Baptists and the American Civil War: July 26, 1862

In the state where the Confederacy was born, the South Carolina Baptist Convention is meeting in annual session in Greenville. The war permeates the proceedings.

Several Southern Baptist ministers are presently imprisoned in Union-occupied Nashville, Tennessee for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. South Carolina delegates convey their support for the imprisoned clergy:

Whereas, we have learned that Dr Howell, Brother Ford, and some others, are now confined in the State Penitentiary in Nashville, Tennessee, for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the United States, therefore,

Resolved, That the sympathies of this body be tendered to Dr. Howell, Brother Ford, and such other brethren as may be suffering persecution for their devotion to the cause of their country; that we look with admiration on their constancy and fortitude, and that we will not cease to pray that their strength fail not, and that they may speedily be released.

Delegates learn that the Southern Baptist Colportage Board is working across denominational lines in distributing bibles and Christian literature to Confederate soldiers, including the publication of “a valuable tract from the pen of Dr. Thornwell” (a leading Presbyterian of the South and vocal proponent of African slavery).

A former colporteur among the soldiers is noted for relating the following story:

After preaching, I told the soldiers who those who were present that I had some New Testaments to distribute to those who were desirous of obtaining them. As I did not have my Testaments at the tent that night, I told them that at eight o’clock the next morning I would give them out to those who called. But before leaving the tent that night, many of them came to speak for Testaments. At eight the next morning I appeared in the tent door, and soon was surrounded by soldiers, crying, ‘I will take one of your Testaments,’ and in less than fifteen minutes the last one of the lot was in the hands of the soldiers. Very few of them were given out of one company. While I was distributing, members of other companies chanced to pass by, and would ask ‘How do you sell your New Testaments?’ Our dear soldiers are hungering and thirsting for the Word of Life.”

The mixed message is that while the war is tragic on the one hand, Baptists nonetheless want to believe that the great conflict is bringing new spiritual vitality to the Confederacy.

Source: Southern Carolina Baptist Convention Annual Meeting 1862 Minutes (link); map image (link)