Baptists and the American Civil War: August 16, 1864

North Carolina MapToday in the Shenandoah Valley Union forces rout Confederate troops in the Battle of Guard Hill (also known as the Battle of Crooked River).

The Union victory proves to be the definitive turning point in Federals taking control of the Valley from the Confederates. Soon, Robert E. Lee‘s army, confined to the trenches around Petersburg and deprived of the food crops in the fertile Shenandoah Valley, will find themselves in dire hunger and be forced to take desperate measures to survive.

While physical hunger is a growing problem, many Southern Baptists are also concerned about spiritual hunger among the soldiers of the Confederacy.

Today a Southern Baptist soldier in the 43rd N. C. Regiment writes a letter from his regiment’s camp near Starsburg, Virginia, addressing the spiritual needs of his fellow troops and lamenting the unwillingness of North Carolina Baptist pastors to leave their pulpits for service among in the army camps.

Dear Bro. Hufham:–Having been a soldier nearly three years and having had some experience as a minister of the gospel, I am prepared to understand and appreciate the spiritual wants of the soldiers; and I wish to say a few things in their behalf.

In the first place, I would call attention of our friends at home to the necessity of sending religious newspapers to the army in large quantities. I think I may say without boasting that most of the patriotism and valor of the country are in the army. This will be readily conceded. But the soldiers, as a class, are as intelligent as they are brave and patriotic. Many of them at home have good libraries and were reading men. It was a part of their daily avocations to study such works as increased their knowledge of God’s word and promoted personal piety. I need not say we are deprived of this privilege here. A Bible or Testament and a religious newspaper occasionally constitute our libraries. If we had more books we could not carry them, as we can hardly get transportation for a change of clothes on a long march. To many this will appear to be a small matter; but if they could once visit the camp with a package of tracts or a bundle of newspapers, they would soon learn how much mistaken they had been. These newspapers serve to relieve the tedium of the soldier’s life by filling his idle moments which would otherwise hang so heavily on his hands; keep alive in his heart the sense of personal accountability, which he is so strongly tempted to lose amid the dangers and trials incident to his position; and cheer and soothe his spirits like letters from home. We do not get the Recorder in sufficient quantities. Will not the friends of the paper and of the soldiers send it to us? They may also do good by increasing the number of copies of the N. C. Advocate and N. C. Presbyterian now sent to us.–We would not ask this but we are not able to subscribe for the paper for ourselves.–From the small pittance of eleven dollars, which we receive monthly, we have nothing to spare. Come now, my friend, what say you? Speak quickly for we are anxious to hear from you.

But the soldiers need something else besides religious newspapers. Their souls are in want of the “bread of life.” North Carolina has about seventy regiments in the service; but they are not at all supplied with chaplains. Some have never had a chaplain. This too, when our denominational statistics furnish a list of more than four hundred Baptist ministers in N. C.; and when there are probably as many, or more, of other denominations. How astonishing the fact that every N. C. regiment is not furnished with an efficient chaplain? Have these ministers forgotten the teachings of the prophet, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore hear the word at my mouth and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, thou shalt truly die; and thou givest him not warning nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way to save his life, the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” O, what an awful responsibility rest on the ministers! Have they lost sight of the injunction of Christ, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” How un Christian their conduct! True, the chaplaincy does not offer a large salary; but if the soldier can serve his country for eleven dollars per month, surely the ministers can afford to come and preach to the soldiers for eighty dollars a month. But if this does not support them, they can easily get more by applying to the missionary boards of their respective denominations. Nor can it be said that the minister is not welcome in camp. On the contrary the soldiers crowd around him, like hungry children around their parent, crying for bread, and drink in his words as he unfolds to them the unsearchable riches of Christ. Nowhere else can he have such large congregations. Who will come? What is done must be quickly done; for the soldier is every hour in danger of death.

We are now in the line of battle near Strasburg and the spirit of the troops is as unbroken as at the beginning of the campaign. There has been little preaching in the army this summer; but wherever we have had it, it has been heard with attentive interest. Our chaplain preached twice last Sabbath, and at night give an opportunity for those who desired an interest in the prayers of christians to present themselves. Several came forward. If we could have regular services I do not doubt that a revival of religion would follow.


Sources: Battle of Guard Hill / Crooked Run (link) and (link); Biblical Recorder, August 31, 1864 (link)