Baptists and the American Civil War: November 18, 1864

slave_whippedNow fully on the march westward and southward from Atlanta, Union General William T. Sherman‘s army is spread out from the vicinity of Jackson to Oxford.

His exact intentions are unclear to citizens of Georgia, yet many cities and towns in the potential path of the army have little, if any, resources to prepare defenses.

Macon is an exception. The middle Georgia town has about 10,000 men at the ready should Sherman’s armies march against them, as many citizens anticipate. The nearest Federal forces are less than fifty miles distant and moving in the general direction of Macon.

Meanwhile, Macon’s Baptist leaders remain defiant, epitomized by the editor of the state’s Southern Baptist newspaper, the Christian Index, which is headquartered in the city.

Today’s edition of the Index contains the second of a two-part series examining the fallacies of conscripting slaves into the Confederate Army. The first part focused on the morality of slavery, straining to convince readers that the enslavement of blacks is moral and just, while putting slaves on the front lines of war would be unjust in that it would endanger their physical well-being.

Today’s argument focuses on the injustice of burdening slave owners with the loss of income while creating the inequitable situation of freeing adult male slaves while retaining females and children in captivity. In addition, arming adult male slaves for military service would create havoc within army ranks by creating what would be the “essential equality” of the races, as service in the military would earn blacks their freedom afterward. Would white Confederate soldiers “consent to equality with a race servile, inferior and degraded by all the opinions and associations of the past?” asks editor Samuel Boykin, his question revealing the underlying tension that will characterize white attitudes in a post-slavery, post-war period in which blacks will nonetheless be denied true freedom in the face of white prejudice.

Boykin concludes his exhaustive essay by driving to the heart of the problem:

To surrender a portion of our slaves would be to surrender the citadel. The act would dissolve the prestige of the intangibility of African slavery. It would place the South in an attitude of antagonism to its own opinions, and bring down on us the scorn of abolitionism the world over. It would abstract from our cause and from ourselves the moral power of consistency. It would give a pretext for foreign interference with the institution, and would be claimed the Federal States as admission of the rectitude of their course. More than this, it would be in violation of the obligations of the Southern Churches to the negroes. As Christians, we believe that the institution of slavery as it exists among us is of Divine appointment—that the slaves belong to an inferior race—that they are indolent, thriftless and incapable of self-government—and that, left to themselves, will make no advance in civilization, but, on the contrary, will relapse into paganism. We know it to be true, that with us they have become a semi-civilized people, and enjoy and appreciate the blessings of Christianity—and thousands of them are, in fact, Christians, and these great benefits are, under Providence, the fruits of slavery. Further, we believe that the institution is a trust committed to our hands, for the faithful administration of which we are accountable to God. The faithful administration of it is our obligation. Can we discard it by abolishing slavery in part or wholly, and remit the negro to his primary condition of paganism? We say we can not.

Macon is threatened because the Confederate Army, weakened by mass desertions, is unable to stop Sherman. Yet Boykin and other southern elites are only too well aware that a weak Confederate military is more desirable than providing a path to freedom for slaves, whether in part or in whole.

Black slavery or destruction: this is the road that white elites of the South have chosen.

Source: “Arming the Negroes for Southern Defence,” Christian Index, November 18, 1864