God's Almost Chosen Peoples, A Religious History of the American Civil War, George C. Rable, University of North Carolina Press, November 2010, 624 pp., 12 illusrations, notes, bibliogrpahy, index,$35.00.
Throughout the Civil War, soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict saw the hand of God in the terrible events of the day, but the standard narratives of the period pay scant attention to religion. Now, in God's Almost Chosen Peoples, Lincoln Prize-winning historian George C. Rable offers a groundbreaking account of how Americans of all political and religious persuasions used faith to interpret the course of the war.
Examining a wide range of published and unpublished documents--including sermons, official statements from various churches, denominational papers and periodicals, and letters, diaries, and newspaper articles--Rable illuminates the broad role of religion during the Civil War, giving attention to often-neglected groups such as Mormons, Catholics, blacks, and people from the Trans-Mississippi region. The book underscores religions presence in the everyday lives of Americans north and south struggling to understand the meaning of the conflict, from the tragedy of individual death to victory and defeat in battle and even the ultimate outcome of the war. Rable shows that themes of providence, sin, and judgment pervaded both public and private writings about the conflict. Perhaps most important, this volume--the only comprehensive religious history of the war--highlights the resilience of religious faith in the face of political and military storms the likes of which Americans had never before endured.
George C. Rable holds the Charles G. Summersell Chair in Southern History at the University of Alabama. He is author of Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics, and Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, which won the Lincoln Prize.
CWL---owns and has read Rable's work. He is an outstanding Civil War historian who handles well the military fronts, the home front and the ideas held by popular cultures of the era. He delivers his research with a fine narrative style.
Text and Image Source: University of North Carolina Press
Monday, April 26, 2010
Friday, July 06, 2007
Strangers in a Strange Land: Christian Soldiers in the Early Months of the Civil War, Kent T. Dollar, in The View From the Ground: Experiences of Civil War Soldiers, Aaron Sheehan-Dean, University of Kentucky Press, 2007, pp. 145-169, notes.
Court TV 1863 Tuesday July 10
7p Privates Gone Wild!
8p. Corporals Gone Wild!
9p Sergeants Gone Wild!
10p Lieutenants Gone Wild!
11 p Captains Gone Wild!
12a Chaplains Gone Wild!
1a Surgeons Gone Wild!
2a-6a Camp Revivals
7p-1:55a Written, Directed and Produced by Thomas Lowery, author of the Courts Martial Series, The Story Soldiers Couldn't Tell, and Sexual Misadventures During the Civil War
2a-6a Written, Directed and Produced by the Holy Spirit
"I have gone entirely wild and If I ever get back I shall have my name taken off the church book for it is a shame and disgrace to the cause of Christ to be there. . . .
. . . pray for me but look upon me no longer as a worthy member of the church," confessed Marion Fitzpatrick, 45th Georgia, December 15, 1862.
Wartime diaries of chaplains, both North and South, reveal that most soldiers showed little or no interest in religion at the outset of the war. Military campaigns, the meager number of trained chaplains and the general lack of interest among the enlisted men caused a decline in both the frequency and availability of religious services in camps. "Men who four months ago would not use a profane word can now out swear many others and those who would even shun a checker board now play cards for profit," reported Cyrus Boyd, an enlisted man from Iowa.
Drew Gilpin Faust and Steven Woodworth, scholars of the Civil War era, agree that camp life had a morally damaging effect on Northern and Southern soldiers. Kent Dollar, the author of this essay, has found many individuals who either resisted temptation or recovered after submitting to it. Usually, individuals with a kindred spirit managed to find each other, either in a neighboring company or in a neighboring regiment. Believing chaplains (and Thomas Lowery has shown that chaplains at times succumbed to temptations) were at many times scarce in the armies. Not finding a suitable chaplain exercising a gift for preaching, Allan Geer of the 20th Illinois decided to attend a Methodist and later an 'Ethiopian' worship service while campaigning in Tennessee.
During camp life, an enlisted man's time alone was a rare experience. Soldiers read their scriptures during guard mount or wandering away from camp. Over and over again, Dollar reports the importance of religious literature sent from home or distributed by the Christian Commission, which kept lending libraries in the camps. These portable book closets contained both the classics of literature and devotional materials.
