Baptists and the American Civil War: November 25, 1863

Civil War States MapThe Confederate Army of the Tennessee, defeated twice by their Union counterparts outside of Chattanooga in the past two days, is desperate to turn the tide of the Chattanooga Campaign. Confederate General Braxton Bragg, however, is unable to halt the offensive maneuvers of Union General Ulysses S. Grant.

Today’s action plays out on Missionary Ridge to the east of town as the federals advance upon rebel defenders. Confused regarding their orders, the Confederates fail to mount an effective defense, resulting in a surprisingly easy Union victory. At the end of the day, the rebels are routed. The victorious federals suffer 5,800 men killed, wounded, or missing, while Confederate casualties number 6,600. Today’s Union offensive secures the environs around Chattanooga and sets the stage for Confederate retreat into north Georgia.

Today’s federal victory marks the latest in a long string of major victories this summer and fall, collectively signifying the turning of the war’s momentum to the United States. Southern Baptist leaders, however, continue their increasingly urgent efforts to win a moral victory over the Union and, hopefully, assist Confederate officials in waging a public battle for the hearts and minds of home front citizens.

Even as the volley of rifles and cannons fills the air around Chattanooga, a columnist for the South Carolina Confederate Baptist illustrates white Southerners’ off-the-battlefield strategy in today’s paper by arguing, far from the first time, that the abolitionist United States is a barbarian nation which must be violently resisted down to the last white man and white woman of God’s Southern nation:

….They [the United States] are at once humble and proud, forbearing and revengeful, frank and crafty; and, in their intercourse with other powers, evince, by turns, the predominance of the one or the other of these opposing tendencies. This is pre-eminently true of the people of the United States, in whom a pure religion yet struggles with the impulses of barbarism …. it becomes the solemn duty of these Confederate States to resist them in the last extremity. We hold in our hands a great public trust. The destiny of continents–perhaps of a world–is committed to our keeping; and however perilous the position, it must be held, at all hazards….

This is a mighty war–such as the world has seldom seem. It is no common war between nations for separate national interest only, but it is a war of races, involving two distinct orders of civilization. Our success is their ruin, but their success is not only our ruin, but our deep degradation and infamy. There is no alternative. Better far for all us to sink down and fill freemen’s graves, our swords in hand, rather than subjugated, to survive and wear in peace the chains of slaves and the livery of bondsmen. We have suffered nothing yet compared with what our fathers suffered in the first war for independence. Then we had the savage Indian, at our backs, the tories over our own hearthstones and a fair and open enemy in our front. Augusta, Savannah, Charleston, Camden, and “Ninety-Six,” were all then British posts, and Georgia and South Carolina were occupied almost entirely for three long, dreary years. Yet, a heroic ancestry rose from our valleys and descended from our hills, trusting in God, and resolved to perish rather than survive as slaves, and they drove our conquerors from the soil; and so we can do, even should our land be overrun by vandals. If we are not a bastard race our freedom is our own; even if every male has to sleep on his bright sword, and every female wear at her side a gleaming dagger. It is a great mistake to suppose that this war is to be settled by long range cannon or heavy shell. Even if our fortifications fall and our towns are taken, we will come at last to close quarters, with the battle axe and bowie knife, and fight under the black flag in every glen and swamp….

Sources: Battle of Missionary Ridge (link) and (link); “Ohio,” Confederate Baptist, November 25, 1863