On that April morning 150 years ago, on two southern Virginia hills just beyond the Appomattox Courthouse, as the gray day slowly brightened in the drizzly rain, two armies faced each other. One, the tattered and starving, surrendered...but still proud Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The other, the victorious Union Army of the Potomac. These two armies fought each other for four long years. The names of their clashes are written in blood in American history: Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg.
The two armies fired their final shots 2 days earlier. Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General U.S. Grant, and both Lee and Grant and their headquarters staffs left Appomattox afterward. Lee headed toward Richmond. Grant went back to his headquarters at City Point at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers. With the two generals went the newspaper reporters, the sutlers wagons, the ladies of the evening, the contraband...all the accumulated followers of both armies.
And something else. As the top generals and ‘hangers on’ of both armies gradually disappeared into the rain, they took all the politics, the claimed causes and righteous reasons, the glorification, and fire eating rhetoric with them. Until all that was left on this early morning of April 11, 1865, were the warriors. The fighters, the men on both sides who charged hell repeatedly – who did their duty, as they saw that duty and gave, as Lincoln had said earlier at Gettysburg . . . their last full measure of devotion.
As Confederate General John B. Gordon led the Confederates down the narrow valley, he drew opposite the Union General handling the actual surrender, General Joshua Chamberlain. Suddenly Chamberlain ordered his men to ‘present arms’ as a salute to the Southerners. Gordon immediately ordered the Confederates to return the salute, and so the two former adversaries passed each other with the ultimate military honor. The tears flowed on both sides.
Over the course of the day, the individual Confederates marched down the little valley between the armies and stacked arms. They surrendered their regimental flags and received a pardon. The Army of Northern Virginia, an army no more, filed out of Appomattox on the muddy country roads, and headed home, wherever home was. The Army of the Potomac, after a parade through Washington, also went home. They had done their all – given their all. The reasons why no longer mattered, if they ever truly did.
When I read of the Apostle Paul fighting the good fight, of finishing the race, the image that comes to my mind is of those Union and Confederate soldiers, tears streaming down their faces, saluting one another in the drizzling rain. We are called to fight the good fight, to follow our God given paths, to pour ourselves out, and to run our race. We are to endure to the end, and to keep the faith.
Whatever God-given race you are running, don’t give-up. Run your race. Give as those soldiers did, with your last full measure.
(THE SURRENDER OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 12, 1865. PAINTING BY KEN RILEY. COURTESY WEST POINT MUSEUM, U.S. MILITARY ACADEMY, WEST POINT, NY.)
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