Maude Brown writes that in the spring of 1862, when Confederate General Albert Sydney Johnson led his forces out of Corinth and into Tennessee to launch a sneak attack on Grant’s forces at Shiloh, he had 500 coffins made. The good general was unduly optimistic in regard to the number of casualties his Army of Mississippi would suffer. Grant would later be quoted after the battle as saying a person could walk in any given direction without touching the ground. Both the Union and the Confederacy each suffered over 10,000 casualties. More salient to the general’s miscalculations was that he was among those carried back to Corinth in one of the coffins he had ordered.
The city was soon overrun with the Confederate dead and wounded. When it could handle no more, the rest of the wounded, about 1,500, were sent by train to Oxford—home of the University of Mississippi. School was not in session due to the war, so the buildings on campus had been converted into a makeshift hospital and remained that way for the duration of the war. Both Confederate and Union soldiers were treated there. Those who didn’t survive the experience were laid to rest in a small plot of campus land designated as a burial site. Tiny markers initially identified their graves until they were mistakenly removed in later years.
On the monument that marks the cemetery are the names of 132 men and the following inscription:
Here rest more than seven hundred soldiers who died on the campus of the University of Mississippi when the buildings were used as a war hospital,1862-1865; most of them Confederates wounded at Shiloh; a few federals of Grant’s army; a few Confederates of Forrest’s Calvary; even their names, save these,
known but to God.
Known but to God—that’s the way it is, isn’t it? While there’s a community aspect to our faith that is critical and must not be overlooked, there is also a significant personal dimension about it that is known but to God. Jesus spoke along these lines in Matthew 6:1ff, when He instructed His disciples to make sure their righteousness was the real thing and not merely for show. He went on to talk about giving (v. 2-4), praying (v. 5-6), and fasting (v. 16-18). If these things don’t start in our heart as a result of faith in our Father, then they’re not real. And more to the point, if they don’t remain between us and God, we’ve compromised their value.
The underlying principle is that there’s something important to be found in secret service. When we act upon our faith in a way that is between us and God and no one else, it forges our character and integrity. And while community can nurture and enhance these things, it cannot create them.
In fact, all of the things we do in a community context build upon the relationship that is known but to God. So we’ll take all of the community we can get, but we’ll also recognize the truth that while it can enhance and encourage the personal—by its very nature it cannot replace it. To move on to maturity we must allow Christ to reign in our heart in ways that are known but to God.