Baptists and the American Civil War: August 28, 1862

Civil War States MapNorth Carolina Baptists’ Biblical Recorder editor J. D. Hufham this week evaluates the status of the war from a Southern Baptist perspective. He wrongly surmises that Union Gen. John Pope’s Army of Virginia, currently located near Manassas, will probably not be engaged by Confederate forces “for several weeks” (Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, leading a portion of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, on this very day attacks Pope’s army in what turns out to be the beginning of the Second Battle of Bull Run). The Confederate Army he pronounces as “splendid” with “brave and skillful officers” and “with the blessing of God.” Hufham is hopeful that “energetic [Confederate] Generals” in the war’s Western theater will be able to “soon drive the enemy from Tennessee, and materially change the aspect of affairs in the Mississippi Valley” (his wishes will go unfulfilled).

From these observations Hufham moves to a diatribe against the United States government.

It is clear that the Federal government has no thoughts of peace. Defeated in their plans, they have gone to work with fresh energy. Six hundred thousand men were found to be insufficient for the task of subjugation and six hundred thousand more have been called for. They would not volunteer and the draft has been resorted to. This plainly indicates that the Administration at Washington will prosecute the war until they are forced by the people of the United States to desist.

At present there are no evidences of any considerable or effective opposition to the Administration; but there are elements at work which will eventually develop and organize an irresistible peace party. There are already individuals in the North who are tired of the war and do not hesitate to express their sentiments. Here and there a newspaper is found, plainly declaring itself in favour of peace. The new draft of 600,000 men, with the consequent increase in public debt, of taxation, and of distress among the poorer classes will rapidly increase their number and boldness, and hasten the culmination of events. It will intensify the dissatisfaction in Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, and drive into our ranks many who would otherwise have taken no part in the struggle. Indeed it is already producing these results in those states, especially in Maryland. If we can maintain ourselves against this fresh levy, and, either defeat and drive them back, or else keep them stationary and inactive on our frontier, we believe that the people of the United States will be brought to their senses and see clearly the hopelessness of the task which they have undertaken. It remains for us to make suitable measures to defend ourselves against this fresh throng of invaders. They will not be so terrible as they seem to be. Men who are forced into the service against their inclinations, and, many of them against their conscientious convictions, will not be formidable if opposed by a sufficient force voluntarily fighting in defence of all they hold sacred and dear. Men thus enlisted by compulsion will be poorly prepared to endure the hardships and exposures of the soldier’s life, and will be easily reconciled to desertion, or to flight in the hour of danger. This new draft will therefore do much to shorten the war, though not in the way that many of the Northern people anticipated.

We are now more hopeful of peace than we have been since the commencement of this struggle, but while it lasts there are indications that it will be more cruel and bloody than it has ever been. It seems to be steadily drifting beyond the control of our authorities into a war of extermination. Our readers are acquainted with the recent inhuman orders and conduct of some of the Federal commanders, and of the determination of our own government to retaliate in kind unless such conduct was disowned and checked by the authorities in Washington. A letter of inquiry on the subject addressed to Gen. Halleck by Gen. Lee, has been returned unnoticed under the pretext that it is insulting to the Government of the United States. It is now left to our own government either to make no efforts to secure their citizens who are within the enemy’s lines the rights conceded to them by the usages of civilized war, or to retaliate in kind on the offenders whenever caught.–They have adopted the latter alternative.

We have already noticed the orders of the President in regard to Generals Pope and Steinwehr and their commissioned officers. More recently it has been decided that Generals Hunter, Phelps, and all others who are engaged in arming the slaves or exciting them to insurrection, are to be treated as felons if caught.

It is easy to see what may follow.–Should the enemy continue his brutal course a war of extermination must follow. We would despise such a contest with its horrors. We pray God that it may be averted. But whatever the future may develop, let us meet the issue firmly and hopefully.–Let us act well our part, looking to God, Who alone can guide us safely through this stormy period to independence and peace.

What does the current Confederate draft reveal about many common white Southerners’ unwillingness to fight for the preservation of an institution–African slavery–that benefits only white Southern elites? Hufham is silent on this subject.

In reality, the war is transitioning toward a conflict fought by involuntary soldiers on both sides. While the cause of the war is universally acknowledged to be African slavery, not all on either side are personally passionate about the matter of African slavery. Many Northern soldiers fight primarily for the preservation of the Union, while many common folk Southern soldiers in no way hold African slavery as “sacred and dear.”

Yet the tide against African slavery has turned, as most northerners–and Europeans at large–now recognize African slavery as inherently immoral. In addition, white Southern elites’ fear of armed slaves, increasingly raised in the Baptist press of the South, is an implicit acknowledgment that slavery is not the happy, peaceful, God-ordained lot of black human beings.

Source: J. D. Hufham, “Progress and Character of the War,” Christian Index, August 27, 1862 (link)