Among the treasures at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa is a small but significant collection of memorabilia from the period of the American Civil War that is tucked in among a marvellous selection of Fredrick Remington bronzes and paintings by Charles Russell and Thomas Moran. Two exhibits side by side are quite striking; one the life mask and hands of Abraham Lincoln, the other a picture of Robert E. Lee accompanied by the following quote from a letter from Lee in 1861 to his sister:
“With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hands against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Amy, and save in defense of my native state, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never need be needed, I hope I may never be called on to draw my sword. . . “
One of the tragedies of the American Civil War is that it pitted Christian against Christian in one of the most savage conflicts in our history. Despite Lee’s sincere hope he was inevitably drawn into the conflict, and but for his skill and determination as a military leader the war would likely have been considerably shorter. The time would come when General Ambrose Burnside would stolidly and stupidly send his Union troops in a feckless assault of the Confederate positions on the heights above Fredericksburg. On December 13th, 1862 Lee made the following remark, “It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”
Lee’s fierce right hand man Stonewall Jackson was a man of ardent faith, and fearless disposition. Of his sense of security in battle Jackson said, "My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed.” Whether or not one agrees with Lee and Jackson, or with Lincoln and Union Leaders like Joshua Chamberlain their faith should be taken seriously.
On the opposite wall at the Gilcrease is a quote from Lincoln at the Philadelphia Sanitary Fair in June of 1864. A Sanitary Fair raised funds for the medical and practical care of soldiers by auctioning art, curios and memorabilia. In his speech Lincoln said,
“War at its best, is terrible, and this war of ours, In its magnitude and in its duration is one of the most terrible . . . it has carried mourning to almost every home, until it can almost be said that the ‘heavens are hung in black.’ Yet the war is continues.”
Individual Christians from time to time find themselves in opposition to each other, but that is the nature of the fallen world in which we live. Only the very naïve would make the mistake of thinking that the conflicts of the past, of either the American Civil War, or of the past of each person can be fairly evaluated by hind sight. In the midst of the conflicts of life it is not always so easy. There is perhaps even a reason for war, as God’s way of teaching his hard hearted people the ways of faith.
Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” [Judges 3:1].