he events of July 1-3, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, forever changed the historical landscape of America. General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Major General George Meade’s Army of the Potomac—about 150,000 men total—stood toe to toe and slaughtered each other, producing more than 46,000 casualties, of whom, perhaps 10,000, a large percentage teenagers, were dead on the field, and many more perished in the following days—more American deaths from battle in three days than the entire number of battle deaths in the eight years of the War for American Independence. The Southern Army retreated back to Virginia. The Northerners, just as exhausted, stopped at the Potomac River. The entire nation stood in shock for months to follow.
Map of the Gettysburg Battlefield as it appeared at the time of the battle, July 1-3, 1863, showing detailed notes of terrain, local farms, etc.
Soldiers’ National Monument at the center of Gettysburg National Cemetery
The Confederate dead were buried in long anonymous trenches, many of them retrieved by their states after the war. The Union dead were interred in a new National Cemetery, which today holds over 6,000 soldiers from the 20th Century wars as well as a few Confederates found over time buried on the battlefield. In the days following the carnage, Pennsylvania organized and appropriated funds to lay out a formal cemetery for the Union dead, and set November 19 as the day of dedication. The committee invited famous orator Edward Everett of Massachusetts and President Abraham Lincoln to give addresses. Everett spoke for two hours, rehearsing the history of the war up to the Battle of Gettysburg—a patriotic speech, and in conformity to the expectations of people who attended speeches in the 19th Century.
Edward Everett (1794-1865)
The “Bliss” copy (named for Col. Alexander Bliss, stepson of George Bancroft, the famed historian and former Secretary of the Navy), on display in the Lincoln Room of the White House
There are five known copies of the President’s two-minute-long address, in his own handwriting, each named for its recipient. The “Bliss” copy is the most often quoted, and the only one signed and dated by him. The Address has been memorized and idealized by millions of school children and adults ever since. Entire books have been written just on what is now known as “The Gettysburg Address”, which is justly considered one of the most powerful and iconic speeches of American history.
In his peroration, the Yankee President, in profound rhetorical intonations and without definition of terms, declared that the Republic’s founders believed that all men are created equal, and that the purpose of the war was to test that proposition. He further implied that the honored dead of the Union perished in an attempt to prevent the overthrow of the nation “conceived in liberty”. The President then placed on the hearers the duty to complete the salvation of the nation and give it a “new birth of freedom”. He concluded his remarks by defining the national government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, now in danger of perishing.
The “Hay” copy (named for John Hay, one of Lincoln’s private secretaries and custodians of Lincoln’s papers after his death), showing Lincoln’s handwritten corrections
Photograph of the site of the address, taken November 19, 1863, showing the event and location of various landmarks for context
Reactions to the speech were divided along party lines. The Chicago Times described it as “silly, flat, and dishwatery”. The Springfield Republican (almost all newspapers were controlled by one party or the other), said “it was a perfect gem, deep in feeling, compact in thought and expression, tasteful and elegant in every word and comma”. In the 20th Century, journalist and professional curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken of Baltimore, weighed in against the most common understanding of what Lincoln had intoned, enraging the “Lincoln cult” even today:
“But let us not forget that it is oratory, not logic; beauty, not sense. Think of the argument in it! Put it into the cold words of everyday! The doctrine is simply this: that the Union soldiers who died at Gettysburg sacrificed their lives to the cause of self-determination—“that government of the people, by the people, for the people,” should not perish from the earth. It is difficult to imagine anything more untrue. The Union soldiers in that battle actually fought against self-determination; it was the Confederates who fought for the right of their people to govern themselves. What was the practical effect of the battle of Gettysburg? What else than the destruction of the old sovereignty of the States, i. e., of the people of the States? The Confederates went into battle an absolutely free people; they came out with their freedom subject to the supervision and vote of the rest of the country—and for nearly twenty years that vote was so effective that they enjoyed scarcely any freedom at all. Am I the first American to note the fundamental nonsensicality of the Gettysburg address? If so, I plead my aesthetic joy in it in amelioration of the sacrilege.”
H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) journalist and cultural critic who gained notoriety from his satirical reporting of the Scopes Trial, which he called the “Monkey Trial,”
Abraham Lincoln (indicated by the red arrow) amongst the crowd at Gettysburg Battlefield, taken several hours before he gave his famed address
Although he was perhaps the most unpopular President of the United States to that point in history, the immortal words of the Gettysburg Address have, regardless of one’s political or logical view of the matter, defined for generations the meaning of the Civil War and the sacrifices deemed necessary to preserve the Union.
