The Civil War, Day by Day

God Be With You

Lee and Longstreet at Berryville, Virginia

It was a fleeting interlude of peace on the road to war.

In long columns of gray and butternut, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia tramped northward in late June of 1863. Victorious and confident following the spectacular Southern success at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Lee’s troops were bound for Pennsylvania—where General Lee hoped to fight a mighty and decisive battle that would end the Civil War’s unprecedented bloodshed and produce Southern nationhood. Shadowing his army and readying itself for battle was the Army of the Potomac, whose soldiers were equally determined to win a Northern victory and preserve the Union.

Lee’s route of march took him and a large portion of his army through the tiny Shenandoah Valley village of Berryville, Virginia. Central landmarks in the hamlet were the county courthouse and Grace Episcopal Church. It was Sunday morning, June 21, 1863, and General Lee took the opportunity to halt and attend Sunday morning services at the church. Among the officers accompanying him was General James Longstreet – who Lee fondly called his “Old War Horse.” Throughout his army on this day, Lee’s chaplains held services and countless battle-tested sons of the South — like their leader — paused and prayed in worship.

The quiet time soon ended and Lee emerged from the church, gave a respectful greeting to the assembled citizens of Berryville and parted with General Longstreet. In a few days, the two leaders would meet again at Gettysburg, where they would wage a futile fight to win the greatest battle of America’s bloodiest war. Ahead lay defeat, the destruction of dreams, and the road to eventual surrender. For the moment, however, Gettysburg’s fields of fire were distant and undetermined. Lee left church at Berryville prepared to face a fierce and uncertain future. “God be with you,” was the era’s common benediction to believers. Lee and his Southern soldiers advanced — toward disappointment, defeat, eventual surrender, and — in the years that would follow — a remarkable reconciliation with their brothers from the North as Americans all. “God be with you,” would become the soldier’s benediction to old enemies. “God be with you.”

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.