I recently spent some time in the Nashville (TN) area. I was about 15 minutes from Franklin, Tennessee. I had an appointment with a good friend in Franklin so I did some reading about the Civil War significance of this town. I was astounded by what I learned. I decided, after my brief research, to spend several hours visiting the Civil War sites. (I have visited more than a few Civil War battlefields and sites since I was trained in American history and retain a great interest in the subject.)

Battle_of_Franklin_II_1864 On November 30, 1864, the bloodiest and fiercest five-hour battle in the Civil War was fought in this town, which had only 750 residents at the time. In terms of the number engaged it was clearly the most destructive in the entire war. And of the five hours of combat more than four hours was fought in the dark of night, something that almost never happened. General Isaac R. Sherwood (111th Ohio Infantry) later wrote, “At midnight on the battlefield of Franklin, the finger of destiny was lifted pointing the open road to Appomattox” (meaning the end of the way a few months later).

Without providing a detailed sketch of this battle, which you can get on your own by research if you’re interested, the Battle of Franklin should never have happened. The Confederates (Army of Tennessee) brought 33,000 soldiers to fight in Tennessee. They wanted to liberate Nashville in order to break the supply lines of the Union Army. 22,000 of these men engaged in the Battle of Franklin. The Federal Army, which had literally snuck past the Confederates the evening before, was headed to Nashville to defend their stronghold. They dug in at Franklin because a bridge ahead of them was out so needed to wait in order to repair it. They numbered 23,000.

Franklin Map Late in the day of November 30, which was a bright and warm day of around 60 degrees, General John Bell Hood, decided to attack the Union Center about a mile or less south of Franklin where the troops were dug in with fortifications. Hood’s charge to the center of the Union line was a lot like Pickett’s famous charge at Gettysburg except it result in using more troops and even greater casualties. It was a brutal assault with very little chance of success. By the end of the battle five generals were dead and eight more wounded. Another was wounded and captured. I stood on the porch of the plantation home (photo below) where these five generals were laid on the morning of December 1, 1864. I walked in the fields of battle. I visited the cemetery where over 1,400 (only a portion) of the Confederate dead were buried. It all seemed surreal in a real sense. I simply cannot fathom these events with any degree of imagination that can do justice to the accounts I heard and the land and places I saw.

Mansion In the museum shop I looked over books and my eyes landed on one that interested me. It was an account of nine Confederate soldiers who were devoted Christians. Each explained their feelings and response to fighting in this bloody, terrible and tragic war. What interested me was the question each had to answer regarding why they felt they should fight in this war as a Christian. All nine had the same response to this question. First, they fought because their home land had been invaded. They believed their own state (Alabama, Tennessee, etc.) was their true homeland, not the union of the several states that made up the United States of America. Second, they all believed the Bible sanctioned slavery and it was just and right to die defending it. Most of those who died never owned a slave! They were too poor to own slaves. But they had been taught from childhood that slavery was biblical and they died believing this to be true.

I wondered deeply, as I walked across fields and into several homes that remain from this battle, “What do Christians believe today that is so deeply ingrained in them that it could cause them to fight and die for a cause that is neither worthy of their death or of a great bloody war?” Please never believe that how the Bible is used or interpreted makes no real difference. It did in 1864 and it still does today. The names and issues have changed but the dangers remain. Invoking the Scriptures in order to defend a war is always questionable business regardless of what theory of armed combat you endorse as a Christian.

My sunny, beautiful day in Franklin moved me to the depths of my being. It brought home the reality of how sincerely wrong some earnest Christians can be and what the cost will be in some instances. It also reminded me of how truly silly the nonsense is that we hear almost daily about how divided our nation is in 2011. We know nothing of the great divide of 1861-65 when we speak about our present struggles.

Could we have another American Civil War? Of course we could. I pray it never happens and one reason I write about peaceful and reasonable solutions to problems is to dampen down the enthusiasts who speak in apocalyptic terms about our present social and religious problems. The last I read the words of our Lord he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” not “Blessed are those who are angry and want to take back their country for God!”

Related Posts


  1. sowarrior October 17, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    “I wondered deeply, as I walked across fields and into several homes that remain from this battle, “What do Christians believe today that is so deeply ingrained in them that it could cause them to fight and die for a cause that is neither worthy of their death or of a great bloody war?””
    Nativism (anti-illegal immigrant in other words)
    Possibly also various libertarian economic ideas which are probably better than the alternative, but probably not worth dying for.

