“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” – Jesus, Matthew 5
Rebekah and I have been visiting American Civil War battlefields, museums, and “points of interest.” Earlier this week we toured Antietam, and – in the past – we’ve traveled to Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Harpers Ferry, Bull Run, Cold Harbor, Murfreesboro, Nashville, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Olustee, Fort Pickens, Appomattox… and many other locations visited by the tragedy of 1861-1865.
Then, Friday morning, we visited an important and historic site that is pretty-much off the radar for most people. It’s a place where, instead of one more hopeless battle, peace was finally given a chance. We took a guided tour of Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina, where, between April 18 and 26, 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston and Union General William T. Sherman had a series of critical meetings under a flag of truce. The men met three times, forging a surrender agreement that effectively ended the American Civil War.
THE END: Most people think of Appomattox as the end of the war – I know I certainly did. But what Lee did on April 9 was to surrender his Army of Northern Virginia – around 30,000 soldiers – to Grant. At Bennett Place, however, Johnston not only surrendered 89,000 troops to Sherman, the two men hammered out terms that presented the divided nation with the opportunity for lasting peace.
But both Johnston and Grant had to stick their necks out to make peace a possibility. Confederate States President Jefferson Davis had expressly forbidden Johnston to surrender. Then, many in Washington thought Sherman was far too reasonable. But it was time, it was past time, and neither Johnston nor Sherman wanted to see any more bloodshed – on either side.
GREAT STORY: One of several stories that captured my interest was the fact that this face-to-face, in the Bennett family farmhouse, was the first time the two generals had ever met. The men became firm friends. When Sherman died – in February of 1891 – Johnston traveled to be a pallbearer at his funeral. The former Confederate general stood bareheaded, in the cold, driving rain, ignoring the advice of friends who urged him to put his hat back on. Two weeks later, Johnston succumbed to pneumonia.
The surprising friendship reminds me of how critically important it is that we sit down and talk with people we are at odds with, people who may even consider themselves our enemies. When we listen to one-another – committed to understanding rather than proving our own point, or correcting, or browbeating, or putting the other down – we suddenly have to deal with the possibility of relationship, of friendship, and of actually learning something.
FIGHT! Outside the farmhouse, during the first – brave – meeting, two senior Cavalry officers from the Union and Confederate forces got into a fist fight. Johnston and Sherman had to break off their conversation to pull them apart. Really? What a sad commentary on the knee-jerk responses so many of us find ourselves falling into when we disagree.
I’m going to have to read more about General Sherman, and General Johnston. I hate war with a passion, but I find myself liking these men. They managed to make a way forward out of the miserable morass of war. They give me hope.