Baptists and the American Civil War: May 31, 1864

Battle of Cold Harbor

Battle of Cold Harbor

A new battle in the Overland Campaign begins today: Cold Harbor. It will be unlike any fought thus far in the prolonged campaign.

Today’s action takes the form of Union Major General Philip Sheridan, traveling ahead of Union soldiers from General Ulysses S. Grant‘s Army of the Potomac, seizing the important crossroads of Old Cold Harbor, Virginia. Confederate troops from the Army of Northern Virginia arrive on the morrow, and are initially repulsed by Sheridan. In the evening, the Union Sixth and Eighteenth Corps arrive in time to clash with Confederate reinforcements. By the 2nd of June, the Confederate and Union armies are spread out in a seven-mile front from Bethesda Church (the same church that had been the site of some of the action of the 30th in the Battle of Totopotomoy) to the Chickahominy River.

The Bethesda meeting house, founded in 1830, houses two congregations: one Baptist, and one Disciples of Christ. The structure is already damaged by fighting of the prior day, although the building does survive the war.

The intensity of the bloody battles of May portends a long summer for the Confederacy. This week’s North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder notes a recent city-wide prayer meeting in Macon, Georgia, and a call from Macon Baptists for fellow (white) Baptists throughout the Confederacy to join them in daily prayer for the Southern Confederacy. North Carolina Baptists are encouraged to join the Baptists of Macon daily, as both states “share a similar fate.”

At the City prayer meeting, Macon, Ga., on Thursday of last week the following was adopted:

Resolved, That the Christians of this meeting request the City editors to send the following as a press telegram all over the land. The Christians of Macon, Ga. ask their brethren every where in the Confederacy to unite with them in prayer for our country, daily at 5 o’clock, P.M.

This request comes to us under circumstances which make it peculiarly impressive. It is from our fellow citizens in a State which has already felt the burdens and miseries of war. They are now threatened with the loss of everything which makes home sweet or life dear. On the result of the battles, soon to be fought near them, depends their fate. If our forces should be conquered and driven back, they will feel, in all its bitterness, the unrestrained hate of a brutal enemy rendered more insolent and inhuman by triumph. Even if there were no other consideration to influence us, common humanity would prevent us from disregarding the request of our brethren in Macon. We should be heartless indeed if we fail to pray earnestly indeed if we could fail to pray earnestly that the evils which threaten them may be averted. But each of us is as deeply interested in this matter as they are. If our armies should be beaten, we shall all share a similar fate. It might fall on them first, but it would speedily reach us. None could escape it.

Let us then heed this call to prayer. Let us got to God who alone can save in this time of peril.

“Common humanity,” however, is not extended to enslaved blacks, Baptist or otherwise. The “sweet” life for (at least some; others living in desperate conditions) white Baptists, after all, is squarely dependent upon the riches generated by and stolen from black slaves.

Sources: Battle of Cold Harbor (link) and (link) and (link); Battle of Bethesda Church (link); “A Call to Prayer,” Biblical Recorder, June 1, 1864 (link)