  2. John H. Armstrong October 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    I fear you are right about versions of Nativism. I also think some of the far right economic ideas could rise to this level of passion as well. Then on the left there are a few things that could animate them in reverse, while in the end the extremes clash in a bloody way. I wish more people realized that this danger was still in our American DNA, thus it is always near at hand.

  3. Duncan October 18, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Thank you for challenging us to consider where we might err. I will not attempt here to evaluate the degree to which the American Civil War made sense at the time and/or established a more resolute basis for the balance of Federal and State power and/or was biblical. (Some will find compelling arguments for each side.) Suffice it to be said, as you have, that the destruction and sadness seems inconsistent with what Christ has called us to.
    That said, I do think that it might be worth exploring the inverse of your question. Namely, “I wondered deeply, … “What do Christians believe today that is so deeply ingrained in them …” AND YET they feel no compunction to even consider fighting and dying for a cause?
    Could it be that the martyrs of the Early Church (and various upholders of truth since) have so few to take their mantle? As has been said, we tend to get righteously indignant about things like immigration (something that is both seriously problematic as well as our response being somewhat anti-Christian when it comes to giving us your tired, your hungry, your poor) and terrorism (again, something that is seriously problematic as well as our response being a bit like lopping off a soldier’s ear).
    It is factual that American Christians die fighting for these just causes. It is also factual that very few American Christians die defending the weak in Darfur — or Mexico, or New Mexico, for that matter. I read very few articles about Christians dying while protecting the unborn. I read almost nothing today of Christians being physically persecuted to the point of death for His name. (Is it really true that If they persecuted Jesus, they will also persecute us? And they will do these things to us on account of His name? (cf. John 15:20) I see little evidence.)
    The main objective should NOT be to NOT die for something NOT worth dying for. We need not fear death. We SHOULD be prepared to be persecuted for things that ARE worth being persecuted for. Let us focus on these things — His Name, His Account, His Resurrection, His Gospel Witness. (“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely ON MY ACCOUNT. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt 5:11-12)

  4. dave lipsiea October 18, 2011 at 9:01 am

    Hi John,
    I also had the opportunity to visit Franklin. The tour guide in the mansion was wonderful. Keep up the interesting and thought provoking posts. Dave Lipsiea

  5. John H. Armstrong October 18, 2011 at 9:28 am

    Thank you Duncan for a thoughtful and insightful response to a series of complicated but plain questions. You have helped me again.

  6. Dan Jones October 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

    You asked, “What do Christians believe today that is so deeply ingrained in them that it could cause them to fight and die for a cause that is neither worthy of their death or of a great bloody war?” and I’ve thought about this for days. Although the US was founded WITH Christian principles it was not founded ON Christian principles. The primary principle this country was founded on, the reason for both the American Revolution and the Civil War, was the principle of rights to pursue, acquire, and protect/keep/use property. I do not believe this is a Christian principle. As a matter of fact, I believe the opposite is true and speaks directly to what the previous commenter talked about in terms of ‘dying.’ It is at the heart of dying to oneself as a matter of fact. Losing, giving up, ceasing to pursue, giving away…all that one possess, including one’s life – is at the heart of Christian living. “Love and pray for your enemy.” “Give him your shirt and shoes, too.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Take up your cross.” These are metaphorical because we know they are precisely the things Jesus Himself did.
    The next war this country engages in like the Civil War, heck, even the “wars” we are currently engaged in – ultimately will be about the so called RIGHT to pursue, acquire, protect/keep property. Too many Christians in the US, because of how this country was founded, not because of Jesus or the Bible, believe this “RIGHT” is just and proper, but it’s not. True justice, true righteousness lies with Jesus’ example of giving up everything for the other…even if the other is terribly unjust themselves.

