Tuesday, May 01, 2007

CWL --- Unconquerable Rebels: Self-Deluded? Faithful to God?

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.

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