« PreviousContinue »
proaches one of equal force, which hoists the flag of the declared enemy. In both ships, the Bibles, if the sailors have any, are bundled up in the hammocks, and stowed away in the nettings, to stop the enemy's shot. All thought of the holy precepts contained in them, is suspended. The only thought is to maim, kill, burn, sink and destroy. The chaplains on board each vessel resort to their respective stations, to pray for victory to the same God, through the intercession of the same Redeemer. Broadside after broadside is poured into the contending ships. The scuppers run with blood. Groans, screams, curses, blasphemy are heard above the roar of cannon, and the rattle of musketry. The ships grapple, timbers crack, spars are shivered, the masts fall on the reeling vessels, unheeded by the crew, except when they crush some of them to pieces. Their only object is to thrust their pikes through the hearts of their opponents. The victory is achieved, or perhaps both ships sink to the bottom, carrying down the killed and wounded, victors and vanquished. Or, perhaps, one ship is set on fire, and the crew are driven by the flames to the extreme parts of the vessel. In some such instances, men have been known, as at the victory of Trafalgar, to blow out their own brains, or jump overboard, to prevent their being burnt alive, or swallow immense quantities of ardent spirits to make them insensible to their sufferings. At length the fire reaches the magazine, a tremendous explosion ensues, and the other ship, if not destroyed, is covered with mangled limbs, and pieces of the wreck. These and their own dead they throw overboard, and then indulge in revelling; death, hell, and judgment are mocked, and, with joyful hearts, they bear away for home, to boast of their victory, and tell how many of the enemy they have sent to endless perdition! and a wilole Christian nation gives itself up to diabolical joy and rejoicing!! Pictures of the battle are painted and engraved, and scattered round by hundreds; the enemy are caricatured, ridiculed and insulted; and pride, boasting and self-confidence every where prevail. Does not this injure the moral feelings of a nation? "Ah! but we have had our revenge; and revenge is sweet. Yes, it is sweet to a savage, and a nation becomes savage when indulging in it.
II. WAR DEGRADING TO ITS AGENTS.If war demoralizes a whole nation, much more does it debase those immediately concerned in it. The vices of the camp are proverbial. No one ever looks there for piety or virtue. Dr. Doddridge, in his life of Col. Gardiner, speaks of the camp as a place where the temptations are so many, and the prevalence of the vicious character is so great, that it may seem no inconsiderable praise and felicity to be free from dissolute vice. The few who do escape, should be reckoned heroes indeed, and highly favored of heaven.” That there is in camps a principle called honor, I allow; but that is a principle which enforces practices which are directly contrary to the gospel. There is “honor among thieves;" but who ever thought of finding piety there?
The slavery to which one is subjected the moment he enlists, tends, like all other slavery, to debase the man, and assimilate him to a brute. A soldier's oath is, “ I swear to obey the orders of the officers set over me; so help me God.” No maiter what the command is, whether it violates the law of God, or not, he must submit. Every action, every motion, becomes the object of command. He must' face to the right or left, advance or recede, and be in all things like a machine; and, in fact, he becomes a machine with a single spring, and that is passive obedience. If he is commanded to burn a poor widow's house, he must obey. In vain the widow and the orphan kneel, entreat and weep, orders must be obeyed. If commanded to take her last cow, her last sheaf of wheat, or loaf of bread, he must obey. Habituated to rob and murder those whom the state calls enemies, he easily learns to rob and murder all whom he pleases to call enemies, and acquires a habit of robbery and murder, which makes the next act of robbery and murder more easy, and confirms the habit. No one can habitually violate any one of God's commandments, without acquiring a propensity to violate all the others.
Perhaps the young soldier has been brought up in a pious family, and taught to honor the Sabbath; but, when ordered out on a foraging, a plundering or a fighting party on the Sabbath, he must go. To talk of the laws of God would make him an object of ridicule. War abolishes them all. The British armies are often quartered among Roman Catholic allies; and, however Protestant may be the officers and soldiers, they are sometimes ordered to assist in what they deem the idolatries of popery. Two officers who refused to do this, were cashiered, and the sentence confirmed by the king who virtually said, that, if soldiers were allowed to have a conscience, there would be an end of discipline. Bonaparte boasted, that he could convert his whole army to Mahometanism by a single order.
