The Prayers of the Righteous
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE
NOVEMBER 29, 1864
What little warmth the sun had brought had surrendered to the darkness, and this night, a fire was an impossibility. Even a small fire could be seen for miles, and who knew how close the rebels might be? And being out here alone, separated from everyone else, a fire might even bring shots from your own troops.
Daniel Murray led his horse through the rugged middle Tennessee terrain, up and over a cropping of uneven rocks. The dying leaves underfoot protested much too loudly under the weight of both man and horse. He paused to listen, a necessary practice for a scout, his ears often warning him of possible trouble. Murray pulled on his goatee and rested his hand on his Colt revolver, the reins still in his grasp. No sound but the gentle stirring of the Oaks and Hickories that surrounded him, but recently the silence brought something else. It would eventually give way to the shouting inside his head.
Inside Murray’s mind, a war raged as savagely as the one the entire nation had known for three years now. It had begun as just a simple question, really. But over the last few weeks that question had found both friends and enemies inside his head. Now, both sides struggled for an advantage to the point that Murray could think of little else.
That preacher…he started all this. Well, he was a preacher that day, anyway. The word was he had been to Bible college, had preached for a time before the war. Now he wore blue like the rest of them. The words had been spoken so easily and confidently. The message spoken so matter-of-factly. Could I have been the only one with a question, Murray wondered? Surely others doubted what was said.
Murray had been perched on a stump, gathered with a couple dozen or so Union soldiers. Most of them were Missouri infantry, a handful of others were cooks and laborers. That Sunday morning outside of Paducah, Kentucky, the officer hopped up on the back of a supply wagon, opened his Bible and read from the Psalms. He followed with something about mountains and lightning, but Murray’s mind had wandered, the smell of bacon catching his attention and taking precedence over the word of God.
“The Almighty is on your side, boys!”
Suddenly, Murray’s mind snapped back into focus.
The men around him seemed to rouse, also. “Amen!”
Murray heard little else in that sermon. God was on their side!
And then that question had found a place inside of him, nagging him ever since. What if God is not on our side?
Murray was, technically, not a soldier. He was hired by the U.S. Army for his tracking and scouting skills and had proven himself a valuable resource to the Army in several of their campaigns against the Cheyenne in North Texas. His keen eye and his ability to sniff out the movements and intentions of the Indian war parties had brought success to the Federal Cavalry and had saved many lives.
Once states began seceding from the Union and war became inevitable, Murray tried to make himself scarce. He knew his home state of Tennessee would be fiercely divided and that communities would be torn apart. Because of his connection with what would now become known as the Union Army, many assumed that Murray would enlist with the 1st Tennessee Cavalry.
But Murray knew that scouts would be in demand, and he wanted the freedom that the job afforded. Besides, cavalry units moved quickly, relying on speed as their advantage. Murray preferred working alone. He enjoyed moving at his own pace, taking time to gauge the enemy, predicting their movements. His methodical approach was appreciated by Union commanders who relied on his scouting reports in this crucial theater of the war. And his reports were never wrong.
Murray’s regiment was entrenched in Franklin, some six miles north and west of where he found himself this night. Hood’s Confederate Army was poised to make their push tomorrow. Murray had been sent out early that morning to the south and east of Franklin in hopes of determining the vulnerability of the Union left flank. There had been a sizable Confederate force coming north along the Harpeth River, so Murray had to skirt several miles through thickets, dense forests, and around several Confederate picket lines to find a good spot to scout the enemy strength.
Daylight had faded quickly, giving way to the November dusk. And it was quiet. Murray knew this kind of quiet. It was always like this before the biggest battles. The whole “calm before the storm” thing. The artillery barrage would begin at first light. The calm would cease, and the storm would rage. Murray knew the storm this time would be a ferocious one.
Oscar, his latest mount, nosed through the leaves, and found a few sprouts of grass that still clung to life. Murray lay nearby staring up through the nearly bare branches that towered above him. The moon was barely visible but still offered enough light to make out the fingers of the limbs above him. For Murray, the storm began early. Actually, it had never really stopped, it only came to a brighter intensity once he got bedded down for the night. Murray’s storm was a spiritual storm. The lieutenant’s words haunted him and had shaken his faith…not his faith in God. That was solid. The question was: What did he believe about God?
