The Horrors of War

We have been solicited, by one of what is called the Society of Friends, who is, we believe, a reader of our work, to insert the following. The design of it is to carry conviction to the mind, of the horrors of war, and the awful responsibility attached to those engaged in it; and if it be made the means of accomplishing this, the end will be answered.

John and William Gadsby – Editors of the Gospel Standard Magazine – 1836

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I have just returned from Waterloo. And what motive had you, now, after the lapse of twenty years, in going to the battle-field of Waterloo?

I must confess I do not certainly know. Perhaps it was because the powers of Europe have been so ungallant as not to fight so great a battle since! and where else could I go?

Perhaps it was to gratify an idle and questionable curiosity! to see the place where the two greatest captains of the age met, and where so many thousands of brave men fell. Perhaps it was because nobody ever thinks of coming to Brussels without visiting Waterloo. Perhaps it was that I might have something to write and talk about. Perhaps it was that I might be able to say I had been there! just as a gentleman whom I met the other day in the Pantheon at Paris, was induced to go down into the tombs of the great men there! and just as travellers go to a thousand other places, which they care as little about as he did about Rosseau and Voltaire. Or perhaps it was, that, standing on the field of battle, I might deepen the abhorrence which I have long felt and cherished of war, in all its aspect of slaughter, and
suffering, and crime.

Charity would hope that this last motive had more influence on my mind than either of the others. But whether it had or not, I have been to Waterloo and my soul is sick!

The distance from Brussels is twelve miles. The road lies nearly half way through a very thick and tall beech forest. At the time of the great battle it was much more extensive than it is now. Large tracts of it have recently been cleared up: and the process of bringing the land under cultivation, in its various stages, reminded me more of what one everywhere meets with in the newly settled parts of the United States, than I ever dreamed of seeing in one of the old countries of Europe.

As you approach Waterloo, women and children sally out with maps, and charts, and relics. One wants to sell you a bullet; another offers you a grape shot; another a brass eagle, such as the French cavalry wore on their helmets; another a small piece of a bomb-shell; and so on.

The only relic which I brought away was a piece of charcoal from the farm-house of Hugoumont, that was burnt, full of the wounded, during the engagement. This I value the more, as I feel quite sure it was not manufactured for the occasion.

In some respects, the field of Waterloo has undergone considerable changes since the battle. A part of the forest through which Blucher brought his Prussians into the action has been cut down; as has also another small forest on’the right wing of the British army, where the battle raged with the most horrible fury and slaughter.

But the greatest alteration has been made by the erection of an immense mound, or rather pyramid, of earth, very near the British centre. To build this pyramid, which is nearly one-third of a mile in circumference at the base, and about two hundred feet high, the ground has been taken away, to the depth of several feet, for a great distance, so as to reduce the most commanding point of Wellington’s position to a dead level. This, it is said, military men regard as a kind of sacrilege, which they will not soon forget or forgive. At first I felt a little, inclined to complain of it too; but when I came to ascend to the top of the mound, and to see what a perfect map there lies spread out before you of the whole scene of action; and especially when I came to look eastward, and westward, and northward, and southward, over one of the most fertile and lovely landscapes that ever my eyes beheld; I confess I was glad the pyramid had been raised, even at whatever expense of military taste.

On the top of the mound is a square stone pillar, or rather a high pedestal, surmounted by an immense lion, resting one foot upon a globe, and presenting a fine appearance, not only from the plain veiw, but from a great distance in every direction.

Every one, who has the heart of a Christian or a philanthropist within him, will readily conceive, that, as I stood over this graveyard of two mighty armies, and looked, first at the ground, and then at the place of battle, I was oppressed by such a throng of rushing thoughts as can never be adequately expressed; and that when I descended from this watch-tower of death, and walked slowly away, I could not help exclaiming, “O Lord, what is man! what is he, in his ambition, in his wrath, in the pride of his power, in his cruelty to his own flesh, and in his contempt of the law and authority of God?”

Here, it has been said, was the great battle of emancipation fought on the 18th of June, 1815. Whether it was such, I shall not now stop to inquire. Sure I am that the results of that murderous conflict have not answered the expectations of many who rejoiced in the mighty downfall which it immediately occasioned.

And is that really the very spot on which the most remarkable man of his age staked his diadem, and in defence of which so many thousands of the bravest of the brave poured out their blood?

Is it true history, or is it fable, that I have so often read?

