Dose of Truth
Many Union soldiers fighting under Major General John Sedgwick’s command affectionately referred to him as “Uncle John.” He was not only well-liked by his men but also highly respected by other generals. When he was shot and killed in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, on May 9, 1864, he became the highest-ranking Union soldier to die in battle.
Though relatively unaggressive, Sedgwick had a reputation for being solid and dependable. General George G. Meade reportedly cried when he heard the news of his death. He grieved not only for his friend, but also because the two had argued the last time they talked. He said, “I wish we could have parted on better terms.” Even Confederate General Robert E. Lee was saddened by his old friend’s death. General Ulysses S. Grant described Sedgwick as someone who “was never at fault when serious work was to be done.” He told his staff that losing the general was worse than losing an entire division, of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers.
What made General Sedgwick’s death especially tragic, was that it could have been avoided. As his soldiers prepared for battle along the left flank of the enemy’s defenses, the general directed the placement of their big guns. As preparations continued, Confederate sharpshooters began firing at him and his soldiers from 3,000 feet away. Staff members and soldiers were ducking for cover, but Sedgwick refused to hide. Not only did he dismiss the threat he also challenged his men, “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?”
His stinging reprimand made many soldiers ashamed, but they continued to flinch and dodge as the sharpshooters continued firing at them. General Sedgwick again scolded, “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” With the remark barely out of his mouth he was fatally shot in the head.
No one can doubt General Sedgwick’s bravery or intelligence, but his judgment, at least in this situation, was obviously flawed. Most of his frightened men were less accomplished and less intelligent than the general, but on that occasion they were right – he was wrong.
This story reminds me of something King Solomon, who was famous for being wise once wrote, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12, NIV) In this case for Sedgwick it was literally true. If we are honest, each of us have had times when we did things our own way with disastrous results. However, I suspect none of us have done things God’s way and had them blow up in our faces. Doing things our way usually creates more problems, while doing things God’s way… well… it just works.
has been a pastor for 37 years, serving five churches, including his current church, The Refuge in St. Louis, which he founded. He and the congregation minister to those who are hurting and do their part to expand God’s kingdom. Tim and his wife Kelly have five children. “A Dose of Truth” which he has written for more than 25 years appears in 13 newspapers. His book, “Thriving in the Storm: Discovering God’s Peace and Perspective in Turbulent Times,” is available from Amazon. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photography is another of his skills. Pastor Tim’s photos may be viewed at https://flickr.com/photos/pentaxpastor.