When men become so degraded, it is not at all astonishing that they fall into every vice and sin without compunction. Accustomed to plunder for the public, they learn to plunder on their own account. Used to bloodshed and violence, life appears a trifle to them. Far from the instructions of the sanctuary, amid companions who make a jest of religion, and glory in despising death and judgment, what shall prevent the soldier from falling into intem perance, profaneness, lasciviousness, and every other vice ? Uni versal experience confirms these remarks. Many have left the paternal roof for the camp comparatively innocent ; few have returned uncorrupted; and the corruption of the army is not, confined to the camp, but spreads its blighting influence through every rank in society. Morals and piety deteriorate as the war advances. A deacon of the church with which I am connected, was a soldier of the revolution. He says that, when he entered the army, they had prayers, at least once a day, and divine service on the Sabbath; but during the last three years of the war, he never heard a prayer or a sermon.
III. WAR A NURSERY OF INTEMPERANCE.—Intemperance is inlet to all other sins. Should we mark in our own history the point at which the custom of war opens the flood-gates of this evil we should say it is in the militia system. True, there has been a partial reform in that system; but the militia is still (1836) the strong hold of intemperance. If the officers of some companies agree not to treat their men with ardent spirits, the number is comparatively small. It is not long since a militia officer of my acquaintance accused me of pressing him too hard on the subject of temperance. •You make no allowance for us, militia officers,' said he. We must treat our soldiers, or we shall be called stingy and niggardly. You may well subscribe to the temperance pledge, for it is no cross for you to take up. I would do so too, if I were not a militia officer.' The gentleman has since resigned his commission, and become an active member of a temperance society. Beside the intoxicating liquors dealt out to the soldiers, the muster-field is surrounded with stalls for the sale of strong drink. The people who go to these musters as spectators, go for the very purpose of excitement, and will of course indulge in the use of exciting liquors. What is to hinder? The bottle is put to their mouths; and there are rum-sellers and drinkers enough to keep them in countenance.
In a time of profound peace, there may be some show of temperance in the army and navy ; but I fear there is, as yet, little in reality. A rendezvous, without intoxicating liquors, would meet with poor success. It is not long since the Secretary of War observed, it would never do to give up the use of ardent spirits in the army and navy ; for, said he, “no one enlists when he is sober." I have not heard that sutlers are forbidden to sell rum to the soldiers; and I once heard one say, he sold a hundred gills of rum a day to the soldiers of his company, which I believe did not number over fifty men, and this beside their regular allowance. In a time of profound peace, there may be some effect produced in a small army like that of the United States, in the temperance reform; but, should war break out, especially a civil war, all the barriers against intemperance would be broken down. Rendezvous, with all their temptations, would be opened in all our villages; the double allowance of grog, and the mixed rum and gunpowder would again be dealt out before a battle ; and floods of intemperance would again flow over our land, and sweep away all our temperance societies.
Would victories be celebrated with cold water? Has there ever been such a thing ? Has the victory of New Orleans, though achieved so long ago, ever been celebrated with cold water ? If so, I have not heard of it. True, some of our independence dinners go off with cold water; but how few! not one perhaps in a thousand! The Fourth of July, however, is coming to be more like a civil than a military festival.
Our military balls are, also, great inlets to intemperance and dissipation; and the visits which our companies of young and newly feathered heroes make to our principal cities, to show off their fine dresses and ornaments, are more like the triumphs of Bacchus than of Mars. The quantities of intoxicating liquors drank on these occasions, are absolutely incredible! I have been informed by a young cadet, of the quantity used on one occasion of this kind; but Í dare not mention it, for fear I should not be believed. Must not such influences greatly obstruct the temperance reform, and create a fearful increase of intemperance ?
