Baptists and the American Civil War: January 28, 1865

The Confederate Capitol in Richmond

The Confederate Capitol in Richmond

Newspapers in the Confederate capital of Richmond typically maintain as positive a view of the war as they can muster.

Today’s Richmond Daily Dispatch counters “Yankee accounts of the misfortunes” of the Confederate’s Army of the Tennessee. Having “suffered only an inconsiderable loss in numbers,” the army is now in South Carolina under the command of General B. T. Beauregard, and will effectively confront Sherman.

“The Southern public ought, by this time, to be able to attach the proper value to Yankee statements,” the Dispatch reminds readers. “The Army of Tennessee, under proper leadership, will yet vindicate its claims to the gratitude and admiration of the country.”

Virginia Baptists’ Religious Herald, however, has recently offered criticisms of the Confederate Congress. Such criticism continues this week.

The Military Committee of the Confederate Congress recently reported a bill proposing to put in the military service all ministers of the gospel who are devoting themselves, for the most part, to secular pursuits. It failed to pass, however, because, as was urged by nearly every member who took part in the discussion, it is the province of the churches to decide who are fulfilling the work of the ministry, and who not. And it was argued that no denomination of Christians would tolerate a member, who, while professing to be a minister, was devoting himself to mere secular calling. With this belief the Congress very wisely re-enacted the old law, exempting all who are authorized by their respective churches to preach.

The responsibility is placed where it belongs, on the church. But will it be met fairly, faithfully? Will the preachers who are devoting themselves to farming, merchandising, school teaching, &c., and only preaching once or twice a month some old sermon, prepared before the war, be told by their churches, “You must preach the gospel–devote your time and talents to it–or you must give up your exemption!” Let that be done, and many good men will be secured to the work of the ministry.

Politicians meddling in such church affairs is bad enough, but there is more. The Religious Herald reprints an account of “Wicked Congressmen.”

Of a portion of our present Congress, the Southern Churchman says: “If ‘honorable’ members only knew the opinion which the ‘outside world’ has of all this fustian and bombast–this drinking and swearing–this visiting theatres and houses still worse–we are sure they would at least maintain the outward semblance of virtue, and endeavor so to behave in Congress and out of it, as to enjoy and maintain the respect of their fellow citizens, whose opinions are worthy of consideration.”

Are Confederate elected officials playing while the enemy lurks just outside the city gates, wearing down the South’s shrinking defenders? Are sinful entertainments as endemic of the Confederate capital as some critics seem to believe?

On the brink of losing the war, scapegoating appears to be on the rise.

Sources: “The Army of Tennessee,” Richmond Daily Dispatch, January 28, 1865 (link); “Congress and the Churches” and “Wicked Congressmen,” Religious Herald, January 26, 1865