Baptists and the American Civil War: November 16, 1862

Civil War States MapToday’s edition of the New York Times publishes a letter (originally published in the Richmond Whig) from a Confederate chaplain that discusses the religious landscape within the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The chaplain is not a Baptist, but offers observations of Baptist chaplains.

The following is a copy of a letter from Rev. D. STILES, who is laboring as an Evangelist in the army of the Potomac [a.k.a. Army of Northern Virginia], to Rev. Mr. PRICE of this city [Richmond], Secretary of the United Synod’s Board of Missions. The religious feeling now pervading every portion of our vast armies in the field, in one of the most notable and, we think favorable indications of the war. With praying Generals, and God-fearing subordinates, aided by a just cause, our troops must prove invincible. The Petersburgh Express understands that the Evangelist Tract Society in this city, upon the reception of Dr. STILES’ letter, immediately forwarded, per express, nearly 100,000 pages of tracts to Gen. LEE’s army:

MY DEAR BROTHER: My diminutive sheet and pressing cares forbid the attempt at even a general sketch of the scenes of interest — social and spiritual — which it has been mine to witness and take part in since I left you. My only object in addressing you a note at this time is to apprise you and all sympathizing Christian brethren and sisters in Richmond of the happy religious condition of that part of the army of the Potomac which lies within the range of my present observation.

At his earnest request, I preached to Gen. PRYOR’s brigade last Sabbath. Upon one hour’s notice, he marched up twelve or fifteen hundred men, who listened with so much interest to a long sermon, that I was not surprised to hear of such a beginning of religious interest in various regiments of the brigade as issued in a half-way promise on my part to fall in with the proposal of the General to preach very early to his soldiers for a succession of nights. In Gen. LAWTON’s brigade there is a more decided state of religious excitement The great body of the soldiers in some of the regiments meet for prayer and exhortation every night, exhibit the deepest solemnity, and present themselves numerously for the prayers of the chaplains and the Church. Quite a pleasant number express hope in Christ. In all other portions of Gen. Early’s Division, (formerly Gen. EWELL’s,) a similar religious sensibility prevails.

In Gen. TRIMBLE’s, and the immediately neighboring brigades, there is a progress, at this hour, of one of the most glorious revivals I ever witnessed. Some days ago a young Chaplain of the Baptist Church — as a representative of three others of the same denomination — took a long ride to solicit my cooperation, stating that a promising seriousness had sprung up within their diocese. I have now been with him three days and nights, preaching and laboring constantly with the soldiers when not on drill. The audiences and the interest have grown to glorious dimensions. It would rejoice you overdeeply to glance for one instant on our night meeting in the wild woods, under a full moon, aided by the light of our side stands. You would behold a mass of men seated on the earth all around you, (I was going to say for the space of half an acre,) fringed in all its circumference by a line of standing officers and soldiers, two or three deep, all exhibiting the most solemn and respectful earnestness that a assembly ever displayed. An officer said to me, last night, on returning from worship, he never had witnessed such a scene, though a Presbyterian elder, especially such an abiding solemnity and delight in the services as prevented all whispering in the outskirts, leaving of the congregation, or restless change of position. I suppose, at the close of the services, we had some sixty or seventy men and officers come forward and publicly solicit an interest in our prayers, and there may have been as many more who, from the press could not reach the stand. I have already conversed with quite a number, who seem to give pleasant evidence of a return to God, and all things seem to be rapidly developing for the best.

The officers, especially Gens. JACKSON and EARLY, have modified military rules for our accommodation. I have just learned that Gen. A.P. HILL’s Division enjoys as rich a dispensation of God’s spirit as Gen. EARLY’s. Ask all the brethren and sisters to pray for us and the army at large. I would not be surprised to learn that the condition of things described above prevails extensively in portions of our soldiers at present out of our view. One thing more. We famish for the want of tracts. Do write to our Petersburgh brethren forthwith, and beg them to send to me, at Winchester, care of Dr. BOYD, as large a supply as they can spare. The Chaplains are constantly inquiring of me on the subject, and I can see the tracts promptly and judiciously distributed. They would be of vast assistance and consolation at present.

Have two preachings to-day. Must be done, begging the kind remembrances of all.

P.S. — I have opened this letter the second time to inform you of the widespread of holy influence. In Gen. PICKETT’s Division, also, there are said to be revivals of religion.

Confederate officers are increasingly recognizing the value of religion to soldier moral, even as Southern denominations are placing more emphasis on saving soldiers’ souls. Religion in the ranks, in short, is now recognized by many in the South as critical to achieving victory over the North.

Source: “Religious Condition of the Rebel Army.; Letter from Rev. Dr. Stiles,” New York Times, November 1862 (link)