Grace under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War

Grace under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War

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Grace Under Fire is an extraordinary, moving record of the importance of religion and spirituality to troops and their families from the American Revolution through the fighting in Iraq. Reflecting the writers' thoughts, feelings, and questions about matters of faith, this correspondence offers a fascinating window on how individuals have endured the trials of separation, the fear of battle, the agony of loss, and the stresses of homecoming.

The letters capture the spirit, the humor, and the courage of men and women in uniform. There are riveting accounts of battles, anecdotes describing lighter moments shared with comrades, touching inquiries about sweethearts and families, as well as more somber and philosophical musings about life and death. In a brief letter to his pastor in Pennsylvania, a World War I private asks probing questions about the role of God in war. A lieutenant serving in Holland during World War II describes the profound effect of a Yom Kippur service he attends. In a letter he considers almost a confession, a U.S. Marine writes to his priest back home about the opening weeks of Operation Iraqi Freedom and expresses his joy at helping Shi'a Muslims regain the freedom to worship after decades of religious oppression.

Each piece of correspondence is introduced with a note explaining who wrote it, the circumstances under which it was written, and, if it is known, the fate of the writer. Although these letters and e-mails were all written in times of war, they transcend the subject of armed conflict. Anyone going through a difficult moment in their life will find inspiration and courage in these powerful and insightful words.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400133734
Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date: 03/01/2007
Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 6.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Andrew Carroll is the founder of the Legacy Project ( and the editor of several bestselling books, including Letters of a Nation.

Patrick Lawlor has recorded over three hundred audiobooks in just about every genre. He has been an Audie Award finalist multiple times and has garnered several AudioFile Earphones Awards, a Publishers Weekly Listen-Up Award, and many Library Journal and Kirkus starred audio reviews.

Read an Excerpt

The American Revolution

James Williams, Serving in the War of Independence, Tells His Son Daniel That He Is Off Fighting in Defense of Their “Rights and Liberties”

Few letters by U.S. troops who fought in the American Revolution exist today. Compared to other major conflicts in our nation's history, not as many letters were written; there was no postal system to speak of, paper was scarce, and a significant number of soldiers were illiterate. Unfortunately, of the letters that were sent from the front lines (and they were usually hand-delivered through an informal network), many were lost or damaged over time. But what is remarkable about the relatively small number of letters that have survived is how similar the sentiments are to those expressed in correspondence written today. The language is much more formal, but the emotions are very much the same. On June 12, 1779, thirtyeightyearold James Williams of Hanover, Virginia, penned the following letter to his son Daniel, explaining to him that he is now the man of the house and to place his trust in God.

Dear Son:

This is the first chance I have had to write you. I am, by the cause of Providence, in the field in defence of my country. When I reflect on the matter, I feel myself distracted on both hands by this thought, that in my old age I should be obliged to take the field in defence of my rights and liberties, and that of my children. God only knows that it is not of choice, but of necessity, and from the consideration that I had rather suffer anything than lose my birthright, and that of my children.
When I come to lay downin the field, stripped of all the pleasure that my family connections afford me at home—surrounded by an affectionate wife and eight dear children, and all the blessings of life—when I reflect on my own distress, I feel for that of my family, on account of my absence from their midst; and especially for the mother, who sits like a dove that has lost its mate, having the weight of the family on her shoulders.

These thoughts make me afraid that the son we so carefully nursed in our youth may do something that would grieve his mother. Now, my son, if my favor is worth seeking, let me tell you the only step to procure it is the care of your tender mother—to please her is ten times more valuable than any other favor that you could do me in my person.

I am sorry to have to inform you of the melancholy death of Anthony Griffin, which took place on the 11th instant, while out with a scouting party. Alighting from his horse, and leaning on his gun, it accidentally went off, shooting him through the head. He never spoke after the accident. This is a fatal consequence of handling guns without proper care; they ought to be used with the greatest caution. The uncertainty of life ought to induce every man to prepare for death.

Now, my son, I must bid you farewell. I commit you to the care of Providence, begging that you will try to obtain that peculiar blessing. May God bless you, my son, and give you grace to conduct yourself, in my absence, as becomes a dutiful son to a tender mother and the family.