For further study on “The Gettysburg Address”, including a comparison of the various extant copies, please consider reading this thorough overview.
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” —Titus 3:5-7
The Synod of Dort Begins, November 13, 1618
nce the Protestant Reformation of the 16th Century had swept across Europe, various countries were able to stabilize their borders and establish their new-found faith, although political and social contention persisted. Romanist heresies within Protestantism continued to challenge the Church, and the theologians’ and pastors’ need to systematize biblical doctrine continued well into the next century. Reformed confessions emerged to define what Protestant Christians believed. In the Netherlands, which had adopted a strong Calvinist theology in the “Belgic Confession of Faith” of 1561 (which had been primarily written by Dutch pastor Guido de Bres), challenges arose which caused disruption in the churches. James Arminius, a Dutch pastor and University professor presented the greatest theological challenge since the expulsion of the Roman Church.
James Arminius (1560–1609)
Arminius was a highly respected theologian and pastor in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands. He was noted for his “activity, intelligence, wit, and obliging deportment”. He was sent to the University in Geneva, where he sat under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor. Of independent mind and possessed of an insubordinate disposition, he developed theological views that differed from his professors, and he embarked behind the scenes to lead fellow students away from the Genevan orthodoxy. He was sent home. After travelling in Italy for ten months, he returned to Holland where he was greeted with great acclaim and a request to answer a tract by Dutch pastors who opposed the Reformed view of predestination. He ended up accepting the argument of the dissenters. In a series of sermons from his church pulpit, on the Book of Romans, he publicly abandoned the position of the Belgic churches.
Theodore Beza (1519–1605)
Although Arminius was rebuked by his Classis (presbytery), he continued to teach behind the scenes. His “learning, smooth address, and insinuating eloquence” won over a number of dissidents to take a stand against certain established Protestant doctrines. Some of his many friends were able to massage the volatile situation and Arminius was able to retain his preaching position. Every attempt to get Arminius into open theological debate was rebuffed through evasion, excuses, and subterfuge. As Samuel Miller of Princeton so succinctly observed, “the commencement of every heresy which has arisen in the Christian church” began with “a want of candor and integrity on the part of a man otherwise respectable . . . it is never frank and open”.
An allegorical depiction of the theological debate between “Remonstrants”—as followers of the teachings of Arminius called themselves— and their Dutch Reformed opponents. The Dutch Reformed side of the scale is heavier, but only on account of the extra weight added by a sword, representing the external influence of the state.
Because the Reformed Church was a state church, the politicians took a hand in the controversy and the Estates General called for Arminius and his companions, in 1609, to appear before them and explain his unorthodox theology. Before they could meet, Arminius died. His followers took the doctrines he had expounded, and continued preaching and teaching them in the universities and the churches, creating an uproar in the churches, and even dividing the national legislature. The Arminians drew up their doctrinal aberrations in a document known as the Remonstrance. The Church and State finally called a great Synod at the City of Dort beginning on November 13, 1618, to state for all the church what the Bible teaches concerning the doctrines under attack by the Arminians.
Johannes Wtenbogaert (1557-1644) became leader of the “Remonstrants” after the death of James Arminius in 1609 and drew up the document known as the Five Articles of Remonstrance in 1610. The point-by-point rebuttal to this document was issued in the Canons of Dort of 1618-19, the substance of which has come to be referred to as the Five Points of Calvinism.
The Synod of Dort, with Arminians seated at a table in the center
Holland invited scholars from all the Reformed countries to participate also. The “divines” sat in solemn ecclesiastical deliberations, and prayer and preaching, meeting one hundred eighty times. They concluded the assembly on May 29, 1619, having examined every aspect of the Remonstrance, and interviewed the Arminian pastors. The Synod produced the Canons of Dort, addressing each point of the Arminians’ beliefs regarding the doctrine of salvation. [See article here to compare the Arminian and the Calvinist positions on these theological points.]
Title page of the Canons of Dort
The international Synod unanimously condemned the Arminians’ arguments, and the Canons of Dort helped inform future Calvinist Confessions on the continent and in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, the Arminian beliefs continued to spread wherever the Reformation succeeded, and eventually permeated Protestant thinking in England and America, especially among denominations who rejected the Reformed Confessions. Men seem to have a compulsion to declare their independence from God in all things, including their own salvation. That does not change the fact that changing the hearts of the elect, and giving them the gift of Faith through His Grace, is solely an activity of the Sovereign God, who is not confined by the whims of His created image-bearers.
