Baptists and the American Civil War: May 25, 1864

Georgia MapAs he has done daily since early May, Union General William T. Sherman relentlessly pressures the Confederate’s Army of Tennessee, in the process drawing ever closer to the key Georgia city of Atlanta.

Attempting to make an end run around Confederate General Joe Johnston‘s forces, Sherman’s troops swing wide to the left of the rebels, aiming for Dallas, Georgia west of Atlanta. Johnston, however, anticipates the enemy’s intentions. Moving rapidly, the rebels also march westward and quickly dig into fortified positions.

The right side of the Confederate defensive line takes position in and around the yard of the New Hope Baptist Church in Paulding County. One brigade uses the gravestones in the church cemetery as protection from anticipated enemy fire.

The Confederates hold the high ground and easily repel a late afternoon attack from the federals. Union forces entrench on the morrow, and the Battle of New Hope Church continues through the day, after which the battle lines shift away from the church and toward the northern end of the Confederate line in what becomes known as the Battle of Pickett’s Mill.

The Union loses both battles, and when the battling armies move on the New Hope Baptist Church meeting house is left in ruins. Not until well after the war, in September 1866, does the congregation begin building a new meeting house.

As Union forces slowly fight their way to Atlanta in Georgia and Richmond in Virginia, Northern Baptist delegates to the American Baptist Missionary Union fiftieth anniversary annual meeting celebrate the advance of freedom for black slaves. The abolishment of slavery and liberation of the black race is viewed as the providential will of God. Honoring their past and looking forward to a promising future, American Baptists are convinced the Kingdom of God is now marching alongside the Union Army, advancing the Baptist heritage of freedom for all.

Sources: Battle of New Hope Church (link) and (link); Battle of Pickett’s Mill (link); W. Winston Skinner, “Reeves, onetime Cowetan, helped start Paulding church,” Newnan Times-Herald, December 4, 2010 (link); The Missionary Jubilee: An Account of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the American Baptist Missionary Union, at Philadelphia, May 24, 25 and 26, New York: Sheldon and Company, 1869 (link)