Baptists and the American Civil War: July 7, 1863

Abraham LincolnToday U.S. President Abraham Lincoln is delighted to learn of the capture of Vicksburg. The good news is tempered, however, when later in the day he is informed that Union Gen. George G. Meade has failed to aggressively pursue the retreating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.

News of the victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg draws a large, impromptu crowd outside the White House this evening, accompanied by a band. Lincoln addresses the crowd:


I am very glad indeed to see you tonight, and yet I will not say I thank you for this call, but I do most sincerely thank Almighty God for the occasion on which you have called. How long ago is it — eighty odd years — since on the Fourth of July for the first time in the history of the world a nation by its representatives, assembled and declared as a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” That was the birthday of the United States of America. Since then the Fourth of July has had several peculiar recognitions. The two most distinguished men in the framing and support of the Declaration were Thomas Jefferson and John Adams — the one having penned it and the other sustained it the most forcibly in debate — the only two of the fifty-five who sustained it being elected President of the United States. Precisely fifty years after they put their hands to the paper it pleased Almighty God to take both from the stage of action. This was indeed an extraordinary and remarkable event in our history. Another President, five years after, was called from this stage of existence on the same day and month of the year; and now, on this last Fourth of July just passed, when we havae a gigantic Rebellion, at the bottom of which is an effort to overthrow the principle that all men are created equal, we have the surrender of a most powerful position and army on that very day, and not only so, but in a succession of battles in Pennsylvania, near to us, through three days, so rapidly fought that they might be called one great battle on the 1st, 2d, and 3d of the month of July; and on the 4th the cohorts of those who opposed the declaration that all men are created equal, “turned tail” and ran. Gentlemen, this is a glorious theme, and the occasion for a speech, but I am not prepared to make one worthy of the occasion. I would like to speak in terms of praise due to the many brave officers and soldiers who have fought in the cause of the war. There are trying occasions, not only in success, but for the want of success. I dislike to mention the name of one single officer, lest I might do wrong to those I might forget. Recent events bring up glorious names, and particularly prominent ones, but these I will not mention. Having said this much, I will now take the music.

While the triumphs at Gettysburg and Vicksburg are celebrated in the United States capital, a small skirmish takes place today in Wise County, Virginia. The encamped Confederate 10th Kentucky Mounted Rifles, a cavalry unit, is surprised by a Union attack, resulting in the capture of 122 men, including the commanding office, Col. Benjamin E. Caudill (1830-1889).

A Kentuckian (as is Lincoln), Caudill is a Baptist preacher and evangelist of the Regular Baptist persuasion. Over the course of the next year, Caudill serves time in several Union prisons. During his imprisonment, Caudill preaches from behind bars. His last place of incarceration is at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, where “he was chained in the lower decks of the ship, U.S.S. Dragoon.” Caudill is exchanged on August 3, 1864 and resumes his command on September 17, 1864. He fights for the remainder of the war, until Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.

Following the war, Caudill moves to North Carolina and returns to the ministry, serving as a traveling evangelist and church starter. The Baptist preacher, however, is unable to leave behind the influence of the war.

After the war Caudill settled in Allegheny County North Carolina and immediately returned full time to the ministry, beginning a relentless schedule as an evangelist on horseback throughout North Carolina and Virginia. Even in this area of the south there were many difficult and even life-threatening situations during his ministry in the late 1860s fueled by anti-Confederate sympathies. Blue or Gray politics managed to split many church groups apart in this region of the country but Caudill’s vision was unwavering. He spoke of “laying aside all party spirits and placing the churches on the same ground they were on before the war.” He said that in the future they must be governed only by the Word of God and they must try to live in peace. In 1879 Ben Caudill moved from North Carolina back to Kentucky, settling in Clay County and working with a new group of churches. His ministry was not without controversy as he spent much of the decade of the 1880s attempting to convert “missionary” Baptist churches throughout Kentucky to the doctrines of the Old Regular Baptist denomination. In 1888 Caudill traveled throughout Ohio and Indiana in revival meetings while starting new churches. On January 7, 1889 Ben Caudill left his home near Manchester, Kentucky for Tennessee to help start a new church. After completing this mission he was hoping to return to Kentucky to visit his son in Barbourville before returning to Clay County but fell ill in Claiborne County Tennessee on January 18th and was confined to stay at the home of a friend. Doctors were summoned but nothing could be done for the ailing preacher who was suffering from a severe cold, pleurisy and exhaustion created by his constant travel schedule. Ben E. Caudill died on February 11, 1889 at the age of 59. His body was returned to Kentucky by his children and laid to rest in the Slate Hill Cemetery just out of London, Kentucky. Ben E. Caudill was more than an ordinary man. A close friend said “As a citizen and neighbor he was seldom excelled. As a professor of the Christian religion he fully demonstrated his faith by living soberly, righteously and Godly and with an ability given him by God. Truly, we as his survivors can say he fought a good fight and finished his course on the field of battle with his feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.”

Sources: Abraham Lincoln speech, “Response to a Serenade,” July 7, 1863 (link); Robert E. Lee’s Retreat from Gettysburg (link); Faron Sparkman,”Biography of Col. Ben E. Caudill” (link)