Baptists and the American Civil War: March 4, 1863

Civil War States MapThis year’s biennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention is scheduled to take place in May in Columbus, Mississippi. That state, however, is now under imminent threat from the southward push of the Union Navy and federal soldiers. At the same time, there is some talk of canceling the meeting altogether.

Holding the meeting “seems inappropriate, owing to the disturbed condition of the State of Mississippi,” one Baptist writers argues this week. “But have we the right to meet elsewhere?” The constitution of the denomination offers no clear guidance.

Some Baptist leaders propose that the convention be moved to Columbia, South Carolina. Others advocate for Montgomery, Alabama, and still others for Macon, Georgia. Of the latter suggestion, the First Baptist Church of Macon extends an invitation for the convention to meet at its church house.

In the midst of the discourse, advocates of all the possible host sites call upon Southern Baptist officials to meet to discuss the propriety of changing the scheduled location of the event.

Meanwhile, Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia are upon the minds of Southern Baptists for the same reason as is Columbus, Mississippi: the growing threat of the Union Navy. A Baptist writer this week sounds the alarm over the danger to the two Confederate port cities that are not yet in Union hands.

All eyes are turned towards the coast, and all ears are open to hear the first roar of that artillery which is to inaugurate a struggle for victory more fierce and desperate than any that has signalized this war. With swarming legions the foe is hovering near our two principal ports, prepared to pounce upon them and wrench them from our grasp, but he will find men more determined than himself and hearts filled with that stern stuff that never yields till life itself becomes extinct.

Never, never let it be that vandal sway shall rule those beleaguered cities! Let the men of the interior, with their private arms, hasten to the rescue, and, marshaling themselves beneath the banner of the noble Beauregard, beat back the vile invaders. But, especially, let the people of God unceasingly send up the voice of prayer that God will give us the victory, and visit our enemies with overwhelming and ignominious defeat.

Although they will not fall into Union hands anytime soon, the fate of Charleston and Savannah is a daily worry for the Confederacy and for coastal residents. In the bigger picture, Southern Baptists are feeling squeezed as the land mass of the Confederacy is slowly but systematically being reduced by Union advances in the West and along the coastline.

Sources: “The Southern Baptist Convention” and “Resolution of the Baptist Church of Macon, Ga.”, Christian Index, March 2, 1863