Baptists and the American Civil War: May 18, 1865

Civil War Era Missouri Map

Civil War Era Missouri Map

The Second Baptist Church of St. Louis, Missouri is the host of the 33rd anniversary meeting of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.

Those gathered celebrate the end of the war.

In his opening address, host pastor Galusha Anderson rejoices that “as an evidence of the new era on which we have entered, a convention of Colored Baptists, coming from several States, will assemble in this city next week, and, thank God! they will come as you have, without passes, and we shall greet them in the name of our common Lord.”

Anderson continues:

When we invited you we were a slave State, and the smoke of battle still hung thick over our borders; but we greet you, thank God! amid the dawning light of peace, in free Missouri. The foot of no bondman presses the soil of this mighty commonwealth.

Many portions of our State are rent and mangled by fierce fratricidal strife; yet we find here and there a few loyal men and women, who, true to God and their country, have suffered and patiently waited for this day of victory and triumph. Their churches have been broken into fragments and scattered, and now they turn their eyes to you and plead for help. They ask for pastors, to gather together, strengthen, and preserve that which remains.

From this point, too, we look out over all the South, desolated by war. There are loyal Christians in those conquered States, but they are chiefly negroes, and, to a large extent, Baptists. They ask of you men who shall teach them and preach to them the gospel of Christ. Other denominations have entered into this work with vigor, and if we neglect it we shall be recreant to our trust.

Dr. M. B. Anderson, president of the ABHMS, offers the following words:

The Society meets today with contending emotions of joy and sorrow; joy that the flag of our country, so long expelled from a portion of the territory of the Union, now floats again over all the States from Maine to the Gulf. Our hearts are lifted up in joy and thanksgiving to God, under whose divine wisdom our armies have been enabled to march steadily forward to the accomplishment of his great and beneficent ends. He has gone before the Union legions as the pillar of fire before the Israelites in the desert. Let us give the glory to him. But while we contemplate this mighty achievement, we are yet weighed down with an overwhelming sorrow. God has struck all of us—every man, woman, and child of this great nation—with an overpowering grief. Our revered Chief Magistrate, whose wisdom had designed and carried on to success the great work of preserving the integrity of this Union, has been struck down by the hand of an assassin. We must lay our tribute of respect and veneration upon the altar of his sacrifice. We do not know, and it is not given to us to know certainly, if the leaders in this wicked Rebellion were the instigators of this awful deed; but we do know that a system which sought to carry us back to the darkness of the tenth century— human slavery—has fitly culminated in a foul and unnatural murder; and as the murder of William the Silent was associated with Philip the Second and the machinations of the Jesuits, so would the murder of President Lincoln be associated, in history, with slavery and the instigators of the cruel and murderous war just closed. But all this should lead us on to more earnest exertions in behalf of the cause of Christ. This war, bloody and sacrificial as it has been, represents the moral and religious convictions of the masses. All the officers have been buoyed up by the moral and religious sentiment of a Christian people, that has reached them from the homes and friends they had left behind. The great leader of the armies leaned on Christian influence for support, and this never failed him.

Our Work As Leaders Now Commences.—During the progress of the war the acerbity which was the outgrowth of the mighty conflict may have made us swerve at times from the spirit of Jesus. But we could now come back with all bitterness assuaged, and with feelings of hatred changed into those of mercy for the repentant. We have had light from the glaring flash of cannon, and the gleam of myriads of bayonets. We must learn mercy instead of judgment, and inculcate the lessons of the meek and lowly Jesus of Nazareth. It is premature to say how we should deal with the leaders of the Rebellion; time will develop that. Jesus must work on their hearts. It has been said we can never reach them; that no teaching can eradicate the doctrines contended for, from the hearts of the Southern people. But in fifty years, the people of Scotland, the whole of which had been plunged in rebellion, returned to a condition of unqualified loyalty. We may hope that the roots of this Rebellion will be torn up and eradicated in as short a period here. Time will do the work. Let us wait God’s own good season, and not hurry beyond the day of his will, when the whole land shall rejoice, in a perfect union of the people in feeling as well as in the integrity of territory. Many at the South are members of this branch of the church; there are many colored brethren from whom the light of the cross of Christ has been shut out by the pall of slavery. We must educate them, send missionaries to them, and make their religious fervor intelligent. To this work we must give our hands and hearts and minds. It is the great work before us.

It has been asked, What will you do with the negro? God does not require of us an answer to this. Our question is, What will we do for the negro? God will tell us, when it pleaseth him, what to do with the negro. Let us do our work, and leave the rest to God. Let us organize them into churches and Sunday schools; teach them to labor, and to make of themselves men in every sense. God will do the rest.

We Have Another Work Also South.—There will be a vast emigration to the South. Our soldiers, who have marked the bloom and beauty of the South, its salubrious climate and immense agricultural resources so long undeveloped because of the incubus of slavery that rested upon it, will emigrate thither and remain. We must follow them with our influence, as we follow the pioneer into the Western forest. We know we can reach them when they are settled in the Southern States. There is another class we may be able to reach and lift up out of the slough of despond; the poor whites of the South may, by example and instruction, be brought back to the fold of Christ. Of the leaders there we need say nothing. Perhaps God may show them the ” handwriting on the wall,” and they may learn the inevitable necessity of submission. Many civilians there, we learn, do not appreciate that the Rebellion is crushed. They do not know it, and consequently refuse to believe it. The rebel soldiers know it, and ere long civilians will be brought to the same knowledge of the truth.

In the months and years to come, American Baptists play a vital role in assisting black Baptists of the South in forming churches, obtaining education and acquiring the skills to earn a living.

White Southern Baptists, on the other hand, do little to assist their black brethren, resentful that Baptists of the North have invaded their soil and are ministering to and working with their former slaves.

Source: Annual Report, American Baptist Home Mission Society, 1865, p. 7 – 10 (link)