Baptists and the American Civil War: September 10, 1864

Civil War States MapThe Union’s squeeze of the Confederacy is felt throughout the South. Charleston, the ideological center of the Confederate States, has now been under siege for some 430 days, with cannon balls raining upon the city almost daily. In Virginia, Confederate General Robert E. Lee remains trapped in the trenches, his forces growing thinner almost by the day as Union General Ulysses S. Grant expands his lines as part of an ultimate goal of flanking Lee to the nearby Confederate capital of Richmond.

From Virginia to Texas, the Union Navy effectively controls the waterways, occupying or blockading coastal towns and cities. And now, adding insult to injury, the United States occupies the Deep South city of Atlanta, with the Confederate Army of the Tennessee haplessly watching from afar.

In Atlanta word has leaked out that Union General William T. Sherman intends to order the evacuation of the city. Sam Richards, a businessman, former Unionist and member of the city’s Second Baptist Church, this week writes of the “great excitement” among residents of the city.

We have [had] several days of great excitement, as it was understood that “Orders” had been, or were about to be, issued to the effect that every body not belonging to the army must leave the city going North or South as they saw fit, except the families of those men who had left the city before the Yankees came, and such must go South… But as yet no orders have been published specifying anything and we do not know what we have to do. We have determined upon going to New York if we are sent off, as we want to get away from the war and fighting if we can… One unpleasant feature of present circumstances is the impudent airs the negroes put on, and their indifference to the wants of their former masters. Of course they are all free, and the Yankee soldiers don’t fail to assure them of that fact. Jabe’s “Sally” has come out of her hole now and is as independent as can be. “George” and “Clem” are said to be in the city too. So our negro property has all but vanished into air.–

Richards, his wealth tied up in human chattel, now despises the United States, although not enough to discourage him from moving his family northward if given opportunity. A writer for today’s Richmond Daily Dispatch, on the other hand, minces no words when expressing his hatred of Yankees and their ill-begotten power.

The indiscriminate application of the term Yankees to our enemies in the field does not convey an accurate idea of the elements of power which are combined against us. In a mere war of sections — that is, a war between the Yankees proper and the Southern States–not even Yankees themselves could have expected triumph. But this is not such a war. It is a war between the Southern Confederacy and the United States, the latter having all the wealth and all the military and civil organizations of the old government on its side, with immense armies, composed of all nations, and of which the Yankees proper constitute only a small proportion. Of its native troops, the best are the mixed races of the West and renegade Kentuckian and Missourian. Even in the navy, its most successful officer is Farragut, a Tennessean. A large number of its officers, in both the land and sea service, are natives of Southern States. Nor is it accurate to designate all the people of the Middle States even as Yankees. It may suit the Yankees proper very well to have all their elements of strength classed as Yankee, but it is not the truth. As a general thing, they have staid at home during the war, making money out of battles which they do not fight, and gaining a great reputation for prowess besides, by the designation of Yankee, which is uniformly applied to United States armies. It may be convenient to give our enemies a name which condenses in one word all that is hateful; but the worst of them are the least injured by its application.

White Baptists in Georgia agree, if an editorial in this week’s Georgia Baptist Christian Index is any indication. Yankee power, however, is destined by God to fail.

What the designs of Providence are in this revolution, and especially what may be his intention in bringing upon us disasters and reverses, it would be folly for us, short-sighted, feeble-minded creatures, to decide. That he has in view objects which will incure to his glory, and to our own good, we doubt not.–The scope of our vision is far too contracted for us to scan the entire field of God’s operations. The time will arrive when we can behold all the apparently tangled and broken threads of this wonderful web of misfortune; and then they will be found to form a texture variagated in hue–crimsoned with gore and stained with tears, radiant with Southern valor and pride, and beaming with good for Southern patriots–which shall, nevertheless, glisten all over with glory for God and goodwill for mankind….

God honors those who honor him.

That patient trust which the Southern patriot reposes in the Almighty’s arm, and in his precious promises, will not disappointed by Him; that unselfishness which prefers the glory of Jehovah, the Creator, to the benefit of puny man, the creature, God will reward by abundant evidence of his favor; and that perseverance in a righteous and holy cause which will make us do and dare to the utmost all the mortals can, will surely, in the end, receive the glorious meed of success.

God helps those who help themselves.

Then, panoplied in the armor of faith and prayer, let us maintain this conflict till the shout of victory shall ring from one end of our Confederacy to the other–till white-robed peace shall float benignly o’er all our plains, and scatter everywhere her richest blessings–till liberty, honor and renown shall place upon fair Secessia’s brow the unfading chaplet of national glory and happiness.

Away with despondency! A future, all bright and sublime, looms up proudly before us, and, the eye of faith, piercing this darkling cloud, beholds the Star of Hope glistening brightly beyond, and amid these showers of disaster discerns the enrapturing Bow of Promise:

“Behind the cloud the starlight lurks;
Through showers the sunbeams fall;
For God, who loveth all His works,
Has left His hope with all.”

Not surprisingly, Baptists of the North disagree with their Southern counterparts. In addition, the war is going well enough for the Union that American Baptists can take the time to celebrate a joyous anniversary this week: the 100th anniversary of Rhode Island Baptists’ Brown University, an occasion recognized in the university town of Providence. To honor the heritage and future of Baptist’s first college in America, Baptists “[F]rom far and wide, from the battle-field, from the marts of business and professional life, her happy and faithful children” gather to “congratulate her on a ripe old age, and to commemorate the centennial birthday of their Alma Mater,” a New York Times correspondent intones. The Times also offers today’s readers a summary of the Centennial Celebration, including a sketch of the history of Baptists and education.

….The orator, after the introduction, proceeded to speak of the necessity that then existed of establishing a Baptist College, inasmuch as the Baptists and other denominations did not stand related to each other as do their successors and representatives, differing in experimental religion, ministerial education and liberty of conscience; that to the Philadelphia Baptist Association belongs the honor of taking the first steps in planning the college and securing a charter; that Brown University — formerly called the College of Rhode Island, and located here because of its well-known religious toleration — was modeled after the College of New-Jersey, as Yale was after Harvard; that University Hall was on exact copy in form and size of Nassau Hall. The speaker then dwelt upon the successive administrations of Presidents MANNING, MAXCY and MESSEE, giving some account of their lives and influence; illustrating the two former by extracts from their published works, and the latter by personal acquaintance. The history of the college under the administration of Dr. WAYLAND was merely alluded to, belonging more to the present than the past. He closed with an eloquent appeal to the alumni to give pecuniary aid to the college, and thus place it in a situation to enlarge its means of instruction, and make it a centre of literary and scientific attraction. The address was listened to with great interest and attention by the large audience….

Hence the day ends with some Baptists of the South looking with disdain upon the North, others gazing North in hopes of a brighter future, and yet others daydreaming of a glorious Southern future that is not to be, even as many Baptists of the North justly contemplate their faith’s great heritage and envision a likely glorious future.

Sources: “Our Enemies,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, September 10, 1864 (link); for an interesting discussion of the composition of the armies of the North and South, see Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, Viking, 2011 (link); Samuel Pearce Richards, edited by Wendy Hamand Venet, Sam Richards’s Civil War diary: a Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009, p. 235-236 (link); “Patience, Unselfishness, Perseverance,” Christian Index, September 9, 1864; “Brown University Centennial Celebration,” New York Times, September 9, 1864 (link);