Baptists and the American Civil War: September 22, 1864

Civil War States MapOnce again, Confederate forces are overwhelmed in battle in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

Nothing seems to be going right for the South these days, and today’s Battle of Fisher’s Mill reflects the haplessness that has descended upon the Confederacy. Despite a superior defensive position on high ground near Strasburg, the Federals manage to wrest control of two critical hilltops from the Confederates this day, allowing for victory over the Rebels on the morrow.

Control of the Shenandoah Valley’s fertile croplands is critical to the South during this harvest season, and Union General Philip Sheridan‘s forces, superior in both numbers and firepower to that to the enemy, are determined to win full control over the region.

As the fortunes of the Confederacy plummet ever downward, many white Southern Baptists’ concern for soldiers orphans’ grows proportionally. Rather than such concerns signaling an acknowledgment that the war is going badly, the escalating debate about how to best provide for the needs of soldiers’ orphans may serve as a delusional coping mechanism, as the discussions assume the long-term existence of the Confederate nation.

Or perhaps the oft-discussed subject is a rational coping mechanism. Underneath the public confidence of the continuation of the Confederacy may lurk the need to craft a narrative of victory in the wake of certain Southern defeat. The desire to educate orphans’ soldiers may already serve as another strand in the weaving of the Lost Cause mythology.

This week’s South Carolina Confederate Baptist offers a summary of and commentary on the current debate and thinking regarding soldiers’ orphans.

Provision for the education of the children of our brave countrymen, who have fallen in the war, is a subject of such interest that it has excited the attention of many of our religious bodies. Two plans have been suggested. One is the erection of an asylum, where they may be maintained and educated; the other is the collection of a fund, from which their expenses may be paid, whilst attending the ordinary schools. The former plan has an air of permanence unsuitable to what must be only a temporary want. The orphans of our deceased soldiers will have received their education, within the next twenty years. Hence, there is no necessity of an outlay of a large amount, in the erection of buildings for an asylum.

The other plan promises to accomplish the end, with the least possible expenditure of money. The nature and extent of the plan, together with the means of carrying it out, have not been definitely made known. Some suggestions, therefore, may not be out of place.

It is proposed to raise the fund needed, by voluntary offerings? If so, the burden will be unequally distributed. The liberal will be heavily taxed, whilst the selfish and sordid will escape scot free. If it be a duty to educate these orphans, (which no one, we presume, will question,) the obligation rests with equal weight upon every citizen of the Confederacy. Their fathers fell in the cause of the Confederacy; and, by their heroic deaths, made us all their common debtors. All are bound to contribute, according to the ability of each, to their support.

But how shall all be made to to their duty? We answer, by taxation. The States of the Confederacy should assume the responsibility of the noble work, and, by an equal system of taxation, raise the funds, which may be annually needed for that purpose. Holding that it is the duty  of the State to educate the indigent, we deem this work to be pre-eminently the dictate of sound policy, patriotism and gratitude. It seems, therefore, to us to be best to appeal to the Legislatures of the different States, and engage them, each to educate its own orphans.

We are satisfied that South Carolina will do her duty, promptly and generously. She has directed that the names of her cherished braves should be inscribed on her “Roll of Honor.” She desires to perpetuate the memory of their achievements, and of their devotion to her and their common country. She can not be insensible to the cry of their helpless orphans.

Sources: Battle of Fisher’s Mill (link) and (link); James Alan Marten, Civil War America: Voices from the Home Front, Santa Barbara, Cal.: ABC-CLIO, 2003, 2007, pp. 271-281 (link); Lot D. Young, Reminiscences of a Soldier of the Orphan Brigade, Paris, Kent.: 1918 (link); see also James Alan Marten, Children and Youth during the Civil War Era, New York: New York University Press, 2012 (link); “Orphans of Soldiers,” Confederate Baptist, September 21, 1864