Did we not do all that men could do?
—First Minnesota soldier, July 2, 1863
It has been well said that nothing has shaped our nation more than the Civil War. For years this horrific conflict could have gone either way. That was certainly true for the battle of Gettysburg, where there were several opportunities for victory on each side: Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill, Pickett’s Charge. A lesser known moment in the battle took place on the evening of the second day, July 2, 1863. A critical point in the Union line was suddenly vulnerable to an Alabama brigade and, except for unspeakable bravery and self-sacrifice, the line would have been pierced, thus dividing the Union forces and, consequently, the battle would have most certainly been won by the Confederates, and our nation would be vastly different.
Following is an eye-witness account:
(General) Hancock spurred to where we stood, calling out as he reached us, “What regiment is this?” “First Minnesota,” replied Colvill. “Charge those lines!” commanded Hancock. Every man realized in an instant what that order meant–death or wounds to us all, the sacrifice of the regiment, to gain a few minutes’ time and save the position. And every man saw and accepted the necessity for the sacrifice; and in a moment, responding to Colvill’s rapid orders, the regiment, in perfect line, with arms, at “right shoulder, shift,” was sweeping down the slope directly upon the enemy’s centre. No hesitation, no stopping to fire, though the men fell fast at every stride before the concentrated fire of the whole Confederate force, directed upon us as soon as the movement was observed. Silently, without orders, and almost from the start, “double-quick” had changed to utmost speed, for in utmost speed lay the only hope that any of us could pass through that storm of lead and strike the enemy.
“Charge!” shouted Colvill as we neared the first line, and with leveled bayonets, at full speed, we rushed upon it, fortunately, as it was slightly disordered in crossing a dry brook. The men were never made who will stand against leveled bayonets coming with such momentum and evident desperation. The first line broke in our front as we reached it, and rushed back through the second line, stopping the whole advance. We then poured in our first fire, and availing ourselves of such shelter as the low bank of the dry brook afforded, held the entire force at bay for a considerable time, and until our reserves appeared on the ridge we had left. Had the enemy rallied quickly to a countercharge, its overwhelming numbers would have crushed us in a moment, and we would have effected but a slight pause in its advance. But the ferocity of our onset seemed to paralyze them for a time, and though they poured in a terrible and continuous fire from the front and enveloping flanks, they kept at a respectful distance from our bayonets, until, before the added fire of our fresh reserves, they began to retire and we were ordered back.
What Hancock had given us to do was done thoroughly. The regiment had stopped the enemy, held back its mighty force, and saved the position, and probably that battle-field. But at what a sacrifice! Nearly every officer was dead, or lay weltering with bloody wounds–our gallant colonel and every field-officer among them. Of the two hundred and sixty-two men who made the charge, two hundred and fifteen lay upon the field, struck down by Rebel bullets; forty-seven men were still in line, and not a man was missing. The annals of war contain no parallel to this charge. In its desperate valor, complete execution, successful result, and in its sacrifice of men in proportion to the number engaged, authentic history has no record with which it can be compared.1
—Lieutenant William Lochren, 1st MN Infantry
The First Minnesota at Gettysburg,
Glimpses of the Nation’s Struggle
Such valiant and intrepid men! With no thought for self, each man surges forward, many stepping into the place that only moments before was occupied by a now-fallen comrade. The sound of bullets whizzing just inches from their heads and bodies, the sound of bullets impacting with a sickening thud into others, even themselves, the sound of desperate cries of pain all cascade upon them. The sounds are only matched by the indescribable sights of earth, blood, blue, grey and black all merging into a cacophony of color and indiscernible noise. The horror is inexpressible. Somehow, beyond all human comprehension, they press on.
They have emptied their muskets. There is no time to reload, so those who remain, those who can still run, level their weapons and charge with bayonets. Full into the maelstrom they hurl themselves with seeming abandon, their faces and voices contorted into the surreal. The greater force cannot stand against such an onslaught, and in abject fear of this otherworldly assault the Confederate regiment breaks, falls back, and abandons their position.
This singular act of heroism achieved the impossible. These men, simply following orders and fulfilling their duty, saved the day; in saving the day they saved the battle; in saving the battle they saved the war; in saving the war they saved the nation.
This kind of valor is not restricted to the men of The First Minnesota. The intangible element of courage has been identified throughout the centuries and by soldiers of every nation and creed. Certain values are of inestimable worth: leadership, loyalty, and risk-taking. Regardless of these characteristics and their contribution to heroism, there is one indisputable fact: things like this happen because fear of death is put on hold and ordinary men are therefore liberated to do the impossible and what under any other circumstance would be considered unthinkable.
So the question must be asked: if men could do something like this for their companions and their country, can we do any less for our blessed Savior and His eternal Kingdom? The sad fact is that few of us, if any, have ever come close to this kind of heroic sacrifice for God.
The religious system has basically created an army of eunuchs, unable to reproduce and more concerned about propriety and political correctness than taking a stand for righteousness and holiness. We are no more capable of charging headlong into the ranks of opposition than a flock of neutered rams. When Col. Colvill gave the command to attack on that fateful day he did not need to look back—he knew that every man was right behind him. Oh, to have such men today, men willing to give all for the Kingdom of Christ! God help the righteous man who finds the courage to attack the dark forces that have occupied his city. Even if he sounds the alarm and leads the assault he will almost certainly be alone. Those who should be with him will lag behind, waiting to see the inevitable carnage, and when it is all over they will use their twisted logic (“I told you so”) to validate and justify their lack of action.
We have been conditioned to believe that it is our duty to find a way to placate and not stir up, to appease and not make waves, to promote “I’m OK, you’re OK” and not offend. But there has to be offense! There is simply no way around it! The kingdom is suffering violence and it is the violent, the strong, the fearless, who take it by force! (See Matthew 11:12.) We are called to do everything we possibly can, and, once that is exhausted, to stand! (See Ephesians 6:13.)
We consider it some kind of blasphemy to live a life that is divisive, yet Christ Himself boldly declared that He came with a sword to do exactly that: divide.
Why are we afraid of that? Do the opinions of others mean so much to us that we will defer to them and not to the divine will and purpose of Almighty God? We apologize for coming off as “holier than thou” and go out of our way to avoid appearing to be “too spiritual to be any earthly good.”
What a worthless bunch of soldiers we would make!
Here it is in a nutshell: Christ came to divide; He came to separate the men from the boys, the genuine from the phony, the faithful from the fearful; He came to identify who will hear the Voice of their Captain and run down a hill towards certain death without thought of danger, and who will not.
Reckless or afraid?