Late summer, 1863, and the Confederate high command is reeling from losses at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Heretofore the western theater has been “the adopted red-headed step-child” when compared to the action in Virginia. James Longstreet, Lee’s “old war horse” has been itching to prove himself in an independent command. Though he does not quite get his wish, he and his troops are detached from the Army of Northern Virginia and sent to Georgia to join up with General Braxton Bragg and his Army of Tennessee. What follows is one of the first troop movements of this magnitude by rail. Peter Cozzens in his book This Terrible Sound describes the action upon Longstreet’s arrival in Georgia:
Longstreet and the lieutenant colonels passed the afternoon on the platform, waiting for their horses to arrive on a later train. It chugged into the station at 4:00 pm, and the three quickly saddled up and started out on the Ringgold road in the general direction of Chickamauga Creek… it was well after nightfall when they came to the east bank of Chickamauga Creek. A picket challenged them from the opposite side. “Whom comes there?” “Friends,” Longstreet replied ambiguously. The pickets were skeptical. After a brief parley, one of the lieutenant colonels requested the pickets to identify their command. They replied with the number of their brigade and division. “As Southern brigades were called for their commanders more than by their numbers, we concluded that these friends were the enemy,” wrote Longstreet. The general tried to bluff his way out of danger. “Let us ride down a little way to find a better crossing,” he said loud enough for the pickets to hear. The trio galloped off, trailed by a poorly aimed volley from the startled pickets. (The Battle of Chickamauga: This Terrible Sound by Peter Cozzens, p. 299)
Jesus, when sending out the 12 disciples says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” What does this mean? According my study Bible, “The serpent was the symbol of shrewdness and intellectual cunning (Gen. 3: 1; Ps. 58: 4–5), while the dove was emblematic of simple innocence (Hos. 7: 11).”
It seems to me that our culture sometimes portrays Christians as brainless followers, who have divorced logic from their emotions. While the context here is about spreading the good news, I believe Jesus expects us to use our brains and be shrewd when necessary, yet with compassion and kindness.
Longstreet and his men had to be exhausted and it must have been tempting to cross the Chickamauga Creek, enter the camp and, as officers, be waited on and cared for after long days of travel. However, using shrewd-discretion they escaped certain capture and helped win the battle of Chickamauga the next day.
We’ll do well to follow Longstreet’s example in our day-to-day dealings with people.