Casting the First Stone

“So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ ” John 8:7.

Several years ago a commercial ran for a cruise line where the Father said to his family that for their vacation he had decided to take them to all of the Civil War battlefields.  The wife and children, who had been excited at the impending announcement, gave a bored, depressed look.  The advertisement went on to suggest to give your family an exciting cruise vacation instead.  Ironically, when I was a boy and my Father asked me what I might want to do for vacation, I always said “Tour a Civil War battlefield”.  I loved to drive around and view the cannons and study the battlefields and generals and have ever since.

I was dismayed, but not surprised, to read in a recent Wall Street Journal article how much visitation of civil war battlefields has declined in recent years, from about 10.2 million visitors in 1970 to 3.1 million in 2018.  Much of it is attributable to young people not having as much interest in history compared to my and previous generations.  However, more recently the controversies over Confederate statutes has also hurt attendance as people are shying swaying from anything related to the Confederacy.

I do not understand the extreme backlash against the Confederacy and Confederate statutes.  Yes, slavery was evil and the Confederacy was a slave republic, but so was America.  Yes, many of the persons for which statutes were erected were slaveholders or at least racists, but so were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and General Grant, yet there is little objection to their statutes.  Almost everyone, North and South, were racists in the 1860s. Abraham Lincoln made it clear he considered the black man inferior to the white man and, although he did not feel this fact gave someone the right to enslave them, regularly used slurs to describe them.  Why is there only agitation to take down Southern symbols when America itself had the same sins of slavery and racism?

None of the objected to statutes were erected because of the persons participation in slavery (that I am aware of), but because of great deeds they accomplished – General, Statesman, etc. Most were good Christian men, to one degree or another, who did many notable deeds but lived at a time where slavery was the system in place and were caught up in that system. They sinned indeed, but all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.  Based on this standard we could not have statutes erected to anyone, and no good or great deeds could be celebrated in this way due to the fallen nature of man.  Perhaps this would be best but I think not.  It is a good thing to look at statutes and reflect on great deeds.  It is inspiring.  This is true even of men and women who had some faults and sins, we all do.

The South, both then and today, is filled with mostly decent people. Many who owned slaves treated them reasonably well at a time when there was really no alternative available to individual slaveholders to release them en mass. With little resources and education, all the slaves could have done is gone back to work in the field at slave wages with as hard or harder lives than they had as slaves.  This was mostly what happened after the war, after they were emancipated.  This is not a justification of slavery, as a system of gradual emancipation, including education, should have been implemented by the South that would have ensured a successful transition to freedom.  That the South refused to do this, freeing the slaves on their own, brought God’s judgment on them along with much destruction and death and ruin, and a loss of their Antebellum society which (even apart from slavery) they loved and cherished.

The South has paid a steep price for its sins. Let us quit casting stones at the South and instead allow it to honor its heroes and the good in its past while acknowledging its sins.  Visit a Civil War battlefield this summer and learn of the great military deeds that were performed on those fields by both North and South.  While there, contemplate their sins if you wish and your own as well.


Sea of Darkness

41Q4T-Ug9zL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_On a cold night in February 1864 George Dixon, captain of the CSS Hunley, and his crew of seven attacked and sunk the Federal blockading ship Housatonic in Charleston harbor becoming the first submarine ever to sink a ship.  The Hunley never returned to shore after the sinking and was presumed lost at sea.  The book, Sea of Darkness, written by Brian Hicks, tells the intriguing story.  The narrative bounces back and forth between the events leading up to the fateful night of the sinking and the events leading to the subsequent finding of the sunken Hunley in 1995, over 130 years later.

The book describes all of the persons involved in the development of The Hunley including its namesake Horace Hunley, who provided the financing, and James McClintock and William Alexander who primarily designed the submarine.  The Hunley was designed for a crew of eight, seven to turn the hand-cranked propeller and one to steer and direct the boat.  Each end of the submarine was equipped with ballast tanks that could be flooded by valves or pumped dry by hand pumps to lower or raise the submarine.  The armament included a torpedo attached to the bow by a 22 foot wooden spar and designed to explode on contact.  Although an amazing invention for its time, it was still a relatively primitive design and dangerous to operate.  In fact, several crewmen died in test runs, including Hunley himself.

Over the next 130 years several attempts were make to locate The Hunley.  It was believed the Hunley must have sunk coming back from the attack somewhere between the blockading ships and the shore or was destroyed itself from the blast so search efforts concentrated between the blockading ships and shoreline.  However, it was discovered by Diver Ralph Wilbanks, while leading a dive team led by novelist Clive Cussler, 100 yards away and on the seaward side of the Housatonic.  In other words, the submarine went further out to sea after the attack rather than immediately attempting to return to shore.  The submarine was buried under several feet of silt, which had both concealed and protected the vessel for more than a hundred years.  When later raised it was in excellent condition for its age and currently resides in The Friends of The Hunley Museum in Charleston, SC where it can be visited today.

The cause of the sinking is still not known.  There was no sign of panic among the crew who were still in their seats.  Also, there was no attempt by the crew to raise the submarine to the surface.  The book explores several possibilities and the investigation is still ongoing but we may never know for sure.

I would highly recommend this book for persons interested in Civil War history or submarines or even in interesting inventions and how they came about.  While examining remains of George Dixon on the submarine a shiny object was discovered close to him.  It turned out to be a $20 gold piece given to Dixon by his sweetheart.  He had carried it as a good luck charm and it had previously saved his life at the Battle of Shiloh when he was hit in the leg but the bullet was blunted by the gold piece.  You can still see the dented gold piece today in the museum in Charleston.