With Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteer troops to put down the “rebellion” and the South raising a volunteer army to repel the “invaders”, this country saw the assembly of, ostensibly two confronting armies that consisted of multiplied tens of thousands of young men and boys that had never been away from home before.
As one can imagine, when young men who have not been educated in the ways of the world are thrown in among those who have, evil will abound.
Army chaplains complained that “seductive influences of sin” and “legions of devils” infested the camps. Among the sins were things like “spiritous liquors,” card playing, gambling, profanity and loose women.
Later in the War, “ladies of the evening” were so prevalent in Joseph Hooker’s army that they received the name “hookers”. Drinking became such a problem that one Confederate soldier said that “if the South is overthrown, the epitaph should be “died of whiskey.”
As did George Washington before him Abraham Lincoln, even though not a Christian himself until later in the War, recognized the value of religion as a stabilizing force in the army, and did all within his power to provide for organized spiritual guidance for the soldiers.
On May 4, 1861, he ordered all regimental commanders to appoint chaplains for their units. The Chaplain was expected to be an ordained minister of a Christian denomination and was to receive an officer’s salary (initially $1,700 per year, later cut to $1,200) (future articles will be dedicated to Union and Confederate chaplains).
Unfortunately for the southern soldiers, Jefferson Davis and his administration put less value on the establishment of army chaplains, missionaries and evangelists.
Generals like R. E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson wrote letters to new papers urging southern clergymen to come into the army as chaplains so every regiment could have a chaplain. Confederate chaplains received a salary initially of $1,020 per year, which was soon reduced to $600. Although the salary was later increased to $960, few Confederate army chaplains were ever fully supported by the Confederate government.
One Mississippi legislator argued that chaplains should only be paid $40.00 a month as they only “worked one day a week”.
Many southern denominations tried to help chaplains with their pay by sending them financial support. A southern clergyman urged the Confederate government to do “right” by the chaplain if they expected to receive God’s blessing on their army and the Southern nation.
Southern Christian leaders, usually via their respective denominational organizations, made earnest efforts to provide the soldiers with Bibles, New Testaments, and religious tracts.
Those chaplains and religious leaders that lived with the soldiers sent out a constant stream of letters to their home churches and church leadership, begging them to send “our best men--holy men” to assist in evangelizing and ministering to the troops.
At the beginning of the War there were no Bible or Gospel tract printing houses in the South. Up to this time the South received all their religious material from the North, but this changed when Lincoln’s administration added all religious material to their contraband list. The British and Foreign Bible Society extended credit to the South for already printed material as well as the materials needed to start printing tracts.
This material had to be run through the blockade though and sadly much of it either fell into Union hands or was sunk.
At the same time, two different printing houses in Augusta South Carolina, using printing plates clandestinely bought in Philadelphia and smuggled through Kentucky to South Carolina started printing New Testaments and Bibles until the Union army shut them down and destroyed one company’s plate, (the author has one of each in his private collection).
The South continued to put forward supreme efforts to acquire Bibles and tracts for their soldiers.
The American Bible Society as well as the United States Christian Commission responded generously.
Northern soldiers were far more fortunate in that the American Tract Society had been printing tracts in America since 1814 in Boston and 1825 in New York and the American Bible Society had been printing Bibles and New Testaments since its founding in 1816.
The Young Men’s Christian Association, in November of 1861, after seeing the tremendous suffering of wounded soldiers in the aftermath of the battle of 1st Manassas/Bull Run, organized the U.S. Christian Commission--a civilian “army” of men (4,882) and eventually some women (150, almost exclusively working in the Union hospital dietary kitchens) who volunteered to help with the “temporal and spiritual” needs of the soldiers, (future article will look at the USCC in depth). They passed out religious tracts and Testaments hymnals, newspapers and “identifiers” as well as clothing, fresh fruit and vegetables; they helped chaplains with organizing worship services, acting as nurses in the hospitals. All the work they did was to show their love of Christ and His love for a wayward sinner and ultimately to bring glory and honor to God. They also did not differentiate between Union and Confederate soldiers.
Even though the Davis administration was not as supportive of organized religion as it could have been, many of the Confederate military leaders were! Of particular note are generals Robert E. Lee, T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and Leonidas Polk, who led 4 Confederate generals to Christ during the Dalton revival. Lee and Jackson did all within their power to encourage the spreading of the Gospel in the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson himself encouraged the troops to keep the Sabbath holy and attend worship services. He would usually try to avoid battle on the Sabbath or if not possible to do so, would try to set aside the next day, after the battle, in its place. Jackson was frequently seen in prayer—sometimes for as much as three hours before a pending battle. He always acknowledged God as the author of his military victories.
