Baptists and the American Civil War: February 9, 1865

Map of Virginia 1860sSouth Carolinians strain to hear the latest news of Sherman’s movements. Confederate military officials in the state struggle to ascertain the Union general’s true intentions.

Uncertainty on the part of his foes thus surrounds Sherman and his massive army as they steadily advance in South Carolina, with Blackville and Orangeburg now in their sights.

In today’s edition of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald, meanwhile, correspondent W. F. Broaddus offers his observations from a recent visit to the city of Fredericksburg, Virginia, controlled by Union forces until some months prior.

The eyewitness account reveals the devastation of war visited upon the city and the challenges at hand.

Having thus returned from the town of Fredericksburg, allow me space for a few words concerning the inhabitants of that old and honored city.

No pen could adequately describe the condition of the buildings. Many were burned during the bombardment of 1862. Otherw were destroyed by Grant’s army, during the Spotsylvania battles in May, 1864. Since Grant’s army evacuated, many wooden tenemonts have been sold by their owners, to be pulled down for fuel, while many others have been destroyed, or greatly injured, by persons who make war an excuse for losing sight of the rights of absent owners. Scarcely a house can be found that is not considered injured; many are barely inhabitable; and still more, not fit for dwellings, without expensive repairs.

The citizens (of whom there may be, of all ages and conditions, seven or eight hundred,) are, with very few exceptions, intensely loyal to the South. They bear their privations with great cheerfulness; and, straitened as they are for provisions, they manifest that pleasure in extending hospitality to visitors, for which they have always been so highly distinguished.

All the churches in the town were greatly injured by the shelling, and still further injured (some of them almost destroyed) by being converted into hospitals, during the sojourn of Grant’s fifty thousand wounded, brought from the Spotsylvania battles. The Episcopalians have repaired their basement, and have regular preaching by Rev. Mr. Maury, a young minister who has recently entered the ministry. The Presbyterians have also repaired their basement, and have secured a promise that their pulpit shall be regularly supplied by ministers from Richmond. I heard Rev. Mr. Converse, Jr., preach for them on Sabbath last, to about one hundred persons, and accepted a courteous invitation from him to preach for them in the afternoon, when we had about the same number present. Who will hold commendation from these two congregations, in view of these efforts to keep up their respective organizations!

Meanwhile, the Baptists had fixed up their basement for a summer campaign, and had occasional preaching, with a respectable Union Sunday school; but having neither coal for their furnaces, nor stoves for wood, nor glass for their windows, they were compelled, when winter came, to disband, their school, and for the present to give up preaching. I hope this state of things will not long continue. It is in contemplation soon to prepare the way for a spring campaign, and it is hoped that in the course of the summer they will be able to put the basement of the church in such order, that hereafter they will find it necessary to close it in winter. Let me say to any of our ministers who may find a spare Sabbath, that they could hardly make a better use of it than to visit Fredericksburg, and encourage these brethren, who constitute the remnant of a once happy and vigorous church.

W. F. Broaddus

While one Baptist church suffers, another prospers. Today the First Baptist Church of Leavenworth, Kansas calls Rev. Winfield Scott (1837-1910) as their new pastor. Scott previously served as a Union captain in th Civil War, commanding Company C, 126th New York Volunteers, of which he also served as chaplain. He was wounded numerous times, including in the battles of Harpers Ferry, Gettysburg and Spotsylvania Courthouse. Never fully recovering from his injuries, he had been medically discharged from service on September 24, 1864.

Under Scott’s leadership the First Baptist congregation in the post-war years builds a massive new sanctuary and becomes known as “the largest church in the largest city in Kansas.”

Sources: “General Sherman’s Blog, February 9, 1865” (link); “Fredericksburg,” Religious Herald, February 9, 1865; “Our History,” First Baptist Church Leavenworth” (link); Winfield Scott (link)