Baptists and the American Civil War: July 16, 1864

Sherman in the trenches near Atlanta.

Sherman in the trenches near Atlanta.

The Atlanta Campaign may be slow going for the Union, but progress is being made.

Conversely, Confederate officials and the Southern public have grown quite frustrated with General Joseph Johnston‘s propensity of retreating when confronted by Union General William T. Sherman.

To be sure, Sherman has not necessarily been playing by the book. Rather than challenging Johnston’s Army of the Tennessee head on, Sherman’s armies have for months now have repeatedly flanked the Rebels. With each repositioning of his army, Johnston has yielded ground to the Federals. The result has been a long, slow retreat by the Confederate defenders, allowing the Yankees to draw ever closer to their long-sought prize of Atlanta.

Watching from afar, Confederate President Jefferson Davis is angry at Johnston’s apparent haplessness. Today Davis sends his general a terse telegram:

Richmond, July 16, 1864. General J. E. Johnston:

A telegram from Atlanta of yesterday announces that the enemy is extending intrenchments from river toward railroad to Augusta. I wish to hear from you as to present situation, and your plan of operations so specifically as will enable me to anticipate events.


To which Johnston replies, reminding the president that he is vastly outnumbered and doing the best he can:

Near Atlanta, July 16,1864. His Excellency the President,

Richmond: Your dispatch of to-day received. The slight change in the enemy’s dispositions made since my dispatch of the 14th to General Cooper was reported to General Bragg yesterday. It was a report from General Wheeler that Schofield’s corps had advanced eastwardly about three miles from Isham’s Ford and intrenched. As the enemy has double our number, we must be on the defensive. My plan of operations must, therefore, depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to light to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider.


The exchange of telegrams encapsulates the serious headwinds now facing the Confederacy everywhere: outnumbered and with no hope of significant reinforcements, remaining Confederate forces are simply trying to keep the enemy’s superior forces from overrunning their critical defenses near Atlanta and Richmond. It would take an act of God to overcome the odds the Confederacy now faces, and despite the rosy assurances offered by many Southern Baptist leaders (and others), God seems to have turned a deaf ear to white Southerners.

Meanwhile, in the land of Yankees upon whom God seems to be smiling, the Point Pleasant Community Baptist Church of Point Pleasant, Pennsylvania, founded in 1849, has been doing quite well during the war years.

Despite the financial hardships through which the United States, and congregations long absent many male members, have long endured, the Point Pleasant congregation is paying down the debt on its building. A Sunday School room was recently added, the pastor’s salary raised, and the church rolls are growing.

The war, however, does impact the congregation. Pastor David Spencer is currently on a leave of absence in order to visit army hospitals, while the church clerk is away claiming the body of his son who died fighting in the Union Army.

A brief history of the congregation relates the difficult times this month:

During the troublesome times from 1861 to 1865, the members of the church, irrespective of party lines and affiliations, were outspoken in their loyalty to the cause of the Union. In July 1864 the church was without a pastor and clerk for a short time. The pastor was on a visit to the army hospitals in and around Washington, DC, and the clerk, Brother Ralph Stover, had gone to the same place to bring home the body of his son, who fell while defending the flag and died in the hospital.

Bowed but undefeated by war time hardships, and reflective of the determination of the numerically and economically-advantaged United States, the Point Pleasant Community Baptist Church continues growing and pays off its debt in 1867.

Sources: Atlanta Campaign (link) and (link); Congressional Serial Set: The Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives for the First Session of the Fifty-Second Congress, 1891-1892, Vol. 26, Washington, 1892, pp. 882-883 (link); “The History of Point Pleasant Community Baptist Church,” Point Pleasant Community Baptist Church, including image (link)