After the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862 and then through the Spring and Summer of 1864 and on into 1865 the Holy Spirit of God fell upon General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in what would become known as the “Great Revival”. The same thing happened to General Joseph Johnston’s Confederate army in the winter of 1863-1864 while camped in Dalton, Georgia.
According to W. W. Bennett, Confederate Chaplain and author of “Great Revival in the Southern Army”, virtually every Confederate brigade was affected--and approximately one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers in the army of the South accepted Christ. For twenty-four hours a day, while in winter quarters troops participated in prayer meetings, worshipped, and listened to ministers proclaim the good news. Virtually every gathering ended with soldiers coming forward to accept Christ or receive prayer. When a pond or river was nearby, the soldiers would frequently step forward for baptism--regardless of how cold the water was.
During this revival, Confederate Chaplain Wm. Jones, author of “Christ in the Camp” told of how Confederate soldiers would form “reading clubs,” in which they would pass around a well-worn Bible, sharing the Gospel. Always hungry for scarce Testaments and religious tracts, the soldiers would see Jones approaching camp and cry out “Yonder comes the Bible and Tract man!” and run up to him and beg for Bibles and Testaments” as if they were gold guineas for free distribution.” Jones would quickly exhaust his supply of reading material, and sadly have to turn away most of the men. “I have never seen more diligent Bible-readers than we had in the Army of Northern Virginia.” Chaplain W. W. Bennett, in his book estimates that of all the men, from the Confederate army who entered the seminary after the War, nine out of ten were saved in that “Great Revival”. A future article will explore this subject more extensively.
Oddly though, the Union army had more men, more chaplains, more resources, more religious material and yet they did not have a revival in their ranks to come anywhere close to that in the Confederate army. This is not to say that they did not have some small pockets of revival, they did, but there are very little firsthand accounts written of any large scale moving of God’s Spirit in the Union army. There is mentioned in “Incidents of the U. S. Christian Commission” of a revival in the Army of the Potomac in the winter of 1863-64 at Bristow Station. Rev. Mr. Williams, delegate to the 11th Penna. Reserve Regiments reports that after the Christian Commission chapel tent was erected, “within four weeks [in March 1864] there were sixty-one” converts.
In April 1864 The Commission’s General Field Agent, Mr. William Reynolds, writes that a “remarkable revival” began among the veteran troops: of General Sherman’s army. He described this moving of God’s Spirit “as is rarely exhibited.” He estimated that there were some 10,000 men camped in and around Ringgold Georgia. Reynolds reports that on the afternoon of April 10th, “forty-four presented themselves” for baptism. Reynolds continues; “The following Sabbath forty-eight were baptized”. Reynolds estimates that “four hundred new converts sat down at the communion table.”
USCC delegate Rev. Mr. Smith reports from Cleveland, Tenn.; “The Fourth Army Corps lay here, waiting for marching orders. At one Sabbath Chaplain Raymond alluding to the terrible scenes just before the army” urged the men to follow him in being a better Christian. Rev. Smith says; “our meeting deepened, and the work grew until hundreds were converted.” When the army marched the work of grace, ceased. These eyewitness accounts in the Union army are sadly few and far between.
Such is the results of the men of peace who went to war. Volume upon volume could be written on this most important subject. It is only in the last 15 to 20 years that the work of the chaplains and delegates of the U. S. Christian Commission has been brought to the light of day.
For more information on this subject check out www.rmjc.org or these eyewitness accounts written by the people who were there:
“Christ in the Camp” by Wm. Jones;
“Great Revival in the Southern Army” by W. W. Bennett;
“Incidents of the U. S. Christian Commission” by Rev. Edward P. Smith;
“Annals of the United States Christian Commission” by Lemuel Moss;
“Christian Memorials” by Horatio Hackett
“Under the Guns” by Annie Whittenmyer
“Leonidas Polk; Bishop and General” by W.M. Polk
“The Life of Dr. J. R. Miller” by John T. Faris
“Shoes and Rations Along the March” by H. Clay Trumbull
“Thrilling Incidents of the War” by Edward P. Smith