Baptists and the American Civil War: September 6, 1864

A black and white general view of the Armory Square Civil War Hospital complex with the. Armory Square Hospital on the Mall, ca. 1864

A black and white general view of the Armory Square Hospital on the Mall, ca. 1864. Independence Avenue and 7th Street, SW. This large Civil War hospital was located on the National Mall, where Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum stands today.

Union General William T. Sherman is at work organizing his headquarters and operations in Atlanta. A cloud of apprehension and uncertainty hangs over citizens who yet remain, their fate resting in the hands of the despised enemy general.

Meanwhile, celebrations in the North continue over the Union’s capture of Atlanta, exceedingly so in Washington, D.C.

There is, however, another type of celebration this day in the nation’s capital as the congregation of Calvary Baptist Church, organized June 2, 1862, lays the cornerstone of their first building.

Rev. T. R. Howlett delivers a special address for the occasion, a speech that includes a vivid description of life and progress in Washington during the war years, as well as commentary on the war itself.

The address is here excerpted:

BRETHREN AND FRIENDS: We have met at this appointed hour to lay the corner stone of a Christian sanctuary. To the Church and Congregation, for whose use this edifice is to be constructed, it is an occasion of profound and holy interest. The presence of Brethren from the different Churches of our own and other denominations, as well as of many citizens, proves it to be an event of interest generally to the inhabitants of our city. Indeed,, the building of a temple of worship in any place, and at any time, in which the doctrines of our holy religion are to be set forth, must of necessity be of more than present or local interest. When built in such a city as this, the seat of govermental influence and power, it becomes of national importance. It is not extravagant to suppose that it attracts the attention not only of the inhabitants of Earth, but also of Heaven and Hell The spirits of darkness are not indifferent spectators. They behold, with rage, another Citadel of Truth arising to dispute their claim to the government of this world. From it there must be no truce offered them-no armistice-no compromise. From pulpit and pew incessant war against sin must be forever waged. The subjects of Satan must be taught repentance towards God and submission to the Gospel of His Son, while the standing order of the Lord to every soldier of Truth is, “watch” and “pray,” and give no place to the devil, no not for an hour. Can “principalities” and “powers,” and the “rulers of darkness,” look with indifference then upon the building of these strongholds of Zion? When devils rage angels rejoice. The rising of a Christian sanctuary must inspire them with delight….

Calvary Baptist Church, 9th and H Streets NW, Washington, DC. Designed by Adolf Cluss.

Calvary Baptist Church, 9th and H Streets NW, Washington, DC. Designed by Adolf Cluss.

….We could point you to heathen countries in which real estate has risen from five to ten times its original value since the temples of the living God were planted among the people. Multitudes of land-owners in our own large towns and cities are indebted for no inconsiderable portion of their wealth to the enterprise and liberality of those who have built the sanctuaries of religion and maintained in them the stated preaching of the gospel. If there were no other consideration this would be sufficient justification for those who build church edifices in calling upon property owners for liberal contributions. It is not altogether a charity to respond to such appeals, but an obligation. Money thus invested brings a large return, and pays a generous dividend. Even in a pecuniary point of view the sanctuary is worth all it costs. The neighborhood in which it stands is improved, and becomes more desirable as a place of residence, tenements are in greater demand by the best class of tenants, rents increase, and property of every kind rises in value. Is it not reasonable then to expect property owners to aid in building houses of worship? Must they not be ungenerous and selfish in the extreme to share the profits while they contribute nothing to the expense? Again, the sanctuary adds greatly to the peace and security of the neighborhood in which it stands, and is the best insurance against theft, violence, incendiarism and crime of every kind. Commerce has acknowledged her indebtedness to it. Kings and statesmen have confessed that the stability of their governments and peace of their times were owing to its influence….

….For a few months after is origin Calvary Baptist Church worshipped in Temperance Hall. It is now, and has been for the last year-and-a-half past, worshipping in what is known as “Old Trinity Church,” on Fifth street. Here, under the gracious favor of God, we have increased from a small company to a congregation respectable both in size and character. Indeed our present accommodations have often been “too straight” for us, which has hastened us in our resolution to “arise and build.” We have dwelt together in unity and love, and so far as our own enjoyment of the means of grace is concerned, many of our people have felt that they could cheerfully remain where we are. They have given it as their testimony, that in the “upper room” where we meet, they have been favored with as refreshing views of Jesus and His love as they may perhaps ever hope for this side of Heaven. But we have felt that personal enjoyment is not the chief end of its existence. The Church of Christ has been placed as a city on a hill, that her light may not be hid….

