Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words A digital project of Baptist life during the American Civil War Mon, 01 Sep 2014 05:01:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Baptists and the American Civil War: September 1, 1864 Mon, 01 Sep 2014 05:01:20 +0000 Battle of Jonesboro September 1 1864Gloom grows throughout the South as Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman defeats  Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of the Tennessee in the second and final day of the battle of Jonesborough (Jonesboro). Hood’s defeat forces the Confederates to prepare to do the unthinkable: abandon Atlanta.

Night falls on a chaotic scene. Both sides know what the morrow will bring.

Nonetheless, white Baptists in the South remain defiant.

In this month’s edition of the Baptist periodical Child’s Index, one article portrays northerners as early seventeenth century Pilgrims intent upon persecuting religious dissenters – in this case, Christians of the South. From the Pilgrims of 1620 had “descended the Yankee nation, which is now trying to deprive us not only of our religious liberty, but of every kind of liberty.” The article speaks contemptuously of Northern preachers who are now filling the pulpits of churches in Southern areas under Union control.

They refuse to let us have Bibles. . . . They drag our preachers from our pulpits, and send them to prison. They deprive us of our churches, and burn them or use them as stables or store-houses. They send preachers of their own to preach wherever they have taken . . . our towns, and if they conquer us they will take away all our churches… and not even let us pray in our families as we wish. . . . They are blinded by fanaticism and infidelity.

At least some of the complaints voiced above are quite real: in many instances, Northern forces confiscate Southern churches for army use, while the United States ban against commerce with the South prohibits Northern-printed Bibles from entering the South. Yet in other cases, Southern congregations simply abandon their church houses as Union armies move further South. However, charges of not allowing families to pray are a bit dubious. The white Southern belief that the abolitionist North is “blinded by fanaticism and infidelity,” on the other hand, has been a standard line since the beginning of the war.

Yet the attempt to brand Northerners as violators of religious freedom takes place against nearly four years of Southern Christian nationalist rhetoric from Baptists of the South. Having long ago christened the Confederacy as God’s chosen nation and largely abandoned their faith heritage of church state separation, white Baptists in the South nonetheless are well aware of the power of the story of the persecution of early Baptists by colonial theocracies from the early seventeenth to late eighteenth centuries.

Thus it is that with Atlanta conquered and Southern defeat seemingly inevitable, some white Baptists of the South rhetorically and indignantly hold aloft their faith heritage long ago discarded during the war.

Sources: Child’s Index article, “Landing of the Pilgrims,” see T. Conn Bryan, Confederate Georgia. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009 reprint, p. 240 (originally published in 1953) (link); Battle of Jonesborough (link); illustration of Battle of Jonesboro, Currie and Ives (link)

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Baptists and the American Civil War: August 31, 1864 Sun, 31 Aug 2014 11:04:26 +0000 sherman_mapToday marks the beginning of the battle that will decide the fate of Atlanta.

In what becomes known as the Battle of Jonesborough, Union General William T. Sherman maneuvers his forces in an offensive designed to draw the Confederate’s Army of the Tennessee out of the city of Atlanta.

Confederate Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, commanding two corps, takes the bait when he moves from his entrenchments to attack a small Union force intent on disrupting rail service near Jonesborough. What Hardee does not know is that Sherman is moving six corps to meet the unsuspecting Rebels.

Several skirmishes follow in this day’s battle as the Confederates repulsed on several fronts while Union reinforcements are yet being put into place. Under cover of darkness the armies maneuver in anticipation of the battle continuing on the morrow.

Meanwhile, Southern Baptist newspapers, as they have for almost four years now, assure their readers that the Confederacy will prevail over the ungodly, abolitionist enemy. Today’s South Carolina Confederate Baptist declares with near certainty that the godly Confederacy will win this war.

A missionary to Confederate soldiers estimates that one third of them are sincere Christians, whilst in the population of Christendom only one eighth are such. If his estimate is correct, and there seems to be no reason to doubt it, it presents a most gratifying proof of the favor bestowed upon the Confederacy. The prayers of such a multitude of pious soldiers will erect a rampart around our country which the enemy can never overleap nor undermine.

