Baptists and the American Civil War: December 26, 1864

New York City of the Civil War era

New York City of the Civil War era

Compared to the commotion in the North today, Christmas appears to have been a rather quiet day of celebration.

From the nation’s capital, the normal sounds of city life are shattered by the firing of ordnance.

The morning was “ushered in with a booming of cannon, 300 having been fired in honor of the capture of Savannah,” Lincoln aide David Homer Bates writes of this day. “Fireworks have been going off all day. Every other person you meet has a pistol in his hand with which he occasionally fires a salute.”

An ecstatic and relieved Lincoln writes to Sherman, congratulating the general on the capture of Savannah.

Executive Mansion

Washington Dec. 26. 1864

My Dear General Sherman

Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift, the capture of Savannah.

When you were about leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic Coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that “nothing risked, nothing gained,” I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honor is all yours; for I believe that none of us went farther than to acquiesce. And taking the work of Gen. Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success.  Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantages; but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole — Hood’s army — it brings those who sat in darkness to see a great light. But what next! I suppose it will be safe, if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide.

Please make very grateful acknowledgments to your whole army — officers and men.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln

Meanwhile, under the headline of “Savannah Ours” today’s New York Times features a detailed timeline of the capture of Savannah, a story that receives much attention in the big city.

Sam Richards, a Southern businessman now in exile in New York City, is a member of Atlanta’s Second Baptist Church. Rather than stay in Georgia after the fall of Atlanta in September, Richards chose to relocate his family to New York City in order to get as far away from the war as possible.

From New York, Richards writes of his observations concerning the city’s Baptist churches, and of his own opinions regarding the direction of the war.

Yesterday being the Sabbath, today is very generally observed as a holiday. Our store is closed so I am at liberty; but as it is wet we cannot much enjoy the opportunity. We intended to go to the Park and see the skating. Last night I took the little girls to Aunt Harriet’s at her request, to go to a S. School Exhibition at Dr. Dowling’s church. The house was filled by 7 O’clock and the children began the entertainment by singing a song. They sang well and that part of the exercises was quite a success. But the speaking part did not suit me so well. There was too much Lincoln-War talk to be palatable. All the Baptist churches seem to be alike in that respect; their gospel is one of war and bloodshed, not that of “peace and goodwill toward men[.]” The evening papers reported the capture of Savannah with 25,000 bales of cotton and large supplies of guns &c, but Hardee and his army had made their escape. Verily it would seem true as Napoleon is reported to have said that “Providence is on the side of heaviest battalions.” But “the judge of the whole earth will do right” and if it is not right in His sight for the South to be free, we ought certainly not to desire it, and I am willing to abide by His decision.—Many who seem to be good pious people give the war their cordial approval apparently forgetful of or indifferent to the misery that is thus unjustly brot upon thousands of their fellow human beings.

Richards’ ambivalent acceptance of the likelihood of the South losing the war is a position that is now shared by many other white Southerners, including Baptists.

Source: Lincoln to Sherman, December 26, 1864 (link); “Every other person you meet has a pistol in his hand,” David Homer Bates, December 26, 1864, “Voices of the Civil War,” Library of Congress (link); “Savannah Ours,” New York Times, December 26, 1864 (link); Samuel Pearce Richards, edited by Wendy Hamand Venet, Sam Richards’s Civil War diary: a Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009, pp. 256-257 (link)