He knew the Bible passage the sermon was from: Psalm 144. It was one of the passages he and Clara had read together in the days before he rode west to join the fight against the Rebel push toward Nashville. They had spent part of an evening talking about the first two verses, because they had stood out as particularly timely in this season of conflict and bloodshed.
Blessed be the Lord my strength, Which teacheth my hands to war,
And my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high
tower, and my deliverer; My shield, and he in whom I trust;
Who subdueth my people under me.
He closed his eyes now and thought of Clara. Her faith was strong and predictable. After reading that Psalm, she had grabbed his cheeks in her hands and turned his face toward hers, one of the playful gestures they shared between them, “He will fight for you. He will be your shield.”
Tears had formed in her soft eyes, but her voice remained steady. “Our cause is just and right. You will come home, and this nation will be restored.”
Murray knew there was sorrow underneath her confidence. He kept his gaze away from her, eventually said, “Men are dying, Clara. Many do not come home.”
“The battle belongs to the Lord, Daniel. He is with us.”
He hadn’t given those words much thought at the time. But now he realized, Clara believed it too, didn’t she? She believed God was on our side. And surely, she must be right. After all, our cause is just. We are fighting for the preservation of this union that God had allowed good, righteous men to form. We are fighting for freedom for the negroes, for all men.
Murray’s family had never owned a slave, not because they thought slavery was evil or immoral, but simply because slaves were mostly found on the cotton and bean farms in the lowlands. You couldn’t grow much more than rocks and thistles in the rugged hills around Earl’s Hollow. Besides, Murray never knew anyone near his hometown that had enough money for more than one milk cow, let alone slaves.
But Murray did believe that, at least a part of this war, was to free the slaves. And he was fine with that. He had seen how many of the negroes had been treated, watched in horror at the savagery some of the Texans had inflicted on their Cheyenne slaves. Every man deserved some freedom, didn’t he? At least as much as his Maker would allow.
As he always did, Murray concluded this day with a prayer. Sometimes he recited the Lord’s Prayer or the twenty-third Psalm. In conversation he was generally a man with few words, and those were usually thought out, intentional. His prayers were often no different. In his mind, rambling on never really helped anything. Besides, God knew what he wanted to say. Murray had no doubt that God heard his prayers. Rather, his doubts were usually fastened to himself, his own motivations, attitudes. So, he mostly just prayed for Clara and for an end to this conflict. And he was always thankful for Jesus…for the hope He brought to Murray.
Tonight, as Clara’s comforting words and the voice of the preacher echoed in his mind, he added, “Thank You, Father, for your mighty hand of protection. I know Thou art faithful. Tomorrow will be… well, bad, and I may find myself right in the mix. Will you please protect me, Father? I just wanna go home. Amen.”
He started to roll over, but then paused and looked back up to the heavens, “Are You? …on our side?”
Sleep finally came, but with this frosty air and no fire, sleeping comfortably was only a wish…and it was only November. A wind had picked up, drove a chill down deep into Murray’s bones, making the ground even harder than it was before. He dozed when he wasn’t wrestling with the Army issue blanket that seemed to grow thinner by the hour.
It was still dark when he heard the voice. At first, Murray wasn’t sure if the sound was connected to his dream or if it was real. He lay perfectly still, holding his breath, listening, his eyes wide, searching for any movement in the darkness. It had to be close to morning, but no hint of light yet. How far away was his pistol? Not far, but he didn’t reach for it yet, waited until he could hear the voice again, find a direction. A rustling behind him and he sat up, turned to look, expecting the worst. Only that stupid horse, eyeing him, seeing what he was up to.
Then it came again. “Yessiree, we was way off.”
Off to the south, not too close. Probably sixty, maybe seventy-five yards away. Hard to tell in these woods, though. Definitely a slow, southern drawl. That first word came out as Yez-suh-ree.
Murray slowly eased over to the horse, slid his carbine from its scabbard. He stood still, his head down, keeping the horse between him and the voice. Okay, think. Stay calm and use your head. It would be strange for a picket squad to be in these woods, so far from the road, and Murray had made sure to stay clear of the river. Water always brought unwanted traffic. Who would be out here in the dark? Certainly not a local. Not this near the front. The whole darned county knew that a major battle was eminent in this area. Most all the local folks had taken what they could load up quickly and headed for safer country.
