FAITH UNDER FIRE: Discipleship during the Civil War (Continued)
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Next up we have good ol' NBF, aka Nathan Bedford Forrest. This guy is inspiring and scary all at the same time. He is my all-time favorite subject to debate. I probably spend more time arguing about him than anyone. His is a real 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' story, a story of hate, love, and redemption. Shelby Foote, the beloved southern historian who narrated the Ken Burn's series 'The Civil War' said that there were only 2 geniuses to come out during the Civil War: Abraham Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Here's a few highlights from NBF's resume…

He was called a 'devil' by General William T. Sherman, who was certainly a devil himself at times. He literally scared the living hell of out U.S. Grant, probably the only Confederate ever to do so. He was both feared and revered by his own men. He is the only soldier in the war to rise from a civilian volunteer to general. Forrest was 'technically' never defeated. He is said to have had 29 horses shot out from under him and he personally killed 30 Yankees. After the war, he said that he had 'one-upped the enemy.' He is said to have shot at his own men from time to time. And he is considered to be the greatest cavalry commander, even though he technically did not command cavalry. He led mounted infantry troops.

That's not a bad resume for a soldier. In fact I can't think of a better one. However as a man… He was also functionally illiterate, a self made millionaire who built his fortune as a slave trader, and he was the first appointed Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. There is no denying the conflict of service and sin in this man's life.

Forrest was a life-long tough guy, a real 'man's man,' and a very smart individual. He didn't just talk to hear himself and he was a shrewd businessman. He was also an expert at spreading misinformation and trickery in the field.

Reports show Forrest would do things that were unconventional for the times, but had a point to them. During the war he would sometimes take prisoners and pen them in his camp. Then he would have troops ride past these POWs on horseback. A few hours later, he would have the same troops walk by. This process would usually be repeated a few times giving the illusion that his numbers were large.

Later he would parole some of the prisoners knowing that they would run right back to their commanders and tell of Forrest's inflated cavalry and infantry numbers, even though they were actually the same guys. He would also have his men set twice as many fires as required at night, so enemy scouts and pickets would 'see' an army twice its actual size. That's an example of street smarts over book smarts. The fact that this 'uneducated thug' was able to repeatedly defeat the North's West Point trained academics is startling indeed.

Forrest has also been called a butcher and is historically held responsible for a massacre of colored troops at Fort Pillow. The debate over that event continues to this day. Hundreds of years later, he is the most celebrated and hated figure of the entire Civil War. School boards, parents and special interest groups are constantly battling in court over his name being on southern schools. Most people write him off as a racist, a radical, and not worthy of mentioning.

However, most of these people do not consider how Forrest and the South were ultimately betrayed by the U.S. government following the war, or how he became a born again Christian in the golden years of his life. Forrest was a sinner no doubt, but he truly became a believer and spent his final days trying to make restitution.

In his farewell address, Forrest told his troops to be good citizens as they had been good soldiers. Unfortunately, the corruption of the Carpetbaggers taking advantage of the plight of the South destroyed any chance of the magnanimous resolution that he had promised his men. He reacted as anyone would, with anger and discontent.

They called him "The Wizard of the Saddle," but ultimately Forrest became a child of God. Following his calling, he pledged himself to Jesus and immediately began witnessing to friends and colleagues. Anxious to share his newfound faith, he wrote to one of his subordinates: "Major, I am not the same man you were with so long and knew so well. I hope I am a better man now than then. I have been and am trying to lead another kind of life."

He himself, resigned his post in the KKK after serving less than five years and officially disbanded the Klan's earliest charter in retaliation of the group's violent attacks on the local black citizens. Forrest was a racist for much of his life, we cannot ignore that fact and there is no denying that. But his abandonment of the Klan showed a significant development in his views on race in his final years.

After coming to Christ and making a concerted effort to follow his devout wife's example, Forrest came to see freed blacks as the key to economic recovery and said so frequently in public comments, increasingly to the dismay of some ex-Confederates. Perhaps the best known instance of this new side of Forrest in his final years was his appearance at a convention in Memphis of a black civic organization, the "Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association" on July 5, 1875. This group was a predecessor to the NAACP.

There he made a brief, but remarkable and extremely courageous speech (given his reputation), which highlighted his emerging views on the race question. In it he said, "I came here with the jeers of some white people, who think that I am doing wrong. I believe I can exert some influence and do much to assist the people in strengthening fraternal relations and shall do all in my power to elevate every man to depress none. I want to elevate you to take positions in law offices, in stores, on farms and wherever you are capable of going. I have not said anything about politics today...

Do as you consider right and honest in electing men for office. I did not come here to make you a long speech, although invited to do so by you ... I came to meet you as friends and welcome you to the white people. I want you to come nearer to us. When I can serve you I will do so. We have but one flag, one country; let us stand together. We may differ in color, but not in sentiment. Many things have been said about me which are wrong and which white and black persons here, who stood by me through the war, can contradict. Go to work, be industrious, live honestly and act truly and when you are oppressed, I'll come to your relief."

That's some pretty powerful stuff coming from a former head Klansman. Now some historians have questioned his sincerity, but after studying the events of Forrest's conversion, which is too much to get to today, I firmly believe that he was being honest. He didn't seem to say anything unless it had a real purpose. He wasn't PC.

Forrest died a few years after this, but he ultimately became a disciple who was fully aware of his sins and grateful for the opportunity to redeem some of them. Many secular historians still don't seem to understand the fact that he was a different man after becoming saved, and how much of his Christian rebirth changed him.

