Baptists and the American Civil War: June 4, 1865

General Robert E. LeeThe aptly-named Lafayette Church (1816-1907) is a Baptist minister who during the war pastored the First Baptist Church of Alma, Michigan, when not soldering. A captain in Company D, 26th Michigan Infantry during the war, he was commissioned unit chaplain on April 2, 1864. Today he musters out of military service at Alexandria, Virginia.

While United States soldiers by the hundreds, and perhaps thousands, muster out this day, many white Southerners remain defiant in defeat. In the former Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, an alleged eyewitness some forty years later writes of an event that he claims transpires this day.

The story is of former Confederate Robert E. Lee, a hero to many white Southerners, including many Baptists. Although the war has been lost, Lee is yet venerated for his military daring and battlefield victories during the great conflict, as well as his Christian demeanor. White Baptists of the South are forever grateful to him for prohibiting military drills on the Sabbath during the latter half of the war.

Recounted at a time of extreme persecution of black citizens of the South by whites in the early years of the 20th century, the story as told goes like this:


Col. T. L. Broun, of Charleston, W. Va., writes of having been present at St. Paul’s Church, Richmond, Va., just after the war when a negro marched to the communion table ahead of the congregation. His account of the event is as follows:‘Two months after the evacuation of Richmond business called me to Richmond for a few days, and on a Sunday morning in June, 1865, I attended St. Paul’s Church. Dr. Minnegerode [sic] preached. It was communion day; and when the minister was ready to administer the holy communion, a negro in the church arose and advanced to the communion table. He was tall, well-dressed, and black. This was a great surprise and shock to the communicants and others present. Its effect upon the communicants was startling, and for several moments they retained their seats in solemn silence and did not move, being deeply chagrined at this attempt to inaugurate the ‘new regime’ to offend and humiliate them during their most devoted Church services. Dr. Minnegerode [sic., Minnigerode] was evidently embarrassed.

General Robert E. Lee was present, and, ignoring the action and presence of the negro, arose in his usual dignified and self-possessed manner, walked up the aisle to the chancel rail, and reverently knelt down to partake of the communion, and not far from the negro. This lofty conception of duty by Gen. Lee under such provoking and irritating circumstances had a magic effect upon the other communicants (including the writer), who went forward to the communion table.

By this action of Gen. Lee the services were conducted as if the negro had not been present. It was a grand exhibition of superiority shown by a true Christian and great soldier under the most trying and offensive circumstances.”

Although it could be a true account, there is no other collaboration of the story, no evidence that the event actually happened. It does, however, summarize the attitude of white supremacy that bathes the unrepentant South for a century following the Civil War.

Sources: Church Family Collection, Clark Historical Library, Central Michigan University (link); “Negro Communed at St. Paul’s Church,” Richmond Times Dispatch, April 16, 1905 (link); “General Lee and Visibility,” a talk by Philip J. Schwarz at the Stratford Hall Plantation Seminar on Slavery, August 4, 2000 (link)