Another sound, a soft thud, followed by the same voice again. This time Murray couldn’t make out any words, except for the name “Asa.”
He couldn’t stay here, but he wasn’t sure where to go. Common sense said head north, away from the sounds, but Murray knew there was a Confederate reserve squad a mile and a half directly north of him. He decided to find out what he was hearing, assess the threat, then decide what to do. If there was a company of Rebs in this location, he needed to know who it was and why they were there.
His plan was simple: make a wide arc around and behind the voice, keep his distance at about a hundred yards, then inch forward until he could assess the situation. He left his horse and his belongings, took only his carbine and the Colt.
The first hints of dawn began to emerge, but in these trees, it would be a while before much light would filter in. Murray circled wide to the right of his camp, keeping the direction of the voice to his left. He only heard the voice once more as he slowly made his trek, but he couldn’t make out any words. Sounded like the same voice as before, though.
The point where Murray decided he had circled around his target was at the top of a hill. The trees were sparse here, and he could see the orange glow silhouetting the line of trees to the east. To the north thunder gently rumbled, but Murray knew it wasn’t thunder. It was Confederate cannon. The assault on Franklin had begun. A draw and another hill were before him. He surveyed the distance. If I can get to the top of that next ridge, I should be able to see them. He worked his way down through the fallen leaves, then back up the next rise, the Oaks growing thicker again.
By the time he reached the top of the hill, the battle sounds to the north had intensified, a solid rumble with little interruptions. Murray kept low, inching forward, maneuvering from tree to tree. He peered around a thick Oak and was surprised by what he saw some thirty yards in front of him. The largest man he had ever seen was stuffing a blanket into a bag of some sort. He was easily six feet, six inches, over three hundred pounds. Ragged butternut coat, bare feet. A kid really, not much more than eighteen, maybe twenty. Off to the right a few feet lay another man. This one was not moving…at all.
Now the giant spoke again. Murray recognized the voice. “Best be gettin’ back, now we know which way to go.”
Murray scanned in both directions, looked for other Rebel soldiers, saw no one. Just these two…well, one. He was pretty sure the man on the ground was dead. There had been no movement.
The big southerner gently set the bag down, faced the body on the ground. He took the cap that seemed too small for his head in his hands, held it near his chest. After a moment he cautiously took a couple of steps closer to the man on the ground. Was he wiping away tears?
“I gotta go now, Asa.” A long pause, as the young man scratched at the dirt with his foot. “Ol Ray’ll let ‘em know where yore at.”
Murray saw a musket leaning against a nearby tree. He could drop Johnny Reb from where he crouched, had never seen such a big target. But Murray wasn’t a killer. He’d never had the heart of a soldier. Anyway, a prisoner could bring valuable information. He wasn’t sure about marching one soldier all the way back to Franklin, though. Too far. Maybe just find out what I can from him, take his weapons, leave him be. Probably a deserter.
As Murray shouldered his carbine, rising to march toward this enemy, the man did something that surprised him. He spread his arms wide, looked toward the heavens, and fell to his knees. A soft sound, somewhere between a moan and a song, came from his mouth. It made its way to Murray’s ears, found a place to nestle in his heart. It was a cry of sorrow and pain. A moment later the cry stopped and was replaced by words that were soaked with just as much anguish.
“Lord Jesus. You took Asa on up to heaven. Thank you, Lord.” He paused to wipe his eyes, his nose. Then he clutched his hat to his breast again, bowed his head. “Lord Jesus, you are my fortress, my high tower, my deliverer. You teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight.”
Murray lowered the gun and stared…breathless.
The big man continued, “Please protect me, Lord Jesus. I don’t wanna die, too. Mama’s gonna be heartbroke…and I gotta protect Mama now. Be Ol Ray’s shield.”
He slowly got to his feet, pushed the hat down over his unruly hair, and said, “Amen, I reckon.”
As the sad, young soldier looked down at the body again, then began to gather up his things, Murray silently covered the ground that lay between himself and the Confederate.
There was no doubt that Asa Matthews would join up when news of the war reached Decatur, Alabama. No young man was more highly regarded or expected to do his duty for the Confederacy. No one shared the same views about his younger brother, Raymond, though. It wasn’t that Raymond was a bad apple or that people didn’t like him. He was just different…slow, some said. But everyone knew that if Asa went somewhere, Raymond’s massive form was to be found right by his side. The two were practically inseparable. And even though the young boys and girls giggled and poked fun at Raymond’s expense, they dared not do it loud enough for Asa to hear.
