Baptists and the American Civil War: July 12, 1864

Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi Map 1861Today the Confederates’ attempt to invade Washington (known as the Battle of Fort Stevens) comes to an abrupt end as Confederate General Jubal Early and his Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia meet unexpectedly stiff resistance by Union forces. The Rebels retreat in the evening, re-crossing the Potomac on the morrow. Washington is saved, and the Confederacy will not threaten Yankee territory again.

Also within the Army of Northern Virginia this day, 1st Lieutenant and Chaplain Jabez Mercer Brittain (1842-1912) of Oglethorpe County, Georgia is appointed by the Southern Baptist Board of Domestic Missions as an army missionary. One month later, however, Brittain musters out of the army and returns home to take care of his family farm and aged parents. He is one of many Confederate soldiers this summer who leave the army, whether by resigning or deserting, to return home and support struggling families.

On January 19, 1865 Brittain marries Sarah Ida Callaway, after which the couple raises five children, three of whom make names for themselves in years to come: Marion Luther serves as Georgia’s State Superintendent of Schools and president of Georgia Institute of Technology; William Henry becomes a business executive in Atlanta; and Charles Mercer becomes a Baptist minister and serves as executive secretary of the Florida Baptist Assembly.

Brittain pastors many Baptist churches in Georgia following the war. At his death he is pastor of the Temple Baptist Church of Fulton County.

Meanwhile, today’s Galveston Weekly News in Texas reports of a revival taking place in the western theater of the war.

Walker’s Division, Waterhouse’s Brigade,
17th Regt. Inf. Camp Fiacon, La., July 12, ’64.

Ed. News.—I desire, through the columns of your invaluable paper, to convey to our friends, some information of our “whereabouts,” health and condition.

At present this brigade is in camp on Bayou Fiacan, about 15 miles East of Alexandria.  Our time is principally occupied in drilling, grumbling about poor beef and furloughs.  The general health of the troops is very good, better than it has been for several months, but they are poorly clad, many of them are without necessary articles of raiment, others have on their only suit.  To remedy this, several officers from the different brigades have been detailed to go to Texas to procure clothing, with what success is yet to be seen.  But probably the most important item of news with us at this time, is a revival of religion now in progress under the supervision of Elder W. A. Mason, Missionary to the army from the Baptist State Convention.  He arrived in this brigade about the 4th May last, and was welcomed by a hearty reception from the soldiers.  Since that time he has been laboring night and day with much zeal and fervency, doing much good, and receiving many souls for his hire.  The meeting has been progressing several weeks, and some twenty five or thirty have confessed and put on Christ in Baptism.

Elder Mason has also organized the “Christian Association of Waterhouse’s Brigade,” composed of the members of the different denominations, who, laying aside all sectarian prejudices, have convened at the altar to worship God, and do all they can for the promotion of the much neglected cause of Christ.  Committees are appointed from the different regiments, whose duties are to visit the sick and procure every possible comfort for them.  Its works, up to this time, promise much good.

Elder Mason has had no assistance whatever, indeed, the soldiers have been much neglected, there having been only one chaplain in the brigade—Elder Hay, who has no superior as a chaplain.  He has been promoted to the rank of Brigade Chaplain for his gallantry on the field at the late battles, and for his attention to and efforts in behalf of the sick and wounded.  He is not absent trying to procure clothing for his old regiment, the 16th.

Elder Mason is, by resolution of our association, an authorized agent to procure religious literature for the army, which is very much needed and desired.  Any one having pocket Testaments, hymn books, or any other benefit for the sick and wounded, which they can spare, and wish to contribute, will confer much good, and for which many soldiers will thank them, by sending them to Elder Mason, who will soon return to Texas for the purpose above named, and to attend the Baptist State Convention.

Most respectfully, I remain your obd’t serv’t,
B., Co. A, 17th Regt. Inft.

Many white Southern Baptists remain hopeful that religious revivals in the armies of the Confederacy will help bring about victory over the United States.

Sources: Battle of Fort Stevens (link) and (link); Galveston Weekly News, August 8, 1864 (link); Company E, 38th Regiment, Oglethorpe County, “Tom Cobb Infantry” (link); “Biography of Jabez Mercer Brittain” (link); Jabez Mercer Brittain obituary (link)