The bottom line is that Forrest was a disciple in his final years, and he shows us that it is never too late to change. He went from a racist and a terrorist - to a Christian and an activist. If he can do it, certainly we can change our own evil ways. Whatever they may be. After all, we are all sinners too.

And if this guy can humble himself before the Lord, we certainly can.


Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his Commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. (John 12:26)

So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:10)


This believer was literally the polar opposite of Forrest and one of the few Union generals to be remembered for the same piousness as his Confederate counterparts. No other officer in blue could ever be considered a 'spiritual' equal to Jackson like this man was. His name is Oliver Otis Howard and you may remember a short piece that I wrote on him for the church newsletter. He was called the 'Christian General' by his troops, instituted a lot of religious events in camps around the Union army, and he is one of the few Federal commanders to wear his faith on his sleeve.

Even in battle, Howard was as much a moral crusader as a warrior, insisting that his troops attend prayer and temperance meetings. In 1857, Howard was a full-time soldier who was deployed to Florida for the Seminole Wars. It was there that he experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity and considered resigning from the army to become a minister.

On the outbreak of the American Civil War, Howard, an opponent of slavery, resigned his regular army commission and became a colonel in the Third Maine Volunteers of the Union Army. After the war, he was appointed head of the Freedman's Bureau, which was designed to protect and assist the newly freed slaves.

He even championed freedom and equality for former slaves in his private life, by working to make his elite Washington, D.C. church racially integrated and by helping to found an all-black college in the District of Columbia, which was named Howard University in his honor. Howard of course is still considered one of the best 'black colleges' in America. In addition, Howard was active in Indian engagements and subsequent relations in the West and is remembered as a man of his word and of strong moral convictions. He was trusted by both sides white and Indian.

Much like Jackson in the South, Oliver "O" Howard is to be credited for his evangelistic efforts on behalf of the North, in addition to his activism on behalf of all minorities living in the United States at the time. He was a man of God who ultimately became a man of the people, all people, regardless of their color.

Howard's discipleship existed on many levels. His own personal witnessing made him the butt of jokes, but also inspired others. His efforts helped ignite and fan the closest thing to a mass revival that the Union army had.

His color blindness towards African and Native Americans was both risky and unpopular. He was one of the few Christian soldiers to enforce a code of conduct among his men. These convictions are all signs of discipleship. Standing up in the name of Christ. Doing the righteous thing even though you may be disliked for it. Having the courage to practice what you preach no matter where you are.

Like Father Corby, Howard's actions brought people to know Christ and gave them the itch to pick up a Bible and learn about religion. And that to me is what discipleship is all about.


That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:16)

According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. (Philippians 1:20)


Speaking of revivals in the field, the story of the Civil War is filled from beginning to end with testimonies of baptism under fire. Both sides had many-many members come to Christ. Many newfound believers felt that God was punishing the country for slavery and that the Civil War was a reckoning so to speak. The one thing about war, it can make people religious rather quickly whether they realize it or not. I am sure that there have been plenty of agnostics and atheists who have prayed to God from a foxhole. These guys in the 1860's were just the same.

As I said the casualties from the Civil War still exceed our country's losses in all other military conflicts. Now I have some numbers here I'd like to read: It is estimated that the Union armies had from 2,500,000 to 2,750,000 men. The Confederate strength, known less accurately because of missing records, was from 750,000 to 1,250,000.

From 1861 to 1865, both armies suffered tremendous losses and the subsequent damage to the country's infrastructure cost millions to rebuild. One of the most widely credited, and criticized participants in the destruction, was Union General William T. 'Burnin' Sherman," who put it best when he said, "War is Hell." Even General Robert E. Lee himself said that "It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it."

Still one of the positive repercussions of the War Between the States was the number of soldiers that came to Christ. According to some accounts, it appeared that religion did not accompany many soldiers at the start of the war.

I'm sure you are familiar with the great magazine 'Christianity Today.' They recalled the trials and tribulations with living a Godly life while on campaign: "Day-to-day army life was so boring that men were often tempted to 'make some foolishness,' as one soldier typified it. Profanity, gambling, drunkenness, sexual licentiousness and petty thievery confronted those who wanted to practice their faith. Christians complained that no Sabbath was observed; despite the efforts of a few generals like George McClellan and Oliver O. Howard, ordinary routines went on as if Sunday meant nothing at all.

General Robert McAllister, an officer who was working closely with the United States Christian Commission, complained that a "tide of irreligion" had rolled over his army "like a mighty wave." Fortunately, as the war progressed, a movement referred to as "The Great Revival" took place in the South. Beginning in the fall of 1863, this event was in full progress throughout the Army of Northern Virginia.

Before the revival was interrupted by U.S. Grant's attack in May 1864, approximately seven thousand soldiers-10 percent of Lee's force-were reportedly converted. Dr. Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr., author of "A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies", reports that "The best estimates of conversions in the Union forces place the figure between 100,000 and 200,000 men-about 5-10 percent of all individuals engaged in the conflict.

In the smaller Confederate armies, at least 100,000 were converted. Since these numbers include only 'conversions' and do not represent the number of soldiers actually swept up in the revivals-a yet more substantial figure-the impact of revivals during the Civil War surely was tremendous."

So they lost 620,000 men, BUT they also saved around 300,000 souls. That's 300,000 brand new disciples. 300,000 men pledging themselves to Jesus Christ who started the war as non-believers. That my friends, is an example of the power of prayer and a Higher Power at work. In the midst of the killing fields we have hundreds of thousands of people being baptized and welcomed into our Father's Kingdom.

Talk about a story of Glory. That's an example of discipleship worth praising indeed.


Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. (Joshua 24:14)

Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. (1 Samuel 12:24)

Continued Here