February 9, 2011

These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. Revelation 14:4

The controversy that’s been brewing between Wal-Mart and preservationists in Virginia is over.

Perhaps you’ve read the accounts in the papers or heard it on radio or television. The low-price retail giant had already received a zoning variance from Orange County officials to construct a store near the entrance to the Battle of the Wilderness site. A 7-11, McDonald’s, strip mall and four-lane highway were already in place, closer to the battlefield, but the Wal-Mart would have dwarfed that development. Opponents, including actors Sam Waterson and Robert Duvall and filmmaker Ken Burns, worked to persuade officials not to grant the special use permit still needed, and to plead with the superstore to move further down the road.

As of last week, the preservationists won. Wal-Mart has given up the fight (read The Washington Times account here).

The Battle of the Wilderness is part of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, where Union and Confederate forces began a long siege in early May of 1864. Northern General George Meade got his marching orders from General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant right at the beginning: “Lee’s army will be your objective. Where he goes, there you will go also.”

Tactically, the Confederates won the Battle of the Wilderness, but Meade and Grant kept up their dogged pursuit of the Confederate general and his troops. The fighting led to the nearby towns of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, as the rebels tried to block Union forces from entering Richmond. The fierce battle continued, lasting nearly the entire month, with both sides winning and losing skirmishes along the way.

At one point, at a spot known as the Bloody Angle, horrifying close-contact combat took place. “A boiling, bubbling and hissing cauldron of death,” is how one Union general said of it. “Clubbed muskets and bayonets were the modes of fighting for those who had used up their cartridges, and frenzy seemed to possess the yelling, demonic hordes on either side.” Another Bluecoat described the aftermath: “[The bodies] were lying literally in heaps, hideous to look at. The writhing of the wounded and dying who lay beneath dead bodies moved the whole mass…”

As an ABC News report notes, some 180,000 troops faced off at the Battle of the Wilderness, more Americans than are now in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The final casualty toll was 18,000 for the Union, 10,000 for the Confederates. Grant had sought a decisive victory, which was denied him. Yet his army’s tenaciousness wore down its opponents enough so that they were never able to regain the upper hand.

Interesting history, isn’t it? A crucial, late-in-the war battle, yet one that is little known.

The part that struck me most was Grant’s instructions to Meade: where Lee goes, you pursue. It must have been difficult to follow those orders for the general and his soldiers, faced with rough terrain, an increasing body count, and day after day of fighting with no let up. But they remained steadfast and obeyed, from Meade on down to the lowliest grunt. How disheartening not to achieve a significant win in the Wilderness, but how the Union survivors must have rejoiced in April, 1865 when the war ended.

The key, of course, was their single-minded commitment to the cause, no matter what the cost. And that’s the key in the Christian life as well. Our orders are the same as General Meade and his troops received nearly 150 years ago: go where Jesus goes. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,” He said to Peter and Andrew, who “immediately left the nets” and went with Him (Matthew 4:19, 20). “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me,” he declared to all the disciples, demanding their allegiance even to death (Matthew 16:24).

Yes, it’s hard. It’s a fight, literally, to the death, complete with demonic hordes (Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8 & 9). But the Lord Himself fights for us (Exodus 14:14) and has already overcome the tribulations we face (John 16:33). “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me,” He assured the crowd at a Hanukkah celebration,  “and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:22-28).

And on that final day, the day we all must face, when Jesus the Son of Man, in all His glory, sits on His glorious throne in judgment, here are the words we followers will rejoice to hear: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:31-34).

And we will finally and forever be where He is.

One comment

  1. Elise says:

    Wow…this one really got me. Moved me to tears. We have assurance because we believe. It’s that simple, but not easy as you point out. So much comes against us, so much threatens to derail us, so much happens that has us asking, “Where is God in all this mess?” Yet He is true to His word. He never leaves, never forsakes…If He is for us nothing can come against us.
    Thanks Penny!

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