Baptists and the American Civil War: March 30, 1865

SlaveryThe coming of spring weather and the overwhelming numbers of Union soldiers in the trenches of Petersburg does not bode well for nearby Richmond. While the winter weather for months dampened Union offensives against the Confederate lines, there is now little to keep the Federals at bay.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, realizing the crisis at hand, turns his attention to the recruitment of slaves to assist in the defense of the Confederate capital.

William Smith, governor of Virginia, has reservations. Davis tries to reassure him that slaves can be safely deployed in the army.

RICHMOND, VA., March 30, 1865.

His Excellency WILLIAM SMITH,

Governor of Virginia:

Upon the receipt of your letter of the 27th instant, I had a conference with the Secretary of War and Adjutant-General, in relation to your suggestions as to the published order for the organization of negro troops, and I hope that the modifications which have been made will remove the objections which you pointed out. It was never my intention to collect the negroes in depots for the purposes of instruction, but only as the best mode of forwarding them, either as individuals or as companies, to the commands with which they were to serve. The officers at the different posts will aid in providing for the negroes in their respective neighborhoods, and in forwarding them to depots where transportation will be available to aid them in reaching the fields of service for which they are destined. The aid of gentlemen who are willing and able to raise this character of troops will be freely accepted. The appointment of commanders, for reasons obvious to you, must depend on other considerations than the mere power to recruit.

I am happy to receive your assurance of success, as well as your promise to seek legislation to secure unmistakable freedom to the slave who shall enter the Army with a right to return to his old home, when he shall have been honorably discharged from military service.

I remain of the opinion that we should confine our first efforts to getting volunteers, and would prefer that you would adopt such measures as would advance that mode of recruiting, rather than that concerning which you make inquiry to wit, by issuing a requisition for the slaves as authorized by the statutes of Virginia.

I have the honor to be, with great respect, your obedient servant,


Southern Baptist elites yet insist that God will save his slave-based Southern Confederacy, today in the pages of the Georgia Baptist Christian Index newspaper.

From Mercer University, president Nathaniel M. Crawford presents a long discourse against the “Equality of Men.” In seemingly all manner, human equality is a false “dogma,” and certainly in regards to black persons:

In the Hebrew commonwealth God recognized slavery, and thus recognition condemns the dogma of human equality, both socially and politically, both in fact and by right. It is not be inferred from this that slavery is proper in all times and in all circumstances; but it is undeniable that, if slavery is ever admissible, the dogma of of human equality is false.

Black slavery once again defended as biblical, another editorial discusses the “lessons of the war.”

During the past century the tendency of the philosophy of religion has been to undermine the belief in a divine providential government  over the world; but the present calamitous state of our national affairs brings the existence and superintendence of the Almighty very near to the apprehension of every one of us. The epicurean tenet that the great and glorious Creator takes no interest in the affairs of man, is, under the mighty pressure of circumstances, being crushed to pieces; for who does not behold the hand of Omnipotence guiding this people through the successive stages of this stupendous struggle, upholding them amid the repeated and powerful shocks of overwhelming numbers, furnishing them with supplies of food and raiment  and, by the consolations of his Spirit, supporting thousands of stricken households?

In repeated calls to prayer from our highest authorities; in the many meetings to supplicate divine assistance; in the various sermons and public prayers of the day; in numerous instances of providential interposition; and in the felt necessity of more than mortal assistance in our struggle, the being and superintending governance of the Almighty has been brought repeatedly before our minds. In whatever aspect we regard the war–whether, when successes attended our arms and gladness filled our hearts, or when defeat saddened our spirits and palled our hopes–whether we were safe from all danger or surrounded by a thousand perils, the proximity of God has been brought home to us. In our chasetisements we have been constrained to behold his corrections for his abuse of his mercies; in our bereavements we have seen a frowning providence hiding a smiling face; and in our victories we have read the favor God extends to a righteous cause. Triumph and joy, suffering and sorrow, hardships and peril, have all brought us near to our Maker; and the greater our peril–the more severe our calamities, the more have we felt the nearness of God.

Perhaps this is one of the principal reasons that so many of our soldiers have chosen Him for their friend and portion forever; they had read theology in the incidents of military life, and, amid the dangers and privations of their lot, they have felt the need of divine support. Indeed, in the doctrine of special providence the whole christian community is being confirmed; and even many of the wicked have been led to accept this great principle of christian ethics. That God reigns in the cabinet, camp, field and family circle, is a truth which is rapidly permeating the public mind, and which must necessarily be productive, sooner or later, of beneficial effects upon the moral and political status of our people.

The great lesson for us, as a people, to learn is to bow in submission to God’s chasetisements, and seek, by turning from our sins and working righteousness, to gain his favor and procure for our sorely tried land the benefits of his blessing and forgiveness.

God is thus blessing his chosen white people, even as His nation teeters on the razor’s edge of oblivion.

Sources: “Correspondence from Jefferson Davis to William Smith – March 30, 1865,” Lest We Forget, Hampton University (link); Nathaniel M. Crawford, “Thoughts on Government, No. 3” and “Lessons of the War — No. 1,” Christian Index, March 30, 1865