The Kloveniersdoelen, location of the Synod of Dort assembly, before its demolition in 1857
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.” —Genesis 9:6
The Bolshevik Revolution Begins,
November 6, 1917
ussia was rocked by revolution several times during the First World War. Multiple parties vied for power, but agreed on only one policy decision—that the Tsar had to be toppled. Revolution since 1789, by definition, seeks to destroy the old order (what Chairman Mao called “the four olds” in China), which typically includes the religion, political structure, social conventions and mores, and always at the cost of many lives, millions in the case of Marxist revolutions in Russia, China, and Cambodia. As in the case of France, who provided the template, and Russia, who applied Marxian socialism, democratic dreamers were the first to attempt a new order. They lost out quickly to those more radical and willing to kill off the opposition.
Tsar Nicholas (1868-1918) of Russia in 1912
Tsar Nicholas II had plenty of problems facing his regime prior to the First World War. Russia contained millions of poor and hungry people, and the aristocrats lived like kings among them. Discontent festered in the decades prior to the War, including an attempted revolution in 1905. Historically, wars are, by far, the most expensive enterprise entered into by nations, but they also tend to be unifying. For a country already suffering with social and economic problems, the Russians could ill-afford the war that they themselves helped trigger by their backing of Slavic peoples of the Balkans in Southern Europe. Allied with Britain and France, in the “Triple Entente,” the Russians mobilized about five million men, but could not arm many of them.
“Bloody Sunday”, January 22, 1905—Imperial soldiers fired upon unarmed demonstrators as they marched towards the Winter Palace to present a petition to Tsar Nicholas II
Revolutionaries set up barricades in Moscow, 1905
After almost three years of war, millions of casualties and a ruined economy, Russians turned a sympathetic ear to a myriad of discontented parties calling for an end to the war and access to food, fuel, and the supplies of life. In March, 1917, thousands of workers and out-of-work urban poor took to the streets of the capital city of Petrograd (modern St. Petersburg) protesting the latest food rationing. Labor strikes were called across the city. The Tsar’s police, most of them still loyal to the regime, fired on the crowds, who returned fire, initiating a Revolution.
Protesters swarm the streets of Petrograd, March 1917
In the week following, thousands of women took to the streets screaming for bread, and recruiting multiple thousands more of factory workers to join them. They called for the abdication of the Tsar and the end of the War; as it turned out, they eventually got both. A new provisional government was established, which included former members of the Duma, and middle classes. During the same period, workers and soldiers organized soviets and elected representatives of those groups, still dissatisfied with the provisional government, which was doing little to solve the problems for which the people took to the streets.
Red Guard unit in Petrograd, 1917
Alexander Kerensky (1881-1970) in May 1917
A leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, Alexander Kerensky assumed control of the army, and led the provisional government until overthrown by Lenin’s Bolshevik Party on November 6. Kerensky had declared Russia a Republic and tried to continue the war against Germany and Austria, both actions inimical to the Communists. The armed workers of the Petrograd Soviet had gone over to the Bolsheviks and followed the orders of Vladimir Lenin who had returned from exile in Switzerland to lead his party, which was neither the most numerous or popular, initially. Two Communist groups vied for rule of Russia—the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, along with elements of the Tsarists and the Social Revolutionaries. The first mentioned believed that political and social revolution could be done peacefully through the ballot box and working with the liberals and Socialist Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks believed that only violence and the elimination of all enemies could secure the utopian future that Marxist orthodoxy believed was inevitable. The Bolsheviks won out. The Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries who did not join Lenin’s Party were shot, along with the Tsar and his family.
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) in 1916 during his exile in Switzerland
Members of the Bolshevik Party (including Vladimir Lenin, far right) meet in 1920
Leaders of the Menshevik Party in Stockholm, Sweden, May 1917
As for the lawyer Kerensky, (revolutions are led by lawyers, since the French Revolution), he escaped to the west, ending up in the United States where he married an American woman and settled in New York City, spending much of his time at the Hoover Institute in California, writing and teaching about Russian history and against Communism. He lived to the age of 89, dying in 1970, outliving every major participant in the Russian Revolution.
Lenin’s ideas were not particularly popular, and several million Russians had to die in a civil war and retribution, before he got total dictatorial control. Lenin died in 1924, being replaced by the paragon of murder and terrorism, Josef Stalin, the “man of steel.” Revolutions tend to consume their own activists and their children, and always lead to dictatorship.
Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) with Joseph Stalin 1878-1953) in 1922
“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day.” —Psalm 91:5
The Battle of Agincourt, October 25, 1415
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day, and comes safe home, Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d, And rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall live this day, and see old age, Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours, And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian”. Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars, And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day”. —Henry V, William Shakespeare
rispin and Crispian were Christian twins martyred for their faith c. 286 A.D. The Medieval Church added a feast day in their memory, later removed by the Second Vatican Council. Ironically, a number of battles in world history occurred on this day, the most important and best known of which was the Battle of Agincourt. The fact that it was fought on St. Crispin and Crispian’s Day was made famous in a speech that William Shakespeare has King Henry V deliver to inspire his troops on the day of battle.
3rd Century twin martyrs Crispin & Crispian
King Henry V of England (1386-1422)
Twenty-seven-year-old Henry Plantagenet, of the House of Lancaster, served England as King for nine years (1413-1422). He developed a taste for war, fighting against Owain Glendower in Wales and at the Battle of Shrewsbury against the Percys, and when he succeeded his father on the throne, he continued war on France in the so-called “Hundred Years’ War” between the House of Lancaster and the House of Valois. Everyone in the know believed that Henry’s inferior forces were no match for the overwhelming military might of France, which included a powerful mounted force of knights—the greatest in Europe.
The death of Henry ”Hotspur“ Percy during the battle of Shrewsbury, 1403
King Henry decided on a campaign to recover land in France that he sincerely believed belonged to England. He marshaled his forces and sailed to lay siege to the port city of Harfleur. The city determined to hold out, hoping for relief forces, and the fight there cost the English three months, high casualties (about one-third of the total), and pushed the campaign further into the year, resulting in deaths from disease, and delaying the march into the rainy fall season. The King led his forces on a one-hundred-twenty-mile march, across several major rivers, trying to escape, finally closing ranks near a farm called Agincourt Village, as the French army cut off his route.
The twelfth century continental holdings of King Henry II (1166-1216) the sixth great-grandfather of King Henry V
The night before the Battle of Agincourt, the English priests held Mass. The army received forgiveness for their sins and armed themselves for battle in the morning. Historians disagree on the exact number of combatants on the battlefield on October 25, likely about 6-7,000 English, mostly infantry, and 14-16,000 French troops, mostly knights and men-at-arms. Whatever the actual tally, the English were badly outnumbered, exhausted, and hungry.
The morning of the battle
Henry arrayed his 1,000 or so men-at-arms in three lines, across wet fields between two forests, with about 5,000 archers in between. The battle itself is well documented—the English archers advanced and fired showers of arrows into the French battle line, causing the knights to resent the effrontery. The knights on their huge destriers, bred for battle, charged upon the compacted English line. The fire of the archers brought numbers to the ground, and as the heavily armored men at arms charged on foot, the wounded horses running from the field broke them up and trampled the slow. The casualties mounted as the Frenchmen fell in heaps across their front. The English longbowmen who had done such damage then grabbed axes, hammers, and swords and joined their own men-at-arms, attacking the masses of dying Frenchmen, struggling in the mud and slippery grass. The English had to climb piles of bodies to get at the secondary French attack.
15th Century art depicting French and English archers facing off
Sullen, captured Frenchmen were sent to the rear to await disposition. Henry, fearing an attack by the remaining unbloodied French infantry ordered the prisoners massacred, likely thinking they would take up fallen weapons and attack from the rear. A number of them died at the hands of their captors, thus depriving some of the soldiers of the ransom money they were hoping for.
When the battle finally ceased, the French abandoned the field, leaving behind about 6,000 dead, mostly nobles, including about 120 of the “Great Lords” of France, and 1-2,000 wounded and captured. The flower of the French nobility had been slaughtered on the field of battle. The English lost about 600 men.
King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt
The overwhelming victory of the English forced the King of France to come to terms with Henry V in a peace treaty which ultimately proved fragile. In the event, the two kingdoms continued the Hundred Years’ War again a few years later. Henry married the King’s daughter, Katherine of Valois, theoretically joining the two kingdoms for the future. But King Henry died two years later, and the king of France a year after that, leaving the nine-month-old infant Henry VI as King of England and France. He grew up to be, unlike his father and grandfather, “timid, shy, passive, well-intentioned, averse to warfare and violence”, and at times, “mentally unbalanced”. The old veterans of Agincourt could reminisce in a way their successors would not be able to:
The marriage of Henry V of England to Catherine of Valois
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
The Face of Battle (1976), chapters 1 and 2, by John Keegan.
