Baptists and the American Civil War: February 8, 1865

Civil War States MapThe three-day Battle of Hatcher’s Run, fought in and around the trenches of Petersburg, is over. Despite having briefly broken through the Union lines, the Confederates lose the battle, gaining no ground in their defeat.

Today Confederate General Robert E. Lee offers a stark assessment of the battle. His men having fought in severe winter weather during the battle, “some have been without meat for three days, and all are suffering from reduced rations and scant clothing, exposed to battle, cold, hail and sleet.” His next words are more chilling yet: “Taking these facts in connection with the paucity of our numbers, you must not be surprised if calamity befalls us.”

While also suffering from the winter elements in Petersburg’s trenches and elsewhere, Union soldiers are nonetheless faring much better than their Southern counterparts. The Northern public by this point of the war collectively maintains a robust network of aid societies for Union soldiers, providing food, clothing and medical care for the men who are fighting to preserve the Union and bring freedom to slaves. In addition, many societies provide assistance to families of soldiers.

Congregations in particular play a central role in this charitable work.

While lacking the degree of resources available to most white congregations, many black churches provide assistance to black Union soldiers. One such church is the Fifth Street Baptist Church of Louisville, Kentucky, having established and now supporting a “Colored Soldiers’ Aid Society.” The society helps soldiers, works to recruit new troops, and provides relief assistance to needy families of soldiers. Northern speakers sometimes address the society and foster the organization’s relief efforts.

The war would not be going so well for the Union if not for black soldiers, a fact recognized North and South. Fighting valiantly for freedom for blacks yet enslaved, black soldiers rely on home front help from churches like Louisville’s Fifth Street Baptist Church.

Sources: Battle of Hatcher’s Run (link) and (link) and (link); Marion Brunson Lucas, A History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891, pp. 163-164 (link); “Unveiling Confederate Monument at Montgomery, Ala,” in R. A. Brock, Southern Society Historical Papers, Vol. XXV, Richmond, VA, 1897, p. 197 (link)