We often find stories that teach us new lessons when we look back at history. After reading this story, I wanted to share a miracle involving a veteran. The young man named David Earley, who grew up in Mottville, Michigan, was the oldest son in a family of six children.
Earley must have been anxious to fight for the freedom of black slaves in the south. In September 1862, when an infantry group came through nearby St. Joseph, Michigan, he lied about his age and enlisted as a private in Company D, 25th Michigan Infantry. He said he was nineteen but later admitted he was only fifteen. His mother tracked him down in Louisville, Kentucky, a few months later and had him discharged on December 12, 1862. He was home for Christmas but still restless. David later testified, “I was in Company D 25th Michigan Infantry. I served in Company D for about three months and was only fifteen years of age. My mother got me out of the service on Disability.” Just after his birthday in September 1863, he enlisted again, this time with Company H of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters.
His regiment first served in Chicago, then joined the Army of the Potomac in Annapolis, Maryland. David fought with his regiment at Spotsylvania, Virginia, in May 1864. That engagement left many dead and wounded. Soon after, David and his unit were involved in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, that began in June 1864. During the bloody assault on the city, David was captured by the Confederate Army. He was marched with the other prisoners of war to Andersonville Confederate prison in Southern Georgia.
Andersonville was little more than a large-scale open-air chicken coop. Tall timbers enclosed an area teeming with tattered soldiers. Guards on turrets shot at anyone going within a 20-foot fenced buffer near the wall. Like the other prisoners, David Earley only had what he carried with him from home to help him survive. Almost 30,000 people were kept in this 26-acre compound when he arrived. That amounts to just a few square feet per person. It was cold in the winter and muggy hot in the summer. They camped in make-shift tents in groupings by state. Michigan soldiers camped on the northern rise. Adding to the hazards, desperate roving thieves terrorized the prisoners in gangs.
The worst part of living there was the lack of food and water. The Confederate guards were low on food; there wasn’t much to offer the prisoners. And by the prison’s design, the only water coming into the compound flowed in from the upstream barracks and animal pens of the Confederate officers. As a result, the area was filthy even before entering the camp. The polluted water spread diarrhea; a poor diet caused scurvy – a disease marked by swollen and bleeding gums, itchy spots on the skin, exhaustion, etc., due to the lack of vitamin C. Both diseases affected David Earley. Disease and malnutrition killed over 12,000 soldiers interred there and reduced the others to skeletons. David Earley recalled, “I contracted scurvy and diarrhea caused by poor and insufficient food, lack of shelter, and poisonous water taken from the swamp.”
The stream that flowed into camp nearly ran dry in the hot summers of Georgia. To get to the stream, prisoners had to wade knee-deep into the surrounding swamp. A bridge was built leading to the center of the stream, with “latrine holes” along one side. So many prisoners needed fresh water that the soldiers took to praying for rain. They often prayed for the rain to wash out the river and dilute the waste. And finally, after much prayer, it rained.
A miracle occurred after the largest group of Christian prisoners prayed for rain in August 1864. The prison population now had topped 33,000, and 3000 were dying monthly from disease. That’s roughly 100 deaths per day. The believers vowed that they wouldn’t stop praying until the rain came. They prayed most of the day. Later in the day, clouds formed above the camp. Lightning flashed and struck near the prisoner-of-war camp.
The first miracle was that lightning hit no one, with so many people crowded together. Instead, one strong bolt struck the earth on a hill just outside the outer wall, near where the stream entered the compound. Freshwater erupted from the hole and flowed freely into the camp under the timbers, rushing downhill until it removed the wall and washed out the polluted stream. It cleaned out the swamp thoroughly. One prisoner remarked, “When the almighty cleans house, he puts housekeepers to shame.” Men crowded around the freshwater pouring in, gulping in water, and praising heaven. This spring remained active for the remainder of the war, providing the prisoners a small amount of fresh water each day. They named it “Providence Spring.” It may have been what kept David Earley alive.
For us today, “rain” can be taken as a figure of speech for any desperately needed blessing from God to keep us spiritually and physically alive to serve in His army. Perhaps we can think of a name like “Providence Spring” to give that occasion. I don’t know about you, but my wife and I have many springs we can revisit to remind us of God’s divine intervention in our lives.
 Latrine is the military term for toilets.
Awww…how touching, Dr. Bob! Thank you for sharing this.
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