A Day Long Remembered
Most of us can clearly remember some special Christmas day in our childhood. The older we are the quainter our remembrance of that day. Near the end of life, F. B. Srygley recalled a Christmas he had long remembered “distinctly.” He was hardly more than six at the time and the terrible War between the States was in its final throes. Union and Confederate armies moved back and forth in and near the Tennessee Valley. One or the other was often seen in the vicinity of Rock Creek, even large armies passing along the road that ran by the Srygley’s farm.
On December 25, 1864, J. H. and Sarah Srygley sent their young son Filo away from his Rock Creek home to spend the day with a cousin that lived in a different neighborhood. One thing that [was] impressed that day on [the] young boy’s memory was very likely the reason his parents, unknown to him at the time, sent him away from home on such an important family occasion. An encampment of Confederate soldiers staged what they called a “sham battle” on a hill a mile south and in sight of the Srygley farm. The anxious parents had no way of knowing what the outcome of that might be for the people of Rock Creek.
For Christmas, Filo and his cousin each received one Florida orange and about fifteen firecrackers, which as he remembered “we used up very soon.” He made no mention of their eating the oranges, but the boys likely devoured them as quickly as they used up their firecrackers. “Then, all we could do to make a fuss was to burn some bright coals and lay one on a stump, spit on it, and hit it with a small axe. It sometimes would pop rather loud, as we believed; but we soon got out of spit and had to quit.” The cousins no doubt had a good time, but it turned out to be a day of great disappointment that lingered with Srygley for more than seventy years.
“That night when I got home I found that I had been cheated out of seeing the sham battle.” What boy would not rather see real soldiers in time of war, with real firepower, engaged in real war games, than to set off fifteen comparatively muted firecrackers? To be “cheated” in childhood by one’s own parents is a serious charge for one to make so late in life. The old warrior apparently believed that his good parents had deprived him of an experience that would have been even more unforgettable than remembering what he missed that day.
Thousands of men and boys died in that war and many more were maimed for life. The land around Rock Creek soon became filled with widows and orphans of war and veterans with severed limbs and worse. But the Srygleys were fortunate in the safe return of Felix, their oldest son and brother. “When the South surrendered, Bud came home, arriving late at night, and he went to bed in my mother’s room. When I got up, my mother said: ‘Bud got home this morning.’ I slipped to the door and looked at him as he slept, and I thought he was the finest looking young man I had ever seen. I never thought after he went to the war that I would ever see him again” (Gospel Advocate, Sept. 23, 1937).
While Srygley didn’t get to see the “sham battle,” the war that engulfed the land was genuine to its people and he experienced much of it firsthand, including hearing the artillery roar on “bloody Shiloh hill.”
Before the day was ended,
the battle ceased to roar,
And thousands of brave soldiers
had fell to rise no more;
They left their vacant ranks
for some other ones to fill,
And now their mouldering bodies
all lie on Shiloh Hill.
He became and remained a pacifist for the rest of his life both because of the word of God and his own experiences as a child at Rock Creek during the conflict. He believed there is only one war that Christians should engage in, the war against sin and error. “The only thing that will bring peace to the world is the gospel of Christ, and the only uniform for a Christian are the habiliments of heaven, and the only weapon is the sword of the Spirit.” (Ibid., Sept. 9, 1937)
Biblical Insights September 2012