By the early winter of 1862, in both the eastern and western fronts, revivals began to occur and continued to be launched in the early winters of 1863 and 1864. The impact of religion and revivals on soldiers' motivation to continue combat in the springs of 1863, 1864 and 1865 has been addressed by Peter Carmichael, Earl Hess and James B. McPherson. The seedbed for these revivals were the believing soldiers themselves. "Thousands of devout Christian soldiers were holding firm to their religious convictions and relying of their faith to get them through the first months of the Civil War," states the author.
To obtain a copy of this essay, ask your librarian or email the Civil War Librarian.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Religious Belief and Troop Motivation: "For the Smiles of My Blessed Saviour," Jason Phillips, in Virginia's Civil War, Wallenstein and Wyatt-Brown, eds., Univesity of Virginia Press, 2005, pp. 101-113.
The movements of a soul can be glacially slow, covering years. Captain Joseph Manson, 12th Virginia Regiment, instead of detailing camp life and the movements of regiments, described his "search for God and salvation beyond the terrors of war." Many soldiers stated that they wished to die facing the enemy; conversely, Manson hoped to be found at the moment of death facing "towards the Celestial City & my Armor on." Beginning the chronicle of his soul while in the summer trenches of Petersburg, Manson like many others in those trenches pondered religion because it afforded to gifts: an explanation which made sense out of war and a code of behavior to guide them through vices of camp life and the mortal peril of combat.
In Jason Phillips' essay on CSA troop motivation, the conviction that God would deliver indendence to the South is considered. The belief was embedded deeply into the soil of Southern religious culture. The Confederate nation came to be viewed as being sacred, that is set aside for a special destiny. In part, this belief motivated Southern troops. Nineteenth century Christians understood that God was an active force in the affairs of the nation; these Christians believed that God governs the universe, constantly improving it until it reaches a conclusive end. For them all history is the progess of Providence toward a Judgement Day that marks the final triumph of good over evil.
Phillips cites literature of the time as presenting that the "only proper view of this Revolution, is that which regards its a a child of Providence." Wearing these worldview spectacles, religious Southerners understood the carnage to be directed by spiritual agents and felt that they were pawns in the hand of a higher power. This reader recalls several of Robert E. Lee's remarks that reflect these sentiments. CSA soldiers, to a degree, were fatalists. "In a world where God's hand touched everything, a person's conduct could have far-reaching consequences," states Phillips.
The notion that God would trick and forsake the Confederacy was unthinkable. Confederates believed that the work of Providence would ensure Confederate victory and that Confederates were holier than the Yankees. These beliefs fostered the conviction that CSA soldiers were invincible. For many pastors in the South, God was unknowable but Providence was evidence of his movement. Providence's progress would be aided by the repetentant hearts of the soldiers.
Posssessing this point of view, the Confederate soldier repented and followed Providence, even into their deaths. The Army of Northern Virginia passed through three revivals: autumn 1862, and the winters of 1863-1864 and 1864-1865. Many CSA soldiers persisted beyond the point of logical endurance and optimism. Was the "unconquerable mentality a product of wartime self-delusion" or a product of Southern religious beliefs? Historian Reid Mitchell has calls it "insane Confederate optimism"; historian Richard Beringer has labels it "unrealistic bravado." (p. 110)
Phillips sees Confederate religion encouraging self-delusion, escapism and unwarranted optimism. Was the Confederate acceptance of their own invincibility insane and unrealistic?
"Our knowledge of psychology and the war's outcome must not supplant the fact that Confederates had a worldview different from our own today." Phillips understands that the Confederate worldview ill prepared them for the war's outcome; but the worldview's optimism was consistent with their religion. The naval blockade, the disintegration of slavery, and the deficient of supplies and manpower could be overcome by Providence so as to meet Providence's goals.
For this reader, the Confederate faith is similar to the faith of John Brown of Harper's Ferry fame. David Reynolds' John Brown, Abolitionist (2005) and John Stauffer's The Black Hearts of Abolitionists (2002) thoroughly describe the worldview of the abolitionists. Historians, writing from 1900 to 1975 found John Brown to be insane; currently there is little academic doubt that Brown was sane and believed that Providence would find a way to free the slaves.
