noImage of Unknown Soldiers' headstones at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
I realize that I missed writing a blog on Monday, but it was Memorial Day and even bloggers should take a day off.
Since this is Writing Wednesday, I have another sample from my books. But first I want to talk a bit about Memorial Day. The commemoration of those who died while in uniform began after the Civil War. The War Between the States left a total of 600,000 to 800,000 dead in its wake, a shocking number. So, it is no wonder that services and parades honoring the dead emerged after the war. The first national observance took place on 30 May 1868 and was held in Arlington Cemetery.
But before that date, starting in 1866, towns across the nation began holding local “decoration days.”. Then, in 1996, an even earlier date was uncovered in a Harvard University archives. David Blight, professor of American history at Yale University, was doing research for a book on the Civil War when he was invited by a curator at the Houghton Library to look at “two boxes of unsorted material from Union veterans” (Roos).
I don’t know how to explain how unusual and exciting it is for a historian to have the opportunity of digging into something that no other researcher has seen. The best I can do is to tell you to imagine finding an ancient lost city that no one else has come upon, or unearthing a treasure chest that everyone else thought was non-existent. It is a remarkable – and rare – experience.
What David Blight found was mind-blowing. Here’s the excerpt from Dave Roo’s article about his discovery:
“There was a file labeled ‘First Decoration Day,’” remembers Blight, still amazed at his good fortune. “And inside on a piece of cardboard was a narrative handwritten by an old veteran, plus a date referencing an article in The New York Tribune. That narrative told the essence of the story that I ended up telling in my book, of this march on the race track in 1865.”
The race track in question was the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, South Carolina. In the late stages of the Civil War, the Confederate army transformed the formerly posh country club into a makeshift prison for Union captives. More than 260 Union soldiers died from disease and exposure while being held in the race track’s open-air infield. Their bodies were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstands.
When Charleston fell and Confederate troops evacuated the badly damaged city, freed slaves remained. One of the first things those emancipated men and women did was to give the fallen Union prisoners a proper burial. They exhumed the mass grave and reinterred the bodies in a new cemetery with a tall whitewashed fence inscribed with the words: “Martyrs of the Race Course.”
And then on May 1, 1865, something even more extraordinary happened. According to two reports that Blight found in The New York Tribune and The Charleston Courier, a crowd of 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves with some white missionaries, staged a parade around the race track. Three thousand black schoolchildren carried bouquets of flowers and sang “John Brown’s Body.” Members of the famed 54th Massachusetts and other black Union regiments were in attendance and performed double-time marches. Black ministers recited verses from the Bible.
So there you have it. The first Memorial Day was held on 1 May 1865, not quite one month after Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox. But the date is not nearly as important as the context. As Blight says, “the fact that this occurred in Charleston at the cemetery site for the Union dead in a city where the Civil war had begun and that it was organized and done by African-American former slaves… gives it such poignancy.” (Roos)
When I was working on Walk by Faith, I wanted to give readers a sense of what it might have been like to be in battle and in field hospitals during the American Civil War. Had it not been for the war, young men of the time most likely would have remained in their hometown, taken up a career or a trade, gotten married, had children, and died there. The expectation of having a normal lifespan was exploded by the horrors and struggles thrust upon both civilians and soldiers. Having a loved one die far from home or imagining oneself die away from home became a shocking reality.
The war took so many lives, and I knew that having two young men (Patrick and Edgar) enlisted in the army and two other men (Eli and Carson) as war correspondents meant someone most likely would be injured or killed. As an author, I had to make a difficult decision for the sake of realism, since having all four characters make it back alive probably would not have happened in real life.
The story I have posted below takes place in a field hospital in Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign. While retreating with the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac, Eli and Carson try to cross the Rappahannock River at Banks Ford. The wagon is stuck in the mud, so Eli gets out and pushes from behind, while Carson handles the horse’s reins. The wagon is freed, but Sadie (the horse) is spooked when an artillery shell lands a little too close for comfort. She takes off with Carson on board and Eli is left behind. He wades back to shore, only to have an artillery shell land close enough to throw him in the air. When he hits the ground, he is knocked unconscious. The scene opens when Eli awakens in Salem Church.
It’s a poignant, painful scene to me, one which sums up how the war’s technology was far ahead of the medical world’s ability to treat the wounds it inflicted. The the shock and pain Eli feels, and later his anger at God and his sense of futility are all very real. War is not pretty. Neither is it inspiring. But sometimes it’s made necessary by humans’ inability to communicate or by their refusal to communicate, or perhaps a bit of both.