I am in reasonable good health at present, and the regiment as much so as could be expected. The death of Griffin is much lamented. I hope in God this will find you, my son, and your dear mother and the children, all well. My best compliments to you all, and all enquiring friends.

I am, dear son, with great respect, your affectionate father,
Jas. Williams

The Civil War

Before Facing His Brother Percival in Battle During the Civil War, Thomas Drayton Castigates Him for turning Against His Native Landand God
Percival Drayton Writes to a Cousin About the South’s “Unholy Rebellion”

As the War of Independence represented a conflict between a young country and its motherland, the Civil War was figurativelyand, at times, literallya clash between brothers. Thomas Fenwick Drayton and his younger brother Percival were originally from South Carolina, but their father, a congressman named William Drayton, moved the family to Pennsylvania after he retired from public office. The brothers had relatives and acquaintances in both the North and South, and, as tensions between the two regions escalated, Percival believed that his loyalty should be to their adopted home and, more important, the United States of America. Both men, it turned out, believed they were on the side of God. On May 1, 1861, Thomas wrote his brother the following letter.

My dear Percy

I returned last night from Montgomery—where I had been on some postal matters, in anticipation of the period when the Contracts at Washington, shall have been annulled by those who hold hateful dominion there. And how you Percival Drayton can consent to hold a commission under a Government—whom I know you cannot sympathise with—and whose vandal atrocity in the imitation of a most cruel war, clearly indicate what more atrocious & bloodthirsty attempts at subjugation will hereafter be attempted, such as stealing negroes, burning houses, John Brown raids to butcher helpless women & children, cut the dikes of the Mississippi and drown thousands of families “like rats in the hold of a ship.” These & Such incursions & barbarities with which we are threatened by the northern borders—who already possess the reins of Government—if that can be called one,—where universal terror reigns as freedom of opinion is denied.

But enough—it wont do for you and I to quarrel—though in politics, we are divided. I had understood at our last interview—that although you would not take sides with the South—you would not do what you now have done,—take position against her, but that, you would resign and return to private life! But this is impossible—you cannot at such a crisis be a neutral. William Drayton—had he not died—would never have acted with you and retained a commission under an administration whose acts show it lost to all sense of justice, magnanimity and honesty, and in this hour of heartfelt sorrow, I pray Almighty God, that your convictions of duty—will never prompt you to set foot upon your native land as one of Lincoln’s brutal cohorts, breathing fire & destruction upon a people who to repeated overtures of peace and earnest demands to pursue their own destiny in their own way, have been replied to with taunts and the sword brandished over their heads with the scornful division of presumptuous superiority, as from a superior race.

But henceforth, Percival Drayton, believe the South like yourselves a unit—and thus we shall enter upon this conflict forced upon us—in our faith—and relying upon God to maintain the justness of our causes, fighting manfully for our houses & rights;—and understand my brother that when the olive branch of peace is next offered, it will be extended by other hands than ours.—

Farewell Percy—and however much we may differ on the present issue—let no unkind word escape—to lacerate the heart of the other. Defend the soil of Pennsylvania if you will. Then, you and I will never meet as armed foes;—cross her Southern boundary—with hostile purpose—and we shall face each other—as brothers never should.

Love to my poor, dear old Mother—may God bless & sustain her at this terrible moment.—

Your affect brother
Thos F Drayton

Percival’s response to this letter has been lost, but Thomas alludes to it in what would be his last message to his brother for the duration of the war. “I have just recd yours of the 6th inst,” Thomas wrote on May 10, “and cannot but lament that our political views are so widely different, and that your arguments should afford so convincing a proof that prejudice had evidently usurped the seat of sound judgment.” Thomas then bid his brother adieu: “I will keep this remarkable epistolary effusion of yours—for I am sure in less than a year, you will candidly disavow the assertions & opinions therein expressed.” In less than a year, in fact, they would be exchanging not words, but gunfire; Thomas and Percival Drayton were the only two brothers in the war to command opposing forces in the same battle (Port Royal, November 1861). Percival would prevail, but in a letter written to a cousin, Heyward Drayton, on January 10, 1862, he was not in the mood to boast of the Union victory. Instead, he was saddened that members of their family—like the country itself—were at arms against each other, especially at a time when his mother was gravely ill. Percival, who was the captain of the USS Pochahontas, also wanted to address a question his cousin had raised about whether or not he was illegally protecting runaway slaves on his ship. “My dear Heyward,” Percival wrote,

