Baptists and the American Civil War: April 9, 1862

Thomas Hill Watts

Thomas Hill Watts

Today Confederate President Jefferson Davis appoints Thomas Hill Watts, a prominent Baptist layman in the First Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama, to the position of attorney general in his cabinet.

Unlike the United States, the Confederate States of America never establishes a Supreme Court. In the absence of such a national judicial body, the attorney general is charged with interpreting the laws established by the Confederate Congress. Watts, a lawyer and owner of 179 slaves, becomes the third of four men who bear the title of attorney general during the Confederacy’s brief existence. He resigns the position in 1863 to become the governor of Alabama, a position he holds until the end of the war.

Nineteenth-century Baptist historian William Cathcart says of Watts:

Watts, Gov. Thomas Hill, was born in Butler Co., Ala., Jan. 3, 1819. Graduated from the University of Virginia in 1840. In 1841 began the practice of law at Greenville in his native county, and soon acquired a profitable business. In 1842 he was elected to the Legislature; was returned in 1844 and in 1845. In 1847 he removed to the city of Montgomery, and has resided there ever since, mainly the practice of law. In 1849 he was elected to the Legislature from Montgomery County; in 1853 to the State senate. In 1801, with the Hon. William L. Yancey, he represented Montgomery County in the secession convention. The same year, as colonel of the 17th Alabama Regiment, he went to the seat of war, where he remained until April 9, 1862, when he was chosen by President Davis to the position of attorney general in his cabinet; remained there until elected governor of Alabama, in 1863, a position which he held until the fortunes of war destroyed the Confederate cause. Since that time he has practised law in Montgomery, standing among the most eminent in that profession in Alabama.

In 1846, in Greenville, he was baptized by Rev. David Lee. Since his removal to Montgomery he has occupied a most prominent position in the membership of the First Baptist church. Has often given liberally to the enterprises of the denomination at large as well as in his own city. He is a strict temperance man. Before the war Gov. Watts had acquired a large fortune, but that unhappy struggle stripped him of all. He often expresses it as his chief regret that his changed circumstances deprive him of the ability to give as he once could to religion, education, and the general public weal. With cheerful heart, pleasant face, and kind words he prosecutes the arduous duties of his profession, maintaining his house on a liberal basis, and giving generously to objects of benevolence. Alabama has not a more distinguished citizen.

Sources: William Cathcart, Baptist Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 1218 (link); Thomas Hill Watts biography and illustration (link)