Baptists and the American Civil War: April 10, 1865

lincoln_1863novThe day after Lee surrenders to Grant, celebrations erupt in Washington, D.C.

The war is over! Neither rain nor mud dampens the occasion as thousands mill about in the city’s streets. Many gather on the grounds of the capitol, serenading President Lincoln.

The commotion eventually leads Lincoln to make an appearance at a window.

Looking out upon the cheering crowd below, the president offers the following impromptu words, to the joy of those in the crowd.

“FELLOW CITIZENS: I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. [Cheers.] I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of a formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, to-morrow night. [Cries of `We can’t wait,’ `We want it now,’ &c.] If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. [Laughter and applause.] I see you have a band of music with you. [Vocies, `We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”

The band then plays “Dixie,” followed by “Yankee Doodle.”

Meanwhile, at Appomattox Lee address his Army of Northern Virginia for the last time:

Hd Quarters Army of Nor: Va.
10, April. 1865.


No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the brave survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last,that I have consented to this result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valor and devotion could accomplish nothing that would compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection.

With an increasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous considerations for myself, I bid you all an affectionate farewell.



A formal surrender ceremony is slated for April 12, after which tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers slowly begin making their way homeward, many–over the course of weeks, clothed in rags and often hungry–walking  hundreds of miles to their anxious families.

Baptists are among participants in today’s dramas at Washington and Appomattox. And in Richmond, they are on the central stage of a radical reconfiguration of the city’s social and religious order.

For many years, Richmond’s First African Baptist Church has been under the supervision of the (white) First Baptist Church, with the white church’s pastor, Robert Ryland, a proslavery Baptist (albeit kinder than many towards blacks), also pastoring the black congregation. Virginia law, after all, mandated that black churches must be supervised by whites.

With Richmond now fallen and freedom extended to blacks, Ryland insists that black Baptists must remain with their masters and not join the ranks of Union soldiers. Black Union soldiers, of whom there are many in the city, want Ryland arrested for his remarks. For the moment however, church members, now freedmen (despite Ryland’s plea for them to stay with their masters), in an exercise of ironic autonomy, defend their pastor.

The stage, however, has been set. The First African Baptist Church is on the road to congregational autonomy, a development that Ryland cannot stop. Resigning as pastor of the black congregation within weeks of Richmond’s fall, Ryland in the summer months helps the church install its first black pastor (James R. Holmes) and offers his services to help train black Baptist ministers in the city.

Post-war white Baptists thus retain outward paternalistic superiority, while freedmen, well aware of their yet disadvantaged state, accept white help as a practical necessity in the early stages of a long journey toward self-reliance. Richmond’s predominant white and black Baptist congregations thus navigate, in mutually beneficial ways in the weeks, months and years following the end of the war, the new realities of freedom for all.

Sources: “Response to Serenade,” April 10, 1865, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 8, p. 393 (link); Robert E. Lee, “General Order No. 9, April 10, 1865,” Surrender Documents, National Park Service (link); Thomas S. Kidd, Barry Hankins, Baptists in America: A History, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 149 (link)