Breastworks and Battlefields

Arriving early on a Thursday morning, the kindly man took on a fearsome gaze as he surveyed the hillside. It was defensible, but not unbreakable. His men would need additional protection if they were to survive what would come. 

He ordered the building of breastworks; long walls of felled trees and stone- the aboveground equivalent of trenches. The 600 or so men and their commanding officers had marched all night to get here, and had no desire to do the backbreaking work. One of the officers countered the Brigadier General, explaining that if the men got used to hiding behind walls, they would not readily fight in the open when called upon in the future. But the generations of experience behind the 62 year old engineer would press the issue and win the day. The men conceded and went about building strategically positioned fortifications over half a mile long. They would soon be glad they did. 

That evening, though now reinforced by men from two other corps, there were only 1350 men to cover the entirety of the line. The General knew he needed to defend this far right flank of the army at all costs. He spaced every man out along the whole line, one man deep, with a foot of space between them. It would have to hold. 

As dusk settled, the enemy charged, sending 4500 men in attack. Over the next few hours of darkness, they would charge several times, each ending in blood. George knew he could not spare a man, and could not be inefficient with his incredibly limited resources. He would cycle the men out and back to refill their supplies throughout the sustained hours of warfare. As the bullets flew, their saving grace was the long line of breastworks that they had built that morning.

Despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered, these men would indeed hold their ground. They endured the longest sustained gunfire of the entire battle of Gettysburg- over 7 hours without a break. The boundary they had created kept them safe to fight and maintain the far right flank of the Union army. 

If Brigadier General George Sears Greene hadn’t seen what needed to happen and led his men, against their will, to establish the boundary of the breastworks on Culp’s Hill, the men would have died. The Confederate army would have flanked the whole Union army, and very likely won the battle, leaving nothing between them and nearby Washington DC. The outcome of the Civil War would have been drastically different. We would likely not be the United States of America, and world history would have been changed in ways we can only imagine.

In RP, we talk a lot about the need to enter into vulnerability and drop our guards with each other in order to find brotherhood, and for good reason. But often there are boundaries that must be established that will protect us and allow us to fight the necessary battles to guard the ones we love. Brene Brown says, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” Henry Cloud says, “Boundaries are basically about providing structure, and structure is essential in building anything that thrives.”

Sometimes those boundaries are opposed from the beginning. We may have nay-sayers, or we may be tired. But if we don’t build in some breastworks, we may very well catch a fiery arrow. 

What battlefields do you need to establish breastworks on? Maybe you need work boundaries- you won’t check work email after a certain time of the day. Or smartphone boundaries- you won’t have certain apps open for more than 10 minutes a day. Or maybe social boundaries- you won’t spend time with that person alone anymore. Or responsibility boundaries- you won’t take burden yourself with another person’s obligations or say yes to things just to appease others.

What do you need to put into place in order to guard yourself in healthy ways?

How might those boundaries be helpful in both your own restoration process and the restorative work you are doing in the world around you?



Cody Buriff, Director of Resource Initiatives

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