….Many of the citizens of Washington and brethren in other per- suasions have bidden us Godspeed in our undertaking. Some have already given us generous contributions. We expect to appeal to others, and we doubt not but that as they become acquainted with our necessities and prospects they will aid us cheerfully and liberally. The question may arise in some minds, is another house of worship necessary in Washington? Some may ask if there are not already churches sufficient. Let me give a few statistics which have been carefully made out, and of the general correctness of which there can be no doubt. The population of Washington, according to the census of 1860, was 61,122; to-day, according to the last inaugural of the present mayor, it is 130,000. This great gain of 69,000 population, or more than one hundred per cent., has all been made within the last three years; for 1860 was a year of exodus rather than growth. In 1860, with a population of 60,000, Washington had fifty-six churches, or one church for every 1,091 inhabitants. In 1864, with a population of 130,000, it has exactly the same number of churches, or one for every 2,321 inhabitants. For these statistics I am indebted to one of our fellow citizens, who is ready to vouch for their general accuracy. Now, my friends, these figures speak for themselves. In view of such facts, the only question that can arise for the necessity of increased accommodations for public worship is the permanency of this increase of our population. It is the universal opinion of those most favorably situated for forming a correct judgment upon this subject, that Washington must henceforth be a far more populous city than ever before. The war has greatly increased the business connected with the different departments of our government, and this will of necessity call for increased clerical force. As our country increases in wealth, in population and power, its capital must be of increasing importance. Besides, the spirit of enterprise is thoroughly awake. Our city is being improved as never before. New branches of business are being established. Private residences of much beauty, and with all the modern improvements, are rising up in different parts of the city; whole rows of tenement houses are being built by northern capitalists, the streets are being excavated for public sewers, graded, paved, and put in thorough order. Everything betokens progress. Ought we not, at such a time, and under such cir- cumstances, to speak to the people of God “that THEY GO FORWARD.” There is one peculiarity of Washington which I must not fail to mention, since it involves peculiar duty upon Chris- tians who make it their residence. It is, above all other cities, especially all others of our own land, a city of strangers. Its population is of the most fluctuating charac- ter. We are liable, at every change of the administration, to an almost entire change of those employed in the various departments. Multitudes of excellent and faithful govern- ment employees must then make their exodus, for no other reason than that they belong not to the party in power….

….We are laying the foundation and building the walls of our temple in troublous times. The Church itself was organized soon after the dark clouds of war began to hurl their wrathful thunderbolts upon the land. Indeed, it was born from the womb of a storm, and rocked in its infancy by a tempest. Doubtless its surroundings and the influence of the times have made their impressions upon its character and modified the tone of its sentiment and feeling. “For the DIVISIONS OF REUBEN there have been great thoughts of heart.” Both pastor and people have felt profound convictions of the greatness of the crime of the present Rebellion, and have not attempted to conceal their thoughts. Our sympathies and prayers have been with “Zebulun and Naphtali, a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.” We have followed in spirit the soldiers of the Republic in their wearisome campaigns and mighty battles, and cried unto Him, “unto whom the shields of the earth belong,” to cover them and crown them with most decisive victories.

To the same staff I have nailed, first the banner of the world’s Redeemer, and beneath its ample folds the flag of my country, and under them both I desire to rise or fall, to “live or die, to survive or perish.” In these sentiments and inspirations I have been encouraged and sustained by my people. Long ago, at a regular business meeting of the Church and Congregation, the following resolutions were unanimously and heartily passed. Resolved, That the Calvary Baptist Church and Congregation will unanimously sustain the government of the United. States in all lawful and needful measures to suppress the existing rebellion. Resolved, That we approve the earnest prayers of our devoted Pastor, imploring the God of our fathers to bless and give wisdom to the President of the United States, and all others in authority; to protect our soldiers and sailors in the day of battle, and grant success to our arms; to incline the hearts of those in rebellion to submission and peace, and to speedily restore to our country the blessings of unity, concord, and prosperity. Resolved, That the house of worship which we propose to erect shall never, with our consent, be desecrated by the utterance therein of a treasonable or disloyal sentiment, or cease to resound with fervent prayers for those in authority, and for the welfare of our country, as well as fbr the building up of the “kingdom which is not of this world.”

Submitting these remarks, we proceed to lay the corner stone of our temple. We hope to complete the building without unreasonable delay. God grant that before its top stone is brought forth PEACE may stretch her wings over our united and happy country, and that through a long succession of years the people may `come hither from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South, and sit down together in the kingdom of God.”

The church building is completed several years later, remaining in use to the present day. Calvary Baptist Church is yet a leading Baptist congregation in the nation’s capital.

Sources: Thomas R. Howlett, “Address by the Rev. T. R. Howlett at the laying of the corner-stone of the Calvary Baptist Church in the city of Washington, D.C., September 6, 1864, Washington, D.C,” Gibson Bros., Printers, 1864 (link); image, US National Library of Medicine (link); Calvary Baptist Church (link)