Friday, May 15, 2009

A forever witness of a dead soldier

Chamberlain amidst death at Fredericksburg

In the preternatural cold night before Fredericksburg, sky alight with strange light, and haunting sounds of lead and shot and ball, missiles tearing through air and earth, flesh and blood and mud and bone, high-pitched whine of Minie balls and lower roar of cannon, hellish shriek of shell, Joshua Chamberlain lay on the battlefield with the torn remnants of his men from the 20th Maine. He survived only by lying among the stacked, faithful dead.

He spent the long cold night there, in horrid awe and wonder: sky dancing with Aurora Borealis so far South: what portent!

Wakened in the cold dawn by the renewed rifle fire, he made a sudden discovery. He moved his head -- pillowed on a corpse --, and from the pocket of the soldier that shielded him in death, a well-worn New Testament dropped out. Chamberlain was deeply moved. Listen to his words:

"Wakened by the sharp fire that spoke the dawn, as I lifted my head from its restful though strange pillow, there fell out from the breast pocket a much-worn little New Testament written in it the owner's name and home. I could do no less than take this to my keeping, resolved that it should be sent to that home in the sweet valley of the Susquehanna as a token that he who bore it had kept t he faith and fought the fight. I may add that sparing mercy allowed the wish to be fulfilled, and this evidence gave the stricken mother's name a place in the list of the nation's remembered benefactors."

Ah! What honor! The loyalty that kept Chamberlain at post, even with all hope gone; the last breath of this dead soldier, who even in death witnessed to life and saved a special life with his body; the enduring Word of God that sustained him to hopeless things -- shall this not echo into eternity?

Is this not what keeps my hand over my heart when I salute the flag?

Yeah, not the sins of my nation, but the destined valor of souls who gave their all that we might live -- live to be a light to the nations -- this, this captures my heart. I yet thrill when I hear the words, "America! America! God shed His grace on thee!"

And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!

The words of Chamberlain, the life of this dead soldier... they live on.

Even with America plagued by those who hate what Chamberlain stood for... yea, something yet endures! In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms pass and change, bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground as the vision-place of souls.


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