Baptists and the American Civil War: November 3, 1864

Kentucky Tennessee MapToday in the Battle of Johnsonville, Confederate cavalry commander Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, in an effort to smooth the way for the South’s Army of the Tennessee to invade Tennessee from Alabama, prepares to engage Union forces in Benton and Humphreys counties, Tennessee. Forrest’s target is the lightly-guarded Union supplies and infrastructure Johnsonville, as well as Union boats in the Tennessee River. Johnsonville is a supply base for operations in Nashville.

The Confederate victory in the two day battle that follows is spectacular. While losing only eleven men (two killed and nine wounded), Forrest’s forces capture and/or destroy millions of dollars worth of Union supplies and equipment, including 4 gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges and 26 pieces of artillery.

Nonetheless, the Union losses are only a temporary setback. By the time the Army of the Tennessee reaches Nashville in December, the Federals are ready for them.

Meanwhile, this week’s South Carolina Confederate Baptist offers interesting commentary on two particular matters, one war-related and one not: Northern debt on the one hand, and clerical beards on the other.

Of Northern debt, the Confederate Baptist intones:

The debt of the United States is now nearly two billions, a large sum to pay for the privilege of proving themselves the barbarians of the present age. How much better to have expended it in reforming their vicious population, and feeding the starving.

Of clerical beards:

The quiet way in which clerical beards have crept in among us, the uncomplaining equanimity with which people in general have witnessed the growth of this innovation, and their apathy on the subject, afford matter for serious and profitable reflection. The time has been when the apparition of a clerical beard would have convulsed an entire community, or the want of it been deemed evidence–prima facie evidence–of damnable heresy. One of the leading causes of the schism between the Eastern and the Western Church, in the ninth century, was that the Roman priests insisted upon shaving. The Greek Christians wore beards, and could not abide the heresy of a clean face.

Those who have looked at the pictures of the old Protestant reformers have scarcely failed to notice the exuberant appendages to their chins. They had the best of reasons for the fashion. Papal priests were shaven: therefore no good Protestant should shave. The barber was a grand heresiarch; he was a pillar of popery; his trade was a part of the mystery of iniquity. But had the priests worn their beards, shaving would have been orthodox; and that natural appendage of men and goats would have been decried as a nag of the old scarlet woman. Happily, those days have passed, and beards are symbols of neither orthodoxy nor heresy. A good Protestant may shave his face, without being taken for a friend of His Holiness, or wear his beard, without passing for an emissary of the Greek Patriarch.

A shaven face has many ecclesiastical relations. One of them is worthy of mention: The refusal of the cup to the laity, or as it is called, the communion in one kind, was occasioned, in a great measure, by the carelessness of laymen in letting their beards, or rather moustaches, dip into the sacred cup; and after the reception of the dogma of tran substantiation, even the clergy were deprived of that ornamental appendage, lest it should touch the consecrated wine. The moustache revolutionized Christendom. It deprived the laity of the cup, and the clergy of their beards. When the layman Amadeus of Savoy was made pope by the council of Beale, nothing caused him so much pain as the loss of his beard. The men who tarried at Jericho suffered no such chagrin as he did. To this day there are two things which a pope cannot do: wear a beard or take a wife. These luxuries are forever denied him. Protestant ministers should, therefore, love their wives, and wear their beards–or not–just as they fancy.

In this matter of male facial theology, many Baptist pastors sport well-developed beards and mustaches. And most soldiers, facing yet another long winter in the camps, probably prefer thick, long beards to protect against the cold.

Sources: Battle of Johnsonville (link) and (link); “The Price of Folly” and “Beards,” Confederate Baptist, November 3, 1864