When the war began four years ago, Richmond, soon to become the Confederate capital, had a larger number of enslaved African Americans–some 500,000–than any other city in America.
Today, the fourth day of freedom in Richmond, the city’s newly-freed blacks hold a “jubilee celebration” at the First African Baptist Church, the celebration including soldiers of the United States Colored Troops, some of whom were the first Union troops to enter the city. Generations of former slaves rejoice and praise God for their long-sought deliverance from bondage.
The celebration of freedom comes amidst the destruction and desolation that is post-fall Richmond. The First African Baptist Church still stands, as does the First Baptist Church, a white congregation.
A newspaper account about this time describes the intact church building:
When the fires that lighted the evacuation of Richmond had died away… there was little left of Richmond’s skyline to mind the frantic inhabitants of the past. Here and there, though, there were left old landmarks and amongst them the most beloved of those was the old First Baptist Church at Twelfth and Broad Streets, whose tall steeple stood like a sentinel against the sky at the top of the hill.
Months pass, however, before members of the congregation regroup into a semblance of normalcy.
Elsewhere in the state, some one-fourth of Lee‘s remaining army–almost 8,000 troops–are captured by Union forces in the Battle of Sailor’s Creek. The end of the war is mere days away.
Further southward, the Georgia Baptist Christian Index publishes for the last time during the war. News of war happenings travels slowly, and the central Index commentary about the war was written before Union forces captured the city. Thus, even as the capital is now occupied by U.S. forces and Lee’s army is on its last legs, the writer encourages readers to pray that God might yet bring victory to the South.
In a private letter recently received from Richmond, a lady writes: “A number of our city preachers have been requested to go out and canvas the State, for the purpose of stirring up the people to send provisions for the army, as without these supplies we are in great danger. Our pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeter, is to visit the counties of Albermarle, Madison and Greene. Rev. A. E. Dickinson goes to the Northern Neck. I am sorry that our ministers will not be with us on to-morrow, the day set apart for fasting and prayer, but I suppose the people can pray and humble themselves at home as well as at church, and with or without a minister.”
Yes, blessed truth, wherever we are and under whatsoever circumstances we may be placed, it is ours to call upon the Lord. He is confined to no one spot, and,
“Where’er we seek him, he is found,
And every spot is hallowed ground.”
Whether we mingle with God’s people in the sanctuary, or sit alone in our quiet chamber, or walk amid the crowded marts of trade, we may commune with God. Whether the soldier is on the weary march, or walks his lonely round as sentinel, or lies down at night on his hard couch, He, the Omnipresent One, is at hand. With the eye of faith we may behold Him, with the words of prayer we may call down his blessings on our heads. Yes, the presence of ministers is not necessary on that day of prayer. And now are all the christian people of this land praying for God’s blessing on our unhappy land. We are accustomed to say “vain is the help of man.” But do we fully realize that in God is our help–that “He is a refuge for us,” a “very present help in trouble?”
Some young ladies recently enquired half jestingly of Gen. Lee what they could do to aid his soldiers, and make his army more efficient. The grand old hero replied, “Pray for them.” Yes, pray for them–that God will cover their heads in the day of conflict and battle–and that He will sanctify to their good, all the efforts which are being made for their spiritual and eternal welfare.
Reader, have you influence at the throne of Grace? Are you using it in behalf of the armies and the country? It may not be yours to go forth and join with our brave men in fighting the foe. Your sex, your age, your physical condition, your profession may make it necessary for you to remain at home. But are you doing this much–are you praying? The future histories of this war, may not tell of the prayers which have been offered during its progress–they will chronicle heroic achievements and deeds of daring, and battles lost and won. And yet who shall say, but that the timid woman, who, on her knees in the secrecy of “the still hour,” plead with God to bless her people, was serving the country as effectually and truly as the stalwart soldier who draws his flashing sabre, and amid the smoke and thunder of battle, rushes on to the charge and into “the jaws of death.”
Sources: “Virginia Slave Population Map, 1860,” Virginia Memory, Library of Virgina (link); “Richmond Civil War Walking Tours,” CivilWarTours (link); “A Brief History of Richmond’s First Baptist Church,” First Baptist Church Richmond (link); Battle of Sailor’s Creek (link) and (link); “Prayer for the Country,” Christian Index, April 6, 1865