Hot Letter Abe

I’ve heard of this practice before and have even written a “hot letter” myself, but I never would have expected to hear that good ole’ Abe (President Abraham Lincoln) made a habit of doing so!

Illustration by Jason Stout

I recently finish reading Incarnate by Michael Frost, where he points out that Lincoln was a great leader primarily for his non-anxious presence among others. Often quoted for saying “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends,” Lincoln had a way of being patient with people of differing views.

Frost notes that, in order to curb his negative emotions, Lincoln would write “a ‘hot letter’ to the individual he was angry with, and then he would set the letter aside and not send it. If he did lose his temper, Lincoln would follow up with a kind gesture or letter to let the individual know he was not holding a grudge.” (Incarnate, pg. 202)

Knowing that Lincoln had faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I wonder if his non-anxious presence was in fact a reflection of the fruits of the Spirit working in and through his life, particularly forbearance, self-control, kindness, and well, we might want to place them all on the table! I also wonder how better off we’d all be if we were to adopt the “hot letter” habit when something or someone made us mad, then jump right back into the relationship in pure love.

Until next time, Rage on paper, not toward each other…

Beating a Dead Horse, Literally!

This has been a week of reading about how dead horses were handled in the American Civil War.

Dead Horse by Alfred R. Waud

The first case of dead horse I read about was from my boy, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, who I’ve posted from before. He mentions how 8 of their artillery horses died on the road, where an even greater number of horses lined the sides of the road, dead from starvation to be sure. I imagine that must have been some sight to behold, even amidst the stench!

The second piece of dead horse I read was from a book my wife recently bought me for my birthday: Hardtack & Coffee. This book is right up my alley; it’s the quintessential book on what day-to-day life was like for the American Civil War soldier. I encourage you to take a gander.

Background: In chapter 6, Billings writes in length about the necessary yet awful task of burying a horse and the diverse crew of soldiers recruited, mostly kicking and cussing, to carry it out. After the hole is dug and the body of the horse is rolled in,

the noxious gases begin to make their presence manifest, and the Hardened Wretch [the commanding officer overseeing yet not participating in the work] hands him [a new Army recruit, eager to be considered a comrade so much so that he signs up for this dreadful task, not knowing what it entails] an axe to break the legs that would otherwise protrude from the grave… turning his back on the deceased, he utters something which sounds like ‘hurrah! without the h,’ as Mark Twain puts it, repeating it with increasing emphasis. (Page 106)

Suffice it to say, everyone standing around the grave joins in the vomiting! I never would have thought about how dead horses were dealt with during the war. Then again, this is the benefit of Billings’ work and the diaries of soldiers, letting us in on what life was really like for the everyday soldier.

Until next time, DO NOT beat a dead horse!

Dead Horse!

Received Packages are Sweet, Even If Opened Later

I received a package today and, as usual, had to wait to open it. The surprise of discovering what lies inside excites me. Having to wait to open it just makes the anticipation grow all the more. Even if it’s a present for someone else, like today’s was (we’ve done a majority of our Christmas shopping online this year; Amazon Prime baby!), I’m thrilled just knowing that someone I care for deeply will soon open a wrapped present this Christmas and receive the gift with wonder and joy.

Jenkin Lloyd Jones of the 6th Battery, Wisconsin Artillery, received a package from home on August 28, 1863. Jones had to wait to open his package on account of rain. Here’s how it went down:

Fine day. Just before dinner I was informed that there was a box for me at the express office… Found it “a good large one,” but just as I got in the wagon it commenced raining, and did rain all the way back, giving us as good a wetting as ever a soldier had… Obliged to lay the box away for two hours before the storm abated so as to open it… But at last it stopped and we found lots of good things, butter, cake, dried fruit, cheese, etc. Much obliged to you. (Source: Daily Observations From the Civil War)

When you’re fighting in the American Civil War, miles and miles from the ones you love, received packages from home are oh so sweet. Jones must have sat pondering for two straight hours what was in that box. Perhaps that added to his gratitude when he discovered the thoughtful and even literally sweet contents found inside from the ones who love him.

Many of us will be receiving gifts this Advent / Christmas season. Whether big or small, what you hoped for or not, I hope that each one is as dear to you as the one Jenkins Jones received in love. Perhaps its just the pastor in me, but please do take the time to reflect upon Jesus Christ amidst every gift you get this Christmas. He is the sweetest gift you can ever receive from God, or anyone else for that matter; for he too was given in love, from the very One who is love.

