Baptists and the American Civil War: December 23, 1862

Among Southern Baptists, the drumbeat continues: extortioners must be shamed into repenting of their sins so that God can unleash his blessings upon the Confederacy and bring the war to an end. Today’s missive comes from Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index. While published this day, the editorial was penned in the midst of the Battle of Fredericksburg, a distant battle to Georgians, but a critical battle for the Confederacy.

We are in the crisis of the war. Our vindictive enemies are pushing on legions more numerous and better equipped than any that ever trod the field of battle. Their gunboats are swarming in their rivers, and threatening us wherever they can float. The necessity of their situation, the exhausting expenses of the war and danger of foreign intervention, are pressing the canting Puritans into the hazardous issue to fight or give up the contest. It is not in their nature to stop persecution and so we may soon listen for the terrific clash of arms. Even now whilst we write the plains of Fredericksburg are likely the arena of the greatest and bloodiest battle of the world. Oh! it will be a fearful and horrible carnival of death! The foe will be in superior numbers; and the ground will shake like a quagmire under the tread of their mighty hosts. On our side Lee, Jackson, Longstreet and the Ililis[?], besides other great masters of the art of war, will be there with one hundred thousand soldiers, such as the world never saw. What a conflict and what carnage, countrymen and friends, will be there! And what awful consequence hang upon this good wager of battle! The Nations of the earth are awaiting its results with breathless interest: it is to tell upon all time and to effect the destiny of all peoples. Do you ask us “Watchmen what of the night?” We answer “All’s well.” In our sacred conscience we believe we shall whip the fight. We have by far the best Generals, the bravest troops, and a righteous cause, and must win. The good Providence¬† that rules with wisdom, we feel is on our side, and we cannot fail. We humbly, but reverently look to divine interposition to give us the victory. If it be vouchsafed to us, with full and decisive results, peace will soon bless a smiling land.–Father in Heaven, we do humbly beseech thee to give wisdom to our Generals, devoted bravery to our soldiers, and glorious victory to our arms.

Now, let us turn from our army to our homes. Let each of us put to ourselves the question, Are we doing our duty and our whole duty? Are we exerting ourselves as much as we ought, to send shoes to put on our barefooted soldiers, and clothes to protect them from the wintry blasts? Are we caring for the absent soldiers’ families whilst they are fighting for our lives, liberty and property? Or are we by speculation and extortion, enhancing, day by day, the bread of the soldiers’ wives and little ones? Oh! how the heart of the patriot bleeds as he listens to the tale of the soldiers’ wives, as, day after day, they complain of the increasing price of food and raiment! And, brethren, are any of us guilty of speculation and extortion? Are we filling the poor soldiers’ wives and children with anguish and gloomy forebodings? If we are, for our bleeding country’s sake, for our noble soldiers’ sake, by all that is beautiful in patriotism, by all that is honorable in the traditions of Southern men, and by our hopes of a blessed hereafter, let us at once adjure the foul practice. Let us not dare to go into the presence of our Maker with the damning leprosy on our souls. This awful sin of extortion is growing fearfully among us and must be put down or our cause will be seriously imperiled. We say in sober earnestness, that when the cry for bread goes in doleful accents to our soldiers that all will be lost. Come home they will to right the grievous wrong.–And who would blame them?

But, oh! thou extortioner, tremble when that time comes! Tremble lest a fierce indignation be meted out to you and cease a practice which receives the condemnation of God and man. We appeal to your patriotism. We beg, we entreat every body–by all they hold dear, not only to abandon the pernicious practice, but to frown it down, and drive it to its den of darkness. Ye men of Georgia, drive the extortioner out of your every neighborhood.– Get your soldiers’ wives and children to hoot him away, as viler, meaner than a Lincolnite. Banish him; for his touch is pollution and his vile carcass a walking pestilence. Oh, that we could all awake to the enormity of the sin, and to its dangerous consequences!

And pray, oh ye tormentors of women and children, what profits it you to put this filthy lucre in your pockets? You are miserable with it, and you know it. You may have horrid dreams, and awful nightmares. And conscience sticks its sharp poiniard through all your ill-gotten gains and bloated pockets straight into your [?] hearts. Remember, too, that by your acts, the expenses of the war are rolled up in increasing ratio, and taxation is but little ways ahead. For you, poor creature, Taxation and Death are certain, and after death, the worm will feed on your body, and that other “worm that never dies,” will gnaw upon your spirit for ever and for ever.

Source: “Thoughts on the Crisis: Extortioners,” Christian Index, December 23, 1862