Baptists and the American Civil War: December 14, 1864

African SlaveryFor almost two weeks Confederate General John Bell Hood‘s Army of the Tennessee has been camped outside of Nashville, waiting for Federal forces occupying the city to make the first move.

Soon that move will come, as tonight Union Major General H. Thomas prepares to assault the Rebels as the day dawns on the morrow.

For their part, the Confederacy desperately needs to halt Union momentum throughout the South. Months ago Atlanta fell, and now Sherman is at Savannah’s door, his troops vastly outnumbering those of the city’s defenders.

Whether or not Hood’s weakened and weary army can live up to its general’s faith is the question.

Meanwhile, in Baptist newspapers of the South white Southern Baptist elites continue hammering on one of the overriding themes they have written about time and again throughout the war: the godliness black slavery, the economic, cultural and social foundation of the Confederacy and an institution that allows white slave owners to display care for the souls of their chattel. An editorial in today’s North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder picks up this theme yet again.

I have no conscientious scruples in regard to slavery; on the contrary, I believe it to be a divinely authorized institution. It is not the relation of master and servant, but the abuse of that relation, upon which I wish to animadvert.

I greatly fear that as a people, we are guilty before God of the sin of neglecting the souls of our servants. In many parts of the country no provision is made for them in the house of God, and the custom of having special religious services for their benefit is unknown. They are emphatically our poor, to whom the gospel should be preached. God has made them to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to us, and we are responsible for their moral and religious education. They are a part of our families, and it is the most sacred duty of the master and mistress of each family to instruct their children and servants in the way of life. There is a painful apathy on this subject among christians and a strange indisposition to have it discussed.

I know there are delicate questions involved in the discussion of the subject, and that the man or denomination that seeks to arouse the people to their duty in this regard must brook a storm of prejudice.–But much of this feeling is morbid and wrong, and we as christian men and churches are not relieved on this account of solemn responsibility. The subject should be discussed. The Baptists of Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia are far in advance of us–they have in many places Sabbath Schools, in which oral instruction is imparted to their slaves, and surely they can not be justly charged with abolitionism.–We must write, and talk and preach on this subject, and the sooner we begin the sooner shall we do that which is just and right before God and man. Where are those articles brother Wingate promised to furnish the Recorder on this topic? Will not some of our judicious brethren, brethren Hooper, Jordan, McDowell, Mason or Young, for instance, send us some communications for this most important subject? As for myself, I do not scruple to declare my conviction, that much of the national distress which has befallen us has been permitted by God for our neglect of duty in regard to the souls of our slaves. I believe it has much to do with this war, and that the sooner we appreciate and discharge our religious duty to our servants, the sooner will our calamities be overpast.

T. H. P.

Source: Battle of Nashville (link); T. H. P. , “The Religious Instruction of Slaves,” Biblical Recorder, December 14, 1864 (link)