Confederates were sane and believed that Providence would sustain the Confederacy's independence. Currently, this reader is looking for an essay entitled God's Will and Northern War Aims.
Thinking about that topic, maybe the essay has already been written and it's entitled The Second Inaugural Address delivered in March 1865.
Christian Love and Marital Violence: Baptists and War--Danger and Opportunities, Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh, in Virginia's Civil War, Wallenberg and Wyatt-Brown, eds., Univesity of Virginia Press, 2005, pp. 87-100.
Of all Virginians who were church members, 42% were Baptists; Virginia Baptists represented a substantial segment of white popular opinion during the war. Reconciling Christian love with state sanctioned violence was a delimma that fostered both despair for the cause of Christ and hatred for Northerners. The Army of Northern Virginia's religious revivals during winter encampments helped Baptists set aside their despair but not their hatred.
Before, during and after the 1860 presidential election, Baptist clergy were extremely reluctant to to engage in open political activity. During this season, pastors offer jeremiads, the style and content of which harkened back to sermons preached in colonial New England. Special destinies were linked to special obligations. Unfulfilled obligations merited punishments. Punishments led to penitance; penitance led to awakenings. From Baptist pulpits, jeremiads supported the cause of Unionism during 1860 and early 1861. The political faith of the Virginia Founding Fathers was the cause of Unionism. Falling away from this political faith would bring about punishments.
Despite their avoidance of politics before Lincoln's April 17 call for troops, the pastors embraced the rebellion the President's line in the sand. "Evangelicalism and Confederate nationalism were intertwined in a complex braid of meaning and causality . . . ." states the author. He dismisses Charles Royster's contention that Southerners had a Bible-generated tendency toward the acceptance of violence. Royster sees violence being moved forward by the Biblical notion of atonement, "a sacramental mystery, the central act of which is bloodshed." What Royster proports, Virginia Baptists deny. They do not exalt military slaughter as a necessary religious sacrafice states Hsieh.
Baptist clergymen did not call "for destructive and patriotic warfare but for a cautious recognition that the ends of God and man" may be vastly different. Did Virginia Baptists see the war as a means for atoning for sin? No. Did the Virginia Baptists see the war as a "stimulant for sin and demoraliztion? Yes. The occassion of war was an occassion full of temptations.
Drunkeness, gambling, immoral sexual behavior, and swearing were soldier's vices. The influence of hearth and family for moral behavior was absent in soldiers' camps. Separation from the home community was a separation from the affections, sympathies and influences of the Christian family.
Baptist authors feared that Southerners at war would fail to keep half of the Golden Rule. Love your enemy, even though he was a Federal soldier. Christians would have to be careful while striking the enemy; it must be done in the spirit of the Master. If this spirit was lacking, then hope for the Master's help would be disappointed. Conversely, some pastors would embrace the bloodlust of the war. F. McCarthy, a civilian minister who joined the CSA army possibly as an enlisted man, wrote to a Baptist newspaper in Richmond, "if any Southern man lacks the anger
. . . to march to the battlefield and butcher the monsters that have invaded our soil . . . [he should sit and reflect uopon the] putrid qualities of the Northern heart and their base designs upon us and ours . . . [and] no chain will be strong enough to keep him from their throats."
Most ministers understood salvation would not be enhanced by destructive bloodletting, but would be advanced though revival in the camps. In the late fall of 1962, and during the winters of 1863-1864 and 1864-1865, revivals swept through the Army of Northern Virginia. Though spiritually revived, did the Rebel army begin to lose battles because it had lost divine favor?
Historians Drew Gilpin Faust, Harry Stout, and Richard Grasso show that the answer is No. Revival buttressed Confederate nationalism, even during days of defeat. The author believes that Virginia Baptist pastors never wavered in support of the Confederate cause and deeply mourned its destruction. After the war, he finds no pastor declaring that God had judged the South, the arm of the Lord was the Federal army, and that punishment occured when Southern property was destroyed and Southern slaves were freed.