Baptists and the American Civil War: September 28, 1863

Georgia MapTwo thirty-nine year old Baptist associations in Georgia meet today and reflect upon the condition of the Confederate States of America in the South’s war for the preservation of African slavery. One body is a Primitive Baptist association, and the other is Southern Baptist. Both associations were founded at a time when many Baptists of the South were not proponents of slavery. Now, most delegates at both meetings are pro-slavery.

Meeting in the Nance’s Creek Baptist Church in Dekalb County, Georgia, the annual meeting of the Yellow River Baptist Association is devoid of resolutions and reports, excepting a resolution regarding recently-departed ministers. The lack of resolutions and reports is typical of Primitive Baptist associational meetings like that of Yellow River Baptists: as anti-missionary, anti-Sunday School Baptists, there is little in the way of ministries and education to talk about.

The war, however, does command attention in Yellow River Baptists’ Circular Letter, a missive written by messengers to be distributed to member churches of the association. Evident in the letter is a fear that the South is about to be defeated by her “enemies.”

Dearly Beloved: The time of our Associational meeting having again arrived, and our Heavenly Father having granted us the privilege of assembling and enjoying the society of each other once more in the flesh, we feel it to be a pleasant duty to address you, perhaps for the last time. The terrible strife which is agitating our land, may, before another anniversary meeting, so devastate our homes as to preclude the possibility of our assembling, as it has already done in many portions of our beloved country, where meeting-houses have been occupied as quarters for our soldiers, or desecrated by the foul pollution of the invader’s footprints….

In these trying times, while the judgments of God are abroad in our land, and, as a people, that severest calamity of being given up to work our own destruction, seems to be upon our land, let us remember that the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth, that He is God, and beside him there is none else. To Him let us look for our deliverance, for he maketh wars to cease unto the ends of the earth. Let us be still and know that He is God. “And to you who are troubled rest with us.” Rest on that sure foundation of God, where the Apostles and primitive saints rested. Rest in the oath and promise of God. Rest in that love of God which “spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?”

Finally, brethren, farewell. May “the God of all grace, who hath called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered awhile, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Meanwhile, the Flint River Baptist Association, convening in the Antioch Baptist Church of Fayette County, issues many resolutions and reports, as is customary for Southern Baptist associational bodies. One such report is that of the “The State of the Country.” A committee presents the report, consisting of three resolutions, which is quickly adopted by the delegates at large.

After the lapse of two and a half years, and at this, your annual Session, it is very painful again to report that our beloved South is still involved in a most bloody and unrighteous war, forced upon us by our enemies. Since your last Session we have suffered some severe reverses. But on the other hand, we have achieved several of the most brilliant and signal victories which history has ever recorded. Our losses in men and munitions of war have been fearful. But, on the other hand, the losses of our enemies, in these regards, have been much greater. We, therefore, offer for your adoption the following resolutions:

Resolved, That on a review of the entire past history of this war, as well as of the present aspect of affairs, there is no good reason for despondency or discouragement. Our cause is just, and must and will prevail; and to this end we now again pledge ourselves, and all that we possess, to our Government.

Resolved, That we have entire and undiminished confidence in the wisdom, ability, and fidelity of our President as Chief Executive; in the skill and efficiency of our officers in command, and in the endurance and bravery of our private soldiers engaged in this fearful struggle, and that we here unanimously record our deliberate and solemn conviction that, with such a President, such officers, an such privates, and such a cause to maintain and vindicate as we now have, and above all, with the Lord Jehovah at our side, as He evidently is, to fail is impossible.

Resolved, That we urgently recommend all Christians in general, and those of our own denomination in particular, to make constant and importunate prayer to Almighty God in behalf of our bleeding country, and of our soldiers in the field.

Two Baptist associations in the state of Georgia, both with “river” in their names (early Baptist churches were commonly located near rivers due to the importance of fresh water), both birthed in the same year and this year meeting on the same day. One is Primitive Baptist, the other Southern Baptist. Both refer to the United States as their enemy, but while the former discusses the war in abstract terms, the latter speaks of the great conflict in much detail. The first fears the South is about to be conquered, the second recognizes the recent battlefield losses but voices defiance, resoluteness and confidence of a Southern victory, pledging their loyalties and possessions to the Confederate government.

In neither instance are blacks, the people over whom the war is being fought, present.

Sources: “Minutes of the thirty-ninth annual session of the Yellow River Baptist Association held with the church at Nance’s Creek, Dekalb County, Georgia, September 26, 27 and 28, 1863” (link); Minutes of the thirty-ninth anniversary of the Flint River Baptist Association; held with Antioch Church, Fayette County, GA., September 26th and 28th, 1863