Baptists and the American Civil War: August 22, 1864

SlaveryDisloyalty to the Confederate cause is becoming a significant problem, even in the Deep South. Thousands of Confederate soldiers in the heart of the Confederacy, disgruntled at fighting a slaveholders’ war and anxious to assist their suffering families, have deserted and returned to their families and communities. The desertions should come as no surprise to Confederate officials, as a half million or more white Southerners have remained loyal to the Union throughout the war.

Slaveowners, however, are growing ever more apprehensive. Tens of thousands of slaves have already escaped behind Union lines to freedom, with more escaping daily. Making matters worse, rumors of slave revolts abound.

Today in south Georgia’s Brooks County, Confederate authorities send a deadly signal to those who would agitate for a slave insurrection. A white man and three slaves, apprehended for plotting to murder planters, free slaves, and seize the county for the Union, are hanged in Quitman on the courthouse square.

The hangings quell Union activity in Brooks County, at least publicly. Discontent, however, continues bubbling in south Georgia and throughout much of the Deep South.

Meanwhile, many readers of this week’s North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder may scratch their heads over a particular editorial. Are novels really evil? Christian novels, even?

Our Republic is young, and every portion requires attention lest hurtful weeds spring up and scatter seeds to the retardation, if not exclusion of choice, useful plants. From present appearances no portion more plainly shows want of proper attention than that of literature. Already publications of a light, ficticious nature are being profusely scattered among our people, and their influence in the language of another will be “to relax the mind which needs hardening; dissolve the heart which wants fortifying; stir the imagination which wants quieting; irritate the passions which want calming, and above all disincline and disqualify for active virtues and spiritual exercises.”

Some may say of certain publications, ‘they are written by a professing christian, and are a kind of religious novel, or very entertaining romance of the war, and so can not belong to his injurious class!’ Such must be reminded that morally considered everything is either right or wrong, and between these two great divisions of the moral universe there is no neutral ground. As a novel is not true it is nothing less than a nicely finished lie on a large scale, calculated to arouse all those passions which should be kept in subordination. So when a professing christian writes a novel he does eminent service to the father of lies. Now is there not enough truth–simple, unalloyed truth in this large and ever varying world of ours to furnish an abundance of reading matter for all classes without the silent, mining evil of novels? Surely he who has so profusely supplied our physical wants, could not have been regardless of a moral and intellectual character. Nothing could be more inconsistent than to suppose the God of truth requires falsehood or an imitation of truth to promote his kingdom and glory in the world. A better method was never devised for banishing serious impressions and fostering love of the world than the syren voice of a captivating novel. When will the brilliant talents of the church be exercised in clothing truth, that is stranger and more lovely than fiction, in words for promoting the salvation of souls, thus hastening the time when all shall know the Lord.

If it is wrong to read or write fictions, certainly it is wrong to aid their circulation by advertising and commending them. Therefore notices of fictions should not be seen in our religious newspapers, nor th fictions themselves in the houses of religious people.

N. E. C.

And what if the South’s society, culture and economy are all built upon falsehood? What if the Confederacy is fighting in defense of fiction?

Sources: “Slave Insurrection in Quitman,” Today in Georgia History (link); N.E.C., “Novels,” Biblical Recorder, August 17, 1864 (link)