In a very real way, I was there at the Battle of Gettysburg.
Two of my great-great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. One, Lorenzo Whitaker, fought in the Battle of Gettysburg 150 years ago this week. He was wounded and taken prisoner in fighting that left his unit decimated and most of his comrades dead.
My cousin, Skip Rohde, has written an intriguing blog post about our common ancestor and his participation in the Battle of Gettysburg. Skip concludes his “Gettysburg Anniversary” reflections this way:
So as we commemorate Gettysburg over the next couple of days, and think about its impact on our country, I’m going to think instead about its impact on me, personally. Had anything been different there, had a bullet gone slightly right or left, or an order been given a second earlier or later, I might not be here. The individual strength of one man, though, pulled him through multiple major battles, two years in a prison camp, and into a farmer’s life in the reconstruction South, where he successfully raised a family, one of whom eventually led to me.
I can identify, Skip. I too exist because Lorenzo Whitaker survived the Civil War and, more specifically, the Battle of Gettysburg.
Further, Lorenzo’s life, wartime experiences and near-miraculous survival of several of the bloodiest battles (including Gettysburg, Second Manassas and Antietam), as well as his survival of two years’ imprisonment in Fort Delaware, are part of the deposit God has placed within me to equip me to write, We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church, addressing issues still unresolved today. In a very real way, I was there, everywhere Lorenzo walked, everywhere he fought, everywhere he participated in bloodshed, everywhere he bled and prayed, cursed and cried, laughed and loved.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a turning point in the Civil War. It was also a turning point in the life of my great-great-grandfather Lorenzo. Before Gettysburg, his unit had repeatedly routed the Union troops, though also sustaining heavy losses. But beginning July 1, 1863, 20-year-old Lorenzo’s experience dramatically changed. He encountered:
- woundedness and pain;
- imprisonment and the horrific conditions of the prison camp;
- the defeat of the Confederacy;
- the degradation of Reconstruction; and
- the determination of Southern whites to re-establish their pre-war Southern identity, and thus relentlessly to degrade Yankees and blacks.
Released from prison in June 1865, Lorenzo married, farmed and raised a family in the midst of it all.
Those who’ve been to war know the physical wounds often heal much faster and more fully than the inner wounds suffered. Indeed, unhealed inner wounds often show up in the next generation, and the next. Further, we white Southerners – the people most likely to tell our black counterparts to get over their historical and generational wounds – clearly demonstrate that we ourselves haven’t healed. Among the many evidences: 150 years later, we’re still re-living those battles, still trying to win that war.
It’s the inner wounds – such as the wounds Lorenzo received and inflicted – that have been passed down, unawares, from generation to generation of whites and blacks whose roots lie in the Deep South. It’s the inner wounds of hundreds of thousands of Lorenzos – now manifesting in millions of their descendants – that God is exposing in this turning time, as he concurrently gives us grace to see, to release and to heal.