Meanwhile, the same issue of the Confederate Baptist declares the “chaplaincy system” of the Union army a “failure,” Abraham Lincoln a “failure,” and “Yankeedom” an “egregious humbug.”

Such confident words of assurance may or may not assuage Southern fears that Atlanta is on the brink of foreign occupation.

Sources: “Battle of Jonesborough” (link) and (link); “The Army of Faith” and “Northern Chaplains,” Confederate Baptist, August 31, 1864

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Baptists and the American Civil War: August 30, 1864 Sat, 30 Aug 2014 11:45:07 +0000 Abraham LincolnToday a great fire engulfs the southwest Georgia town of Americus, a Confederate hospital town housing thousands of soldiers and located near Andersonville Prison. Two city squares in the downtown district are destroyed by the fire, which causes damages of over $3,000,000. The lost buildings include many businesses, hospital buildings, warehouses and storerooms. Among the contents lost in the latter is a large amount of cotton and wheat, much of both crops being “tithes” collected by the Confederate government to support Southern armies.

Among the leveled buildings is the courthouse, previously used by the First Baptist Church of Americus prior to congregation’s construction of its own meeting house.

Reports of the fire circulate throughout the Confederacy, including in the nation’s capital of Richmond, Virginia.

Meanwhile, this week’s North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder publishes notice of the May 1 death of William C. Duncan, formerly pastor of the Coliseum Baptist Church of New Orleans, Louisiana. In addition to pastoring the church, Duncan founded the Southwestern Baptist Chronicle weekly newspaper,  taught Greek and Latin at the University of Louisiana, and authored several volumes, including History of the Baptists for the First Two Centuries of the Christian Era (1857).

Southern Baptist newspaper editors, however, do not have much good to say about the deceased reverend, as Duncan had been a Union supporter. In 1861 the reverend’s openly Unionist sympathies forced his relocation to the North. Following Union occupation of the city of New Orleans in the summer of 1862, Duncan returned and worked for the reunion of Louisiana to the United States until his death.

Hence, North Carolina editor J. D. Hufham quotes from another Baptist paper, South Carolina’s Confederate Baptist, in condemnation of Duncan:

In an evil hour, he yielded to the seductions of the enemy, and deserted the cause of the Confederacy. Association with the creatures that took the place of his former flock was enough to crush his [?] spirit and wear away his life. It was a sad mistake. He was a ripe scholar, a genial companion, and to all but his country true…

….it is a melancholy reflection that a name once honored among us should hereafter be associated with the crime of treason….

The “cause” to which Duncan turned traitor is that of white supremacy and black slavery. In this regard, Hufham places the Baptist preacher in the same category as the former Baptist that is now president of the United States, echoing, on the same page, the words of Georgia Baptist minister Nathaniel M. Crawford (published in the Baptist Banner of Georgia) concerning “the manner in which the christian (?) people of the North slavishly play court to Mr. Lincoln“:

The ecclesiastical organizations of all the denominations in the United States have sunk to the lowest depth of infamy in pandering to the despotism which they appear to worship. If either should reproach the others, the raven would chide blackness.

Never does it seem to occur to Baptist newspaper editors of the South that they are the defenders of gross and blatant evil in this war.

Indeed, perhaps by now they, so thoroughly over the decades having capitulated to the culture of the South, are incapable of recognizing the rank evil upon which their beloved nation is founded.

Sources: “The Fire in Americus, Georgia,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, September 8, 1864 (link); “Americus, Georgia,” New Georgia Encyclopedia (link); Alan Anderson, Remembering Americus, Georgia: Essays on Southern Life, Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006, p. 79 (link); John Smith Kendall, History of New Orleans, Volume 2, Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1922, p. 714 (link); Henry Rightor, editor, Standard History of New Orleans, Louisiana, Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1900, p. 504 (link); “Duncan, William Cecil,” in James Grant Wilson, John Fiske, editors, Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 2, New York: D. Appleton, 1888, pp. 256-257 (link); “Rev. W. C. Duncan” and “Degraded,” Biblical Recorder, August 31, 1864 (link)

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