A Union surgeon described him as: “seriously wounded, completely exhausted, and seemingly broken-spirited.” [20]

Garnett’s body was never found and was probably buried in a mass grave with other Confederate soldiers and was likely taken after the war to his native Virginia “together with thousands of unidentified bodies from Gettysburg, for burial in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.” [21]Armistead was buried by a member of the 107th Ohio near the XI Corps field hospital. About a month later a physician from Philadelphia tracked down the soldier and “dug up the “Rough box” containing the body and embalmed poor Armistead’s remains for sale to grieving family members.” [22] Armistead’s family buried the remains in Old Saint Paul’s Cemetery in Baltimore.

Robert Krick wrote: “Death on adjacent bits of blood soaked ground in Adams County, Pennsylvania, yielded a final common thread, that of indignity: Lewis Armistead’s corpse wound up a hostage to petty human greed, while Dick Garnett’s entirely disappeared.” [23]

Hancock’s injuries were severe, but he recovered. He would go on to continued fame and be one of the most admired and respected leaders of the Army during and after the war. He was gracious as a victor and spoke out against reprisals committed against Southerners after the war.

In 1880 Hancock was the Democratic nominee for President. He lost a close election to James Garfield, losing the popular vote by fewer than 40,000 votes. It was an era of great political corruption and Hancock was one of the few major public figures viewed favorably for his integrity. Even his political opponents respected him for his integrity and honesty. Former President Rutherford B Hayes said:

“if when we make up our estimate of a public man, conspicuous both as a soldier and in civil life, we are to think first and chiefly of his manhood, his integrity, his purity, his singleness of purpose, and his unselfish devotion to duty, we can truthfully say of Hancock that he was through and through pure gold.” [24]

A few years after his death Republican General Francis A Walker, lamenting the great corruption of the time said:

“Although I did not vote for General Hancock, I am strongly disposed to believe that one of the best things the nation has lost in recent years has been the example and the influence of that chivalric, stately, and splendid gentleman in the White House. Perhaps much which both parties now recognize as having been unfortunate and mischievous during the past thirteen years would have been avoided had General Hancock been elected.” [25]

The story of Hancock, Armistead and Garnett is one that reminds us of the depth of friendships that many military professionals develop and cherish. It is also a story that reminds us of how hardened ideologues can divide a nation to the point of civil war. It is a story that should give pause to any political or spiritual leader that incites people to war against their neighbor and uses their ideology to slander, demean or even enslave and brutalize their political opponents.

The blood of the approximately 50,000 soldiers that were killed or wounded during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg is ample reminder of the tragedy of war, especially war that forces the dearest of friends to fight and even kill one another.

Notes 

[1] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.212

[2] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.188

[3] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 pp.230-231

[4] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.33

[5] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander edited by Gary Gallagher University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1989 p.24

[6] Ibid. Alexander. Fighting for the Confederacy p.25

[7] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.379

[8] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.213

[9] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.33

[10] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[11] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[12] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[13] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.34

[14] Krick, Robert K. The Parallel Lives of Two Virginia Soldiers Armistead and Garnett in The Third Day at Gettysburg and Beyond edited by Gary Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 1994 p.112

[15] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.244

 

[16] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.101

[17] Stewart, George R. Pickett’s Charge: A Micro-History of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3rd 1863 Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1959 pp.216-217

[18] Hess, Earl JPickett’s Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.262

[19] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge pp.254-255

[20] Ibid. Stewart Pickett’s Charge pp.254

[21] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[22] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[23] Ibid. Krick Armistead and Garnett p.123

[24] Ibid. Jordan Winfield Scott Hancock p.319

[25] Stone, Irving They Also Ran Doubleday, New York 1943 and 1981 pg. 188

Leave a comment

Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, leadership, life, Military