Baptists and the American Civil War: February 2, 1864

Civil War States MapThe Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church of Bloomington, Indiana, while far from the battle fronts of war, is nonetheless impacted by the great conflict.

The current pastor, D. E. Maxson, is a war veteran, recently released from service due to illness. Among other Union soldiers from the congregation is Leroy Skaggs, who is ordained following the war. Lester Courtland Rogers, future pastor of the church, is now serving as a chaplain in the Union Army.

Yet church life goes on during the war. As do many Baptist congregations, the Milton church rents out pews in order to help fund the operations of the church. This month the church designates pew rentals as a means of paying church expenses for the year. By the end of the year, some $407.50 is thus raised.

Meanwhile, today one of the month’s few military operations takes place when a Confederate naval expedition attempts to take back Union-controlled New Bern, North Carolina.

Under the cover of darkness in the early morning hours, the Confederates launch a surprise attack and successfully board and overpower the crew of the heavily-armed USS Underwriter, a 325-ton side wheel steamer some 186 feet long and thirty-five feet wide,  standing guard at New Bern. Unfortunately, the fires in the steamer’s furnace is not stoked, thus requiring an hour to prepare the ship for movement. Before attempts could be made to fire the furnaces, however, the federal batteries at nearby Fort Stephenson realize the situation and open fire on the ship, forcing the Confederates to abandon the Underwriter and flee back upriver. Retreating, they set fire to the federal vessel, which explodes once the flames reach the powder magazine.

The attempt to seize the Underwriter, while unsuccessful, demonstrates that the Confederate Navy is yet capable of inflicting damage along the Union-controlled coastline.

Sources: Don A. Sanford, A History of the Milton Seventh Day Baptist Church, Bloomington, Ind.: iUniverse, 2008, pp. 34-35, 37, 66 (link); “USS Underwriter,” North Carolina History Project (link)