The Predestination Debacle

Even their theology was brought under question sometimes by their actions under fire. Note the amusing incident concerning Dr. Robert L. Dabney, an eminent Presbyterian theologian. Though not at the moment serving as a regular chaplain, but rather as a major on General Jackson's staff, Dr. Dabney frequently conducted religious services. One of his pet points of theology was a rather extreme predestinarian view, for he was a strict Calvinist. He had preached on many occasions this doctrine, adding that a soldier need not fear dying in battle until, as soldiers of a later day stated it, "his time came" or "a bullet had his name on it." Dr. Dabney called it by the more dignified title of "special providence." In a day when dodging an incoming shell was considered the mark of something less than bravery, the Major preached emphatically: "Men, you need not be trying to dodge shot or shell or minnie. Every one of these strikes just where the Lord permits it to strike, and nowhere else, and you are perfectly safe where the missiles of death fly thickest until Jehovah permits you to be stricken."

Major Nelson, a member of General Ewell's staff, described as a devout Christian but not a disciple of what he termed this "extreme Calvinism," came upon Major Dabney sittin on the ground taking cover behind a thick oak gatepost during a heavy artillery bombardment. Riding up to Dabney, Major Nelson rendered a snappy salute and said, "Major Dabney, every shot and shell and minnie strikes just where the Lord permits. And you must excuse me, sir, for expressing my surprise that you are seeking to put an oak gate post between you and `Special Providence.' " Dabney immediately rejoined with, "Why, Major, you do not understand the doctrine of `Special Providence.' I believe and teach it with all my heart, and I look upon this thick gate post as a very `Special Providence' just at this juncture."

Other soldiers joked with the chaplain about his taking cover. He had often preached that all should strive to enter heaven; but when the opportunity availed itself, the preacher declined with emphasis!

Charles F. Pitts. Chaplains in Gray: The Confederate Chaplain's. Shelbyville, TN: Bible & Literature Missionary Foundation, 1957. P 103-104