Baptists and the American Civil War: January 3, 1865


Civil War States MapFor several months, various parties have attempted to find a way to bring Union and Confederate officials to the table to negotiate a peace settlement.  To date, no formal talks have taken place.

Nonetheless, a new effort to arrange high level discussions offers a hint of bearing fruit. Francis Preston Blair, Sr., an aged and prominent political editor, days earlier obtained permission from U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to go behind Union lines to visit Richmond for unstated but mutually understood purposes. Shortly thereafter, Blair had written Confederate President Jefferson Davis, asking for permission to visit Richmond, and stating his real purpose: that of attempting to bring the war to an end.

Today Blar receives an affirmative reply from Davis, setting in motion a series of discrete meetings and quiet discussions that lead, one month hence, to Lincoln visiting with a delegation of Confederate officials at Hampton Roads, Virginia. At this February meeting, however, Lincoln, refuses to grant any concessions to the Confederate delegates, a stance that brings the meeting to an end within hours.

With such whispered conversations in the background and unknown to the public North or South, today in Savannah the formation of the Savannah Education Association, following two previous days of meetings, is completed. Rev. Garrison Frazier, a long-time African American Baptist minister in the city, has presided over the meetings. Savannah’s other black Baptist ministers have also played leading roles.

As recorded by William Richardson of the American Missionary Association, the day is one of great joy in Savannah.

Grand rally of the children Tuesday morning we met some five hundred of them in the lecture room of the church. After the proper arrangement were made they were marched forth through the streets of the city to the buildings assigned for schools. This army of colored children moving through the streets seemed to excite feeling and interest, second only to that of Gen Shermans army.

Such a gathering of Freedman’s sons and daughters that proud City had never seen before.

Many of the people rushed to the doors and windows of their houses, wondering what these things could mean. This they were told is the onward march of Freedom.

A goodly number of these children we found were able to read and spell, others evinced considerable knowledge of arithmetic, Geography, and writing.

The project is very encouraging for the free schools of Savannah. Fifteen colored teachers are already engaged in these schools and other teachers from the north will soon join them in this noble work.

Ample buildings have been granted by Brig Gen John W. Geary commanding the City who has evinced much interest in  the success of this school.

Meanwhile, readers of this week’s South Carolina Confederate Baptist receive assurances that the war is yet going well for the South, whose white citizens are demonstrating faithfulness to God and country.

“The indications” of the war advancing Christianity in the Confederacy “are, we bless God, hopeful,” the newspaper reports. Revivals in the army and at home give “cheering reassurance.” “Recent events in the North—the fruits of evil seed sown long ago—seem to intimate that to the people of this Confederacy may be entrusted the custody of pure religion and constitutional liberty.”

Thus this day black Southerners rejoice in newly-acquired freedom while white Southerners hope they can yet restrict freedom to whites only.

Sources: William C. Harris, “The Hampton Roads Peace Conference: A Final Test of Lincoln’s Presidential Leadership,” Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association, Volume 21, Issue 1, Winter 2000, pp. 30-61 (link); “Possible Peace is Discussed at Hampton Roads Conference,” February 3, 1865, (link); “Wm Richardson’s Report of doings at Savannah Geo, Jan 2 of 65,” including image (link); Jacqueline Jones, Soldiers of Light and Love: Northern Teachers and Georgia Blacks, 1865-1873, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980, pp. 73-76 (link); “Our Religion,” Confederate Baptist, January 4, 1865