Saturday, July 30, 2011

Character: What you are when no one is watching

It was a day in early spring and 25,000 men waited expectantly as the morning dawned over the Arkansas fields. The terrain was varied, hills crossed with zig-zag fencing, pastureland and corn fields cut right up to forests covered with dense underbrush. A small creek wound its way through the land, and over all looked a ridge. Some of the men present wore Cherokee attire, others the clothing of their farm life. Still others wore uniforms of blue or grey. It was early March, the year was 1862, and two armies were about to face each other. 

The line between bravery and foolishness can be very thin, and it was hard to tell which side the Confederate commander, Van Dorn, fell on. In a push to surprise the unsuspecting troops of the North Van Dorn had divided his own troops and circled around the North in a three day forced march. The troops were ill prepared. More than a few men fainted along the way, unable to keep up the pace. Many went barefoot and it was later said that the army could be found by following the bloody footprints in the snow. The pace was far to fast for the supply wagons to keep with, therefore they were left behind along with rations and ammunition. 

Soon the skirmishes began. The first skirmish took place when McCulloc, the Brig. General in command of one of the two confederate groups--ran headfirst into a group of cannon. The North had discovered the surprise, sent out a small group to defend, and turned the tables. McCulloch didn't waste much time, he and the southern cavalry charged the cannon. The Northern unit was there only for a skirmish, and were ill equipped to meet such an onslaught. They soon were overcome, and realized that if they did not flee closer to their own lines they would most probably loose their lives. The weponry was abandoned as the men turned and ran. As they fled, however, a small group remained behind. They realized that this march of the confederates must be stopped. There was little possibility of the handful of yankees stopping half the confederate army alone, but prefering to die fighting rather than fleeing to safety with their companions they choose to remain. Unseen, they took cover behind some brush and waited for the confederates to move.

The advance of the confederate branch was halted, and in an attempt to determine the best course of action General McCulloch decided to scout out the northern lines . His distinctive black velvet suit set him apart as he rode out of the treeline and unknowingly right into the sights of the small group of yankees. A volley of shots, and McCulloch fell. Soon after this same group of yankees managed to shoot the second in command, a Brig. General, James McIntosh. The command structure for half of the present confederate troops was shattered. They remained for the remainder of the day immobilized, unable to advance without a commander.

Now, what I've told you here is only the beginning of the Battle of Pea Ridge, March 7-8. As I was touring the battlefield last week (it has been preserved into a national park) the story of the handful of men struck me. You see, up to that point the confederates had the upper hand. Van Dorn's plan, while foolhardy, was actually working. Both halves of the confederate army were advancing, and though the battle was still young, everything was working out just as he predicted. However, there was one thing he didn't count on. That handful of yankee soldiers that didn't flee with their companions. You see, because they remained behind the two leaders of Van Dorn's reinforcements were killed. Because of this thousands of men were immobilized and the reinforcements never arrived. This was a key reason why the confederates lost the battle, and ultimately, as a direct result of this battle, the state of Missouri was permanently won to the Union. 

All because a few brave men stood to fight when the cause seemed lost. Not just lost--but insignificant in the scope of the larger battle.

Which got me to thinking. We need to be like those men. Spiritually speaking, how easy is it to give in when it seems like everything is loosing? Seriously. I'm not talking giving in on big things. I mean the little things. The small battles that no one ever sees you fighting. Those men weren't trying trying to be heroes, they were just standing their ground. It is so incredibly easy to give ground for tiny things, when we would never think of letting our guard down for the larger. 
You husband asks you to do something that you don't feel like doing--do you set aside your own priority list and focus on being the help-meet you were created to be? The laundry needs to be done and dinner needs to be made--do you do it? Or do you keep reading that book (or watching that show) that you're in the middle of? Your child bothers you for the thousandth time to read them a book--how will you respond? A friend says something unkind about a family member--and it may even be true--what do you do? You hold to a conviction that none of your friends hold to, and because of this are ridiculed. Do you continue in the way God has shown you, or drop the conviction in embarrassment?

There are so many things in the course of day to day living that seem like small, insignificant things. Things that no one will ever see. Seemingly the only ones who know about it are you and God. But we never know what sort of an impact our actions will have. Will you stand your ground? Will you fight the battles that no one sees? Or will you turn in shame and flee the field?

Slightly modified repost from the Archives, originally published July 2006

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