A SERMON: PREACHED BEFORE Brig.-Gen. Hoke's Brigade, AT KINSTON, N.C., ON THE 28th OF FEBRUARY, 1864, BY Rev. JOHN PARIS, CHAPLAIN FIFTY-FOURTH REGIMENT N. C. Troops, UPON THE DEATH OF TWENTY-TWO MEN, WHO HAD BEEN EXECUTED IN THE PRESENCE OF THE BRIGADE FOR THE CRIME OF DESERTION. 1864. NOTE On the morning of the first of February, Brig. Gen. R. F. Hoke forced the passage of Batchelor's Creek, nine miles west from Newbern; the enemy abandoned his works and retreated upon the town. A hot and vigorous pursuit was made, which resulted in the capture of a large number of prisoners, and the surrender to our forces of many others, who were cut off from escape by the celerity of the pursuit, and our troops seizing and holding every avenue leading into the town, near the enemy's batteries. Among the prisoners taken, were about fifty native North Carolinians, dressed out in Yankee uniform, with muskets upon their shoulders. Twenty-two of these men were recognized as men who had deserted from our ranks, and gone over to the enemy. Fifteen of them belonged to Nethercutt's Battalion. They were arraigned before a court martial, proved guilty of the charges, and condemned to suffer death by hanging. It became my duty to visit these men in prison before their execution, in a religious capacity. From them I learned that bad and mischievous influences had been used with every one to induce him to desert his flag, and such influences had led to their ruin. From citizens who had known them for many years, I learned that some of them had heretofore borne good names, as honest, harmless, unoffending citizens. After their execution I thought it proper, for the benefit of the living, that I should deliver a discourse before our brigade, upon the death of these men, that the eyes of the living might be opened, to view the horrid and ruinous crime and sin of desertion, which had become so prevalent. A gentleman from Forsyth county, who was present at the delivery of the discourse, solicited a copy for publication, which has been granted. For the style and arrangement, as it was preached as well as written in the camp, no apology is offered. Having no pecuniary interest in its publication, it is respectfully submitted to all who go for the unqualified independence of the Southern Confederacy. J. PARIS, Hoke's Brigade, April 1st, 1864. SERMON MATTHEW XXVII CHAPTER, 3, 4, AND 5TH VERSES. 3. Then Judas which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4. Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, what is that to us? See thou to that. 5. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. You are aware, my friends, that I have given public notice that upon this occasion I would preach a funeral discourse upon the death of the twenty-two unfortunate, yet wicked and deluded men, whom you have witnessed hanged upon the gallows within a few days. I do so, not to eulogize or benefit the dead. But I do so, solely, for the benefit of the living: and in doing so, I shall preach in my own way, and according to my own manner, or rule. What I shall say will either be true or false. I therefore request that you will watch me closely; weigh my arguments in the balance of truth; measure them by the light of candid reason, and compare them by the Standard of Eternal Truth, the Book of God; what is wrong, reject, and what is, true, accept, for the sake of the truth, as responsible beings. Of all deserters and traitors, Judas Iscariot, who figures in our text, is undoubtedly the most infamous, whose names have found a place in history, either sacred or profane. No name has ever been more execrated by mankind: and all this has been justly done. But there was a time and a period when this man wore a different character, and had a better name. A time when he went forth with the eleven Apostles at the command of the Master to preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out devils. And he, too, returned with this same chosen band, when the grand, and general report was made of what they had done and what they had taught. But a change came over this man. He was the treasurer of the Apostolic board; an office that warranted the confidence and trust of his compeers. "He bare the bag and kept what was put therein." Possibly this was the grand and successful temptation presented him by the evil One. He contracted an undue love for money, and Holy Writ informs us "the love of money is the root of all evil;" so must it ever be when valued above a good name, truth or honor. Now comes his base and unprincipled desertion of his blessed Master. He goes to the chief priests. His object is selfish, base and sordid,--to get money. He enters into a contract with them, to lead their armed guards to the place to which the Saviour had retired, that they might arrest him. Thirty pieces of silver is the price agreed upon,--about twenty-two dollars and fifty cents of our money. A poor price, indeed, for any man to accept for his reputation, his life, his soul, his all. When Judas saw that the Saviour was condemned, it is stated in the text that "he repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." "And he cast down the thirty pieces of silver in the temple, and departed and went and hanged himself." The way of transgressors is truly hard. As sure as there is a God in heaven, justice and judgment will overtake the wicked; though he may flourish as a green bay tree for awhile, yet the eye of God is upon him and retribution must and will overtake him. Let us now consider what this man gained by his wicked transaction. First, twenty-two dollars and fifty cents. Secondly, a remorse of conscience too intolerable to be borne. An immortality of infamy without a parallel in the family of man. What did he lose? His reputation. His money. His apostleship. His peace of conscience, his life, his soul, his all. Well may it be said that this man is the most execrable of all whose names stand on the black list of deserters and traitors that the world has furnished from the beginning until now.--Turning to the history of our own country, I find written high on the scroll of infamy the name of Benedict Arnold, who at one time stood high in the confidence of the great and good Washington. What was his crime? Desertion and treason. He too hoped to better his condition by selling his principles for money, to the enemies of his country, betraying his Washington into the hands of his foes, and committing the heaven-insulting crime of perjury before God and man. Verily, he obtained his reward; an immortality of infamy; the scorn and contempt of the good and the loyal of all ages and all countries. Thus, gentlemen, I have brought before you two grand prototypes of desertion, whose names tower high over all on the scroll of infamy. And I now lay down the Proposition, that every man who has taken up arms in defence of his country, and basely deserts or abandons that service, belongs in principle and practice to the family of Judas and Arnold. But what was the status of those twenty-two deserters whose sad end and just fate you witnessed across the river in the old field? Like you they came as volunteers to fight for the independence of their own country. Like you they received the bounty money offered by their country. Like you they took upon themselves the most solemn obligations of this oath: "I, A. B. do solemnly swear that I will bear true allegiance to the Confederate States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the Confederate States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Confederate States, so help me God." With all the responsibilities of this solemn oath upon their souls, and all the ties that bind men to the land that gave them birth, ignoring every principle that pertains to the patriot, disowning that natural as well as lawful allegiance that every man owes to the government of the State which throws around him the ægis of its protection, they went, boldly, Judas and Arnold-like, made an agreement with the enemies of their country, took an oath of fidelity and allegiance to them, and agreed with them for money to take up arms and assist in the unholy and hellish work of the subjugation of the country which was their own, their native land! These men have only met the punishment meted out by all civilized nations for such crimes. To this, all good men, all true men, and all loyal men who love their country, will say, Amen! But who were those twenty-two men whom you hanged upon the gallows? They were your fellow-beings. They were citizens of our own Carolina. They once marched under the same beautiful flag that waves over our heads; but in an evil hour, they yielded to mischievous influence, and from motives or feelings base and sordid, unmanly and vile, resolved to abandon every principle of patriotism, and sacrifice every impulse of honor; this sealed their ruin and enstamped their lasting disgrace. The question now arises, what are the influences and the circumstances that lead men into the high and damning crimes, of perjury and treason? It will be hard to frame an answer that will fit every case. But as I speak for the benefit of those whom I stand before to-day, I will say I have made the answer to this question a matter of serious inquiry for more than eighteen months. The duties of my office as Chaplain have brought me much in contact with this class of men. I have visited twenty-four of them under sentence of death in their cells of confinement, and with death staring them in the face, and only a few short hours between them and the bar of God. I have warned them to tell the whole truth, confess everything wrong before God and man, and yet I have not been able to obtain the full, fair and frank confession of everything relating to their guilt from even one of them, that I thought circumstances demanded, although I had baptized ten of them in the Name of the Holy Trinity. In confessing their crimes, they would begin at Newbern, where they joined the enemy, saying nothing about perjury and desertion. Every man of the twenty-two, whose execution you witnessed, confessed that bad or mischievous influences had been used with him