This Year’s Resolution

New Year’s Day is a time when many of us make resolutions. Often, they are resolutions to improve our health or lifestyles, but what about our character? Have you ever made a resolution that will improve who you are, not on the outside, but on the inside, and not for your own comfort but for the improvement of those around you?

In the past month, we have been reminded of how quickly our plans and intentions can be changed. When life hits the fan, our true character becomes apparent. When life ends, it will be our character that shapes how people remember us. In today’s Mewsing, we take a look at several men of the Civil War and how their friends and acquaintances remembered them.

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Lt. Charles Hazlett: On July 2, 1863, Lt. Hazlett determined to bring the guns of his Battery D, 5th U.S. Artillery, onto Little Round Top. He knew his artillery could not aim low enough to fire at the Confederates climbing the hill’s slopes, but he knew “the sound of my guns will be encouraging to our troops and disheartening to the others, and my battery’s of no use if this hill is lost.” He would be mortally wounded on the hill, but his concern for the infantry was not misplaced. A captain in the 44th New York, just down the slope from Hazlett’s guns, recalled that when the artillery opened fire, “No military music ever sounded sweeter and no aid was ever better appreciated.”

Afterwards, Gen. Gouverneur Warren recalled the young lieutenant as he brought his battery onto the crest:

There he sat on his horse on the summit of the hill, with whole-souled animation encouraging our men, and pointing with his sword toward the enemy amidst a storm of bullets – a figure of intense admiration to me… No nobler man fought or fell that day than he.

May we all have such a concern for others that we are willing to move mountains (almost literally in Hazlett’s case!) in order to help them, even if only emotionally.

1st Lt. Henry Ropes: On July 3, 1863, when Pickett’s division struck the Angle and the Copse of Trees, the 20th Massachusetts Regiment was one of the regiments that rushed to reinforce the Philadelphia Brigade at the Copse. Lt. Ropes was among those killed in the regiment. Accounts differ as to whether he was killed earlier in the day or during the fighting with Pickett’s Confederates, but those details seem secondary to the grief felt by all who knew him, even Lt. Frank Haskell, who was part of the division commander’s staff and not part of the regiment itself. Haskell recalled that Ropes was “a most estimable gentleman, and officer, intelligent, educated, refined, one of the noble souls that came to the country’s defense.”

Capt. Henry Abbott, who led the regiment into the Copse, wrote of Ropes in his report:

Never before has this regiment, in the death of any officer received one-half so heavy a blow…. Lieutenant Ropes’ behavior in this battle was more conspicuous for coolness and absolute disregard of personal danger than I have ever witnessed in any other man. He entered the service [and] remained in it until his death from the purest patriotism; not a single ambitious or selfish motive mingled with it. He would have made the noblest sacrifice where he knew that no man would even hear it as readily as if the eyes of the whole world were fixed upon him. Such perfect purity of sentiment deserves this distinguished mention; which Lieutenant Ropes himself would have been the last to expect.

May we all have the humility of Lt. Ropes, who would do the right thing, whether or not anyone was there to see him act.

Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur: On October 19, 1864, the Confederate army in the Shenandoah Valley, under Gen. Jubal Early, attacked Gen. Phil Sheridan’s army at Cedar Creek, near Winchester, Va. They succeeded in routing the Union army—until Gen. Sheridan arrived from Winchester (he was en route from a meeting in Washington, D.C.) and rallied his troops. The Union counterattack drove the Confederates from the field in a stunning reversal.

Among the Confederate brigadier generals was Stephen Ramseur. Only 27 years old, Ramseur had been married for less than a year and had just learned of the arrival of his first child. During the battle, he wore a flower in the lapel of his best uniform in honor of his new baby, and he hoped for a victory, so he could request a furlough to visit his family. Instead, as he tried to rally his troops, he was shot through the lungs and captured. He died the next morning, without even knowing that his baby was a little girl. His aide, Maj. Hutchinson, wrote a simple but heartfelt tribute in a letter to Ramseur’s wife, “He told me to tell you that he had a firm hope in Christ and trusted to meet you hereafter. He died as became a Confederate soldier and a firm believer.”

Ramseur’s peace transcended the crushing disappointment that he surely felt, knowing that he would not return home to see his child and wife. But it was his confidence in his Lord and Savior that gave him the comfort of knowing that he would see them one day in Heaven, in the presence of God. May we have such peace and certain confidence when our best-laid plans and hopes are suddenly obliterated.

Col. William Pegram: On April 1, 1865, only eight days before the surrender at Appomattox Court House, Union troops launched a sudden attack that surprised the Confederates at Five Forks. During the fighting, Col. Pegram, commanding artillery, was mortally wounded. As he was taken to the rear, his distressed adjutant and friend, Gordon McCabe, exclaimed, “Oh! Willie, I did not know how much I loved you until now.”

Pegram replied, “But I did, Gordon.”

After Pegram’s death, McCabe wrote, “He died as he had lived, without fear or reproach—the truest Christian, the best friend, the most splendid soldier in all the world!”

May we be remembered as Pegram was: faithful in our friendship, exceptional at our work, living above reproach, and with our lives and outlooks shaped and anchored firmly by our beliefs.

In the daily rush of life, it is easy to lose track of what is important and who we are. Are you who you want to be? Is adding an exercise routine all you need to change this year? If the rat race were to disappear, what would remain? What would really matter?

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