Baptists and the American Civil War: January 19, 1864

Civil War States MapThe war grinds on in the midst of winter, the cold largely confining the conflict to winter army camps, Union-held towns and cities, freedmen camps, war prisons,army hospitals, statehouses and courthouses, newspapers, street corner conversations, sermons, and sparse kitchen tables.

Many white Baptists of the South keep abreast as best as they can of the of the latest war-related developments during these winter months. Black Baptists, almost all slaves, are adept at picking up news informally, typically by listening to the conversations of their masters (few slaves are able to read).

One way of learning the latest news is through the Baptist press of the South, most of which include purely secular war news in their weekly periodicals, such items being typically confined to the second half of the publication. The North Carolina Biblical Recorder is one such newspaper. This week’s war news is as follows:

Since our latest issue there has been no military movement of importance in any quarter. Mosby continues to operate against the enemy’s wagon trains in Northern Virginia. It is reported that he made an unsuccessful attack on the garrison at Harper’s Ferry and sustained some loss.–Public attention is directed mainly to the proceedings of Congress, which is engaged principally in efforts to remedy the currency and to fill up the ranks of the army. Among the measures introduced is one to prohibit the exportation of cotton, tobacco, &c.; except under such regulations as the President may prescribe and to prevent the importation of all articles of luxuries during the war.

A bill has also been introduced to appeal the existing law for the organization of companies of partisan rangers. The appropriation for the half year ongoing on the first of next July are more than $450,000.000.

In N. Carolina all is quiet, though it is thought there will soon be an attack on Wilmington. One of the enemy’s gunboats was beached and blown up near Wilmington last week. Two blockade runners were also beached and destroyed.

At Charleston and Dalton there is no change.

Northern papers state that a majority of Congress is in favor of removing the Capitol from Washington further North.

Butler has been placed in command of all Confederate prisoners and there will by [be] 80,000 at Point Lookout in three weeks. No exchanges will be made except through Butler. A delegation of prominent citizens of Arkansas are said to be on their way to Washington to arrange for that State to take her place in the Union. Archbishop Hughes is dead.

Such news summaries are really a mixture of fact and fancy. In reality, Wilmington, one of two remaining Confederate ports from which blockade runners are able to operate, is safe for now. In addition, there is no serious movement afoot to move the U.S. Capitol, by now heavily-guarded, northward.

Citizens of Arkansas, however, are preparing to petition Washington for re-admittance into the Union, signifying the effectiveness of Abraham Lincoln‘s recent offer or pardon and amnesty. As to Archbishop Hughes, among Southern whites he is one of the most well-known Roman Catholic leaders of the North. New York Archbishop John Hughes has long been a vocal opponent of abolitionism, thereby heralded by white Southerners. Born in Ireland in 1797, his death took place on January 3.

As the Biblical Recorder implies, some decisions made in legislative halls this winter have the potential to significantly impact future military engagements. But unmentioned is one such decision that the Confederate Congress, meeting in Richmond, is now considering: a new joint resolution concerning the exchange of war prisoners. One of four parts of the joint resolution speaks to former slaves recaptured while serving as Union soldiers. The resolution makes it clear that such persons will not be exchanged back to the Union Army. Uniformed freedmen already know that they will likely be executed if captured by the enemy; the legislation now working its way through the Confederate Congress makes such a fate all the more likely.

Resolved, That any pretence of claims for the exchange of negro soldiers who were, under our laws, slaves of Confederate citizens prior to the war, is alike unjustified by reason of the law of nations, for these give to every nation the right to the entire service of all her people, of whatever class, against a public enemy, and the right also to dispose of and punish according to her own laws any such of them as may be caught in the act of war against her; and further, if the claim for such exchange be acquiesced in by the Confederate Government, it would thereby give sanction to servile insurrection in its most destructive form.

While freedmen serving as Union soldiers know all too well the dangers inherit in being in uniform, the risks are worth it, as revealed today in a letter written by a Missouri slave wife to her husband who is serving as a Union soldier. “Ann,” a rare slave who is literate, knows that despite the separation and her ever-present suffering, her life of bondage is coming to an end:


Paris Mo  Jany 19, 1864

My Dear Husband   I r’ecd your letter dated Jan’y 9th also one dated Jany 1st but have got no one till now to write for me.  You do not know how bad I am treated.  They are treating me worse and worse every day.  Our child cries for you.  Send me some money as soon as you can for me and my child are almost naked.  My cloth is yet in the loom and there is no telling when it will be out.  Do not send any of your letters to Hogsett especially those having money in them as Hogsett will keep the money.  George Combs went to Hannibal soon after you did so I did not get that money from him.  Do the best you can and do not fret too much for me for it wont be long before I will be free and then all we make will be ours.  Your affectionate wife



So as it always does, the war comes down to freedom. While the United States, aided by former slaves in uniform, is fighting to add the black race to freedom’s roll, the Confederate States are fighting to preserve freedom for whites only. Only one vision of freedom will ultimately prevail.

Sources: “Secular Department: The News,” Biblical Recorder, January 16, 1864 (link); “John Hughes (Archbishop of New York)” (link); Confederate State Congress,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, January 19, 1864 (link); Letter from a Missouri Slave Woman to Her Husband, from the Freedom and Southern Society Project (link)