Memorial Day is past, friends, but we should remember with thanks those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. We owe them so much.
I’ll be back on Friday with a brief history of 20th century Evangelicalism.
Grace and peace!
Roos, Dave. “One of the Earliest Memorial Day Ceremonies was Held by Freed Slaves.” History.com. Published 24 May 2019. Updated 28 May 2019. Accessed 28 May 2019.
Image from Free Images https://www.freeimages.com/photo/communion-1-1458089
What's in the communion cups? Well, if you're a Methodist, you can bet it's grape juice. Read on to find out why.
Donald Scott states that evangelicalism was not merely a religious movement, but also a social movement. By that he means religionists sought to address some of the issues shaking nineteenth-century life. Among these were urbanization, floods of immigrants, westward migration, industrialization, the rise of monopolies and powerful industrialists, social fluidity (changing one’s social class), the Civil War and Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, and human rights. In short, evangelicals were trying to reduce the instability created by the Industrial Revolution and improve life for themselves and others.
Scott writes: “Historians have usually looked to political parties, reform societies like temperance organizations, or fraternal associations like the Masons for the origins of this new associational order. In fact, evangelicals were its earliest and most energetic inventors. Indeed, as historian Donald Mathews has pointed out, the Second Great Awakening was an innovative and highly effective organizing process. Religious recruitment was intensely local, a species of grass-roots organizing designed to draw people into local congregations. But recruitment into a local Baptist, Methodist, or Universalist church also inducted people into a national organization and affiliational network that they could participate in wherever they moved. Moreover, adherence to a particular evangelical denomination also inducted them into the broader evangelical campaign.”
But one's own denomination or congregation was not the only place nineteenth-century evangelicals went to work. It was not unusual to find them serving alongside people from other denominations as well as those who were outside traditionally-defined Christian groups, such as transcendentalists, abolitionists, free-thinkers, and secularists.
So, for clarification, let’s turn again to Maggie’s experience. She is part of a local Methodist Episcopal congregation. She participates in camp meetings. She also is part of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC) denomination. Her membership in the MEC means Maggie would receive official periodicals and other written materials from them. Beyond that, she also might have affiliations with other organizations, within which one would find people from other denominations or no religious affiliation at all.
One small example of cross-denominational cooperation exists in the Saint Maggie series. We learn in The Dundee Cake, which takes place in 1852, that Maggie reads a national anti-slavery periodical called The National Era (a real magazine, by the way) and came into contact with the serialized version of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. (Side point: Harriet Beecher Stowe was the daughter of famous Congregationalist clergyman Lyman Beecher.) At this point, Maggie already is staunchly anti-slavery. This is also the year she hires Emily Johnson as her cook and soon invites Emily and her husband Nate into the household.
Saint Maggie begins in 1860. Here we find that Maggie now works with Emily and Nate Johnson as station masters on an Underground Railroad station. Emily and Nate are members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a different denomination from Maggie’s. The AME was founded in Philadelphia in 1787 by Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and others in protest to the racist treatment they had received by white members of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. Despite split between white and black Methodists in the previous century, Maggie, Emily, and Nate’s friendship has overridden their denominations' history. All of this indicates that Maggie’s experience in the Underground Railroad is both cross-denominational and interracial.
Historically there is evidence that evangelicals regularly participated in various social reform movements. Not only were they active in the anti-slavery movement, but they also fought for women’s rights, including the vote. They started schools, colleges, and universities for African American students. They also addressed social issues such as alcoholism, prostitution, poverty, education, and child welfare. Later in the century, people of faith rallied against child labor, and promoted on-the-job safety and fair treatment for factory employees. (Child labor laws, a 40-hour work week, and safety laws eventually were passed in the 20th century.)
But not everything nineteenth century evangelicals did was helpful or enlightened. For instance, originally the movement for temperance was understood to be a force aimed at encouraging people not to drink to inebriation. Evangelicals had noticed that excessive alcohol consumption, especially among men, could lead to spousal and child abuse, poor performance on the job (which then would result in being fired), and poverty. However, the extreme wing of the movement began pushing temperance people into the idea of teetotalism, or total abstinence from alcohol, and carried the day. This radical campaign on the part of evangelicals to banish alcohol consumption from the life of Americans led in 1919 to the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol. However, Prohibition turned out to be a great legal and social disaster. And in 1933, a scant fourteen years later, the 21st Amendment passed, repealing Prohibition.
