Department of History Hosts Civil War Seminar

Bringing history forth, the Liberty University Department of History hosted its annual conference, Civil War Legacies, April 14 to explore Civil War history with honored guest speakers.

History Department Chair Samuel Smith honored special guests at the seminar Liberty professor Cline Hall and Director of the National Civil War Chaplain’s Museum Kenny Rowlette, who both were forces in starting and continuing the seminars.

“The Civil War is that catalyst. It’s that event, it’s that moment … that takes America of the 1850s to a new level, and this new America is not going back,” Rowlette said. “These issues we’re still dealing with today have been affected by the Civil War.”

Professor of History at Southern Virginia University R. David Cox discussed pivotal moments in history surrounding Robert E. Lee as peacemaker. His hypothesis is Lee became the paramount voice for peace, reason, reconciliation and rebuilding of the South and beyond. He stated Lee’s words were primarily private, his actions were predominately academic, but his prestige superseded anyone else’s.

“The old general became a peacemaker,” Cox said.  “What Lee accomplished after the war may truly (have) helped our national heal.”

Well-known author of “A Religious Biography of Robert E. Lee,” Cox recently published “Lee Chapel at 150.” At the seminar, Civil War-themed books were for sale, including “Lee Chapel at 150,” “The Religious Life of Robert E. Lee” and “Black Chaplin’s in the Union Army.”

About 78 students and guests kept their eyes peeled on Cox as he spoke about the result of Lee’s faith as he made a transition from warrior to peacemaker.

“Lee, for all his stature, had the heart of humble man who took seriously Paul’s advice to think of himself no more highly than he ought to think,” Cox said.

Cox explained three steps in Lee’s faith. He quoted Lee saying that one must consider the affects that their actions may have. Step one in Lee’s faith was that Lee knew the war was done and that it was time for the country to move on, according to Cox.

Step two in Lee’s faith was when he searched for his soul. Cox questioned what one does when the Lord decides against oneself, as Lee had personally experienced.  Cox added that one resigns oneself to God and does not give up, so much as give over.

Step three in the discussion is something practical to bring a genuine peace. Paths of peace demanded more than buildings and curriculum, it required right attitudes put into action, according to Cox.

Lee worked with Virginia’s educators to establish a public school system, and he became president of Lee Chapel, a historical landmark that was built during the Civil War in Lexington, Virginia. In Lee’s first year, enrollment tripled and faculty doubled, making it the second largest institution in Virginia, according to Cox.

Rowlette quoted Jerry Falwell Sr., saying that when one is witnessing to the unsaved, do not speak in religious terms, but talk to them in a language that they can understand. Rowlette added to study people you are ministering to so that you can witness to them more effectively.

Leading the guests in worship, Pastor of First Baptist Church Lynchburg, Virginia, Paul Dakin, played piano accompaniment for six hymns that have a connection to the Civil War.

“Religious faith itself became a key part of the war’s unfolding stories for countless Americans,” Dakin said. “Given the importance of faith in the lives of people both North and South, it should come to no surprise that tumultuous events of the war would inspire various expressions of faith, including of hymns.”

Civil War veterans became prominent hymn writers. Some hymns were not popular during that time or written until decades following the war. Dakin explored the connections of the hymns to the war.

One of the most popular and patriotic hymns was about a soldier’s marching song, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Dakin, along with the guests, stood and sang, “Glory, glory, hallelujah. His truth is marching on.”

In the second hymn, “He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought,” Dakin shared the history of the hymn. He said that stanza two tells us that God leads us in the scenes of deepest gloom and troubled sea, as well as during times when things are as pleasant as when they were in the garden of Eden. He added that stanza three is a prayer that one should have contentment with letting God direct one’s life and pledge not to grumble about it, even when one does not understand God’s ways.

“These backstories can take you anywhere … The civil war is much more than just battles,” Rowlette said. “In my opinion, I think these back stories … should captivate people.”

God used the most trying of circumstances to convert author of “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” Daniel Whittle, according to Dakin. While Whittle had no thought of becoming a Christian and never prayed before, during the war, Whittle reluctantly went to the bedside of one of his men to pray and experienced the solider taking his last breath and noticed the man died in peace. Whittle later became under the influence of American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, and in addition to preaching, wrote over 200 hymn texts.

After becoming a Christian, co-founder and curator of the National Civil War Chaplin’s Museum on Liberty’s campus Alan Farley felt God speak to him to do a Chaplin’s impression.

“In the last 30-plus years, it has been a driving force and passion in my life being a Christian and being able to explain what Christ did during the war,” Farley said.

Since 2005, the museum has provided research opportunities for history majors, projected Liberty out into Central Virginia and brought artifacts onto the campus that are not normally seen. They are currently working on a Confederate chaplain database and will next year work on a Union chaplain database.

“You have examples of bravery, you have examples of evil, you have examples of cowardice, you have all kinds of examples,” Rowlette said. “But if you’re looking for affirmation of who you are, who your ancestors were, you will find it in the Civil War.”

Other guest speakers at the seminar discussed the legacy of firearms, printing and dissemination advancement of religious publications, civil war monuments and the legacy of memory, and fighting the “good fight” from the perspective of Father Peter Whelan.

Liberty students sold donated books at the seminar to raise money for Phi Alpha Theta, the American Honor Society for History.

“Every person who judges people in the past by today’s values and standards has to be careful,” Rowlette said. “People live in a different time, people live in a different age. Now, that doesn’t mean we excuse everything they did, but it means we need to understand them.”

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