Saturday, December 17, 2022

Acts of Kindness Encourage the Wounded after the Battle of Chickamauga -- Sept.18-20, 1863

    In difficult and distressful situations of pain and suffering, how much do "little things" really matter?  Consider the following account of a USCC delegate working among wounded soldiers as you answer the question about the value of "little things".

    The battle of Chickamauga took place in northwest Georgia along the Chickamauga Creek between the Union Army of the Cumberland commanded by Maj Gen William Rosecrans and the Confederate Army of Tennessee commanded by Gen Braxton Bragg. The Confederate forces were attempting to stop Union forces from entering deeper into Georgia and instead retake Chattanooga TN back from Union control.  The small city of Chattanooga, with 2,500 inhabitants, lay on the banks of the Tennessee River where it cut through the Appalachian Mountains.  It was the crossroads for four major railroads.  Capturing it allowed Union forces to cut off vital Confederate supply lines.  The Battle of Chickamauga was a costly Confederate victory in stopping the Union army from advancing into Georgia.  In fact, its casualty rate was second only to Gettysburg.  Of the 60,000 Union forces, 1657 were killed, 9756 were wounded, and 4757 were missing or captured.  Of the 65,000 Confederate forces, 2312 were killed, 14674 wounded, and 1468 missing or captured.  The Union army withdrew from Chickamauga, GA area back to Chattanooga, TN to regroup.  Gen. Bragg’s Confederate forces then besieged the Union forces occupying Chattanooga, but were later driven back when more Union reinforcements arrive. 

Wounded in the Hospital

The following is a description of a U.S. Christian Commission delegate creatively doing whatever he can to encourage the wounded men after the battle:

Rev. Edward Hawes recalls these scenes of his service as a USCC delegate working among the wounded in Chattanooga after the battle of Chickamauga:  
    Pushing aside the canvas, I enter a hospital tent.  In one corner lies a wounded man: “Can I do anything for you, my friend?”
    “Yes, sir, if you please.  I have lost my Testament, and would like to get one.”  I give him one.
    On the next cot is a man who lies quiet, seemingly without pain.  All save his face is covered: “You are not much injured, I suppose, my dear fellow?”
    He looks up with a faint smile, “Not much, sir,” -- but he has been hit in nine places by a bursting shell!
    I pass along and the steward says “Chaplain, won’t you come here?  We think this man is dying.  Can’t you say something to him?”
    I bend over him; the cold sweat is already upon his brow; his eyes are fixed, fastening themselves in death, but they grow brilliant, and he mutters something: “See! A star!  Oh, how bright!  It’s the star--,” and his voice dies away in death.  Perhaps he is thinking of the Star of Bethlehem.  We hope so, and that it will light him through the dark valley.
    I go to another man in the next tent, and with the Surgeon’s permission give him a single swallow of wine; he looks such a beam of gratitude from those brightened eyes!
    “O sir, that’s good.  What is your name?  I shall always remember you.”
    “How are you getting along, my brother?” I say to the next.
    “Oh, very well, thank you.”
    “Have you a family?”
    “Yes, a wife and two little children in Ohio.”
    “Have you written to them since the battle?” – It is a foolish question, for I see in a moment that his right arm is shattered; “Sha’n’t I write for you?”
    He hesitated; why don’t he say gladly “Oh, yes, sire, if you please?”  I repeat, perhaps he does not understand.  He looks at me with a queer air:
    “How much do you charge, sir?”
    Oh, how that cuts the Delegate’s sensitive heart: -- “My dear brother soldier, that is what I am here for, -- to write for you, or to do anything for you.  I will thank you for the privilege.”
    “Oh, thank you!  Thank you!  I will be so glad.”
    We get paper and pen ready: “What shall I write?”
    He begins with expressions of Christian trust, and then briefly describes his condition.  We read what is written, but the man is not there, -- his eyes are shut, the big tears are rolling down from the beneath closed lids, and he makes no effort to wipe them away, -- ah! The shattered arm perhaps; but no, that is not the reason; he is in Ohio, with his dear wife and children; we will not disturb his dreams.  After a pause he opens his eyes, and we tell him the letter is finished, -- “Will it do?”  With a look of overflowing gratitude he answers –
    “Oh, yes, sir; yes, sir; thank you!”
    In the corner lies a man burdened with a sense of his guilt.  After talking some time, I ask him “My dear friend, can’t you trust Jesus now?”
    “Oh! If I only could!  It would be the happiest day of my life.  Won’t you pray for me?”
    I kneel at his side; -- there may be card-playing in the opposite corner, -- no matter, God’s Spirit is with us and prayer ascends, and God hears us, for I leave the soldier with a trembling hope in Jesus.
    Passing out, I come to a little shelter-tent, under which a man is lying.  I bend over and ask – “You have the Christian’s hope, I trust?”
    “Oh, yes, sir.”
    I see no Testament by him, -- “Have you no Testament?”
    “No, sir.”
    “Well, you must have one”, and I begin opening my haversack; but he tells me he cannot read.
    “You cannot read?  Then I shall read for you.”
    We begin at the precious words, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heaves.” [2Cor.5:1] We read through the chapter, and then leave him peering up through the rent in the canvas covering into the deep blue beyond, longing after the country above, where his spirit must soon be with the multitude of the redeemed.
                Incidents of the U.S. Christian Commission by Edward P. Smith 1869. P.224-26.

