Baptists and the American Civil War: January 25, 1865

African SlaveryWhile Confederate President Jefferson Davis quietly moves forward in preparing for secretive peace negotiations with the United States in Washington, Federal troops under Union General William S. Sherman execute a reconnaissance mission from Pocotaligo to the Salkehatchie River, South Carolina.

With each passing day, anxiety grows among residents of the state of South Carolina. Confederate forces are assembling to oppose the coming invasion, but their numbers are woefully inadequate, even as Confederate officials are uncertain where Sherman will strike.

Sensing the crisis at hand, the South Carolina Confederate Baptist speaks to “fear and hope.” “God’s judgments are on the land,” the commentary acknowledges. What is the problem? Of slavery there is no mention. Rather, alcohol is the culprit.

“Strong drink has become a mania,” laments the article. Throughout society, on the home front and in the army, the curse of alcohol is preventing God from blessing his nation. “Even the days of fasting and prayer, appointed by the president, have been spent in Bacchanalian excesses.”

Alongside alcohol, “Fast women abound; and even the respectable of their sex, lack the moral courage to disavow and repudiate them.”

The writer notes that “A friend remarked to us that Columbia ‘was a perfect Sodom.’ This may be an exaggeration,” according to article, but “no one can walk Main Street without hearing the evidence” of abundant sin.

What is the solution to the drunkenness and illicit sex endemic among white Southerners? Another article in the Confederate Baptist argues that salvation lies in the recruitment of “Negro Soldiers.” In this matter the Confederate Baptist takes a position at odds with other state Southern Baptist newspapers.

In our issue of December 7, we discussed the moral aspect of this subject, and endeavored to prove that it is the duty of slaves to fight for their country, whenever the exigency should arrive. Our secular papers have taken up the subject, urging the policy of placing the negroes in the army. We concur with them. The question, which the crisis submits to our decision, is not whether the negro shall fight for us or against us. It would have been better if this contest had been decided by the citizens of the United States and of the Confederacy; but as the former have enlisted foreigners and negroes, it becomes the latter to provide for their security by all the means which Providence has placed within their reach.

Lincoln boasts that he has some 200,000 emancipated slaves in his army. These ought to have been in ours. When the capture of Port Royal placed our slaves in the army of the United States, Congress ought to have responded by culling out 200,000 of the same class to defend us. The Yankees committed themselves to the principle of employing negro soldiers, and our government should have resorted to the same expedient. Unfortunately, it is always too late; and even now, we apprehend that obstructions will be thrown in the way of securing the indispensable auxiliary. Men will talk of constitutional rights and elaborate theories, whilst the Confederacy is in danger of destruction.

The slaves should at once be employed for our defence. A people who are not willing to give their property for the maintenance of their independence are not worthy of that inestimable boon.Congress ought, at once, to issue an enactment, declaring their desire to arm the slaves, and calling upon the governors of the States to convene their Legislatures to provide for the supply of their quota.

No opposition need be apprehended from the army. If 200,000 slaves are called into service, old men and children may be exempted, and many of the soldiers, now in service, may return home to provide for the support of the country. Our slaves will fight by the side of their masters, and contend for the preservation of an independence, which is as valuable to them as to us.

But suppose that the crisis may demand emancipation. Let it come. Any thing short of submission to Yankee domination may be tolerated; and we had better give up slavery than submit to reconstruction. This is a war of independence; and our people must submit to every thing, which is necessary to its achievement. Let us determine to be free; and prepare ourselves for every sacrifice, which the contest may demand.

The only danger is that this remedy may be applied too late. The sonambulists, who appear among us as statesmen may doze away until the time has forever passed. If any thing is to be done, it must be done now. A few more weeks will place thousands of our slaves in the ranks of the invader; and the country may awake to the importance of the movement, when it is too late. Now is the time for action. We trust that our authorities will take immediate action to place in our army those who, if neglected, will contribute to the strength of our invaders. The morality of the measure is unquestionable; its necessity must be apparent to the dullest comprehension; and whatever may be the reluctance felt by some among us to resort to such an expedient, it will soon become the universal conviction and the settled policy of the country.

By positioning as supreme the refusal to submit to the “Yankees,” the author voices what is destined to be the post-war strategy of defeated Southern whites who, minus formal black slavery, maintain white supremacy and violently resist Northern efforts to force racial equality upon the South.

Sources: William C. Harris, “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 21, Issue 1, Winter 2000, pp. 30-61 (link); Civil War Index (link); “Fear and Hope” and “Negro Soldiers,” Confederate Baptist, January 25, 1865