Baptists and the American Civil War: April 14, 1863

Civil War States MapToday marks the two year anniversary of the surrender of Fort Sumter, off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, to the then newly-formed Confederate States of America. The surrender came two days after the Civil War began when South Carolina soldiers fired upon the federal fort. At the time, few South or North believed the war would last beyond a few months at most.

The fighting having since settled into a long,drawn-out and indecisive affair, the specter of yet another year of war hangs heavy over the hearts and minds of Confederates. This week a recently-composed letter from the chaplains (including Baptist chaplains) in the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia circulates among Baptists of the South, in part expressing hope, yet again, for a quick end to the great conflict.

This, we fondly hope will be the last year of this bloody war. But of that no one can certainly know. How ardently is a permanent and honorable peace desired! For this object united prayers should go up continually to the throne of God by night and by day. Weeping between the porch and the altar, Zion should lift up her voice without ceasing unto her Savior and her God.–This war must be regarded by all Christian men as a chastisement from the hand of God on account of our sins. The object of all chastening is purification. War, pestilence and famine, when they came upon God’s ancient people, were designed to turn back from their sins, and to bring them back to his love and service. When that result was accomplished, the chastisement was removed. Has the church in our afflicted land learned aright the chastening lessons of her God? Have the rulers and the people, like those of Nineveh, repented before the judgment of God? In some hopeful measure this, undoubtedly, has been the result. We believe that in humility, in sincerity of faith, in thankfulness for mercies, and in prayerfulness, there has been improvement. Men have been called to sacrifice self for principle, and freely has the sacrifice been made by millions. A tenderer charity and a larger benevolence than ever before, open the hands and fill the hearts of many.

A higher estimate has been placed upon truth and upon right by a people resisting unto blood, striving against sin. We may indulge the hope that the results which God designed are following from the war. And when they are accomplished, the war will cease. The coming of peace will be insured and will be hastened by our fidelity in duty and our devotion in prayer.

But, brethren, our great argument with you is the salvation of the souls of men, the salvation of our sons and brothers, the salvation of our dear soldiers. We plead for those who are ready to lay down the life that now is–shall they lose also the life which is to come? If the sacrifice of the body is demanded, shall that of the soul be made? If time if forfeited, must eternity be lost?

The great object for which the church of God was instituted upon earth, is the same as that for which the Son of God died upon the cross–THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE SALVATION OF MEN.

We urge you, then, by this last and greatest of all considerations, to aid us in this blessed work, by your presence, your sympathies, your contributions, and your prayers.

The “principle” for which too many white Southerners have been neglectful, and have therefore been living in sin, is a refusal to sacrifice self to defend God’s slaveholding nation. The “honorable peace” these chaplains (as well as Confederate leaders at large, almost all of whom are slaveholders) seek is a cessation of hostilities that allows the Confederacy to retain its African slaves.

Yet with the war now in its third year, the grumblings of common white southerners are growing ever louder. The war, they are increasingly unafraid to voice, is a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight. Unknown is how much enthusiasm and determination non-slaveholders yet have in the war to preserve the riches of slaveholders.

Source: “An Appeal,” Biblical Recorder, April 15, 1863 (link)