Christianity and the Civil War 2
Chris Knepp


Christianity and the Civil War 
Broken Churches: We Presbyterians

William Lloyd Garrison,

Founder of the Anti Slavery Newspaper The Liberator:

“Our doom as a nation is sealed … the day of our probation has ended, and we are not saved … the downfall of the republic seems inevitable…. Look at the recent turbulent and despotic transactions in the Presbyterian General Assembly in Philadelphia [1837]: that mighty denomination is severed in twain at a blow. The political dismemberment of our Union is ultimately to follow.”

Christianity and the Civil War
Broken Churches : Differing Visions

•“The most important theoretical disagreement between religion in the North and religion in the South concerned the responsibility of the churches for the morals of their society.”

•Northern vision: “a truly Christian nation, composed of moral individuals, that would carry out the will of God not only in America, but also throughout the world.”

•Southern vision: “placed emphasis only on the morality of individuals; it had little relevance for the moral condition of their society.” Goal was transforming the individual, not changing the world.

Gardner Shattuck, A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies

Christianity And The Civil War
Broken Churches : bitter Estrangement

A Louisiana minister to Northern ones: “And I tell you in candor, and in the fear of God, that if you or any of the brethren who have urged on this diabolical war, come on with the invading army, I would slay you with as hearty a good will, and with as clear a conscience, as I would the midnight assassin…. You are my enemy, and I am yours.”

C.C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Civil War

A Northern minister “reciprocated the hostility”: “Let Davis and Beauregard be captured to meet the fate of Haman [Ester 7]. Hang them up on Mason and Dixon’s Line, that traitors … may be warned. Let them hang until the vultures shall eat their rotten flesh from their bones; let them hang until the crows shall build their filthy nests in their skeletons; let them hang until the rope rots, and let their dismembered bones fall so deep into the earth that God almighty can’t find them on the day of resurrection.”

C.C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Civil War

Christianity And The Civil War
Broken Churches : Summary

“[T]he denominational schisms not only severed a bond of national union and set a deceptive example for the states to follow; they also cast the sectional churches in an adversary relationship that actively exacerbated the alienation of North and South until sectional differences were felt to be irreconcilable.”

C.C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Civil War

“It must not be forgotten that the all-transcending provocation of the denominational schisms, as of the Civil War itself, was slavery and the giant contradiction it presented to the most basic of American values…. The churches were critical agents in a reciprocal process of cumulating alienation.”

C.C. Goen, Broken Churches, Broken Nation: Denominational Schisms and the Coming of the Civil War

Christianity and the Civil War
The silver lining in the cloud:

revivals in the camps and a lasting place for chaplaincy

Revivals in the Camps

“Oh Lord, if we should go into battle, be thou our shield & hiding place. [Psalm 119:114] If it is consistent with thy will, that any of us should be killed, may we have a happy admittance into thy Kingdom above.” William Russell, 26th Virginia Regiment

•At first, Civil War soldiers cared little for religion. “Day-to-day army life was so boring that men were often tempted to ‘make some foolishness,’ as one soldier typified it. Profanity, drunkenness, sexual licentiousness, and petty thievery confronted those who wanted to practice their faith. Christians complained that no Sabbath was observed….”

•“General Robert McAllister, an officer who was working closely with the United States Christian Commission, complained that a ‘tide of irreligion’ had rolled over his army ‘like a mighty wave.’’’

•In response, General McClellan ordered in September 1861 that Sabbath observances be required in camp and that services be held every Sunday unless prevented by military necessity.

Gardiner H. Shattuck, “Revivals in the Camp”

•“The situation changed, however, as the war became more serious and prolonged. After the decisive campaigns at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga in 1863, revivals became a regular feature of Union army life.”

•“In the Army of the Potomac, a great religious excitement appeared during the winter of 1863-64. Numerous brigades erected churches and chapel tents for prayer meetings. General McAllister said he had never witnessed a better religious feeling among the men. And a reporter for a religious magazine thought the piety of the Union army would win the whole nation to Christ!”

•Best estimate of Union army conversions = 100-200,000 men (5-10%)

•Gardiner H. Shattuck, “Revivals in the Camp”

•“Revivals in the Confederate armies may have been even more intense than among the northern troops. Like their northern counterparts, southerners became noticeably more religious as the war progressed.”

•“Beginning in the fall of 1863, an event later called the ‘Great Revival’ was in full progress throughout the Army of Northern Virginia. Before the revival was interrupted by Grant’s attack in May 1864, approximately seven thousand soldiers – 10 percent of Lee’s force - was reportedly converted.”

•Best estimate of total Confederate army conversions =  at least 100,000 men

Gardiner H. Shattuck, “Revivals in the Camp”

Revivals in the Camps: Summary (North)

•“Throughout the wartime period, … revivals provided men in the Union armies with the encouragement they needed to continue the war effort. Although not every individual revival can be linked directly to a battlefield triumph of the North …, revivalism on the whole was related to the overall progress that the Union made in the war…. Revivalism in the Union army … shaped profoundly the social environment in which the soldiers were engaged and made an invaluable contribution to the final victory of the North.”

