Baptists and the American Civil War: November 15, 1864

Civil War States MapFor weeks Union General William T. Sherman has been preparing for this moment. Today, he marches forth from Atlanta with 60,000 troops at his command, heading eastward to the Georgia coast and the important port city of Savannah.

The massive military force, spread out some fifty miles north to south, is accompanied by some 2,500 supply wagons and 600 ambulances. The men will live off the land as they march, confiscating crops and cattle while torching infrastructure that could be of use to the Confederate war effort. The aim is one of destruction and demoralization, the death nail in the coffin of Confederate resistance in the heart of the South.

Meanwhile, far from any battlefields the First Baptist Church of Warren, Rhode Island celebrates their centennial anniversary. The pastor delivers a long discourse, much of which focuses on the historical Baptist principle of freedom of conscience, here introduced:

The men and women who formed this Church did so believing on, and trusting in, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to carry out His commands as revealed in His Gospel. In ascertaining His work and His commands, they bowed only to the Word of God as interpreted by themselves. Absolute liberty of conscience was their great distinguishing principle, as it is of the churches which bear their name in Christendom.

From hence the discourse traces the historical narrative in brief of dissenters at large and then, in particular, earlier Baptists, with particular attention to Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The history of the Warren congregation follows, including the burning of the church’s meeting house by the British during the American Revolution. Now:

Let the mantle of our fathers’ toil fall on us to-day,—toil in dependence on God,—for the source and inspiration of their efforts was the grace of God, and their aims and end, the glory of God,—toil needed, earnest, unwearying toil. Let us welcome it. For, while once, in its large shipping interests, as from a centre, our town sent forth its sons all over the globe, to return again to the family groups of its quiet homes, now, in the midst of mighty centrifugal forces, in the lines of iron which, like a net-work, cover our States; in the fields of the west and the mines of the south-west ; in the great central cities of the land, attracting our youth by the enlarged business elements of the age there developing,—now, in the midst of these forces to which our fathers were strangers, a work like theirs is still ours, to transmit the inheritance they have made for us, to keep pure the principles, dear alike then and in this hour. We accept the trust. The toil shall be ours. The promises of God arc the same. The foundation of God standeth sure. Jesus Christ is the same,—yesterday, to-day, and forever; and this is the word which, by the Gospel, is still preached unto you. And with what other auspices do we enter the century? God gave victory to our fathers in the American Revolution. And in the midst of this exhaustive war, has He not given to us another greater victory, as this nation has even now spoken, and with an emphasis which the world shall feel, placing its foot upon rebellion against our government, and upon the oppressors of millions, making sure our nationality, and that our flag shall again float over all our land?

The Baptists of Warren, in short, are as confident of victory over the Confederacy as is Sherman.

Sources: Anna J. Bailey, “Sherman’s March to the Sea,” Georgia Encyclopedia (link); A. F. Spalding, The Centennial Discourse on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the First Baptist Church, Warren, R.I., November 15, 1864, Providence: Knowles, Anthony, 1865 (link)