Baptists and the American Civil War: September 13, 1861

Union General George McClellan

Union General George McClellan

Union General George McClellan’s Special Order No. 7 has now been in effect for one week. The order reads:

The Major-General Commanding desires and requests that in future there may be a more perfect respect for the Sabbath on the part of his command. We are fighting in a holy cause, and should endeavor to deserve the benign favor of the Creator. Unless in the case of an attack by the enemy, or some other extreme military necessity, it is commended to commanding officers that all work shall be suspended on the Sabbath; that no unnecessary movements shall be made on that day; that the men shall, as far as possible, be permitted to rest from their labors ; that they shall attend Divine service after the customary morning inspection, and that officers and men alike use their influence to insure the utmost decorum and quiet on that day. The General Commanding regards this as no idle form. One day’s rest is necessary for man and animals. More than this, the observance of the holy day of the God of Mercy and of Battles is our sacred duty.

Geo. B. McCLELLAN, Major-General Commanding.

S. WILLIAMS, Assistant Adjutant-General.

McClellan is a Presbyterian. His order speaks of a “holy duty” and “sacred cause,” evoking God as an ally of the Union war effort. Many northern Christians, particularly those of abolitionist leanings, agree. Today, the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church sends a letter to President Lincoln expressing approval of McClellan’s order. Yesterday, the Presbyter publication had voiced approval. And on October 28, the United Presbyterian Synod formally endorses the order.

Baptist bodies of the North, however, do not offer formal endorsement of McClellan’s Sabbath order. While many northern Baptists are appreciative of the general’s announcement, the denomination’s heritage of the separation of church and state makes Baptists less likely to issue formal political statements. Nevertheless, many Baptists and other northern Christians – especially abolitionists – are convinced that the cause of the Union is holy and just. The popular belief that the American nation from its beginning has been guided by the providential hand of God contributes to the northern religious dimension attributed to the war effort.

Sources: McClellan’s September 6, 1861 Sabbath order (link); Sean A. Scott, A Visitation of God: Northern Civilians Interpret the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 39, 40, 280 (link); photo (link)