Peace in the Midst of Pain

Lieutenant Charles Longfellow, 1863

This old photograph is of Lieutenant Charles Longfellow, he was the son of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I know the Civil War seems to be an odd thing to write about on the doorstep of Christmas. But hear me out. I think this will be worth your time.

You see, in 1863, young Longfellow quietly walked out his door in Cambridge, Massachusetts, unbeknownst to his family, and boarded a train bound for Washington DC. Having suffered the loss of an infant sibling, and later the loss of his own mother when her dress caught on fire, he was determined to step up and be a man. His own father, Henry, was so severely burned trying to save his wife that he was unable to even attend her funeral. In fact, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous beard was an attempt to hide the scars from that event.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Once Charley arrived in DC, the Captain in charge of him actually wrote a letter to Henry asking for permission for Charley to serve in the 1st Massachusetts Artillery. Henry approved. And as Charley learned how to become a soldier, he impressed both his colleagues as well as his commanding officers. While he was rising through the ranks, Henry was also petitioning his friends in high places to commission Charley as an officer. By March of 1863 he was a 2nd Lieutenant in Company G of the 1st Massachusetts Artillery.

Stick with me, its about to get interesting.

During 1863 Charley actually got typhoid fever and was sent home to recover, missing the July Battle of Gettysburg (the largest loss of life battle of the entire war), only returning to service in August of 1863. In November 1863, Charley was struck by a bullet which passed across his body from his left shoulder and out his right shoulder blade, narrowly missing his spine by less than an inch. Henry, and one of Charley’s brothers, left Cambridge to go visit him in the makeshift hospital set up in the New Hope Church, Orange County, Virginia. While Charley was convalescing over his wounds, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a widower and single father of six children, was overcome by grief but also hope and sat down on Christmas Day in 1863 to write a poem. That poem was later put to music, and is my personal favorite Christmas song. Why don’t you listen in and read along with the song. Henry exhibited an incredible amount of insight given he had watched his wife burn to death, lost an infant child, and was sitting at the feet of his nearly paralyzed eldest son who was serving in a war of a country fighting itself over some very real issues.

Charley did survive, and actually recovered so well that he resumed a life of travel, eventually passing away in 1893. He had spent all the rest of his years sailing around the world, experiencing many cultures, especially in Asia.

May you, too, find the hope of Jesus in this season, especially in the midst of your own turmoil and that in the world around us. I pray for us to keep the joy of our salvation, that is Christ Jesus.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
And the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on earth)
In my heart I hear them (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
But the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on earth)
Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep (peace on earth, peace on earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men
Then ringing singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men
And the bells they’re ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (peace on earth)
And with our hearts we’ll hear them (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? (peace on earth)
The life the angels singing (peace on earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (peace on earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men
Peace on earth, peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men
To start at the beginning of this Advent/Christmas series, click here


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