Soldier’s Life Saved by a Hymn
Levi Hefner, my maternal great-grandfather, was a Confederate soldier from Hickory in Catawba County.
Levi enlisted in Company C, 28th NC Regiment of the Confederate States Army at the outbreak of the Civil War and fought in the infantry on Virginia battlefields. He was captured on May 12, 1864 near Spotsylvania Courthouse and sent to a prison in Elmira, NY, then released when the war was over. Before that, though, he was a good horseman and eventually was assigned to Gen. Robert E. Lee as a courier, taking messages for him wherever he was sent.
One night he was taking a message for Gen. Lee and en route came to a bridge over a creek. His horse balked and wouldn’t cross. Levi tried to calm the horse, but with no success until he started singing a hymn, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” That worked, and he remounted and crossed the bridge, still singing, and went on his way to complete his mission.
After the Civil War there were many reunions for the War veterans, and they were advertised months ahead in newspapers in the North and South. One was held in Salisbury, in North Carolina’s central Piedmont region, and since that was not too far from his home in Catawba County he attended it. There were many people camped there, grouped around campfires, telling about their war experiences. My great-grandfather found a group and sat down and listened in.
Eventually a soldier from Ohio shared a story about an experience he said he would never forget. One night he was ordered to guard a bridge, with orders to shoot anyone coming across because he would be an enemy. Eventually a rider approached, but when he came to the bridge his horse balked, then reared up and wouldn’t cross the bridge. The rider got off and tried to calm his horse, but when he remounted the horse balked again. Then the Union soldier heard the rider begin to sing the hymn, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” in a beautiful tenor voice. That calmed the horse, and the rider began crossing the bridge, still singing. When he got close, the Union soldier said, “I had him in my sights, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger to kill a Christian singing such a beautiful hymn, and I let him cross.” Hearing that, my great-grandfather jumped up and said, “That was me!”
I don’t know what happened then, but he probably hugged that Ohio soldier and thanked him for sparing his life.
This was told to me by my aunt Hattie Fox, an older sister of my mother, about 1968.
I am grateful for that hymn and for the legacy of singing from my ancestors.
The significance of the hymn is in the words. The first and second verses certainly were appropriate for Levi Hefner:
Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; Oh, receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, Still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head With the shadow of Thy wing.
(Words by Charles Wesley, 1738. Tune is MARTYN, by Simeon B. Marsh, 1834. Can also be sung to the alternate tune, ABERYSTWYTH.)