“A soul without watchfulness, is like a city without walls, exposed to the inroads of all its enemies.” –Thomas Secker
Preparing to attack Corinth, Mississippi, the United States Army bivouacked alongside the Tennessee River, on the night of April 5, 1862. Not anticipating an attack from the Confederates, the unsuspecting Union generals took few precautions to defend their camps. This was a mistake, for within two miles, 44,000 enemy troops were poised for battle.
Union pickets tried repeatedly to warn their superiors of the impending danger, but the contemptuous generals refused to listen. Discounting an eye witness report, General William Tecumseh Sherman sarcastically rebuffed a junior officer, “You militia officers get scared too easily.” Later he ridiculed Colonel Jesse Appler, “There is no enemy nearer than Corinth!”/1
Likewise, General Benjamin Prentiss showed little concern for the situation. Refusing to allow Colonel Everett Peabody to redeploy his brigade into a defensive position, Prentiss casually told his officers not to be alarmed. Disregarding orders, Peabody decided to take matters into his own hands and ordered his men to engage the enemy./2
At dawn, thousands upon thousands of men in brown and gray uniforms marched across an open cotton field. With battle lines overlapping and banners flying, the sudden appearance of the Confederates was a terrifying sight to Peabody’s small patrol. Fortunately for those asleep, Peabody’s vigilance served as a warning. Awaken by musket fire, the entire Union encampment found itself in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War./3
Thousands of years before the United States was embroiled in this war, the prophet Ezekiel served as a watchman for the house of Israel (Ezekiel 1:1-3). He warned his countrymen that they were in danger of destruction. Likewise, he warned them to warn their wicked enemies (Ezekiel 3:16-21), for in doing so, they would save themselves (Ezekiel 33:1-20).
What’s going on in camp? While others are saying all is well, shall we not keep a vigilant watch? Christian, are you up for the task?
“Peal out the watchword! silence it never!
Song of our spirits, rejoicing and free;
Peal out the watchword! loyal forever,
King of our lives, by Thy grace we will be.”
1/ Larry J. Daniel, Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War (New York City, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997) 131-142.
2/ Wiley Sword, Shiloh: Bloody April (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside Bookshop, 1988) 137-140.
3/ Carlton L. Smith, Peabody at Shiloh (Harvard, Massachusetts: Tahanto Trail, 1983) 22-24.
Colonel Peabody saved the army from certain destruction.