Vestiges of total abstinence still survives today. I am a United Methodist, When we observe the sacrament of communion, also known as the Lord's Supper, we use grape juice, rather than wine. (To be fair, some other Protestants do this too, notably Presbyterians and Baptists.) The non-alcohol innovation was made possible by Thomas Welch, a nineteenth-century New Jersey Methodist who developed a process to pasteurize grape juice. That’s right folks, a Methodist invented Welch’s Grape Juice. Today, however, we often explain our use of grape juice - as well as our prohibition against the consumption of alcohol on our property - as an act of solidarity with those who struggle with addiction. While this is an admirable sentiment, churches that permit the presence of alcohol on their grounds and wine in the sacrament, often will offer soft drinks and a cup with grape juice for the same reason. I strongly suspect that my denomination's "in solidarity with" statements regarding alcohol is a twenty-first century attempt to make lemonade out of an embarrassing Prohibition lemon.
In short, when Maggie and her friends try to change their town and their world for the better by taking stands supportive of the oppressed in their midst, much of the impetus comes from evangelical religious beliefs. Maggie, in particular, focuses on what she calls “the law of love.” In other words, her vow to love all unconditionally stemming from her love for God. And this is based in Jesus' statement that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love others. Maggie doesn’t always succeed at living this way but, wow, does she ever try! I strongly believe that her attitude was prevalent among many nineteenth-century evangelicals as well.
But somewhere in the middle of that same century things began to shift and the shifting eventually led to the emergence of twentieth and twenty-first century Evangelicals. We’ll take a look at that story on Monday.
Scott, Donald. “Evangelicalism as a Social Movement. Queens College, City University of New York. National Humanities Center. Downloaded 17 May 2019.
The Brian Farm, Gettysburg. Left: a photo from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Civil War Photographs, LC-DIG-cwpb-01860
Right: From Gettysburg Stone Sentinals.
Although this post is not really about the Brian house, when I was searching for an image, I found these two. What happened to the Brians is one example of the kind of stress the people of Gettysburg encountered before, during, and after the battle. In brief, Abraham Brian (or Bryan) was an African American farmer. During July 2 and 3, his home became the headquarters of General Alexander Hays' Division of the Union's 2nd Army Corps. It also was on the front lines. When he returned to his property after the battle, he found his house was a shambles, his crops and orchards destroyed, and his field a graveyard. The stress this man, his family, and all the other people in the area faced was enormous.
When I wrote Walk by Faith, I had to immerse myself in all things Gettysburg. I had visited the town years earlier and knew that the battle occurred on July 1-3, but did not really know all that much about it and life in the town.
One thing I was surprised by was the amount of confusion and “alarms” that befell the town’s people during June of 1863. A contingent of Confederate soldiers actually arrived in Gettysburg on June 26th after a skirmish with the P.E.V.’s (Pennsylvania Emergency Volunteers). They were looking for supplies and horses. They also were taking Gettysburg’s black citizens into custody, possibly to send them South. Interestingly, the C.S.A. troops did not stay long. In fact, they left early on the morning of June 28th. A few days later, the battle started in earnest.
Can you imagine the stress the people of Gettysburg were feeling even before the battle occurred? Think about it. Their only means of communication were 1) information sent via telegraph; 2) letters; and 3) information from visitors from other towns. That meant they were subject to a confusing swirl of whispers. Rumors of approaching enemy troops became so pervasive that shopkeepers began sending most of their goods away by train. Some men packed up money and family treasures and left the women and children behind. (Thanks, guys...) Meanwhile, people began hiding their supplies of food and their horses, if they owned them. They wanted to save their belongings from the soldiers.
The truth is, it didn’t matter whose army came into town. They would be looking for food, supplies, and fresh horses. People were trying to hang onto some shred of economic security by keeping what they had away from the military.
In Walk by Faith, I tried to help readers experience the confusion of June 1863. The scene below takes place on June 15. Several things are going on. 1) The more vulnerable members of the Maggie's family are being sent out of town to stay with Eli’s sister and brother-in-law, who live about seven miles to the north. “Vulnerable” people would be the children, as well as Matilda Strong and her daughter Chloe, who are escape slaves. If they, as well as some recent refugees, get captured by Confederate soldiers, they most likely would be returned South. 2) Members of the family are hiding their food supplies. 3) Grandpa O’Reilly tells a shocked Maggie where to find his pistol and bullets.
In addition, Maggie is pregnant after believing that she and Eli would never conceive a child, but is determined to stay behind and protect that house should an invasion occur.
Once again, can you imagine what must have felt like? How frightened, confused, or anxious might you have been? I think that I, not unlike Maggie, might have busied myself with all the details. That way I wouldn't focus as much on what will happen next. Also, being busy would keep the departure of my loved ones from hurting as much.