    “Little things” make a big difference -- USCC delegates were civilian volunteers who helped the soldiers in any way they could during the Civil War.  This account shows the delegate creatively doing whatever he can to encourage the wounded men in a variety of situations.  Sometimes it is giving them something he has that they need, like a New Testament, a sip of wine, or an envelope set to write home.  Other times it is engaging in conversation about their situation and sharing encouragement and most importantly pointing them to Jesus.
    The account of the letter writing for the wounded Ohio soldier shows the heart of the USCC: “God’s love is free, so is this soldier.”  It was a “small thing” in the “big picture” of history, yet to that man far from home it was indeed a most precious gift to help him connect with his loved ones.
    I can understand Rev. Hawes’ reaction to the Ohio soldier’s hesitancy to accept his offer of help by asking “how much?”  Our family has reenacted the USCC for almost 30 years.  At our tent we have offered something to drink and goodies to eat as encouragement to the reenactors at events.  From time to time someone would look in at the mix of goodies (cookies, pumpkin bread slices, brownies, lemon bars etc), pause, and ask “how much”?  So over the years we started saying to anyone who hesitated “God’s love is free, so is this soldier!  Come on in!”  To the spectators we would explain that we were reenacting an organization that did whatever they could to help and encourage the soldiers of the Civil War era.  (And also explain that the USCC would not have served goodies like we put out, but more basic food to supplement the army “good old hardtack” rations.)  My point, Rev. Hawes was not offended by the soldier’s question.  Rather he was saddened that his offer to freely help the man was being wrongly rejected “because everyone knows nothing is free in this world.”  And you can sense his joy when the soldier accepts his offer of help.
    I believe "little things" in difficulty make a difference.  To the one who is struggling with sad distressing difficulty such actions can be an encouragement to enable them to better face the challenge.  And to the giver of the "little thing" it brings a smile of joy just knowing that you helped someone else.

Examples of U.S. Christian Commission Envelopes
These are reproductions of original envelopes that I have in my collection.  The USCC gave the soldiers envelopes and stationery for free so they wouldn't have to buy writing sets from the sutlers at high prices.  This helped out the men who didn't have money to buy stationery and helped those who did have money to be able to use their money to buy other things they needed or to send back home to support their family.  In the spirit of the USCC doing little things to encourage, I have handed out many of these reproductions at the tent and in camp walk throughs over the years.  Additional USCC designs are shown on the website Roweclan Haversack.

Children’s Project:
Read through this account with your child.  Talk about how the USCC delegate creatively did his best to meet the need of each wounded soldier.  Talk about how we need to be creative in helping others.  Explore about how your child can help their friends in little ways, especially in sharing with their friends about Jesus’ love for them.