to influence him to desert. All but two, willingly gave me the names of their seducers. But none of these deluded and ruined men seemed to think he ought to suffer the penalty of death, because he had been persuaded to commit those high crimes by other men. But gentlemen, I now come to give you my answer to the question just asked. From all that I have learned in the prison, in the guard house, in the camp, and in the country, I am fully satisfied, that the great amount of desertions from our army are produced by, and are the fruit of a bad, mischievous, restless, and dissatisfied, not to say disloyal influence that is at work in the country at home. If in this bloody war our country should be overrun, this same mischievous home influence will no doubt be the prime agent in producing such a calamity. Discontentment has, and does exist in various parts of the State. We hear of these malcontents holding public meetings, not for the purpose of supporting the Government in the prosecution of the war, and maintenance of our independence, but for the purpose of finding fault with the Government. Some of these meetings have been dignified with the name of "peace meetings;" some have been ostensibly called for other purposes, but they have invariably been composed of men who talk more about their "rights," than about their duty and loyalty to their country. These malcontents profess to be greatly afflicted in mind about the state of public affairs. In their doleful croakings they are apt to give vent to their melancholy lamentations in such words as these: "The country is ruined!" "We are whipt!" "We might as well give up." "It is useless to attempt to fight any longer!" "This is the rich man's war and the poor man's fight;" &c. Some, newspapers have caught the mania and lent their influence to this work of mischief; whilst the pulpit, to the scandal of its character for faith and holiness, has belched forth in some places doctrines and counsels through the ministrations of unworthy occupants, sufficient to cause Christianity to blush under all the circumstances. I would here remark, standing in the relation which I do before you, that the pulpit and the press, when true and loyal to the Government which affords them protection, are mighty engines for good but when they see that Government engaged in a bloody struggle for existence, and show themselves opposed to its efforts to maintain its authority by all constitutional and legal means, such a press, and such pulpits should receive no support for an hour from a people that would be free. The seal of condemnation should consign them to oblivion. Such sentiments as we have just alluded to, are sent in letters to our young men in the army, by writers professing to be friends; often with an urgent and pressing invitation to come home; and some have even added that execrable and detestable falsehood, the quintescence of treason, "the State is going to secede." Letters coming into our camps on the Rappahannock and Rapidan sustain this position. What are the effects produced upon our young men in the ranks? With the illiterate, they are baleful indeed. The incautious youth takes it for granted that the country is ruined and that the Government is his enemy. The poisonous contagion of treason from home gets hold in his mind and steals into his feelings. This appeal from home has overcome him. The young man of promise and of hope once, now becomes a deserter. Is guilty by one false step of the awful crimes of perjury and desertion. The solemn obligations of his oath are disregarded; he takes to the woods, traverses weary roads by night for days, until he reaches the community in which he claims his home; but for what? To engage in any of the honorable vocations of life? No, gentlemen. But to lie hidden from the face of all good, true and loyal men. But for what purpose? To keep from serving his country as a man and a citizen. To consume the provisions kept in the country for the support of the women and children, families of soldiers who are serving their country, indeed; and lastly, to get his living in part, at least, by stealing and robbing. And here allow me to say, I am not sufficiently skilled in language to command words to express the deep and unutterable detestation I have of the character of a deserter. If my brother were to be guilty of such a high crime, I should certainly make an effort to have his name changed to something else, that I, and my, children after me, might not feel the deep and lasting disgrace which his conduct had enstamped upon it. I hold, gentlemen, that there are few crimes in the sight of either God or man, that are more wicked and detestable than desertion. The first step in it is perjury. Who would ever believe such an one in a court of justice again? The second, is treason. He has abandoned the flag of his country; thus much he has aided the common enemy. Those are startling crimes, indeed, but the third is equally so. He enstamps disgrace upon the name of his family and children. From amidst the smoke and flames of Sinai God has declared