Baptists and the American Civil War: August 20, 1862

Confederate States MapToday’s North Carolina Biblical Recorder reports on the recent meeting of the Flat River Baptist Association, a body of Baptists who address the war directly (many, but not all Baptist associations of the South do so at some point during the war).

Your committee on the State of the country, respectfully submit the following:

The circumstances under which we meet to day are solemn and afflictive and yet joyous and cheering.

Our enemies have relaxed not [?] in their efforts to conquer us. Their determination is unabated; their preparations already are unprecedented in the history of the world, having been largely increased, and during the past year they gained a series of victories commencing with the battle of Danesville which were as inspiring to them as they were depressing and discouraging to us. Since we last met, thousands of our countrymen have fallen on the battle field or in the hospital, and still we need in the field every man who can bear arms. Judging by the spirit of our enemies as manifested in the columns of their public journals, there is little prospect of a speedy peace, and this war desolating as it is must go on. For we can never yield. Contending for every right which christian freemen hold dear; we should be less than men to yield while there is a single ray of hope. But our enemies have largely increased the miseries of this contest. Burning with a fierce fanatical hatred of us and our institutions, and filled with the lust of conquest, they have broken through all the regulations of civilized nations for the conduct of war; have avowed a policy from which humanity might well recoil in horror and, wherever they have had the power, have perpetuated outrages which will cover them with infamy to the end of time. The policy of universal emancipation and confiscation has been unblushingly adopted; they are arming the slaves to fight against us; private unoffending citizens are dragged from their homes and families, carried to prison, and threatened with death; private property is appropriated or destroyed without scruple; ministers of the Gospel are imprisoned for the offence of loving their country; no age and no sex are exempt from outrage and indignity. We mourn then for our brethren who have fallen; we deeply regret that our enemies are not only determined to force this war on us, but are making it such a war; and while we are mortified by the defeats of the past year we would recognize in them the hand of God chastening us for our sins.

Turning from these solemn and saddening subjects of contemplation, there are many things to cheer the heart of the christian patriot. God has continued to all parts of the country unusual good health, and there are prospects of a bountiful harvest. Our people are united in their determination to be free even where they have been overrun; they have confidence in their rulers, and yield a ready obedience to the laws. Our arms have been victorious in cases which have prostrated the plans of the enemy. The campaign of both the West and the East have been broken up by the battles of Shiloh and Richmond. These, particularly the latter, have been not less disastrous to our enemies than they have been glorious and encouraging to us. Our armies are on the move and there are indications that our conquered territory will soon be recovered.–We may add to all this that our own Government has steadily refused to cherish the spirit of our enemies; have resorted to retaliation only so far as was necessary to protect our own citizens; and that other nations of the earth approve our course and sympathize with us in our struggle. While therefore there is much in the past, to awaken humiliation and grief, and in the present to inspire solemnity, the future is radiant with promise. We would suggest the adoption of the following:

1. Resolved, That we recognize the hand of God in the reverses which our arms have sustained during the past year, chastening us for our sins.

2. Resolved, That the blessings of God on our country, in crowning us to so great an extent with health, with plenty and with victory call for our heartfelt gratitude.

3. Resolved, That our Government is entitled to the confidence of the people, and that as christian freemen we will sustain it with our prayers and our sacrifices until our enemies are conquered, and peace and independence crown our efforts.

4. Resolved, That the churches of this body be requested to make unceasing prayer to God the Ruler of the nations and the disposer of events, for his blessing, on our cause; and that they observe Friday before the 4th Sabbath in September as a day of fasting and prayer for our country.

The report, duly enacted by the association, touches on the major themes of the raging conflict, from a typical white Southern perspective that is at times wishful thinking.

The uncivilized, inhumane, unscrupolous North hates the Southern “institution” of African slavery, but the (white) South will “never yield” to her enemiesĀ  The North is evil, but God is using that evil in “chastening” the South for “our sins” … but such sins remain unnamed, and do not include African slavery. Our (white) “people are united” in opposing the evil North and preserving the “rights” of “Christian freemen” (of which the bondage of African slaves is central). The horrific “emancipation” of African slaves is the North’s goal. The Confederate government, of course, is innocent of mean-spiritedness in defending white Southern rights and is God’s blessed nation, of which other “nations of the earth” are in sympathy with. Baptist churches should be certain to observe government calls for days of “fasting and prayer.”

Not all Baptist associations of the South allow the war to officially intrude into their meetings, but in the case of the Flat River Baptist Association, members both absorb and reflect the common (white) South-wide talking points justifying the region’s devotion to fighting and dying for the right to own African slaves.

Source: “Flat River Association,” Biblical Recorder, August 20, 1862 (link)