Baptists and the American Civil War: March 4, 1862

Confederate States MapThe lead article in today’s Christian Index is a commentary by Georgia Baptist minister E. R. Carswell, a pastor in Waynesboro, Georgia. He thus offers his thoughts regarding “The War,” replete with a sober assessment of the southern economy, the greed of planters, and recent battlefield reversals — as well as issuing a stirring call for soldiers to re-enlist (the initial twelve month service period for Confederate soldiers is drawing to a close, and many do not want to re-enlist) and echo the heroics of George Washington. Finally, Carswell caps his argument by declaring that white southerners are fighting for religious liberty.

No calm observer of current events, can fail to perceive as one circumstance incident to the present state of affairs, a decline in the spirituality of our churches. And we have to regret that the pulpit very largely sympathises with, if it does not become the example to, the churches in this decline. Now as a very natural result of this state of things, church-members will neglect their duties, public and private, and will so far lose interest in the pulpit and the sanctuary, as to not only become demoralized themselves, but will be careless as to the support of the ministry. And further, both preachers and people will–indeed have already neglected our religious press, to the great injury of their spirituality. The war news–the secular press– has excited and absorbed almost the whole attention of both saint and sinner,; and our religious papers, many of them, have gone by the board, while others are but maintaining a precarious existence. Should this state of things continue, and increase until the close of the war, our country will be in a most lamentable condition. With our young men demoralized by the influence of the camp, and the church secularized, and the pulpit shorn of the locks of its moral strength, we can look for nothing but the saddest of consequences. It is the religious element in society, that preserves it from utter anarchy. Remove the restraints of religion, and the example of the spiritually-minded from society, while at the same time you roll upon it the influence of the thousands, whose morals have been corrupted by camp life, and we may well tremble for the final success of our young Confederacy in its effort to perpetuate the principles and blessings of free government.–Upon the ministry to a great extent, rests the responsibility in this regard–“Like priest, like people.” Our ministry have done nobly in stimulating the public mind as to their duty to their country during the present struggle. So far so good. But brethren, remember, that if we establish our political independence at the cost of moral restraints of a spiritual ministry and a holy membership, we shall have but grasped an empty bubble. Then let us “put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to withstand the wiles of the adversary, and having done all to stand.”

Again, we have to lament the blighting influence that has fallen upon our educational interests. The alacrity and enthusiasm which has characterized our youth in volunteering for the public service, combined with the draught upon our private resources, in furnishing equipments for our gallant boys, has crippled many of our schools, and neutralized much of the influence that our colleges might otherwise wield, over the destinies of the country, when peace shall have been established. This matter assumes importance in view of the consideration, that the boys and youth of to-day, whether educated or not, will be the ruling spirits in the next generation, and in accordance with their mental and moral training, will be the success of our country in establishing its claims to the confidence and respect of the nations of the earth. Let us arouse ourselves to educate our boys and girls.

Again, we have seriously to fear that many of our people, our farmers and planters, will continue, even amidst the surrounding difficulties, the suicidal policy of planting too much cotton, to the neglect of the production of provisions. If I mistake not, we have now a crop and a half of cotton on hand.–Should the blockade not be raised, and we produce but a half a crop of cotton, we will have then two crops, or some eight or nine millions of bales on hand, for which we will have no market, but our very limited consumption. The necessary consequence will be a very low price for cotton, in indeed, we can sell it at all. If on the other hand the blocade should be raised by July, and we have on hand a crop and a half, with the prospect of yet another half crop, even, for the present year, the foreign market will be at once glutted, and cotton will rule very low. So blockade or no blockade, we can gain nothing by planting cotton to much extent. And further, we will have an army of some half million in the field, that must be fed and clothed. We have been too much accustomed to look to Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere for much of our provisions to feed our own families and slaves with. Now we have, and will have an immense host of men and horses to supply, besides what is needed for domestic consumption. We will doubtless be cut off in the cotton States from all other resources but our own, for supplies, for ourselves, and for the army. THe seat of war seems to be transferring itself to the great West, and will doubtless interrupt the farming interest so much as to leave but little for exportation. Tennessee and Kentucky, at least for the present crop, may be considered shut up to us, and to the Government for supplies of any great consequence. What then, in view of these stubborn facts, is the duty of cotton planters and farmers?–Why very plainly common sense will say, plant corn, plant corn, plant corn. In other words, during the war if no longer, we must be a provision-producing people, or we can never sustain oursevles in the field. Let us make in abundance wheat, corn, peas, potatoes, hay, fodder and oats–anything and everything that will do to feed man or beast with. Do not forget your stock hogs; let every man try to raise all of his own meat, and as much as possible to spare to the Government. Corn and hogs–hogs and corn, as well as Liberty or Death, must be our battle cry. No man need fear having on hand a surplus, for after we have done all we can, there will not be more than enough to feed our army, our own families and the families of our volunteers left in our midst. The Government will pay liberal prices for all we can spare in the shape of provisions. In the meanwhile, by planting little cotton, we can clear more land, improve our old fields, and be ready when peace is established, to make cotton to our heart’s content, if such a thing be possible, as being contented with quantities of cotton.

Again, let our twelve months boys re-enlist, as the noble Hardee Rifles and others have done. None who have read General Johnson’s address to the twelve months volunteers, I think can refuse their service to their bleeding country. Troops ready drilled and inured to the fatigue and exposure of the camp and the field, are preferable at all times, and extremely necessary to the efficiency of our army at this critical juncture. Who can retire from the field, when our bloodthirsty, savage enemies have encircled us with a girdle of fire, and have invaded our soil at every accessible point, with the determination to subjugate us to northern despotism, or wipe us from the face of the earth? Let all hands re-enlist, whose time has expired or will soon expire. And let new regiments, as long as tehre is a man in the South, be formed, armed, equipped, and drilled for active service Let every man resolve to sacrifice everything, even life itself upon the altar of liberty.

Let the above sentiments be universal in practical development, and we have nothing to fear. It is true, we have met with some reverses of late, but what are these to the victories after victories our arms have already won. No war in the ancient or modern times, has ever been attended, under all the circumstances, in the same length of time with more decided success than that which has crowned our heroes for the first year of this war.

The Revolution of 1776 was a success, but nothing scarcely but reverses attended the American army for the first year or two of the struggle. These reverses, however, but nerved the heroism, and strung the energies of our patriot fathers to more gigantic effort and to more self-sacrifice.–What a picture have we, of deathless devotion, and heroic resolve, when we contemplate Washington in his winter quarters at Valley Forge, surrounded by his raw militia, half armed, half clad, and half starved.–Look again into the camp on Snow Island, as the swarthy swamp fox makes his meal on potatoes. Turn now to the lion-hearted Greene as he retreats for twenty days over two hundred and fifty miles, and across three large and bridgeless rivers, in escaping the grasp of Cornwallis. See him suddenly turn upon the British veterans at the battle of Guilford Court House, and deal his pursuer a blow that ultimated in his final capture at Yorktown.

Talk about suffering and sacrifice! There were hundreds of Greene’s brave troops at the battle of Eutaw Springs completely naked. A turf of moss on the shoulder to support the musket, and one to protect the hips from the chafing of the cartridge-box, made up the entire dress of whole companies.–Heroes were they every one, and most of them were Southern men. Then, let us, the sons of these noble sires make every sacrifice, and stand as firm as adamant against any reverse, until like Washington and Greene, we have hurled the invaders from our soil, and have won for ourselves and for posterity the priceless boon of civil and religious liberty.

Source: “The War,” Christian Index, March 4, 1862