As you well say it is possible to go through the forms of Merry Christmas and happy new year but not these times at least to us they have no substance, as peculiarly to us this war has subverted the best formations of happiness and family union. And in addition death seems to be looming in the distance over those who are dear to us…I hope that I may see my mother again although I am afraid it is without reason that I do so. She will at least when God shall call her away be always in my memory as the embodyment of unselfish love and Christian charity…

As regard to this war its end looks to me everyday further and further off, and indeed with the evident desperation of the Southern people, and our lukewarmness, I can see nothing to terminate it… If you will look at the report of the Secretary of the Navy, you will find that we are directed to take charge of and protect refugees from the insurgent districts without regard to colour, and this is all I have ever done. The fact is that when the poor creatures come into me, frightened to death from having been hunted down and shot at, and I know if I sent them away it will be merely to expose them to a continuation of the same treatment, I cannot enter cooly into a discussion of the legal points of the question, and am obliged when in sight of a mother wailing over the loss of her child to look upon them as persons not things…

As regard my serving here, instead of elsewhere, in my letter applying for service, I made no terms and simply went where I was ordered if my relations persist in this unholy rebellion. I am only doing a duty to my country, which should be higher than that even to my family, in assisting to put it down. One is to affect all time, the other only my generation which will soon pass away…

Love to Harriet, and all at home, and believe me

Your Aff Bro
P. Drayton

At the end of the war, many Confederate troops, including Thomas Drayton, were financially and emotionally devastated by the South’s defeat. Union soldiers had burned Thomas’s house to the ground, and he had spiraled into bankruptcy. Upon hearing of his brother’s plight, Percival sent him money and attempted to repair the breach between them. Thomas was also ready to bury old wounds, and in a four–page letter dated July 31, 1865, he wrote with heartfelt emotion to Percival, “I am glad to see your hand writing once more, and I pray Almighty God that we may never be again so unfortunate as to be upon different sides…I agree with you in thinking that we should ‘set the past in the past.’ ”

It is not known, however, if Percival ever received the letter or knew his brother’s sentiments; Percival died of natural causes four days after it was written.

Civil War Soldier Joseph Cotton Describes to His Daughter, Mary, the Aftermath of a Terrible Battle

The war that most Northerners and Southerners thought would be decided after the first major clash proved to be the bloodiest in the nation's history; with an estimated 500,000 fatalities, almost as many Americans died in the Civil War as in all other U.S. conflicts combined. Those who saw the fighting firsthand were stunned by its ferocity. Little is known about the soldier who wrote the following missive (the letter was found tucked inside a Bible in a Methodist church in Missouri), except for his name—Joseph Cotton—and the information provided in the letter itself. In a few short lines, however, the soldier vividly conveys the ghastly image of a battlefield after combat and emphasizes that, despite all he has seen, his faith remains. The letter is dated August 9, 1861.

Camp at Cheat Mountain Pass

Miss Mary E. Cotton

My dear sweet little daughter I received both of your nice good letters and never was more delighted over any letters I ever received. Pa thought just this way, now aint it a happy thought to have a little daughter to love him as my dear little Mary loves me & aint it nice to have so little a girl as she is write her Pa so good a letter Pa has them both put away & will keep them if he can as long as he livs You must write to Pa often.

You said I must tell you all about the war. Well Pa has seen a great deal of the war since he left home he saw the battlefield just after the fight he saw 250 dead men at once he saw 200 just thrown into some deep holes all piled in on top of one another without any coffins he saw men’s arms, and hands cut off & scattered around on the ground—he has seen hundreds of poor sick men lying about on the ground in tents don’t you feel sorry for these poor soldiers?

Pa goes all around among the soldiers and talks to them about the Saviour & prays with them & gives them good tracts and papers to read We are now encamped right in the midst of tall mountains which would look very strange to you they look like they reach clear up into the sky These days the mountains are now covered with ripe whortleberrys which are very nice the people bring them to our camp & we buy them & our Irishman that cooks for us makes pies for us

You must be a good girl mind Ma & pray for Pa Good by dear Mary

Copyright © 2007 by Andrew Carroll

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