The boys’ father and their two older siblings, Amanda and Ralph, had all died of a fever outbreak when the boys were young. Their mother, fiercely protective of her two remaining children, tasked Asa with watching over his younger, simpler brother. When 1861 arrived and rumors of war and fiery speeches finally gave way to armies and battles, Asa was eighteen, Raymond just sixteen. But even at that age he stood head and shoulders above most adult men. He didn’t even need to lie about his age at the enlistment. The sergeant behind the table simply handed Raymond the pen, said, “Make your mark here, son.”
Their mother had not cried as she packed their bags with extra socks and the scarves she had quickly knitted for them. “Keep your feet dry and warm. It won’t do nobody no good t’all if y’all’s feet get all blistered up.”
She placed her Bible on top of Raymond’s socks, forced a quick smile as she turned to face her two sons. “Asa, take care of your little brother.” The boys watched as she stepped to the kitchen, pulled her apron from the hook by the cupboard. “Your daddy would be proud.”
The brothers had seen very little action over the last three years, initially serving for the Alabama home guard, then transferring to a unit tasked with protecting the railway line that ran between Mobile and Corinth, Mississippi. A few skirmishes with Union sympathizers were the only opportunities for actual combat the Matthews boys had been involved in until their unit was assigned to John Bell Hood’s Tennessee Army. Now, they had been in pursuit of the Union Army from Georgia to Tennessee, a feeble hounding of a well-equipped Federal corps by a Confederate army that was rapidly disintegrating. Supply lines had been cut, crops destroyed, and what little food and ammunition remained in the Confederate supply warehouses was sent eastward to Lee’s Army in Virginia. Morale was low. Sickness took as many men as battle. Desertion was rampant. Every morning, Confederate numbers were less, as many men simply went home.
The men in Asa and Raymond’s unit were actually very fond of Raymond. No one made insults or harassed him. Ol’ Ray (the name everyone called him because that was how he referred to himself) was easy to like. He worked hard, encouraged the beleaguered troops, was always quick to smile and say something to bring a chuckle to everyone. And he had tremendous faith.
“The Lord Jesus gon’ take care of us,” he often reminded the tired, hungry souls he marched alongside.
“Mama always said Raymond was born to be a preacher,” Asa would say, as he smiled and poked Raymond with the butt of his gun. “You boys listen. Y’all just might learn somethin’ from this here Alabama preacher!”
After following Union cavalry and infantry for several weeks, Hood’s regiment caught up to them at Spring Hill, Tennessee. Asa and Raymond’s unit, the 38th Alabama, was ordered to cross the Duck River and take a vital piece of high ground on the north side of the river. It was a disaster. Dozens were cut down as they were slowed by the waist-deep water. Many more fell in the attempt to take the hill. As the retreat was sounded, Federal cavalry suddenly pushed down the hill, scattering the 38th Alabama like frightened mice. Men and horses ran in every direction. In the chaos, Asa grabbed Raymond’s jacket, screamed up into his face, “Follow me!”
Asa headed for a wall of dense trees. Raymond followed, lead shot zipping past his head. A rail fence lay just ahead. Once past the fence, it would only be a couple dozen yards to the cover of the trees. Asa reached the fence first, stopped, waited for Raymond. The big man made it to the fence, lumbered over and toppled to the ground on the other side.
Raymond heard the hoofbeats before he saw the horse and rider, the cavalry trooper’s sword raised high. Peering through the gaps in the fence, still laying on the ground, Raymond watched as Asa turned toward the rider, raising his musket. The sword came swiftly down and slashed through Asa’s arm. The musket and the arm fell to the ground inches from Raymond’s face. The horse raced away, carrying its rider toward another target.
Raymond winced, “Asa?”
Raymond’s brother was still standing, still facing away from him. Raymond began to push himself up when Asa toppled into the fence, clutching the top rail with his remaining hand, his face now pushed against the gap Raymond had been looking through. His eyes were wide, a look of surprise. He whispered, “Raymond…run.”
Lord Jesus, give me strength.
Raymond stood to his feet, began tossing the fence rails away like twigs. The sounds of the battle raged on as the slaughter continued. But Ray ignored it. This time, he said it out loud, “Lord Jesus, give me strength.”
