Baptists and the American Civil War: July 4, 1864

Civil War States MapWhite residents of the Confederate States of America have nothing to celebrate this Fourth of July. Their freedom to enslave blacks is in danger of being taken away by a relentless Northern abolitionist army, a prospect that would collapse the economic, social and cultural foundations of the South.

An editorial in this week’s North Carolina Baptist Biblical Recorder, written the day after the 4th, sums up the somberness of the day.

Monday was the fourth of July, a proud day for all of us while we claimed the United States for our country. A few years ago it was ushered in with the booming of cannon and the glad huzzas of millions; for it was the anniversary of a nation’s birth and many pleasant associations clustered around it. How great the change which a short time has wrought! Its significance passed away with the government to which we once acknowledged allegiance, and its recurrence in 1864 was scarcely noticed. Weighter concerns press on us now. Along our borders the horrid sounds of war are heard. Loved ones from every household are standing in battle array, or, it may be, engaged in deadly conflict for the preservation of our liberties and the sanctity  of our homes. They are contending with the descendants of those who stood shoulder to shoulder with our ancestors in the first great struggle for freedom in America. God grant that our brave boys may win the fight and that the next fourth of July may shine on us a prosperous, free and independent nation.

Irony seems lost upon the writer: the “liberties” of white Southerners are squarely dependent upon the enslavement of blacks, a definition of “freedom” that is a far cry from America’s 1776 ideals (if not realities) of liberty for all.

The Richmond Daily Dispatch offers similar sentiments to that of the Baptist paper, then glumly describes what will happen if the United States has its way with the South.

With the capture of Richmond, the war is to end, the principal rebels be executed, the plantations and negroes of the South pass to Northern proprietors, its mighty States dwindle into subjugated territories.

Near Union-controlled Vicksburg, Mississippi, however, free blacks, many of whom are likely Baptists, joyously celebrate their freedom one year after the fall of the city. Pro-Union whites also celebrate, some apart from the freedmen, evidencing ingrained paternalism even as they toast the freedom of blacks.

In Washington, D.C., Abraham Lincoln attends a fundraiser for African American schools and religious organizations, a number of whom are Baptist. The city’s Daily National Intelligencer reports that “one of the most noticed and noticeable features was the long processions of the largely-increased colored population.”

Reflecting the troublesome times, celebrations in the North are not as boisterous as prior to the war. With many local military units serving far away from home, some cities cancel military parades altogether. The mood in Chicago is indicative of many other cities who do hold observances:

There is no general celebration here to-day, but every one observes the anniversary as he sees fit. There is a military demonstration at Camp Douglas, to which the public have been invited, and numerous picnics, steamboat and railroad excursion…

In Sacramento, California, pro-Union and pro-Confederate neighboring families nearly come to blows in a microcosm of nations rent asunder:

A Union and secession war on a small scale occurred on Monday afternoon on G Street, near Fourteenth. A double house at that locality is occupied by two families–those of John Drummond, Union, and John Clary, Secesh. Heretofore these familes have lived together in peace and quietness. On Monday morning [4th of July] Mrs. Drummond heard Mrs. Clary order her child, who had gone into the room with a small American flag, to leave, as she would not have the rag about the place. Mrs. Drummond at once called her child home. In the afternoon Mrs. Drummond put up the flag over the door. Mrs. Clary tore it down, stating that that was the only door which she could pass through, and she would not be compelled to walk under the Union flag. Mrs. Drummond put it up again, and procuring a small piece of board, which made a formidable weapon, threatened to strike Mrs. Clary with it if she attempted to tear it down again. Mrs. Clary then repaired to her room and improvised a Confederate flag, although it was not made according to regulation. This she pinned to the Union flag, when Mrs. Drummond again appeared and tore it down, leaving the stars and stripes afloat, of course. Before placing the Confederate flag up, Mrs. Clary was joined by her husband, who justified his wife in her course. Mrs. Drummond informed him that she would as soon strike him as his wife if he acted as she had done. When Mrs. Clary pinned up the flag Mrs. Drummond dealt a heavy blow at her, but Mrs. Clary dodged and escaped its consequences. Soon afterward Mrs. Drummond was joined by her husband, who, after learning what had occurred, went into Clary’s room, Clary and two other men being present, took off his coat, said he could whip any Secessionist in the room, and gave them his views on the subject under discussion explicitly and without reserve. Clary defended his wife’s course, and looked occasionally at a double-barreled shotgun in the room, but no blows were struck. Clary said his wife should put up a flag if she chose and he would defend it. Drummond responded that she could not put up a traitor flag on that house or any other in this city, and that he for one would shoot down him or any other man who would make the attempt. The Union flag was kept afloat until evening, when Mrs. Drummond took it down.

In Union camps, some soldiers receive extra rations of vegetables and meats courtesy of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, for whom many Northern Baptist work. Soldiers in the Army of the Potomac, entrenched around Petersburg, greet the day with silence rather than celebration. As they have done for days, the soldiers of the 48th Pennsylvania continue tunneling under Confederate defenses. One writes:

Monday 4 July: as this day is almost allways most highley celebrated by the Civil & Millitary homes it was passed to day with out anny thing transpiring unusually. it passed off very quiet. talking of home was the most thing.

Yet at the Confederate’s Andersonville Prison in Georgia, a “feast” of boiled beef and maggot-infested, rotten mule meat cannot entirely squelch patriotic feelings among Union soldiers: some sing patriotic songs, a makeshift banner is flown, and many think of their homes and families far to the North.

Conditions and moods this day aside, the nation honors the twelve veterans of the American Revolution who are yet living. Known as the “12 Apostles of Liberty,” the veterans hope to live to see an end to the present war and the attainment of freedom for all men.

Sources: “Fourth of July,” Biblical Recorder, July 6, 1864 (link); “Fourth of July,” Richmond Daily  Dispatch, July 2, 1864; Earnest McBride, “July 4: An Occasion of Joy for Black Mississippians” (link); Janet Sharp Herman, The Pursuit of a Dream, University Press of Mississippi, 1999, pp. 56-57 (link); “The Fourth of July at the White House,” The White House Historical Association (link); “The Late National Anniversary,” Daily National Intelligencer, July 6, 1864;  “Affairs in the West,” New York Times, July 8, 1864 (link); John DAvid Hoptak, “Four 4ths in the Forty-Eighth” (link); James R. Heintze, “Union and Secessionist Families Clash in Sacramento, California” (link); “Only Twelve Left,” New York Herald, July 4, 1864; Jared Jefferson Bond, “Competing Visions of America: The Fourth of July During the Civil War,” thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, 2007 (link)