Baptists and the American Civil War: August 9, 1862

Civil War States MapToday the United States and Confederate armies clash in Culpeper County, Virginia. In the early years of the American nation, this area was Baptist giant John Leland’s stomping grounds.  In those days, Leland preached religious liberty for all and church state separation. Now, many Southern Baptists still cling to “religious liberty” language yet consider the Confederacy as God’s chosen nation, welcoming the mixing of church and state. And whereas Leland and many of his fellow Virginia Baptists of the late 18th century declared African slavery to be against the will of God, today’s white Southern Baptists are leading champions and apologists for the enslavement of blacks.

Today’s battle results in a Confederate victory, as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson rallies his beleaguered army, miraculously escapes death in the battlefield chaos, and repels his federal foes.

Meanwhile, a letter in this week’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index offers a written appeal to the soldier sons of the South.

Soldier, the duties you have taken upon yourself are noble and patriotic, and commend you to our highest esteem; and for your manifestation of courage, patriotism and high-souled daring, we give you the honor, the admiration and the gratitude which they deserve, who are their country’s only bulwark against unspeakable oppression.

To you, in all verity, do your countrymen and your countrywomen look for protection to life, property and honor: upon you, through the blessing of God, do we look as our sole defence in this hour of extremity; and from your exertions alone can we expect deliverance from our foes, and the glorious consequences, national independence, honor and happiness. With tearful solicitude and prayerful interest, we turn our eyes to you: from your deportment as men, and from your demeanor in the sight of high heaven, we endeavor to draw those anguries which shall light up our souls with brightest hopes, or [remove] the gloom of despondency over our drooping souls. When we we see you mindful of your duties, obedient to disciplinary laws, and desirous to attain perfection in soldierly accomplishments, hope lights up the future, and cheer takes possession of our hearts: when we behold you unmurmuringly enduring the hardships of camp life, undergoing the fatigues of forced marches and, with undaunted valor, attacking and dispersing our enemies at the cost of many precious lives, our bosoms swell with pride and our lips chant joyous paeans in your honor and praise; but when we discern on your part habitual regard to holy things, stern endeavors to repress passion, restrain vice and profanity, and a constant struggle to lead moral lives, and honor the Law of the mighty King in heaven, then, oh then, do our hearts feel like rejoicing and raising the song of praise and thanksgiving. For, as sure as God reigns in heaven, He is overlooking the conduct of soldiers in this way; and as surely as He regards His own honor, will He bless or blast their endeavors, according as they respect Him and His laws.

As you value, therefore, the approving plaudits of your country, be obedient to military rule and perfect yourselves in drill, and all military accomplishments. And if you would receive the rewarding smiles and lasting gratitude of mothers, sisters and wives; if you would secure them from the despoiler’s lust and your homes from the ravager’s power and oppression; if you would see your country leap full-grown into the proud arena of nations, with her young brow wreathed with never dying laurels of glory and renown, then put forth heroic endeavors, and exercise these attributes that have become characteristic of the true Southern soldier–undaunted valor, unflinching daring and unswerving determination to be free or die.

But, as you value success, life and liberty; as you appreciate honor, happiness and prosperity; as you esteem homes undesolated, wives and sisters unpolluted, and a country free from the ravager’s tread; so must you seek to gain and to retain the favor and the blessing of heaven. Without heaven’s aid all your efforts will fail. Not by vain presumption, not by immoral lives, not by profuse profanity and card-playing, not by Sabbath-breaking and a disregard to the ministrations of the holy altar, will you gain the favor of God. These but provoke Him to indignation. They but tempt Him to rain down disaster and ruin.

As true and faithful patriots, in whose eyes the honor, and glory, and safety of the Confederacy, stand first and foremost beyond all other interests, we urge you to manifest such deportment as will draw down upon our beloved country the favoring smiles of heaven.

Think not because home is left, that the restraints of home should be entirely forgotten: think not because the camp is the nursery of vice that former vows may be neglected: think not because iniquity abounds that the eyes of Almighty do not behold. In war as in peace He holds the reigns of empire, and will demand of each and all a strict account. Careless and indurated though you be, think of this and tremble!

But with nations God deals in time; and He blesses or curses them according as they honor or dishonor Him and His laws. Then, if not for your own sakes, at least for the sake of your country, follow that course that will secure His blessings upon our land. Honor His day; obey His laws; respect His ministers.

Upon 500,000 soldiers the mothers and daughters, wives and aged fathers of our Confederacy, gaze in anxiety and concern. Shall their eloquent pleadings for virtuous lives, christian conduct, and heroic daring on your part, be in vain?

Love forbid it! Honor forbid it! Patriotism forbid it!

Some 231 of those praised Confederate soldiers die today in the Battle of Cedar Mountain, while 1,107 suffer wounds. The war is far from over, and ultimately there are not enough white men in the South–who are willing to die for love, honor and patriotism–to deliver the Confederacy from her Northern foes.

Sources: Bruce Gourley, “John Leland: Evolving Views of Slavery: 1789-1839,” Baptist History & Heritage Journal, Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter 2005 (link); Battle of Cedar Mountain (link) and (link); “Appeal to Southern Soldiers,” Christian Index, August 5, 1862