Tag archives: Richmond

Chaplain Garland White, Preaching to a Free Richmond

by Robert Morrison

February 4, 2014

Georgia Planter Robert Toombs was determined never to break up the family of one of his slaves, but when he received into service young Garland White; he may have realized that his entanglement with the “peculiar institution” had already involved him in the breakup of a black family. Garland White was just ten when he was prepared for sale further South. Garland’s mother Nancy wept as the boy was taken from his home Northwest of Richmond, Virginia, and sold to Robert Toombs.

Toombs went on to become a prominent Georgia politician, serving as a Whig in the U.S. House of Representatives. His close political ally, Rep. Alexander Stephens (Whig-Georgia) also formed a friendship with an Illinois Whig, Rep. Abraham Lincoln. Although he opposed the Mexican War, which many Northern “conscience” Whigs opposed, as well, Toombs was an unapologetic defender of slavery. He once bragged on the floor of the U.S. Senate that he would take his property into any Northern state and would “call the roll of his slaves in the shadow of the Bunker Hill monument.” Few words could have inflamed his Northern opponents more. Robert Toombs’ roll of slaves would be missing one trusted and confidential servant, however. Garland White took flight to Canada and freedom in 1860.

And when Lincoln was elected President of the United States in November, 1860, Georgia Senator Robert Toombs urged the Southern states to secede from the Union. He resigned his seat in the U.S. Congress with a powerful speech in which he said: “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship; …and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.”

Despite his brilliant mind and his eloquent oratory, Toombs was passed over for president of the new Confederate States of America because, it is generally accepted, of his serious drinking problem. Nonetheless, he was chosen as the Confederacy’s first Secretary of State. In that capacity, he was a standout in the small circle of advisors to Jefferson Davis, named as head of the provisional C.S.A. Almost alone among the leading secessionists, Toombs warned Davis not to attack Fort Sumter, the federal installation in the harbor of Charleston, S.C. He said:

Mr. President, at this time it is suicide, murder, and will lose us every friend at the North. You will wantonly strike a hornet’s nest which extends from mountain to ocean, and legions now quiet will swarm out and sting us to death. It is unnecessary; it puts us in the wrong; it is fatal.”

Toombs lived to see his prophetic words come true. The deeply divided North rallied to the flag once Fort Sumter was attacked.

Meanwhile, Garland White in Canada watched all this with mounting excitement. He very early offered his services to carry arms for the Union, but was initially rejected. Lincoln’s administration was concerned for the loyalty of slaveholding Border States — Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware. And many of the white troops from Northern states like New York, Ohio, and Illinois were openly voicing their opposition to “fighting for the negro.” For war Democrats, the watchword was “The Union as it was and the Constitution as it is.” They would vocally oppose any move to make the Civil War an Abolition War.

Abolition leader Frederick Douglass loudly denounced the policy of excluding black troops from the Union ranks. We were good enough to fight for General Washington, he said, why aren’t we good enough to fight for General McClellan? How long can we continue this life-and-death struggle with one arm — he called it memorably “Uncle Sam’s sable arm” — tied behind our back?

By 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation in effect, the Lincoln administration threw off all restraints and began vigorously recruiting black troops. Garland White, now the pastor of a African Methodist congregation in Toledo, Ohio, threw himself into the effort. He helped enlist the Twenty-Eighth Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry and soon was serving as its chaplain.

In 1864, the 28th Regiment joined the Army of the Potomac in the siege of Petersburg. This was the final chapter in the Union assault on Richmond. An ingenious plan to blow a giant hole in the rebel breastworks was brought forward by Pennsylvania coal miners serving in the Union ranks. They dug a long tunnel and filled it with explosives. The huge blast they set off was the greatest explosion to that point on the North American continent, and it could be heard twenty-two miles away in Richmond, the Confederate capital.

Desperate to take advantage of the momentary opportunity to end the war, Gen. Meade ordered the 28th Regiment to advance toward the giant crater the blast had created. But knowing they faced certain death, black soldiers of the 28th asked Chaplain White to write to their families and tell them they died bravely fighting for the Union.

