In Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 anti-slavery film, “The Ten Commandments,” fugitive Hebrews are being pursued by chariots of the Egyptian oppressor. Moses, looking a lot like Charlton Heston, holds forth his staff, the Red Sea is parted, and the liberated cross over on dry land. When the slave-catchers try to follow, Moses again holds out his staff and the waters of the sea come crashing back down, the enemy destroyed as effectively as Pickett’s Division on July 3, 1863.

A few chapters of Exodus later, the Hebrews are challenged by the Amalekites. Apropos of a general, Moses positions himself on a hill behind the lines, where he can monitor the action. Civil War armies had cannon; Moses’ weapon was the aforementioned staff. As long as he held the rod high above his head, the Israelites were winning; but when the general’s arms grew weary, causing the victory stick to droop, the advantage went to the Amalekites. Aides-de-camp Aaron and Hur saw the problem, led Moses to a rock and sat him on it. (At age 70, I can appreciate that Moses’ legs were growing as weary as his arms.) Both aides then took arms—the arms of Moses—one raising the general’s left, the other his right, so the staff was held high until the sun set and victory was won. In this invaluable service to their chief, Aaron and Hur became the prototype of what is known to this day as “staff.”

Bruce Davis is president of the Civil War Round Table of Gettysburg. The opinions and ideas expressed here are his own and he invites you contact him at

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