Calvary Chapel – Gettysburg – Part Two

BLOG #43, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
CALVARY CHAPEL OF PHILADELPHIA
GETTYSBURG
Part 2
October 23, 2013

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Cyclorama Depiction

After days of heavy rain, the skies had finally cleared. At 7:35 a.m., I was picked up at the Radisson and ferried over to the block-long Calvary Chapel complex. Five apparently brand new 54-passenger tour buses were rapidly filling with growth-oriented men, men who knew each other well. Here and there were fathers and sons. Had to smile at the two sets of fathers and sons in the row just in front of me: it started out father/son, but it rapidly became clear that the boys preferred sitting together, so they were so accommodated. Thereafter both the two men and the two boys talked to each other non-stop.

Our bus, containing the leader, Pastor Trevor Steenbakkers, was designated Bus #1, and led the pack out of the parking lot and headed south. Initially, well over 400 had planned to go, but when our Government shut down, and the national parks, monuments, and battlefields closed, for a while it appeared the day at Gettysburg would be lost. However, Pastor Trevor was tenacious and the good people of Gettysburg (losing money at an alarming rate) were desperate enough to get creative. So here we were, heading to the most famous battlefield in America, wondering what we’d see.

After we cleared Philadelphia’s suburbs, our leader introduced a film few of us had ever seen: the four-hour-long documentary, Gettysburg; we’d see half of it going, and the other half returning. Since I’d been devouring a large book detailing the three-day battle for over a month, I found the historically accurate film riveting. What was almost surreal was watching the action in the screen above us and simultaneously experiencing/seeing outside the same hill and tree configurations depicted in the film. It was almost like theater in the round.

Immersed in the film as we were, we were jarred when the film was turned off: we were coming into Gettysburg. I’d been there before, but never before with a guide. We drew up at the Gettysburg Cyclorama complex, and within several minutes, our “soldier” guide came aboard. He told us that though we were not permitted to enter the 6,000 acre battlefield, we’d get mighty close. Though eight of the ten roads intersecting Gettysburg were federal, fortunately two were not. We’d thus be able to nibble at the battlefield from a number of angles, all of which our guide knew–in fact, he was descended from men who fought here. In short, he was living history! I have found that, in travel, a guide who is passionate about the subject literally makes a trip. And so it was here. Serendipitously, we got to experience in depth the town of Gettysburg, usually relegated to the sidelines by pilgrims who spend almost all their time on the battlefield itself. With such a guide, believe me, none of us felt shortchanged.

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Cyclorama Depiction

Afterwards, it was back to the Cyclorama complex, with its food court, large gift/book store, and the dramatic Cyclorama. During the 1880’s, the French artist Paul Philippoteaux researched, and painted what is now the largest painting in America. It took him, with his team of assistants, over a year to create the 42-foot-high and 377 feet in circumference painting. Pickett’s Charge dominates. As you walk around you can check out each portion of the battlefield. A sound and light show dramatizes it.

While half the group experienced it, I had the opportunity to answer the other half’s questions about Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, and Gettysburg. Then I took them deeper into the significance of Gettysburg, the pivotal high-tide of the Confederacy. I discussed with them Lincoln’s epiphany when he wrote what his secretary, John Hay, called “The Meditation of the Divine Will.” In it [Hay had found it on Lincoln’s desk and secretly copied it.], Lincoln rhetorically asked why God refused to bless the armies of the North: for two long years, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson had time after time defeated Union armies two or three times larger than they. Why? asked Lincoln. Didn’t the North have the high moral ground in God’s eyes? Finally [and I tell the fuller story in my Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage], Lincoln was convicted that God withheld His blessing from the North because it had refused to address the almost quarter of a millennium cancer of slavery. After much prayer, Lincoln made a vow to God that if Lee retreated from Antietam across the Potomac, he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves. Lincoln did so on January 1, 1863.

What further muddied the waters for Lincoln was his realization that both North and South prayed to the same God, asking each day for battlefield success. As if that didn’t muddy it enough, many of the slaves in the South were actually owned by absentee planters in the North. So the North came into the Civil War with anything but clean hands, where slavery was concerned.

Lee came to Gettysburg serenely confident that he would, once again, easily dispose of Union forces, led as they were by inept northern generals. After his victory, since Gettysburg was only a few miles from Washington, there would be little to prevent his victorious troops from marching on the capital. When it fell, the war would be over.

But if Lincoln was right, and his freeing the slaves six months before would be accepted by God as a clear indication that the North was at last seeking higher moral ground, then God ought to recognize that fact on the battlefield confrontations.

But, for Lee, though time after time it looked like he had the Federals on the run, now each time they miraculously regrouped. I pointed out to our Gettysburg armchair historians that:

1. Meade had only been in command of the Army of the Potomac for three days when Gettysburg cannonading began, yet he refused to buckle as had his predecessors. Nor did Hancock, his strong second in command.

2. First and foremost, Lee was missing the one indispensable person, other than himself, in the war: Stonewall Jackson, the commander the Feds feared most, for he out-thought and out-fought their generals every time. At Chancellorsville, when Jackson was killed by “friendly fire” from his own men, Lee declared he’d rather have lost his right arm. That loss contributed mightily to the results at Gettysburg.

3. Always before, the great cavalry commander, Jeb Stuart, could be counted on as Lee’s eyes and ears so that Lee would know everything about the enemy and its placements before the first shot was fired. This time, for some unexplainable reason, he was AWOL, rampaging through the Pennsylvania countryside, wreaking havoc–he wouldn’t show up until late on Day 2.

4. Without Stonewall Jackson, Lee’s second in command, Longstreet, was sulky, dragging his feet at Lee’s commands.

5. Pickett, too, was a no-show until late on Day 2.

6. And why did Lee, that military master who always knew when not to push it too far, now pushed it too far, overriding Longstreet’s strong reservations, and order Pickett’s ill-fated almost suicidal charge?

The result: Lee was forced to retreat. Had Meade and Hancock corralled the Confederate armies on the banks of the swollen Potomac River, all could have been over–but they did not, thus the war lasted two more bloody years.

Nevertheless, Gettysburg clearly represents the high tide of the Confederacy. Never again did Lee cross the Potomac. Every day thereafter, the North grew stronger and the South weaker.

It does appear that God took sides, albeit in a limited way, after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, it is clear that Lincoln was convicted that God’s slowness in ending the bloodbath was because both North and South had near a quarter millennium’s worth of slave-related blood on their hands, thus both sides were denied an easy solution.

And Lincoln’s assassination would prolong the anguish (in the South) for yet ten more years of what was euphemistically called “Reconstruction.”

All through our time together, our reference sources were primarily my two Howard/Simon & Schuster books: Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (2008); and Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories [it includes four powerful Gettysburg stories] (2013).

All these things and more, we discussed at Gettysburg.

Afterwards, we boarded the bus and headed back to Philadelphia.

Next week, we will conclude this Calvary Chapel series.

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