Chaplain White would return to his hometown of Richmond. This time, he would enter the city as a free man in the company of his fellow Freedmen of the 28th. With the fall of Richmond on April 2, 1865, a dramatic scene occurred. Bruce Levine’s Fall of the House of Dixie picks up the thread:

White thrilled to “the shouts of ten thousand voices” celebrating liberation on the streets of the former Confederate capital. Black men and women gathered around him, urging him to speak, and so he did: he “proclaimed for the first time in that city freedom to all mankind.”

Prof. Levine continues:

As White stood in the street, trying to take it all in, an older woman approached him and asked his name, his birthplace, and the name of his mother. When he had answered all her questions, she quietly informed him that “this is your mother, Garland, whom you are now talking to, who has spent twenty years of grief about her son.”

It was in Richmond in 1775 that Patriot leader Patrick Henry had cried out: “Give me Liberty or give me Death!” Now, ninety years later, many a soldier in the 28th U.S.C.T. had received his liberty, only to be given death in the crater. Nonetheless, their sacrifice made possible this tender mother-and-son reunion, and the reuniting of many a family broken up by slavery.

In this Black History month, we can reflect on the importance of the church, the pastors, and the faith of Americans of all races as a powerful force in the reunion of our divided land. May that prove as true for our future as it was in our past.

Tredegar Iron Works

by Robert Morrison

May 6, 2013

I had a chance last week, for just a morning, to get away from Washington. For the first time, I saw the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia. Tredegar was the major foundry of the Confederacy. For four long years, this installation supplied the Army of Northern Virginia with artillery, cannonballs, and rifles. As we learned there, the location of the Tredegar Iron Works was a major factor in the Confederates choosing Richmond as their capital.

The events of April 2-4, 1865 are well documented and memorialized at the restored Tredegar Iron Works. There is a statue there—dedicated there in 2003—that features President Lincoln seated on a bench with his son, Tad. It commemorates the wartime visit of just one day of Lincoln to Richmond after the Confederate capital fell to Union forces. (The seated Lincoln is wearing not a bowtie, but a standard necktie. I’ve never seen Lincoln so attired. I’m sure that’s why there were scattered protests when the statue was unveiled.)

The original Mayo Bridge had burned on the night Richmond fell. Today, you can walk out over the James River on a partially restored structure that has an amazing series of quotes from people who were in Richmond during the terrible fire and drunken looting that accompanied the Confederate evacuation of the city.

Today, you can read what Mary Custis Lee, Mary Chesnut, and even Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee had to say on that historic occasion. You can read the exclamations of joy and thanksgiving from ex-slaves as they blessed the Lord and thanked Father Abraham for their liberation.

I was struck by one quote in particular: Written on the planks of the river walkway were these words of Abraham Lincoln to a jubilant crowd of freedmen:

My poor friends,’ he said, ‘you are free - free as air. You can cast off the name of slave and trample upon it; it will come to you no more. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as he gave it to others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years…

This past week was the one hundred fiftieth anniversary not of Lincoln’s victorious one day visit to Richmond, but of his deepest dejection. The Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1-3, 1863) should not pass without notice from us. It was Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory.

Lincoln had issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation the previous September because he was advised to wait until he had a Union victory. Antietam had given him that opportunity. When the time came actually to sign the historic document, however, the Union had just suffered a grievous loss in December under commanding Gen. Ambrose Burnside at Fredericksburg. Wave after wave of bluecoats were mown down on December 13, 1862 by Gen. Lee’s troops secure behind stone defenses on Marye’s Heights. Lee memorably said then: “It is well that war is so terrible lest we grow too fond of it.”

After yet another futile effort—the infamous “Mud March” where his Union Army of the Potomac was bogged down in freezing rains, Burnside withdrew and Lincoln replaced him with Gen. Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker. Hooker had rashly called for a military dictatorship to remove the civilian leadership of the country. When he chose Hooker to lead the demoralized army, President Lincoln sternly told Hooker it was “in spite of this and not because of it that I have given you command.” Lincoln sagely told Hooker that only successful generals get to set up dictatorships. He asked of Hooker only one thing—victory—“and I will risk the dictatorship.”