How calm and peaceful is every thing now; as if the breath of mortal strife had never caused so much as a leaf to tremble!

How bright is that sun which looks down upon it to-day!

Did the instruments of death ever intercept those beams?

Did the sun of Waterloo ever mourn over the carnage of a great battle?

Now, in conscious security, the peasantry are there at their work. The ripening harvest is there, and soon will the reapers be there to gather it in, and return with joy, bringing their sheaves with them.

But the truth cannot be controverted. Aceldama is the proper name of that field; for there two mighty armies met, steel to steel.

There, flying from rank to rank, went forth the note of preparation, and the war-horse “parved in the valley, and went on to meet the armed men” There broke forth “the thunder of the captains and the shouting.”

There was the shock of those veterans who had conquered Europe, on one side; and those of lion hearts, who, from the cliffs of their own little island, had bid defiance to the conqueror, on the other. There raged, from hour to hour, that iron storm which threatened to beat down every living thing into the dust.

There thousands upon thousands fell to rise no more. From that gory field went up the voices of the wounded and the dying, and entered into the ears of him who hath said, ” Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

There the victor in a hundred battles played his last game. “It was a glorious battle!” So said the warrior; so said the politician; so said the moralist; so said the republican; so said the professed Christian; so said the united voice of England and America.

But, as a Christian, as a philanthropist, as a man, I protest against this decision.

What Christianity, what true glory can there be, in killing forty thousand men, and maiming as many more?

That terrible battle ought never to have been fought.

Does any one meet me here, and say it was necessary ?

Who, I demand, created that necessity?

Nothing but human depravity could ever have made it necessary. I do not undertake to decide where the guilt lay; that is quite another question; but war is an incarnate demon; war is wholesale murder.

The field of Waterloo ought never to have been heard of by the civilized world, and were the principles of the Christian religion to control the councils of states and of kingdoms, no such murderous conflict would ever have disgraced the pages of history.

But still, it was a glorious victory!

It was glorious to be wounded there, to die there; and to be buried there was to sleep in the bed of glory!

It was glorious intelligence that flew from nation to nation, and from continent to continent!

Yes, it was as glorious as the slaughter of forty thousand men could make it!

For when the news reached England, as I well remember to have read in the journals, the park and tower guns were fired, and there was great public feasting and rejoicing throughout the land.

But oh! was there nothing else?

Where were the widows, and parents, and sisters, and orphans, of those who died at Waterloo?

Could the roaring of cannon, and the ringing of bells assuage their grief?

Could the general rejoicing bring back to them their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers?

Glorious as that great victory was in the eyes of the nation, it was tears, and agony, and death to the bereaved.

Is war, then, never justifiable?

Let those who believe that it is, prove it from the New Testament, if they can.

I know that the oftener some conscientious men attempt it, the more difficult do they find the task.

But one thing is certain, war is directly contrary to the whole scope and spirit of the gospel.

It could never take place, were the great law of love the great law of nations.

No battle was ever fought, nor ever will be, without involving the guilt of murder.

It may be on one side, or on both; but the stain of blood-guiltiness is certainly there, and no rivers can wash it out. How fearful, then, must be the responsibility of whetting the sword upon a point of honour, or making aggressive war under any circumstances whatever.

And how will those professed disciples of the Prince of Peace, who either foment, or justify, or cherish a war spirit, meet Him in the great day.

But, hark! what sound is that over the field of Waterloo?

Look! what heaving of the earth is there! No I anticipate. I hear no voice as yet. I see no moving of the sleeping dust. But the trumpet will sound over that field, and the dead will awake. All the thousands that lie buried there will come forth from their graves, and will be summoned to the judgment bar.

Officers and common soldiers must hear and obey the summons alike. And at the same bar will they meet all those who kindled the war in which they perished. Kings, privy councillors, military commanders, will be there. And I have the most solemn conviction, that before that dread tribunal, every mortal wound at Waterloo will be held and adjudged as murder, the guilt of which must rest somewhere.

In whose skirts, or in the skirts of how many, the blood of that most bloody day will be found, it belongs to no mortal absolutely to decide; but the Judge will know; and when the final sentence comes to be pronounced, the universe will know.

Oh, how fearful a thing will it he, under such circumstances, to “fall into the hands of the living God!”

And if all war is murder, who can conceive of the multitudes who will be involved in the guilt of it, when the books come to be opened; or of the punishment which a righteous God will inflict upon the guilty, in that world of retribution where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

– Gospel Standard (1836)

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