General Daniel Sickles. Historically, he is one who is both famous and infamous, depending on who you ask. Having grown up in an extremely wealthy family of significant influence in American during the 1800’s, Sickles was a man of his own mind and will. He was corrupt politically and morally, and used his money to manipulate others of influence. At the age of 33, he married a 15 year old, but he was also known to have prostitutes, some of whom he even funded to go with him on trips overseas while leaving his wife pregnant at home. He had no military training whatsoever, but when the American Civil War broke out, he used his money and political prowess to become a brigadier general, despite an attempt by the U.S. Congress to remove him from his command because of his appalling ignorance, arrogance, and frequent refusal to obey orders by others of higher military rank. His headquarters were frequently compared to a rowdy bar room and brothel. Regardless, Lincoln found motivation to promote him from brigadier, to major general in November, 1862. It was just over 6 months later that the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in Pennsylvania July 1-3, 1863. Many historians believe that it was this battle that decided who would win the great war between the states. In fact, many of those who fought in the battle knew it as well. The rebels lost, and General Lee was never able to recover his army’s strength by the time he surrendered in 1865. There were many factors involved in the bloody battle, and many events fell rightly into place to give the Union Army the upper hand. However, no error in the battle was so egregious as was the error of Daniel Sickles, nearly costing the Union victory.
Many are familiar with the “fish hook” defensive line taken by the union on the second day at Gettysburg, and Sickles was ordered to hold the line on the southern end of the hook, from a strong position on Cemetery Ridge. However, Sickles instead ordered his men to march a mile forward, which not only left his men to be completely exposed to rebel canon fire from multiple sides, but it also greatly jeopardized the entire Union defensive line (you can see how he affected the line in the adjacent photo along with Meade’s recovery of the incident). Sickles corps was all but annihilated, but fortunately, though the Confederate Army saw the error, they could not get organized quickly enough to advance before General Meade closed the gap. Sickles however, had his leg blown off by a cannonball, and his troops declared that this was the best tragedy they experienced in the war. For days after the battle, the streams ran red with the blood of his men. Sickles was later award the Medal of Honor by the President for his “conspicuous gallantry” on the field.1 I find all that interesting, but I love history, and for whatever reason, especially the Civil War. What is perhaps more interesting about Sickles, occurred in 1859.
There was a shot across the street from the White House, and a man crumpled dead onto the street. He wasn’t just any man though. This was the high profile murder of the district attorney of the District of Columbia, Philip Key II, son of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to the “The Star Spangled Banner.” He was shot by Congressman Daniel Sickles for having an affair with his wife. He confessed, was arrested, and “jailed” in the head jailer’s personal apartment to allow for the large number of visitors. Rather than being treated as a murderer, he was treated with sympathy, even as a hero in fact, and even received a personal letter of grievance from President Buchanan. The newspapers made Sickles out to be the victim and largely aided Sickles’ defense. In fact, it so happened that because of Sickles’ wealth, he was able to fund the very best attorneys, one of whom would be later appointed the Secretary of War. And Sickles won – and successfully became the very first in the American court to plead “temporary insanity.” Today, it’s one of the most popular defenses in the U.S. and UK. No doubt this is frustrating to us. Those guilty of murder, including Sickles, are not held accountable for their crimes due to a false “diagnosis.” In fact, it seems that lawmakers spend their energy on everything but the actual problem – and especially when it comes to the gun debate.
I find it detestable and vain that politicians have the attitude, “let no crisis go wasted.” The anti-gun rhetoric was virtually instant in yesterday’s Navy Yard tragedy, and the deaths of the victims exploited to suit a political agenda. “Yet another mass shooting” were the presidents words, and CNN and the New York Daily instantly began protesting the AR-15. Both speculatively reported that it must have been used, but as Piers Morgan ranted on his show last night on CNN, the FBI confirmed that the weapons used were two pistols and a shotgun. Truth is, it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter even if the AR-15 was used. As Christians, we have to understand it’s not the guns that are the problem. It’s the human heart.
For Christians, the argument isn’t really about whether or not guns promote violence. They don’t. We can look at all the studies on the subject regarding that – where guns are most restricted the most murders occur – like in Chicago, NY City, or London… but these are peripheral and not our “evidence.” Take the gun away and there will always still be murder until the Lord returns. Why? Because mankind has a hateful heart against God and his fellow man. From Cain to the crucifixion of our Savior, from the martyrs of church history to the present day, murder reveals the greatest form of rebellion against God. As Christians, to blame murder and violence on guns or temporary “insanity,” is nothing more than blame-shifting. God declared a very simple law in the Old Testament informing us how we should respond to murder. “If any man sheds man’s blood, by man, his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God, He made man” (Gen. 9:6).
The consequences are severe and the reason is shocking, “for in the image of God, He made man.” He demands justice for murder because man was created in His image, according to His likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). Perhaps this makes sense then why secular society seeks to find blame on everything other than the one who pulled the trigger. Do they go Scott free? Not usually, but the headlines show the concern is typically more about guns than justice. If the reason for capital punishment is because we are made in the image of God, what happens when a society refuses to acknowledge the existence of God? Without God, what becomes of the moral evil of murder?