that He "is a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate me." The infamy that the act of disloyalty on the part of a father places his children in after him, is a disability they cannot escape: it was his act, not theirs; and to them it has become God's visitation according to the text quoted above. The character of infamy acquired by the tories of the revolution of 1776, is to this day imputed to their descendants, in a genealogical sense. Disloyalty is a crime that mankind never forget and but seldom forgive; the grave cannot cover it. Many cry out in this the day of our discontent, and say, "we want peace." This is true, we all want peace, the land mourns on account of the absence of peace, and we all pray for peace. You have often heard me pray for peace, but I think you will bear me witness to-day that you have never heard me pray for peace without independence. God forbid that we should have a peace that brought no independence. But how are we to obtain peace? There are but two modes known by which to obtain this most desirable boon. First: to lay down our arms, cease to fight, and submit to the terms of our enemy, the tyrant at Washington. Fortunately for us, we already know what those terms are. They stand recorded in his law books, and in his published orders and edicts,--and constitute with our enemies, the law of the land, so far as we are concerned. 1. The lands of our citizens are to be sold for the purpose of paying the enormous public debt of the Yankees. This part of the programme has already been put into operation at points held by the enemy, as in Fairfax county, Va., and Beaufort, S. C. In the latter place, the lands have been laid off into thirty acre lots, and bought mostly by negroes. 2. The negroes, everywhere, to be declared free, and placed upon a state of equality with the whites. 3. Every man who has taken any part in the war, denied the right of voting at the polls. 4. Our Governors and Judges appointed by the Federal Government at Washington, and sent to rule over us at his pleasure. 5. Even the men selected to administer to us in holy things at the altars of our God, must be men approved and appointed by his military authorities; as it is now done in Norfolk and Portsmouth, where I am acquainted. In addition to this, Gentlemen, we of course will have to endure the deep and untold mortification of having bands of negro, soldiers stationed in almost every neighborhood, to enforce these laws and regulations. These things would be some of the "blessings," we would obtain by such a peace. Tell me to-day, sons of Carolina, would not such a peace bring ten-fold more horrors and distress to our country than this war, has yet produced? Can any people on the face of this earth, fit to be freemen, ever accept a peace that will place them in such a condition? Never! never! never! The great and good Stonewall Jackson, a few weeks before his death was talking with a friend about the probable issue of the war; the conversation turned upon the possibility of the Confederate States being brought again under the rule and authority of the United States; when our illustrious chief remarked, that if he could have his choice in view of such a contingency, he would prefer the grave as his refuge. What patriot would not? What soldier would not? What freeman would not? This was the noble sentiment of a man whom we all believed to be fit to live, or fit to die. The other mode by which to obtain peace, is to fight it out to the bitter end, as our forefathers did in the revolution of 1776, and reduce our enemies, by our manly defence, to the necessity of acknowledging our independence, and "letting us alone." We are involved in this bloody war, and the question before us is, not how did we get into it, but how shall we get out of it? Many tell us the war cloud looks dark and impenetrable to mortal vision. This is all true. But are we not men? Have we not buckled on the armor, putting our trust in the Lord of hosts, as the arbiter of our destiny as a nation? Shall we then lay down our arms before we are overthrown? God forbid! Sons of Carolina, let your battle-cry be, Onward! Onward! until victory shall crown the beautiful banner that floats over us to-day with such a peace as freemen only love, and brave men only can accept. We are engaged in a mighty work, the establishment of an empire, which we trust by the blessing of God will become the freest, the best and the greatest on the face of the earth. Every man must act his part in this great work. Let us then look to the manner in which we perform the part which duty assigns, that there may be no regrets or heart-burnings hereafter. For just as sure as this cruel war began, it will have an end, and that end is nearer now than when it began. And when the sweet and lovely days of delightful peace return to cheer us, and friend meets with friend, and talk over the trials, the perils and sufferings we have endured in freedom's cause; with what emotions of pleasure shall we speak of the soldier ever true and faithful who stood by us, faithful