October 13, 2014
Dear Friends and Family of the Diocese of Eau Claire,
I haven’t heard or read much about observances of the 150th anniversary of the
American Civil War. As a teen I remember the 100th anniversary as a time filled with events. In
1962 I rode a train from Atlanta to Chattanooga. Festivities occurred all along the route
commemorating the Great Locomotive Chase. Union spies commandeered a locomotive called
the General while Confederates chased it in an engine called the Texas. Crowds gathered at
each stop significant to the 100 year old story. Most people wore apparel from the 1860’s.
If you turn the calendar back 150 years to October of 1864, this month brought a seismic
shift in the Civil War. William T. Sherman’s capture of Atlanta in September of that year broke
the back of the Confederacy. The South had hoped to maintain territorial integrity until the Union
elections of November 1864. The Confederates believed that if the North elected Democrat and
retired General George McClellan rather than Republican and President Abraham Lincoln there
could be a negotiated settlement with the South becoming an independent nation.
The fall of Atlanta smashed that prospect. With the exception of Robert E. Lee’s Army of
Northern Virginia there were no significant Confederate armies. The North could move at will
through southern territory. Indeed this is what Sherman did in his leisurely march from Atlanta to
Savannah. In October 1864 the North could see the end of the War. Its citizens prepared to vote
for Lincoln in landslide fashion. The Union would prevail.
The Civil War produced more deaths and casualties than any conflict in America’s
history. It divided families and destroyed the land—especially in the South. Until the 1960’s, the
old Confederate states lived in relative poverty and isolation from the rest of the nation. It is
ironic that as the South began to take strides for racial equality and to include African Americans
in the mainstream of its life, the southern economy expanded. Instead of hearing the phrase
“Old South” the region became the Sunbelt. Jesus said, “What you do to the least of my people
you do to me.” There’s a message here. Sometimes it is called building up the common good. In
the South it brought surprising and spectacular results. With my love and best wishes, I am,
! ! ! ! ! ! Your brother in Christ,