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Comforting a Grieving Nation

This week a 147 peopled were massacred at Kenya’s Garissa University College. On Good Friday, the Archbishop of the nation’s Anglican Church published a powerful and moving pastoral letter that concludes :

“While governments have a vital role, even more important are the hearts and minds of ordinary people. Let us covenant together before God that we will never ever surrender our nation or our faith in Christ to those who glory in death and destruction. We will not be intimidated because we know and trust in the power of the cross, God’s power to forgive our sins, to turn death into the gate of glory and to make us his children for ever.”

To a Soldier’s Wife: “I am lying mortally wounded”


Joshua_Chamberlain_-_Brady-HandyJoshua Chamberlain is best remembered as the hero of the battle of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. Today I want to remember him as the author of a remarkable letter.

A Bowdoin College professor, Chamberlain possessed no formal military experience when he enlisted after the outbreak of the Civil War. However, he proved himself a quick study in the art of leadership, rapidly rising to the rank of colonel of the 20th Maine.

The young leader established himself an able field commander. His clear thinking, personal courage, and command presence under fire were critical in repulsing the Alabama 15th’s attempt to take Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. Had the Confederates succeeded, leaving the Union left flank exposed, the withdrawal of the northern army from Gettysburg would have been all but certain.

A year later, on June 18, 1864, Chamberlain suffered a severe abdominal wound at Petersburg while leading a charge that he had strongly urged General Grant to forgo. The primitive state of medical care left him with almost no hope of recovery. The next day, believing his death imminent and in excruciating pain, he penned this beautiful letter to his wife:

“My darling wife I am lying mortally wounded the doctors think, but my mind & heart are at peace. Jesus Christ is my al-sufficient savior. I go to him. God bless & keep & comfort you, precious one. You have been a precious wife to me. To know & love you makes life & death beautiful. Cherish the darlings & give my love to all the dear ones. Do not grieve too much for me. We shall all soon meet. Live for the children. Give my dearest love to Father, Mother & Sallie & John. Oh how happy to feel yourself forgiven. God bless you evermore precious precious one. Ever yours, Lawrence.”

The wounds Chamberlain suffered at Petersburg led directly to his death – 49 years later on February 24, 1914! In the meantime, he continued to teach, eventually becoming president of Bowdoin College and serving a four-term governor of Maine. He was believed to be the last Civil War veteran to die of wounds received during the conflict.

A Father’s Plea: Get an Honest Husband

John Adams, who would become our second president,  travelled across Europe in behalf of the young nation. Even when separated by ocean, he and his beloved wife, Abigail, stayed in touch by letter, expressing their mutual admiration and devotion, offering commentary on the major political issues of the day, and diligently tending to the pressing concerns of family life. Letters took months to arrive, so much consideration was given to their composition. Each thought had to be weighed carefully and expressed clearly, every word just right.

In a 1782 letter Abigail informed him of their 17-year-old daughter Nabby’s romantic interest in a promising young lawyer, Royall Tyler, the talented son of an affluent family. Gifted with a sharp mind, he became valedictorian of his class at Harvard. By all accounts, a profitable career lay before him

But as Tyler and Nabby’s relationship blossomed, Abigail’s concerns grew.  The young lawyer’s reputation for moral recklessness disturbed her. Expressing her doubts, she confessed to John, “I feel the want of your presence and advice.”

Abigail’s news troubled John, but he was not caught off guard. A wise father, he sought earlier to warn his daughter of the dangers of making a foolish choice for a husband. He wrote:

“Daughter! Get you an honest man for a husband, and keep him honest. No matter whether he is rich, provided he be independent. Regard the honor and moral character of the man more than all other circumstances. Think of no greatness but that of the soul, no other riches but those of the heart. An honest, sensible humane man, above all the littleness of vanity and extravagances of imagination, laboring to do good rather than be rich, to be useful rather than make a show, living in modest simplicity clearly within his means and free from debts and obligations, is really the most respectable man in society, makes himself an all about him most happy.”

Christian parents echo John Adam’s concern. A renewed moral character is the fruit of our salvation in Christ, and we should prize godly character in others even as we pursue it ourselves. And at no time are questions of character more important than when a man and woman contemplate marriage.


For more information about the relationship between Royall Tyler and Nabby Adams, see:

David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 288-291.

Margaret A. Hogan an C. James Taylor, eds., My Dearest Friends: Letters of Abigail and John Adams (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2007), 270-277.