Baptists and the American Civil War: January 15, 2013

J. D. HufhamU.S. President Abraham Lincoln‘s Emancipation Proclamation has energized the North in the war for freedom for all. Meanwhile, Southern Baptist leaders do their part to encourage white Southerners in their quest to forever enshrine white supremacy and African slavery in the Confederate States. This week, J. D. Hufham, editor of North Carolina Baptists’ Biblical Recorder, cheers his readers with an optimistic assessment of the great conflict at the beginning of the new year.

Another year has glided into the dim, shadowy past; has gone from us forever, to live henceforth only in the memory of men, and in the mind of Him to whom a thousand years are as a watch in the night. Unmarked by events of a stirring character in other parts of the world, on this continent it has witnessed the continuation of a struggle for freedom and for national existence, which whether we consider the magnitude of the opposing forces, the immense interests involved in it, the alternations of defeat apparently overwhelming, and of the most glorious and cheering triumphs, the unflinching determination with which our enemies have attempted to subjugate and destroy us, the devotion, fortitude, and heroism with which those efforts have been resisted, or the eager anxiety with which the whole civilized world has watched the shifting scenes of this bloody drama, has no parallel in the annals of the past. The year 1862 will ever stand forth pre-eminent among the great epochs in the history of our race. To the men of the South it posses a deeper significance, is invested with a peculiar, thrilling interest which can only pass away with our lives. It opened gloomily enough for the Southern cause, and gave no indications of the radiant glory which marked its close. All remember well its first months of darkness and depression, when our foes confident and boastful, were closing in around us, and our destruction seemed sure. The capture of our fortifications in the West, the breaking up of our line of defence and the immediate advance of the enemy in that quarter; the fall of New Orleans, cutting us off from a large portion of our territory, and from a very important source of supplies, and throwing open the Mississippi river to the enemy, save at Vicksburg, and our ability to hold that, an unsettled question; the fall of other points on the seacoast, the retreat from Manassas and Yorktown, and the investment of our national Capitol carried despondency and gloom to many a heart and filled even the most hopeful with anxiety for the future of our country. It was a season of darkness, of imminent peril, the most critical period in our national history. Let it not be forgotten. If day of disaster should come again let us turn to it and remember the signal deliverance which followed.

The victories at Williamsburg and Seven Pines, and the exploits of Jackson and his little band in the Valley of Virginia, alone threw occasional gleams of light across our national sky. The battles around Richmond commenced, and thenceforth an unbroken succession of the most brilliant victories crowned our arms, until the enemy was driven from Virginia with ranks thinned by disease and death, and an army discouraged and demoralized by defeat. When near the close of the year, he returned boastful and confident as ever, he was hurled back in even more shameful and disastrous defeat than before. Meanwhile our arms, though not so signally victorious at other points, had been so wielded as to cheer and encourage the hearts of the Southern people, and the year which was ushered in amid doubt and uncertainty, despondency and gloom, the results of disaster, closed gloriously for us both at home and abroad. Who could have anticipated the pleasing change? Who that remembers the state of things which prevailed a few months ago believed that such a speedy and complete revolution to be within the range of probability? It has come through the blessing of God on the energy and skill of our leaders, the valor, fortitude, and self-denying patriotism of our troops and the devotion and unanimity of our people.

Let us recognize the hand of God in all this, return to Him our unfeigned thanks for such signal and unmerited favors, and implore the continuance of His mercies to us. To Him belong the honor and the glory; to Him let them be given.

But let us not make the mistake of supposing that this struggle is ended and our day of trial over. This would cause a relaxation of our efforts and only plunge us once more into the pit of disaster. We believe that the worst of our troubles are over; that the storm of war has passed its climax. But there is still much to do, and there will in all human probability yet be many a bloody conflict before we can enjoy the sweets of peace and independence.–There are signs of division in the councils of our enemies, and indications that some of them are tired of the war, but it will be necessary for them to receive additional instruction in the stern school of experience before they will consent to let us alone. The campaign in Northern Virginia is over, but the struggle still rages in the West and will be continued through the winter. Meanwhile Richmond will probably be tried from the South side again, and desperate efforts will be made to capture our few remaining seaports. There are indications, too, that North Carolina will soon become the theatre of war. They have long coveted the possession of Wilmington, and desired to cut the great Southern line of communication running through Weldon. If the reports which reach us are true, they will soon attempt to accomplish both these objects.–Should they do so, we shall again hear the clash of arms and witness the carnage of battle within our borders.

Such are the prospects of the opening year. We hope it will be marked by triumphs as glorious as those which have already attended our efforts to establish our independence, and have won for us the admiration of the world. We hope, also, that there are no more reverses held in reserve for us. But no matter whether trials or rejoicings be hidden in the womb of the future, let each of our readers trust in God, who has guided our destinies thus far, and be prepared for every vicissitude, hoping that when another year greets us, it will smile on a land enjoying the blessings of peace.

Source: “The Past and the Opening Year,” Biblical Recorder, January 14, 1863 (link)