IV. INFLUENCE OF WAR ON THE SABBATH._“War acknowledges no Sabbath,” said a militia officer to a subaltern who demurred at serving notices of a training on Sunday. I believe more battles have been fought by Christians, so called, on the holy Sabbath, than on any other day. I never heard of but one general in modern times who refused to give battle on the Sabbath lest he should break God's holy law, and he was a Roman Catholic. That war totally disregards the Sabbath, and abolishes the fourth commandment, is too notorious to require proof. So habituated do soldiers become to its violation in a time of actual war, that they carry their disregard of it through every thing relating to war in a time of peace. Men-of-war are launched, and fitted out on the Sabbath; and so accustomed are we to the sight, that what would be considered very wicked on board a merchant-man, is thought nothing of on board ships of war. More duty is demanded of sailors on the Sabbath, than is common on other days of the week. The decks must be scrubbed, the boats manned, and every thing put in order for company on the Sabbath, which is usually much more numerous on that day than on any other day in the week. In garrisons they have the Sunday-dress-parade of military foppery, colors, and military evolutions, with more music than is usual on other days, to please the gaping multitude who are released from labor and care, only that they may spend the day in dissipation, idleness and revelry. Sunday is the greatest of all days in Europe for militia musters, as well as the parade of the regular army, because they had rather give God's day than any other. We have not yet arrived at that pitch in this country, for we have as yet seen but little of actual war; but our militia reviews are frequently on Monday, so that a part of Sunday is often employed in preparing arms, and resorting to the place of display.
Our naval officers make no scruple of exchanging salutes on the Sabbath, or visiting naval stations; and not long since the inhabitants of one of our seaports, while at church, were alarmed at the report of cannon, fired in honor of the arrival of the navy commissioners at the navy yard in the vicinity. If these officers had not been used to treat the Sabbath with contempt, they might just as well have visited the station on Monday; but it is not likely that they ever thought of the impropriety of their conduct. Commodore Porter, in the journal of his cruise in the Pacific Ocean, published at the close of the late war, calls the religious observance of the Sabbath “a vulgar Protestant prejudice.” In time of war, fortifications are erected on the Sabbath, and thousands go to work on them, and exhibit their punch and patriotism on the Lord's day, who are seen there on no other day of the week.
The revolutionary war gave a severe blow to the strict observance of the Sabbath, which was practised by our pilgrim forefathers, from which it has never recovered, and never will, until the custom of war is banished from Christendom. The last war followed up that blow; and hence we see so great a neglect of God's holy day. The desecration of the Sabbath does not stop when war stops ; but continues from generation to generation. If religion, without the Sabbath, would soon be supplanted by infidelity, and a general corruption of morals, is it not strange, that pious men, ardently devoted to a better observance of the Sabbath, should be blind to the greatest cause of the evil they deplore ?
Nor will any provisions made for the religious instruction of soldiers, prevent this evil. Even in own Military Academy at West Point, “ the whole amount of the religious services and religious influence of each week, favorable to the institution,” said one of its friends in 1835, “is contained within the compass of one sermon, and one exercise of public worship upon the forenoon of the Lord's day. There is no daily public prayer. The Sabbath is officially recognized as a day of study. It was not long ago, that this day was selected by authority as the time for breaking up the customary two months' encampment, and then, with tents struck, and baggage regularly bestowed, marching into barracks. If, after this, any one should inquire into the actual religious feeling prevalent in the institution, he would find the religiously disposed cadets to be few in number, and ready to tell him, if inquired of, that their seriousness meets with but little countenance from the body of their fellows, and that a decided disbelief of the Christian religion is a fashionable sentiment under the form of Atheism, but more commonly of Deism. We were informed, not long since, that, in a particular department,—the immediate military command of the cadets,-a majority of the officers were infidels or sceptics. The President of the Board, an officer of the highest rank in the United States army, having choice of the day to receive the honors due to his superior command, chose Sunday; and that same officer in 1826, when he visited the post, in his capacity of inspector of the academy, and having at that time almost his choice of days on which to receive the honors of the post, again chose the Sabbath. Grieved at the selection, the chaplain petitioned for a change; but no change was granted. He remonstrated; but the remonstrance was unnoticed; and on Sunday morning, with the march of a battalion, amid the roll of drums, and the firing of artillery, a mortal man received from his fellow mortals his measured perquisite of sound and circumgyration, before going up to the house of public worship. The chaplain's text was appropriate to the circumstances,
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.' » The chaplain soon left; and the kind as well as amount of religion among the soldiers, may be inferred not only from the preceding statements, but from the reply of an American officer to a clergyman who asked the necessity of inspections on the Sabbath :-“O sir," said he, ." if you dispense with Sunday inspections, you would break up all the religion (!) of the army."