Baptists and the American Civil War: April 27, 1862

Mary Beckley Bristow

Mary Beckly Bristow

For many if not most southerners, the Civil War is an emotional roller coaster. War-time diaries often capture the emotional nature of the war, as is the case with the diary of Mary Beckley Bristow, a member of the Sardis Baptist Church in Union, Kentucky.

The Battle of Shiloh, fought in the neighboring state of Tennessee the first week of the month, occupies Bristow’s thoughts throughout April. The Confederates lost the battle and 11,000 soldiers — over a quarter of southern men who fought in the battle. Although the Union lost more men (13,000), the victory served to lift the spirits of the United States, demonstrating that the Union Army could win a major engagement.

Earlier this month, Bristow had both expressed anger at the United States for opposing the Confederate institution of African slavery, while at the same time hoping that Shiloh bode well for the South:

We have had some very cheering news from the Southern army, if it be true. I am very Chary about believing all I hear. O, Lord, if consistent with thy heavenly will turn the invaders back from our soil. They have no right nor business in our country. Why should they meddle with slavery? It is no sin to them, and we are willing to bear the blame. The letter I received from Cousin Sarah Stephens has distressed me and made my blood boil. She writes that two young ladies have been shot down like dogs in their own homes. The unfortunate Colonel McGoffin,14 who is a prisoner in St. Louis, is lying on straw in a dungeon so damp that the water is all the time dripping on him.

Her diary entries of today and tomorrow reveal a life suspended between the beauty of her country home and the death and destruction of Shiloh:

April 27th 1862.

This has been a bright, beautiful Lord’s day. After breakfast I walked out in the front yard. I thought I had never witnessed a more lovely, tranquil scene. The flowery almond was in full bloom, the lilies and snowballs gave promise of future loveliness. The fruit, plums, cherries & apples, are loaded with rich bloom. The industrious little bees were busily engaged extracting honey from the flowers. The noble old forest in front of the house was rendered musical by the little songsters flitting from bough to bough among the lofty trees. All, all, was beautiful. Two years ago how much should I have enjoyed the quiet scene, but now my heart is sad. War, dreadful, calamitous war, is in our country, and I know not but at the very moment I was gazing on the lovely scene, the same Sun that shone on all around so brightly might be shedding his rays on the dead and dying of a dreadful battle field, or a battle might be at that moment going on between Northern invaders and the gallant defenders of my country and of all I hold dear on earth. O, that I could be thankful for the many blessings and mercies freely bestowed upon me and cheerfully trust my country, my all, in the hands of my kind Heavenly Father who has ever favored me far beyond my deserts.

April 28th 1862.

Another lovely day until late in the afternoon. Then the clouds began to arise. . . .

O, how anxious my heart feels at times for those beloved brethren & Sisters in the South from whom we cannot hear, but do know many of them are seeing much sorrow and affliction. The last great battle at Pittsburg Landing was fought near an old baptist meeting house, from which it is called the battle of Shiloh. Doubtless many of the Lord’s children caught in the midst of the two armies. What is their condition we cannot tell. . . .

While the war will yet last three more long years, the time will not be enough for home front Baptists, such as Bristow, to fully absorb the emotional impact.

Source: Diary of Mary Beckley Bristow, April 12, 27, 28, 1862 (link)