Thursday, December 28, 2006

Serving As Flag Bearer

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

One of my hobbies is the study of the American Civil War. So many of the prominent figures in that great and terrible war were men of faith. My three daughters, knowing their daddy’s passion for American military history, gave me a very special Christmas present this year.

During the summer, we paid a visit to an authentic, Danish town a couple hundred miles to the north—the town of Solvang. In one of the many specialty stores, a military miniature figurine caught my eye. The stone figure was that of a Union Army flag bearer. After we left the store, my girls went back inside and purchased the miniature, hiding it from me until Christmas morning.

My two favorite Civil War characters are General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (USA), and General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson (CSA). Both were men of character, courage, and integrity. They loved their men, and their men loved them. Yet, in other ways, the two men were polar opposites—Chamberlain, the quiet, citizen soldier and consummate scholar; and Jackson, the zealous, career military man and brilliant tactician.

Of the two, I am most encouraged by Jackson’s deep and abiding love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the documented prayers of this man have humbled me to the point of tears. So many of his combat decisions were made, in part, as a result of his prolonged times of intercession and supplication, on his knees, in his tent, by late night candlelight.

The sovereignty of God can be seen even in Jackson’s tragic death at Chancellorsville, having been brought down by bullets mistakenly fired by how own men. Although the conflict ultimately became one of attrition, with the Union Army having numerically superior resources, I believe the war would have lasted many more years had Jackson survived his wounds and returned to the fight. I further believe that the Lord took His servant “Stonewall” home when He did as an act of common grace upon those men who would otherwise continue to fight and die under Jackson’s command, or who would otherwise experience death by the cold steel and hot lead of Jackson’s army.

In addition to Civil War character studies, I enjoy reading accounts of acts of heroism for which Union soldiers won our nation’s highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the Confederate Army the highest form of praise was to be mentioned in dispatches between commanding officers.

I found it interesting that the kind of soldier that received more CMH’s than any other was not the fiery commander with sword drawn, leading his men into battle. It was the common soldier. And one particular kind of soldier who won several CMH’s was the soldier serving as the flag bearer in his unit’s color guard.

During the Civil War, flag bearers were often unarmed soldiers. Their responsibility was to carry their unit’s colors into battle. Being such a visible target, the flag bearers were often the first soldiers to be wounded during a charge. The responsibility for the colors then fell to the member of the color guard standing closest to the flag-bearer that fell. The new flag bearer would lay down his rifle, pick up the flag, and move forward. There are documented incidents from the Civil War in which as many as six or seven flag bearers in a particular unit were killed or wounded during a single charge or battle.

A specific example of this kind of valor was seen in the courage of a young man from Boston. Nathaniel Allen was a member of Company B, 1st Massachusetts Infantry, who found himself on our nation’s greatest and most terrible field of battle–Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. During the second day of fighting, July 2, 1863, Corporal Allen’s unit was falling back in the face of horrific fire from the Confederate soldiers in front of them.

Corporal Allen, a member of the unit’s color guard, was responsible for carrying the Stars and Stripes of our country. He turned around to see the soldier carrying the regimental colors fall, mortally wounded. Without regard for his own safety, Corporal Allen reversed direction, charging headlong into hostile fire, pulled the regimental colors out from underneath his dead comrade’s body, and returned to his unit–keeping the colors from being captured by his enemy.

Such selfless acts of courage under fire, like the one I just described, provide beautiful examples of faith. A flag bearer in the American Civil War moved forward having no idea if he would survive the battle. He carried the flag high, marching in the direction determined by his commanding officer. The flag bearer had his orders and he obeyed them. His acceptance or full understanding of the orders did not determine his obedience. The order given was enough to compel the flag bearer to obey. Even though the outcome was uncertain, the flag bearer bravely and obediently moved forward.

The Bible defines faith this way. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is putting your trust in Jesus Christ and following His lead, even when the outcome is uncertain. Faith is obeying God’s Word, even when the consequences may be uncomfortable or unpopular. Faith is following Christ to the point of taking up your cross daily, even if it costs you your life.

Faith means always moving forward. If you are a Christian then today you are called to serve as the Lord’s flag bearer. You have already received your orders. They are contained in the Great Commission. And the flag you carry is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, by faith, move forward.

Trust your Commanding Officer. Trust that the orders you have been given are lawful, just, and righteous. He has given you His Word. Obey, not as one under compulsion or coercion, but as a soldier who sees carrying the army’s colors as an honor and privilege. By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

Remember, you are a member of a liberating army. You are on the side of righteousness. You are on the front line. Lives are at stake. You have your orders. By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

For you, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). You can do all things through Him who strengthens you (Phil 4:13). You have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer you who live, but Christ lives in you; and the life which you now live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself up for you (Gal. 2:20). For God has not given you a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (II Tim. 1:7). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (I Peter 3:15-17). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

“Be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (II Tim. 4:5). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

You are a child of God, a co-heir with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:14-17), and a worker called into the harvest (Matt. 9:36-38). Therefore “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the holy ones” (Jude 3). By faith, move forward. You are a flag bearer.

You are a flag bearer.


Anonymous said...

Dear Tony;
Great story on faith during the civil war. i wnated to let you know we have opened the first museum dedicated to the US Christian Commission. Heroes of the Faith during the civil war. YOu may visit our website at to learn more.
Our ministry is dedicated to standing on the platform of history to share the gospel. Gettysburg is one of the greatest mission fields in the country with nearly two million visitors every year.

Plan a trip to Gettysburg, and outreach with us to the masses!!

Blessings from the battlefield,

John A. Wega

Lev said...

i also, am very interested in the role of faith during the american civil war. i am also a believer... where we differ is that i am very troubled that both sides called them selves christians (and many, on both sides, were no doubt sincere) yet cut each other down in record numbers. the absolute butchery during the conflict was unprecedented, yet it was all justified by lincoln, ..... in the name of God...... lincoln blamed the whole conflict on God while it was lincoln that was the one who illegally pursued the war and rode rough shod over the rights of his own nation in order to gain the economic advantage that he desired the north to command.... all in the name of God..... troubling