Baptists and the American Civil War: October 4, 1863

revivals_confederatesDespite revivals in Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate soldiers camped at Marietta, Georgia seldom hear the Gospel proclaimed.

A recent letter from Georgia Baptist army missionary James A. Toole appears in this week’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index. From Marietta, Toole speaks of his work and mentions the lack of preaching among some regiments.

Marietta, Ga., Sept. 23, 1863

I take opportunity of writing a few lines for your excellent paper, which I wish could be placed in the hands of every soldier. I have always felt the deepest interest in the welfare of our brave defenders, and now as a missionary to them I am endeavoring to benefit them in any way that I can by God’s assistance. I find them all willing and anxious for reading matter and though they have long been exposed to the corrupting influence of camp life. I and many who are Professors of religion and I hope faithful followers of the Lord, while I find but few inattentive or inclined to treat with disrespect the religion of the cross. I have made this pleasant little town my stopping place for the present, in and around which I am laboring. There are quite a number of sick soldiers here, who, with the skill and kind attention of their physicians, seem to be doing well. Dr. Saunders, Surgeon of the Post, has extended to me every courtesy. I think this an excellent place for labor. Since my arrival here I had had the pleasure of preaching Jesus to many of my soldier friends, and that pleasure was greatly increased on hearing from some of them that it was the first sermon they had heard in twelve months.

Toole is one of many, both within the army and without, who note a dearth of preaching among the troops. While Baptists of the South forsake their heritage of church state separation in many other areas, one of the few instances in which they remain largely united is in refusing to accept government pay for army chaplains. Methodists and Presbyterians, fielding more chaplains than do Baptists, benefit from government help. Baptist ministers, meanwhile, evidence reluctance to leave their pulpits to serve among the soldiers, a trend that holds throughout the war.

Source: “Brief Mention,” Christian Index, October 9, 1863; seeĀ Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011 (link)