Baptists and the American Civil War: May 11, 1864

Georgia MapToday in Virginia the Confederacy suffers misfortune when General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the South’s best cavalry leaders, is wounded in the Battle of Yellow Tavern.

While Union General Ulysses S. Grant battles Confederate General Robert E. Lee in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Grant takes advantage of his numerically superior forces by sending General Phil Sheridan and his cavalry on a raid far behind Confederate lines with the objective of cutting Lee’s supply lines. The raid proves successful, as Sheridan’s troops dismantle railroad tracks, destroy supply depots and beat rebel forces in the Battle of Yellow Tavern a mere six miles north of the Confederate capital of Richmond. Capping off the successful foray, a Union trooper shoots and fatally wounds Stuart.

Stuart succumbs to death the next day, his passing a blow to Lee’s plans for containing Grant’s forces.

While Lee struggles to repel the Union campaign to capture Richmond, Southern Baptist army missionaries and chaplains are in a battle to win the souls of soldiers whose minds so often dwell upon the thin line between life and death. The Georgia Baptist Convention meeting of last month hammered home the need to evangelize the brave men who are valiantly striving to hold off the abolitionist North. Convicted, a few of the attending ministers in the days following visited the army camps and temporarily ministered among the troops. Spiritual victory, after all, is viewed by many Baptist leaders as the key to military triumph.

A letter (published in the Georgia Baptist Christian Index) from a missionary working among the Army of Tennessee, whose soldiers are now facing off with Union forces in north Georgia in the Atlanta Campaign, offers encouragement, celebrating spiritual advances among Confederate troops even as the prospects for a Southern military victory over the North seem more distant than ever.

Bro. Boykin–Since the [Georgia Baptist] Convention God has still abundantly blessed our labors in the army. The ministers who went up with us did a good days work and thousands heard the gospel that Sabbath who, but for those visiting ministers might not have been allowed to do so. Some brethren who went up after the meeting of the Convention have been doing great good in their ministrations among the soldiers. Bro. Henderson and Reeves’ visit will be remembered, though it was short. Bro. Toole and Givens found an open door ready for each of them there. Bro. Toole labored in Hotchkiss’ Batt. of Artillery, very clamorous for a minister; and brother Givens fell into Gibson’s La. Brigade. He (Givens) commenced baptizing the day after he reached the army, and baptized yesterday morning under the sound of artillery skirmishing heard in the distance. He has baptized in all 47, I think, and three of his candidates were out on picket when he last baptized.

All the brigades and batteries have manifested more or less of revival spirit. Oh for more laborers for this whitening harvest! Will not our young men, who are strong and vigorous, come over to our help? My brethren, God calls you here–let not others be compelled to do your work!

At the solicitations of the brethren themselves, and approved by brethren Rev. Dr. Teasdale, A. S. Worrel adn G. W. Givens, we organized the young Baptists of Finley’s brigade–65 in number–into a church.–Many older brethren in the brigade will join with these and strive to keep up such discipline and service as the New Testament requires. A Baptist preacher of experience is with them, a non-commissioned officer–brother Miller, of Florida. They proposed celebrating the Lord’s Supper last night.

We also formed a church in Gibson’s La. Brigade–forty old Baptists and those whom brother Givens had baptized. They have a young minister with them, a Captain Hayden, who will be able to preach to these and will, we trust, be blessed.

Should any one object to this, let him come and labor as we have done in the army; let him see what we have seen and hear what we have heard, and he will be very apt to agree with us in opinion that it is our duty to offer such facilities to our dear brethren in the army.

Fraternally yours,

W. H. Robert

Sources: Battle of Yellow Tavern (link); “Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart is Mortally Wounded,” (link); W. H. Robert, “From the Army of Tennessee,” Christian Index, May 20, 1864; Atlanta Campaign (link) and (link)