Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Coincidences or Acts of Divine Intervention? Accounts of the Bible Saving Soldiers on the Battlefield

Miraculous things have happened over time, in regard to individuals surviving catastrophic weather events, automobile accidents, ship-wrecks, or horrendous conditions on a battlefield. Some term these occurences simply as coincidences, or the result of luck, while other individuals sincerely believe that the 'Hand of Providence,' or some Heavenly power, literally reached out and 'snatched' them from the proverbial 'jaws of death,' when they should have died or been killed like many others.

During the famous Battle of Chapultepec, fought during the Mexican-American War on September 13, 1847 in Mexico, Lt. John Henry Jackson, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, serving in the Ninth Infantry, USA regular forces, was shot in the chest. However, the bullet or ball, according to an account published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, for November 25, 1847, glanced off, then "whizzed upon the ground for a great distance, and must have killed him upon the spot, but for a fortunate incident--he carried in his vest pocket a small copy of the Bible, a precious volume, the gift of his sister, just before leaving his New England home. The ball struck the book and made a deep hole in it, but it proved as good a breastwork on the occasion as the cotton bags did at New Orleans to the troops of Gen. Jackson, and saved the life of the owner. Thus, the sister, in the presentation of this sacred and timely token of affection, has been the means of saving the life of a brother, in one of the bloodiest battle fields in the valley of Mexico... Both the book and the ball...made a deep impression upon each other, at the first introduction, and will probably not soon part company."

John Henry Jackson's commanding officer, Col. Trueman Bishop Ransom from Vermont, would die an heroic death during the same Chapultepec battle, while Jackson, like other Mexican War veterans, would later serve in the American Civil War, as a Lt. Col. of the Third Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. During this conflict he was wounded during the siege of 'Ft. Wagner, South Carolina' in July of 1863, then later discharged from military service, but did not pass away until April 10, 1890 at Boston, Massachusetts.

During WWI, a nineteen year old soldier from New Castle, Pennsylvania, William R. Wilson, was serving in Europe when he was shot by enemy fire. As the Associated Press article stated, once his comrades carried him off the battlefield they found, "that he was suffering only from a flesh wound in the breast, thanks to his Bible and the trench mirror, through which the bullet passed." Wilson normally carried his Bible "in his left breast pocket," which had "deflected a German sharpshooter's bullet from his heart." He was also shot in the arm. Wilson commented how he was going to, "present the Bible to the United States as soon as he is discharged from the hospital."

Since this year marks the 150th Anniversary or 'Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War,' it is from our nation's most famous internal conflict, that we can read numerous recorded accounts, of soldiers being saved by their 'Testaments' or Bibles.

According to an article in the Philadelphia paper, Forney's War Press, for November 8, 1862, the American Bible Society and other auxiliary organizations, had been responsible for the printing and distribution of over 175,000 volumes (Bibles or Testaments), stating how "a large portion of these books are distributed in the army, among paroled and rebel prisoners, the sick and wounded in hospitals, and among the colored people."

The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin recorded an account of Captain Eli Daugherty (or Dougherty), of Co. 'K,' 93rd PA Regiment of Infantry, who was wounded during the 'Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia,' on May 31, 1862. He was "struck but escaped in a most singular manner. He had upon his person a gold watch and a Bible. The watch was shattered, and the ball passed nearly through the Bible, inflicting only a slight wound, leaving its mark on this passage, "I charge thee, therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead, at his appearing, and his kingdom, preach the word." The newspaper account went on to suggest that Capt. Daugherty was a 'chivalrous' person, since the sacred book of scriptures had been given to Capt. Daugherty "by a Lady, and his wearing it next to his heart is undoubtedly the cause of that organ continuing to beat to day."

The Confederate or 'Rebel' forces weren't immune to such accounts as the above, since a North Carolinian private, George P. Piner, from Carteret County, of Co. 'A,' Twenty-Seventh North Carolina Infantry, had something similar happen to him at the 'Battle of Bristoe Station, Virginia,' on October 14th, 1863. He went into the engagement, "with a small Testament in his breast pocket. A ball struck the book, and penetrated as far as the Fifth Chapter of Matthew, twenty-first and twenty-second verses...The verses read:
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgement and who-soever is angry with his brother withoust cause shall be in danger of judgement." It was related of this incident and verses, that "that Yankee ball was like the Devil---it had to turn its course when met by scriptural opposition."
Evidently Private Piner wasn't carrying his Testament later in the War, for he was "mortally wounded in the head" at the 'Battle of Cold Harbor, Virginia, on June 3, 1864.

Even the authoritative, multi-volume account of the Civil War, as reported by its officers, or the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. XII, recorded that at the 'Battle of Kernstown, Virginia,' (March 3, 1862), a Captain J.P. Thom, of the First Battalion, Virginia Infantry, Co. 'C,' "proceeded with the men under his command...that the firing on both sides was exceedingly hot...that soon after...he received a ball against his left breast, which was prevented from penetrating his body by a small copy of the New Testament in a pocket of his shirt, and one through the fleshy part of the palm of his right hand, and fell...." (p.407)

Mr. George Hay Stuart of the U.S. Christian Commission, gave examples after the Civil War of various soldiers being saved by the Testament like those accounts recorded above. He added how, "Some wives have them with the blood-stains on the leaves. I saw one where the ball had stopped at a verse that struck the man, and which proved the means of his conversion. He was killed afterward, but his wife preserved the Testament. I said to her, 'I would like to own that Testament---What will you take for it?' 'Oh,' she said, 'There isn't gold enough in the country to buy it from me." (See, Christianity in the War, (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen, and Haffelfinger, 1872: 378-379).

Suffice it to say, that there are hundreds of recorded accounts such as those mentioned above, dating from the Civil War era, many of which may be found in the collections of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.