Baptists and the American Civil War: December 30, 1863

North Carolina MapThe destruction of Baptist churches throughout the South continues, even in the bitter cold of winter as the the year 1863 draws to a close.

The Greenville, North Carolina Red Banks Primitive Baptist Church, founded in 1758, is burned today by Union forces. To make matters worse, the act is perpetuated in part by a Union North Carolina infantry unit.

Led by Union Col. Joseph M. McChesney, soldiers of the 1st U.S. North Carolina Volunteers, 12th New York Cavalry and 23rd New York Artillery Battery torch the meeting house. Nearby Confederate forces receive word of the atrocity. Company G of the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry and the 13th Battalion, North Carolina Light Artillery (Starr’s Battery) ride toward the church with a cannon and gunners, but are quickly outmaneuvered by the Union forces. Following a brief skirmish, the Confederates retreat. Both sides suffer light losses.

As with many Baptist churches of the South, the scars of the Civil War are remembered and memorialized far in the future. An account of the history of the Red Banks Primitive Baptist Church notes:

After the Civil War, it is said that people donated money and materials to rebuild the Red Banks Church. Bids were let out and Billy McGowan and Billy Sermons, carpenters, underbid the others by promising to build a new church for $90.00. They went so much “in the red” on their bargain that the congregation paid them $125.00 for their work.

By 1893, the church members decided to take the old church down and built a new one, which is the one standing today. It was said that two terms of a school were taught in this Red Banks Church before a one-teacher school was erected across the road from the church. That Red Banks School building was moved and became a residence on the New Bern Highway (now Charles Blvd.) and still stands as a barn on the Taft Farm. A second Red Banks school building later burned….

In 2002, Red Banks Primitive Baptist Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Historical Society worked with the NC Division of Archives and History on the restoration of the church building and has replaced the tin roof with wooden shingles and replaced the exterior louvered shutters. The church building is currently being used for Society meetings, weddings, concerts and other special events.

On October 11, 2008, a Civil War Trails Marker was dedicated on the grounds at Red Banks Primitive Baptist Church. The dedication festivities included an Open House, a program by Judge Cliff Everett, dinner on the grounds and the firing of cannon. The event was attended by a large crowd with many in Civil War period attire.

Sources: Red Banks Primitive Baptist Church, Greenville, North Carolina Historical Marker (link) and (link); “A  History of Red Banks Primitive Baptist Church” (link);