Baptists and the American Civil War: October 14, 1863

revivals_confederatesToday in Prince William County, Virginia, the Third Corps of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee‘s Army of Northern Virginia attack the Second Corps of Union Gen. George E. Meade‘s Army of the Potomac. The Battle of Bristoe Station begins with a surprise attack upon the unsuspecting federals: the initial shells fall as the federals are boiling coffee. Yet, despite the surprise and being outnumbered two to one, federal troops rally and defeat their attackers, capturing five guns of a Confederate battery in the process.

Confederate casualties are well over twice that of the United States Army. The outcome of this battle, as word spreads in the days ahead, adds further to the despondency hovering ever lower over the Confederacy.

In the midst of months of bad news from the battlefields, Confederate Baptists increasingly point to growing revivals in the Confederate Army as key to ultimate victory in the war over their Northern enemies. Baptist newspapers of the South are saturated with news of army revivals, including the following:

Camp 24th Regt, N. C. Troops.
Near Weldon, N. C.

Dear Bro. Hufham:–It will, doubtless, be interesting to your many readers in this, (Ramseur’s) Brigade, to hear of the glorious revival now going on among the men composing it. Never before did your correspondent witness such abundant manifestations of the willingness of God to pour out His spirit upon His creatures, as is now being displayed. It seems that one warm zealous and affectionate sermon will often melt the hearts of some of the worst sinners. It is solemnly impressing to see those, who in many instances have been the most outbreaking and wicked, smitten down beneath the power of the Spirit, and crying for mercy. When a sermon is preached and the minister extends an invitation to penitents, the altar is soon crowded with scores of inquiring souls, with an eagerness, which loudly speaks the earnestness of their purpose.

It seems as if our Brigade is specially favored at this time for a revival of religion. We have been comparatively idle for several weeks, taking no active part in the exciting scenes that have been transpiring in different parts of the Confederacy. During this highly favored period it has pleased the Lord to send His ministers to labor for us, and His Holy Spirit to take the truths spoken by them, and apply them to the hearts of poor sinners.

The work is a truly glorious one. Sinners are being aroused to a sense of their danger; mourners are being converted backsliders reclaimed, and christians built up in faith, and stimulated to more lively energy in the service of God.

These meetings commenced some weeks ago, and have been going on in the different regiments in the Brigade ever since, with unabated zeal. It seemed for a while, that our regiment, (the 24th), although it had the reputation of being as moral as any other, shared but little in the good work which was going on in sister regiments.

At length, preaching and prayer meetings were commenced in our regiment, and the happy result is a glorious revival now in progress. But the ministers laboring for us need assistance. Will not some of the many preachers in the State, come and preach for us for a few days.

Brethren you will never regret it, if you leave your homes and churches, and come and labor with men who are anxious to hear their pastors preach.

The home preacher seems dearer than ministers we have never seen before, and he would not fail to exert a greater influence over those he had been in the habit of preaching to at home, than any other preacher could.

Eternity alone can tell the good that might be accomplished now, while every thing is so favorable, if the ministers would sacrifice home and comforts and come and labor with the soldiers for a few weeks or a month.

I would say to the preachers, remember that these opportunities are passing by.–And it may soon be that you will not have as easy an opportunity of doing as great an amount of good.

We may soon be called to a different and distant field of service, where there will not be the opportunities that are now afforded. The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few.

Yours, &c.

J. * A.

The letter-writer thus brings up a theme that is now ricocheting throughout Baptist newspapers of the South: the lack of Baptist ministers serving as army chaplains and missionaries.

The complaints of this nature continue throughout the remainder of the war against the backdrop of an even larger worry: the supply of Confederate soldiers is drying up, even as the Union Army grows ever larger.

Sources: Battle of Bristoe Station (link); Biblical Recorder, October 14, 1863 (link)