Baptists and the American Civil War: February 22, 1864

revivals_confederatesBaptists of the South are hovering between two differing visions yielding a common, widely hoped-for result: one in which the current revivals in the Confederate Army appease their nation’s God who in turn brings an end to recent battlefield losses, drives the northern barbarians from Southern soil, and blesses the Confederacy with victory, peace and prosperity; and a much different vision in which abolitionist hordes, intent on enslaving white Southerners, press their advance further to the point where they run out of momentum against a wall of white Southern defiance.

In short, the Confederacy will ultimately win, whether by the weapon of religious devotion or that of militant defiance.

This week’s edition of the North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder portrays both scenarios.

The simpler hope is that the growing number of chapels being constructed in army winter camps will help bring about a glorious future for a now-despondent Confederacy. Southern Baptists are not alone in so hoping. One editorial includes commentary from a Presbyterian publication.

Our readers will be interested in the letter from “W.S.L.” in our present issue giving some account of the building and dedication of a chapel for religious worship in Kirkland’s Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia.

These chapels seem to have become quite an institution in this army. The Rev. A. D. Betts, writing to the N.C. Advocate, says that there are “more than twenty chapels being built in different regiments and brigades. About fifteen have been finished and dedicated.” “The most cheerful labor I have ever seen in the army or elsewhere,” he remarks, “is done by the soldiers in budding chapels. They want a place to worship God.” Of our North Carolina troops in the army, he says: “In Ramseur’s Brig are three, in 4th, 14th and 30th Regts. In Kirkland’s Brig Bro. Webb and Lacy have united and built a very large one. No chaplain is with Scales’ Brig. but Rev. J. Rumple has been sent to that Brigade as Missionary, and they have promised to build him a chapel. Bro. Wood will soon be there, I presume. Lane’s Brig. is not convenient to timber. But I was told that Col. Barry, of the 18th Regt. was so anxious to have preaching for his men, that he was intending to build a Chapel and get a citizen clergyman to preach to his Regt. Cooke’s Brigade have not yet gotten into their winter quarters; but as they move into them, in a pine forest, about Feb. 3rd, I trust they will soon have chapels. Daniel’s Brig is camped near a Church which Bro. Harding uses.”

Let the people at home remember in their prayers the services held weekly in these rude chapels in the army. An influence may go out from them that shall be a blessing to our country and to the church for all time.–N.C. Presbyterian

Yet if the religious transformation of the Confederate Army fails to appease God, the best efforts of the evil North (whether real or perceived) will nonetheless be unable to overcome the defiance of the South.

The Hon. Wm. Whiting, solicitor for the War Department at Washington, some months since, wrote a letter in which he favored the entire confiscation of all property belonging to persons within the Confederate lines, without respect to their loyalty or disloyalty. He has since issued a work of more pretensions, entitled “War Powers of the President” in which he not only defends the above position, but assumes a bolder one. He recommends the passage, by Congress, of bills of attainder, by which Rebels shall not only be deprived of their property, but their children shall be forever, or for a given period, disqualified for holding property of any kind whatever. The gist of the whole matter appears in the following extract from his book. “The circumstances which the rebellion has forced on the Government are making great and important changes, and among the most important of these, is the sale of the lands of the absconding Rebels, and the effect which the guilt of treason will have upon the rights of their descendants after the rebellion shall have been suppressed, and the union restored.”

Now mark! This man is a high official of the United States Government; these are matters to whose consideration he is called by his position, the first of the above recommendations has been acted on by the Government, and we may presume that they will, obedient to his suggestion, pass some odious bill of attainment, by which they would blight, if possible, the interests of our children’s children.

Here are a few of the provisions of a bill passed by the United States Congress, July 25th, 1862:

“Section fifth makes it the duty of the President to cause the seizure of all the property, real and personal, of several classes named, and apply the same to the support of the army. First. Rebel army and navy officers. Second. Government officials of Confederate States in their national capacity. Third. Confederate State officers. Fourth. United States officers turning traitor officers. Fifth. Any one holding any office or agency, national, State, or municipal, under the Rebel Government, &c.–Sixth. Persons who own property in loyal States, in Territories, or in the District of Columbia, who shall hereafter assist, aid, or comfort such rebellion.

