The Church Council of this congregation decreed that their first fulltime pastor, Joseph Hunsicker Hendricks, was to preach a patriotic sermon on the Sunday closest to the Fourth of July.
That precedent was laid aside for a time, but has been reclaimed as an opportunity to learn how much this church’s past has to teach us about the Civil War which followed seven years after this congregation was founded and one year before Rev. Hendricks began to serve a 43 year pastorate.
Let a lesson be taught today through our cemetery with its 35 Civil War veterans and what we learn from their stories; let them tell us what was “the cause for which they died.”
Although only one came from the battlefield in a coffin (Capt. Bean), and others died later of wounds received in the war, they who were called up through the draft, could have paid someone to take their place, but they didn’t,
and some reenlisted, one for three times! What was the cause for which they risked their life?
The obvious one planted in the minds of the young men who attended Freeland Seminary, predecessor to Ursinus College, was to abolish slavery!
A line in the Declaration of Independence meant to decreed that, was blocked by the South Carolina delegation in 1776 and again in 1787 when the nation’s Constitution was written. Ironically, the spark that was smoldering since 1776 ignited the flames of war between when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina
on April 12, 1861!
Students and some faculty from Freeland Seminary immediately signed up to join the Union Army and the girls at the Female College cheered them on – except for those who had come from below the Mason-Dixon Line -
their campus became a verbal battle between girls from the North and South!
A Scriptural incentive for those recruits and volunteers who put on the blue uniform marked with the star and the initials: G.A.R. - Grand Army of the Republic, could have been Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’
And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
Our nation’s founding document was meant to be a house where people could come and settle and live in peace;
former enemies in the Old World were, by William Penn’s invitation to Penn’s Woods – Pennsylvania – with a place named Freeland – to live as neighbors…with the unfinished challenge being to abolish selling people into slavery and to end depriving colored races of being treated and counted as full citizens.
“Our boys in blue” – the Civil War veterans laid to rest in Trinity’s cemetery, and members buried in outlying graveyards, saw our nation was a house divided by slavery, and until that was abolished, there could be no peace.
The sad truth is there is still no peace! 714 militia or terrorists attacks are going on today. (Quoted from http://www.warsintheworld.com/?page=static1258254223) Our world is a scene of nations divided, houses where there is no peace! The past doesn’t stay past; it keeps happening on into the present!
As James Russell Lowell wrote back in 1848:
Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight, And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.
What “our boys in blue” made their cause when the attack on Fort Sumter ignited a smothering spark
into our nation’s Civil War!
Today’s letter could have served as another incentive for recruits and volunteers to put on the blue uniform marked with the star and initials: G.A.R. – Grand Army of the Republic:
If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.
So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up.
So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.
An incentive seen as “an opportunity to do good” for a widowed mother, or a large family with starving brothers and sisters –as a soldier’s monthly pay of $10. to $20. was sent home;
Or an orphaned teen could find a family among his unit; and an unemployed youth or man had a job with a paycheck and death benefits if killed or invalid’s pay if wounded, and when a mother outlived her veteran son, a widow’s pension. Again, The past doesn’t stay past; it keeps happening on into the present as the same reasons send people to a recruitment office today!
There is another story about two “boy in blue” both named John: John G. Johnson and John Fetterolf.
John G. Johnson survived the siege of Petersburg, only to die May 12, 1899 in a train crash on the way back from dedicating a monument in Harrisburg to his regiment’s Gen. Hartranft.
A day of celebration turned into a tragic day.
John Fetterolf looked forward to the 1913 reunion of Union and Confederate soldiers at Gettysburg, until two trolleys collided. He and the other injured veterans wept in the field hospital, knowing it was probably the last time they could assemble; and for John Fetterolf it was; he died a year later. Tragic stories that keep on happening !
One more observation that adds another perspective to the cause for which they died – an affect that “cause” had on many of the veterans, noted in Rev. Hendricks’ Pastoral Records following the Civil War:
an increase in adult baptisms and confirmations.
Battlefield memories, fear of dying, the thought of facing God’s judgment and wrath, fed a revival in religion, a renewed commitment to Christ, and in the North, a short surge in moving the adoption of the 15th Amendment with its ideal that the vote would be without regard to "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
The cause for which “our boys in blue” were willing to die, and as the later addition to the Battle Hymn of the Republic has us singing:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me,
As he died to make men holy let us LIVE to make men free,
God’s truth is marching on!
The cause for which we LIVE! AMEN