Baptists and the American Civil War: April 22, 1865

Map of Virginia 1860sAs Abraham Lincoln‘s funeral train — the Lincoln Special — travels from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, tens of thousands of people line the route to catch a glimpse of the car bearing Lincoln’s remains. Not since the deaths of America’s Founding Fathers has there seemingly been national mourning on the massive scale as that over the death of Lincoln.

Yet eluding the massive manhunt that is underway, Lincoln’s killer John Wilkes Booth and co-conspirator David Herold finally cross the Potomac River into Virginia today. On the soil of the former Confederacy, the fugitives are certain they will be hailed as heros for slaughtering the hated Lincoln. And yet, the locals they encounter seem less than thrilled at the approach of Booth and Herold. Some reluctantly give them food today and in the days immediately following, but none are willing to take them in. And so the duo remains on the move.

In Richmond, the city that only three weeks ago was taken by the Union Army, the relationship between whites and blacks is dramatically changed.

Peter Woolfolk, a slave until the fall of Richmond, is now assisting the work of the Freedmen’s Burea in the former Confederate capital city at the Ebenezer Baptist Church and other churches. He notes that of this day, 182 formerly enslaved black children are attending a school set up at the Ebenezer church since the fall of Richmond, “and it has been increasing all the week.” He also notes that the city’s remaining upper white upper class are opposed to the education of black children.

There is a deep-rooted bitter hatred in the hearts of some of the most influential citizens of this place, against the schools; and efforts are being made to prevent parents from sending their children to school. Some have been turned out of doors, and others are told if they send their children to school, they shall leave their homes instantly. Leaving their homes at this time would be very troublesome if not serious, there are so many houseless by reason of the conflagration; and so many have been turned away, and others running away, from their former masters in the surrounding country.

Meanwhile in North Carolina Union armies continue pressing for the surrender of all Confederate forces. So widespread is the presence of the Federals, in addition to that the growing number of Confederate regiments that are laying down their arms, that some churches in recent months have been canceling services due to the proximity of Union or Confederate forces–or, in an instance today involving the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church of Apex in their church records of April 22, forces from both North and South.

Owing to the two contending armies passing through the neighborhood about this time there was no conference held for this month.

The four years of bloody war between the North and South have closed to the defeat of the South, and as christians we will still say, let the will of the Lord be done. P.H.M.

Back in Virginia, Baptist minister and Confederate Chaplain William Wiatt musters out of service in the Confederate Army. Upon so doing, he pens the following thoughts this day, evidencing feelings of anguish, disbelief, longing, pride regarding his service in the Confederate army and uncertainty as to what the post-war years hold for his beloved South.

Crossed over to Cappahosic [VA] in the morning; I felt thankful to my Heavenly Father for permitting me to return to my native county once more; but it is with a heavy heart that I come back; my beloved County is subjugated; I have lost nearly all of my property; I am far away from my dear little ones; know not when or how I shall go to them; I am about to begin life anew with many & great responsibilities weighing upon me; Oh! my beloved Country; has God cast thy people off? hath He forgotten them Why so much blood shed, so many wounds inflicted, so many noble lives lost, so many hearts crushed, so much devastation & ruin in the land? is it all for naught, Oh! God have all of our prayers, faith, hope & love of liberty and privations & sacrifices been in vain, Oh! God? has God closed His ears to our cries & His eyes to our suffering and is His heart unfeeling toward us? will God, can God forget His people? Impossible! Impossible! God has humbled us, that we may be blessed; all of His works are in Wisdom & Love, as well as in Power & Righteousness; all is right, because He does it, Oh! Lord, our Father …. I look upon my once fine home with a stricken heart; my home is desolate, my heart is more so; I feel that there is little, very little earthly happiness in store for me…. Here my journal ends for the present, it may never be resumed by me as Chaplain in the Confederate Army, which position I was commissioned to hold on the 4th of October, 1861; may the blessing of God be upon all of my labours as such; may I have some “Crowns of rejoicing” in the great day as chaplain in the army of my beloved country; this journal was begun on the 1st day of Jan’y 1862 and has continued till the present without interruption; I regret the ending of it.

Thus is this a day of strong emotions North and South, emotions mightily varied and at times on opposing poles. The world has been turned upside down for so many people — some for the better, some for the worse, others not quite sure — that much has yet to be sorted out.

Sources: The Freedmen’s Journal, Volume 1, 1865, p. 119 (link); “The Death of John Wilkes Booth, 1865” (link); “With Malice Towards None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition, April 21, 1865,” Library of Congress (link); “Abstracts from the Mount Pisgah Baptist Church,” NC (link); L. Roane Hunt, “Spiritual Revival in the 26th Virginia” (link); The Freedmen’s Record, Volume 1, p. 119 (link)