  7. Duncan October 20, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Dan has taken us in a wonderful direction for inquiry. He has highlighted how we are called, By Christ and As Christ Did, to give up what we possess. This is worth contemplation.
    That said, as we consider this — and especially in light of the Occupy protests — let me caution against too strong of a suggestion that property rights are not a Christian principle and that the ‘right’ is not just or proper.
    In God’s economy, there are property rights, therefore, these must be good and proper. Property rights (the Law) are the context in which obedience, mercy, and grace are delivered. Without property rights (e.g., to one’s own life) one is not “giving up” anything. Now, certainly, it is the case that EVERYTHING belongs to God, but He also grants us stewardship — a form of property rights and a reflection of His dominion and delegation.
    This reality of God-ordained property rights can be seen in all sorts of ways in the Bible:
    Gen 2:17 You are free to eat from any… you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
    Gen 15:7 …who brought you out of Ur…to give you this land to take possession of it. (same words in Exodus 6:8)
    Ex 20:12-17 …so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you…not murder…not commit adultery…not steal…not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor. (and all of Exodus 22, e.g., …did not lay hands on the other person’s property)
    Deut 34:4 This is the land I promised…I will give it to your descendants…
    Josh 1:3 I will give you every place where you set your foot…
    Matt 19:17-18 “…’keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness…'”
    Ephesians 4:28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
    I could go on, especially with things like Christ and His Bride and us not being able to be snatched from His hand.
    Clearly, God recognizes and values property rights. Perhaps He does this in part to give us the opportunity to be generous, as Dan has described. Regardless, I would want to avoid declaring that a right to acquire property is not a Christian principle. Although, I certainly acknowledge that clinging to possessions is not a Christian value.

  8. Dan October 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I think it inaccurate to say that since God believes it right not to take what was not given to you, that then means God is saying it is right to pursue, acquire, and protect/keep that which you have. They are not the same thing. God does not clearly recognize and value property rights. If you can provide scripture reference for that direct correlation, I’d appreciate it. “It is GOOD that my people keep the stuff they have!” I don’t think you can find it.
    What you will find are plenty of places where God, in effect states, “I will let my people keep what they have (the land) as long as they do what is GOOD.” Or, “You may have this, use that, keep the other thing…as long as you follow my commands and do what is GOOD.”
    In Matthew 22, Christ clearly provides an order to things. There is a higher order, love God and the second love of neighbor. And there is a lower order…everything else which hangs on the higher. One cannot righteously keep/use property without first doing so with love of neighbor at the forefront of that keeping/use. One cannot properly love neighbor without having God at the forefront of that neighborly love. Hence, the famous question. Who is my neighbor? CLEARLY, Jesus says that even your enemy is your neighbor, right? “You have heard it said ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you ‘Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you. Do good to those who hate you.'”
    So, what is good, what is blessing others or loving others look like? Again we go to Jesus who says over and over that those who give all that they have are to be greatly blessed, said to have the greatest love.
    That love through giving of oneself to others, even others who do not deserve it, is what’s at the heart of being Christian. Sure, can one be a righteous follower of Christ and possess things? Of course. But for a Christian to declare they have A RIGHT to pursue, acquire, and keep/protect property is wrong. The only RIGHT a Christian has is to love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and to love their neighbor. Everything else is of lower order.
    Slave “owners” during the civil war believed they had A RIGHT, by God in fact, to acquire and use their property how they wanted. They went to war over it. They were wrong. I’m sure, the 400 wealthiest people in the USA who have a combined wealth greater than the bottom 100Million people in the US also think they have that same right. They don’t. The 100Million likewise don’t have a right to TAKE from the top 400, but injustice through this wealth disparity exits regardless. And that is what the Christian is called to – a seeking of justice and righteousness.

  9. Duncan October 23, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    I can’t decide if we are using slightly different terminology, but I believe that you are mixing two distinct points (the right to own property and the Christian calling to give to others — both of which are affirmed by the Lord).
    Consider this: You said: “The primary principle this country was founded on, the reason for both the American Revolution and the Civil War, was the principle of rights to pursue, acquire, and protect/keep/use property. I do not believe this is a Christian principle.” To which I responded: “Clearly, God recognizes and values property rights…I would want to avoid declaring that a right to acquire property is not a Christian principle. Although, I certainly acknowledge that clinging to possessions is not a Christian value.”
    With this as a backdrop, please reconsider your perspective. Namely, the Bible is replete with examples of God acknowledging that he has the right to own property (everything). He also affirms the right of others to own property (which is one reason that He gives us the 10 commandments — to affirm these rights). THEN, He also makes it clear that in the context of these property rights, we are called to give and share with our neighbor. He does NOT denounce our right to own property — although He sometimes allows others to come in and take it away from us, often as a judgment upon our wicked behavior.
    I believe that you have taken a view that because giving is good, owning is bad, and this is not affirmed in scripture. Moreover, God clearly affirms that non-Christians have the right to property, otherwise “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” makes no sense. Please recognize that property rights are affirmed by God in His word as being in line with Christianity. A similar point can be made about liberty and restraint (see Paul, such as: all is legal, though not all beneficial).

Comments are closed.

My Latest Book!

Use Promo code UNITY for 40% discount!

Recent Articles