Baptists and the American Civil War: April 5, 1865

jasper_johnOn the third day of freedom in Richmond, many of the remaining upper class whites want to believe that the setback is only temporary.

The brief reflections of Richmond resident Margaret White are not atypical: “Kept in a constant state of anxiety,” she writes this day, “by not being able to hear anything reliable. Some tell us that Gen. Lee is whipped which we won’t believe.”

Blacks, too, are experiencing some anxiety. Even as they joyfully celebrate their newfound freedom, there are many questions concerning the future.

John Jasper, a black Baptist preacher freed by the fall of Richmond, finds himself in a bit of a quandary. Living and working at the Rolling Mills outside of Richmond, in addition to preaching prior to the liberation of the city, Jasper now finds himself back in the city. “At this time, when Mr. Jasper had become a free man in body as well as soul, he had seventy-three cents, and was in debt to the amount of forty-two dollars for house rent…”

Casting about for his first job as a freedman, he finds one on the morrow. “During the unsettled condition of affairs, from April 6th, 1865, to the 4th of July of the same year, Mr. Jasper worked on the streets of Richmond, cleaning bricks for a compensation, so much per thousand.”

The city’s black Christians also face new realities. “This new order of things necessitated a new arrangement … The colored people had been holding their meetings in the houses of their masters, now they have no masters, consequently they have no meeting-houses.”

In the weeks and months ahead, black Baptists in Richmond and other nearby towns, bearing their freedom with thankfulness to God, begin forming their own congregations, acquiring or building meeting houses as they are able. Soon, Jasper accepts a call to pastor the Third (African) Baptist of Petersburg. In due time, as pastor of Richmond’s Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church, he becomes one of the most well-known black Baptist preachers in America of the late 19th century.

As a result of freedom coming to Richmond, black Baptist voices suddenly rise above those of white Baptists in the city. White meeting houses are largely deserted, the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald, based in Richmond, shut down.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee, meanwhile, is struggling to hold his remaining army intact. Having retreated westward, he is pursued by Grant‘s forces. Hoping to replenish their supplies at the Amelia Court House, the Army of Northern Virginia is sorely disappointed this day when trains from Richmond arrive bearing documents rather than food. In addition, Confederate forces lose a nearby battle with the enemy, known as the Battle of Amelia Springs.

Meanwhile, Union General Ulysses S. Grant passes by Nottoway Court House, here learning that General Philip Sheridan is blocking Lee’s line of retreat to the South, leaving only a westward trajectory open to the Confederate general, a route that leads to another court house: Appomattox.

Sources: Shirley A. Haas, Dale Paige Talley, editors, A Refugee at Hanover Tavern: The Civil War Diary of Margaret Wight, Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2013, p. 121 (link); Edwin Archer Randolph, The Life of Rev. John Jasper, Pastor of Sixth Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Richmond, Va., from His Birth to the Present Time, with His Theory on the Rotation of the Sun, Richmond: R. T. Hill, 1884, pp, 27-28, digitized by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (link); Amelia Court House, Virginia (link); Battle of Amelia Springs (link); Nottoway Court House Marker (link)