He grabbed up his brother and gently laid him over his right shoulder, turned to head toward the trees. Then he turned back, picked up his own musket, left Asa’s where it had fallen, the finger still on the trigger. Raymond held his older brother tightly as he ran for the woods.
Raymond knew he was a little different than most folks. Asa had told him many times, “You’re alright, just takes you a little longer is all.” Mama had taught him how to read, but it had taken awhile. What Raymond lacked in wit, he made up for in strength. And now, his strength carried both him and Asa far away from the battlefield. He wasn’t sure how long it had been since they had left the fence… or how far he had traveled. Once, he had come to a clearing with a lane running through it. He had used the road for a while but then veered off to the safety of the trees again.
Asa had only spoken once. “My musket…no supper…okay, Mama.” There had been a steady stream of blood flowing from the stump that protruded from his shoulder. Raymond noticed that Asa’s side also had a deep gash where the sword had continued its path after severing the arm between the shoulder and the elbow.
The bleeding had stopped now, and Asa had been silent for a long while. Raymond finally came to a stop. He became aware that his shoulder and back were screaming with pain. His right hip burned, fire making its way down his leg. Raymond listened for any noise of the battle. It was quiet. The only sound was his own heavy breathing. He had no idea where they were or which way to go to find his unit. Darkness was invading the dense woods, and it was getting cold.
“Reckon we’ll stop here, Asa.” He slid his brother down off his shoulder, seeing his face for the first time since the fence. It was white as flour. “Asa. Asa your face ain’t right.”
“Lord Jesus, Asa ain’t right. His arm got cut off and his face ain’t right.”
Raymond didn’t know what to do. After pacing for several minutes he got down on his knees, bent over, put his ear on Asa’s chest, listened. He closed his eyes to listen harder. Eventually, he raised his head, spoke to the corpse, “Ol Ray counted to a hundred and listened to your heart. Asa, you died. Mama said we would not die…but that man cut off your arm and…”
Now the tears came as Raymond began to understand that he was alone, and that Asa was gone, killed in the war that had killed so many. He hugged his knees trying to keep warm during the night, sleeping only now and then. While he was awake, he prayed and thought…thought about what to do once the sun came up. Prayed about life without Asa.
Usually he prayed “inside my head,” as he called it. This night he prayed aloud at times, grieving for his beloved brother. “Lord Jesus, why’d you let Asa die? Mama’s gonna be just heartbroke. And now we got lost in these woods. We was way off gettin’ back to the boys.”
Raymond looked over to Asa’s body. It lay just as Raymond had placed him hours earlier. He spoke to Asa, “Yessiree, we was way off.”
As the big man strapped his bag on his back, Murray eased closer. The musket was still propped against the tree, a few feet away from the unsuspecting soldier. When it looked like he might move that way, Murray took one final step closer and took aim at the huge form in front of him.
“Johnny Reb. Just stop right there.”
The startled boy wheeled around. Murray expected a look of surprise or fear, saw only grief in the young man’s eyes.
Murray thought, He’s only a big, scared kid. Behind the sadness, Murray saw kindness and genuineness in the eyes that were fixed on him. Then the boy spoke.
Murray’s brow wrinkled in confusion. “What do you mean, no sir?”
“My name is Raymond, not Johnny…suh.”
There didn’t seem to be any belligerence in the reply, just an authentic correction. Murray recognized the simplicity in the young man, felt a wave of sympathy.
“Well, Raymond, you are a long way from your boys. I hear your side shoots deserters same as we do.”
Now it was Raymond’s turn to look confused, “Deserters, suh?”
“Deserters, cowards, runaways. You and this fella here.” Murray motioned with his head in the direction of the dead body. He could now see the missing arm, the blood-soaked uniform.
“Oh, naw suh. Asa and me’s just lost. I gotta be gettin’ back. Sounds like my boys is up that aways.” Raymond pointed through the trees to the sound of the rumbling in the north. Then he looked at the figure on the ground. “Asa ain’t comin’. Lord Jesus done took him on up to heaven.”
Murray lowered his gun just a bit, motioned with the barrel away from the old musket leaning against the tree. “Just keep your distance from that shooter there.”
