Baptists and the American Civil War: June 23, 1863

Map of Virginia 1860sToday William S. Christian (1830-1910) of Virginia–physician, Baptist layman and veteran military officer–is promoted to Colonel in (and commander of) the 55th Virginia Infantry Regiment of the Confederates States Army. His promotion comes on the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg, a battle that changes Christian’s life and stamps the imprint of the war upon him for the remainder of his life, as it does with many other Confederate survivors.

Surviving Gettysburg, Christian is captured in Maryland on July 14 during the Confederate army’s retreat to Virginia. Imprisoned at Johnson’s Island, Ohio, his medical credentials lead to an appointment as superintendent of the prison’s hospital. In his post, he persuades Union authorities to provide clean drinking water to Confederate prisoners.

On March 3, 1864 Christian is exchanged and returns to his command, a post he resigns from in March 1865, partly due to wounds suffered in the war. Shortly thereafter, he joins his refuged wife and children in North Carolina. Practicing medicine and replenishing his wealth, he and his family return to their house in Middlesex County, Virginia eighteen months later, where he continues practicing medicine. He becomes a member of the Medical Society of Virginia in 1886, and later serves on the county board of health and as superintendent of Middlesex’s schools.

Christian also makes a name for himself locally as an ardent advocate of temperance. At a time when many Baptist churches yet use wine in communion, the former army officer is a tee-totaling Baptist Sunday School superintendent. Christian carries forth his crusade against alcohol both within and without church doors, joining the Independent Order of Good Templars, an abstinence organization.

The former officer also becomes a member of the United Confederate Veterans and, as many other members of the organization, in his later year recounts stories of African slaves’ loyalty to the Confederacy.

Source: William S. Christian, 1830-1910, Encyclopedia Virginia (link)