alike both in the sunshine and storm of war. But what will then be said of the miserable skulker? May God give him a better heart that he may become a better man and a better soldier. From the position which I occupy, I have been enabled to notice deserters and skulkers closely, and I have made it my business to inquire into their history, and I am happy to say for the credit of Christianity, that among the multitude I have known guilty of desertion, only three of that number professed to be members of any Church, and they had been no credit to the religion they professed, as it lived only upon their lips and was a stranger in their hearts. The true christian is always a true patriot. Patriotism and Christianity walk hand in hand. When perils and dangers gather around the country that protects him, he then belongs to no party but his country's party; his loyalty must stand unquestioned and unquestionable. As one that fears God, he knows that, if a man is not for his country, he is against it. Hence, there is no neutral ground or position for him to occupy; but to stand by his country as its fast, unwavering friend, that its triumph may be his triumph, and its destiny his destiny. There is no toryism in a Christian's heart. The two principles cannot to dwell together. War is the scourge of nations. God is no doubt chastising us for our good. When the ends of His providence are accomplished, He will no doubt remove the rod. But the ways of His providence are generally dark to mortal vision. Yet he is able to bring light out of darkness. We are only drinking now from a cup, from which every nation upon the face of the earth have drank before us. We have walked the bloody road of revolution for three years; and still we face the foe. Our fathers trod it for seven, and in the end were successful. The pious Dr. Watts tells us in one of his beautiful hymns, that, "God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform; He plants his footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm." His ways with the nations of the earth are deeply mysterious to mortal vision and whilst they are the exhibitions of His majesty and power, we should regard them likewise as the evidence of his goodness and mercy towards fallen man. As He deals with individuals, so does He deal with nations. He lifteth up one and putteth down another; but all this is done for the good of the whole. Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people, is the doctrine laid down in Holy Writ. Proud Egypt, the cradle, of the arts and sciences, has sadly fallen from her ancient glory and splendor. Ezekiel, speaking as the oracle of God, and accusing her of her sins, declared "she shall become the basest of the kingdoms," and the words of the Seer have become verified to the letter. For transgression, the chosen people of God, the Israelites, were compelled to wander forty years in the Arabian desert, thus suffering the chastisement of the disfavor of offended Deity. And when they were permitted to cross over Jordan into the land of promise, they were required to do a strange and wondrous work; namely, to destroy the nations of this goodly land and possess it for their own inheritance. The sins of these nations had cried unto heaven, and Israel became the instrument in the hand of God by which the judgments of offended Justice was meted out to the guilty nations. Jerusalem, the lovely, queenly Jerusalem, whose beautiful temple was the glory of the whole earth, in which the presence of the Eternal Shekinah was visible annually to mortal eye, and where Solomon in all his glory once reigned--sinned with an high hand against God; she knew not the day of her visitation, the cup of her iniquity was full; the judgment of offended heaven overtook her; her glory departed; the besom of destruction swept over her, and she is now trodden down by the gentiles--a crumbling monument of her departed greatness. Babylon, once the proud mistress of the East, whose spacious walls, hanging gardens, and lofty temples stood as the wonders of the world, and Daniel, the prophet, robed in the vestments of royal honors, once spake, and wrote by heaven's prompting of things to come has fallen; her greatness is lost; her walls have perished; her palaces have crumbled; her temples are entombed, and the wandering Arab now nightly pitches his tent over spot where Belshazzar held his impious feast. Where is the Nineveh? The mighty Nineveh? And Tadmor, and Persepolis, and hundred-gated Thebes? They belong only to the past, the silence of death has spread its sepulchral pall over them, and the relics of fallen greatness alone remain to mark the spot where they lie entombed. Sparta has departed from the map of nations, and Athens is but the tomb of the Athens that was. These have all sinned, and "there is a God that judgeth in the earth." Four years ago, these Confederate States formed an integral part of the U. States. Perhaps no nation of people ever sinned against more light, and abused more privileges than the United States. The Northern pulpits hatched and fostered the