Baptists and the American Civil War: July 29, 1863

Confederate flagA Southern Baptist newspaper editor calls upon his readers to “never despair” in the face of recent Confederate setbacks.

The Charleston Mercury reminds those who are despondent at the late reverses, that they are not to be compared with those endured by Holland and Switzerland to secure their independence, or those of Prussia in her seven years’ war with Europe, or those of the Circassians in their twenty years’ struggle with Russia, or those of our ancestors in their seven years’ war of independence, during which we were defeated in every pitched battle, and had all the old thirteen States and all our leading cities overrun and conquered for the time. Instead of the splendid victories which have won for us, in our present struggle, the admiration of the world, we were beaten from New York to Georgia. The country swarmed over with tories–and, at one time, having the mere shadow of an army in the field.–If Generals Lee, Bragg and Johnston were to-morrow beaten in the field, we would not be in as desperate a condition as our fathers were when General Washington vanquished at Long Island, Germantown and White Plains, with a handful of men under his command, attacked Princeton in the dead of the winter. He, although never successful in any great fight, never despaired. The people, amidst the most disheartening reverses, never despaired. They still fought on; until at last their enemy was worn out and forced to yield before that indomitable will which reverses only strengthened, and the nearer approach to success by our enemies only made more unconquerable.

This is the right view to take of the matter. If we had dreamed of desponding and giving up, the time for that was eighteen months ago, when we had suffered more reverses now, and before the enemy had been embittered by the terrible defeats he has since sustained–before he had decreed a confiscation of our property and an emancipation of our slaves. That, if any, was the time for despondency, not this. It is now too late! Indeed it was too late at the beginning of the war. Things have got in a condition that admitted of nothing but war, and the war admitted, and admits now, of nothing but independence. Our ancestors achieved independence, after seven years of horrible war, all conducted upon our own soil. We have as yet endured but a third of that time, and had more victories than defeats. Let us go on, struggling through every disaster, confident that the end will be what we deserve and desire.

Meanwhile, one Confederate soldier writes to his wife, candidly declaring that many soldiers have given up all hope and are “whipped.”

 Camp Near Campty on Redriver July the 29th. 1863.

Dear Wife I once more sit down by an old box to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well and I hope when thees few lines comes to hand they will find you and familey well. Ive no nuse that would interest you. We hav ben on the march from Monroe to this place 9 days. We wont stay hear long. I dont know where we will go. McCullchs brigade is a hed of us. I understand that they hav crossed the river and gone on down to grantico . I dont know what is their motive. We may go out beyan there a peace and strike camps a while or we may go down on Burfers bay to reenforce General Talor. We understand that the feds are crouding him. He had a fight not long since he whipped them. I understand we allwais whip but the feds holds the ground. When you hear of a fight at any time and at any place you may know that we whipped the fight but it appears that we allways hav to skiddaddle. The men in this armey is the worst out of heart you ever saw and the worst whipped. They hav giv up all hops of us gaining our independance. That is the privats. The officers want say that we are whipped. They dont want the ware to end. There big pay would stop if it was to. The soldiers has commenced deserting again. We hav verry tight orders to obey and there is no talk of furlowes. They say it was part of the contract when they was sworn in which it was. They was to hav 60 days furlow in each and every year and they say if they cant get it they will take a spanish one. There has about 15 left our brigade since the fall of vicksburg. I heard just know that 5 left Waterhouses regament last night. Lots of the men is about nakeed and if they cant get close they will be obligeed to go home after them. If you see any boddy that is comeing to our regament send me too boots. Ben Jones wrote to uncle Wade to come after Henry if he comes and hasent started. When you get this you can send them by him. I wish I could come and get them my self but wishing dont do any good. I cant get a letter from you much less hear from you. I wish you could see me this eavning. I am so black and dirty. You couldent tell what my close is made of and I havent no time to wash them and no soap and no pot but I hope it want be so long. When you get this write direct yours to W. E. Stoker Capt. Duncans Co. Cubersons Reg. Haus. Brigade Walkers division Shreveport. L. a. and they will be apt to come. We move about so much the letters gets lost. Write every thing you know and when you write that then let me know if any more of the women has ben playing leapfrog and lizzard with the men. If they are fond of the gaim and they havent got any boddy to play with them tell them to send over after us. We want to play that sort of a gaim the worst sort. Giv my best respects to all inquireing friends and receiv more than dubble portion for your self. Dont forget to kiss priscilla for me and Ile be sure not to forget to return the compliment if I am spaired to get home. Nothing more. W. E. Stoker to E. E. Stoker

Thus the defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg lead to divergent narratives about the future of the Confederacy. Prominent home front voices explain away the terrible losses as only minor setbacks. Yet in the eyes of many soldiers, the war is effectively over. This South-wide clash between hope and despair reshapes the Confederacy during the remainder of the war.

Sources: “Never Despair,” Biblical Recorder, July 29, 1863 (link); Letter, William Elisha Stoker to Elizabeth E. Stoker, July 29, 1863, House Divided, Dickinson College (link)