Baptists and the American Civil War: May 7, 1862

J. D. HufhamWhite Southern preachers, most of whom are loyal to the Confederacy, are being singled out for punishment by the United States government, should the North win the war. Or so claims one Southern Baptist newspaper editor.

Our enemies encouraged, and made confident of success, by their recent victories, are trying to decide what to do with us after we shall have been conquered, and the war ended. A variety of measures has been proposed, but none has yet been adopted. In regard to the general plan and many points of minor importance there seems to be an almost endless diversity of opinion; but in one thing all are agreed. There are certain classes of Southern Secessionists who are to receive condign punishment. For them there is no mercy in store; and wo betide them, if they should fall into the hands of the doughty and chivalric Northmen. Among these persons marked out for destruction, our readers will not be surprised to learn, that the Southern preachers who have dared to commit the heinous and treasonable offence of being true to their country and resisting oppression and outrage, are included. It is even so. In the Federal House of Representatives, a short time since, one of the Speakers said: “He desired to hold such men as Davis and Beauregard to a just retribution, as well as the MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL who preach treason to their confiding congregations.”

The preachers, then, are to be classed and punished along with President Davis and General Beauregard, which is to say that they will be put to death and their property confiscated.

Of the intentions of our enemies in this respect, we can entertain no doubt. Their fiendish outrages on the ministers of Alexandria, Leesburg, Nashville, and every place where they have dared to carry their inclinations into practice show that the preachers who have been true to the South, have no favors to expect at their hands. In heart they are now prepared to enact again those bloody scenes which disgraced the early history of many European countries; and success will enable them to give full vent to their devilish hate and brutal thirst for blood. Many of them would, no doubt, pass sentence on a secession preacher with as intense, fiendish joy as ever thrilled the heart of the bloody Jeffries, or witness the execution of the sentence with as much complacency as Nero exhibited while the early martyrs were expiring in agony before him.

The preachers of the South have perhaps merited this at the hand of their enemies; for they have dared to be patriotic and friends to liberty, not only in heart and sentiment, but also in word and action; and this is, at present, the highest crime known to Northern judicature. With a few exceptions, such as Brownlow and Marble Nash Taylor, those plastic tools of Satan, they have stood by their country and their people all through these trying times.–When the atrocious designs of the enemy became apparent, they counseled resistance; they have not only sympathized with their flocks, but cheerfully shared with them the stern fortunes of war; have not only declared the duty of Christian freemen, but shown by their example, how it is to be performed; have supported their government and their rulers; have uncomplainingly borne privations and sufferings and made every needed sacrifice; when their services were wanted in the field, they have gone to fill every rank from the lowest to the highest, and have laid down their lives in the effort to drive back those who came to plunder and enslave them. In times of peace they pursued the even tenor of their way, but when the war came bringing with it new duties, dangers and trials, they not only urged the performance of those duties and led the way, but also, shared the dangers and trials. In what pleasing contrast do they appear when compared to the corrupt and hypocritical wretches of the North who, Sabbath after Sabbath, desecrated their pulpits and their sacred vocation, by political harangues and blatant infidelity, and after thus aiding to bring on the war, kept themselves far from the possibility of danger or harm?

For thus fearlessly and faithfully discharging their duty to their country they are to be treated as murderers and robbers; to die an ignominious death, and leave their wives and little ones, branded with infamy and dependent on the tender mercies and liberal charities of their oppressors. Thus have our enemies spoken.

But the criminal must be caught before he can be executed; and this case will not prove an exception to the rule. The Federals must first get the Southern preachers into their hands before they can hang them.–Many of these preachers are good fighters, and are not likely to be easily taken. Between the others and the enemy, there is a gallant army which must first be exterminated. We therefore conclude that comparatively few of the Southern preachers will be executed for treason notwithstanding the bloody intentions of our enemy.

While there is no grand Northern conspiracy to execute Southern preachers, North Carolina editor J. D. Hufham’s portrayal of virtually unified Christian pastoral loyalty to the Confederacy is common among Baptist elites (many of whom are slave owners) and divines. And while white Southern Baptist ministers are by and large loyal to the Confederacy, enthusiasm for supporting the Confederacy and the South’s commitment to African slavery varies. Pastors of poor, rural congregations, for example, are less likely to express enthusiasm for the Confederacy than those shepherding wealthier, town or city congregations, as Samuel Boykin, Southern Baptist elite and Georgia Baptist newspaper editor, notes later during the war.

According to the writer, Southern preachers are expected to be openly patriotic and wholly loyal to country, whereas Northern preachers expressing patriotism are traitors and sinners. Marble Nash Taylor, referenced by Hufham, is a North Carolina Methodist minister who betrayed the South when Union forces seized control of the state’s coastline. William G. Brownlow, also referenced, is a Tennessean and Methodist minister recently turned Union supporter.

In short, any minister–North or South–who sides with the North is a traitor.

The writer also fails to openly acknowledge the obvious, inherent tension in fighting for “liberty” and against enslavement for whites, while at the same fighting for the continued enslavement and against the liberty of Africans.

Then again, open acknowledgment is unnecessary to Hufham’s readers. Whites are gifted by God with freedom and liberty, and blacks are forever cursed to live as slaves. God’s world, honored and lived out in the South, must thus be preserved at all cost.

Sources: “Northern Despotism and Southern Preachers,” Biblical Recorder, May 7, 1862 (link); for more information on Samuel Boykin’s war-time commentaries, see Bruce Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011 (link); Reverend Marble Taylor Nash (link); William G. Brownlow (link)