THE DEATH OF A CONFEDERATE AT SHARPSBURG
"If men are prepared to die they are ready for anything." --Dr. J. A. Alexander
Death is never a popular consideration in a finite world; but it is the leveler of all mankind and a vital subject foisted upon us by time and eternity. Divine revelation reveals, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). The Confederate chaplains with this mandate prepared our Confederate ancestors for battle. They were reminded of the brevity of life and the uncertainty of the future as a hazard of war. The chaplains would follow up the discussion of the Lord's mandate by continuing the quotation of sacred Scripture, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation" (Hebrews 9:28).
A part of their preparation for fighting was a preparation for dying as Divine providence dictated. God must be faced ultimately and every man who would face Him acceptably must have the sin-bearer who is Christ the Lord. The gallant soldiers would then go into battle to face their mortal enemies. In the following events you will see how one Southern soldier faced the final enemy called death.
The bloodiest day in American history was the 17th of September 1862. The Battle of Sharpsburg (or Antietam to "those people" from the North, as Gen. Lee referred to them) was unequaled in its toll on human life. Some 26,000 men on both sides were either killed or wounded on that September day. Many of the noble men wearing the gray and butternut validated their love for God, family and country by giving the greatest gift--their lives.
It was important for our forefathers to know how to die. The Confederate Chaplaincy sought to prepare men for eternity. This was their task under God. It is just as important for us, their sons, to know the same. A person is certainly unprepared for eternity if he is not prepared in time. One who possesses eternal life by free grace is ready to face eternity. Why did R. E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart, John Pelham and the myriad of others die so peacefully and victoriously? Perhaps the Alabamian who died as a result of the Battle of Sharpsburg will give us a clue.
Three or four days had elapsed after that bloodiest day. The following event transpired on the enemy side after the wind of battle had been spent. Rev. S. W. Thomas and another man were dispatched to look for wounded men in areas where skirmishing had taken place outside the primary confines of the battleground. Providentially one of the ministers developed a great thirst and in order to quench it he went to a deserted farm. While they were satisfying their thirst at the pump they discovered in the barnyard what appeared to be bundles of rags. They investigated the piles of rags. As they drew close they realized they had discovered two dead soldiers. In an adjacent area they found thirteen badly wounded men. They sent immediately for ambulances. These men had been wounded days before, and speedy treatment was of the essence.
The scene was so ghastly that it burned itself into their minds like acid etching a metal plate. It was discovered that almost all of the men were Confederates. The wounded men could not move so they removed the dead from among them. An Alabama soldier whose leg had been blown off was moaning despairingly, "Water! Water! Water!" Assistance was immediately given, but the loss of blood had been extensive and he appeared to have only a short time to live.
A Captain who was riding by was attracted to an ambulance near the barn. As he came near Rev. Parvin was kneeling in the barnyard, and he was praying with the dying Confederate soldier. The Captain reigned in his horse, uncovered his head, and listened. He heard the soldier answering a question. And the answer he gave was, "Yes, yes, my trust is in the Lord Jesus."
These words were moaned out of great pain and weakness. The scene was one of wretched filth and pained looks. However, out of that scene ascended words of Christian victory. The final words of the Confederate, who was in such a horrible physical state were "MY TRUST IS IN THE LORD JESUS. I'M AS HAPPY AS A PRINCE." His words evidenced a resident peace of heart and soul.
The Captain was captured by the dying Confederate that day. He was not captured as a prisoner of war. He was captured by the awesome scene of the dying of one of the Lord's sheep who hailed from Alabama. The Captain forthwith volunteered all the help needed to assure prompt care of the other wounded compatriots of the dying Confederate. Later the Captain confided to Rev. Parvin that he had been more touched by what he observed in that barnyard, than by all the sermons he had heard in all his lifetime.
The last words of our compatriot in that filthy barnyard should be a testament to us. "My trust is in the Lord Jesus. I'm as happy as a prince." That is truly an example of victorious dying. One can die victoriously only if he is prepared for death spiritually through Christ the Lord.
Thomas Watson reflected over three hundred years ago, "He may look on death with joy who can look on forgiveness with faith." A man may joyfully look on death when through faith he is cast upon Christ Jesus for salvation. Shakespeare's words were,
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Thus a Southern soldier, whose name we do not know, left a testimony which impacted others. A few days after the sound of battle had died away this Confederate soldier left Sharpsburg for the Celestial City.
[The primary account of this event is found in Incidents of Shot and Shell by Rev. Edward P. Smith, 1868]