Baptists and the American Civil War: November 8, 1861

Alabama Map 1860sThe Alabama Baptist State Convention convenes today in Marion, the first assembly of this body during the war years. Southern Baptist divine and Chaplain to the Confederacy Basil Manly, Sr. opens the meeting in prayer. As in other assemblages of Southern Baptist associations and state conventions this fall, war is uppermost in the minds of delegates. After delegates are seated, a resolution is passed:

Resolved, That one half hour each day during the session be devoted to religious exercises, and that special reference be had in them to the present condition of the country.

The Board of Trustees report that Howard College, the college of Alabama Baptists, remains open but is facing a crisis caused by the inability to collect pledges for the school’s endowment and a decline in enrollment. The problems are a result of a drought and the war, and the trustees voice dissatisfaction with how the war has impacted the college:

… the unjust and fiendish war which our former brethren of the Northern States are so unrelentingly waging against us, have so greatly deranged the financial resources of the country, as to render collections impossible, and it would be highly injurious to attempt it, under the existing condition of things ….

… for the first time in the history of the College … its internal condition is not prosperous …. from the outside tremendous pressure brought to bear upon the young men – students in the college – it was found to be impossible to restrain them from joining volunteer companies …. there are now as many as 42 of the [previously registered] 62 students in the Confederate Army. The same thing has occurred in nearly every college in the South. Your Board are fully persuaded that this course was injudicious and unwise. In the reported language of the honored President of the Confederacy: ‘It was grinding up our seed corn.’ Your Board did what they could to prevent this great injury to the ‘future’ of our common country; but without success. Honest but injudicious persons who possessed the ear and the confidence of the young men, persuaded them that patriotism demanded the sacrifice, and that they ought to volunteer. This, though not wise, accorded with their own earnest love of country, and it was hardly to be expected that a company of high spirited youth could resist these influences. Even the faculty of the college could not withstand them, and three of its members are now in the ranks of our army, as common soldiers. Thus, after years of laborious preparation for usefulness, in positions for which they were admirable fitted, they have sacrificed all to the calls of patriotism. While we can but admire their devotion and disinterestedness, we must question the wisdom of their course ….

As the assembled Alabama Baptists dismiss for the day, they do so with mixed feelings of concern for their denomination and pride for their new nation.

Source: Alabama Baptist State Convention Minutes, 1861 (link); map (link)