Lincoln didn’t have to risk it long. Gen. Hooker was leaning on a column outside his Chancellorsville headquarters when a rebel artillery shot hit the column—stunning Hooker. He failed to relinquish command and led the Union to its second straight catastrophe.

Lee’s brilliant victory at Chancellorsville is still studied in military colleges around the world. He put the federals to flight. Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s corps formed the spear point that sowed panic amid the breakfasting Union soldiers, bursting out of the woodsand giving the rebel yell as many of the Yankees were still drinking their coffee.

But Lee’s greatest victory came with his most terrible loss. Stonewall Jackson was hit by friendly fire on the night of May 2, 1863 as he went out to inspect his lines. Jackson’s brother-in-law, Lt. Joseph Morrison, tried to stop the North Carolina troops from firing on their own men, to no avail. When Gen. Lee first heard that Stonewall Jackson was wounded, he knew only that the dour Presbyterian’s left arm was amputated. Even so, he said, “he has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.”

At the Battle of Chancellorsville, one of the Union chaplains, Thomas L. Ambrose, stayed behind with the wounded and dying men of his regiment. In his book While God is Marching On, author Steven E. Woodworth tells us how Ambrose allowed himself to be taken prisoner by Gen. Lee’s forces so that he could pray for his men.

Chaplain Ambrose walked two and a half miles to the headquarters tent of the famous cavalry Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, begging for cornmeal for his wounded. Stuart sent him on to Gen. Lee’s tent.  Lee promised Chaplain Ambrose a wagonload of cornmeal. Knowing some of his boys wouldn’t last that long, the Union chaplain hefted a fifty-pound bag of meal on his back and walked back to his camp. Another Union prisoner of war wrote of him: “He was one of God’s Saints and I regard him as one of the heroes of Chancellorsville.”

The Obama administration recently welcomed a group of atheizers who want to court martial officers and enlisted personnel who share the Gospel with others. We can only imagine the reaction of these brave, faithful Civil War soldiers on both sides to such anti-American notions. This is certainly not the freedom that Abraham Lincoln defended and for which he laid down his life.

Where Are the Dads? How Richmond, VA and FRC Are Working to Restore the Family

by Rob Schwarzwalder

June 5, 2012

Christianity Todays This Is Our City site is devoted to showcasing how Christians are helping to transform the lives of their fellow citizens in several cities around the nation. As the site notes, This Is Our City … seeks to spotlight in reporting, essays, and documentary video how … Christians are responding to their cities’ particular challenges with excellence, biblical faith, and hope.

As the articles in This Is Our City demonstrate, many of our cultures needs derive from the breakdown of the family. Recently, in Where Are the Dads? Treating Richmond’s Fatherless Epidemic, Katelyn Beaty writes about how believers in Virginias capital are building human capital through public health—one man at a time.

According to Beaty, The Richmond Family and Fatherhood Initiative (RFFI) uses ad campaigns, legislation, and partnerships with Richmond’s sizable Christian community to reach its goal: Decrease the nonmarital birthrate, reconnect fathers to their children, and foster strong two-parent families—all for the future health of Richmond.

The article quotes Danny Avula, the citys deputy health director, as saying, “If you look at health, education, and poverty indicators, people in stable families with a married mother and father have higher high-school graduation rates and income. It’s not only about the theological basis for the design of a man and a woman. When you look at outcomes, it’s a no-brainer.”

Mr. Avula sounds like hes been reading reports on fatherhood, marriage, and children found on FRCs Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) website. As Dr. Pat Fagan, MARRIs esteemed director, has written, the intact married family that worships weekly is the greatest generator of human and social positive outcomes and thus it is the core strength of the United States.

To learn more about the importance of fathers to children and of strong families to the economic, social, and moral well-being of our country go to the MARRI Web site and read some of the leading-edge research produced by Dr. Fagan and his team.