I’ve had two theories about the fall of the Confederate government. One was failure to take action after the first Battle of Bull Run in July 1861. The federal troops were overconfident and ill-prepared. It was a route. Gen. Thomas Jackson, who earned his nickname, “Stonewall,” in that battle, urged President Jefferson Davis to press forward and force the evacuation of Washington, thus ending the war early. But Davis preferred his own counsel. He wanted a defensive war, not an offensive one.
My second theory is Gettysburg in July 1863. Visitors to the national park today stand at what is called the “copse” of trees overseeing the site of Pickett’s Charge. Gen. Lee tried to take the hill with a left flanking maneuver one day, and a right flanking maneuver the second day, then he inexplicably decided on a full-frontal assault. Thousands of confederates appeared from the forest a mile away, lined up should-to-shoulder and began their charge over the open ground. It was a turkey shoot. Hundreds of rebels died from cannon fire and musket. The few who got to the copse of trees were easily taken prisoner. This site is called the “high water mark” of the Confederacy since it’s the northern-most penetration of the army.
I carried on a good-natured argument with a Selma friend about this battle. He insists Lee ordered the attack at dawn, and Gen. Longstreet dallied until 2 in the afternoon. But I counter that the charge was ill-conceived no matter the time of day.
After Gettysburg, it was apparent the South was doomed.
Bill O’Reilly in his book, “Legends and Lies—the Civil War,” gave me new insight in his chapter on Jackson. Gen. Jackson was shot in May 1863 and died eight days later. Thus Gen. Lee was deprived of his “strong right arm” as he called Jackson. O’Reilly wrote, “Replacing Jackson was impossible. And on that fact the war turned.”
His point is that Jackson wasn’t at Gettysburg and his tactical expertise could have conceivably turned the battle.
I was struck by this idea. We might call it “the power of one.” Yes, there is strength and encouragement in numbers, but many great movements begin with one person of conviction and skill. The church remembers this month the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s protest that brought about the Protestant Reformation—a movement brought about primarily through the convictions of a single man.
A physically-handicapped student came forward during the invitation period in his church. “Can God use half a man like me?” he plaintively asked the minister. The minister replied, “Oh, yes! God has been waiting to do great things with a man like you!”