While doing research for the book, I was happy to learn that many of the town’s residents had written journals during the time of the battle or penned memoirs later. I read some and drew upon them to give my characters' experiences a sense of reality. While descriptions of historical events can give a writer the what, who, when, why, and how of events, journals and other personal writings help us get into the deep areas. Research of that kind is invaluable, giving the author an sense of what was happening to people on all levels: physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental.
I believe that the authenticity of an historical fiction novel emerges somewhere in the nexus of historical facts, written sources from the time period, and imagining the impact those events might have on a fictional character’s development. This is hard work, but when it comes together it’s well-worth the effort.
Hope you enjoyed the excerpt!
Image is John Wesley,founder of Methodism. From https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/john-wesley-17031791-80701
I often refer to my character Maggie Blaine Smith, as well as her daughters Lydia and Frankie, and best friend Emily Johnson, as “evangelical.” Today, that word often calls up images of people who apply their understanding of the Bible to social issues such as abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, racism, the general rights of women, and more. Some groups of Evangelicals are attempting to change laws in the United States to make them more closely fit their beliefs on these social issues. As a result, an increasing number of people who don’t share Evangelical beliefs are shying away not only from Evangelicals, but also from other people and organizations who identify as “Christian.”
I want to clarify that in Maggie’s day, evangelicalism and evangelicals were different. For my own uses, I will use the term “Evangelical” (with a capital E) to identify people and concepts that developed around the early 20th century and still with us in 21st century. When I use the term “evangelical” (with a lower-case e), I am referring to people and concepts at large among many Protestants in the 19th century.
Justin Taylor provides a nice summary for us of what evangelicals were: “In 19th century North America, evangelicalism basically referred to a loosely associated, intradenominational coalition of Protestants who held to the basic reformational doctrines of sola fide [faith alone] and sola scriptura [Scripture alone], mediated through the revival experiences of the Great Awakenings.”
Taylor is saying that people like Maggie basically believed a person was “saved “ (aligned with God and God’s will) by faith alone, and their main frame of reference for understanding the world was the Bible. They were influenced by the Great Awakenings, which were a nationwide religious revival, one in the mid-1700s and the other in the early 1800s. The impact of the Awakenings continued into Maggie’s era as camp meetings and revivals by evangelists such as Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875).
In addition, the spiritual and practical life of many Methodists most likely were mediated through something called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” a four-sided way of looking at an issue developed by Methodist founder John Wesley. The Bible (scripture) was of course one’s primary tool, but Methodists also employed reason (God gave us a brain), experience (what your own life tells you about the issue), and tradition (what the church historically has said about the issue).
Added to this were John Wesley’s Three General Rules: 1) Do no harm; 2) Do good; and 3) Attend to ordinances of God (i.e., the things that God gave us to help us grow in love and faith, such as public worship, sacraments especially the Lord’s supper, preaching, private and communal prayer, reading the Bible, and fasting from food or other things.
Note: The third rule has been shortened by author Reuben P. Job to “stay in love with God” in his book Three Simple Rules. The slogan has been picked up by the United Methodist Church in general and has become universal among us. Although “stay in love with God” is a nice little piece of shorthand, I feel that I must disagree with Job. I think Wesley’s idea was more nuanced. In the twenty-first century, which is so fractured and individualistic, “stay in love with God” might be understood as a “God and me" or a "Jesus and me" thing. For instance, I pray and meditate on my own. When I go to worship, the music and the prayer makes me feel happy and good. But I believe it's more than that.
It is my understanding that Wesley was talking about “me, God, and my community of faith” in this third rule. I believe that he was emphasizing a person’s need to have individual faith practices (i.e., personal prayer and fasting) in addition to taking part in communal practices. Communal practices might include Bible studies, prayer groups, communal worship and the sacraments, mission and service projects, and all the other groups in which we might share our lives, hopes, and fears with one another and pray for one another. I believe – firmly believe – that Wesley’s third rule “attend upon the ordinances of God” is precisely what gives us the power to do good and refrain from doing harm on a both personal and communal levels.
But I digress. As a theologian and a historian I do that. Sorry-not sorry.
Anyway, all of the above explains Maggie’s penchant for doing good and attempting to ease the pain she sees around her, not to mention her habits of praying, referring to the Bible, sharing her life with her household around the dining table, writing in her journal, and attending church.
On Friday, we’ll look at nineteenth-century evangelicals in social change movements.
Scott, Donald. “Evangelicalism as a Social Movement. Queens College, City University of New York. National Humanities Center. Downloaded 17 May 2019.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder