Major General John Sedgwick, better known as “Uncle John” to the men he commanded during the Civil War, was a solid, dependable, and highly decorated military officer. His bravery got him shot in several battles, though he recovered and resumed fighting each time.
That is, until he underestimated a nameless Rebel sharpshooter at the Battle of Spotsylvania.
Originally from Cornwall Hollow, Connecticut, General Sedgwick romped all over the Eastern US during the American Civil War as Major General of the 6th Corps in the Army of the Potomac. He played various roles in some of the war’s most horrifying battles, including Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Throughout his career, he won the respect of his subordinates and superiors with his military know-how and precise leadership.
But during the outset of the 2 week-long battle of Spotsylvania in northern Virginia, General Sedgwick made a foolish decision that ended his life.
On May 9, 1864, at the site of the Spotsylvania Courthouse, General Sedgwick was personally overseeing the placement of a battery directly to the rear of his entrenched 14th New Jersey while enjoying a conversation with his young chief-of-staff, and friend, General Martin T. McMahon.
They were approximately 1,000 yards from the Confederate lines, a distance that was considered relatively safe given the firearms of the day. However, throughout the two men’s conversation, they were interrupted several times from stray bullets fired from Rebel sharpshooters.
What happened next left a profound mark on the life of the young general, and he recorded the events in his log.
A man who had been separated from his regiment passed directly in front of the general, and at the same moment a sharp-shooter’s bullet passed with a long shrill whistle very close, and the soldier, who was then just in front of the general, dodged to the ground. The general touched him gently with his foot, and said, “Why, my man, I am ashamed of you, dodging that way,” and repeated the remark, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” The man rose and saluted and said good-naturedly, “General, I dodged a shell once, and if I hadn’t, it would have taken my head off. I believe in dodging.” The general laughed and replied, “All right, my man, go to your place.” For a third time the same shrill whistle, closing with a dull, heavy stroke, interrupted our talk; as I was about to resume, the general’s face slowly turned toward me, the blood sputtering from his left check under the eye in a steady stream. He fell in my direction.
The 56-year old corps commander died on the scene making him the highest ranking Union casualty of the Civil War. General Sedgwick’s final words are the epitome of irony.
If General Sedgwick had treated his enemies with more respect, he probably would not have died that day. But he got careless and made assumptions about his enemies…assumptions that cost him his life.
Sometimes, Christians make assumptions about their enemy, Satan. We tend to dilute him to some “spiritual force” forgetting that he is just as alive as us. Further, we don’t understand his attacks because we’ve never taken the time to study his M.O.
In short, we don’t take the talking snake from the Garden of Eden seriously enough.
And just like General Sedgwick, we pay a price for it. Peter was tired of his loved ones falling victim to the devil. In chapter 5 of his first epistle, he writes these words in verses 8 and 9:
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Don’t be devoured. Take the devil seriously, and do what the Bible commands us to do in regards to his attacks. Otherwise, you and I might have just as silly an epitaph as General Sedgwick’s.
The Union Sixth Army Corps in the Chancellorsville Campaign by Philip W. Parsons. McFarland & Company, 2006, Pages 166-167.
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