Gardner Shattuck, A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies

Revivals in the Camps: Summary (South)

•“For the great leaders of the Southern people, … and for … individual soldiers … touched by the army revivals, a belief in God’s providence helped them endure the final months of agony before the Confederacy collapsed. By the end of the war, these Southerners were seeking a spiritual rather than a military victory…. In the revivals especially, a significant portion of the Southern troops gained solace and consolation as all chances for military success deserted them.”

Gardner Shattuck, A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies

Christianity and the Civil War
The Role of Chaplains

Chaplains were rare in American armies prior to Civil War (in which they won a lasting place). “President Lincoln especially was concerned that an effective chaplaincy should be formed to give spiritual support to the Northern soldiers.”

Confederacy, however, intentionally excluded chaplaincy from original organization of army:

•Low opinion of their clergy; more useful as soldiers than preachers

•Separation of church and state – responsibility of churches, not government, to support ministers in army

•Principle of decentralized power – many aspects of military life poorly organized or left to individual initiative

Fledgling chaplaincy established after “howl of protest” from Southern church members

Garner H. Shattuck,  A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies

The Role of Chaplains

In addition to the one duty specified – to hold worship services – chaplains also:

•Wrote letters for hospitalized soldiers

•Acted as postmasters for their units

•Maintained a library of both religious and secular literature

•Taught soldiers how to read and write

•Informed families of deaths of loved ones

•Aided freed blacks who flocked to the armies

•Carried men and equipment on horseback during marches

•Dug wells and rifle pits in camp

•Foraged for fresh vegetables for their men

•Aided wounded of both sides

Garner H. Shattuck,  A Shield and Hiding Place: The Religious Life of the Civil War Armies

Christianity And The Civil War
The Faith of the Generals

“By and large, Confederate soldiers were more likely to mention religion, to profess a personal faith, and to express approval regarding the state of religious life in their army than Union soldiers were. This disparity between Southerners and Northerners was most apparent at the highest levels of the two armies, where many more Confederate generals than Union ones were known to have been regular churchgoers. … The most influential Christian soldiers were invariably acknowledged to be Southerners.”

General Robert E. Lee

•A “low church” Episcopalian

•Read Bible daily and prayed

•Noted for self-denial and self-control

•Disliked tobacco and hated whiskey; drank small amount of wine on rare occasions

•Offered prayers of thanksgiving after victories and prayed for the people of the North

•FDR: “We recognize REL as one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.”

•Lee, describing himself: “nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.”

Stonewall Jackson

“He lives by the New Testament and fights by the Old.”

Baptized Episcopalian but became Presbyterian: “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death.”

Maintained devotional life on battlefield: “His men saw him stumbling and falling over trees and rocks. They almost thought he had too much to drink. That was not the problem. He was praying with his eyes closed when he walked.” Historian John W. Schildt

Ordered his chaplains to hold thanksgiving services after every victory; distributed tracts to soldiers

After being shot by his own forces at Chancellorsville in May 1863: “I always wanted to die on a Sunday.”

William Pendleton

•West Point graduate and Episcopal minister

•Chief of Confederate artillery

•Commanded four guns he called Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

•“While we kill their bodies, may the Lord have mercy on their souls – FIRE!”

Leonidas Polk

•West Point graduate and first Episcopal bishop of Louisiana

•Criticized in North for being “the bishop-general”

•Southerners saw him as Gideon or David, fighting “the battle of the Lord”

•During battle of Perryville (KY), Confederate General Cheatham shouted, “ Give ‘em hell boys.” Polk joined in: “Give it to ‘em boys; give ‘em what General Cheatham says!”

U. S. Grant

•Complained at West Point that academy tried to mold cadets into gentlemanly Episcopalians – he resisted

•Not a churchgoer, though wife Julia a devout Methodist

•Rebaptized on deathbed at insistence of friends

George B. McClellan

•Newly converted Christian when given command of Armies of U.S. in November 1861

•Union had suffered defeat at First Battle of Bull Run (July 1861); McClellan agreed with those who believed defeat was because Union attacked on a Sunday

•Ordered that Sabbath be observed with services held whenever military demands did not absolutely prevent worship and rest

Oliver O. Howard

•“Old Prayer Book” or “The Christian General”

•New England abolitionist who never drank,  smoked, or swore

•Brigade routed at First Battle of Bull Run; blamed defeat on decision to attack on Sabbath

•Spoke during chapel services: “the General spoke of the Saviour, his love for Him and his peace in His service, as freely and simply as he could have spoken in his own family circle.”

•After the war, led Freedmen’s Bureau to assist former slaves; founded university for blacks in 1867 (Howard University in Washington, D.C.)

•Presented Bibles to all incoming West Point cadets (still a practice) in 1869; later became superintendent of West Point

William Rosecrans

•Motto was “God never fails those who truly trust.”

•Refused to pursue defeated Confederate forces after battle of Murfreesboro (TN) because he wanted army to rest on Sabbath

•Devout Roman Catholic; attended mass daily

Christianity and the Civil War - 2

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