God's Almost Chosen Peoples

God's Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 586
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    God's Almost Chosen Peoples
    Book Description:

    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, inGod'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and religious persuasions used faith to interpret the course of the war.Examining a wide range of published and unpublished documents--including sermons, official statements from various churches, denominational papers and periodicals, and letters, diaries, and newspaper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 religion's 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0384-1
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xii])
    (pp. 1-10)

    In August 1864, Presbyterian editor Amasa Converse concluded that the past three years of war had clearly demonstrated the power of prayer. The first great Confederate victory at Manassas in July 1861 had followed an official day of prayer. But then a period of spiritual indifference during the fall and winter had preceded disastrous losses in Tennessee. The southern people again fell to their knees during the spring of 1862, and Richmond had been delivered from General George B. McClellan’s mighty hosts. Other victories had followed, but too much faith had been placed in generals and armies, and so once...

  4. Chapter 1 CRISES OF FAITH
    (pp. 11-32)

    Émigré theologian and church historian Philip Schaff returned to Berlin in September 1854 to deliver two important lectures on the state of religion in his adopted country. Schaff’s European background, American experiences, and ecumenical theology made him acutely sensitive to the relationship between religious practices and national character. Be it Sabbath observance, church schools, Bible societies, foreign missions, or worship attendance, he found Americans “already in advance of the old Christian nations of Europe.” In the United States, there were “probably more awakened souls, and more individual efforts and self-sacrifice for religious purposes . . . than in any other...

    (pp. 33-50)

    On March 11, 1859, near Bonham, Texas, during a meeting of the Arkansas Conference of the Methodist Church, a northern preacher made inflammatory remarks about slavery—at least according to two southern Methodist ministers sent to spy on the proceedings. After a hurriedly assembled mass meeting, a mob estimated at between fifty and two hundred men marched into the church where the conference was being held and accused several northern men of being abolitionist emissaries. Adjournment quickly followed. Later in the year two northern Methodist ministers were forced to leave Dallas, Texas, and one received seventy lashes.

    These reactions were...

  6. Chapter 3 HOLY WAR
    (pp. 51-68)

    This bellicose passage became the sermon text for a northern preacher who quickly threw aside his pacifist principles after hearing that Confederates had fired on Fort Sumter and that the United States flag had been hauled down.¹ War changed everything, or so countless Americans believed. The conflict quickly developed into a religious as well as a political and military contest, a testing ground for spiritual character and theological conviction, including ideas about the relationship between church and state. Countless Americans would view the war—its course, costs, and consequences—through the lens of religious faith, and that process began immediately....

    (pp. 69-89)

    In Littleton, New Hampshire, it was no ordinary, quiet Sabbath, for even the church bells sounded more like a call to arms than a call to worship. The Littleton Brass Band escorted local recruits to the Congregational church; after everyone filed in, the choir sang, “America.” The sermon text from Second Samuel sounded the right note: “Be of good courage, and let us play the men for our people.” The volunteers reassembled outside after the service, and the band struck up, “Home Sweet Home.” In the afternoon, the soldiers attended the Methodist church, again accompanied by the band. Here the...

    (pp. 90-106)

    Bushnell need not have worried about whether soldiers were willing to kill the enemy, but as a minister he might have worried about the war’s impact on religious faith. In the spring of 1863, Confederate staff officer Walter Taylor longed for the peace he had experienced after being converted as a young man. “But I am so hardened . . . sad indeed have been the effects of this unhappy war—not the least of which has been the bitter spirit toward our enemies . . . which is entirely at variance with the commands given for our guidance.” Despite...

    (pp. 107-126)

    In the aftermath of Sumter, as ministers no less than other folks became caught up in the martial frenzy, the first wave of enthusiastic volunteering inevitably scooped up some of the clergy. But not without controversy. A ministerial association in Niles, Michigan, condemned “brethren who drop the sword of the spirit” to take up the “weapons of carnal warfare.” A southern religious editor chastised anyone called to preach the gospel of peace who would “run five hundred or a thousand miles to imbrue their hands in the blood of their enemies.”¹ Such arguments made patriotic duties distinctly secondary to religious...

