Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The Will of God Prevails"

Abraham Lincoln could have stopped the Civil War at any moment. He could have pulled back Federal forces, allowing the Confederacy to go its separate way. But he didn't. Lincoln believed that there were forces at work in the nation during those four years which went far beyond his own powers to act. In short, as the war dragged on, and as more wives became widows and children became orphans, Lincoln began to turn to God for answers.

The paragraph below was written by Lincoln in September of 1862. Historians have not yet specified exactly when it was written in the month, but it is generally believed to be from those pivotal late summer days in 1862 when the fate of the nation, and the freedom of millions, hung in the balance. The words below were written privately by the president. In the words of Lincoln's secretaries, John Nicolay and John Hay, these words were "not written to be seen of men." It was found by Hay in Lincoln's desk, and thus preserved for posterity. It shows the thought processes of the 16th President at a crucial time in American history. During September, 1862, the fate of the nation rested on the events in Maryland. Sitting in the president's desk was a proclamation declaring emancipation for all those enslaved in the states then in rebellion. He simply needed a victory to issue the document. Lincoln was hoping that victory would come in Maryland. As Lincoln later told Salmon Chase, “I made a solemn vow before God, that if General Lee was driven back… I would crown the result by the declaration of freedom to the slaves.”

The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party; and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect (sic) his purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true; that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power on the minds of the now contestants, he could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun, he could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

In 1865, standing in front of the U.S. Capitol after winning his reelection, and just weeks before he would be shot down by the cowardly John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln proclaimed in his Second Inaugural Address that the Civil War was God's way of affecting change upon the nation and ridding it of the scourge of slavery. The seeds for that address, one of the most famous and brilliant in American history, were being sown in the tumultuous month of September, 1862.

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