Baptists and the American Civil War: January 27, 1865

Civil War States MapIn the  middle of the bitter winter cold, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, embedded in the trenches near Petersburg, writes to the Confederate Secretary of War in the nearby Southern capital of Richmond.

The subject is army desertion.

“I have endeavored to ascertain the causes [of the] alarming frequency of desertions,” the general writes. Lee continues, musing “that an insufficiency of food and nonpayment of the troops have more to do with the dissatisfaction ….than anything else.” And this is not merely Lee’s conclusions. “All commanding officers concur in this opinion,” the general notes.

From Kentucky, one mother, representative of many, is grateful to God that her son, yet serving in the Confederate Army, remains alive.

Mary Beckley Bristow, a Kentucky Baptist, thus writes in her journal this day:

Had my heart gladdened and I think warmed with a feeling of deep, unfeigned gratitude. Today John Wallace came in and handed me a letter from Jerome, the first I have received from him since I saw him last June. In the first battle near Abingdon, he had a ball shot through his hat. In the last battle fought at or near the same place, a ball passed through his over coat, making twenty-one holes. Of course, the coat must have been rolled up. I can’t see how else it could have been. When I first read the letter, I only felt glad and grateful, but I trust now it causes me to shudder to think how close the deadly missile approached my darling boy, and yet an unseen hand warded it off. He says he has helped inter many of his comrades since he was in Kentucky last June, among them his bed mate, James Huey, whom he deeply regrets. All the boys from the immediate neighborhood have been mercifully preserved, or were when he wrote, the 6th day of the present month. [He] claims to feel his indebtedness to an Omnipotent God. Oh, that he and all of my dear, young friends may be brought to feel their entire dependence on the Almighty Father. . . .

As Lee ponders the problem of army desertion (some two-thirds of Confederate soldiers already having left the army) and countless mothers pray for their sons, Confederate President Jefferson Davis proclaims yet another national day of fasting and prayer, hopeful that God may yet relent and propel his chosen Southern nation to victory over the enemy.

Today’s Richmond Daily Dispatch prints the proclamation:

Proclamation by the President, appointing a day of fasting, humiliation and Prayer, with thanksgiving.

–The Congress of the Confederate States have, by a joint resolution, invited me to appoint a day of public fasting, humiliation and prayer, with thanksgiving to Almighty God.It is our solemn duty, at all times, and more especially in a season of public trial and adversity, to acknowledge our dependence on His mercy, and to bow in humble submission before His footstool, confessing our manifold sins, supplicating His gracious pardon, imploring His Divine help, and devoutly rendering thanks for the many and great blessings which He has vouchsafed to us.

Let the hearts of our people turn contritely and trustfully unto God; let us recognize in His chastening hand the correction of a Father, and submissively pray that the trials and sufferings which have so long borne heavily upon us may be turned away by His merciful love; that His sustaining grace be given to our people, and His divine wisdom imparted to our rulers; that the Lord of Hosts will be with our armies, and fight for us against our enemies; and that He will graciously take our cause into His own hand and mercifully establish for us a lasting, just and honorable peace and independence. And let us not forget to render unto His holy name the thanks and praise which are so justly due for His great goodness, and for the many mercies which He has extended to us amid the trials and sufferings of protracted and bloody war.

Now, therefore, I, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, do issue this my proclamation, appointing Friday, the 10th day of March next, as a day of public fasting, humiliation and prayer, (with thanksgiving,) for “invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God;” and I do earnestly invite all soldiers and citizens to observe the same in a spirit of reverence, penitence and prayer.

Given under my hand and the seal of the Confederate States, at Richmond, this twenty-fifth day of January, in the year five.

Jefferson Davis.
By the President:
J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State.

Many white Baptists have faithfully obeyed Davis’ previous proclamations of fasting and prayer, and are likely to do so yet again. Some, however, have grown disillusioned and would just and soon that the war be over with, no matter the outcome.

Sources: General Robert E. Lee to Confederate Secretary of War, January 27, 1865, in Michael Fellman, The Making of Robert E. Lee, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2000, p. 175 (link); Mary Bristow Diary, January 27, 1865 (link); “Proclamation by the President, appointing a day of fasting, humiliation and Prayer, with thanksgiving,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, January 27, 1865 (link)