Baptists and the American Civil War: April 24, 1863

Georgia MapGeorgia Baptists convene at the First Baptist Church of Griffin for their annual meeting. Although the mood is somber due to the war, the normal proceedings take place. A sermon is preached, delegates are seated, and committees appointed. Following these formalities, representatives of Southern Baptist army colporteur and missionary organizations are introduced. Then a “communication” from an army chaplain in Virginia is read, noting the inadequate number of Baptist ministers serving the needs of Confederate soldiers, and imploring the seated delegates to consider serving as army missionaries.

The war has clearly disrupted Southern Baptist life, as conversations and events in Griffin and beyond evidence. Present at today’s convention opening is Nathaniel Crawford, president of the state’s flagship Baptist school, Mercer University. As are other Baptist colleges, Mercer is struggling.

One of the few young men yet studying theology–or anything–at Mercer University is William Singleton. The state and nation are in full-fledged war mode and most 30-ish aged young men from the South are on battlefields or in some camp attached to them in some way.

Ministerial student Joseph Blitch is still at Mercer, while theology student J. K. Cowan has left school to become a minister and students Thomas J. Beck and J. A. Garrison are serving as chaplains in Georgia regiments in Virginia.

Singleton, who was born in England, had been ordained in Augusta’s Green Street Baptist Church in January and is now finding his ministerial service in great demand as the ranks of ministering folk are reduced by those heading to the killing fields.

Whether on the home front or in the camps, the services of Baptist ministers are greatly desired.

Sources: Minutes, Georgia Baptist State Convention, April 24, 25 and 27, 1863 (link); Arlette Copeland of Mercer University’s Jack Tarver Library Special Collections