Draft2

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CHAPTER 2

In the days of the Great Rebellion when Mark Lange, was but a deacon of tender years among the Brethren, the Confederacy undertook the first invasion of those border states which remained in the Union. Being preternaturally bold, the commanding officer of the Army of Northern Virginoia dared to divide his forces in the field. In this he thought to perplex the opposing Army of the Potomac as to the dis- position of his army. But a copy of his orders were found lying on the road by Indiana foot soldiers, wrapped around cigars. The orders were sent to the federal commander and the handwriting was authenticated.

With this stroke of luck the Union army moved quickly. A less cautious general might have destroyed the rebel army in detail. Still, the plan to march further north into Pennsylvania was abandoned in favor of reinforcing the gains made within Maryland alone. The strategy was to forestall future federal aggression across the river into Old Domin- ion. Both armies were set for a collision within the sight of a people who were pacifists as a deeply-held article of faith.

Blood would be spilled even within the whitewashed walls of the meet- inghouse where Mark Lange's congregation met to pray. And if the southern army sought sympathizers among the people of the state of Maryland, they would most certainly find none among the German Breth- ren faithful, for they held that owning men as one would own a horse or a mule was sufficient cause to be delivered over to the Evil One.

Still, they came, and the right flank of the Confederate army was an- chored on the creek where Lange baptized the youth. These, having reached an age to validly embrace the faith for their own, were im- mersed three times in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In this Lange believed the Brethren obeyed the words of Christ more faithfully than did the Lutherans. It was known that sect performed baptisms with a sprinkling rite, even upon newborn infants, and if the Baptists avoided that heterodoxy they still baptized adults with only a single immersion. For all their pains less uncharitable Christians called Lange's group the 'Dunkers'.

Muskets fell like two waves of dominoes atop stone walls on the Blue and Gray sides of the quiet creek. When the rifled barrels hit the horizontal they fired, burning eyes with the pungent smoke of spent powder. The walls bent to become the rails of a stone bridge. Union and rebel soldiers converged on foot, shouting as they merged. The fighting shifted to bayonet thrusts and finally fisticuffs. The feder- als had the greater initial momentum and nearly reached the other side of the bridge before a rebel rally bounced them back.

The boys in blue trod in reverse over a layer of bodies one deep. Some were dead, others writhed with broken bones or lead balls lodged in their innards. A few of the fallen had survived the battle of Shiloh, where the war attained a high but stable plateau of savagery.

A tube loaded with canister shot was lined up on the long axis of the bridge and mowed down counterattacking rebels like grass to form a second layer of bodies. Some of the fallen boys in gray had survived the artillery hell at Malvern Hill during the Seven Days.

Two guns were set up on the Confederate side of the creek upstream. One fired bursting shells that maimed the Union gunners and another fired several rounds of solid shot. The Union gun became a pile of splinters and dented steel. Then followed another Rebel attack. The men in gray gained most of the bridge, which had become an abattoir.

A colonel on the Union side was shot, but to the wonder of his men he stood up again with a Minie ball lodged in his Bible. With this appar- ent divine sanction the colonel led yet another attack. But alas! The only effect was to make the hill of twisting bodies on the bridge that much higher. Men standing on the pile swapped empty muskets for loaded ones handed up to them like water in a fire bucket brigade.

But at length the Confederates began to run low on gunpowder. This stark fact was brought to the attention of the lieutenant colonel leading them. He saw the bridge was lost so he switched to saving his two pieces of artillery. He ordered a pullback with fresh troops fir- ing in a rearguard action to cover their retreat.

The federal general commanding the attack on the bridge saw the re- treating gray backs and ordered a lieutenant to report to the command- ing officer that the bridgehead had been secured. But the junior offi- cer saw the bridge was stacked with bodies and refused to desecrate the dead. Instead the messenger dropped to the creek bed and splashed across on foot, bypassing all the carnage on the bridge. In so doing the officer suffered little hardship. After all, as the local farmers well knew, the water in the creek was only knee deep.

The battle was not conclusive but at the end of the day the Army of Northern Virginia found itself surrounded on three sides by a bend of the Potomac River, with only one safe crossing point, and on the fourth side by the Army of the Potomac. They were bottled up. But all that night and all the next day the federal commanding general watched from the long slope rising north of the river and refused to advance, even with a two-to-one numerical advantage. Were the numbers ten-to- one he would yet wire Washington to say he didn't have enough men.

When renewed battle did not materialize a truce for the purpose of exchanging the wounded went into effect at sundown. Overnight, First and Second Corps crossed back over the river into Virginia. Yet still the Army of the Potomac did not pursue, much to the annoyance of President Lincoln.

The meetinghouse of the Brethren had been pressed into service as a field hospital for the Unionarmy. Dried blood stained the nterior walls, only to be overlaid with sprays of new blood. One doctor sedat- ed men with ether or chloroform while another doctor sawed off their limbs and threw them into a pile. A messenger arrived by horse and ordered the doctors to get the wounded out on hoof or wagon, as the army was pulling back to Boonsboro. The pile of amputated limbs was set ablaze. Horse-drawn ambulances carted the wounded away to the north and east. Every bump in the road elicited screams from the men inside. No one who witnessed the convoy of pain and the carnage that was left behind would again say they craved the glories of war, if before the battle they spoke thus. Certainly none of the Brethren did.

Three days prior, when they first heard the sound of artillery on South Mountain like a distant thunderstorm, the Brethren thought it prudent to move their work horses by circuitous routes to a place far away from the men of either army who might like to "borrow" them. Upon their poor leftover mules they rode out, when it seemed safe, to bury the dead, and for this task the United States paid a dollar for every man they laid to rest. There was a rumor that one fellow, not of the Brethren, took the money and dropped sixty men into a dry well.

Many hundreds of bodies lay near the house of prayer of the Brethren. They found their labors to be a hateful thing that, when they were repeated to their great horror in Pennsylvania, led to the Final Rites that marked the Church of Green Dome quite apart from all other faith assemblies. But most bitter of all was seeing their beloved meeting- house riddled with holes made by bullets and even solid cannon shot, and how the interior had come to resemble a slaughterhouse. The struc- ture was sound, but some prayed for it to collapse, deeming that a mercy.

The Long Table was covered with blood, and both the east door, where the menfolk entered, and the south door, where the womenfolk entered, had been removed from the hinges and converted into two more operating tables. The large and expensive Bible gifted to the congregation by Daniel Miller was gone. Chief elder David Long, forty-two years of age, inspected the meetinghouse thoroughly and said, "Do not grieve overmuch, my friends. We shall bury the dead, and make our meeting- house like new. If God is willing, soon all this will be but an unhap- py memory."

To this Mark Lange objected, saying, "Nothing will stop the same thing from happening once more, Brother David. Virginia lies just over yon- der river and last month there was a second battle of Manassas. This is an easy spot for the rebel army to get across the water."

When Elder David Long pressed back Mark told him they should build anew at his uncle's farm north in Pennsylvania. He remarked that their horses had already been moved there to guard against thieves. But Da- vid said, "It wonders me why you are in such a hurry, brother Lange."

To this he had no answer, for he had thought the battle itself was sufficient argument. Then Elder Jacob Reichard said, "For a decision of this import we must let the Lord make his will known. So let us pray on it, each one of us."

And there is no prayer better than work.

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