Baptists and the American Civil War: March 30, 1864

confederatesoldiersEarly spring has arrived, and with it the promise of the large-scale resumption of battles. Today’s minor military happenings merely serve as preludes to the great clashes which are surely to come.

Among the day’s developments are the capture of a Confederate outpost at Cherry Grove, Virginia and skirmishes in Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri.

The hopes of the slave-based Confederacy now rest upon the broad shoulders of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. A hero to many white Baptists and many white Southerners at large, Lee knows only too well the daunting challenges facing the South, as he reveals today in a letter written to an increasingly-worried Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
March 30, 1864

Mr. President:

Since my former letter on the subject the indications that operations in Virginia will be vigorously prosecuted by the enemy are stronger than they then were. Genl Grant has returned from the army in the West. He is at present with the Army of the Potomac, which is being reorganized and recruited. From the reports of our scouts the impression prevails in that army that he will operate it in the coming campaign. Every train brings it recruits, & it is stated that every available regiment at the North is added to it. It is also reported that Genl Burnside is organizing a large army at Annapolis, & it seems probable that additional troops are being sent to the [Shenandoah] Valley. It is stated that preparations are making to rebuild the railroad from Harper’s Ferry to Winchester [Virginia], with would indicate a reoccupation of the latter place. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is very closely guarded along its whole extent. No ingress or egress from their lines is permitted to citizens as heretofore, and everything shows secrecy & preparation. Their plans are not sufficiently developed to discover them, but I think we can assume that if Genl Grant is to direct operations on this frontier he will concentrate a large force on one or more lines, & prudence dictates that we should make such preparations as are in our power. If an aggressive movement can be made in the West it will disconcert their plans & oblige them to conform to ours. But if it cannot, Longstreet should be held in readiness to be thrown rapidly in the Valley if necessary to counteract any movement in that quarter, in accomplishing which I could unite with him, or he unite with me, should circumstances require it on the Rapidan. The time is also near at hand when I shall require all the troops belonging to this army. I have delayed calling for Genl Hoke, who, besides his own brigade, has two regiments of another of this army, under the expectation that the object of his visit to North Carolina may yet be accomplished. I have heard nothing on the subject recently, & if our papers are correct in their information, the enemy has thrown reinforcements into that State, & the Neuse is barricaded just above New Berne. There is another brigade of this army, Genl R. D. Johnston’s at Hanover Junction [Virginia]. I should like as soon as possible to get them both back.

I am with great respect, your most obt svt
R. E. Lee

Alongside the private correspondence of generals and national officials, Southern Baptist leaders echo Confederate leaders in calls for public support of the Confederate Army. In the pages of Baptist newspapers of the South, stirring exhortations to Christian patriotism and Confederate nationalism have for months sought to prepare the spirits, minds and hearts of white Baptists on the home front. In the valley of the long shadows of an ever-darker war, faith in God and Confederacy is needed more than ever. The South must win this war. Should the battle for the preservation of black slavery be lost, white freedom in the South will be snuffed out. At all cost, God’s holy will for the races must be upheld.

Yet danger is now found within as more and more Southerners are losing faith. Home front discouragement is bad enough; hunger, privations, grumbling and desertion within army ranks is far worse. Any thoughts among the soldiery of abandoning the army must be quelled, and quickly.

Among the current written encouragements from Baptist elites to beleaguered soldiers are these lofty words penned in an editorial in this week’s edition of the Georgia Baptist Christian Index by editor Samuel Boykin, of which some soldiers in their camps will soon be reading.

The Heroes of 1864 — So will they be denominated in after days, who, this year, shall win the glorious meed of independence for our land. Eighteen hundred and sixty-four will probably decide the destiny of our nation; and a prophetic hope tells us it will be decided in our favor, thanks to the noble daring of the brave spirits who scorn danger, despise hardships, woo suffering and scoff at a vulgar despot’s chains. Those gallant souls are our noble soldiers, whose deeds would worthily inspire the Poet’s loftiest powers and deserve a nation’s highest gratitude and merit the world’s most exalted praise. Let posterity know that in our darkest hour, when discouragement periled our land in melancholy and gloomy forebodings, our soldiers, with the shout of anticipated triumph and undying devotion to their country’s course, re-enlisted beneath banners with the enthusiasm of patriotic heroes marching to a banquet of joy, and thus lifted the cloud from a nation’s heart, and spread confidence and beaming hope all over the land. And let the passing ages read of their deeds of valor in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Carolina and Virginia; and let unborn centuries embalm their memories, as worthy to be preserved because of their proud achievements–let all this, and more too, be done, and yet, their merits will not be sufficiently honored, nor their valor adequately rewarded, nor their glory becomingly signalized.

Heroes of 1864! Doubtless but a few more months of hardship, struggling, sacrifice and fierce combat await you! Be your own gallant selves for this year only, and the full, rich, satisfactory reward of complete success will be yours; and then will a nation’s grateful hand crown your brows with the laurel wreath of victory and glory, and a nation’s loving heart honor you as her matchless liberators.

Poetic, lovely words these, albeit detached from reality.

Sources: “Robert E. Lee to Jefferson David, March 30, 1864” (link); “The Heroes of 1864,” Christian Index, March 25, 1864