    (pp. 127-146)

    Northerners and southerners alike affirmed that Christian soldiers not only would lead their armies to victory but would return as triumphant soldiers of the cross. Many churches came to see the army as one vast home mission field with overtones of millennial glory. Such soaring expectations were doomed to disappointment, and the most candid observers conceded that most soldiers never became Christian soldiers.

    The numbers offered by contemporaries and historians are estimates at best. One scholar has recently suggested that the devout made up no more than 10 to 25 percent of the Union armies, a range that certainly appears...

  11. Chapter 8 THE GOD OF BATTLES
    (pp. 147-165)

    After the death of two beloved colonels in a Texas cavalry regiment, Presbyterian chaplain Robert Franklin Bunting drew the orthodox conclusion: “God has come and taken our idols from us in that we may not rely too much upon the arm of flesh, but trust more in Him.” At the beginning of 1862, his words reflected the mood of pious soldiers and civilians facing a much tougher war. Each death and, even more so, each defeat reminded the devout of their utter dependence on the Almighty. For Confederates, 1861 had been a good year with a promising string of minor...

  12. Chapter 9 CARNAGE
    (pp. 166-184)

    The minié ball struck Private Evan Lawrence’s Bible and penetrated to Isaiah 52:7. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace,” seemed especially timely and comforting to this young Georgian who later claimed that the text had been on his mind as his regiment moved into action at Kennesaw Mountain. Tales of Bibles stopping bullets cropped up after nearly every major battle, and in point of fact pocket Testaments saved lives just often enough to make such stories believable. In both contemporary telling and later recollection, citing the exact verse where...

  13. Chapter 10 WAR’S PURPOSE
    (pp. 185-203)

    By the late summer and early fall of 1862, not only were both sides still proclaiming their own righteousness and praying for their enemies’ destruction; they were still searching for some larger meaning in what threatened to become a war without end. After McClellan’s defeat on the Virginia Peninsula and the Army of Northern Virginia’s sound thrashing of John Pope’s ill-starred and short-lived Army of Virginia at the Battle of Second Bull Run, Confederate fortunes had seemingly revived. Soon rebel armies were advancing into Maryland and Kentucky. Had not the northern people, one Presbyterian editor asked, placed too much faith...

  14. Chapter 11 THE LORD’S WORK
    (pp. 204-221)

    There had been signs of religious stirring in the armies for several months, not exactly a surprising development during a season of intense combat. Seeing the dead at Antietam, one Union chaplain asked the question that must have weighed on many minds: “Oh God! how coust thou permit thy own creatures to butcher each other so cruelly?” Soldiers naturally struggled with such matters in the midst of so much ordinary and extraordinary suffering. Earlier attempts to organize army prayer meetings had met with indifferent responses, and even once devout fellows had lost their spiritual bearings in camp. There were always...

  15. Chapter 12 TESTING FAITH
    (pp. 222-239)

    It just did not seem like Christmas—a common enough lament among older folks—but true enough for most everyone in 1862. The absence of familiar treats and familiar faces marked but another sign of how the war ruined everything, especially in the Confederacy. “With the shadow of God’s judgment and displeasure still over our beloved country, and no ray of absolute light breaking from any quarter,” the planter (and Presbyterian minister) Charles Colcock Jones wrote to his son in the army. “I do not know that we can greet each other with a ‘ Merry Christmas.” Despite the recent...

  16. Chapter 13 DECLENSION
    (pp. 240-257)

    Civil religion created an alliance between church and state in the United States and the Confederate States, but paradoxically the war weakened church attendance and ministries in the short if not in the long term. “Patriotism is a Christian virtue,” an Illinois Presbytery declared during the fall of 1863, yet it duly noted that the churches would languish so long as people’s minds were preoccupied with war. Once the Union had finally been restored, those who had survived the crisis “will arise with new strength to do the work of the master.”¹

    As a practical matter, excitement and tumult would...

