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In the second half of verse five, James writes, “See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!”


In May of 1864, a conflict that many military leaders in our country predicted would last but a few months was now in its third year. The Civil War, the bloodiest conflict ever fought on U. S. soil, raged on. Great battles, such as Gettysburg, had already been fought, but there was still plenty of tragedy to come. One such occasion developed in a less commonly known battle in Virginia.


From May 3rd to May 8th, a battle was fought that would forever be remembered as simply “The Wilderness.” One of the commanding generals of the Union Army, John Gibbon, described the area of the battle as an almost impenetrable thicket where the visibility was only two to three yards.


This incredibly dense area of trees, vegetation and under brush saw two great armies converge on its soil. The Union Army, which by now vastly outnumbered the Confederates, brought 102,000 men to bear. The South only had about 61,000. Over 25,000 men, between the two armies, were killed or wounded—the majority falling within a two-day period. As tragic as the massive loss of life was, the death of 200 men graphically illustrates what we see in the second half of verse five.


The majority of soldiers were still using muzzle-loaded rifles. The men carried cartridges in pouches, on their belts. The cartridges were made up of lead shot completely covered with paper, and gunpowder. As a result of tens of thousands of rifles being fired throughout the forest, the ground was littered with confetti-size debris from the rifle fire.


When the paper hit the ground, it was still hot from the exploding gunpowder. With the amount of tinder on the ground, it took very little for the radiating heat from the paper to spark. The spark quickly grew into a forest fire that spread rapidly through The Wilderness. Trapped within the raging fire were two hundred wounded men. Some wore blue and some wore gray.


By mutual consent, the two war-torn armies suspended the fighting in order to try to save their helpless comrades. But the flame and smoke was too intense. Neither side could reach the men in time. What started as a small spark was the one thing a cease-fire could not control.


Although thousands of men perished from the affects of hot lead and cold steel, those who survived would forever remember the two hundred lives that were destroyed. For they saw how great a forest was set aflame by such a small fire.

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