Baptists and the American Civil War: February 21, 1865

Civil War States MapToday Union General William T. Sherman reaches Winnsboro, South Carolina, north of Columbia.

Sherman’s army has encountered little resistance since taking Columbia, and now the general has his sights set on North Carolina.

Meanwhile, today’s Richmond Daily Dispatch reports on the evacuation of Charleston, stating “it is believed that the enemy took possession during the next day.”

The editor, however, feigns little concern: “The evacuation of Charleston should rather inspire cheerfulness than gloom. Sherman can only be checked by an immediate concentration in his front of all our troops, both in North and South Carolina. If this is done, he may be defeated and his present expedition broken up.” On the other hand, “if he is not defeated,” Sherman’s destination is believed to be Richmond.

Far away from the excitement surrounding Sherman’s march, a Baptist pastor, serving as an army missionary, writes to the Galveston Weekly News of religious fervor among among the soldiers of the 17th Texas Infantry.

17th Texas Infantry, Feb. 21, ’65.

Editor News:–I desire through your columns to publish the progress of Christianity in this department of the army (Forney’s division.)  There is, and has been for some time, an intense interest on this subject, manifested by the soldiers.  We have indeed had refreshing showers of the grace of God poured out upon us, interrupted from time to time only by marches of the command.  Several missionaries have visited this division in the last few months, and much good has been accomplished.  Owing to the recent removal of camps, and very much cold wet weather rendering it necessary, public services have to a great extent been dispensed with.  But again as the weather is better, and opportunities presenting themselves, interest is again manifesting itself.  Brother N. O. Mason, Missionary of the 2d brigade, has arrived, and commenced his labors, not only in the pulpit, but among the sick, and at the prayer meeting and Bible Class.  He has done much in visiting the sick, encouraging the desponding, cheering the hopeless, and ministering to not only their spiritual but their temporal wants.  He has ingratiated himself with the soldiers, and is much esteemed by them.  On his return he found the Christian Advocate, which he was instrumental in organizing last summer, in a flourishing condition, and dispensing through its committees, its charities to the sick of the brigade.  Its regular meetings are held on the first Sunday of every month, and on the intervening Sabbaths it meets in the capacity of “Bible class and prayer meeting,” where much spiritual refreshment is had by its members, by an affective intercourse and exchange of advice, instruction and encouragement to one another.  No schism or sectarian spirit is manifested, but rather a holy communion of spirits, refreshed by the presence of the Spirit of the Father.  But much more good might be accomplished by the Association, if it were not hindered for want of means, to carry out their chief objects, one, and chief of which, is to visit and procure comforts in every way for the sick, to procure attention and such articles of diet as are indispensable to the unfortunate and suffering sick soldier.  Much has already been accomplished in this way, and efforts are about being made to devise means to extend their usefulness in this way.  We have also organized a Baptist Church in this brigade, which is in a flourishing condition, and of which, I am acting as pastor.  But owing to my feeble health, I do not know how long I can act in this capacity.  Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

L. S. Cox.

Thus while Confederate armies in the theater of war disintegrate before Sherman, some Baptists in far away Texas seem convinced that spiritual victory is emerging from the despondency and hopelessness that characterizes the war.

Sources: “General Sherman’s Blog, February 21, 1865” (link); “The News: South Carolina — Charleston,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, February 21, 1865 (link); Galveston Weekly News, March 8, 1865 (link)