Baptists and the American Civil War

We’re currently in the second year of a four-year, sesquicentennial remembrance of the American Civil War. Fought between 1861 and 1865, the Civil War remains the deadliest war in American history, resulting in the deaths of over 750,ooo combatants, plus an unrecorded amount of civilians. Hundreds, maybe thousands of events are being held throughout the country to commemorate, honor, and often grieve various aspects of the conflict.

It’s impossible to separate the Civil War from its religious undercurrents. Historians such as Clarence Goen and Mitchell Snay argue that the racially charged divisions between Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians in the 1830s and 1840s helped to pave the way for the secession of the southern states in 1861. Dozens of historians have weighed in on the religious dimensions of the war itself. Some of the more noteworthy works include studies by Mark Noll, Harry Stout, and George Rable. Stout, Randall Miller, and Charles Reagan Wilson have also edited a fine collection of essays that introduce readers to the historiography of religion and the Civil War through the late 1990s.

Bruce Gourley, executive director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, has created an impressive website dedicated to Baptists and the American Civil War: In Their Own Words. The website includes numerous resources, including links to primary source documents available online, an ongoing collection of “this day in Civil War history” blog entries that focus upon Baptists, and links to other Civil War resources on the web. The website is a great resource, especially for classes on the Civil War, American Christianity, or Baptist History.

If you’re interested in learning more about Baptists and the Civil War, you should consider attending the 2013 annual meeting of the Baptist History and Heritage Society. The conference will be held May 20-22 in Richmond, Virginia. The theme is “Faith, Freedom, Forgiveness: Religion and the Civil War, Emancipation and Reconciliation in Our Time.” The keynote speakers are the distinguished historians Harry Stout, Edward Ayers, and Andrew Manis. The conference will also include dozens of shorter papers related to the conference theme. You can read more about the conference at the BH&HS website.

(Note: The image [credit] is a picture of J. William Jones, a Southern Baptist chaplain in the Army of Northern Virginia, author of Christ in the Camp, and assistant corresponding secretary of the SBC Home Mission Board from 1884-1893. He was one of the most important evangelists for the “Lost Cause” mythology that dominated the post-war South into the early 20th century. You can read more about Jones in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.)