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Civil War book on soldiers’ faith: companion piece to motion picture

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In the fall and winter of 1863-64, a “great revival” took place among the Confederate and Union forces, and tens of thousands of soldiers were converted. In a war in which 620,000 died — more than in all other American wars combined — men were seeking the solace of God in great numbers, and chapels couldn’t hold the soldiers who wanted to get in.

Volumes have been written about the violent Civil War battles within the divided nation. But the devout faith of men on both sides of the North/South conflict has rarely been chronicled.

Now readers and audiences can discover the religious beliefs of those who fought on both sides of the Civil War in a new Broadman & Holman book, “Faith in God and Generals: An Anthology of Faith, Hope, and Love in the American Civil War.” The book was released Jan. 31 and serves as a companion resource to a major motion picture, “Gods and Generals,” set to open in Feb. 21 and starring Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels and Mira Sorvino.

“Faith in God and Generals,” compiled by Ted Baehr, MOVIEGUIDE founder/publisher, and Susan Wales, author, speaker, producer and radio personality, contains writings and photos focusing on the lives of such Civil War heroes as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Clara Barton and Frederick Douglas.

Much of the information in the book was compiled through letters and diary entries of people who lived during the Civil War and from articles written by history experts, Baehr said. The book also includes photographs from the set of the film and excerpts from its script.

Ron Maxwell, director of the 1993 film “Gettysburg,” also directs “Gods and Generals.” Set in an era that predates the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, the book and movie document a nation divided, beginning in 1861 and climaxing with the May 1-3, 1863, Battle of Chancellorsville in which Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was killed by friendly fire.

In compiling the book, Wales said she gained “an appreciation for these great men and women who lived before us and strove to make our world a better place.

“I pray we can do the same for our children and the generations to come, by learning from their mistakes and their successes as we make choices and decisions for our country, our businesses and in our own personal lives,” she said.

Many of those fighting for both the Union and Confederacy were devoutly faithful people who trusted Jesus Christ, Wales said. People on both sides prayed for God to bless their cause, but ultimately, God’s own purposes prevailed.

In fact, the book quotes a bewildered Abraham Lincoln, who wonders whose side God is on, crying out: “We, on our side, are praying him to give us victory, because we believe we are right; but those on the other side pray him, too, for victory, believing they are right. What must he think of us?”

Wales said she believes God’s will is revealed in historical stages. “Sometimes we just understand a little bit of God’s will at a time,” she said. “Apparently the fight had to be fought and the blood had to be shed for the slaves to be freed, just as Christ’s blood had to be shed on the cross for our spiritual freedom.

“Ultimately God’s will was done, and the hope that Christ’s power brought out of this suffering was that slavery was ultimately abolished,” she added. “This was also the beginning of a journey to make all men equal and endow them with the same rights.”

Both the book and the movie juxtapose the tragedy of lost dreams and brutal battles — when friends and family members often fought against each other — with the impressive faith and patriotism of those who hoped to build a better world through the struggle, Baehr said.

“We tried to present history as accurately as possible,” he said. “This is pretty strong stuff. But I hope people will see how important faith was to those who have gone before them and think how about important faith is today.”

The faith of those who fought on both sides of the conflict is a great example to Americans today during a time when fewer people stick to deeply held convictions, Wales said.

“They were confident of eternal life and a better place and looked forward to their death despite the outcome of the war,” she said. “They were willing to die for what they believed in, right or wrong, and trusted that they would find their answers in heaven.”

Baehr said he hopes the three-hour film will whet the appetites of viewers, prompting them to discover more about Civil war figures by reading the book. In turn, he hopes the book will help readers gain insights into their own lives.

“We want to reaffirm the faith that’s so much a part of our nation’s history,” Baehr said, “and in doing so, give people insights into the past that can help them understand God’s vision for our future.”

Broadman & Holman is the trade book division of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. “Faith in God and Generals” can be purchased at LifeWay Christian Stores and online at www.lifewaystores.com.
(BP) photo posted in BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: FAITH IN GODS AND GENERALS.

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  • Whitney Von Lake Hopler