Easter Sunday, one hundred, fifty-two years ago, March 31, 1861, there had been no American Civil War. The firing on Fort Sumter would occur in less than two weeks (April 12). People of the time still hoped- people still prayed- for peace on that Easter.

More than a year later, Easter came again on April 20, 1862. The telegraph and the newspaper allowed Americans to know that something awful had occured a few days earlier at a place called Shiloh. The amount of bloodshed at Shiloh shocked, dismayed and even angered Americans, but then they had not yet seen the Seven Days' Battles in Virginia that would give rise to Robert E. Lee. They had seen the amateurish First Battle of Manassas but not the professional Second. What made the American Civil War horrible was still largely in the future.

It is interesting to note that the city of New Orleans fell to northern forces a few days after Easter, 1862. In a culture that assured itself that as a people, they, the southerners, were fulfilling God's will (the north did this just as much), the loss of so famous and grand an American city as New Orleans (I think of this when I remember how many Republican politicians could not be convinced to help after Katrina) was met with self-criticism and self-doubt. Many ascribed the loss to punishment for slaveowners who mistreated their slaves.

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On Easter Sunday, 1863 (April 5), people went to church knowing, but oddly not internalizing, that great battles did not end wars. The east had seen Antietam and Fredricksburg. The west had seen Perryville and Stone's River. And somewhere in the west, Grant's army was on the move but the battles of Jackson and Champion Hill that would effectively seal the fate of Vicksburg did not happen until May. Chancellorsville and Gettysburg were still sleepy little places.

On Easter Sunday, 1864 (March 27), the north had gone many months since its celebration of victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Mobile Bay and Chattanooga (the disaster at Chickamauga stung but had been assuaged). The south had suffered losses in great battles but had not lost the war. The great strategic question was still unanswered: could the north win the war? Could the north defeat decisively the southern armies? Could the north conquer the south? In the south, and in many places in the north, that question would remain not only open but an opportunity until it would be answered, once and for all, by the northern presidential election in November. On Easter Sunday, 1864, the hope in the south was simply not to lose before that election. Conversely, the Lincoln White House knew it had to win before the election.

The battles in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor and the rest had not happened yet. Atlanta was still a southern city.

Thousands, and perhaps millions, of people have memorized the Gettysburg Address delivered on November 19, 1863, and there is no question that it is a poetic and political masterpiece. Nevertheless, Abraham Lincoln himself saw his Second Inaugural Speech as his testament and defining statement of his legacy (feel free to consider the Second Obama inauguration). Delivered on March 4, 1865, no one could be sure of the final act of the Civil War. Lee's army still existed as did other armies of southern men.

And Lincoln said,

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

One would make war rather than let the nation survive.
The other would accept war rather than let it perish.
Each looked for an en easier triumph and a result less fundamental and astounding.
The prayers of both could not be answered.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Every contemporary of Lincoln's recorded the remarkable loss of self by Lincoln, physically and personally, by April of 1865. He was only fifty-six years old. He'd lost a tremendous amount of weight, his hair color was distinctly fading and the man, himself, was disappearing. What was left was The President.

And on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, preachers of all religions who were reasonably connected to the nearest telegraph had to rewrite their Easter sermons. Whatever they had planned to say was inadequate, useless, off-point.

The celebration of the sacrifice, and in this I would include the celebration of freedom from bondage (Pesach), had to include the newest sacrifice.

The President had died on April 15.

Originally posted to algebrateacher on Sun Mar 31, 2013 at 05:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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