“Yes, suh. It ain’t much use anyways. Ol’ Ray run outta powder n’ lead yesterday.” Raymond’s eyes searched over Murray, looked past him. “Might you have anything to eat, suh?”
Murray had a little salt pork and a few rolls wrapped up in some cloth back in his saddlebag, but nothing here. He would get the fella a few bites later on. Right now, his mind was stuck on one thing.
“I heard you prayin’. You are not thinkin’ God is on your side in this miserable war, are you?” Murray paused, kept himself from letting his confusion show. “Cuz I been prayin’ the same thing, and the Almighty sure cannot be for both sides. One of us got to be right, and one of us got to be wrong.”
The words burst out now, Murray’s internal struggles and doubts finally finding an outlet, “And we are fightin’ for what is right…justice, freedom for the slaves, this nation. What are you fightin’ for? To keep men chained up so your mighty cotton and sugar plantations can thrive! How can God be on your side?”
Raymond was slowly shaking his head, said, “Naw, suh. Ol’ Ray’s not fightin’ for them things.”
The sounds of the battle raged on as the day brightened. An occasional single blast rose above the steady rumble.
“Suppose you tell me what you are fightin’ for then,” Murray said, as he relaxed a bit, brought the gun down, but still kept it pointed in Raymond’s general direction.
Raymond’s thoughts raced back to that steamy Sunday morning when he understood that he must sign up to fight in the war. Summer had come mighty early to Decatur that first week of June in 1861. Even with every window open, very little air moved through the little church that morning. Raymond and Asa sat with their mother between them, both of them struggling to catch a bit of breeze from the fan that she slowly waved back and forth in front of her.
Reverend Martin had told the congregation the previous week that the next Sunday’s sermon would be one they would all want to hear. It was a surefire way to pack the pews, especially as the talk of war against the northern states grew ever more boisterous and fear settled into the town like a plague. The announcement was successful. There wasn’t an empty spot in a pew that Lord’s Day. Several men stood in the back, their discomfort with attending the church service glaringly obvious.
The sermon began in usual fashion, then quickly turned into a fiery patriotic speech. The reverend became passionate and animated as he likened “those heathens up north” and “that infidel, Lincoln” to “evil devils, determined to drag every soul to hell!”
Raymond sat mesmerized.
Reverend Martin’s voice thundered as his face became a glowing red. Sweat trickled down his face. He paused to wipe the perspiration, using the silence to draw in his listeners. “Satan has been loosed! His forces are gathering for battle, and it is up to the army of God to drive him back to the eternal abyss he came from!
“Men of God, servants of the Almighty…if you do not join the blessed cause of our beloved homeland and take up yore arms against the evil force gathering against us, then shame on you! If this Yankee force is not stopped, they will invade this sacred land same as the Philistines overtook the children of Israel. They will not be content to simply take the land. Oh No! Every atrocity known to man will be committed against the fair, God-lovin’ people of Alabama!”
The preacher stepped down from the pulpit, lowered his voice and pointed his finger toward the young men in the congregation. “Every woman and child will be brutally violated and put to the sword! Will you let that happen? In the name of Jesus, will you fight the good fight? Will you take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and stand firm against the wiles of the devil? Lord Jesus, help us in our time of need! Amen!”
Raymond, Asa, and every other member of the congregation that day stood and shouted, “Amen!”
From that moment on it was clear to Raymond what his task was. He would do whatever it took to keep his mother safe. If it was up to him, no Yankee would ever come close to Decatur or his precious mama.
Raymond finally answered Murray, “Mama told Asa to take care of me. But Lord Jesus told Ol’ Ray, I gotta protect Mama. That’s why I signed up, suh.”
“Protect your Mama…from who?” asked Murray.
Raymond hesitated, glanced toward his dead brother, then looked at Murray, “From y’all… you Yankees.”
“What? I am…no Yankees are gonna hurt your mama.”
“Reverend Martin said y’all would come kill our mamas and babies. Ol’ Ray been prayin’ for the Lord Jesus to protect me, so’s I can keep Mama safe. And Mama will need tended to, ‘specially now that Asa ain’t comin’ home.”
A wave of guilt crashed into Murray. He thought of his own prayers, his self-centered requests. He also thought of his own notions of how and why God should answer his prayers and only those of a particular side in this conflict. Maybe God didn’t pick sides in men’s foolish affairs. Maybe He wasn’t for either side.