spirit that produced this cruel and bloody war: but cruel and bloody as it is, I believe in God, to-day, that great good to us of the South as a people, if we will only depart from our sins and lean upon the Almighty Arm. If He be for us, who can stand successfully against us? He gave to our fathers a Washington, a man who feared God, to guide them through the revolution of 1771. He has given to us a Lee, a man of like faith and of like hopes, to be our leader in these dark days of trial, and we all love to follow where he leads. He lent to us a Jackson, that bright and shining light of Christianity, whose ardent piety and strong faith always presented the same beauties, in the halls of science, at the altars of God, around the camp-fires, or on the battle-field. Oh, what a model of a Christian soldier! Well do I remember how his presence, cheered us as he rode along our line on the morning of the first battle of Fredericksburg, after the artillery began to roar heavily. His very appearance seemed to be the presage of victory. He seemed like one sent by God. But God has seen proper in His providence to take him away, and whatsoever He doeth is right. Let us then bow, to the hand that afflicts in such dispensations as this, take courage and press onward. Let us then humble ourselves before God as a people, confess our sins, and implore His protecting power to guide us through this mighty struggle to a successful issue. He has certainly done great things for us as a people, whereof we should be glad. I think you will bear me witness that I have never been hopeful of an early peace in my intercourse among you. But to-day I fancy that I can discover a little cloud, in the political heavens as large as a man's hand at least, that seems to portend peace. Take courage, then, companions in arms. All things around us to-day bid us be of good courage. History fails to tell us of ten millions of freemen being enslaved, who had determined to be free. A braver or more patriotic army than we have, never followed their chief to victory. Their endurance challenges the admiration of the world. When I have seen our brave men in winter's cold and summer's heat, marching from battle-field to battle-field, bare-footed as they were born, and without a murmur, I could not doubt our final success. Such men as these, were never born to be slaves. Again when I have turned my eye homeward from the camp, and witnessed the labors of our fair country women, in preparing clothing to meet the wants of the suffering in the field, and witnessed their untiring devotion to the relief of the sick and wounded in the hospitals, I knew that the history of no country, and of no age afforded anything like a parallel, and my faith assured me we never were born to be slaves of the Yankees. Then let your trust to-day be strong in the God of nations. Surely, then, no man can be found in all our land who owes allegiance to his country, that is so lost to himself, and to all that is noble and patriotic, as to say, "I am for the Union as it was." Such an one could only merit the good man's scorn, and desire the tory's infamy for himself, and disgrace for his children. Gentlemen, I have followed your fortunes for twenty months, leaving wife and children far behind me. I have rejoiced in your prosperity, and mourned over your adversity. Marches, battles, sufferings are before us still. By the help of God I am with you, and hope still to be with you to share in your triumphs, your sufferings and your joys. If these be the days to try men's souls, for my country's sake I am willing to be tried, by bearing my humble part in this mighty struggle. For, standing before you to-day, you most permit me to say in the language of a noble patriot, "I am for my country right, yea, for my country wrong." My loyalty to her is unqualified, and without any conditions. Her cause is always my cause. If her cause be right, she shall have my free support; if it be wrong she shall have my unqualified support. Therefore, when I shall sleep in the dust, you must not say to my children, "your father was a conservative, (or any other name,) when his country was engaged in a bloody struggle for existence." Then you would do me wrong, and do them wrong also. I belong only to my country's party. But it may be said, that I can afford to use strong language when I am not required to take position in the front ranks on the battle-field. The duties of my office require me, as you are aware, to take position in the rear, to assist with the wounded, but yet at Fredericksburg, Williamsport, Mine Run, and Batchelor's Creek, I was under the fire of both artillery and musketry, and I will here add that if ever my country calls upon me to fall into ranks in her defence with a musket on my shoulder, my answer shall be, "here am I." Then, to-day, in the light of this beautiful Sabbath sun, let us take courage, and with renewed trust in God, resolve to do our whole duty as patriots and soldiers, and leave the event to the Arbiter of nations. Amen!
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