Baptists and the American Civil War: October 30, 1863

North Carolina MapThe North Carolina Baptist Convention assembles at the First Baptist Church of Raleigh and passes a resolution on “the State of the Country.” The resolution is lengthy, offering commentary on the United States, Confederate States and the war, but especially dwelling upon the revivals within the Confederate Army.

The close of another Conventional year finds our country still pressed on every side by our cruel and vindictive foes, whose determination to effect our ruin seems unabated by the extraordinary efforts they have made or by the little substantial success with which those efforts have been crowned.–New levies, constantly being made, swell the numbers of their army, and new and formidable vessels augment the strength of their navy; and no signs as yet appear to indicate with certainty that the storm of war will very soon subside. During the year hundreds and thousands of our bravest and best citizens have fallen upon the bloody field, and sorrow for the loss of friends and kindred has gone to almost every household from the Potomac to the Rio Grande.

The increasing scarcity of many articles heretofore deemed necessaries of life has imposed additional sacrifices upon our people; and these sacrifices have been increased a hundred fold by a spirit of avarice and a thirst for gain, which, like demonic spirits have possessed a large class of our own citizens, of whom we had a right to expect better things. But amidst all these evidences of God’s righteous wrath against us as a sinful people, he has given us many precious tokens of his love and favor, which we regard as reliable indications that he is contending with us not in anger, but in love, and that it is his ultimate purpose to give us peace on just and honorable terms when we have fully learned its value and how to use its blessings. Prominent among these are:

1. The fact that the patriotism of the great body of our people has proved itself equal to all the sacrifices that have yet been laid upon them, and an abiding conviction that our cause is just and that our success is certain still animates the great heart of the nation.

2. The stupendous exertions of our enemies, on sea and land, to crush and conquer us have met with no better success than in former years, and their hopes of ultimate triumph are far less confident now, than at the time of your last session, or indeed at any time since the conflict began.

3. And more important still are the encouragements which we are permitted to draw from the moral aspect which our country now presents. God has graciously heard the prayers and blessed the efforts of his faithful ones, by pouring out his Spirit upon our armies and upon our churches.–The precious seed scattered among our soldiers during the early part of the war, by the self sacrificing labor of a few devoted men, nurtured by the earnest prayers of all christians, and the grace of God has sprung up, and is already yielding abundant fruit.–From almost every department of our army the cheering news comes up that the brave defenders of our country by scores and hundreds are turning unto God and enlisting under the banner of the Prince of peace. From the army a reflex current has flowed back to the churches whence the gracious influence first emanated, and extensive and powerful revivals have been and are still being enjoyed by many of our churches throughout the land. These are incontestible evidences of God’s presence with us, and of his purpose to bless us. And while we have these precious proofs of his presence with us, may we not boldly say, if the Lord be for who can be against us, for more and mightier are they that be for us than all they that be against us? These too, are permanent and enduring blessings. We may gain a victory over our enemies on the field today, and tomorrow we may suffer a defeat, which will more than counterbalance the fruits of the previous victory; but no such defeat is to be feared after such victories as these. Here then is the field which we, as Christians and as patriots are called upon to cultivate with all the energy we possess and will the self-sacrificing labor that we are capable of performing; for this is the sphere in which we can most honor our Master and most successfully serve our country.

Your committee would then suggest that it is our duty in the present aspect of our country, to thank God and take courage, to give him praise for what He has already done, and with unwavering faith in his sure word of promise to enter in and cultivate, with zeal and untiring effort, the inviting field which His providence has opened before us. And if we are faithful, when, with the light of eternity we shall review the history of time, we shall thank God that it was our privilege to live at this wonderful period.

The white male delegates assembled offer hearty approval of the resolution. Does the wording therein harbor a hint of concern that the war might be lost on the battlefields but that true victory, nonetheless, is heavenly rather than earthly? Is the home front focus of the war effort, in short, shifting to the successes of soldiers’ souls saved against the backdrop of the inevitability of battlefield defeat by a superior military power? Those leaving the associational meeting with such suspicions–if such persons there are at this point–are in the early stages of crafting a story of spiritual victory over earthly defeat that will steer the post-war narrative of a yet-dominant white race.

Sources: “Proceedings of the thirty-fourth annual session, of the Baptist State Convention, of North Carolina, held with the Baptist Church in Raleigh, from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31, 1863” (link); “Baptist State Convention,” Biblical Recorder (link)