on the destructiveness of pride

I am in the midst of reading The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword. I picked it up at the Carter House, a national monument in Franklin, TN, the site of an epic battle near the end of the Civil War. The house on site is the home of a man who lost a son in the battle (a Confederate officer, shot five times in the battle, dying in the family home in the bed in which he had been born 23 years previously). The hill on which the house sits commanded the field of battle and was the center of Federal entrenchments and earthen works.

The Confederate general over the Southern forces, John B. Hood, was an arrogant, ambitious, and incompetent fool. As I read the pages of the book, it becomes quite apparent that the man gained his position by political machination, but had no ability for the task at hand. He sent his army into an attack against the entrenched Federal forces over an open field about two miles in length and almost the same in breadth. The Federal forces, but for a strategic error on their part, could have utterly destroyed his army. As it was, 2000 men died, about 1800 Confederates and about 200 Federals. An additional 3800 Confederates were seriously wounded and about 700 captured. On the Federal side, about 1000 were wounded and 1100 captured. Most of the slaughter occurred in the first half hour of fighting, as the attack commenced at 4:00 pm, with sunset on Nov 30, 1864 only about 35 minutes away. Fighting continued until about midnight, but the bulk of the casualties were suffered during the few daylight minutes of the fight.

On our recent trip south, we toured the site of the Carter house. The house and some of the outbuildings still stand, riddled with bullet holes from this fight almost 150 years ago.

Hood graduated from West Point near the bottom of his class. He was unimaginative as a military leader, but after having been wounded earlier in the war (he lost a leg and the use of his right arm), he made a dashing figure in the social scene of the Confederate capital. While there, he made a personal friendship with the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, and maneuvered into the leadership of the western Confederate army. His accession to leadership was accomplished by managing to be appointed second in command, but also by sending secret messages back to Davis (on Davis’ orders) putting everything the commanding officer did in a bad light. These tactics eventually led to the dismissal of the general and appointment of Hood as his replacement.

The night before the battle, Hood’s forces actually had the Federal army trapped in Spring Hill, TN, about 16 miles or so south of Franklin. Through a comedy of errors, the various Confederate brigades allowed the Federals to escape over the road to Franklin during the night. Some of the Confederates were camped only 200 yards from the road. Hood, in the meantime, rather than ensuring that his officers were all on the same page and even ensuring that he fully understood the situation, took an early bed and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. On awaking, he blamed his men. Sending them on a march for Franklin, he put the officers he blamed most and their divisions in the forefront of the attack. Many of his finest men died in that first furious half hour.

While we heard all of this from our tour guide at the Carter House, the impact of what our guide had to say really did not sink home with me until I began reading the account of this last epic battle. The death and destruction in this battlefield were literally horrific. Corpses littered the ground in front of the earthworks, sometimes stacked several layers thick. Some men were propped up by the corpses around them and appeared to stand, though themselves dead.

All this cost came about because of the arrogance of the general, John B. Hood. But for his pride and unwillingness to consider alternatives, thousands of lives would have been spared (and he had the potential of carrying the day of battle even after the Federals slipped out of his Spring Hill trap).

No doubt the results were providential, as it seems to me that the South was in the wrong in the Civil War. My American friends like to tell me that the war was about ‘states rights’. Well… I was talking to a friend once about the former national 55 mph speed limit the USA used to have. He pointed out that the speed limit was a states rights issue as well. But, I observed, no one is going to go to war over a speed limit. Slavery was a different issue, and the South was on the wrong side of that issue. Thus, the folly of man brought about the decisive and final end to the institution of slavery in the USA and the ambitions of the Southerners who defended it.

But the main lesson I draw from touring the battlefield and reading the account is the folly of human pride. Most of us are not in a position where our pride will so directly affect so many lives, but the effect of human pride is no less devastating in its influence on ourselves and those around us. The Word of God says:

Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

How much do we hate pride? Do we hate it enough to really eschew it? I find that pride is the insidious sin that creeps into my life and into the lives of those around me so often. We are so convinced of the rightness of our own selves and our own views that we cannot imagine any other course of action than our own. We are right, the blame must fall on someone else, usually the closest target at hand, those closest to us and most loved by us.

What a great need we have for God’s grace. May God keep us from the effects of our pride and deliver us from the domination of our pride.

For those of you who have a chance to travel near Nashville, I would recommend a visit to the Carter House in Franklin, TN. (I think it is somewhere near exit 65 on I-65.) The scene today is peaceful, but the lessons are profound.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Update: corrected casualty statistics above.