Sandie Pendleton sighed and sat up on his small cot. The night air was cool, but he had to reach up and wipe away the beads of sweat on his forehead. Running a hand through his hair, he stared at the plain wall of his tent and let out a shaky breath. Most nights he was able to go to sleep without lingering on thoughts of all the things he had seen. Not tonight.
Every time he closed his eyes, it was all before him again. He could hear the explosions, shouts, and screams. He could see men that he had known being killed in front of him. He could taste the smoke. He could see the countless dead lying on the ground, their blood staining the soil. Antietam. The name echoed in his mind like a death toll. So many men had died. Thousands of fathers, sons, and brothers, all fighting for their freedom and their homes, would never see those homes again. He couldn't forget it, couldn't get it out of his mind. And he couldn't sleep.
With another sigh, Sandie stood up. Crossing his arms against the cool breeze, he ducked out of his tent and began walking. Passing row after row of tents, he kept going until he was just outside the camp. He looked up at the stars, taking slow, deep breaths. Trying to think of anything besides the war around him, he let his mind wander. The stars brought it back to Virginia. Back home he and his family had loved to sit outside on warm evenings, watch the stars come out, and sing together. Sandie frowned. He could hardly remember the last time he'd had the opportunity to sing.
Shifting his position slightly, he looked down at the ground. The words of one of his father's favorite hymns suddenly came to his mind. Acting on an unexplainable urge, Sandie quietly began to sing.
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing.
Drawing in a shaky breath, he closed his eyes, focusing on the words that he sang.
Our helper He amidst the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
With every line, his voice grew stronger and louder. Drawing power and encouragement from the words, he continued, forgetting all his surroundings.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe-
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Sandie ended and stood quietly, thinking about the song. He looked up at the sky again with a small smile on his face. Then footsteps crunched on the ground behind him. Surprised, he spun around.
"General Jackson!" Sandie swallowed, trying to think of something to say. "Sir, I'm -- uh, I'm sorry. If I disturbed you--"
The general quickly put up his hand and waved away Sandie's explanation. "Mr. Pendleton, do not concern yourself with me. The singing of such a wonderful hymn could never disturb me, especially when it is so well sung. You may have woke me," he added with a wide smile, "but you did not disturb me."
Sandie tried to smile past his embarrassment. Unsure of what to say, he looked down. General Jackson, however, didn't seem to be waiting for an explanation. He stood by Sandie's side and looked up at the heavens, a calm smile on his face. For a few moments they stood in silence.
"Do you know the second verse to that hymn you were singing, Mr. Pendleton?" the general asked suddenly.
Sandie shook his head. "A little, sir, but not well enough to sing, I'm afraid."
General Jackson nodded. "The second verse is one of my favorites." He cleared his throat. Softly, he began to speak again, his voice rhythmic but entirely sincere as he recited. "'Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God's own choosing. Doth ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He – Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle!'"
Bowing his head, Sandie nodded without speaking, trying to hide his sudden emotion. The powerful words, spoken so confidently by his general, brought a lump to his throat that he couldn't speak past.
General Jackson looked over at him and nodded understandingly. "Sandie," he said gently, "there are nights for every soldier when he cannot sleep. There are times that everything threatens to overwhelm us. This is when we must turn to God; He is the only One Who can give us peace and also strength. He is Lord Sabaoth, the 'Lord of hosts.' He is our Commander, and He will always give us victory!"
Sandie looked into his general's eyes and nodded. He'd known Thomas Jackson for quite some time, and as long as he'd known him he'd respected him, especially for his unwavering faith.
"Come with me, Mr. Pendleton," General Jackson said with a smile, clapping his hand on Sandie's shoulder. "You see, I've had an idea."
No answer was given to Sandie's questioning look. The two men walked back toward the camp together, and the general insisted that they go into his tent. Once inside, Jackson rummaged through some of his things until he pulled out a worn blue book. Looking closer, Sandie realized that it was a hymnbook.
"You see, Mr. Pendleton, I was planning on reading through the songs in this hymnbook over time. There is so much truth and comfort to be found in hymns. Tonight I began to think that you might help me with this, sir."
"How can I help, General?"
"I am not a singer," the general admitted with a chuckle, "but I should like to sing through these songs, rather than just reading them. Since you have demonstrated tonight what a fine singer you are, perhaps you would help me. I was wondering if you would like to work your way through this hymnal with me, Mr. Pendleton."
"Of course you will have to bear with my mistakes," General Jackson added.
"Sir, I would be honored to sing through a hymnal with you," Sandie answered. "Thank you, General."