Baptists and the American Civil War: April 30, 1864

Abraham LincolnAnxieties North and South are high. The moment of truth is mere days to come. The United States and Confederate States, both weary of war, steel for yet another season of bloodshed and anguish. This most uncivil of wars was never expected to last this long. The public is nervous, politicians are wary, and soldier deaths have already reached astronomical proportions. Surely, surely, this great conflict must be decided in the months ahead.

Yet there is a decided difference in the mood among soldiers North and South. While desertion and fatigue plagues both armies, Union troops, following notable successes these past ten months, are more confident and assertive, their ranks buoyed by a steady supply of new recruits. Particularly excited are the tens of thousands of black soldiers, some having now served for over a full year. Most were enslaved before the war began. Having found freedom because of the efforts of the United States, they are eager to secure freedom for the hundreds of thousands who yet remained enslaved in the Confederacy. Hell itself will not deter them; after all, most of their lives have been spent in hell.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, having long micro-managed the war and often shuffled his military leadership, knows that the time has now come to step back and trust in Generals Grant and Sherman, capable military men whose stature has risen throughout the past three years. The goal now is to continue grinding down the enemy’s forces, breaking the will of the faltering Confederacy and forcing the rebels to surrender. Grant is matched against Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Virgina, while Sherman will shortly drive from Chattanooga into Georgia.

Today Lincoln writes Grant, expressing his confidence in the veteran general.

Executive Mansion Washington,
April 30, 1864

Lieutenant General Grant. Not expecting to see you again before the Spring Campaign opens, I wish to express, in this way, my entire satisfaction with what you have done up to this time, so far as I understand it. The particulars of your plans I neither know, or seek to know. You are vigilant and self-reliant; and, pleased with this, I wish not to obtrude any constraints or restraints upon you. While I am very anxious that any great disaster, or the capture of our men in great numbers, shall be avoided, I know these points are less likely to escape your attention than they would be mine. If there is anything wanting which is within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it. And now with a brave Army, and a just cause, may God sustain you.

Yours very truly
A. Lincoln

While Lincoln and the Northern public at large believe that human equality and freedom for all is indeed a “just cause,” most white Confederates beg to differ. The “just cause” of the Confederacy is white supremacy and black slavery. The privilege of freedom is, in accordance with God’s will and biblical precept, only for the white race. The burden of slavery is God’s judgment upon and will for the black race. In this great war of freedom for all or freedom for the privileged alone, the Confederacy fights for the rights of whites only.

Unfortunately for the white South, the war for white supremacy and black slavery is not going well by this point. Outnumbered and out-gunned, white Southern Christians hope the recent winter revivals have been enough to draw God back onto the battlefield on behalf of His chosen nation. At the same time, many white plain folk, soldiers and home front dwellers alike, are wavering in their certainty that black slavery must be preserved at all costs. To those whose sufferings produce growing doubts about the rightness of the Southern cause, North Carolina Biblical Recorder editor J. D. Hufham appeals to in a passionate editorial in today’s edition of the newspaper.

There are certain things which, as christians, we owe to our country; and while we should always strive to ascertain what they are and keep them constantly before us, every one should make special efforts to do it in times of upheaval like the present. In peace and prosperity, when the currents of society flow quietly along in their ordinary channels, the citizen’s path of duty is not so intricate; or if he should make a mistake it will not be fraught with such important results as in seasons like these, when the country needs the whole strength and the well directed energies of every one of her sons. Carelessness or indifference under such circumstances is criminal.

What then are the duties to his own country, which the Bible imposes on every man? All will agree that it binds him to do all he can for the good of the nation which he claims as his own, and to to nothing which will injure it. This includes, in the first place, obedience to the laws enacted by the properly constituted authorities. Our Saviour observed this rule and enjoined it on his disciples. The only exception is when the law-maker transcends limits and seeks to bind the consciences of men, or so oppresses a whole people or section that they are obliged, in self-defense, to resist the tyrant. In the former case, a simple refusal to obey is all that is allowed; in the latter, open, active opposition, after every other alternative has been tried, becomes necessary. It is, therefore, the imperative duty of every citizen to obey the laws of the land. If one many may violate such of them as appear to him harsh and unjust, any other man may, for a like reason, disregard any other part of them. The foundation of society would be thus broken up and anarchy and ruin ensue. Every freeman may, in a proper way, try to secure the repeal of objectionable laws; but while they remain on the statute book, he is bound to obey them. To evade or violate them, is to be untrue to his country and to fall short of his duty.