Until next time, Anticipate gifts of love…

Prayer for a Safe Return

In reading About me, you’ll discover that I’m a pastor in the United Methodist Church. Every week, a group of church members at FUMC Monroe pray for me and the other pastors before we lead in worship, preaching, etc. on Sunday mornings. And, boy do we need those prayers!

One of the people who regularly prays for us is a retired colonel in the United States Air Force. Yesterday, as usual, I was reminded how families of soldiers in the American Civil War must have prayed the same type of prayer that Charlie offers up for those in service to our country.

Lord, we ask a special blessing upon our men and women in uniform. Keep them out of harm’s way until they arrive home to the families who await their safe return. (Source: Charlie Moore)

Every time I hear Charlie pray this, I think of similar sentiments I’ve previously read in Civil War soldiers’ diary entries. One Union soldier by the name of Jenkin Lloyd Jones records this in his diary on September 14, 1863:

And now we are off again, we know not where, but we know it is for war, marching, fatigues, battles and perhaps wounds and suffering, and that, while the anxious heart of an invalid mother, an aged father, sisters and brothers dear, are waiting my return. And I am comparatively alone, and the only happiness I derive is in the indulgence of hope of the realization of the good time coming. (Source: Daily Observations From the Civil War)

Jones was a Wisconsin man in the state of Mississippi when he wrote this; he certainly was a long way from being safe at home! Another Union officer by the name of Luman Harris Tenney noted a sort of blessing that someone spoke over him and his fellow comrades on September 18, 1863:

Woman said, “Noble and brave Union boys, God grant you may all return home safely, our country at peace.” (Source: Daily Observations From the Civil War)

Perhaps you’re a family member of or you know someone who is currently serving. Do them a favor, pray for them and their families. They sure do need the comfort of God, the Father, the peace of Christ Jesus, His Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Until next time, may God bless you and keep you…

Enemies Can Pass Notes & Barter!

I’ve heard stories before of enemies acting cordial with one another during times of war.  It typically happens when fighting has stopped for the day and both sides desire momentary rest from the constant grind of battle.  Perhaps in no other war, however, has their been such seemingly pleasant banter between foes as in the American Civil War.

Lt. Jared Y. Sanders of the 26th Louisiana Infantry records this on June 22, 1863 at Vicksburg, MS:

Yankees have dug up close to our works all around our lines – so close that they throw over notes & put them on wild canes & hand them to our boys. (Source: Flora & Fauna by Kelby Ouchley, pg. 31)

I wonder what must have been on those notes.  Were they taunts saying, “Confeds suck; Yankeez fo’ life!” or where they notes of concern from familial brothers on the other side (obviously not true brothers in arms)?  I know when I read this, I wrote in the margin, “Like sending notes in class eh!?”


Photo Credit: Dungeon’s Master

Aside from throwing notes over enemy lines, soldiers met face-to-face to battle it out in other ways.  Pvt. George Michael Neese of the Confederate Horse Artillery writes in his 3-year diary how enemies bartered with one another when he was stationed at Raccoon Ford, VA.  He says this on October 9, 1863:

To-day the pickets were friendly and talking to each other like brothers, and, I think, doing some trading, bartering tobacco for coffee, and exchanging newspapers; to-morrow they may be shooting at each other like savages, for such are the possible amenities and incongruities of intestine war. (Source: Daily Observations from the Civil War)

In case you’re wondering, Neese was not referring to intestine in the sense of it being the long tube in our bodies that helps us to digest food.  That’s actually what I first thought.  That would be quite a pun if the tobacco or coffee being traded had been poisoned.  Nevertheless, Neese referred to the nearly obsolete phrase “intestine war,” which means “of or relating to the internal affairs of a state or country,” i.e. the American Civil War. (Source: Merriam-Webster)

I wonder if the soldiers who met during these times of ease had great laughs with each other.  I can see these guys kicking back by a fire, telling funny stories, sharing life with one another, and processing through the effects of the war.  Apart from their different stances on slavery or the “united” states, they had much in common.  They spoke the same language (unlike soldiers who fought wars across continents), they may have graduated from the same military school (West Point), they might have even served in a previous war with each other (Mexican War), or they may have had the same occupations back home (if they were volunteers)!

Until next time, Pass on but not out…

Picket Duty

Soldiers were notorious for keeping good records of what was going on in the American Civil War from day-to-day.  Whether it was in their personal diaries, letters home, log books, or military correspondence, they shared a variety of information.

