Baptists and the American Civil War: April 20, 1864

With the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery having passed the United States Senate and awaiting approval of the House, the attention of the North is increasingly focused on bringing the war to a conclusion so that freedom might be extended to blacks yet enslaved.

The state of Massachusetts, and Boston in particular, has for decades been an epicenter of the abolitionist movement. The city’s Baptist churches have done their share in working for the extension of freedom and liberty to blacks. Frederick Douglass and other leading abolitionists have often spoken in the meeting houses of Baptist congregations.

The conversations in Boston continue, albeit now with an anticipation that freedom is nigh for blacks. An article in today’s Massachusetts Spy reports on what is happening of late in Louisiana.

INTERESTING OCCASION–Several gentlemen in Boston extended a complimentary dinner, Tuesday, to two colored gentlemen from New Orleans, named John Baptiste Roudanez and captain Arnold Bertonneau. These gentlemen are men of property in New Orleans, Mr. Roundanez being a machinist and engineer, and captain Bertonneau a wine merchant. The latter was commissioned a captain in the first colored regiment that was formed in Louisiana. The fathers of these gentlemen were both French and their mothers African. Messrs. Roudanez and Bertonneau left New Orleans on a mission to the president, asking that the privilege of voting might be given to the colored people of Louisiana. Gov. Andrew presided, and eloquent speeches were made by the guests of the evening, Wm. Lloyd Garrison, John G. Palfrey, Frederick Douglass, and several other anti-slavery men. We quote from the Advertiser the following sketch of the remarks of captain Bertoneau:–

He said that before the outbreak of the rebellion there were 43,000 colored people in Louisiana and 312,000 held in slavery. In the city of New Orleans there were 30,000 free colored people; of these only 1000 could read or write. They always have been on the side of good order, peaceful, always loyal. They were taxed to support the schools, and yet their children were not allowed the privilege of attending these schools; their property has been taxed for the support of the state, yet they have always been prohibited from exercising the elective franchise. When the first shot was fired in this rebellion, Louisiana joined the rebels. With no arms, and educated to the belief that the colored man had no rights which the white man would respect, the condition of the colored people were truly perilous. Situated as we were, asked the speaker, could we do otherwise than volunteer in the rebel army, could we have adopted a better policy? In the city of New Orleans the colored people raised a regiment, and when Gen. Butler captured the city and drove the rebels from the state, the colored people were most loyal; he knew upon whom he could rely, in whose fidelity he could safely trust. The colored people of Louisiana venerate his name, with them it is a household word, they bless his memory and will always hold it in grateful remembrance. The speaker said, we were animated by new hopes and desires and felt as if there was a new life before us, and gave our imagination full play. The tyrant who punished the slave was before the general and received proper attention. When Gen. Butler was removed, the colored people were much disappointed, they regretted the removal of a general who was determined to bring Louisiana back into the Union as free as the state of Massachusetts. The speaker referred to the rebels, and to the raising of a colored regiment in forty-eight hours. He said the colored soldiers were promised the same pay as white soldiers, but it was cut down, and they were charged for their uniforms, making them indebted to the United States for $6 each. He spoke of the elective franchise, and said that to secure those rights which belong to every citizen the colored people ask the aid of every true loyal man all over the country. Slavery, the cause of this rebellion, he said, can never again exist in Louisiana, but with slavery abolished must vanish every prestige of oppression: the colored man must be allowed to vote, the doors of the public schools must be open to their children so they may study together.

White Confederate Baptists, many determined to keep blacks enslaved at all costs, have other concerns, such as the need for the nation’s soldiers to experience spiritual freedom in Christ. A recent report from the army camps laments the lack of Georgia Baptist army chaplains and missionaries and calls upon Baptist churches and pastors to rise to the occasion.

Facts for Ga. Baptists to Consider.

1. They have not half-a-dozen chaplains and no missionaries of their number to represent them in the army of Northern Va.!!–Why is that more of our ablest and best preachers do not enter upon the field of labor? Let them answer the question: our Boards are calling for the men; and our soldiers are calling for the chaplains and the missionaries, and God is calling for more laborers! Shall not our numbers and our talents and our zeal and our liberality be better represented in that army? Shall the shame continue to rest upon Ga. Baptist ministers that they have not a half dozen representatives in Lee’s army? [Query. How stands our denomination represented in other armies?]

2. There are, in Gen. Lee’s army, thirteen brigades of Infantry, in which there is no Baptist chaplain or missionary.

3. In the whole of Gen. Rhodes’ Division, composed of North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama troops, there is but one Baptist chaplain, and he a young man just entering the ministry.

4. A Baptist chaplain preached in a brigade in Lee’s army lately; and after service a very intelligent sergeant requested baptism, saying that he had been desiring it for two years, but that in all that time no Baptist preacher had visited the brigade! And, yet, the Baptist element in it was so decided that a Presbyterian Colonel expressed a desire for a Baptist chaplain!

Why are there so few Baptist chaplains and missionaries in Confederate armies? Baptists’ refusal to accept government pay for chaplains explains in part the shortage. Southern Baptist newspaper editors by now are routinely trying to shame congregations (with apparently little success) into providing the financial resources to send pastors to the army field, even as pastors seem disinterested in so serving.

Thus, not only is it questionable whether the nation will be saved, but increasingly Baptist leaders seem convinced that many Confederate soldiers are spiritually doomed due to a lack of ministers. Although it is hard to tell which is worse, white Baptists are increasingly turning their attention to spiritual warfare as the fortunes of the Confederacy continue ever downward.

Sources: “Interesting Occasion,” The Massachusetts Spy, April 20, 1864, from¬†American Antiquarian Society Online (link); “Facts for Ga. Baptists to Consider, Christian Index, April 22, 1864; also see Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011 (link)