View from the rock wall behind which the Union troops watched as the Confederate troops began the ill-fated Pickett’s charge across this open field.
DayBreaks for 2/17/16: Home, boys, home!
One of the most amazing and deadly military attacks that ever took place was at the battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. It was by all accounts a hot day. The two massive armies of the Confederacy and the Army of the Potomac had already been battering one another for two long, hot days. The Union army held the high ground all along Cemetery Ridge and had beaten back attacks on July 1 and 2. There were those who felt that there would be no battle on the 3rd due to the beating both armies had inflicted on each other – that the troops were simply too tired and there was nothing to be gained by further pressing the issue.
In spite of the advice of some of his most trusted generals, Robert E. Lee believed that if they could win the battle at Gettysburg then the war which had already raged for two long and deadly years would come to an end as there would be nothing between the Confederate army and Washington, DC. He believed that the Union would be forced to surrender.
Certainly, he was tired of the war and destruction, of the cries of the dying and wounded. He longed for it to be over. And perhaps that is why he decided on one more attack. The prior two days they had attacked at the northern and southern ends of the Union lines. On July 3, Lee believed that if his army massed an attack at the center of the Union line that they could break through to the final victory and they would win the war.
General Pickett was chosen to lead the assault. Between the Confederates and the Union armies was nearly an entire mile of open ground with no cover – and it was uphill to the Union position which was on the high ground. Approximately 12,500 Confederate soldiers stretched in a one-mile long line left the shelter of trees to march across that deadly space separating the armies. It wasn’t long before artillery shells of canister (like giant shotgun shells) was bursting over the heads of the Confederates as they plodded up the hill. Massive casualties resulted…and the the musket balls and bullets began to tear into the advancing soldiers when they got within range. Men fell by the hundreds…dead, dying, maimed. Yet they kept marching and actually broke through the Union line at one small point before the charge collapsed.
What enables men to make such a determined march in the face of nearly certain death or dismemberment? On that particular day, they were motivated by one special cry that was to dominate their thinking. It wasn’t the Rebel yell, it was something much simpler and dear to their hearts. They had been told that if they won that day that “Home is just over that hill, boys.” The cry that drive them forward that day across that deadly space was simple: “Home, boys, home!”
In the space of less than an hour, 6,555 Confederate troops fell, over 50% of the men who had started the charge.
The power of home is not to be underestimated as a motivating factor. That is why we are encouraged to not lose heart: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Cor. 4:16-18 (ESV)
The soldiers on July 3 couldn’t see “home”, it was out of sight, but it drove them to incredible heights of courage and bravery. When we are tempted to surrender to life, to give up on the effort of living as a Christ-follower, let the cry of “Home, children, home!” remind us that our home is just over the hill – and He will see to it that we get there!
TODAY’S PRAYER: Lord, I confess that it is very easy to surrender to the difficulties of this life and forget about what it ahead of us, of the all-surpassing home that You have prepared for us! Let us never lose the longing to be with You in that place that is now out of our sight, yet destined to be our eternal residence! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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