Baptists and the American Civil War: April 15, 1864

Civil War States MapHundreds of thousands of soldiers comprise the armies of the United States and Confederate States combined. Battle wounds, illnesses, despair, loneliness, and other ailments often characterize the lives of soldiers who are fortunate enough to have survived the war thus far.

And hovering above all is the ever-present cloud of homesickness.

Left to fend for themselves on the home front, hundreds of thousands of families experience their own daily struggles, the lot of which includes financial hardship, food deprivation, emotional and mental distress, and the magnified duties of raising children when fathers and husbands are far away.

Children, little talked about in newspapers and other public venues during the war years, suffer perhaps the most. Many are not old enough to truly understand the war, nor the motives that have led their fathers to leave for such a long time.

Many white children of the Confederacy have now been separated from their soldier fathers for two or three years. For the fortunate ones, their fathers are yet alive.

Included among the broken families is a Baptist family, the Wallace family from Kentucky. Husband Philip is a captain in General Bragg’s army. Following a long period of separation, wife Frances and son George are in the midst of a journey southward to visit Philip. Frances’ diary entry of this day offers glimpses of the emotional turmoil and financial struggles that soldier families throughout the Confederacy daily face.

This is my wedding day, married eight years today. How I wish I could be with my husband.

The sargeant has gone for Mrs. Bowen, and we hope to get off tomorrow. As we went down the stairs on our way to Gen. Wharton’s (State General), we met Dr. Boyd. He was delighted to see us and invited us to his house. We had a very pleasant day at Gen. Wharton’s, suffered some with cold. While there Maj. Grant came in to see us. He returns to Mrs. Smith’s this evening. As we came home we called to see Mally at Col. Duncan’s. How different is this evening from the evening of the 15th. of April, 1856! Here I am among strangers, seeking my husband–transportation difficult–everything very high, don’t know how long it will be before I see Phil, am fearful my money will not hold out as my $100. bills are useless. Could we have looked into futurity eight years ago, how sad would our wedding have been to know we were being united so soon to part and to have our country in such a condition. But I pray God all will soon be peace and loved ones again united. My precious boy is a noble fellow–has behaved nicely today, is quite impatient to see his papa. After tea the Misses Dudley called to see me, friends of Brother George. They came to ask me to stay with them while here. They were exceedingly kind.

Northern children, while concerned about their fathers, are sometimes also concerned about the other children of the Confederacy: those who are enslaved.

Today U.S. President Abraham Lincoln receives a petition from a group of schoolchildren in the form of a request to free all enslaved children.

Lincoln thus replies:

Please tell these little people that I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy, and that, while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, he wills to do it.

The life of slave families is far more horrible than the sufferings endured by soldiers. More are Baptist than of any other faith. Formal marriage is often disallowed, while young, attractive slave women are often routinely raped by their masters, such forced unions having produced tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of mulatto children throughout the South. Slaveholders often harbor no qualms about separating slave families, and no slave family has the assurance that they will be together on the morrow. The nature of slavery, after all, is that another human being controls your body, sustenance, fate and destiny. As a slave, there is no sure hope of freedom, much less certainty that you will live through the next day.

Unless one escapes bondage, that is, an option that many tens of thousands have already taken, thanks in no small part to a growing presence of Union soldiers in the South and the January 1, 1863 passage of Lincolns’ Emancipation Proclamation.

Yet with freedom often comes bittersweetness when family members are left behind to the anger-laden whims of their masters, as a wanted notice in today’s Richmond Daily Dispatch hints at in the most dispassionate of ways.

 –Ran away from the subscriber, on the night of Wednesday, the 13th inst, my man Jee, 35 or 40 years old, about 5 feet 8 or 9 inches high, of dark brown or black color, face somewhat speckled, and of slow speech; had on a suit of gray homespun, an overcoat, a blue blanket usually worn over the shoulders, and a low crown black silk hat. He was purchased on the 29th of February last of A Y Headley, near Heathsville, Northumberland county, Va, where he has a wife and children.

I will pay the above reward if he is delivered to main Richmond.

The reward is $200 for the man who captures the escaped slave who is a husband and father, a man, every bit of a man as the one who owns him according to Confederate law, who can only hope and pray that his wife and children will one day soon join him in freedom–freedom for which the fathers of other children, by the tens of thousands, are sacrificing their lives on battlefields far from their homes.

Sources: Diary of Frances Woolfolk Wallace, March 19, 1864, from Documenting the American South by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (link); Kees de Mooy, editor, The Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, Philosophical Library (link); “Two hundred Dollars reward,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, April 15, 1864 (link)