Baptists and the American Civil War: January 2, 1864

Ohio and Indiana Map 1861First Baptist Ellettsville, Indiana was established in 1858 by 28 persons, men and women, who initially met in members’ homes to worship and pray. Within a few short years, the congregation constructed a simple meeting house, a frame building costing a mere $95.

The price of the church building reveals the common folk nature of the Ellettsville congregation, a church planted in a small, pioneer community founded in 1837.

Like many rural churches North and South, First Baptist Ellettsville shuns worldly amusements. Dancing and playing the fiddle, popular forms of entertainment, if partaken of by church members merit disciplinary measures. Also as common among Baptists at this time, drunkenness is not tolerated (although moderation in alcohol is allowed).

The war, now almost three years old, has divided the small town of Ellettsville. First Baptist, seeking to maintain harmony in the midst of the war, does not allow political discussion within the church meeting house. Seeking to keep the outside world at bay, church members determine not to allow their church building to be used for any meeting or event that is of a “worldly nature.”

And so it is that this month a soldier member of the Ellettsville congregation, serving in the Union Army and stationed near Memphis, Tennessee, writes to his home church. He asks his Baptist brothers and sisters to pray for him. And he voices concern for the poor white, Union-sympathizing Southerners he has encountered in the South, declaring that:

… the poor class of union people that is in the south and has been trodden down ever since this rebellion has broken out. I see them in an awful condition. Pray for them that God may release them and save them in heaven.

A simple request. A heartfelt plea.

Perhaps, as the members of First Baptist Ellettsville read the letter from the war front, they join together under their church roof for a time of prayer for victims of war suffering in a distant land where their soldier son serves the cause of freedom.

Sources: History, First Baptist Church Ellettsville, Indiana (link); Ellettsville, Indiana (link)