Christian patriotism requires that the citizen should always manifest a proper respect for them that have the rule over him. To criticise the acts of government is the inalienable privilege of the governed. It is better for both parties that this is so. But the criticisms should always be temperate and properly guarded. One of the surest methods of destroying a government is to impair the confidence of the people in those who administer it. Hence no word of censure should be uttered without clear and sufficient reason. In the present crisis, the people of the South are peculiarly liable to err on this point. Oppressed by the burdens of war, groaning under its miseries, keenly alive to the importance of every movement in the field and every measure adopted in the council, they are strongly tempted to judge harshly when any mistake on the part of the authorities is made apparent, or when disaster comes, even if it be inevitable. It is needless to say that all such errors should be carefully avoided.

Union is strength. It is, therefore, the duty of every citizen to promote harmony among the people. Divisions and dissensions, always weakening and dangerous, are fatal to a nation struggling as this Confederacy is. He, then who seeks to stir up strife among the people, to array one part against another, under whatever disguises he may seek to conceal his selfish ends, is an enemy to his country, more to be dreaded than an “army with banners.”

Christian patriotism prompts every one to make every sacrifice which the common good demands. Does it require his services, his property, his life even? He must cheerfully yield them up. In this respect, what a noble example is furnished by our faithful soldiers. Leaving every comfort and every tie they go forth to endure hardships and privations and encounter every danger, even death itself, for their country. Would that their spirit pervade the whole nation. What a sad contrast is presented, in the conduct of those, who, remaining at home, grumble and croak, thereby engendering dissatisfaction and despondency. They who seek to depreciate the currency, thereby weakening the hands of government; they who take advantage of the times to extort the last cent possible from the needy; they who, with plenty around them, turn away the poor and distressed empty from their door, are all equally guilty.

The christian patriot will be patient and hopeful under disasters. Recognizing, in this war, the chastenings of the Lord, he will quietly endure the sufferings which may be alloted to him. Knowing that God alone is the Giver of victory and of defeat, he will not be unduly cast down by disaster nor puffed up by success.

Scenes more terrible and trying than any we have yet passed through are before us. The battles about to commence, will be more bloody and decisive than any yet fought. Let us prepare in time for what may await us. Let us strive to ascertain, and to do our whole duty as christian patriots.

While Hufham’s words are carefully chosen, his reasoning is necessarily contorted (even if he no longer is cognizant of the fallacies of his elite groupthink). Inescapable is the fact that Southern Christians rebelled against the United States. Providing an escape hatch for not obeying the government as the Bible demands, Hufham distinguishes between legal government (the United States) and the nation which one “claims as his own.” With the stroke of a pen government betrayal is sanctified for the simple reason that white Southerners came to no longer recognize the United States as their nation, and in so doing nullified the authority of the United States.

“Tyrant” is a reference to Abraham Lincoln, the man who would end black slavery and thus destroy the God-ordained racial strictures of the South. Unstated is the irony of Hufham’s argument that Christians are “obliged” to resist oppression, while ignoring the fact that white Christians are oppressing blacks who, by Hufham’s own reasoning, have the God-given right to fight for their freedom. Such, however, is the silenced, untenable conundrum whose ever-lurking presence bears the seeds of the South’s inevitable destruction. Freedom, when spoken loudly enough, even if intended only for the privileged few is ultimately too powerful to be contained.

The Southern aristocracy, of whom Hufham is a representative and a defender, hope that their decades-old arguments will yet suffice in fooling plain white folk. To be sure, many non-elites are increasingly enticed by Lincoln’s offer of pardon and reconciliation. Weighing their bleak futures if freedom is not extended to blacks, many have come to resent the crushing burden of war and poverty for the sake of preserving the riches of slave owners. To those entertaining such unholy thoughts, Hufham’s message is clear: Christian Patriots must remain loyal to God’s law of white supremacy and black slavery, an immutable precept of which the Confederates State of America is now alone in upholding.

Thus saith the Lord, the God of the superior white race, the Savior of the wealthy slave holder.

Sources: Abraham Lincoln, letter to Ulysses S. Grant, April 30, 1864, Huntington Digital Library (link); “Christian Patriotism,” Biblical Recorder, April 30, 1864 (link)