Murray figured this Confederate was no threat. He meandered over to a downed tree, sat down, rested his carbine against the log. Raymond’s eyes followed him closely.
“I been prayin’ too,” said Murray, “But I been hearin’ a lot of men prayin’ in this war. And I seen a lot of ‘em get killed. I believe in God, same as you. He is…well, Christ is my only hope. And I believe He hears our prayers…just not sure about Him answerin’ those prayers. How can He keep you safe and the one shootin’ at you safe, too? How could He help both sides in a war? Only one side is gonna win.”
Raymond dropped his bag on the ground, shuffled over and sat on the log a few feet from Murray. He sat in silence for a moment, began slowly shaking his head, said, “I dunno, suh. Mama never said nuthin’ bout that. All’s I know is the Bible says, ‘The Lord answers the prayers of the righteous.’ I reckon Ol’ Ray ain’t righteous…but ain’t that what the Lord Jesus done made us?” He looked up at Murray, “You gonna shoot me, suh?”
Murray looked over at the body sprawled on the ground a few feet from them. “That your brother there?”
Raymond nodded, “Yessuh. That’d be Asa.”
Murray let out a long sigh, “Terrible thing…this war. No, Raymond, I am not gonna shoot you. There has been enough shootin’ already.”
Murray stood up, explained to Raymond that his horse and pack were near, and that he could fetch him some food. Then they would put Asa on the horse, make their way north until Murray spied the nearest Confederate unit. There he would leave Raymond and Asa, then continue on with his scouting assignment.
The sun was getting high in the sky by the time they had Asa strapped over the saddle and began their trek together. Raymond had taken great care in lifting his brother onto the horse. “Careful of his arm,” he had said at one point. The artillery sounds had dwindled away. Both men knew that the battle was now being fought at close range. Muskets, swords, and bayonets had taken the place of cannon and howitzers.
Murray led the horse through the woods, the massive Raymond trailing behind. After a long while of silence between the two men, Murray stopped and turned to look at Raymond, gave him time to catch up. “I been thinkin’ bout what you said about God answerin’ the prayers of the righteous.”
Raymond lumbered alongside Murray now, as they started walking again. Murray continued, “I was thinkin’ you might be right. I think maybe God does pick a side…only it ain’t North or South.”
“Whaddya mean, suh?”
“Well, I reckon I don’t have it all figured out…but I been so mixed up thinkin’ God had to be on our side, since our cause had to be right. But I am from Tennessee, and I know plenty of boys fightin’ for your side who are God fearin’ Christians. Is the Almighty gonna abandon them just cuz they side up with the Confederacy? I reckon not. They are still His, ain’t they?”
A slight smile came across Raymond’s face, “Yessuh, I reckon they are. The Lord Jesus says once yore His, ain’t no one gonna snatch you outta his hand.”
“I know Christian men are dying right alongside others,” said Murray. “So, I guess that is up to the Almighty…but I don’t think He has a side in this war. He is bigger than any fight between mortal men. His plans got to be far greater than just who wins this darn war.”
Murray suddenly came to a stop, a look of brightness now in his eyes. He looked up at his big companion, “Raymond!”
Ol’ Ray took a step back, “Yessuh?”
“You know what? You are my brother! Sure, we are on different sides of this war, but we are brothers…in Christ! And God is on our side, cuz we are in His family!”
“Brothers, suh? Like me’n Asa?”
“Well no, and I am sorry about Asa. No, I will never be that kind of brother, Raymond. But we are in the family of God. He is Father to both of us. That makes us brothers!”
Now Raymond understood, “Like ‘the brethren’ in the Bible! Like ol’ Paul and Silas!”
Murray slapped Raymond on the back, reached up, put a firm grip on his thick shoulder, “I know you lost your brother Asa, but you found another brother, today.”
“Reckon Ol’ Ray don’t know your name, suh.”
“It’s Daniel. My name is Daniel.”
“Raymond smiled, “Like ol’ Dan’l who prayed in the den of lions. The Lord Jesus was on his side, too.”
Murray nodded, “Yessir, I reckon he was.”
“Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God;
and each invokes his aid against the other.
It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's
assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both
could not be answered--that of neither has been answered fully.
The Almighty has his own purposes.”
-ABRAHAM LINCOLN, 2ND INAUGURAL ADDRESS, MARCH 4, 1865
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