Baptists and the American Civil War: July 27, 1862

The South Carolina Baptist Convention continues meeting in its annual session at Greenville’s Furman University.

Reports from army chaplains and missionaries are a highlight of the meeting. All the highlighted letters and summarized reports from the field (partially noted below) offer glowing accounts of spiritual hunger among Confederate soldiers.

Rev. J. G. Landrum writes: “The soldiers do not wait for me to go among them to distribute, but they crowd around my tent by scores, asking for something to read. They receive and read with eagerness. I require them to read and return, and take others, which they do punctually. I am much pleased with the work of a COLPORTER. I had no idea it was so pleasant an employment.” Again he writes. “I have supplied two regiments from North Carolina. Soldiers read with eagerness and seeming delight the tracts and books which I am almost daily placing in their hands. I have just conversed with a Lieutenant, who, I fear, is on his death-bed, but who is rejoicing in hope of eternal life through a pardoning Redeemer. I have found the goodness of God and his Promises true in a camp life as well as in the sanctuary at home; and that faithful labors, wherever bestowed, shall not be in vain.”

Rev. J. M. Bostick says: “The regulars, even Catholics, took the tracts with eagerness. In no instance were they refused, or even treated with indifference. I have found the work a pleasant one, though I have seen with distress a very great degree of wickedness among some of the soldiers. I find them all more or less accessible, and have been able to speak plainly to some of them. I have sometimes found a room with twenty men, who had neither Bible nor Testament among them. There were several such cases.”

Rev. H. B. McCallum writes: “I am in receipt of a bundle containing tracts and camp hymns. The tracts are on subjects much needed in camp. The one on the observance of the Sabbath will do much good. The camp hymns supply a want long felt by Chaplains. The selection of hymns I think very fine.” At another time he writes: “These little messengers (tracts) are doing much good. I like much the one-paged tracts of your Recent publications. In an evening’s walk last week, I met two young men who had together retired to the woods to read and meditate upon ‘Doderidge’s Rise and Progress,’ which I had loaned to them a short time previous. One of them said to me that he felt it to be much better to have a good book to read than to spend their time in idleness. I shall be glad to get a number of good small books for a ‘circulating library.’ I shall be glad for another supply of tracts. One in particular, I think I could use to great advantage — ‘The Swearer’s Prayer.’ I find that the soldiers generally receive tracts eagerly, and I believe many read with the proper spirit. Again: I sometimes see a group of soldiers listening attentively while one of their number reads a tract, and I have no doubt many hearts are strengthened by this exercise — many good resolutions formed.”

Rev. H. B. McCallum writes again: “The camp hymns have just arrived. I distributed a few throughout the regiment, and such was the eagerness of the soldiers to possess a copy — so many came to me asking them — my supply is well-nigh gone, and would have been entirely exhausted, had I not retained a few to distribute in three companies that were on picket. I can think of no tract which will exercise so happy an influence on the morals of of the camp as this little volume of hymns.

Rev. J. F. Buist says: “The men were as happy to welcome the arrival of the camp hymns as I was. Applications for them are great. They are extremely popular. Every man desires one for himself. Since their arrival, the singing at night is not only general, but of the most heart-stirring and reviving character — I thank God for their publication. I feel that one of the great wants of the camp have been met. I feel glad to write you that the word of truth is having its effect in this regiment. One has professed conversion; another appears anxious to a saving interest in Jesus.” Again he writes: “I rejoice to be a colporter. The little messengers are silently doing their work. I but speak truthfully, when I say that the tract cause is a powerful instrumentality. A Lieutenant, the other day, who had been reading the little tract, ‘One Hundred Years Hence,’ was deeply impressed with it, and said to me: ‘Chaplain, that tract is enough to reach the hardest heart.’ It would cheer your heart, could you see how the soldiers flock around me, anxious to receive a tract. I have never yet presented a soldier with a tract but he would say, in return, ‘I thank you, sir.’ ”

Rev. W. B. Carson writes: “The camp hymns are in great demand, and I think are doing doing much good. Much of the time formerly spent in card-playing is now spent in singing these sweet hymns. Please send me one thousand copies of the hymns, and some eight or ten thousand pages of tracts. Many may be distributed among the surrounding regiments.” Again he writes: “The tracts and hymns are always eagerly received by the soldiers. I hope and believe many of them will bless you and your ‘labor of love’ in eternity for the instruction and comfort afforded them. Reading is taking the place of hurtful amusements.”

Rev. W. E. Wattus, who has been laboring in Virginia, reports that the soldiers there are moved with emotion when they are reminded that Christian friends at home are concerned for their spiritual interest. Instances are narrated in which the big tear tells how deeply the toil-worn soldier is moved by the presentation of a tract or Testament in the name of the loved ones at home.

Rev. J. M. Bunion has also been employed in Virginia by the Board, in the distribution of tracts, Bibles, &c. His experience is the experience of every man who has labored among soldiers, namely, that they are most susceptible of religious impressions, and are ever grateful for any interest in their spiritual well-being.

Rev. E. W. Horn has also been engaged for the Board in the distribution of New Testaments, tracts, &c. He says that “Soldiers crowd about him when he has any religious reading for them.” His regiment went into the service with, as he reports, only fifty New Testaments. This want was very largely met by the Board.

Rev. A. Chambliss was for several months in the employment of the Board as a colporter. He spent much of his time in the hospitals and among the regiments in and near Charleston. The many regiments visited by him pressed about him with great eagerness for Bibles, hymn-books, and tracts. In the hospitals, the soldiers evinced the most lively gratitude for any attentions to their spiritual wants. Many and interesting incidents, were there witnessed, by him, which, if it were possible to narrate before the people, must stir the heart of every Christian man and every lover of his country.

Rev. James Huckins, who has been laboring for the past six months as a colporter of this Board, has been engaged in the hospitals in Charleston and in the regiments quartered there. Brother Huckins has almost daily been in attendance upon the sick. He has found there that the mourner’s tears have been dried, and the penitent has been made to rejoice in the pardoning love of the Redeemer, in many instances just before the spirit took its flight to the heavenly land. The sick in the hospitals have been largely dependent on Brother Huckins for spiritual consolation and the dead for a decent burial. He has also distributed, in the hospitals and in the camp, from five to ten thousand pages tracts daily, as well as good books and New Testaments. He reports eleven conversions in the hospitals.

Rev. S. S. Kirby has also been engaged in the work as a colporter of this Board. He has visited many of the camps on the line of the coast between Charleston and Savannah, and in Savannah. The soldiers, everywhere he went, exhibited much interest in the reception of tracts, Testaments, and camp hymns. He represents the soldiers as pressing around him as hungry men for bread. Their Anxiety for hymn books was such that hundreds would be taken in a few minutes.

The brethren named, together with others who have labored for shorter periods, have placed in the hands of our soldiers, since the last meeting of the Convention, one million seven hundred thousand pages tracts, periodicals, and books. Many of these tracts were purchased, many contributed by friends of the colportage work from various parts of South Carolina, but the larger proportion were given by friends in Charleston, through Rev. James Huckins. In January last, the supply spoken above began to be exhausted, while the demand for religious reading among the troops was constantly increasing.

The word “revival” –when referencing spiritual hunger in the camps–is rarely (if ever) invoked at this point. Within a year, however, many Baptist leaders of the South will be utilizing the word.

Source: Southern Carolina Baptist Convention Annual Meeting 1862 Minutes (link)