“He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.’” —Acts 1:7
The Death of Archibald Alexander,
October 22, 1851
n centuries past, the name given an individual at birth often had significant meaning. Among Scottish families, Archibald and Alexander were common and had strong definitional and historic undertones. Archibald comes from Old German and was derived from erchan, meaning genuine, and bald, meaning bold. Alexander is of Greek derivation and means “defender of man” or just “defender.” Rev. Archibald Alexander encapsulated in his character and life all that his name implied.
Archibald Alexander (1772-1851)
Archibald was born the third of nine children, in a log cabin near Lexington, Virginia in 1772, to a family who had left Scotland and Ireland in that century and settled first in Pennsylvania, then on the Virginia frontier. His grandfather made a profession of faith in Christ under the preaching of Samuel Rowland during the “Great Awakening,” and his father had joined one of the little Presbyterian churches founded in Rockbridge County, Virginia, when they moved out of the Quaker State.
At age ten, Archibald began to attend William Graham’s academy at Timber Ridge meetinghouse which eventually developed into Washington and Lee University
The Alexander children sat under the teaching of Rev. William Graham, a Princeton graduate who came to the area to establish a school for the local children. Archibald became one of his prize students in the school he called Liberty Hall Academy, which became the precursor of Washington and Lee College in the late 19th Century. The Rev. Graham became the pastor of Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church and provided a Christian classical education second to none on the frontiers of the South. Under Graham and other competent teachers succeeding him, Archibald learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and became an accomplished public speaker and rhetorician himself.
Even with his education, memorization of the catechisms, and biblical knowledge, Archibald left home at seventeen, without a saving knowledge of Christ, to tutor in the home of a Colonel Posey in Spottsylvania County. He “had an aversion to anything spiritual,” and “laughed at any who gave signs of extraordinary devotion.” While a tutor in the Posey home, Archibald providentially met an elderly and devout Christian woman who refuged there also—a Mrs. Tyler—who witnessed to him of the “new birth” and his need of true faith. She also introduced him to the works of John Flavel, an old Puritan and Presbyterian preacher. While reading Flavel’s sermon on Revelation 3:20 to the family on a Sunday night, the young tutor was overwhelmed by the saving Grace of God, and his life was changed forever. All of the teaching and reflection by Christians of his past had plowed the field of his heart, until the words of a man long in his grave, was used by the Holy Spirit to penetrate his philosophical resistance, and self-centered skepticism, to create a new man in Christ.
General Thomas Posey (1750-1818) was an officer during the American War for Independence
The grounds of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia
Archibald Alexander returned to Liberty Hall for biblical instruction and became a Presbyterian missionary on the frontier, before accepting the presidency of Hampden-Sidney College in 1796 at the age of twenty-four. His impassioned evangelical preaching and profound scholarship resulted in his calling as pastor of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and moderator of the General Assembly in 1808. Seeing the need of a seminary devoted to both scholarship and warm evangelical preaching, he persuaded his denomination to establish the seminary at Princeton, and they chose him as a one-man faculty to make it happen. In 1812, the first class of three students met with the faculty, Alexander himself, in his home, sharing in family devotions and study. In the course of the century, the seminary graduated hundreds of young men who entered Gospel ministries of all sorts, especially as church pastors and foreign missionaries.
Third Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia
Alexander Hall, the original building at Princeton Theological Seminary
Alexander married Janetta, the daughter of Rev. James Waddell around 1802, and they saw four of their five sons enter the ministry and one the state senate. Archibald wrote a number of practical theological works, and established Princeton Seminary as the foremost theological institution to carry on both the uncompromised commitment to biblical fidelity, and its practical application in the dissemination of the Gospel around the world, until the early 20th Century. Among his last words as he lay dying at the age of 79, were these:
“Oh most merciful God . . . Thou hast a perfect right to dispose of me, in that manner which will most effectively promote Thy glory: And I know that whatever Thou dost is right, and wise, and just, and good. . . . And when my spirit leaves this clay tenement, Lord Jesus receive it! Send some of the blessed angels to convey my inexperienced soul to the mansion which Thy love has prepared. And O, let me be so situated, though in the lowest rank, that I may behold Thy glory. May I have an abundant entrance administered unto me into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for whose sake and in whose name, I ask all these things. Amen.
For a full biography of Archibald Alexander read: The Life of Archibald Alexander, D.D., by James W. Alexander.