Baptists and the American Civil War: December 2, 1864

bible02Refusing to give up, Confederate General John Bell Hood today pushes his exhausted troops to the outskirts of Union-occupied Nashville. With the Confederacy in tatters, Hood is staking the future of the South on his impending assault of the Tennessee city. Georgia is helpless to stop Sherman, while Union forces are close to Richmond. If the pendulum is to swing the other way, it will begin at Nashville.

Taking up defensive positions near the city, Hood, the memory of the recent and ill-fated attack on Franklin, opts to wait for the Federals to take the offensive. He will be ready when the charge comes.

Or so he hopes, a hope reinforced by the prayers of much of the white Confederacy.

Bolstering the Confederate pleas to God are efforts to place yet more Bibles in the hands of the South’s defenders. The army of God’s nation, ironically, has long been viewed as anything but holy. Many Southern Baptists have for much the war roundly criticized the rampant sinfulness in army ranks. Others have rejoiced that the soldiers have become more religious even as the tide of war has turned against the South.

This week’s Virginia Baptist Religious Herald features a letter from Baptist chaplain John William Jones, now prominent among the ranks of Civil War chaplains. Jones, writing from “Camp near Petersburg,” portrays an army hungry for Bibles that thus far are unsupplied by home front Christians.

There is a general demand in the army for small Bibles. I have daily applications from soldiers, so eager to get them that they frequently say they will give several months’ wages for one. But the supply at all of the depositories and book stores has long since been exhausted, and there seems little prospect of a replenishment. Our brave boys must beg in vain for Bibles, unless the good people at home, who have hitherto contributed so liberally to the temporal and spiritual welfare of the army, will also come to the rescue in this matter. Almost every family might (by a little sacrifice) spare one or more small Bibles. A lady sent me the other day a Bible, owned by her nephew, a noble Christian soldier, who carried it in nine battles, and had it in his pocket when he fell at Sharpsburg. It was to her a precious relic, and yet she was willing to give it up, that its glorious light might illumine the pathway of some other soldier. I have given it to a gallant fellow, who says that he has been trying for twelve months to procure a Bible. Are there not others who can and will aid in this matter? Bibles sent to my address, Hd. Q’rs 3d Corps, A. N. Va., or to our depository in Richmond, at Bro. T. J. Starke’s book store, will be most gratefully received.

J. Wm. Jones,
Army Evangelist

Are so many soldiers truly so eager to receive Bibles? To the extent that Jones speaks truth in the midst of ministerial hype, many of the beleaguered Southern soldiers, facing likely death if the war continues much longer, are spending more than a little time pondering the afterlife. To such men, scripture offers solace.

But will more Bibles in soldiers’ hands save the slave-based South from the barbaric North? True believers seem confident that earthly salvation remains near.

Looking toward Nashville, John Bell Hood hopes so.

Sources: “Bibles Wanted for Our Soldiers,” Religious Herald, December 1, 1864