Two separate Civil War skirmishes were called the Battle of New Hope Church. When I first read about that (just a few months ago), I was immediately interested in learning more, partly because my father’s home church was New Hope Church.
The two battles of New Hope Church, however, were not in northwest Missouri but in northwest Georgia and in northern Virginia.
The Battle of New Hope Church in Georgia was fought May 25–26, 1864, between the Union forces of General Sherman and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign. The battle ended with a Confederate victory. And even though to this day it is called the battle of New Hope Church, the Union soldiers referred to it as “Hell’s Hole.”
The other Battle of New Hope Church took place several months earlier near the New Hope Baptist Church in Orange County, Virginia, a church begun in 1857 and still active. In late November 1863, close to that church there was a battle in which the Union troops fought soldiers led by General Robert E. Lee. That battle also ended in a Confederate victory.
In the latter Battle of New Hope Church, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s son Charlie was shot through the back and brought to the church for medical attention. It was while sitting at his son’s bedside following that injury that Longfellow penned the words to the well-known carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Even though both of these battles of New Hope Church ended with Confederate victories, it is evident to most of us that the Southern states, fighting to preserve slavery, were on the wrong side of history. Perhaps it is true that “the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice,” as Martin Luther King Jr., President Obama, and others have emphasized.
(As I point out on pages 105-6 of my book The Limits of Liberalism, the words quoted in the previous paragraph can be traced back to a 1852 sermon by Theodore Parker, a famous Unitarian pastor. Those words, I suggest there, perhaps point to the “excessive optimism” of Christian liberalism. But I also say in a footnote, “Parker’s words as used by King and Obama are full of hope, but they do not reek of the syrupy optimism of the nineteenth century liberal preacher.”)
Even after the end of the Civil War, the Confederate States and some others had anti-miscegenation laws, which meant that people of different races could not legally marry. The last of those laws, including Missouri’s, were not overturned until June 1967 (!) when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them to be in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Those States were again, or still, on the wrong side of history.
And now, in 2012, all the same states, and others, have constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage. Will those states at some time in the future once again be found to be on the wrong side of history? Probably.