Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lessons From the High Water Mark

One thing I have had the opportunity to do is to travel quite a bit through our country and around the world. And in all my travels, I have grown to really love a few places. World-wide, there is no place anywhere that I love visiting more than the Sea of Galilee. I have been there twice and can't wait to go back a third time in the future.

But here in America, my two favorite places I have ever visited are Boothbay Harbor, a quaint town on Maine's coast, and Gettysburg, PA, where on the first 3 days of July in 1863 the bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil took place. Living just 90 minutes from this battlefield over the last 6 years has resulted in my being able to visit this amazing town several times including once again this past weekend. There are many places I love to visit when I am in Gettysburg including:

Luther Seminary where General Buford's Calvary division was the first Union soldiers to arrive at Gettysburg, and though highly outnumbered, were able to hold off the Confederates long enough for reinforcements led by General Reynolds (from Lancaster, PA) to arrive on the scene. Though the Federals were chased out of the actual town of Gettysburg on that first day of battle, Buford's leadership allowed the Union Army to hold the high ground which would prove decisive on the 2nd and 3rd day of battle. Incidentally, General Reynolds was shot and killed in that battle right near Luther Seminary becoming the first officer from either side to die at Gettysburg

Devils Den where Confederate soldiers were able to control the ground. However, many Confederates died in this pile of boulders as Union sharpshooters picked them off from atop of Little Round Top. It was from Devils Den that some of the first photographs showing the horrid picture of war were taken and made available to the public.

The Wheatfield which during the 2nd day of battle changed hands six different times. By nightfall thousands of men from both armies laid dying or severely wounded. Soldiers later would say that there were so many wounded and dead soldiers in the field that one could walk from one end all the way to the other without their feet ever hitting the ground.

The back side of Little Round Top where Colonel Chamberlain, a college professor from the University of Maine, made up the extreme end of the Union line with his men of the 20th Maine. You can go to the exact spot marked by a memorial where he was told that his men must hold their position at all hazards. After a much larger Alabama company had made several attempts to flank the Union army where the men of the 20th Maine were stationed, these Federal soldiers found themselves depleted of both men and ammunition. In order to hold the line, Colonel Chamberlain ordered his men to conduct a heroic bayonet charge down the hill taking the enemy completely by surprise and protecting the Union flank.

But few stops in Gettysburg compare with the the High Water Mark (pictured above). It was here, after a 2.5 hour bombardment from nearly 150 southern canons that could be heard as far away as Harrisburg, that the Union Army fought off 12,000 soldiers, mainly from Virginia, who crossed a mile-wide open field in an attempt to crush the center of the Union line. There is a clump of trees there that is called the High Water Mark because it was the "High Water Mark" for the confederate army being as far north as they would ever get during the entire Civil War.

To stand at that High Water Mark and look out over that open field and try to imagine 12,000 soldiers dressed in grey marching in parade format toward the Union line, facing a barrage of artillery and infantry fire from the Federal Army entrenched behind stone walls is breath-taking. As I processed my weekend in Gettysburg I couldn't help but to conclude, "Why Can't the Church of Jesus Christ be more like the Confederate Army?" In what way, you ask? I'll explain in my blog posting on Friday!

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Ryan said...

I too have had similar thoughts as I've stood at the High Water mark. Having participated in several Gettysburg reenactments, Pickett's Charge was always the most surreal to me. Whenever I hear the hymn "Onward Christian Soldiers" I reflect on that humbling scene in history. Like the 2nd verse of that hymn says the Church needs to move like a mighty army not divided..all in one body, one in hope and doctrine, and one in charity.

I think I've shared this with you before but check out this site
*Civil War history that didn't make the text book.

Looking forward to your post and thoughts on Friday:)

Pastor Scott said...

Good to hear from you, Ryan. I never tire of going to Gettysburg. My dad was a civil war buff and so we use to visit a battlefield just about every year as part of our family vacation. I will definitely check out the website. Be sure to read my blog tomorrow as I finish my thought on Gettysburg and the church. Blessings to you, my friend.

Mark said...

Hi Scott

I visited Gettysburg as a child and the memory of Devil's Den stuck with me. When we moved to PA, I enjoyed visiting Gettysburg a number of times and love to spend time there learning about one of the most crucial times in our country's history.

What has always impressed me is the earlier part of Chamberlain story you tell. The reason Col. Chamberlain became a hero was because of a tactical move that Gen Daniel Sickles made earlier in the day. He left Little Round Top without orders and moved his troops forward to what he thought would be a more strategic position past the peach orchard.

When I go to Gettysburg, I like to spend time understanding this decision. It has largely been deemed as a mistake except by Gen. Sickles himself.

It allowed Chamberlain to save the high ground and probably the battle and maybe the entire war.

As I have stood on Little Round Top I have asked many times - "Why would anyone leave this spot?"

The main answer that has come back from the guides I have talked to is that Sickles did not feel engaged in the fighting. By standing on the high ground and witnessing what went on around him, it left him feeling uninvolved. By moving his troops forward to what was ultimately their death and his dismemberment, he gained a sense of engagement.

I think this is a great metaphor for business, politics and even the church. What Sickles was ordered to do was important - guard the high ground at the end of the Union line. But he wanted more. To gain this, he left the high ground unguarded.

For years, I have thought it would be fun to do leadership training in Gettysburg around this story and to ask 1) "What is your high ground?" 2) "Who do you have protecting it?" and 3) "What are you doing to ensure they are engaged?"

Pastor Scott said...

Very good points, Mark. My last trip to Gettysburg brought about a lot of discussion with a friend who was with me on Sickles decision. I love your idea of doing leadership development at Gettysburg. It kind of reminds me of the scene in the movie, Remember The Titans, when the coach (Denzel Washington) takes his racially divided football team on a night hike to the battlefield which begins a huge process of racial healing and unity among his team. The questions you pose from the story of Little Round Top are very important ones. Thanks for giving me these to chew on for myself! Blessings!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write in my site something like that. Can I take part of your post to my blog?

Pastor Scott said...

Absolutely, Annonymous! Blessings to you!

John said...

The Seminary's name is Lutheran Theological Seminary;

Pastor Scott said...

Thanks for the clarification, John!

Anonymous said...

Really informative blog post here my friend. I just wanted to comment & say keep up the quality work. I’ve bookmarked your blog just now and I’ll be back to read more in the future my friend! Also well-chosen colors on the theme it goes well with the blog in my modest opinion :)

Pastor Scott said...

Thanks for the kind words and for reading, Anonymous! Blessings to you!