Baptists and the American Civil War: January 1, 1865

Civil War States MapOn this second anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, freedmen North and South celebrate, praising God and giving thanks to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln for leading them out of captivity.

For the Confederacy, the storyline of the war has turned into a nightmare. The Southern economy, resting on the free labor of slaves, is in tatters. Southern society, structured on white supremacy and black slavery, has been ripped apart in all major cities of the South other than Charleston, South Carolina and Richmond, Virginia. And the white Southern God, divine justifier of the region’s slave-based economy and society, has been largely absent since the summer of 1863.

A focal point of that fateful summer of ’63 was Vicksburg, Mississippi. The site of one of two monumental victories that July, Vicksburg (the other being Gettysburg) is now a far cry from what it was before the war. Under Union-control for the past year-and-a-half, the city celebrates in a manner unimaginable prior to 1863.

On Monday last the colored people of this city, held a jubilee in celebration of the second anniversary of their emancipation.  They assembled at the Presbyterian and Baptist churches, on Walnut street, at 10 o’clock in the morning, and under direction of their own marshals, formed in procession and marched thro’ the principal streets, headed by the brass band of Col. Lieb’s artillery regiment.

They halted in front of Gen. Smith’s headquarters and called for a speech from [fold in paper] a member of the Generals [fold in paper] in a very appropriate manner complimented them highly upon their creditable appearance, and congratulated them in behalf of the General in their enjoyment of their New Year’s Gift—their freedom.

Major A. K. Barnes, was then called for, and made a short and appropriate speech which was frequently applauded.  The chaplain of the 52d U. S. colored infantry, made a few remarks which were received with great enthusiasm.—Col. George N. Zigler, of the 52d, also made a speech, which was well received.

The procession then halted at General Washburn’s headquarters.  The General was called out and made a few well-timed remarks—just such remarks as would be looked for from a patriot statesman.  We regret our inability to give the General’s speech in full.  The procession then moved to the Court House, where it was addressed by Gen. Shepherd, in an excellent manner.

Similar jubilation takes place in Memphis, Tennessee, where the exhibitions of freedmen are interpreted in vastly differing manners.

The pageant of our colored population yesterday was susceptible of a similar duplex aspect. There may have been to me ludicrous things, some foolish things some absurd things about the procession yesterday. Men who are so fearful of the bugaboo of negro social equality and amalgamation–so apprehensive of the blacks surpassing the whites in intellectual and industrial pursuits that they fear to deal justice to the negro, and cannot see that the true interest of Tennessee lies in wiping out the effete institution of slavery, encouraging the emigration hither of free white labor and frankly, according with the policy of Government and the will of the nation, doubtless saw much to ridicule in the exhibition of the humble callings pursued by the blacks, their parade of school children, and their display of benevolent organizations, as well as their speeches, prayers and singing.

The man who looked. . . to ascertain. . . their law abiding character, their loyalty to the Union, their wish to educate their children, their profound gratitude to God, saw more than laughable or absurd incidents. He saw a race rising from ignorant, imbruted chattelism to manhood. He saw them. . . not thirsting for revenge. . . not dreaming of lying in idleness, but with prayers. . . hymns. . .cheers for Lincoln, expressions of intense regard for Union soldiers, and. . .exhorting each other to manful lives and honest labor.

Yet further eastward, the mood in Savannah, Georgia is both joyous and serious. Black clergy, many of whom are Baptist, assemble and begin the task of forming the Savannah Education Association that, in the weeks and months to come, will provide schooling for black citizens, taught by blacks.

The New Year dawns, in short, with the South turned on its head. Only a thin line, in the form of Confederate defenders between Union forces and Richmond near Petersburg, separates life and death for the Confederacy.

Blacks North and South are praying for the latter.

Sources: “The Colored People on a Jubilees,” Vicksburg Daily Herald, January 5, 1865 (link); “Emancipation Day Parade in Occupied Memphis,” Memphis Bulletin, January 2, 1865 (link); Savannah Education Association (link)