Baptists and the American Civil War: December 30, 1862

Washington DC 1862

Washington DC 1862

Anticipation grows ever greater among free blacks of the North and Union-controlled South, as well as among many enslaved blacks in the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation is only two days away. Salvation from physical bondage is near, if only on paper for enslaved blacks within the Confederacy.

Salvation of another kind is also on the minds of some Union soldiers, as illustrated in a letter written today by Private Alonzo Lowe of the 35th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers. A member of the First Baptist Church of Rockport, Massachusetts, Lowe was baptized earlier this year on May 11, 1862. Recently wounded in the Battle of Fredericksburg, Lowe is destined to die in September 1863 at Camp Denison, Ohio.

Dear Friend, I received a paper from you and it seemed more like home, when I read it, than it does out here in the enemy’s country.

There is not much news here at this time. Every thing seems to be still here at this time. We expect to move to Washington tomorrow and to go into quarters for a time.

I have been into four Battles since I left home. I think that I have seen about fighting enough.

The last battle that I was in was at Fredericksburg. I tell you it was like carrying men to slaughter. The Rebels had all the chance of us. We had to march right in front of their Batteries, and the way that the shell and grape-shot and canister flew it was hard to dodge them. But to see the dead and wounded lay on the Battle Field it was hard for one to get along without stepping on the dead and wounded.

Dear Friend, I will now tell you how I am getting along. I enjoy myself very well I think.

Without this hope I have in my Saviour I should be most miserable. I can say that I think that I have done my duty since I have been in the army. There has not been a day but I have read my Bible and prayed to God that he would convert this Army.

I have talked to the Soldiers about their souls salvation, but they would laugh at me, and tell me to go into my tent and not be out there spending my breath for nothing. But I tell you that I told them that there is a day coming, that they will wish that they had taken my advice. I tell them that the Bible tells me that except you repent and are born again, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you cannot be saved.

I have talked to some with tears in my eyes, but it seemed to do but little good. This Army is a hard place for a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ to live, he has to undergo a good deal more than he would if he was at home.

As soon as you talk with one soldier about his souls salvation, there will be about from ten or twelve get around you and make all the fun they can. But I tell them they hurt themselves more than they do me. That they will have to answer for this at the Bar of God, at the last day.

Please to write soon. Direct your letters to Com. F. 35th Reg. Mass. Vol. Washington D.C. or elsewhere. Please to give my love to you Wife and tell her my health is good, all I got was my side hurt in the last Battle, but it is getting better. Please to give my love to the Church. I will close this by wishing you good bye.

From you Brother and Friend
Alonzo Lowe in the Lord and
Savior Jesus Christ.
May God bless you all.

Also today, the former First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. burns to the ground. Sold to John T. Ford in 1861, the building had been remodeled and opened as a theatre in November 1861. Now in ashes, the former meeting house in 1863 is replaced with a new theater, “Ford’s Theatre,” that seats 1700 persons. Two years after the new building opens, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is assassinated while attending a play, and the structure is then confiscated and closed by the United States government.

But for now in Washington D.C., Lincoln’s tragic future is unknown as Northern politicians and the public at large (black and white) are focused on the President’s upcoming Emancipation Proclamation.

Sources: Alonzo Lowe, “Hope in My Savior,” in “High Tidings Online,” the newsletter of the First Baptist Church of Rockport, Massachusetts, pp. 6-7 (link); Ford’s Theater, National Park Service (link)