Baptist newspapers this week deign to peer into the future. While there is no unanimity as to what the future holds, for Baptist periodicals of the South a gaze forward at least offers the opportunity — if one so wishes — to lay aside the national disasters of 1863.
Unlike the gloom and doom pronounced by the South Carolina Confederate Baptist, this week’s edition of the Georgia Baptist Christian Index greets the new year with enthusiasm, joy, hope and unfailing confidence in the future good fortunes of the Confederate States.
Despite present travails, the Confederacy, God’s chosen nation, is destined to triumph over her evil enemies, editor Samuel Boykin insists.
In 1864, according to Boykin, “the night of our sorrow is passing away” into what will become known as “the year of our deliverance.”
All hail to the new year!
He comes clad in mourning but he shall put off his weeds and yet wear the smile of gladness. He finds us a people stricken and distressed by the ravages of war, but he will leave us a land smiling with hope and joy.
Sorrow endureth for a night, but joy cometh in the morning; the night of our sorrow is passing away, and the glory light of success will soon beam upon our country.
Not in vain has been all our struggles: not in vain our sacrifices: not in vain our fixed determination to be free. Never shall it be said that the bones of our glorious dead moulder in vain–that their heart’s blood flowed but to make us the tamer in the presence of insolent conquerors!
While the incense of a hundred battlefields ascend to heaven, a sacred holocaust to Southern liberty, independence and valor; while that proud spirit which ever existed in the Southern Cavalier’s bosom still burns and blazes: while wives and husbands and little ones remain to be defended: while arms are left to wield the sword, and unblanched hearts to guide our councils, never will it be said that Southerners yielded to the base invader!
But it may be that we shall have a sea of trouble yet to pass through. Our only course will be to go forward. He who led Israel through the Red Sea has surrounded us with such difficulties as force us onward through a sea of blood and suffering to the promised land. Ahead of us still gleams that pillar of fire which ever yet has lit up our hearts with hope and encouragement–success and independence still lure us on to victory.
Behind us are the red-banded pursuers with subjugation and desolation in their rear: on each side devastation, banishment and thraldom, worse than Egyptian bondage await us. Nought remains for us but to fight for freedom till freedom is achieved, as achieved it will be.
For Freedoms battle oft begun,
Bequeathed from beeding sire to son,
Though baffled oft, is ever won.
O ye Southerners, arise in your might and let the would-be Despot see who it is he dares attempt to subjugate! And yet, while your hearts are all iron and your nerves all steel, forget not that God is your help–that He it is who will trample down your foes for you! Go to Him in meekness and penitence and from his Council shall issue orders for your enfranchisement. Let self-aggrandizement cease, and let our country claim all our hearts. By deeds of glory that shall rival Marathon and Thermopylae, wrench victory from a cruel foe. Let 1864 prove, indeed, the year of our deliverance. Then shall we prove ourselves worthy sons of worthy sires, and fit for freedom’s wreath of glory.
In characters of living light let 1864 be written upon our nation’s history, as the year wherein we forgot all else but our country’s good and for her welfare surrendered all our wealth, our comfort and ourselves.
Hail, then, 1864! To your faithfulness and honor and valor and patriotism a nation commits its destiny.
An unrelenting, upbeat assessment of the war effort is followed by glowing words of encouragement to the soldiers who are on the front lines of the war.
Faithful watchmen upon the towers of liberty, for you a year of glory has passed, and for you has dawned a year of trials and sufferings; but the same indomitable spirit and heroic patriotism which has thus far led you on will still incite to deeds of valor and to uncomplaining endurance. For this we honor you, and for this we give you such praise as is rarely accorded to human beings. Not for hire have ye exposed your brows to the storms of heaven, and bared your bosoms to the leaden hail of death; but impelled by love for your country and your country’s honor and safety, you have risked and endured and suffered, till, like Angels of Deliverance, ye deserve the halo of glory ever to crown your heads and encircle your names. We extend to you greetings of the new year, and invoke for you the beneficent care of a merciful God. To His keeping we commend you, and of Him beseech for you safety, victory, and an early return in peace to the embraces of loved ones at home. But, remember, that for those loved ones there is no safety save in your strong right arms, and that for peace there is no hope save in your undaunted valor, and that there is for your country no honor nor independence except it be won by bloody victories through your own matchless bravery.
Soldiers, your country is gazing at you in love and confidence, and reposes her destiny into your keeping! Be not faithless to the trust; but, ever watchful, valiant and determined, struggle on, that soon, in effulgent brightness, the day of peace and happiness may dawn, and your land proudly assume its destined rank among the national brotherhood of earth!
In the midst of these rousing words is revealed a nuancing of Samuel Boykin’s earlier faith in the simple Providence of God as the sure reason for Confederate success. Now pushed to the background, Providence is less visible in his equation for victory than is human bravery, determination and perseverance. The Calvinistic theology that rode triumphantly into the war has been overtaken by the soldiers of free will who, by their might and arms, will ensure victory for Southern whites. This theological shift will grow all the greater among Baptists of the South in the post-war decades.
Sources: “1864” and “New Year Words for the Soldiers,” Christian Index, January 8, 1863; see also Bruce T. Gourley, Diverging Loyalties: Baptists in Middle Georgia During the Civil War, Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2011 (link)