Section Sixth is the most important portion of the law, and is as follows:–“Any persons within the United States not above named, who are engaged in armed rebellion, or aiding and abetting it, who shall not, within sixty days after proclamation by the President, cease to aid, countenance and abet said rebellion, shall be liable to have all their property, personal and real, seized by the President, whose duty it shall be to seize and us it or the proceeds thereof. All transfers of such property made more than sixty days after the proclamation, are declared null.”

Almost two years ago, Congress had gone thus far: the government, in its practice, has gone much farther, and we therefore, may well believe that the action commended by Solicitor Whiting will be taken in due time. The constitution of the United States forbids bills of attainder and all ex post facto laws, it is true; but, what care they for the constitution: it is ignored in Washington as completely as though it were some obsolete black lettered document that belonged to a past generation. It has had no binding force since Lincoln first called for troops to coerce sovereign States. The arrogance of those who would be our masters, goes even further than this. They would forbid our worshipping God, unless we first bow the knee to Baal. Three great religious denominations of the North, the Episcopal, Methodist and Baptist, have already received plenary power from the authorities in Washington to take possession of every church edifice, and all church property belonging to these denominations in the South, and their bishops and other officials are already engaged in the work of seizing the churches of the Rebels. What glorious conquests are these, and what pleasing prospects do they open up before the christians of the South! These places of worship, which we have built, which have been hallowed by the piety and eloquence of our fathers in the Gospel; where our children have been taught the precious truths of the Bible, and our own souls have communed with God, and been blessed; these houses of prayer, made holy by a thousand sacred associations, will be forbidden to us. Instead of the pure Gospel now preached from Southern pulpits, the foul brood of New England isms will be whined out by some crazy fanatic, or belched forth from the thick lips of some stupid, lustful negro.

The dormant party of the North has adopted the principle, that Rebels have no rights, and they include all as Rebels who are in rebeldom. They have no respect for or confidence in, the loyalty of any many in the Confederate States. Union men in the border counties of Virginia and North Carolina have fared at the hands of the Yankees just as badly as the most bitter secessionists. When a raid is made, or a section of country occupied by them, the property of Union men is destroyed or carried away, just as though they were the strongest Rebels. This was the case in Averill’s raid, and in all the expeditions they have made in Eastern North Carolina, not omitting their recent visit to Windsor. Why, in Maryland, where not a Southern man has not voted for nearly two years, and where, of course, the Legislature is eminently loyal, that body has been compelled to protest against the forcible enlistment of negroes belonging to loyal owners. When confined in the military prison of Baltimore, we had the pleasure of comforting good loyal men of Virginia, who had taken the oath of the Lincoln government, and yet been robbed of their property and themselves cast into prison. How bitterly did the miserable miscreants bewail the folly of their treason to their own State when they discovered that their property was gone forever. It has become proverbial in Virginia that a pretty heavy raid is healthy in its influence on a tainted community. It opens the eyes of the people to the real nature of the spirit which actuates the North in the prosecution of the war.

To use a vulgar but very expressive phrase, war for the Union is “played out” at the North. They have no hopes of ever restoring the Union as it was–they are not fighting for it now. They are fighting for conquest–they still fight because if they fail to subjugate the South, they know they are ruined as a nation. They have no hope of ever paying their immense war debt, except by the sale of Southern property, and this, and not love for the Union, is the secret of their persistent prosecution of this war. We say to every man in North Carolina, that if we are conquered, every negro, every acre of land, every dollar in public notes you own, and the very house in which you live will be wrested from you, and this will be the case, no matter what may be the complexion of your politics. We have lived among the armies of the North–we have witnessed their operations; we have heard them curse Union men in Maryland and Virginia, as cowards and sneaks, and we have felt in our own person their tender mercies. We know men in Maryland whose antecedents were good up to the beginning of the war, and who protested against many acts of the administration for some time after the war was inaugurated, though they were Union men; and yet these men have at length come to endorse the whole policy of the administration The truth is, no man can tell to what depths of infamy he may go, when once he strikes hands with the Yankees. We can not, nor dare not accept peace on such terms as they propose. The cause of religious, as well as civil liberty is involved in this struggle.–They are our enemies and the enemies of our country and our religion, and so long as they invade our soil as tyrants and conquerors, it is the duty of every man to

Strike for our altars and our fires;
Strike till the last armed foe expires;
God and our native land.

Whether by God or by sheer defiance, the Confederacy can thus assured of victory.

Sources “Chapels in the Army” (link) and “What we May Expect Should we be Subjugated,” Biblical Recorder, February 20, 1864 (link)