Baptists and the American Civil War: July 2, 1865

lincoln_1863novFollowing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, many friends and acquaintances of the late president remembered him with great admiration and fondness.

Stories associated with Lincoln were often repeated, tales that in the months and years to come were recorded for posterity in numerous books about the president who had saved the Union.

One such story, a humorous tale destined to appear in a biography of Lincoln written by a long-time law partner of the president, is told this day by a cousin of the biographer.

The setting is New Salem, Illinois, in 1831.

Lincoln is the clerk of an election board, and the votes are coming in rather slowly.

As recounted:

In the afternoon, as things were dragging a little, Lincoln the new man, began to spin out a stock of Indiana yarns. One that amused me more than any other he called the lizard story. ‘The meeting-house,’ he said, ‘was in the woods and quite a distance from any other house.’ It was only used once a month. The preacher — an old line Baptist — was dressed in coarse linen pantaloons, and shirt of the same material. The pants, manufactured after the old fashion, with baggy legs and a flap in front, were made to attach to his frame without the aid of suspenders. A single button held his shirt in position, and that was at the collar. He rose up in the pulpit and with a loud voice announced his text thus: ‘I am the Christ, whom I shall represent to-day.’ About this time a little blue lizard ran up underneath his roomy pantaloons. The old preacher, not wishing to interrupt the steady flow of his sermon, slapped away on his legs, expecting to arrest the intruder; but his efforts were unavailing, and the little fellow kept on ascending higher and higher. Continuing the sermon, the preacher slyly loosened the central button which graced the waist-band of his pantaloons and with a kick off came that easy-fitting garment. But meanwhile Mr. Lizard had passed the equatorial line of waist-band and was calmly exploring that part of the preacher’s anatomy which lay underneath the back of his shirt. Things were now growing interesting, but the sermon was still grinding on. The next movement on the preacher’s part was for the collar button, and with one sweep of his arm off came the tow linen shirt. The congregation sat for an instant as if dazed; at length one old lady in the rear of the room rose up and glancing at the excited object in the pulpit, shouted at the top of her voice: ‘If you represent Christ then I’m done with the Bible.’

On a more serious note, from the war years many soldiers remembered the day President Lincoln asked for soldier volunteers in the fall of 1862. One such volunteer was Edwin S. Bliss, a Baptist layman who enlisted in the 136th Regiment, New York State Volunteers, and was later transferred to the 16th Regiment.

Today Sergeant Bliss is paroled. Afterwards he opens a grocery store in Richburg, raises a family, and becomes a leading layman in the local Seventh Day Baptist congregation.

Sources: William H. Herndon, Herndon’s Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, Springfield, Ill: Herndon’s Lincoln Publishing Company, 1888, p. 79 (link); “Sgt. Edwin Stillman Bliss,” FindAGrave (link)