Baptists and the American Civil War: April 16, 1863

vicksburg_april16_63As U.S. General Ulysses S. Grants army marches southward through Louisiana, a contingent of Union naval vessels prepares to slip by Vicksburg’s batteries under the cover of darkness. A key city in the war against the South, the capture of the Mississippi city would split the Confederacy east and west while giving the United States nearly complete control over the Mississippi River, an important economic waterway.

At 9:15 p.m. the federal ships, anchored just north of Vicksburg, cast off from their moorings and begin moving downstream. Despite muffled engines and no running lights on the ships, Confederate lookouts spot the intruders. Quickly illuminating the river by setting fire to turpentine-soaked bales of cotton and barrels of tar lining the shoreline, Confederate forces open fire. Although hit repeatedly, all but one of the federal vessels survive the attack and proceed down river in anticipation of a coming rendezvous with Grant’s forces south of Vicksburg. The success of this small operation will pay big dividends in the impending attack on Vicksburg.

Baptists, like other Confederates, worry about the fate of Vicksburg. Yet Baptist life has not halted during the war, as this week’s published summary of recent meeting of Baptist ministers indicates. Despite nationalist concerns, doctrinal debate remains a staple of the Baptist world of the South. Convening at Rive’s Chapel over a period of several days, a small group of homefront Baptist pastors (referred to by the title of elder) debated pressing issues, posed in the form of queries for which clarity is sought. Themes of Calvinism (yet prevalent in much of Southern Baptist life), church state tensions and the concept of Sunday Schools are evidenced in the discussions.

The query, What are the scriptural qualifications of a minister? was discussed by Elders Emerson, Dodson and Poe.

2. The query, What are the scriptural qualifications of a deacon? was discussed by Elders Emerson and Poe.

3. The query, Should not every member, association and convention be aggressive in sending the gospel to the destitute? was discussed by Elders Poe and Dodson….

4. The query, Should every Church have a Sabbath School? was discussed by Elders Moore, Dodson and Rogers.

5. The query, ought not Churches to have frequent days of fasting and prayer during this war? was discussed by Elder Dodson.

6. The query, ought we to send the gospel to the court-houses and towns of our State? were discussed by Elder Dodson.

7. The query, ought we to persuade every Baptist and every Baptist friend in North Carolina to take the Recorder? was discussed by Elders Emerson, Rogers and Dodson.

Absent from this meeting of pastors and other such gatherings are questions of the appropriateness of African slavery and the rightness of Christians slaughtering one another in the name of God.

Sources: “Passing the Vicksburg Batteries,” National Park Service, including image (link); “Rive’s Chapel,” Biblical Recorder, April 15, 1863 (link)