Prayer Warrior General

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, January 18, 2015 0 comments

by Michael Homula

Back in August, I wrote a post entitled All In God’s Hands, But Even If He Doesn’t. I briefly brought up Confederate General Robert E. Lee, his faith and the fact that as soon as he would order his Army of Northern Virginia into battle, he trusted them to divine providence of God’s will.

Robert E. Lee is a complex, complicated and controversial figure in American history. It is not easy to fully understand the man without getting off the surface and going very deep, I mean scholarly research deep, into his personal writings, letters, general orders and actions. Even with such research it can be difficult to discern the mythical Robert E. Lee, immortalized by the South and North alike, from the real man. I have spent nearly 20 years attempting to do just that and, while I have more clarity than 20 years ago, I assure you I am nowhere near truly knowing the real R.E. Lee.

At the heart of Lee’s story is one of the monumental choices in American history: revered for his honor, Lee resigned his U.S. Army commission to defend Virginia and fight for the Confederacy, on the side of slavery. “The decision was honorable by his standards of honor—which, whatever we may think of them, were neither self-serving nor complicated,” satirist Roy Blount, Jr. says. Lee “thought it was a bad idea for Virginia to secede, and God knows he was right, but secession had been more or less democratically decided upon.” Lee’s family held slaves, and he himself was at best ambiguous on the subject, leading some of his defenders over the years to discount slavery’s significance in assessments of his character. Lee will be the focus of SO many more posts in our Biblical Truths at Gettysburg series.

What is not in question was General Lee’s faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and his diligent commitment to prayer. There can be no doubt that his faith in God’s providence and his reliance on the almighty arm of God provided the foundation for all of his actions and the wellspring source of his undaunted composure under severe trial.

As we have looked into Romans 1:8-14 this week at Worldview Warriors, I could not help but think about Lee and his prayerful ways. Lee was a man of much prayer and great faith but probably few of his most intimate friends fully understood the depth of his feelings on this subject. He was a man of great reserve, and only his actions, and an occasional outburst of feeling, showed the sold out soul of a prayer warrior Christ follower.

Many of his staff officers and close observers often noted Lee by himself, often in a small wooded area or open field, seemingly transfixed in prayer. On one occasion, as the roar of battle loomed just up the road, Lee came upon a small group of men in prayer on their way to the deadly front. He stopped his horse Traveller, dismounted, removed his hat, and joined the mean in prayer.

In 1863 when the Rev. J. William Jones and another chaplain went to consult him in reference to a better observance of the Sabbath in the army, he says that the "General's countenance glowed with pleasure, and his eye brightened; and, as in his simple, feeling words he expressed his delight, we forgot the great warrior, and only remembered that we were communing with a humble, earnest and prayerful Christian."

When he was informed that the chaplains prayed for him, tears welled up in his eyes, as he replied, "I sincerely thank you for that and can only say that I am a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone, and need all the prayers you can offer for me." (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; John 3:7)

The failure at Gettysburg was a sore disappointment to the South, but no one blamed General Lee, though there is a strong military argument to be made that the blame for defeat at Gettysburg lies solely with Lee. It was a crushing defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia and, while the lack of success was mourned over, the South never censured Lee for the failure. Confidence in and love for Lee increased, due in large part to a prayerful countenance, steadfast faith, and implicit trust Lee placed in God, and the southern people meekly bowed in submission to God’s will – a will that had not seen fit to crown the Gettysburg campaign of Lee with victory.

Just after the Battle of Gettysburg, on August 21, 1863, Confederate President Jefferson Davis declared a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. Lee, the ever prayerful General, sent out a general order to the Army where he embellished the decree with a sincere prayer for righteousness amongst the Confederate ranks:

Soldiers! We have sinned against Almighty God. We have forgotten his signal mercies, and have cultivated a revengeful, haughty, and boastful spirit. We have not remembered that the defenders of a just cause should be pure in his eyes; that "our times are in his hand" - and we have relied too much on our own arms for the achievement of our independence. God is our only refuge and our strength. Let us humble ourselves before him. Let us confess our many sins, and beseech him to give us a higher courage, a purer patriotism and more determined will: that he will convert the hearts of our enemies: that he will hasten the time when war, with its sorrows and sufferings, shall cease, and that he will give us a name and place among the nations of the earth.
R. E. Lee, General

That following winter, a great revival took place in his army, the extent of which was almost unprecedented and will be a topic of future posts*. As gray bearded veteran and boyish soldier alike turned their lives over to Christ by the hundreds and thousands, General Lee entered heartily into their feelings, went among them, joined them in prayer, conversed with and encouraged their chaplains, asked earnestly for their prayers, and in every way showed the deepest interest in their reborn lives and work in the name of Christ.

While the controversy over Lee’s motives, intentions, and attitudes will likely rage for eternity, we can be emboldened in our own prayer lives by Lee’s faithful and prayerful life. He was a man who, facing the severest trials of his life – indeed the severest trial of our young nation’s life – prayed unceasingly and fervently for God’s will to be done.

* For more reading on the revival’s that took place in Confederate Camps in the winter of 1863 please see Christ in the Camp by Rev. J. William Jones