Baptists and the American Civil War: October 3, 1861

Camp TrousdaleThis week a letter from a self-appointed Baptist army missionary appears in print. S. C. Talley, a Tennessee Baptist, reports of his efforts the previous month to minister among Confederate soldiers training at Camp Trousdale in Sumter County, Tennessee. Camp Trousdale has served as a primary training ground for the Army of Tennessee since June.

Dear Bro. Graves:

Leaving home on the morning of the 8th of this month, I set out alone on horseback, armed with a Colt’s repeater and a pocket Bible, for Camp Trousdale, and about 3 o’clock in the evening arrived at the “camps.” When I came to the guard line I was called to a halt by a man armed with a stick. My first impression was that it was a hoax, but seeing a line of them along a path I was satisfied, and obeyed his order, and had to wait until an officer who knew me was sent for to let me in, where I soon found myself at home with my friends, who extended to me a generous welcome, and treated me with genuine soldier hospitality, inviting me to share with them their hot coffee, drank from tin cups, and their hard beds. Their food suited me very well, but I found it impossible to sleep, so I spent the night in reflecting upon the evils of war and the duties of a soldier, especially the temptations to vice and immorality, and though of the great good that a faithful Christian could accomplish here, and felt that during the remainder of this war I would try and stay with the soldiers and labor for their spiritual good, and arising from my hard bed, feeling perfectly willing to share their burdens and endure with them the hardships of camp life. By the request of the Chaplain of Col. Allison’s regiment, I preached at 9 o’clock to a well behaved, attentive audience. Seated upon the ground, after the services were ended, a number of tracts and old copies of the Methodist Sunday School paper were distributed among them. They received them willingly, appearing eager to obtain anything to read. Walking through the encampment in different directions, I found many reading them, and felt certain that all who received one read it immediately. I found many reading their Testaments, and many who wanted Testaments to read who could not get them. They were willing to buy them if they could only find them for sale. One young man, whom I knew to be a non-professor, told me he had tried in Murfreesboro and Nashville to buy a pocket Bible, and when I told him I would try and see what I could do towards supplying them, he said he hoped I would. I found by conversation with a number of volunteers that their chaplains were not all liked by the men. They seemed to lack confidence in them. I was sorry to learn from the first Lieutenant of a company, and other members of it, that their chaplain was inefficient—that he had not been upon their line but once in three weeks, and that he had not visited their sick, although they had a number of them, and some very sick—that he held no prayer meetings of nights, and preached of a Sunday sometimes once or twice about twenty or thirty minutes at a time. They said that they thought he ought to do more for the pay he received. I had thought before I visited Camp Trousdale I would like to be a chaplain. I would still delight to do the work of a chaplain, but I fear the salary would be in the way of my usefulness, unless I spent the greater part in distributing Bibles, Testaments, and Tracts among the soldiers. I now feel that I will try and do the work without the office. I have received nine dollars and forty cents from Second Creek Church and twelve from Hopewell, to buy a lot of Testaments for the soldiers, and I now would say to any and all who wish to aid in this work, that any means entrusted to me will be applied as directed, and a report made to the Tennessee Baptist. I hope in a few days to be at Bowling Green, or wherever that division of our army may be, and from which place you may expect to hear from me again soon. Your brother in the Gospel of Christ,

S. C. Talley.

Talley’s early war experience hints at the challenges facing Baptist chaplains and missionaries in the Confederate army. Refusing to accept government funding (reflective of one of the few ways that Confederate Baptists stand firm on the Baptist heritage of church state separation), Baptists contribute relatively few ministers to the war effort. Baptist ministers in general (frequent nationalistic rhetoric aside) reflect an ambivalence toward personally serving in the army, perhaps partly because many local congregations give little, if anything, to support army chaplains and missionaries. The lack of funding, in turn, perhaps is a reflection of the largely lower class status of Baptists of the South.

Note: J. R. Graves at the time is the editor of the Tennessee Baptist, the publication in which Talley’s letter is printed.

Source: “A Sabbath at Camp Trousdale,” Tennessee Baptist, October 5, 1861 (link); Camp Trousdale (link); image (link)