Though I find them to be some of the most engaging reads, I don’t frequent biographies of Confederate heroes because I’m not the biggest fan of being intensely sad and angry. To press on through them and not quit reading in frustration, I have to actively coach myself.
Grief over battles long lost is soon but a wasting disease. Love your forefathers, feel for them, but then learn from them. Better them. Advance the cause. New battles for new days, not incessant mourning for the battles of yesteryear.
And, so, in that vain, I’ve been reading Morgan and His Raiders, a biography of John Hunt Morgan, Confederate Cavalry General defending the Western theater of the War of Northern Aggression. Cecil Fletcher Holland, the biographer, tells us of the Confederate push into Kentucky to win the Bluegrass back from the Federals. This push, instigated by successful raids behind enemy lines by Morgan and his raiders, was led by Kirby Smith and Braxton Bragg. If successful, it could very well have, if not outright won the war for the Southern States, so impacted upcoming Northern elections and dispositions in England and France to bring about a diplomatic end to the war, resulting in the survival of the South. Kirby Smith and Morgan executed their parts brilliantly. Bragg had Federal General Buell cut off from support, out-manned and out-gunned. Instead of crushing Buell with that opportunity, Bragg acted with fear, timidity, and over-caution, allowing Buell to escape to Louisville and there bring the Federal army back across the Ohio River. Because of Bragg’s timidity at the decisive moment, Kentucky was lost. The Confederacy, as it turned out, was lost.
Up to that point, Bragg had actually quit himself quite well. At Shiloh, when Beauregard was fumbling away victory over Grant, Bragg saw and resisted the error. But, at the critical moment, when it mattered most, he lacked courage to do what was necessary. He blinked. Blink at the wrong time and it will erase all former victories.
Bragg’s destiny should be a nightmare for all men. All men should be driven to avoid it. But how? How can a man so prepare as to trust he won’t blink?
It requires faith and a character that is born from experience built by standing on that faith.
We must have faith. We must believe with Stonewall Jackson that, with God, we are as safe in battle as in bed. If all men so believed, so too would all men be equally brave.
Believing that, we must then walk in it as a habit, in all the small things, and even put ourselves in pressing positions that try that belief. A callous is built up by use; so too is character built by use. Being brave as a habit means having crisp convictions and holding to them particularly when it brings a cost. It means doing your duty when you expect pain as the payment. It means fearing cowardice and failure more than death. It is when you’ve passed test after test after test that you can sensibly think yourself prepared to not blink.
Train your sons for this. See that they put themselves in situations where they are punched in the face. See that they, tired, hungry, thirsty, with splintered hands, exposed to the summer heat, finish the job unwatched. See that they are behind you, watching, when you stand in the breach. Over and over and over again.
Lest your progeny blink when providence demands an unwavering stare.
Sidney Johnston rode along the front lines to spur on his men.
Stonewall sat high in the saddle, refusing retreat.
Desmond Doss lowered the hundredth man.
Wang Yi went to church.
Martin Luther stood on his books.
Eleazar stood with the barley.
David picked up the stones.
Jesus hung to the end.
Faith and practice practice practice.
Because Bragg blinked. And we must not.