Weather was a common subject noted, followed by marching orders and miles traveled for the day.  Soldiers would also describe the conditions of roads and terrain, not to mention the towns they journeyed from, through, and to.

I recently stumbled upon an officer’s letter explaining how he felt about picketing.  A “picket” is simply a soldier or small group of soldiers assigned a certain duty.  More specifically, a “picket guard,” composed of particular military personnel (companies or regiments), is tasked with monitoring major enemy movement for protection and in order to be prepared for battle.  For a more detailed definition, check out Civil War Home.

Picket Sniper

On August 8, 1863, Charles Francis Adams Jr. wrote a letter to his brother, Henry Brooks Adams, who was an American journalist, historian, and novelist.  Both men were the great-grandsons of the second president of the United States, John Adams, and grandsons to John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.

Charles Adams Jr. was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the 1st Massachusetts cavalry, later being promoted to captain, then lieutenant colonel, and finally colonel.  After the war, he was appointed to the Massachusetts Railroad Commission, then became president of the Union Pacific Railroad from 1884-1890, and finally held the position of chairman of the Massachusetts Park Commission.  Captain Charles Francis Adams Jr. is pictured second from the right:

Adams Jr

Adams 2

In commenting on picketing, this is what Charles had to say to Henry:

During the last week I have been picketing the Hazel River, just above its junction. The enemy was just the other side of the river and just active enough to keep up one’s excitement. The anxiety wears a little on one, for though one soon gets accustomed to the proximity of the enemy, the necessity of continued vigilance and perpetual preparation gets wearisome at last. (Source: Daily Observations from the Civil War)

When I think about what it must have been like being in close proximity to the enemy like Charles Adams Jr. and his brothers in arms were, I think of playing hide-and-go-seek.  My two and a half-year old daughter, Sophie, and I play all the time.

Just a few weeks ago, I was hiding in the tub behind the shower curtain.  The door was opened and she kept walking by it and even into the bathroom!  Each time she got close to me, my breathing would quiet down as my heart pounded within my chest and the tension built.  I was afraid of being caught.

However, the difference between Charles and I being found is drastic.  My daughter giggled with me and tickled me when she discovered my position.  If Charles’ enemy found him, they might have killed him!  Perhaps worse, he could have even become a prisoner of war.  Then, the position of his troop may have been exposed.

I wonder what it must have been like for Charles to constantly be on edge, fearing that he’d be revealed to his enemy yet needing to be diligent in his duty.  I wonder what its like to keep continual watch for your sake and the good of your entire troop.  It sounds like a tedious yet tremendous responsibility.

Until next time Picket, keep watch and soldier on…


Photo Credits:

1. Hoocher: Winslow Homer

2. Wikipedia – Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

3. Wikipedia – Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

4. Civil War Daily Gazette

Story Crumbs

One of my favorite pastimes is reading about the American Civil War.  I also like thinking and writing about what I read.  It helps me to process through it, whether it’s from a book, a Confederate soldier’s diary, or a letter written by a Union soldier to someone back home.

Each small story, every new experience, and the preceding, present, or proceeding scenes of battle amaze me.  I’m getting the opportunity to peak in on a bit of history and hear firsthand how it affected certain individuals.  We’re given many snapshots of what life was like during the war.

They’re the deconstructed pieces of the American Civil War meta-narrative.  Each story is merely a part of the larger overall story that so many people have lived, contributed to, and even died for.  These stories are woven together like a tapestry, interrelated and built upon one another.

When I read about the Civil War, I think of my favorite band, the Decemberists.  They came out with an album in 2009 called “The Hazards of Love.”  I was so impressed by this record, because each individual song told a unique story that connected to the larger overall story, which was the rest of the songs on the CD.

My hope in writing this blog is to piece together different stories I read about the Civil War in order to understand its comprehensive story.  I invite you to enter into the lives of those that have gone before us and to think with me on what that must have been like for them.

I’ll post one entry per week, but I’m always sharing some of what I’m reading throughout the week on Twitter.  Check out the hashtag #civilwartweet to find out more.  Or, to feed your insatiable appetite for all things Civil War, check out one of my favorite sites: Daily Observations from the Civil War.

Teaser: Next week, I’ll be explaining how I picked Hardtack Rat as my website name.  Please check back to find out!

Until next time, keep soldiering on…