Saturday, December 17, 2011

Praying for an enemy

Courtesy sonofthesouth.net
 
The December 14, 1861 Covington Journal reprinted this article from the Richmond Dispatch.

A correspondent of the New Orleans Crescent writes: A most touching scene took place in the affair of Major Hood's, already alluded to. Among those mortally wounded was a Northern man; he was shot through both hips, and had fallen on the road, where he was discovered by a Louisianian. He was suffering the most intense pain, his face and body distorted by his agonizing sufferings. He begged for water which was promptly given him. His head and shoulders were raised to make him comfortable; and his face and forehead bathed in water. He urged the Louisianian to pray for him, who was forced to acknowledge his inability to pray. At that moment one of the Mecklenburg troopers came up, and the poor fellow urged his request again, with great earnestness. The Virginian knelt at his side, and asked the wounded man if he was a Christian and believed in the promise of Christ to save repentant sinners? He answered yes.


The trooper then commenced a prayer, fervent, pathetic and eloquent. The soldier's face lost all the traces of his recent suffering, and he became placid and benignant, and in his new-born love for his enemy, attempted to encircle his neck with his arms, but only reached his shoulders, where it rested, and with his gaze riveted on the face of the prayerful trooper he appeared to drink in the words of hope and consolation, the promises of Christ's mercy and salvation, which flowed from his lips "as the parched earth drinketh up the rain;" and as the solmen amen died on the lips of the Christian soldier, the dead man's hand relaxed its hold and fell to the ground, and its spirit took its flight to unknown realms. The scene was solemn and impressive, and the group were all in tears. The dying never weep, 'tis said. Having no implements with which to dig his grave and expecting the return of the enemy in large force, they left him - not, however, without arranging his dress, straightening his limbs, and crossing his hands on his chest, leaving evidence to the dead man's companions that his last moment had been ministered to by humane and Christian men. 

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The last couple of sentences really remind me of one of the themes of Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War - the concept of the "good death." Even though this soldier was far from home and friends, he still was fortunate enough - in terms of his era's beliefs - to receive such kind and spritiually-minded treatment as his life faded away instead of being alone on a strange road far from any such ministrations. (Faust's book is another really good one that I heartily recommend, by the way.)

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