Baptists and the Civil War: An exhibit review...

Last week I had an opportunity to meet with Bill Sumners and Taffey Hall, archivists with the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, who guided me on a tour of their new exhibit, "BROKEN CHURCHES, BROKEN NATION: BAPTISTS AND THE CIVIL WAR." From the exhibit panel:

Baptists struggled with the issue of slavery up to the 1830’s. After that time, most Baptists in the South justified slavery. This issue divided Baptists in America when the Baptist mission societies refused to appoint slaveholders as missionaries. White Baptists in the South withdrew from the Triennial Convention and in 1845 organized the Southern Baptist Convention in Augusta, Georgia.

With the beginning of the war in 1861, Baptists in the South rallied to the Confederate cause. The Home Mission Board appointed numerous chaplains to serve the Rebel ranks. About 620,000 soldiers died during the struggle, with the Confederacy losing 260,000 troops. The conflict changed the Southern way of life. It ended the scourge of slavery and shaped regional differences and the church for decades to come.

This was actually a work-related tour in connection with my wife's forthcoming book on the subject of religion and the common soldier in the Army of Tennessee, C.S.A.. To supplement what I already knew from reading Traci's manuscript, I wanted to learn more about how Baptist leaders and clergy throughout the South were affected by the Civil War. This exhibit helped me tremendously in this regard. Taffey Hall was also very kind to offer some images from the SBHLA collection for use in Traci's book, so this was a very productive trip. I'll have more updates on this project in the very near future as we move closer to publication.

Back to the exhibit... Here are a few photos of some of the artifacts on display at the SBHLA. You can click on each image to get a larger view. The exhibit is open to the public, and the SBHLA is open to researchers. If you find yourself in the downtown Nashville area and are interested in learning more about this part of Civil War history, I would encourage you to stop by the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives and check it out.

"Recollections of Confederate scout service written half a century later" by James B. Gambrell - SBHLA Collection

It is hard to imagine today that many Southern Baptists used religion to defend the practice of slavery. On January 27, 1861, Ebenezer W. Warren, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Macon, Georgia, delivered a sermon entitled, "Scriptual Vindication of Slavery," in which he said, " is necessary for ministers of the gospel... to teach slavery from the pulpit, as it was taught by the holy men of old, who spake as moved by the holy Spirit. Both Christianity and Slavery are from heaven; both are blessings to humanity." SBHLA Collection

"Domestic Slavery As A Scriptural Institution" - SBHLA Collection

A display of Confederate artifacts - SBHLA Collection

John William Jones was a Confederate chaplain during the Civil War, serving in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He was instrumental in the numerous revivals that swept through troops, resulting in over 100,000 conversions. His reports of the ongoing revival that he had witnessed among the Confederate troops are recorded in his work, "Christ in the Camp," published in 1887. SBHLA Collection

A letter from Abby Gwathney, Richmond, to her parents, April 14, 1862. SBHLA Collection

Letter from Basil Manly, Jr. to his parents, Basil Manly, Sr., July 23, 1863 - Manly Family Papers, SBHLA Collection

A registry of ministries appointed by the Domestic Mission Board (Home Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention in Marion, Alabama. These pages show the appointment of chaplains to the Confederate Army, and their area of service - SBHLA Collection

A letter from Reuben Jones, a Virginia Baptist minister and pastor of the Shoulder's Hill Baptist Church - SBHLA Collection


Additional Reading from