Baptists and the American Civil War: September 21, 1861

Columbus, Georgia

Columbus, Georgia

A week after U.S. Lt. John Henry Russell enters Confederate-controlled Pensacola harbor and destroys the Confederate schooner Judah, a crowd gathers at Hamilton Baptist Church in Harris County, Georgia, for the annual meeting of the Columbus Association. Grumbling discussion, condemnation, and fear spiked by this first naval action of the Civil War is surely on their lips! Florida is much closer than the war guns booming in Virginia, Missouri, and other distant points.

Attendees begin the 33rd annual session with the usual introductory sermon and then suspend to hear Mercer University Professor Henry Holcombe Tucker address area citizens as agent for the Georgia Hospital Association. After that, proceedings continue about as normal including much preaching in various places on the Sabbath and taking up general business on Monday, 23 September, in the Methodist church. Duty is given to the usual resolutions for one thing or another and electing committees, reading letters, and hearing reports; Sunday schools are praised, and the life of the late Rev. William L. Osteen is eulogized and money raised to aid his feeble wife and three mourning children.

A time for wringing hands over the lowered state of piety among church members is not ignored. Too many, it seem, are allowing “secular interest to usurp” time and talents earmarked for spiritual interests. “The things of this world, with all their pomp and parade, are but as grass compared to those of eternity, and the future destiny of an immortal spirit that must live while all things earthly have sunk into oblivion,” declares Javoris G. Johnson, pastor at Hamilton. Just shy of age 29, Johnson offers two reasons for lagging religion: ministers too “exercised” by the spirit of war and the “ruinous custom” of reduced meeting times. “(Pastors) have preached war in the social circle and from the pulpit, instead of the glorious Gospel of the blessed God. The Churches generally meet too seldom for religious services. In many cases but once each month. This custom is the parent of many evils. Churches grow cold. Brotherly love decreases, and the Sabbath day, which we should ‘Remember to keep holy,’ is continually violated.”

Following his appeal, Johnson, who two years before had graduated Mercer with a theology degree, leads in prayer for true and vital religion before the report is vigorously adopted. When a brief appears in the Christian Index on the meeting, however, that report is unmentioned.

Tucker addresses mixed crowds of men and women in Greenville, Fayetteville, and Jonesboro later in the week. An eye-witness to the previous summer’s confrontation at Manassas, Tucker is an early herald introducing Georgians to the medical horrors of war. He describes battle scenes and gives “reliable information” on the realities facing those in the army and those about to join.

Story written by Arlette Copeland, Special Collections Assistant, Jack Tarver Library Special Collections, Mercer University, Macon, GA