This time of year I like to spend a little time thinking about the people who came before me, who sacrificed so much so that my family can enjoy the blessings we have. It is so easy to take our nation for granted. Just being able to live in a home and neighborhood of our choice, to have the opportunity to send my children to school, to worship as I choose, to choose what I wanted to study in school, to marry the man I love, or even to be free to drive down the street as a woman. Not everyone has these freedoms, even today.
We didn’t get here by chance. For starters, there was the courage of a select few who saw an injustice and chose to do something about it. I will forever be grateful to those people who were willing to fight and die for our country. I can’t imagine having to make that choice. But in addition to the courage and sacrifice of men and women, I believe that God has been guiding us along and helping build this nation for centuries. I love the book 7 Miracles that Saved America, which points out some significant events in our nation’s history that are really just impossible to explain without a higher power being involved. If you haven’t read it, please do.
One historical story I came across in the book The Lincoln Hypothesis by Timothy Ballard captures another example of what seems too impossible to explain without some kind of divine guidance. This was a Civil War story I had never heard before. It isn’t a well-known story in our history books. But that’s probably because our history books don’t usually include much about divine intervention.
I’m no Civil War expert, but here are a few of the facts of what was happening in 1862. According to a private memo which titled “Meditation on the Divine Will,” Lincoln was actually praying about whether he should let the slaves be free. He even told some colleagues that he had made a covenant with God that if the North won the next battle at Antietam, he would take it as a sign from God that it was his duty to move forward with Emancipation.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Lee’s troops had set up in a field in Maryland where Lee gave out five top secret orders (Special Order No. 191) to five military leaders. The orders were not written by Lee because of an accident with his horse that caused him to wear hand splints for a period of time. The orders were instead written by Lee’s assistant, Robert Chilton. The leaders who received these orders were instructed to guard them with their lives. One leader had the order sewn into his jacket and one even memorized it and then ate it–it was that big of a deal. If these plans got out, it would significantly shift the South’s ability to gain victory over the North.
A few days later the Confederate army had packed up and moved out. That’s when Union Corporal Barton Mitchell was taking a walk in this same field and looked down in the grass to find three cigars with a note wrapped around them. Corporal Mitchell unwrapped the cigars and opened the note–it was a copy of Lee’s secret order. Of course, they couldn’t be sure it was authentic unless someone could verify the handwriting. As luck would have it, Corporal Mitchell’s assistant happened to be good friends with Robert Chilton, who wrote the order. He knew the handwriting and was able to confirm that the order was legitimate.
According to Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian and Antietam expert James McPherson, the odds of that order being found and authenticated were “a million to one.” The Union’s having that order significantly altered their ability to come out victorious at Antietam, which was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War. Without the advantage of that order, the Union may very well have lost that battle, which ended up being a major turning point in the war.
Because of Lincoln’s personal covenant with God, the outcome at Antietam caused him to say, in a draft meeting of the Emancipation Proclamation, that he must keep his promise to himself and to his maker. The Union had won the battle, and thus Lincoln was driven to emancipate the slaves, as promised. The Union was also a step closer to ending the war. Who knows what would have happened if that order had not been found! To this day, no one knows who the order belonged to, or how it came to be lost. But what happened in that field may very well have changed the course of history as our nation’s leader was then motivated to keep his promise to make freedom a priority for millions.
If we think that God is not involved in directing the affairs of our nation, then we are giving far too much credit to Fate. God is there, in the details, helping our nation become the beautiful, strong, free land that I love. I hope I never take for granted the work of the many souls who have given so much, or the Father in Heaven who wants to bless us all.