  17. Chapter 14 WRATH
    (pp. 258-277)

    The air felt warmer, the trees were budding, and the roads were starting to dry out—all sure signs of another campaign season in the offing. And in the spring of 1863, there appeared still another sign of approaching combat. Soldiers about to begin slaughtering each other seized one last opportunity to make their peace with God. The Confederate revivals along the Rappahannock River continued as men figured they would be on the march any day now. In the Federal camps near Falmouth, Virginia, prayer meetings had grown larger and more enthusiastic.¹

    Now was the time to write home, thumb...

  18. Chapter 15 JUBILO
    (pp. 278-298)

    “If the negro should be set free by this war, which I believe he will be, whether we gain or not, it will be the Lord’s doing. The time has come when his mission has ended as a slave, and while he has been benefited by slavery, the white race has suffered from its influence.” Thus, nurse Kate Cumming looked to the future, combining traditional complaints about the effects of slavery on her race with a typically providential view of history. She blamed northern abolitionists for most of the trouble, and her analysis remained confused, but as Confederate hopes sagged,...

  19. Chapter 16 ARMIES OF THE LORD
    (pp. 299-316)

    “Every day my conviction becomes firmer that the hand ofGodis in this and that in spite of victories and advantages he will deny us Peace unless we grant to others the liberties we ask for ourselves—‘break every yoke and let the oppressed go free,’” Lieutenant John Quincy Adams Campbell wrote on November 12, 1863, as the 5th Iowa marched toward Chattanooga to reinforce Grant’s beleaguered forces. Adams expected a “great victory for our army” but wondered to what effect. “The difficulties of this war have proved knotty questions to our Belshazzars and our ‘wise men’ but in...

    (pp. 317-334)

    On May 9, 1864, Abraham Lincoln released a brief statement to the press stating that “enough is known of Army operations within the last five days to claim our especial gratitude to God” and urging “all patriots at their homes, in their places of public worship, and wherever they be, unite in common thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.”¹ Five days earlier the Army of the Potomac had crossed the Rapidan River. On May 5 the Army of Northern Virginia had attempted to stop and indeed wreck the advancing Federals in what became known as the Battle of the Wilderness,...

    (pp. 335-352)

    “Paul, in death, was not more loyal to his Lord than I . . . am to the cause of the Union,” an Illinois Methodist minister proclaimed in 1864, and he spoke for a growing number of people in both sections of the divided land who had long since stopped drawing much of a distinction between patriotism and religion. The impetus for sending missionaries south and perhaps even for vandalizing rebel churches stemmed from a belief that the flag and the cross marched together, that national allegiance and religious faith could not be separated. For many northern Methodists, loyalty to...

    (pp. 353-369)

    In September 1864, James F. Wood, the Catholic bishop of Philadelphia, called for observing a day of thanksgiving and prayer for recent Union victories. The reach of civil religion in light of growing optimism about the war had spread into the more conservative churches. The combined operations of the army and navy in Mobile Bay but especially Sherman’s capture of Atlanta had induced Lincoln to issue an official call to thank the Lord for his many mercies.¹ Absent, however, were the usual references to sin or chastisement.The “finger of God” had been “put forth for our help,” a New School...

    (pp. 370-388)

    Sometime in 1864 Lincoln offered a far more thoughtful reflection on God’s purposes than did the most learned clergy on either side of the conflict. He privately outlined his conclusions in a document that came to be known as the “Meditation on the Divine Will.” Distilling in only ten sentences his thinking on the war’s ultimate meaning, Lincoln began with a simple premise: “The will of God prevails.” Although both sides claimed to be fighting on God’s side, “in the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party.” The...

    (pp. 389-398)

    “I saw strong war worn smoke begrimed, powder burnt men . . . lying upon the ground with tears streaming from their eyes and crying like children,” a corporal in Parker’s Virginia Battery recalled. The news of Lee’s surrender had unnerved them and many were “ praying God for help in this their hour of great distress.” The word “anguish” well captured the reaction of countless Confederates who felt as if the heavens had collapsed upon them, and all was indeed lost. Some were so disheartened they could no longer write in their diaries and so fell silent. Others poured...

  25. NOTES
    (pp. 399-476)
    (pp. 477-572)
    (pp. 573-574)
  28. INDEX
    (pp. 575-586)